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History of ancient Israel and Judah

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Title: History of ancient Israel and Judah  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: History of Israel, History of the Jews and Judaism in the Land of Israel, Israelites, History of Palestine, Zionism
Collection: Ancient Israel and Judah, Ancient Jewish History, Ancient Levant, History of Israel, Jewish History
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History of ancient Israel and Judah

The Iron Age kingdom of Israel (blue) and kingdom of Judah (yellow), with their neighbors (tan) (8th century BCE)

Israel and Judah were related Iron Age kingdoms of the ancient Levant. The Kingdom of Israel emerged as an important local power by the 9th century BCE before falling to the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 722 BCE. Israel's southern neighbor, the Kingdom of Judah, emerged in the 8th century BCE[1] and enjoyed a period of prosperity as a client-state of first Assyria and then Babylon before a revolt against the Neo-Babylonian Empire led to its destruction in 586 BCE. Following the fall of Babylon to the Persian king Cyrus the Great in 539 BCE, some Judean exiles returned to Jerusalem, inaugurating the formative period in the development of a distinctive Judahite identity in the Persian province of Yehud. Yehud was absorbed into the subsequent Hellenistic kingdoms that followed the conquests of Alexander the Great, but in the 2nd century BCE the Judaeans revolted against the Hellenist Seleucid Empire and created the Hasmonean kingdom. This, the last nominally independent Judean kingdom, came to an end in 63 BCE with its conquest by Pompey of Rome. With the installation of client kingdoms under the Herodian Dynasty, the Kingdom of Israel was wracked by civil disturbances which culminated in the First Jewish–Roman War, the destruction of the Temple, the emergence of Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity.


  • Periods 1
  • Sources 2
    • The Biblical narrative 2.1
    • The archaeological record 2.2
  • Late Bronze Age Background (1600–1200 BCE) 3
  • Iron Age I (1200–1000 BCE) 4
  • Iron Age II (1000–550 BCE) 5
  • Babylonian period 6
  • Persian period 7
  • Hellenistic period 8
  • Religion 9
    • Iron Age Yahwism 9.1
    • Second Temple Judaism 9.2
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • Bibliography 12
  • Further reading 13


  • Iron Age I: 1200–1000
  • Iron Age II: 1000–586
  • Neo-Babylonian: 586–539
  • Persian: 539–332
  • Hellenistic: 332–53[2]


The sources for the history of ancient Israel and Judah can be broadly divided into the biblical narrative (the Hebrew Bible, Deuterocanonical and non-biblical works for the later period) and the archaeological record. The latter can again be divided between epigraphy (written inscriptions, both from Israel and other lands including Mesopotamia and Egypt) and the material record (i.e., physical objects from that period).

The Biblical narrative

The Torah contains "sagas, heroic epics, oral traditions, annals, biographies, narrative histories, novellae, belles lettres, proverbs and wisdom-sayings, poetry, prophecy, apocalyptic, and much more ... the whole finally woven into a composite, highly complex literary fabric sometime in the Hellenistic era."[3]

The archaeological record

In the 1920s, the German scholar Albrecht Alt proposed that an Israelite conquest of Canaan – the story of the book of Joshua – was not supported by the archaeological record. Instead, he proposed that the main biblical idea was still correct, but that the Israelites entered Canaan peacefully instead of through conquest. Later, this compromise was abandoned, and the Israelites were interpreted to be indigenous Canaanites. The revision of Israelite origins has implications for Israelite religion: whereas the Bible had depicted them as monotheists from the beginning, the new thought was that they were polytheists who gave rise to a small and ultimately successful group of monotheistic revolutionaries.[4] Gary Rendsburg classifies this point of view as "minimalist," as opposed to a "maximalist" view, which he follows, that sees archaeological evidence as supporting the biblical narrative.[5]

Though he recognized the Israelites as Canaanites by origin, Albrecht Alt still treated the post-Conquest biblical story as real history. But eventually that too was challenged. The most radical reconstruction states that the Jews originated as a "mixed multitude" of settlers sent to Jerusalem by the Persians, where they concocted a past for themselves. There are few scholars who now believe this.[6] Instead modern studies have revealed that the Israelites emerged from a dramatic social transformation of Canaanite nomads of the central hill country of Canaan around 1200 BCE, with no signs of violent invasion or even of peaceful infiltration of a clearly defined ethnic group from elsewhere.[7]

Late Bronze Age Background (1600–1200 BCE)

The Canaanite god Ba'al, 14th–12th century BCE (Louvre museum, Paris)

The eastern Mediterranean seaboard – the Levant – stretches 400 miles north to south from the Taurus Mountains to the Sinai desert, and 70 to 100 miles east to west between the sea and the Arabian desert.[8] The coastal plain of the southern Levant, broad in the south and narrowing to the north, is backed in its southernmost portion by a zone of foothills, the Shephelah; like the plain this narrows as it goes northwards, ending in the promontory of Mount Carmel. East of the plain and the Shephelah is a mountainous ridge, the "hill country of Judah" in the south, the "hill country of Ephraim" north of that, then Galilee and the Lebanon mountains. To the east again lie the steep-sided valley occupied by the Jordan River, the Dead Sea, and the wadi of the Arabah, which continues down to the eastern arm of the Red Sea. Beyond the plateau is the Syrian desert, separating the Levant from Mesopotamia. To the southwest is Egypt, to the northeast Mesopotamia. The location and geographical characteristics of the narrow Levant made the area a battleground among the powerful entities that surrounded it.[9]

