Jews have a long history in India, being here for thousands of years, forming a small community within the mosaic of Indian communities. Different than other minorities (such as Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists), the Jews originally came from outside India to make their home. Just before the historic visit of Indian Prime Minister Modi to Israel in summer 2017 he penned a joint op-ed with Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel. They recognized this migration of Jews to India when they wrote:
The Jewish community in India was always welcomed with warmth and respect and never faced any persecution.
In fact, Jews have had a profound effect on the history of India, providing a solution to a stubborn mystery in Indian history – how did writing emerge as it did in India? The answer to this question impacts all the classical works of Indian culture.
Jewish History in India
Though distinct, Jews blended in by adopting traditional Indian attire
How long have Jewish communities been in India? The Times of Israel recently published an article highlighting that after ’27 centuries’ Jews from the tribe of Manasseh (Bnei Menashe) are returning to Israel from Mizoram. That puts their ancestors originally arriving here around 700 B.C. Their Telugu-speaking cousins from the Jewish tribe of Ephraim living in Andhra Pradesh (the Bene Ephraim) have a collective memory of being in India more than 1000 years, after wandering through Persia, bndindia Afghanistan, Tibet, and then China. In Kerala, the Cochin Jews have been living there nearly 2600 years. Over the centuries Jews formed small but distinct communities across India. But now they are leaving India for Israel.
Inscription on Jewish synagogue in Cochin. It has been there hundreds of years
How did Jews come to live in India? Why are they returning after so long back to Israel? We have more facts about their history than that of any other nation. We will use this information to summarize their history using a timeline.
Abraham: The Jewish Family Begins
The timeline starts with Abraham. He was given a promise of nations and had encounters with God ending in the symbolic sacrifice of his son Isaac. This was a sign pointing to Jesus (Yeshu Satsang) by marking the future location of his sacrifice. Isaac’s son was named Israel by God. The timeline continues in green when Israel’s descendants were slaves in Egypt. This period started when Joseph, son of Israel (the genealogy was: Abraham -> Isaac -> Israel (also known as Jacob) -> Joseph), led the Israelites to Egypt, where later on they were enslaved.
bible timeline with abraham and moses in history
Living in Egypt as slaves of Pharoah
Moses: The Israelites become a Nation under God
Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt with the Passover Plague, which destroyed Egypt and freed the Israelites from Egypt into the land of Israel. Before he died, Moses pronounced Blessings and Curses on the Israelites (when the timeline goes from green to yellow). They would be Blessed if they obeyed God, but Cursed if they did not. Israel’s history was bound to these Blessings & Curses ever after.
bible historical timeline from Abraham to david
For several hundred years the Israelites lived in their land but they did not have a King, nor did they have the capital city of Jerusalem – it belonged to other people in this time. However, around 1000 BC this changed with King David.
historical timeline Living with Davidic Kings ruling from Jerusalem
Living with Kings of David ruling from Jerusalem
David establishes a Royal Dynasty at Jerusalem
David conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital city. He received the promise of a coming ‘Christ’ and from that time on the Jewish people waited for the ‘Christ’ to come. His son Solomon, rich and famous, succeeded him and built the First Jewish Temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. The descendants of King David continued to rule for about 400 years and this period is shown in aqua-blue (1000 – 600 BC). This was the period of Israelite glory – they had the promised Blessings. They were a powerful nation; had an advanced society, culture, and their Temple. But the Old Testament also describes their growing corruption during this time. Many prophets in this period warned the Israelites that the Curses of Moses would come on them if they did not change. These warnings were ignored. During this time the Israelites divided into two separate kingdoms: the northern Kingdom of Israel or Ephraim, and the southern Kingdom of Judah (like Koreans today, one people split in two countries – North and South Korea).
The First Jewish Exile: Assyria & Babylon
Finally, in two stages the Curses came upon them. The Assyrians in 722 BC destroyed the Northern Kingdom and sent those Israelites into mass deportation across their vast empire. The Bnei Menashe in Mizoram and the Bene Ephraim in Andhra Pradesh are descendants of those deported Israelites. Then in 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar, a powerful Babylonian King came – just like Moses had predicted 900 years before when he wrote in his Curse:
The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away … a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. … They will besiege all the cities throughout the land. (Deuteronomy 28: 49-52)
Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem, burned it, and destroyed the Temple that Solomon had built. He then exiled the Israelites to Babylon. This fulfilled the predictions of Moses that