History of ancient Israel and Judah

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 inhabitants of the area known to archaeologists, and have been carbon-dated to c. 200,000 BCE. The first anatomically modern humans to live in the area were the Kebarans (conventionally c. 18,000 - 10,500 BCE, but recent paleoanthropological evidence suggests that Kebarans may have arrived as early as 75,000 BCE and shared the region with the Neanderthals for millennia before the latter died out). They were followed by the Natufian culture (c. 10,500 BCE - 8500 BCE), the Yarmukians (c. 8500 - 4300 BCE) and the Ghassulians (carbon dated c. 4300 - 3300 BCE). (Note that not one of these names appears in any classical sources, and were all devised as conventions in recent times by archaeologists, to refer to the lowest strata of remains.)

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.

Traditions regarding the early history found in later works such as the Kebra Nagast and commentaries of Rashi, Philo, and numerous others, (besides of course, the Tanakh) refer to the early inhabitants as the sons of Shem and also speak of an invasion by the people known as Canaanites descended from Ham.

The Book of Jubilees states that the land was originally allotted to Shem and Arphaxad (ancestor of the Hebrews) when it was still vacant, but was wrongfully occupied by Canaan and his son Sidon. Jubilees makes this, then, the true justification for the later war to drive out the Canaanites.

The Kebra Nagast, however, speaks of the Canaanites invading existing cities of Shem and Ibn Ezra, similarly notes that they had seized land from earlier inhabitants. Rashi mentions that the Canaanites were seizing land from the sons of Shem in the days of Abraham.

The patriarchal period

The patriarchal period begins with Abraham. The Bible places the events surrounding Abraham circa 1800 BCE, give or take 100 years. Somewhere near this time, Terah and his son Abram (later named Abraham) moved from the Sumerian city of Ur to the city of Haran. Abraham declared his belief in the One God, initiating the beginning of Judaism. Abraham married Sarai (later named Sarah). Abraham and his extended clan then moved to the land of Canaan.

Some modern historians dispute the historical accuracy of all the patriarchal narratives in the Bible, and hold these events to be largely, or perhaps entirely, mythical. This view is known as minimalism. Others consider them to be largely historical, and presented in terms reflecting the understanding of the times.

Abraham's grandson Jacob was later renamed Israel, and according to the Biblical account, his twelve sons became the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel[1] (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/History/hebpat.html)[2] (http://www.theology.edu/otha01.htm)

Egyptian domination

How did the descendants of the Israelites become slaves? Or did they become slaves at all? The historical background behind the 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 tribes, apparently Semitic, known as the Hyksos by the Egyptians. The Hyksos were later driven out by Kamose, the last king of the seventeenth dynasty. Between 1540-1070 BCE, Ahmose I founded the 18th Egyptian dynasty, and a new age for Egypt, the New Kingdom. Thutmose III established Egypt's empire in the western Near East. From then on, the chronology can only roughly be given in approximate dates for most events, until about the 7th century BC.

  • 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] (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/History/hebrews.html). Recently discovered evidence (see Tikunani Prism) indicates that the Habiru spoke Hurrian, the language of the Hurrians - who were later (c. 1300-1200) assimilated by Assyria, and thereafter began speaking a dialect of Akkadian that ultimately developed into Aramaic.
  • c.1400 First mention of the Shasu in Egyptian records, located just south of the Dead Sea. The Shasu contain a group with a Yahwistic name.
  • 1300 BCE The Bible places the birth of Moses around this time. [4] (http://www.jajz-ed.org.il/history/body1.htm) [5] (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/biography/moses.html)
  • 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 signed a treaty with the Hittites after losing the northern Levant to the Hittite Empire.

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. (If, however, the parting of the Red Sea was caused by the eruption of the Santorini volcano, then the Exodus might have happened around 1500 BC.)

Period of the Judges

After around 1200 BCE, Israel was led by a series of judges, before establishing a true kingdom.

  • 1200 BCE. The Hittite empire of Anatolia was conquered by allied tribes from the west. The northern, coastal Canaanites (called the Phoenicians by the Greeks) may have been temporarily displaced, but returned when the invading tribes showed no inclination to settle. [6] (http://www.escape.com/~farras/ugarit.htm)

In ca. 1185 BCE the Sea People, as the were called by the Egyptians swept across Asia Minor and the Mediterranean. They invaded Egypt, but were repelled. 19th century Bible scholars identified them with the ancestors of the Philistines a view that remains popular.

  • 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.