Canaan in the Late Bronze Age was a shadow of what it had been centuries earlier: many cities were abandoned, others shrank in size, and the total settled population was probably not much more than a hundred thousand.[10] Settlement was concentrated in cities along the coastal plain and along major communication routes; the central and northern hill country which would later become the biblical kingdom of Israel was only sparsely inhabited[11] although letters from the Egyptian archives indicate that Jerusalem was already a Canaanite city-state recognising Egyptian overlordship.[12] Politically and culturally it was dominated by Egypt,[13] each city under its own ruler, constantly at odds with its neighbours, and appealing to the Egyptians to adjudicate their differences.[11]

The Canaanite city-state system broke down at the end of the Late Bronze period,[14] and Canaanite culture was then gradually absorbed into that of the Philistines, Phoenicians and Israelites.[15] The process was gradual rather than swift:[16] a strong Egyptian presence continued into the 12th century BCE, and, while some Canaanite cities were destroyed, others continued to exist in Iron I.[17]

Iron Age I (1200–1000 BCE)

The Merneptah stele. While alternative translations exist, the majority of biblical archeologists translate a set of hieroglyphs as "Israel", representing the first instance of the name Israel in the historical record.

The name Israel first appears in the

  • Avery-Peck, Alan, and Neusner, Jacob, (eds), "The Blackwell Companion to Judaism (Blackwell, 2003)
  • Boadt, Lawrence, "Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction" (Paulist Press, 1984)
  • Brettler, Marc Zvi, "The Creation of History in Ancient Israel" (Routledge, 1995), and also review at
  • Cook, Stephen L., "The social roots of biblical Yahwism" (Society of Biblical Literature, 2004)
  • Day, John (ed), "In search of pre-exilic Israel: proceedings of the Oxford Old Testament Seminar" (T&T Clark International, 2004)
  • Gravett, Sandra L., "An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible: A Thematic Approach" (Westminster John Knox Press, 2008)
  • Grisanti, Michael A., and Howard, David M., (eds), "Giving the Sense:Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts" (Kregel Publications, 2003)
  • Hess, Richard S., "Israelite religions: an archaeological and biblical survey" Baker, 2007)
  • Kavon, Eli, "Did the Maccabees Betray the Hanukka Revolution?", The Jerusalem Post, 26 December 2005
  • Lemche, Neils Peter, "The Old Testament between theology and history: a critical survey" (Westminster John Knox Press, 2008)
  • Levine, Lee I., "Jerusalem: portrait of the city in the second Temple period (538 B.C.E.–70 C.E.)" (Jewish Publication Society, 2002)
  • Na'aman, Nadav, "Ancient Israel and its neighbours" (Eisenbrauns, 2005)
  • Penchansky, David, "Twilight of the gods: polytheism in the Hebrew Bible" (Westminster John Knox Press, 2005)
  • Provan, Iain William, Long, V. Philips, Longman, Tremper, "A Biblical History of Israel" (Westminster John Knox Press, 2003)
  • Russell, Stephen C., "Images of Egypt in early biblical literature" (Walter de Gruyter, 2009)
  • Sparks, Kenton L., "Ethnicity and identity in ancient Israel" (Eisenbrauns, 1998)
  • Stackert, Jeffrey, "Rewriting the Torah: literary revision in Deuteronomy and the holiness code" (Mohr Siebeck, 2007)
  • Vanderkam, James, "An introduction to early Judaism" (Eerdmans, 2001)
  • , July 2009)Bible and InterpretationVelazquez, Efrain, "The Persian Period and the Origins of 'Israel': Beyond the Myths", (
  • Library of latest modern books of biblical studies and biblical criticism

