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Near East Kingdoms

Levantine States


Karaite Jews (Israel)
Incorporating Ananite Jews

Today's Israel and Palestine are irrevocably linked in terms of their history. The former was carved out of a large proportion of the already-expanded latter from 1948. Prior to that lies four thousand years of history, sometimes recorded, sometimes alluded to, and sometimes a complete mystery. Unpicking it to establish a relatively stable story has been the work of decades, and even today there are differences of opinion regarding many of the details.

The region in which both names came to be created was Canaan, which consisted of the long Mediterranean coastal strip between ancient Syria and Egypt. Today the northern part of this is known as the Levant. Various Semitic-speaking groups formed states in this region from around 3000 BC onwards. During climate-induced social collapse in the late thirteenth century BC, both a state known as Israel and a region known as Palestine emerged, giving both terms similar founding dates (very approximately), with the Phoenicians emerging to the immediate north during the same period.

Then came the beginnings of the Jewish Diaspora and the age of great empires in the form of the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Eastern Romans, Islam, and the Ottomans, until the twentieth century saw the most recent phase of empire-building come to an end and individual sovereign states emerge. Until that happened both Judea and Palestine remained occupied territories.

By the time independence was regained, Jewish groups had been emigrating to and from Israel and Palestine for two thousand years and more, spreading them far and wide across the Old World in a number of generalised groupings. Despite these groupings being joined across those centuries by converted regional locals, most modern Jews still carry a marked Near Eastern heritage in their DNA. Connections between the separate groups have also helped to maintain elements of unified practice in synagogues.

Karaite Jews incorporate the Karaim, otherwise known as Qaraite Jews (the Hebrew word 'qara' means 'to read'). This group of diaspora Jews lived mainly in medieval Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, and even Crimea. The Karaim are distinguished by their observed form of Judaism. They emerged out of the strict Ananite Jews who faded out of existence in the tenth century AD after having formed around their first literary figure, Anan ben David.

Karaites have mixed together various old and newer elements of Bible worship in favour of Rabbinic Judaism, although they have also been influenced over centuries by Rabbinic Judaism itself. They primarily recognise the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) as the single religious authority for the Jewish people (and not the Talmud), striving to adhere to the most obvious interpretation of the text. Opposition to them by other Jewish communities forced both to develop and improve their philosophies. Their earliest origins may lie in the Sadducees, although this topic is hotly contended.

The Arch of Titus

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (Gen Ed, 1986), from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, from Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F Unger (1957), from Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton (1897), from Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times, Donald Redford (Princeton University Press, 1992), and from External Links: Encyclopædia Britannica, and Bible Atlas, and Jewish Encyclopaedia.)

AD 68 - 73

Marcus Antonius Julianus fails to prevent the serious disturbances across Judea from devolving into all-out warfare. Instead Vespasian (Titus Flavius Vespasianus) is appointed as overall commander, of senatorial rank.

He besieges Jerusalem until the 'Year of the Four Emperors' provides a distraction. With popular support from across the eastern regions, he becomes the first Flavian emperor in AD 69, leaving his son, Titus Caesar Vespasianus to complete the siege. Jerusalem and the Second Temple are destroyed in AD 70, and many Jews are taken as captives to Rome, either to be executed or to be used as gladiatorial sacrifices.

Roman siege of Jerusalem AD 70
The Nabataeans are perhaps unknown for the part they played in the siege of Jerusalem in AD 67-70, however minor that part may have been, with their support going to the Romans against their long-standing regional rival

The development since the Hasmonaean period of an oral teaching tradition known as the tanna becomes the means by which the Judaic faith is able to survive the fall of the Second Temple, becoming central to Judaic prayer which replaces sacrifice. It leads directly to, and through, the emergence of Rabbinic Judaism.

The destruction of the Second Temple marks the end of the Hellenic era as far as Jews are concerned. The remnants of the revolutionary Zealots are now holed up in Masada, the Sadducees have either disappeared or are about to (perhaps, controversially, giving birth to the Ananite Jews along the way), and the Essenes also vanish (perhaps because they have already moved so far away from Temple-based worship that they are no longer relevant). The age of Judaic sectarianism is over.

