Three thousand years ago, tradition says the prophet Samuel anointed a lowly shepherd named David king of Israel. A warrior who could defeat Goliath and write love psalms, David managed to pull the quarreling Jewish tribes together into one nation and then ruled a kingdom that today remains the heart of Jewish claims to the land of Israel. Living from approximately 1040 to 970 BCE, he had at least one daughter and 22 sons, and amassed enough wealth and power for one of those sons, Solomon, to build the Temple in Jerusalem.
Male descendants of King David ruled Israel until the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 597 BCE, and Jews scattered. Some managed to stay in Palestine, others fled to Egypt, but the victorious Babylonians took most of the nesi’im—the princes of the Davidic line—to Babylon. There, the King David line continued: Princes of the House of David were appointed by religious leaders to govern the Jewish community. This person was called Rosh ha’gola, which translates as “head of the exile” or exilarch. Fraught with behind-the-scenes political infighting, the position survived the Arab conquest of Baghdad but came to an end when the last exilarch, Hezekiah, was imprisoned and tortured to death in 1040 CE.
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