Further reading

  • Albertz, Rainer (1994) [Vanderhoek & Ruprecht 1992]. A History of Israelite Religion, Volume I: From the Beginnings to the End of the Monarchy. Westminster John Knox Press. 
  • Albertz, Rainer (1994) [Vanderhoek & Ruprecht 1992]. A History of Israelite Religion, Volume II: From the Exile to the Maccabees. Westminster John Knox Press. 
  • Albertz, Rainer (2003a). Israel in Exile: The History and Literature of the Sixth Century B.C.E. Society of Biblical Literature. 
  • Albertz, Rainer; Becking, Bob, eds. (2003b). Yahwism After the Exile: Perspectives on Israelite Religion in the Persian Era. Koninklijke Van Gorcum.  Becking, Bob. "Law as Expression of Religion (Ezra 7–10)". 
  • Amit, Yaira, et al., eds. (2006). Essays on Ancient Israel in its Near Eastern Context: A Tribute to Nadav Na'aman. Eisenbrauns. 
  • Avery-Peck, Alan, et al., eds. (2003). The Blackwell Companion to Judaism. Blackwell.  Murphy, Frederick J. R. "Second Temple Judaism". 
  • Barstad, Hans M. (2008). History and the Hebrew Bible. Mohr Siebeck. 
  • Becking, Bob, ed. (2001). Only One God? Monotheism in Ancient Israel and the Veneration of the Goddess Asherah. Sheffield Academic Press.  Dijkstra, Meindert. "El the God of Israel, Israel the People of YHWH: On the Origins of Ancient Israelite Yahwism".  Dijkstra, Meindert. "I Have Blessed You by Yahweh of Samaria and His Asherah: Texts with Religious Elements from the Soil Archive of Ancient Israel". 
  • Becking, Bob; Korpel, Marjo Christina Annette, eds. (1999). The Crisis of Israelite Religion: Transformation of Religious Tradition in Exilic and Post-Exilic Times. Brill.  Niehr, Herbert. Religio-Historical Aspects of the Early Post-Exilic Period. 
  • Bedford, Peter Ross (2001). Temple Restoration in Early Achaemenid Judah. Brill. 
  • Ben-Sasson, H.H. (1976). A History of the Jewish People. Harvard University Press.  
  • Blenkinsopp, Joseph (1988). Ezra-Nehemiah: A Commentary. Eerdmans. 
  • Blenkinsopp, Joseph; Lipschits, Oded, eds. (2003). Judah and the Judeans in the Neo-Babylonian Period. Eisenbrauns.  Blenkinsopp, Joseph. "Bethel in the Neo-Babylonian Period".  Lemaire, Andre. "Nabonidus in Arabia and Judea During the Neo-Babylonian Period". 
  • Blenkinsopp, Joseph (2009). Judaism, the First Phase: The Place of Ezra and Nehemiah in the Origins of Judaism. Eerdmans. 
  • Bloch-Smith, Elizabeth (2008). "Bible, Archaeology, and the Social Sciences". In Frederick E. Greenspahn. The Hebrew Bible: new insights and scholarship. NYU Press. 
  • Brett, Mark G. (2002). Ethnicity and the Bible. Brill.  Edelman, Diana. "Ethnicity and Early Israel". 
  • Bright, John (2000; 4th ed., 1st ed. 1959). A History of Israel. Westminster John Knox Press. 
  • Coogan, Michael D., ed. (1998). The Oxford History of the Biblical World. Oxford University Press.  Stager, Lawrence E. "Forging an Identity: The Emergence of Ancient Israel". 
  • Coogan, Michael D. (2009). A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament. Oxford University Press. 
  • Coote, Robert B.; Whitelam, Keith W. (1986). "The Emergence of Israel: Social Transformation and State Formation Following the Decline in Late Bronze Age Trade".  
  • Davies, Philip R. (1992). In Search of Ancient Israel. Sheffield. 
  • Davies, Philip R. (2009). "The Origin of Biblical Israel".  
  • Day, John (2002). Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan. Sheffield Academic Press. 
  • Dever, William (2001). What Did the Biblical Writers Know, and When Did They Know It?. Eerdmans. 
  • Dever, William (2003). Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From?. Eerdmans. 
  • Dever, William (2005). Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel. Eerdmans. 
  • Dunn, James D.G; Rogerson, John William, eds. (2003). Eerdmans commentary on the Bible. Eerdmans.  Rogerson, John William. "Deuteronomy". 
  • Edelman, Diana, ed. (1995). The Triumph of Elohim: From Yahwisms to Judaisms. Kok Pharos. 
  • Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher (2001). The Bible Unearthed. 
  • Finkelstein, Israel; Mazar, Amihay; Schmidt, Brian B. (2007). The Quest for the Historical Israel. Society of Biblical Literature.  Mazar, Amihay. "The Divided Monarchy: Comments on Some Archaeological Issues". 
  • Gnuse, Robert Karl (1997). No Other Gods: Emergent Monotheism in Israel. Sheffield Academic Press. 
  • Golden, Jonathan Michael (2004a). Ancient Canaan and Israel: An Introduction. Oxford University Press. 
  • Golden, Jonathan Michael (2004b). Ancient Canaan and Israel: New Perspectives. ABC-CLIO. 
  • Goodison, Lucy; Morris, Christine (1998). Goddesses in Early Israelite Religion in Ancient Goddesses: The Myths and the Evidence. University of Wisconsin Press. 
  • Grabbe, Lester L. (2004). A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period. T&T Clark International. 
  • Grabbe, Lester L., ed. (2008). Israel in Transition: From Late Bronze II to Iron IIa (c. 1250–850 B.C.E.). T&T Clark International. 
  • Killebrew, Ann E. (2005). Biblical Peoples and Ethnicity: An Archaeological Study of Egyptians, Canaanites, and Early Israel, 1300–1100 B.C.E. Society of Biblical Literature. 
  • King, Philip J.; Stager, Lawrence E. (2001). Life in Biblical Israel. Westminster John Knox Press.  
  • Kuhrt, Amélie (1995). The Ancient Near East c. 3000–330 BCE. Routledge. 
  • Lemche, Niels Peter (1998). The Israelites in History and Tradition. Westminster John Knox Press. 
  • Levy, Thomas E. (1998). The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land. Continuum International Publishing.  LaBianca, Øystein S.; Younker, Randall W. "The Kingdoms of Ammon, Moab and Edom: The Archaeology of Society in Late Bronze/Iron Age Transjordan (c. 1400–500 CE)". 
  • Lipschits, Oded (2005). The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem. Eisenbrauns. 
  • Lipschits, Oded, et al., eds. (2006). Judah and the Judeans in the Fourth Century B.C.E. Eisenbrauns.  Kottsieper, Ingo. "And They Did Not Care to Speak Yehudit".  Lipschits, Oded; Vanderhooft, David. "Yehud Stamp Impressions in the Fourth Century B.C.E.". 
  • Liverani, Mario (2005). Israel's History and the History of Israel, London, Equinox.
  • Markoe, Glenn (2000). Phoenicians. University of California Press. 
  • Mays, James Luther, et al., eds. (1995). Old Testament Interpretation. T&T Clarke.  Miller, J. Maxwell. "The Middle East and Archaeology". 
  • McNutt, Paula (1999). Reconstructing the Society of Ancient Israel. Westminster John Knox Press. 
  • Merrill, Eugene H. (1995). "The Late Bronze/Early Iron Age Transition and the Emergence of Israel".  
  • Middlemas, Jill Anne (2005). The Troubles of Templeless Judah. Oxford University Press. 
  • Miller, James Maxwell; Hayes, John Haralson (1986). A History of Ancient Israel and Judah. Westminster John Knox Press.  
  • Miller, Robert D. (2005). Chieftains of the Highland Clans: A History of Israel in the 12th and 11th Centuries B.C. Eerdmans. 
  • Moore, Megan Bishop; Kelle, Brad E. (2011). Biblical History and Israel's Past. Eerdmans. 
  • Nodet, Étienne (1999) [Editions du Cerf 1997]. A Search for the Origins of Judaism: From Joshua to the Mishnah. Sheffield Academic Press. 
  • Pitkänen, Pekka (2004). "Ethnicity, Assimilation and the Israelite Settlement" (PDF).  
  • Silberman, Neil Asher; Small, David B., eds. (1997). The Archaeology of Israel: Constructing the Past, Interpreting the Present. Sheffield Academic Press.  Hesse, Brian; Wapnish, Paula. "Can Pig Remains Be Used for Ethnic Diagnosis in the Ancient Near East?". 
  • Smith, Mark S. (2001). Untold Stories: The Bible and Ugaritic Studies in the Twentieth Century. Hendrickson Publishers. 
  • Smith, Mark S.; Miller, Patrick D. (2002) [Harper & Row 1990]. The Early History of God. Eerdmans. 
  • Rendsburg, Gary (2008). "Israel without the Bible". In Frederick E. Greenspahn. The Hebrew Bible: new insights and scholarship. NYU Press. 
  • Soggin, Michael J. (1998). An Introduction to the History of Israel and Judah. Paideia. 
  • Thompson, Thomas L. (1992). Early History of the Israelite People. Brill. 
  • Van der Toorn, Karel (1996). Family Religion in Babylonia, Syria, and Israel. Brill. 
  • Van der Toorn, Karel; Becking, Bob; Van der Horst, Pieter Willem (1999). Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2d ed.). Koninklijke Brill. 
  • Vaughn, Andrew G.; Killebrew, Ann E., eds. (1992). Jerusalem in Bible and Archaeology: The First Temple Period. Sheffield.  Cahill, Jane M. "Jerusalem at the Time of the United Monarchy".  Lehman, Gunnar. "The United Monarchy in the Countryside". 
  • Wylen, Stephen M. (1996). The Jews in the Time of Jesus: An Introduction. Paulist Press. 
  • Zevit, Ziony (2001). The Religions of Ancient Israel: A Synthesis of Parallactic Approaches. Continuum. 


