Significance of the Holy Land in Uniting and Guiding the Pilgrims
Palestine is very important for the three bigger religions of this world: the Christians, the Jews and the Muslims. In this land took place all the events described in the Old and the New Testament. The name Palestine derives from the Jewish Peleseth and this from the word Pelisti meaning Philistine. The Philistines occupied the land in the 13 century BC and gave it their name which remained all through its history.
Other known names are Canaan Land, Judah Land, Israel Land, Promised Land and Holy Land.
During its long history Palestine has known a lot of conquerors and each one left his own marks. Most intense are the elements of the Greek, the Roman and the Arabian civilization.
History of the Holy land
The history of Palestine is very old and begins thousands of years ago. We can see rich prehistoric findings, fossils of people and animals that belong to the Old and Middle Stone Age (700.000 BC – 15.000 BC).
In the Old Testament the first inhabitants are called Canaanites. Before Abraham’s time the territory was divided in cities-kingdoms which collapsed from the immigrants that came in from east and north. After them, came other groups of immigrants of Indo-Europeans and Indo-Iraqis among them Abraham and his tribe.
The inhabitants of Palestine named them Imbri which means foreigners. Later on they were named Israelites from the name Israel which means –the one God reinforces – a name given to Abraham by an angel (Genesis 32:23-30). Later on Jacob and his descendants leave Canaan and go to Egypt. From 1.550 BC until 1.250 BC is the Canaanitian era. Palestine falls to Egypt and becomes her province. These are the years of the Jewish slavery in Egypt, the Exodus, the formation of the tribes of Israel and the creation of the Jewish religion in the Sinai desert (10 commandments).
Under God’s instructions Moses and Joshua led His people to the Promised Land (1.500-1.400 BC). Palestine was then divided to the 12 tribes of Israel who occupy the inland. The Philistines another tribe settles in the south and they establish Gaza, Asquelon, Ashdod, Gad and Eqron. The rest of the coast line is populated by other tribes.
In time the Jews strengthened under the leadership of local governors (the Judges of the Old Testament) and later on under the united kingdom of the first king of Israel Saul (1.200 – 1.025 BC). When David becomes Israel’s king (1.000 BC), he united, socially and religiously, the 12 tribes of Israel and made Jerusalem the capital of his kingdom. He wins the Philistines who spread and incorporate with the natives.
David’s son Solomon becomes Israel’s king and builds the famous temple of Jerusalem (967-959 BC). After Solomon’s death the kingdom is divided in two: the kingdom of Israel (10 tribes) and the kingdom of Judah (2 tribes). The next years are connected with the kings and prophets of the Bible.
In 722 BC the northern kingdom of Israel falls to Assyria and in 586 BC the kingdom of Judah on the south falls to Babylon and Jews are exiled to Babylon. Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed. New inhabitants come to live in Palestine, among them the Samaritans. The exile lasts 40 years and during this time the ark of God with the Ten Commandments is ravaged.
In 539 BC the Persians conquer Palestine and Babylon but they have a more liberal mind. They allow Jews to return and rebuild Jerusalem and the other towns. Cyrus orders to allow Jews to rebuild the temple and gives back what is left of the golden vessels. This second temple is built on the ruins of the 1st one and is named Zarobabel because it was build under his supervision and with help from prophets Zechariah and Haggai. At the same time the people of Palestine develop relations with the Greeks and the coasts from Gaza to Accra are Hellenised.
In 332 BC Alexander the Great conquers Palestine and brings a new era to the people of the Judah and the east. First of all he lets them, according to his principles – live with their own morals and traditions. The communion with the Greeks radically changes their cultural behavior. The Hellenistic language and intellect dominate. But this doesn’t last for long. After the death of Alexander, Palestine is again the place where bloody events take place.
In 167 BC begins the Maccabean revolt that had political and religious aspects. The result was the creation of the semiautonomous kingdom of the Maccabeans or Hasmoneans who spread all over Palestine except the big Greek cities.
In 63 BC Palestine falls to Rome. The Roman general Pompey abolishes the kingdom of the Maccabeans.
With the help of the Roman army Herod captures Jerusalem in 42 BC and gains control of Judea under the Roman supervision. His reign is troublesome and bloody. He demolishes the Temple and builds a bigger one. During this time Jesus of Nazareth is born in Bethlehem. Herod who was afraid that Jesus will take his throne orders the slaughter of 14.000 children. After his death the Romans assume direct rule in Judea with roman governors. One of them was Pilate (27 – 37 AD).
In 66 AD the Jews revolt against Rome but the Roman general Titus after a long siege seizes Jerusalem and destroys the Jewish Temple. It is the beginning of the dispersion of the Jewish people all over the world.
With the establishment of the east roman state with Constantinople for capital, Palestine becomes a Byzantine province. Christianism is established and is the dominating religion. The Byzantine emperors with most important Constantine the Great and his mother St. Helena appoint the Holy Land. They build churches and monasteries in Jerusalem and all over Palestine. The Christian pilgrims swarm. Monasticism develops, evolves and spreads in the Holy Land.
In 614 AD the Persians of king Chosroes II conquer Palestine. They slaughter, destroy and ravage. They destroy the Church of the Holy Sepulcher seize The Cross and take it to Persia and take captive the patriarch Zechariah.
In 622 AD emperor Heraclius campaigns against them and crushes them. He frees Palestine and comes in Jerusalem victoriously with The Cross. He erects The Cross on Golgotha in September 14, 629. He frees patriarch Zechariah.
In 637 AD Palestine falls to the Arabs. Initially they didn’t harm the Christians and the rights of the Patriarchate. Later on they made much destruction to the pilgrimages. They prosecute the Christians and force a lot of them to recantation. The churches and the monasteries are desolated and pilgrims don’t visit. These persecutions and injuries of the Christians in The Holy Land give the Europeans a cause to organize the crusades for their liberation.
In 1099 Palestine falls to the Crusaders. In 15-06-1099 they enter victoriously in the Holy City and establish the kingdom of Jerusalem. They immediately attend to restore and rebuild the monuments and pilgrimages. Pilgrims begin to come again in the Holy Land. The beam of light is sort. In 1187 the Mamluk Saladin crushes the crusaders. Few cities remain to the crusaders until 1291 when the last are driven away.
An era of decay and hustle begins. The barbarians domineer. In 1517 the Ottomans invade. The situation is no different. The Patriarchate is trying hard to save the pilgrimages and to keep the thin balance in its relations with the conquerors and the other doctrines who came in Jerusalem. Important role to this cause have the “Significant” (Guard of the Holy Sepulcher).
After the liberation of Greece, the Greeks take over the maintenance and re-building of churches in co-operation with the Church of Jerusalem.
In 1917 after the 1st World War the United Nations assign the administration of Palestine to Great Britain. Palestine is governed from a British resident who had to be Hebrew.
In 1948 the British administration is terminated and two states established: the states of Israel and Jordan.
In 1967 and in the Six Day war between Israel and the Arabs the greater part of Palestine is occupied by the Israelis who regain control of the western wall of the Temple.
The war in 1973 enlarges the gap between Jews and Arabs. The controversies have brought the country into a dead end 2,000 years after the Jesus birth.
The pilgrims have survived through these adventures with main keystone the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This has enabled them to unite together and strengthen their faith in Christ.