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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 BC. 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 BC.

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 BC. 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 BC, Egypt was conquered by Asian tribes known as the Hyksos. The Hyksos are later driven out by Kamose, the last king of the seventeenth dynasty. Between 1540-1070 BC, 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 BC The Egyptian reign of Amenhotep II. It is here that the first mention of Hapiru (possibly the Hebrews) is found in Egyptian texts.


1365 BC Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) comes to power. He unsuccessfully tries to promote a form of monotheism with the Sun god 'Re' as creator. His successor is Tutankhamun (King Tut).

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

1300 BC 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 leads 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 (Palestine). Moses died before entering Canaan, and Joshua became the next leader.

1200 BC. The Hittite empire is conquered by allied tribes from the north. The northern, coastal Canaanites (called the Phoenicians by the Greeks) are temporarily displaced, but return when the invading tribes show 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 BC, Israel was led by a series of judges, before establishing a true kingdom. In 1185 BC the Sea Peoples invade Egypt, but are repelled. The Peleshet are deflected northward, and settle in Canaan, in the cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ashdod.

1140 BC the Canaanite tribes try to destroy the Israelite tribes of northern and central Canaan. According to the Bible, the Israelite response is led by Barak, and the Hebrew prophet Devorah. The Canaanites are defeated.

1030 BC. The tribes settle in the land of Israel; A time of unrest and strife. Saul became the first king of the Israelites in approximately 1020 B.C. David succeeded him in 1006 BC, 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 Solomon in about 965 BC, who constructed a Temple at Jerusalem and had a prosperous reign. However, on Solomon's death in 926 BC the kingdom began to fragment, bisecting into the kingdoms of Israel in the north (including the city of Jericho) and Judah in the south (containing Jerusalem).

In 922 BC, the Kingdom of Israel divides. Judah, the southern Kingdom, has Jerusalem as its capital and is led by Rehoboam. It is populated by the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Simeon (and some of Levi). Simeon and Judea later merged together, and Simeon lost it 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: Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, Dan, Manaseh, Ephraim, Reuben and Gad (and some of Levi). Samaria is its capital.

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

The people today known as 'Jews' are descended from the southern half of ancient Israel. Most people mistakenly think that the southern Kingdom was only populated by those Jews from the tribe of Judah and Bejamin, but this is not exactly so.

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 BC. 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 BC, 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 BC. Reign of King Hezekiah of Judah. One of the greatest kings of Judah; He initiated reforms that eliminated idolatry. " class="external">

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

637-607 BC. The reign of King Josiah is 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). " class="external">

612 BC. King Nabopalassar of Babylonia attacks and destroys the Assyrian capitol city of Nineveh and regains Babylonia's independence. The Assyrian empire is destroyed.

587 BC. Babylon, under King Nebuchadnezzar II, seizes Jerusalem. The First Temple is destroyed. The date is the 9th of Av, Tisha B'av. " class="external">

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

722-586 BC. The First Dispersion, the Diaspora. Jews are taken as slaves, or flee to Egypt Syria, Mesopotamia, and Persia. " class="external">

559 BC. Cyrus the Great becomes King of Persia. " class="external">

539 BC. Babylonian Empire falls to Persia under King Kyros.

550-333 BC. Persian Empire rules over Israel.

537 BC. Cyrus allows 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 is begun. " class="external">

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

480-323 BC. Classical Greek period. Persian War, Peloponnesian war. " class="external">

In this time period, Alexander conquers the near and middle east. " class="external">

Development of early democracy. Height of Athenian culture. " class="external">

444 BC. The reformation of Israel is led by the Jewish scribes Nehemiah and Ezra. Ezra institutes synagogue and prayer services, and canonizes the Torah by reading it publicly in Jerusalem to the Great Assembly. Ezra sets up the Great Assembly.

Ezra and Nehemiah ml

332 BC. The Empire of Alexander the Great includes Israel. The Persian Empire is defeated by Alexander. " class="external">

323 BC. Alexander the Great dies. In the struggle for power after Alexander's death, the part of his empire including Israel changed hands at least five times in just over twenty years. Babylonia and Syria are ruled by the Seleucids and Egypt is under the Ptolemies.

323-31 BC. Hellenistic Greek period. Library at Alexandria built. The great altar of Zeus and Athena is built at Pergamon. Rome defeats Macedonia (168 BC) and sacks Corinth (146 BC).

301 BC. Ptolemy I Soter becomes the last Ptolemic ruler of Israel.

250 BC. The beginning of the Pharisees (rabbinic Jews), and other Jewish sects such as the Sadducees and Essenes. " class="external">

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

The Maccabe Rebellion, Chanukah and the Hasmonean Kingdom 180-142 BC.


In AD 66, Roman soldiers loot Jerusalem, which is then seized by a sect of Jews called the Zealots. Roman military reinforcements from Syria are defeated by the Zealots. The Revolt lasts 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 seizes the throne after a civil war. By AD 70, the Romans occupy Jerusalem. Titus, son of the Roman Emperor, destroys the Second Temple on the 9th of Av, Tisha B'av. Over 100,000 Jews die during the siege, and almost 100,000 are taken to Rome as slaves. Many Jews fled to Mesopotamia (Iraq) and other countries around the Mediterranean.

Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai escapes from Jerusalem and obtains 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 survives the destruction of Jerusalem through this new center. The Sanhedrin becomes the supreme religious, political and judicial body for Jews worldwide until AD 425, when it is forcibly disbanded by the Roman government under pressure by the Christian Church. [1]

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

200 BC-AD 100. Throughout this era the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, Old Testament) is gradualy canonized.

AD 391 Byzantine era begins.

AD 636 Arab rule.

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Kings of Israel Kings of Judah Places

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