  1. ^ a b Grabbe 2008, pp. 225–6.
  2. ^ King 2001, p. xxiii.
  3. ^ Dever 2001, p. 2.
  4. ^ Rendsburg, pp.3-5
  5. ^ Rendsburg, pp.6-7
  6. ^ Rendsburg, pp.5-6
  7. ^ a b Finkelstein and Silberman (2001) Free Press, New York, p. 107, ISBN 0-684-86912-8
  8. ^ Miller 1986, p. 36.
  9. ^ Coogan 1998, pp. 4–7.
  10. ^ Finkelstein 2001, p. 78.
  11. ^ a b Killebrew 2005, pp. 38–9.
  12. ^ Cahill in Vaughn 1992, pp. 27–33.
  13. ^ Kuhrt 1995, p. 317.
  14. ^ Killebrew 2005, pp. 10–6.
  15. ^ Golden 2004b, pp. 61–2.
  16. ^ McNutt 1999, p. 47.
  17. ^ Golden 2004a, p. 155.
  18. ^ Stager in Coogan 1998, p. 91.
  19. ^ Dever 2003, p. 206.
  20. ^ McNutt 1999, pp. 35.
  21. ^ McNutt 1999, pp.46-47.
  22. ^ McNutt 1999, p. 69.
  23. ^ Miller 1986, p. 72.
  24. ^ Killebrew 2005, p. 13.
  25. ^ Edelman in Brett 2002, p. 46-47.
  26. ^ Avraham Faust (2009) "How Did Israel Become a People? The Genesis of Israelite Identity. Biblical Archaeology Review 201: pp. 62-69, 92-94
  27. ^ Finkelstein and Silberman (2001), p. 107
  28. ^ Holy Bible. King James version. Ezra, Chapter 9
  29. ^ [2]
  30. ^ Gnuse 1997, pp.28,31
  31. ^ a b c Thompson 1992, p. 408.
  32. ^ a b c Mazar in Finkelstein 2007, p. 163.
  33. ^ Biblical Archaeology Review [May/June 1994], pp. 30–37
  34. ^ Lemche 1998, p. 85.
  35. ^ Lehman in Vaughn 1992, p. 149.
  36. ^ David M. Carr, Writing on the Tablet of the Heart: Origins of Scripture and Literature, Oxford University Press, 2005, 164.
  37. ^ Seal of Amariah Hananiah--Servant of Hezekiah
  38. ^ First Impression: What We Learn from King Ahaz’s Seal (#m1), by Robert Deutsch, Archaeological Center.
  39. ^ a b c Thompson 1992, pp. 410–1.
  40. ^ Grabbe 2004, p. 28.
  41. ^ Lemaire in Blenkinsopp 2003, p. 291.
  42. ^ Davies 2009.
  43. ^ Lipschits 2005, p. 48.
  44. ^ Blenkinsopp in Blenkinsopp 2003, pp. 103–5.
  45. ^ Blenkinsopp 2009, p. 228.
  46. ^ Middlemas 2005, pp. 1–2.
  47. ^ Miller 1986, p. 203.
  48. ^ Middlemas 2005, p. 2.
  49. ^ a b Middlemas 2005, p. 10.
  50. ^ Middlemas 2005, p. 17.
  51. ^ Bedford 2001, p. 48.
  52. ^ Barstad 2008, p. 109.
  53. ^ Albertz 2003a, p. 92.
  54. ^ Albertz 2003a, pp. 95–6.
  55. ^ Albertz 2003a, p. 96.
  56. ^ a b Blenkinsopp 1988, p. 64.
  57. ^ Lipschits in Lipschits 2006, pp. 86–9.
  58. ^ Grabbe 2004, pp. 29–30.
  59. ^ Nodet 1999, p. 25.
  60. ^ Davies in Amit 2006, p. 141.
  61. ^ Niehr in Becking 1999, p. 231.
  62. ^ Wylen 1996, p. 25.
  63. ^ Grabbe 2004, pp. 154–5.
  64. ^ Soggin 1998, p. 311.
  65. ^ Miller 1986, p. 458.
  66. ^ Blenkinsopp 2009, p. 229.
  67. ^ Albertz 1994, pp. 437–8.
  68. ^ Kottsieper in Lipschits 2006, pp. 109–10.
  69. ^ Becking in Albertz 2003b, p. 19.
  70. ^ Weigel, David. "Hanukkah as Jewish civil war - Slate Magazine". Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  71. ^ "The Revolt of the Maccabees". Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  72. ^ Davies 1992, pp. 149–50.
  73. ^ Philip R. Davies in The Canon Debate, page 50: "With many other scholars, I conclude that the fixing of a canonical list was almost certainly the achievement of the Hasmonean dynasty."
  74. ^ Ben-Sasson 1976, p. 246.
  75. ^ Gnuse 1997, pp. 62–3.
  76. ^ Tubbs, Jonathan (2006)"The Canaanites" (BBC Books)
  77. ^ Van der Toorn 1996, p.4.
  78. ^ a b Smith 2002, p. 57.
  79. ^ Dever (2005), p.
  80. ^ Van der Toorn 1999, p. 911–3.
  81. ^ Van der Toorn 1996, p. 181–2.
  82. ^ a b Dunn and Rogerson, pp.153–154
  83. ^ "Site History". Beit Lehi Foundation. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  84. ^ Avery Peck, p.58
  85. ^ Grabbe (2004), pp. 243-244
  86. ^ Avery Peck, p.59