The United Monarchy

David was succeeded in about 965 BCE by his son Solomon, who constructed the First Temple at Jerusalem and had a prosperous reign. However, on Solomon's death in c. 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 was 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 Judah later merged, and Simeon lost its separate identity. [7] (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/History/Kingdoms1.html) [8] (http://www.israel-mfa.gov.il/facts/hist/fhist2.html#divided)

Jeroboam led the revolt of the northern tribes, and established the Kingdom of Israel, consisting of nine tribes: Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, Dan, Menasseh, Ephraim, Reuben and Gad (and some of Levi), with Samaria as its capital. [9] (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/History/Kings.html) [10] (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/History/Judah.html)

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 (perhaps a small portion of the overall population) were deported to other lands in the Assyrian empire and a new nobility was imported by the Assyrians.

[11] (http://scholar.cc.emory.edu:80/scripts/ASOR/BA/Borowski.html)

These two kings reversed Hezekiah's reforms and revived idolatry. According to later rabbinical accounts, Manasseh placed a grotesque, four-faced idol in the Holy of Holies.

  • 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, a 'Book of the Law' was discovered (possibly the book of Deuteronomy).

[12] (http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/gerald_larue/otll/chap19.html)

  • 612 BCE. Nabopolassar of Babylonia attacked and destroyed the Assyrian capital city of Nineveh, regaining Babylonia's independence. The Assyrian empire was destroyed.

[13] (http://www.jajz-ed.org.il/festivls/9avrka.html)

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

[14] (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/History/Exile.html)

[15] (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/History/Persians.html)

  • 550-333 BCE. The Persian Empire ruled over much of Western Asia, including Israel.

Rebuilding the Temple

  • 537 BCE. Cyrus allowed Sheshbazzar, a prince from the tribe of Judah, to bring the Jews from Babylon back to Jerusalem. Jews were allowed to return with the Temple vessels that the Babylonians had taken. Construction of the Second Temple began.[16] (http://jeru.huji.ac.il/ec1.htm)[17] (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/Judaism/return.html)
  • 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 satrapy (province).
  • 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 that he set up in Jerusalem. Ezra and Nehemiah flourished around this era. [18] (http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/gerald_larue/otll/chap25.html)[19] (http://www.cis.ohio-state.edu/hypertext/faq/usenet/judaism/FAQ/03-Torah-Halacha/faq-doc-8.html) (This was the Classical period in Greece)

The legacy of Alexander the Great

  • 332 BCE. The Persian Empire was defeated by Alexander. The Empire of Alexander the Great included Israel.[20] (http://mars.acnet.wnec.edu/~grempel/courses/wc1/lectures/09alexander.html) However, it is said that he did not attack Jerusalem directly, after a delegation of Jews met him and assured him of their loyalty by showing him certain prophecies contained in their writings.
  • 323 BCE. Alexander the Great died. In the power struggle after Alexander's death, the part of his empire that 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.
  • 250 BCE. The beginning of the Pharisees party (rabbinic, or modern, Jews), and other Jewish sects such as the Sadducees and Essenes. [21] (http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/Judaism/The_Temple.html)

Roman conquests

In 63 BCE, Pompey conquered the region and made it a client kingdom of Rome. In 6 CE, Caesar Augustus made it a Roman province under a procurator.

In 66, the Great Jewish Revolt broke out, lasting until 73. In 67, Vespasian and his forces landed in the north of Israel, where they received the submission of Jews from Ptolemais to Sepphoris. The Jewish garrison at Jodeptah was massacred after a two month siege. By the end of this year, Jewish resistance in the north had been crushed.

In 69, Vespasian seized the throne after a civil war. By 70, the Romans had occupied Jerusalem. Titus, son of the Roman Emperor, destroyed the Second Temple on the 9th of Av, ie. Tisha B'Av (656 years to the day after the destruction of the First Temple in 587 BCE). Over 100,000 Jews died during the siege, and nearly 100,000 were taken to Rome as slaves. Many Jews fled to Mesopotamia (Iraq), and to other countries around the Mediterranean.

After 70 the Romans, seeking to suppress the name "Judaea", reorganized it as part of the province of Syria-Palestine. The Latin name, Palaestina, was chosen in honour of the Philistines, who had occupied the coastline much earlier. From then on the region was known as Palestine.

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, by then officially dominated by the Christian Church. [23] (http://www.shamash.org/jb/bk950804/comm2.htm)

In 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 be captured and sold into slavery.

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

The Byzantine Era

  • 391 CE The Byzantine era began with the permanent division of the Roman Empire into East and Western halves. The last true Roman Emperor in the West was unseated in 476, by which time it had been completely overrun by Germanic nations; however, the Eastern half, known as the Byzantine Empire, lasted much longer, persevering in one form or another until 1453. Byzantine control over the Holy Land lasted until 636, when it was conquered by Arabs and became a part of the Caliphate. It was to remain under firm Muslim control until the Crusades, however, by this time we are well out of the "History of ancient Israel and Judah", and within the Mediaeval Era.

Related articles

Notable people

Partial list of kings of Israel

Partial list of kings of Judah

Notable places

Religious places and objects

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