When you study the history of Judaism in the period of the gap between the last two prophets Isa ﷺ and Muhammad ﷺ, you find quite a bit of peculiarities.
The Three Jewish–Roman Wars
The Jews had just denied the prophet Isa ﷺ and tried to have him killed in 30 CE. Then they started the First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 CE), which failed. In the aftermath of the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, the Sadducees were largely extinguished. The Pharisees survived, though dispersed. They denied the real Messiah Isa ﷺ, and the result was their loss and destruction.
The Kitos War (115–117 CE) followed, started by the Jewish diaspora who lived outside of Israel, more of an ethno-religious conflict fought outside of Israel. It resulted in a widespread slaughter of Roman citizens and others, perhaps even 440,000 in total. This also resulted in defeat.
The third was the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–136 CE), of further irony. After rejecting the real messiah and calling him a liar, they then followed a false messiah and actual liar. Simon bar Kokhba, the commander of the revolt, claimed to be the Messiah who could restore Israel. The revolt established an independent state of Israel over parts of Judea for more than two years, but a Roman army finally crushed it.
The Romans then barred Jews from Jerusalem, except to attend Tisha B’Av, an annual fast day for the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Although Jewish Christians hailed Jesus as the Messiah and did not support Bar Kokhba, they were barred from Jerusalem along with the rest of the Jews. The war and its aftermath helped differentiate Christianity as a religion distinct from Judaism.
What’s notable here is the irony and tragedy of this aftermath. The result of most people denying Isa ﷺ and trying to have him crucified was:
- Losing the holy land to the Romans, who later believed in a very corrupted form of his message that is Christianity.
- Following a false messiah who also was destroyed by Rome.
- Then being barred from Jerusalem until the coming of the Islamic empire in the 7th century.
Now they still deny yet another prophet, and weep at the Wailing Wall while Muslims celebrate and pray. If they would just open their eyes: accept God’s prophets, accept Islam, and they can enter the temple, Masjid al-Aqsa.
People of the Time Period
The current form of Rabbinic Judaism spurned from the Pharisaic Judaism that survived the destruction of the Second Temple. It has been the mainstream form of Judaism since the 6th century CE, after the codification of the Babylonian Talmud. Rabbinic Judaism is based on the belief that at Mount Sinai, Moses received from God both the “Written” Torah and the “Oral Torah,” which they claim are understandings and interpretations only later reduced to writing, and that Moses transmitted both the Written and Oral Torah to the people.
In Islam, the people of this period between the prophets Isa ﷺ and Muhammad ﷺ are referred to as the ahlul fatra (أهل الفترة), “people of the period,” for they lived during a gap in revelation and prophethood.
The Talmud is basically their giant compilation of fiqh, or legal rulings. They claim it comes from the Oral Torah, which was written after the destruction of the Second Temple. Sort of like hadith without a chain, but they’re most likely just writings of Jewish scholars through the centuries. They claim at least some parts of the Oral Torah have an unbroken chain back to the prophet Musa ﷺ… though they don’t have an actual chain of transmission, three millennia removed. Perhaps fragments of the original teaching remain, perhaps not.
What’s interesting about this is the sheer amount of effort and time that went into compiling it during this gap. It’s like a scramble to recover their own distant law after most of them denied God’s prophet and lost the holy land. Now they put in years of effort to clarify and codify their law into one compilation from whatever sources they could recover, when the prophet Isa ﷺ would’ve given verdicts on the law for them if only he were present and accepted. What a tragedy.
By the time they finished, the last prophet Muhammad ﷺ arrived shortly after and abrogated the previous law anyways. Yet they persist on rejecting yet another prophet, and cling to this religion despite the fact that even the Torah itself is lost to time.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
It’s easy as a Muslim to look back and look at them as blameworthy. But imagine if you were born after the prophet Isa ﷺ left Earth. What would you believe? Who would you believe? Where would you go? It’s hard to answer. It’s hard to even list, today, all of the different groups that existed back then. There were different types of Jews and Christians, both Gentile and Jewish Christians, with a wide array of beliefs and creeds. Without any connection to revelation, how can you know what the truth is?
Allah ﷻ knows best, maybe their efforts will be accepted from them for being people of the gap in revelation, who neither had a chance to meet the prophet Isa ﷺ or hear his true message, nor meet the final prophet Muhammad ﷺ. Maybe the work on compiling the law will be accepted by Allah ﷻ. But it really shows how much we have to appreciate as Muslims, for the time period we’re born in and the preservation of this beautiful din.
The Jews who do commit to guidance and accept Islam tend to become great scholars, like Muhammad Asad and many others, may Allah ﷻ accept from them, and may Allah ﷻ guide many more, amin!