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History of ancient Israel and Judah

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In compiling the history of ancient Israel and Judah, there are many available sources, including the Jewish Tanakh (the Old Testament of the Christian Bible), other Jewish texts such as the Talmud, the Ethiopian book of history known as the Kebra Nagast , the writings of historians such as Nicolaus of Damascus , Artapanas , Philo of Alexandria and Josephus, other writings, and archaeological evidence including Egyptian, Moabite, Assyrian and Babylonian inscriptions.

Depending on their interpretation, some writers see these sources as being in conflict. See The Bible and history for several views as to how the sources are best reconciled. This is a controversial subject, with important implications in the fields of religion, politics and diplomacy.

This article attempts to give a conservative scholarly view which would currently be supported by most historians. The precise dates and the precision by which they may be stated are subject to continuing discussion and challenge. There are no biblical events whose precise year can be validated by external sources before the early 9th century BCE (The rise of Omri, King of Israel). Therefore all earlier dates are extrapolations. Further, the Bible does not render itself very easily to these calculations: mostly it does not state any time period longer than a single life time and a historical line must be reconstructed by adding discrete quantities, a process that naturally introduces rounding errors. The accuracy in which dates are represented here reflects a maximalist view, namely one that takes the Bible as mostly literally true.

Some dispute that many of the events happened at all, making the dating of them moot: if the very existence of the united kingdom is in doubt, it is pointless to claim that it disintegrated in 922 BC. However, many of the events from the 9th century onward do have corroborations; see for example Mesha Stele.


Early history

The Mousterian Neanderthals were the earliest known inhabitants of the area and can be traced to c. 200 000 BCE. The first anatomically modern humans to live in the area were the Kebaran s (c. 18 000 - 10 500 BCE). They were followed by the Natufian culture (c. 10 500 BCE - 8500 BCE), the Yarmukian s (c. 8500 - 4300 BCE) and the Ghassulians (c. 4300 - 3300 BCE). The Semitic culture followed on from the Ghassulians. People became urbanized and lived in city-states, one of which was Jericho. The area's location at the center of routes linking three continents made it the meeting place for religious and cultural influences from Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor. It was also the natural battleground for the great powers of the region and subject to domination by adjacent empires, beginning with Egypt in the late 3rd millennium BCE. Traditional history refers to the early inhabitants as the sons of Shem and speaks of an invasion by a people called Canaanites descended from Ham.

The patriarchal period

The history traditionally begins with Abraham being promised by God that he would become the father of a great nation. If the events described in the Bible actually took place, they would appear to take place circa 1800 BCE. Somewhere near this time, Terah and his son Abram (later named Abraham) move from the Sumerian city of Ur to the city of Haran. Abraham declares his belief in the One God, which initiates the beginning of Judaism. Abraham marries Sarai (later named Sarah). Abraham and his extended clan move to the land of Canaan (Israel).

Most modern historians now dispute the historical accuracy of all the patriarchal narratives in the Bible; these events are held by many to be largely, or perhaps entirely, mythical.

Abraham's grandson Jacob was later renamed Israel and, according to the Biblical account, his 12 sons became the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel (see the article on Israelites for more info on this topic.) [1] [2]

How did the descendants of the Israelites become slaves? Did they become slaves at all? The historical background behind this narrative is unclear. A few historians believe that this may have been due to the changing political conditions within Egypt. In 1600 BCE, Egypt was conquered by Asian tribes known as the Hyksos. The Hyksos were later driven out by Kamose, the last king of the seventeenth dynasty. Between 1540-1070 BCE, Amhose founded the 18th Egyptian dynasty, and a new age for Egypt, The New Kingdom. Thutmos II established Egypt's empire in western Asia.

1440 BCE The Egyptian reign of Amenhotep II, during which the first mention of the Hapiru (possibly the Hebrews) is found in Egyptian texts. [3]

1365 BCE Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) came to power. He unsuccessfully tried to promote a form of monotheism with the Sun god 'Re' as creator. Akhenaten's successor was Tutankhamun.

1295 BCE Egypt's 19th dynasty began with the reign of Ramses I. Ramses II (1279-1213 BCE) filled the land with enormous monuments, and formed an alliance with the Hittites.

