History of ancient Israel and Judah

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The history of ancient Israel and Judah is in many ways the history of the Hebrew people, also referred to in this historical context as the Israelites.

A significant source of information is the scriptures found in the Jewish Tanach / Christian Old Testament.

The history traditionally begins with Abraham being promised by God that he would become the father of a great nation. Abraham's grandson Jacob was later renamed Israel, and his 12 sons became the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Jacob's son Joseph, of the famous coveted colorful coat, became a powerful man in Egypt and the Israelites went there seeking relief from a famine. They stayed and over time grew in number but also became slaves.

Moses later led the people out of Egypt, after the famous confrontation with Pharoah and the great plagues. 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. They invaded and took over, killing most of the inhabitants.

Israel was led by a series of judges for many years before establishing a true kingdom.

Saul became the first king of the Israelites in approximately 1020 B.C.E. David succeeded him in 1006, 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, who constructed a Temple at Jerusalem and had a prosperous reign. However, on Solomon's death in 926 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).

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

Text to integrate from Easton's Bible Dictionary:

Kingdom of Israel

(B.C. 975-B.C. 722). Soon after the death of Solomon, Ahijah's prophecy (1 Kings 11:31-35) was fulfilled, and the kingdom was rent in twain. Rehoboam, the son and successor of Solomon, was scarcely seated on his throne when the old jealousies between Judah and the other tribes broke out anew, and Jeroboam was sent for from Egypt by the malcontents (12:2,3). Rehoboam insolently refused to lighten the burdensome taxation and services which his father had imposed on his subjects (12:4), and the rebellion became complete. Ephraim and all Israel raised the old cry, "Every man to his tents, O Israel" (2 Sam. 20:1). Rehoboam fled to Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:1-18; 2 Chr. 10), and Jeroboam was proclaimed king over all Israel at Shechem, Judah and Benjamin remaining faithful to Solomon's son. War, with varying success, was carried on between the two kingdoms for about sixty years, till Jehoshaphat entered into an alliance with the house of Ahab.

Extent of the kingdom. In the time of Solomon the area of Palestine, excluding the Phoenician territories on the shore of the Mediterranean, did not much exceed 34,000 km2 (13,000 square miles). The kingdom of Israel comprehended about 24,000 km2 (9,375 square miles). Shechem was the first capital of this kingdom (1 Kings 12:25), afterwards Tirza (14:17). Samaria was subsequently chosen as the capital (16:24), and continued to be so till the destruction of the kingdom by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17:5). During the siege of Samaria (which lasted for three years) by the Assyrians, Shalmaneser died and was succeeded by Sargon, who himself thus records the capture of that city: "Samaria I looked at, I captured; 27,280 men who dwelt in it I carried away" (2 Kings 17:6) into Assyria. Thus after a duration of two hundred and fifty-three years the kingdom of the ten tribes came to an end. They were scattered throughout the East.

"Judah held its ground against Assyria for yet one hundred and twenty-three years, and became the rallying-point of the dispersed of every tribe, and eventually gave its name to the whole race. Those of the people who in the last struggle escaped into the territories of Judah or other neighbouring countries naturally looked to Judah as the head and home of their race. And when Judah itself was carried off to Babylon, many of the exiled Israelites joined them from Assyria, and swelled that immense population which made Babylonia a second Palestine."

After the deportation of the ten tribes, the deserted land was colonized by various eastern tribes, whom the king of Assyria sent thither (Ezra 4:2, 10; 2 Kings 17:24-29).

Kingdom of Judah

When the disruption took place at Shechem, at first only the tribe of Judah followed the house of David. But very soon after the tribe of Benjamin joined the tribe of Judah, and Jerusalem became the capital of the new kingdom (Josh. 18:28), which was called the kingdom of Judah.

For the first sixty years the kings of Judah aimed at re-establishing their authority over the kingdom of the other ten tribes, so that there was a state of perpetual war between them. For the next eighty years there was no open war between them. For the most part they were in friendly alliance, co-operating against their common enemies, especially against Damascus. For about another century and a half Judah had a somewhat checkered existence after the termination of the kingdom of Israel till its final overthrow in the destruction of the temple (B.C. 588) by Nebuzar-adan, who was captain of Nebuchadnezzar's body-guard (2 Kings 25:8-21).

The kingdom maintained a separate existence for three hundred and eighty-nine years. It occupied an area of 8,900 km2 (3,435 square miles).


Kings of Israel

Kings of Judah