See also

The Second Temple period (520 BCE – 70 CE) differed in significant ways from what had gone before.[84] A number of scholars believe that Monotheism emerged among the priests of the Temple establishment during the seventh and sixth centuries BCE, as did beliefs regarding angels and demons.[85] At this time, circumcision and Sabbath-observance gained more significance as symbols of Jewish identity, and the institution of the synagogue became increasingly important. According to the documentary hypothesis, the Torah was written during this time.[86]

Second Temple Judaism

According to the Deuteronomists, the treaty with Yahweh would enable the god to preserve both the city and the king in return for the people's worship and obedience to the legal code. The destruction of Jerusalem, its Temple, and the Davidic dynasty by Babylon in 587/586 BCE was deeply thought-provoking and led to revisions of the national mythos. The history books, Joshua and Judges to Samuel and Kings, interpreted the Babylonian destruction as divinely-ordained punishment for the failure of the Hebrew kings to worship Yahweh to the exclusion of all other deities.[82]

The earliest Israelite inscription found alluding to Yahweh as the redeemer of Jerusalem dates to the 7th century BCE. Khirbet Beit Lei also contains the oldest known Hebrew writing of the word "Jerusalem" as the inscription, "I am YHWH thy Lord. I will accept the cities of Judah and I will redeem Jerusalem," and "Absolve us oh merciful God. Absolve us oh YHWH."[83]

