History of the Jews in Spain – Kehillat Israel

Posted By on July 17, 2015

Figure 1. Paleohispania.

Figure 2. Europe, 500 BCE.

Figure 3. Europe, 300 BCE.

Figure 4. Iberia, ethnographic areas.

Prehistoric Spain was settled by the Iberians, Tartessians, Basques, and Celts (Figure 1). While the Basques remained in the northern region centered around the Pyrenees, a distinct ethnic group eventually formed called the Celtiberians, tribes of mixed Iberian and Celtic stock who inhabited an area in the central part of the peninsula before the start of the first millennium BCE. The map area in light green, the Iberian area, is the Catalonia of antiquity while the dark-green area is the homeland of the Basques. The name Vascones is Basque in French.

If we look at a map of Europe of the sixth century BCE (Figure 2), we can see how Spain fits into the overall picture of Europe in the early first millennium BCE. The traditional date for the founding of Rome is 753 BCE and Alexander the Great didnt begin his campaign in Asia until 334 BCE. During the fourth century BCE (Figure 3), we see Rome beginning to grow, Alexanders conquests being split among his generals, and the great northern tribes, those of the Gauls and Germans, coalescing into discreet groupings. The population of Hispania (the ancient name of the Iberian peninsula), was ethnically quite diverse; even in pre-Roman times a number of cultures lived in this region (Figure 4).

It still is diverse; Spain has the most ethnically diverse population of any country in Europe. As well see in this course, the ancestors of todays Spaniards include, in addition to the Iberians of antiquity, Celts, Phoenicians, Romans, Carthaginians, Germanic/Scandinavian peoples, Moors, middle-eastern Arabs, Slavs, and Jews. A commercial genetic database reports the following genetic ancestries of Spanish residents they tested: 40% Celtic; 30% Iberian; 15% Germanic derived; 7% Viking (Scandinavian); 8% Arabic/Berber.1 A recent study found that 19.8 percent of Spaniards share a Y-chromosome haplotype with Sephardic Jews and 10.8 percent share this genetic similarity with northern African populations.2 When considering these results, also keep in mind that correlation is not proof of causation, but these results are nonetheless illustrative of the intimate genetic relationship among Spanish Jews and Christiansand Muslims.

When did the Jews first arrive in Spain? There are hints from the Bible that the lands of the western Mediterranean were well known to the Israelites. Around 970 BCE Solomon formed an alliance with Hiram of Tyre, the king of the Phoenicians, providing Hiram with sailors who had a knowledge of the sea equivalent to that of the Phoenician sailors. The territories of the Israelite tribes of Asher, Zebulon, and Dan were part of Phoenicia and some early Spanish Jewish documents actually refer to those tribes as having descendants living in Iberia.3 The Bible implies that expeditions to Spain were routine as early as the tenth century BCE.

Solomon also built ships.... And Hiram sent his servants to serve as shipmen in the navy, those that had knowledge of the sea, with the servants of Solomon. (1 Ki 9:2627; see also 2 Ch 8:1718)

For the king had at sea a navy of Tarshish with the navy of Hiram: once every three years came the navy of Tarshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks. (1 Ki 10:22; Tarshish has frequently been identified as Tartessasouthern Spain)

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History of the Jews in Spain - Kehillat Israel

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