Rome too persecuted the Jews. In revenge for a rebellion some 40 years after Jesus’ ministry, their legions ravaged the land, expelled its people and looted the treasures of the Jewish faith. Roman monuments and relics record their triumph and the poignant suffering of the defeated Jews.
Yet Rome too, in time, met its downfall, while for close on two millennia, the people of Israel were exiled. Scattered throughout the world, expelled from country after country to take refuge in others, they struggled against oppression and persecution – sadly often at the hands of the very Christians who should have seen in the Jews the foundations of their own faith.
To any rational observer, the expectation would have been for the gradual assimilation of Jews among the various peoples and races among which they were scattered. After all, who could identify Picts, Goths, or for that matter Romans today as distinct, cohesive peoples? Yet a nation the Jews remained - continuing, in exile and in hope, to maintain their distinct identity - despite rampant anti-semitism, often sponsored by supposedly Christian rulers.
Prejudice and hatred continued into relatively recent times, with organized massacres - pogroms –– in Russia and elsewhere among the most extreme examples. In the nineteenth century, some Jewish visionaries began to work for a solution to their age-old problem of dispersion throughout the world and persecution by so many. Most prominent among them was Austrian journalist Theodor Herzl, whose book ‘The Jewish State’ called for the re-creation of a physical, political nation of Israel – in its historic, Biblical homeland, then part of the ramshackle Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. Under Herzl’s leadership the movement gathered momentum, while pioneering parties of Jewish settlers acquired land in Palestine and formed communities there, scraping a living from the land.