There is a general consensus among scholars that the first formative event in the emergence of the distinctive religion described in the Bible was triggered by the destruction of Israel by Assyria in c. 722 BCE. Refugees came south to Judah, bringing with them laws and a prophetic tradition of Yahweh. This religion was subsequently adopted by the landowners, who in 640 BCE placed on the throne the eight-year-old Josiah. Judah at this time was a vassal state of Assyria, but Assyrian power collapsed in the 630s, and around 622, Josiah and the Deuteronomists launched a bid for independence expressed as loyalty to "Yahweh alone" and in the law-code in the Book of Deuteronomy, written as a treaty between Judah and Yahweh to replace the vassal-treaty with Assyria.[82]

Israelite monotheism evolved gradually out of pre-existing beliefs and practices of the ancient world.[75] The religion of the Israelites of Iron Age I, like the Canaanite faith from which it evolved[76] and other ancient Near Eastern religions, was based on a cult of ancestors and worship of family gods (the "gods of the fathers").[77] Its major deities were not numerous – El, Asherah, and Yahweh, with Baal as a fourth god, and perhaps Shamash (the sun) in the early period.[78] By the time of the early Hebrew kings, El and Yahweh had become fused and Asherah did not continue as a separate state cult,[78] although she continued to be popular at a community level until Persian times.[79] Yahweh, later the national god of both Israel and Judah, seems to have originated in Edom and Midian in southern Canaan and may have been brought north to Israel by the Kenites and Midianites at an early stage.[80] After the monarchy emerged at the beginning of Iron Age II, kings promoted their family god, Yahweh, as the god of the kingdom, but beyond the royal court, religion continued to be both polytheistic and family-centered as it was also for other societies in the ancient Near East.[81]

Iron Age Yahwism


In 63 BCE the Roman general Pompey conquered Jerusalem and made the Jewish kingdom a Client state of Rome. In 40–39 BCE, Herod the Great was appointed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate, and in 6 CE the last ethnarch of Judea was deposed by the emperor Augustus, his territories combined with Idumea and Samaria and annexed as Iudaea Province under direct Roman administration.[74] The name Judea (Iudaea) ceased to be used by Greco-Romans after the revolt of Simon Bar Kochba in 135 CE; the area was henceforth called Syria Palaestina (Greek: Παλαιστίνη, Palaistinē; Latin: Palaestina).

On the death of Alexander the Great (322), Alexander's generals divided the empire among themselves. Ptolemy I, the ruler of Egypt, seized Yehud Medinata, but his successors lost it in 198 to the Seleucids of Syria. At first, relations between Seleucids and Jews were cordial, but the attempt of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (174–163) to impose Hellenic cults on Judea sparked a national rebellion that ended in the expulsion of the Seleucids and the establishment of an independent Jewish kingdom under the Hasmonean dynasty. Some modern commentators see this period also as a civil war between orthodox and hellenized Jews.[70][71] Hasmonean kings attempted to revive the Judah described in the Bible: a Jewish monarchy ruled from Jerusalem and including all territories once ruled by David and Solomon. In order to carry out this project, the Hasmoneans forcibly converted one-time Moabites, Edomites, and Ammonites to Judaism, as well as the lost kingdom of Israel.[72] Some scholars argue that the Hasmonean dynasty institutionalized the Jewish biblical canon.[73]

The Hasmonean kingdom at its largest extent

Hellenistic period

The Persian era, and especially the period between 538 and 400 BCE, laid the foundations for the Jewish and Christian religions and the beginning of a scriptural canon.[67] Other important landmarks in this period include the replacement of Hebrew as the everyday language of Judah by Aramaic (although Hebrew continued to be used for religious and literary purposes)[68] and Darius's reform of the empire's bureaucracy, which may have led to extensive revisions and reorganizations of the Jewish Torah.[56] The Israel of the Persian period consisted of descendants of the inhabitants of the old kingdom of Judah, returnees from the Babylonian exile community, Mesopotamians who had joined them or had been exiled themselves to Samaria at a far earlier period, Samaritans, and others.[69]

Yehud's population over the entire period was probably never more than about 30,000 and that of Jerusalem no more than about 1,500, most of them connected in some way to the Temple.[58] According to the biblical history, one of the first acts of Cyrus, the Persian conqueror of Babylon, was to commission Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their Temple, a task which they are said to have completed c. 515.[59] Yet it was probably not until the middle of the next century, at the earliest, that Jerusalem again became the capital of Judah.[60] The Persians may have experimented initially with ruling Yehud as a Davidic client-kingdom under descendants of Jehoiachin,[61] but by the mid–5th century BCE, Yehud had become, in practice, a theocracy, ruled by hereditary high priests,[62] with a Persian-appointed governor, frequently Jewish, charged with keeping order and seeing that taxes (tribute) were collected and paid.[63] According to the biblical history, Ezra and Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem in the middle of the 5th century BCE, the former empowered by the Persian king to enforce the Torah, the latter holding the status of governor with a royal commission to restore Jerusalem's walls.[64] The biblical history mentions tension between the returnees and those who had remained in Yehud, the returnees rebuffing the attempt of the "peoples of the land" to participate in the rebuilding of the Temple; this attitude was based partly on the exclusivism that the exiles had developed while in Babylon and, probably, also partly on disputes over property.[65] During the 5th century BCE, Ezra and Nehemiah attempted to re-integrate these rival factions into a united and ritually pure society, inspired by the prophecies of Ezekiel and his followers.[66]