Only two major groups remain: Christians and Pharisees. The early Catholic Christian faith is still largely indivisible from Judaic practice, but it is Christians who will gradually gain dominance in Judea, and then across the Roman world. The Pharisees and their Pharisaic Judaism will gradually mutate between the second and fourth centuries AD into Rabbinic Judaism.

Pharisees during the lifetime of Jesus of Nazereth
The Pharisees believed both in the 'Oral Law' and the 'Written Law', with the former being the teachings of the prophets and the oral traditions of the Jewish people, and the latter being the law which was given to Moses on Mount Sinai and which was placed in the Torah

The Ashkenazi Jews are probably created at this time. It is also likely that migration begins - or is stepped up - in the direction of Babylon, increasing the population of what in modern times is labelled eastern or Mizrahi Jews (plus several sub-groups).

The origins of the Karaite Jews of the Middle Ages in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, and even Crimea, can probably also be placed within this time period. They develop out of the strict Ananite Jews who are extinct by the tenth century AD.


Amr Ibn Al-Aas, the first Islamic governor of Egypt, is known to stamp an order with his name which orders the leaders of the local Rabbinate Jewish community against interfering with the practices of the Karaite Jews or the way in which they celebrate their holidays.

The Karaite movement fully crystallises in Abbasid Baghdad between the eighth and ninth centuries AD, although its earlier Jewish Diaspora origins in Egypt are still being examined with respect to this.

The Dome of the Rock
With the Second Temple having been destroyed in the first century AD, the temple mount witnessed a variety of uses until the coming of Islam and a return to more holy usage


Anan ben David is generally considered to be a major founding figure in the Karaite movement. Around this date his father dies: Shelomoh ben Ḥisdai II, the 'exilarch' in Abbasid Babylon. Anan and his brother, Ḥananyah, are seen as the likely successors to the post of exilarch, with the latter being selected by the rabbis of the Babylonian Jewish colleges (the 'Geonim') and notables of the chief Jewish congregations.

Anan may refuse to accept the decision (unproven by modern scholars but strongly suspected), leading to a schism. Anan, backed by his followers, the Ananites, allegedly claims the title of 'exilarch', leading to a charge of treason by the city's Islamic authorities. The sentence is commuted to exile in Palestine. A synagogue is erected there which is maintained until the time of the Crusades. Ananite numbers diffuse throughout Islamic territories.

c.760 - 780

The death of Anan ben David means that he is succeeded by his son, Saul, and then his grandson, Josiah, as head of the Ananite sect. However, neither of them possess the intellectual skill of the movement's founder.

Abbasid silver dirham
The silver dirham shown here was issued during the reign of Caliph Muhammad al Mahdi (775-785), only the third of the Abbasid caliphs at their capital in Baghdad

Instead it is Karaism which progresses, especially between 830-890 when its practices and doctrine diverge significantly from those of the Ananites. Ananism entirely disappears in the tenth century, while Karaism survives without being especially vibrant in later centuries.


David Ben-Gurion makes his proclamation of the creation of the state of Israel on 14 May 1948, the last day of British Mandate Palestine. On the following day the neighbouring Arab states of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria attack Israel, prompting the start of the Arab-Israeli War. Saudi Arabia sends its own military contingent to support the Egyptians. The war lasts for a year before a ceasefire is agreed.

The modern state of Israel has been established. It offers a home for Jews of all groups, whatever their part in the Jewish Diaspora and whatever their history across the two millennia or more since their ancestors had departed the region. Karaite Jews return home in large numbers, but they still have sizeable communities in Turkey, across Europe, and in the USA.

Official declaration of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948
The white-haired, sixty-two year-old David Ben-Gurion proclaims the declaration of the creation of the state of Israel, doing so in the small art museum on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv in 1948

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