[FOUNTAIN]What people will endure out of faithThe spirit of Judaism flows through Western civilization. The monotheism shaped by the Hebrews over many centuries became the basis of Christianity. The Hebrews’ earliest appearance in historical records is in Egypt, more than 3,500 years ago. Originating from the Middle East and Northern Egypt, they were considered by many to be dangerous wanderers, mostly mercenary soldiers, criminals and slaves.
Under the reign of Ramses II, from 1304 to 1238 B.C., Hebrew workers were forced to build a chain of border fortresses in the Goshen region, a strategic spot on the lower Nile, to protect Egypt from invasion from the Middle East. One day, according to the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament, the Hebrews suddenly fled Egypt together under the leadership of Moses.
The Hebrews, also known as the Jews, went on to found Israel. The Exodus was a landmark incident that gave this wandering tribe one of the most unique and powerful racial identities in the world. Based on their shared experiences under harsh conditions, the Jews established a monotheistic religion. In a sense, the history of Israel begins with Exodus.
The Jews survived 40 years in the wilderness, which must have been a miracle. These people had risked their lives to search for their Promised Land, said to be “flowing with milk and honey,” and the course of their journey cannot be explained by anything but religious conviction.
Armed with their history of survival and their belief in themselves as God’s chosen people, the Jews have been honoring the teachings of Moses for more than three millennia. After long centuries of persecution, culminating in the Holocaust, they carried out a second Exodus after the end of World War II. Jews scattered around the world began to return to the Palestine region, from which they had been driven away thousands of years before.
At the time of the first Exodus, Moses could not move directly into Canaan because it was ruled by the powerful Palestinians. Thousands of years later, the spiritual descendants of Moses drove out the Palestinians, and founded Israel with the conviction that the region was their Promised Land.
This weekend, some four million people are expected to be in Rome to mourn Pope John Paul II. As many as two million are expected from Poland alone, even though the journey costs as much as some Polish laborers make in a year. This could be seen as something of a modern Exodus. Times have changed, but the power of religion has not diminished.
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is the JoongAng Ilbo’s London correspondent.