When Babylon fell to the Persian Cyrus the Great in 539 BCE, Judah (or Yehud medinata, the "province of Yehud") became an administrative division within the Persian empire. Cyrus was succeeded as king by Cambyses, who added Egypt to the empire, incidentally transforming Yehud and the Philistine plain into an important frontier zone. His death in 522 was followed by a period of turmoil until Darius the Great seized the throne in about 521. Darius introduced a reform of the administrative arrangements of the empire including the collection, codification and administration of local law codes, and it is reasonable to suppose that this policy lay behind the redaction of the Jewish Torah.[56] After 404 the Persians lost control of Egypt, which became Persia's main rival outside Europe, causing the Persian authorities to tighten their administrative control over Yehud and the rest of the Levant.[57] Egypt was eventually reconquered, but soon afterward Persia fell to Alexander the Great, ushering in the Hellenistic period in the Levant.

Persian period

The concentration of the biblical literature on the experience of the exiles in Babylon disguises the fact that the great majority of the population remained in Judah; for them, life after the fall of Jerusalem probably went on much as it had before.[52] It may even have improved, as they were rewarded with the land and property of the deportees, much to the anger of the community of exiles remaining in Babylon.[53] The assassination around 582 of the Babylonian governor by a disaffected member of the former royal House of David provoked a Babylonian crackdown, possibly reflected in the Book of Lamentations, but the situation seems to have soon stabilised again.[54] Nevertheless, those unwalled cities and towns that remained were subject to slave raids by the Phoenicians and intervention in their internal affairs by Samaritans, Arabs, and Ammonites.[55]

The Babylonian conquest entailed not just the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, but the liquidation of the entire infrastructure which had sustained Judah for centuries.[45] The most significant casualty was the state ideology of "Zion theology,"[46] the idea that the god of Israel had chosen Jerusalem for his dwelling-place and that the Davidic dynasty would reign there forever.[47] The fall of the city and the end of Davidic kingship forced the leaders of the exile community – kings, priests, scribes and prophets – to reformulate the concepts of community, faith and politics.[48] The exile community in Babylon thus became the source of significant portions of the Hebrew Bible: Isaiah 40–55; Ezekiel; the final version of Jeremiah; the work of the priestly source in the Pentateuch; and the final form of the history of Israel from Deuteronomy to 2 Kings.[49] Theologically, the Babylonian exiles were responsible for the doctrines of individual responsibility and universalism (the concept that one god controls the entire world) and for the increased emphasis on purity and holiness.[49] Most significantly, the trauma of the exile experience led to the development of a strong sense of Hebrew identity distinct from other peoples,[50] with increased emphasis on symbols such as circumcision and Sabbath-observance to sustain that distinction.[51]

Babylonian Judah suffered a steep decline in both economy and population[40] and lost the Negev, the Shephelah, and part of the Judean hill country, including Hebron, to encroachments from Edom and other neighbours.[41] Jerusalem, while probably not totally abandoned, was much smaller than previously, and the town of Mizpah in Benjamin in the relatively unscathed northern section of the kingdom became the capital of the new Babylonian province of Yehud Medinata.[42] (This was standard Babylonian practice: when the Philistine city of Ashkalon was conquered in 604, the political, religious and economic elite [but not the bulk of the population] was banished and the administrative centre shifted to a new location).[43] There is also a strong probability that for most or all of the period the temple at Bethel in Benjamin replaced that at Jerusalem, boosting the prestige of Bethel's priests (the Aaronites) against those of Jerusalem (the Zadokites), now in exile in Babylon.[44]

Reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate of Babylon

Babylonian period

In the 7th century Jerusalem grew to contain a population many times greater than earlier and achieved clear dominance over its neighbours.[39] This occurred at the same time that Israel was being destroyed by Assyria, and was probably the result of a cooperative arrangement with the Assyrians to establish Judah as an Assyrian vassal controlling the valuable olive industry.[39] Judah prospered as an Assyrian vassal state (despite a disastrous rebellion against Sennacherib), but in the last half of the 7th century BCE Assyria suddenly collapsed, and the ensuing competition between the Egyptian and Neo-Babylonian empires for control of the land led to the destruction of Judah in a series of campaigns between 597 and 582.[39]

King Ahaz's Seal is a piece of reddish-brown clay that belonged to King Ahaz of Judah, who ruled from 732 to 716 BCE. This seal contains not only the name of the king, but the name of his father, King Yehotam. In addition, Ahaz is specifically identified as "king of Judah." The Hebrew inscription, which is set on three lines, reads as follows: "l'hz*y/hwtm*mlk*/yhdh", which translates as "belonging to Ahaz (son of) Yehotam, King of Judah."[38]

Judah emerged somewhat later than Israel, probably during the 9th century BCE, but the subject is one of considerable controversy.[1] There are indications that during the 10th and 9th centuries BCE, the southern highlands had been divided between a number of centres, none with clear primacy.[35] During the reign of Hezekiah, between c. 715 and 686 BCE, a notable increase in the power of the Judean state can be observed.[36] This is reflected in archaeological sites and findings, such as the Broad Wall; a defensive city wall in Jerusalem; and the Siloam Tunnel, an aqueduct designed to provide Jerusalem with water during an impending siege by the Assyrians led by Sennacherib; and the Siloam Inscription, a lintel inscription found over the doorway of a tomb, has been ascribed to comptroller Shebna. LMLK seals on storage jar handles, excavated from strata in and around that formed by Sennacherib's destruction, appear to have been used throughout Sennacherib's 29-year reign, along with Bullae from sealed documents, some that belonged to Hezekiah himself and others that name his servants;[37]

