Episode 1 Egypt: The First Obituary for Israel

About the Course

The continued existence of the Jews is a miracle. Jewish history is replete with attempts to eliminate the Jewish people, and along with them the Jewish idea of God. But, in the end, all of them failed, and it was the Jews who survived and thrived. Here, in four brief but powerful episodes, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik walks through how the Jews survived the conquests of Egypt, Assyria, and Rome, and explains why, through their own miraculous eternity, the Jews have come to exemplify better than anything else the miraculous case for God.

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Four Miraculous Stories of Jewish Perseverence

Egypt, Assyria, and Rome were three of the greatest empires the world has ever seen. All three attempted to destroy the Jews; all three failed. How did it happen, and what does it say about the Jewish people's relationship to God?

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In episode 1, we travel back to ancient Egypt and to the Merneptah Stele: a monumental granite slab from the late 13th century BCE that inscribes the victories of the Pharaoh Merneptah over his enemies. The monument may contain the very first non-biblical reference to one of those supposedly vanquished enemies: “Israel.” What exactly does the stele say about Israel and the Jewish people? The answer may surprise you.

The Assyrian empire, under the monarch Sennacherib, who reigned from 705 to 681 BCE, was the most formidable military power of the pre-Roman world and, in 701, the dominating force in the Near East. That year, it invaded the kingdom of Judea with a massive army and laid siege to a poorly defended Jerusalem, and yet the Jews somehow survived. What was thought to be a surefire campaign to annihilate the ancestors of today’s Jews—to wipe out Judaism—failed, and the colossal Assyrian empire ended up on the ash heap of history. How did it happen?

In 70 CE, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, laid waste to Jerusalem, and carried off innumerable Jewish slaves. Their victory, and their trophies, are displayed in the frieze of a gigantic triumphal arch that still stands in the city of Rome today. But exactly whose triumph, today, does the famous Arch of Titus represent? The Jews survive, and the Romans do not. Watch Rabbi Soloveichik explain what it all means.

In 73 CE, only three years after the devastation of Jerusalem, Rome’s tenth legion massed against a small band of Jews still stubbornly holding out at Masada, a primitive stone fortress on a cliff above the Dead Sea. There was no contest. In a piercing low point of Jewish history, Masada and its last defenders fell. But Masada was not the end. In this concluding episode of our series—the story of the Jews emerges once again as a chronicle of almost unbelievable tenacity and perseverance, of resurgence, and of the workings of God’s unbreakable covenant with His chosen people. Mighty Rome is no more; the Jewish people lives.

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