They go back a long time.
There are several versions regarding when they first entered Spain. Jeff Malka suggests they came with the Phoenician traders in the 1,000 B.C., around the time of King Solomon. This same essay states that, "The first tangible evidence of a Jewish presence in Spain is found in the grave of a young Jewish girl named Salomonulla from the 3rd century A.D. found in Adra, Spain."
Another source places this grave in the 2nd century A.D.. There are slight variations in theories (that's all they are), but what
historians generally agree on is that Jews came to the Iberian peninsula with the Romans (200B.C. - 400 A.D.), possibly as merchants, but
more likely as slaves and labourers. They called the country Sepharad (A Hebrew word meaning Spain) and themselves the Sephardim (Jews from
the Iberian peninsula). There are two distinct groups of Jews in the world and they come from two different areas of the world - the
Sephardic Jews from the Middle East and North Africa and the Ashkenazi Jews come from Eastern Europe. The Sephardic is the oldest group and
it is they, if any, who are the Jews described in the bible because they lived in the area described in the bible. They are blood relatives
to the Arabs - the only difference between them is religion.
God's covenant people - yesterday, today and forever
During the Christian Visigothic occupation (468-711), they were harshly persecuted. Among other things, they had their property confiscated and were forced into baptism. The invading Muslims generally treated them with a little more respect due to their common Semitic origins and theological compatibility. Despite this, the constant power struggles and changing leadership ensured that they were not completely free from persecution even during Muslim rule.
When Ferdinand and Isabella came along and captured Granada, the persecution intensified with the Inquisition. At this stage, the majority of Jews had had enough. As many as 300,000 of them left the country for good to settle in Portugal, England, North Africa, Italy, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, the Balkans, and the Turkish Empire. Later, some of them settled in the Netherlands, the West Indies, and North America.
Those who remained after the fall of Granada fled to the mountains along with the Muslims and Gypsies to escape the Inquisition. This exotic melting pot of outcast cultures was forced by exile to share their sorrows and joys, until they worked out what they were going to do with themselves. The haunting melodies of the Sephardim and the melancholy expressed in their songs contributed to the overall blend, which eventually evolved into the flamenco songs we know today.
When you chase up information on the Sephardim, you will come across the letters C.E. and B.C.E to
describe historical events. You may very well ask, "What is this C.E. / B.C.E. business?"
C.E. is supposed to mean "Common Era" and takes the place of A.D.. Likewise,
B.C.E. means "Before Common Era "and takes the place of B.C..
B.C. means "Before Christ". This is a direct reference to the birth year of Christ.
A.D. (from the Latin "Anno Domini") means "in the year of our Lord", and is an implied reference to the birth year of Christ.
For a moment, I pretended that 1999 A.D. has suddenly changed to 1999 C.E. I must say it didn't feel any different, except that vocalizing C.E. created a delightful tinny resonance in the back of my throat. This is opposed to the heavy, woody sound of A.D.
By using C.E. and B.C.E when describing historical events, the Jews are able to conveniently avoid any reference to Jesus Christ.