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History of ancient Israel and Judah
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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, the writings of Josephus, other writings, and archeology.

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 are in many cases subject to continuing discussion and challenge.

Table of contents
1 Early history

Early history

The Canaanites were the earliest known inhabitants of the area, and can be traced at least to the 3rd millennium BCE. They 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.

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.)

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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 found 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.


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 (King Tut).

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.

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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.


The Egyptians called the horde that swept across Asia Minor and the Mediterranean the Sea Peoples. At the head of this alliance of Sea Peoples were the Peleshet, known in the Bible as the Philistines. They possibly originated on the island of Crete.


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 Devorah. 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).

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 it's separate identity.

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

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Israel fell to the Assyrians in 721 BCE; Judah fell to the Babylonians a little over a century later in 597 BCE. For further history of the territory comprising ancient Israel and Judah, see Palestine.

The people today known as 'Jews' are descended from the Kingdom of Judah and those of the Kingdom of Israel that fled to Judah.

In Bibical times, Israel was originally one country. Eventually, it suffered through a civil war which split it into two parts. This happened in 922 BCE. Jeroboam led the revolt of the northern tribes and established the (northern) Kingdom of Israel. It consisted of nine landed tribes: Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, Dan, Manaseh, Ephraim, Reuben and Gad, and some of Levi [which had no land allocation]. This makes ten tribes, which later became known as "the lost ten tribes". However, Manaseh and Ephraim technically count as just one full tribe, so their were really eight full landed tribes, and part of one tribe without land. Samaria was its capital.

Judah, the southern Kingdom, has Jerusalem as its capital and was led by King Rehoboam. It is populated by the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Simeon (and also some of Levi). Simeon and Judea later merged together, and Simeon lost its separate identity.

In 722 BCE, the Assyrians, under Shalmaneser, and then under Sargon, conquered Israel (the northern Kingdom), destroyed its capital Samaria, and sent the Israelites into exile and captivity. Much of the nine landed tribes of the northern kingdom become 'lost'. However, what is less commonly know is that many people from the conquered northern kingdom fled south to safety in Judea, the Southern Kingdom, which maintained its independence. By this time the nation of Judah then was populated with Israelites from Judah, Bejamain, Shimeon, some of Levi, and many from all of the other tribes as well.

729-687 BCE. Reign of King Hezekiah of Judah, one of the greatest kings of Judah. He initiated reforms that eliminated idolatry. http://scholar.cc.emory.edu:80/scripts/ASOR/BA/Borowski.html

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. While repairs were made on the Temple, the Book of the Law was discovered (this was probably the book of Deuteronomy). http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/gerald_larue/otll/chap19.html

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. http://www.jajz-ed.org.il/festivls/9avrka.html

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, and Persia. http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/History/Exile.html

559 BCE. Cyrus the Great became King of Persia. http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/History/Persians.html

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

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

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. http://jeru.huji.ac.il/ec1.htm 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 province.

480-323 BCE. Classical Greek period. Persian War, Peloponnesian war. http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/classics/thucydes.htm http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/classics/sophists.htm

During this time period, Alexander the Great conquered the near and middle east. http://www.wallop.demon.co.uk/alexander/

Development of early democracy. Height of Athenian culture. http://mars.acnet.wnec.edu/~grempel/courses/wc1/lectures/07democracy.html

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 http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/gerald_larue/otll/chap25.html http://www.cis.ohio-state.edu/hypertext/faq/usenet/judaism/FAQ/03-Torah-Halacha/faq-doc-8.ht ml

332 BCE. The Empire of Alexander the Great included Israel. The Persian Empire was defeated by Alexander. http://mars.acnet.wnec.edu/~grempel/courses/wc1/lectures/09alexander.html

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. http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/Judaism/The_Temple.html

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.


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. [1]

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.

AD 391 The Byzantine era began.

AD 636 Arab rule.

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