The Connections of the “Jewish Kingdom” with “God’s Own Country”

Posted: November 1, 2012 in General

For me, it was a significant trip to Cochin, Kerala (nicknamed as “God’s Own Country”; abbreviated as “Godzone”), South India, and the surrounding places, where Jewish and Christian traditions are closely knitted together. It is believed that the Cochin Jews arrived in India 2,500 years ago and settled down in kerala as traders. I was told that while the Jews were having tough times across the globe (including Christian majority worlds in the West and other parts of India), the Jews of Cochin were enjoying their peaceful life under the Maharajahs of Cochin. Some of the following traditional and historical details, i.e., down from the Solomonic Era to the contemporary context, are caricatured by the help of attractive murals on the walls of the Old Synagogue in Cochin. Other descriptions below are from the writings of Benjamin Israel and Koder. They help us to know about the relationship between Kerala and the Jewish Kingdom of the biblical as well as the extra-biblical narratives.

  • There was a trade between King Solomon’s Kingdom (992-952 BC) and Malabar Coast. The Biblical name for India was “Odhu”. Teak, ivory, spices, sandalwood and peacocks were exported from India.
  • Destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD by the Romans and the consequent dispersal of the Jews to the four corners of the earth from Palestine.
  • Landing of the Jews at Shingly (‘Cranganore’ or modern ‘Kodungalloor’) in 72 AD. S. S. Koder (1965: 2) reports that, “A small hill known as ‘Jooda Kunnu’, a tank known as ‘Jooda Kulam’, the Jewish copper plates and the Syrian Christian plates with the signature of four Jewish witnesses in Judeo-Persian, which incidentally is the second oldest inscription in Judeo-Persian in the world, are a few of the ancient relics that can still be seen to remind one of the glorious past of this forgotten outpost of the Jewish world”.
  • The Rajah (or King) of Cranganore received the Jews.
  • In 379 AD the Jews, under Joseph Rabban the leader of the Jews, established a Jewish kingdom in Anjuvannam (or Cranganore). Joseph Rabban became the prince of the kingdom. One of the rabbis wrote in the fourteenth century as follows: “I have travelled from Spain. I had heard of the city of Shingly (i.e., Cranganore). I had longed to see an Israel King. Him I saw with my own eyes” (cf. Benjamin J. Israel, 1982: 38-39).
  • Two of the original silver trumpets used in the Second Temple at Jerusalem, with the ineffable name carved on them were brought to Cranganore and were blown by the Levites on the eve of Sabbath. Once the Levites were late and the laity (non-Levites) usurped their privilege and in the resulting quarrel, the trumpets were unfortunately destroyed.
  • Destruction of Cranganore by the Moors and Portuguese in 1524 AD. Joseph Azar, the last Jewish prince, swam to Cochin with his wife on his shoulders. The Jews placed themselves under the protection of the Maharajah of Cochin.
  • Construction of the Cochin Synagogue next to the Maharajah’s palace and Temple in 1568 AD.
  • Partial destruction of the Cochin Synagogue by the Portuguese in 1662.
  • Re-building of the Cochin Synagogue in 1664.Building of the Clock Tower by Ezekiel Rahabi in 1760.
  • Tiling of the Synagogue with tiles from Canton by Ezekiel Rahabi in 1762.
  • The Maharajah of Travancore presenting a golden crown for the Torah in 1805.
  • Celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Synagogue in 1968.
  • The last reigning Maharajah of Cochin addressed his Jewish subjects in the Synagogue before relinquishing his throne in 1949.

There is a minority Jewish settlement in Mattancherry (Cochin, Kerala) even today. On Sabbath days, around 50 people gather together for prayer and worship services. Benjamin J. Israel (1982: 38) says, “…there are now only a handful of Jews left in Cochin and, since most of them are elderly, there is a distinct possibility that, within a measurable time, they will remain only a historical memory so long as Jew Town in Cochin retains its name. But an account of the Jews of Cochin cannot be excluded from even a short description of Indian Jewry in view of their stay for over a thousand years in India and the mark they left on the history of Malabar”. It is a minute group in comparison to the Sabbath gatherings in Mumbai, Kolkata, and other parts of the nation. But, the settlement of Cranganore/Cochin is one of the oldest Jewish settlements in the world.

For Further Reference:

Israel, Benjamin J. The Jews of India. New Delhi: Mosaic Books, 1982.

Koder, S. S. Kerala and Her Jews. Cochin: Cochin Synagogue.

Compiled by: Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India

Comments
  1. kevobx says:

    If one’s mother is Jewish, does that make them a Jew by birth? Esau and Israel birth mother Rebekah is Syrian! (*1st Chronicles 1:34*) A wicked man will attached themselves to another man’s bloodline, why? Our heritage is the tribe of Judah with no conversion needed, culture is beneath our feet. (Romans 9:4)

  2. Roger Hedlund says:

    Dear Rev Johnson Thomaskutty,
    this is interesting. makes me wonder: should we consider devoting an edition of DHARMA DEEPIKA to ‘Kerala and the Jews’??? who could we get to write appropriate articles on related topics?

    • Franklin Samraj says:

      Hello Roger Hedlund

      That is good to revive and record the Historic Jewish communities existing in India, What about the Jews in Pune ? There is huge Synagogue and a small one too in the City of Pune and some residents with Jewish claims. Are there any in Chennai ?

  3. Dr. Roger Hedlund, that looks a great idea! One thing is assured, that I can definitely contribute one. I may have to search about appropriate people toward that, if you are looking for resource persons. My search is continued and if I come across somebody who is an expert I can introduce him/her toward that end.

  4. kevobx says:

    Benghazi tell the truth? *Proverbs 16:9 A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps. *Daniel 11:43 and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his steps. (The world choose facebook as their device over the book of life?) *Jeremiah 18:11-12 Now therefore go to, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Saying, Thus said the Lord; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good. And they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart. (*2nd Corinthians 2:11 Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.) *For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles,.. (Revelation 16:14) (*Matthew 10:5 These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:)

  5. kevobx says:

    What did Jesus tell us about the desert? *Matthew 24:26 Wherefore if they say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: *Isaiah 21:1 THE burden of the desert of the sea. As whirlwinds in the south past through; so it cometh from the desert, from a terrible land. *Hebrews 12:29 For our God is a consuming fire. (*1st Corinthians 8:6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.*) Who is him? *Isaiah 43:7 Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.

  6. […] (1) The Connections of the “Jewish Kingdom” with “God’s Own Country” […]

  7. kevo.bx says:

    This truth will set you free, against the gods and all their things and titles in a strange land call America. The twelve tribes the children of Israel are scattered into four corners of the earth by the way of slavery (Deuteronomy 31:16)

  8. karim ca says:

    Beautiful & brilliant narration

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