1300 BCE If Moses was an actual historical figure, the Bible indicates that this may be the time that he was born. [4] [5]

According to the Bible, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. According to the Biblical narrative, the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years and eventually came to "the promised land" in Canaan. Moses died before entering Canaan, and Joshua became the next leader.

1200 BCE. The Hittite empire was conquered by allied tribes from the north. The northern, coastal Canaanites (called the Phoenicians by the Greeks) were temporarily displaced, but returned when the invading tribes showed no inclination to settle. [6]

The Egyptians called the horde that swept across Asia Minor and the Mediterranean the Sea Peoples. Some hold that the Philistines originated from them. [7]

Around 1200 BCE, Israel was led by a series of judges, before establishing a true kingdom. In 1185 BCE the Sea Peoples invaded Egypt, but were repelled. The Peleshet were deflected northward, and they settled in Canaan, in the cities of Gaza, Gat, Gezer, Ashkelon, and Ashdod. These people are the Philistines of the Bible and provided the name Palestine to the area.

1140 BCE the Canaanite tribes tried to destroy the Israelite tribes of northern and central Canaan. According to the Bible, the Israelite response was led by Barak, and the Hebrew prophet Deborah. The Canaanites were defeated.

1030 BCE. The tribes settled in the land of Israel. It was a time of unrest and strife. Saul became the first king of the Israelites in approximately 1020 BCE. David succeeded him in 1006 BCE, and moved the capital from Hebron to Jerusalem. David waged several, successful military campaigns, annexing Philistia, Edom, Moab, Ammon, and parts of ancient Aram (Syria) known as Aram-Zobah , and Aram-Damascus . Aram itself became a vassal state of Israel under David.

David was succeeded by his son Solomon in about 965 BCE, who constructed the Temple of Solomon at Jerusalem and had a prosperous reign. However, on Solomon's death in 926 BCE the kingdom began to fragment, bisecting into the kingdom of Israel in the north (including the cities of Shechem and Samaria) and the kingdom of Judah in the south (containing Jerusalem).

The period of kingdoms

In 922 BCE, the Kingdom of Israel divided. Judah, the southern Kingdom, had Jerusalem as its capital and was led by Rehoboam. It was populated by the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Simeon (and some of tribe of Levi). Simeon and Judea later merged together, and Simeon lost its separate identity. [8] [9]

Jeroboam led the revolt of the northern tribes and established the Kingdom of Israel, which consisted of nine tribes: Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, Dan, Menasseh, Ephraim, Reuben and Gad (and some of Levi), with Samaria as its capital. [10] [11]

Israel fell to the Assyrians in 721 BCE; Judah fell to the Babylonians a little over a century later in 597 BCE.

The period of captivity

In 722 BCE, the Assyrians, under Shalmaneser, and then under Sargon, conquered Israel (the northern Kingdom), destroyed its capital Samaria, and sent many of the Israelites into exile and captivity. The ruling class of the northern kingdom (a small portion of the overall population) were deported to other lands in the Assyrian empire and a new nobility imported by the Assyrians.

729-687 BCE. Reign of King Hezekiah of Judah. He is noted in the Bible for initiating reforms that eliminated idolatry. [12]

687-638 BCE. Reign of King Manaseh. 638-637 BCE. Reign of King Amon. These two kings reversed Hezekiah's reforms and revived idolatry.

637-607 BCE. The reign of King Josiah was accompanied by a religious reformation. According to the Bible, While repairs were made on the Temple, the Book of the Law was discovered (this was probably the book of Deuteronomy). [13]

612 BCE. King Nabopalassar of Babylonia attacked and destroyed the Assyrian capitol city of Nineveh and regained Babylonia's independence. The Assyrian empire was destroyed.