French scholar André Lemaire has reconstructed a portion of line 31 of the stele as mentioning the "House of David".[32][33] The Tel Dan stele (c. 841) tells of the death of a king of Israel, probably Jehoram, at the hands of a king of Aram Damascus.[32] A century later Israel came into increasing conflict with the expanding neo-Assyrian empire, which first split its territory into several smaller units and then destroyed its capital, Samaria (722). Both the biblical and Assyrian sources speak of a massive deportation of people from Israel and their replacement with settlers from other parts of the empire – such population exchanges were an established part of Assyrian imperial policy, a means of breaking the old power structure – and the former Israel never again became an independent political entity.[34]

Unusually favourable climatic conditions in the first two centuries of Iron Age II brought about an expansion of population, settlements and trade throughout the region.[31] In the central highlands this resulted in unification in a kingdom with the city of Samaria as its capital,[31] possibly by the second half of the 10th century BCE when an inscription of the Egyptian pharaoh Shoshenq I, the biblical Shishak, records a series of campaigns directed at the area.[32] Israel had clearly emerged by the middle of the 9th century BCE, when the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III names "Ahab the Israelite" among his enemies at the battle of Qarqar (853). At this time Israel was apparently engaged in a three-way contest with Damascus and Tyre for control of the Jezreel Valley and Galilee in the north, and with Moab, Ammon and Damascus in the east for control of Gilead;[31] the Mesha stele (c. 830), left by a king of Moab, celebrates his success in throwing off the oppression of the "House of Omri" (i.e., Israel). It bears what is generally thought to be the earliest extra-biblical Semitic reference to the name Yahweh (YHWH), whose temple goods were plundered by Mesha and brought before his own god Kemosh.

A reconstructed Israelite house, 10th–7th century BCE. Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv.

Iron Age II (1000–550 BCE)

Modern scholars therefore see Israel arising peacefully and internally from existing people in the highlands of Canaan.[30]

From then on, over a period of hundreds of years until after the return of the exiles from Babylon, the Canaanites were gradually absorbed by the Israelites and other tribes until after the period of Ezra (~450 BCE) whereafter there is no more biblical record of them.[28] Hebrew (see Hebrew language), a dialect of Canaanite, became the language of the hill country and later the valleys and plains.[29]

These surveys revolutionized the study of early Israel. The discovery of the remains of a dense network of highland villages — all apparently established within the span of few generations — indicated that a dramatic social transformation had taken place in the central hill country of Canaan around 1200 BCE. There was no sign of violent invasion or even the infiltration of a clearly defined ethnic group. Instead, it seemed to be a revolution in lifestyle. In the formerly sparsely populated highlands from the Judean hills in the south to the hills of Samaria in the north, far from the Canaanite cities that were in the process of collapse and disintegration, about two-hundred fifty hilltop communities suddenly sprang up. Here were the first Israelites.[27]

In The Bible Unearthed, Finkelstein and Silberman summarised recent studies. They described how, up until 1967, the Israelite heartland in the highlands of western Palestine was virtually an archaeological terra incognita. Since then, the traditional territories of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh have been covered by intensive surveys. These surveys have revealed the sudden emergence of a new culture contrasting with the Philistine and Canaanite societies existing in the Land of Israel earlier during Iron Age I.[7] This new culture is characterised by the lack of pork remains (whereas pork formed 20% of the Philistine diet in places), an abandonment of the Philistines/Canaanite custom of having highly decorated pottery, and the practice of circumcision. The Israelite ethnic identity had been created, not from the Exodus and a subsequent conquest, but from a transformation of the existing Canaanite-Philistine cultures.[26]

In the Late Bronze Age there were no more than about 25 villages in the highlands, but this increased to over 300 by the end of Iron I, while the settled population doubled from 20,000 to 40,000.[21] The villages were more numerous and larger in the north, and probably shared the highlands with pastoral nomads who left no remains.[22] Archaeologists and historians attempting to trace the origins of these villagers have found it impossible to identify any distinctive features that could define them as specifically Israelite – collared-rim jars and four-room houses have been identified outside the highlands and thus cannot be used to distinguish Israelite sites,[23] and while the pottery of the highland villages is far more limited than that of lowland Canaanite sites, it develops typologically out of Canaanite pottery that came before.[24] Israel Finkelstein proposed that the oval or circular layout that distinguishes some of the earliest highland sites, and the notable absence of pig bones from hill sites, could be taken as a marker of ethnicity, but others have cautioned that these can be a "common-sense" adaptation to highland life and not necessarily revelatory of origins.[25] Other Aramaean sites also demonstrate a contemporary absence of pig remains at that time, unlike earlier Canaanite and later Philistine excavations.

[20], and religion.genealogy and family history, an emphasis on intermarriage Archaeologist Paula McNutt says: "It is probably ... during Iron Age I [that] a population began to identify itself as 'Israelite'," differentiating itself from its neighbours via prohibitions on [19]

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