587 BCE. Babylon, under King Nebuchadnezzar II, seized Jerusalem. The First Temple was destroyed; the date was the 9th of Av, Tisha B'Av. [14]

586 BCE. Conquest of Judah (Southern Kingdom) by Babylon. A large part of Judea's population was exiled to Babylon.

722-586 BCE. The First Dispersion, the Diaspora. Jews were either taken as slaves in what is commonly referred to as the Babylonian captivity of Judah, or they fled to Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, or Persia. [15]

559 BCE. Cyrus the Great became King of Persia. [16]

539 BCE. The Babylonian Empire fell to Persia under King Kyros.

550-333 BCE. The Persian Empire ruled over Israel.

Rebuilding the Temple

537 BCE. Cyrus allowed Shesbazzar, a prince from the tribe of Judah, to bring Babylonian Jews back to Jerusalem. Jews were allowed to return with the Temple vessels that the Babylonians had taken. Construction of the Second Temple began. [17] [18]

520-515 BCE. Under the spiritual leadership of the Prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the Second Temple was completed. At this time the Holy Land is a subdistrict of a Persian province.

480-323 BCE. Classical Greek period. Persian War, Peloponnesian war. [19] [20]

During this time period, Alexander the Great conquered the near and middle east. [21]

Development of early democracy. Height of Athenian culture. [22]

444 BCE. The reformation of Israel was led by the Jewish scribes Nehemiah and Ezra. Ezra instituted synagogue and prayer services, and canonized the Torah by reading it publicly to the Great Assembly in Jerusalem, which he set up.

Ezra and Nehemiah [23] [24]

The legacy of Alexander the Great

332 BCE. The Empire of Alexander the Great included Israel. The Persian Empire was defeated by Alexander. [25]

323 BCE. Alexander the Great died. In the power struggle after Alexander's death, that part of his empire which included Israel changed hands at least five times in just over twenty years. Babylonia and Syria were ruled by the Seleucids and Egypt by the Ptolemies.

323 BCE-31 BCE. Hellenistic Greek period. The Library at Alexandria was built. The great altar of Zeus and Athena was built at Pergamon. Rome defeated Macedonia (168 BCE) and sacked Corinth (146 BCE).

301 BCE. Ptolemy I Soter became the last Ptolemic ruler of Israel.

250 BCE. The beginning of the Pharisees (rabbinic, or modern, Jews), and other Jewish sects such as the Sadducees and Essenes. [26]

198 BCE. Armies of the Seleucid King Antiochus III (Antiochus the Great) oust Ptolemy V from Judea and Samaria.

The Maccabee Rebellion, Chanukah and the Hasmonean Kingdom 180-142 BCE. [27]

Roman conquests

In AD 66, Roman soldiers looted Jerusalem, which was then seized by a Jewish sect called the Zealots. Roman military reinforcements from Syria were defeated by the Zealots. The Revolt lasted until AD 73. In AD 67, Vespasian and his forces land in the north of Israel; They receive the submission of Jews from Ptolemais to Sepphoris. The Jewish garrison at Jodeptah is massacred after a two month siege. By the end of this year Jewish resistance in the north has been crushed.

In AD 69, Vespasian seized the throne after a civil war. By AD 70, the Romans occupied Jerusalem. Titus, son of the Roman Emperor, destroyed the Second Temple on the 9th of Av, Tisha B'Av (556 years to the date after the destruction of the First Temple). Over 100,000 Jews died during the siege, and almost 100,000 were taken to Rome as slaves. Many Jews fled to Mesopotamia (Iraq) and to other countries around the Mediterranean.

Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai escaped from Jerusalem. He obtained permission from the Roman general to establish a center of Jewish learning and the seat of the Sanhedrin in the outlying town of Yavneh. Judaism survived the destruction of Jerusalem through this new center. The Sanhedrin became the supreme religious, political and judicial body for Jews worldwide until AD 425, when it was forcibly disbanded by the Roman government under pressure by the Christian Church. [28]

In AD 73 the last Jewish resistance was crushed by Rome at the mountain fortress of Masada; the last defenders are thought to have committed suicide rather than to be captured and sold into slavery.

200 BCE-AD 100. During this era the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, Old Testament) was gradualy canonized.

The Common Era

AD 391 The Byzantine era began.

AD 636 Arab rule.

Related articles

Some people

Some kings of Israel

Some kings of Judah

Some places

Religious life

See also


Last updated: 02-16-2005 09:19:35
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55