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Holman Bible Dictionary

Israel, History of

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Chronological Outline

The Preexilic Period

The Patriarchal Period


The Egyptian Period


The Exodus and the Wilderness Sojourn


The Settlement


The United Monarchy


The Divided Monarchy


The Kingdom of Israel


The Kingdom of Judah


The Babylonian Exile


The Postexilic Period

The Persian Period


The Hellenistic Period


The Maccabean Period


The Roman Period

63-400 A.D.M

*All dates will be assumed to be B.C. unless otherwise designated. The careful interpreter cautiously suggests a dating schema given the many uncertainties. This outline is one of several academically acceptable. See Chronology for dating alternatives to those used in this article.


1. The Patriarchal and Egyptian Periods (Genesis 12–50 ) Israel's roots derive from the Mesopotamian Valley. Father Abraham was associated with Ur in the southern Mesopotamian Valley. About 2000, responding to a divine command, he began a journey with his tribe which took him initially from Ur to Haran. While at Haran, Abraham's father, Terah, died, and a brother, Nahor, decided to settle at Haran. Abraham and his wife, Sarah, however, traveled onward to Canaan, where ultimately they established their home. To them was born Isaac, the son of promise, who was married to Rebekah, granddaughter of Nahor. To Isaac and Rebekah were born Jacob and Esau. Jacob, having made his way back to the region of Haran, married both Leah and Rachel, daughters of Laban, the brother of Rebekah. To Jacob and his wives were born twelve sons, who, having migrated to Egypt, became the foundation for the twelve tribes and for fulfillment of the promises originally made to Abraham. It was these tribal descendents with whom Moses was associated in the Exodus from Egypt in 1290.

2. The Exodus and the Wilderness Sojourn (Exodus 1–24; 32–34; Numbers 10–14 ) Israel is a product of the Sinaitic experience, begun when God called the “renegade” Moses to return to Egypt and deliver His people. Moving from Goshen in Egypt through God's leadership in the miracle at the sea to the Sinai peninsula under Moses' leadership, the Hebrews at Sinai ratified a covenant with the God Yahweh (Exodus 24:1 ), and thus Israel as a landless people came into being.

For a period of eleven months they remained at Sinai. Traditionally, it is understood that the Torah was formulated during this period, although historical criticism postulates a longer period of development. Regardless, Israel departed Sinai as a covenant people who would continually struggle with God.

The wilderness experience is set at forty years, the designation often used to indicate a generation. Through this period the generation that departed Egypt died, Yahweh's judgment upon them because they refused to believe that the God of deliverance could also lead them into Canaan.

3. The Settlement (Joshua 1–24; Judges 1–16 ) Eventually, however, they entered Canaan via the tranjordanian area. Under the leadership of Joshua, they crossed the Jordan River and entered the “Promised Land” at Jericho. The Book of Joshua records the settlement of the Israelites into Canaan, first in mid-country, then in the south, and finally in the north. Joshua distributed the land among the tribes and renewed the Covenant (Joshua 24:1 ).

For a period of approximately two centuries, the Israelites were centrally joined as autonomous tribes around the ark of the covenant, a loose relationship centering in common worship commitments. Over them divinely designated Judges emerged, men like Gideon and Samson, and one woman, Deborah. Gradually, any sense of unity broke down until “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25 ).

4. The United Monarchy (1 Samuel 1–3; 8–15; 2 Samuel 1–6; 9–20; 1 Kings 1–4; 6–8; 11 ) The period of the Judges presented problems for the Israelites, however, in that they could not assert centralized economic, political, or military strength in this disjointed condition. This situation, plus other factors such as the emergence of the Philistine threat, caused a clamoring for the establishment of kingship. Thus, about 1020, the Israelites moved politically into a monarchy.

Saul (1020-1000) was Israel's first king, although he often acted more as a Judge. Like the Judges, he understood himself designated by God to rule because of having received the Spirit of God. He fought valiantly against the Philistines, dying ultimately in the struggle. More importantly, he helped to pave the way for David, who fully lifted the nation into monarchical status.

David (1000-965) is credited with uniting the people, however tenuous that relationship (2 Samuel 5:4-5 ); and he lifted Israel to the full flower of monarchical establishment. Having united the north and the south, he established Jerusalem as the capital of the kingdom, contained the Philistines, expanded Israel's borders and her trade, and established a monarchical line that ruled in uninterrupted fashion, save one exception (Athaliah, 842-837), until the fall of Judah to Babylonia in 587.

David's son and successor was Solomon (965-922). Solomon inherited all that David had amassed, but he was able neither to build upon nor to maintain David's kingdom. He did temporarily intensify trade, but he is remembered primarily for building the Temple in Jerusalem. Nonetheless, when Solomon died, his legacy was a division in the kingdom, so that, henceforth, we speak of Israel in the north and Judah in the south.

5. The Divided Monarchy (1–2Kings; Amos; Hosea; Isaiah 1–39; Micah; Jeremiah) The north was contextually tied into international politics more than was the south, in part because the primary east-west trade route traversed Israel at the Valley of Jezreel. Israel was both the larger country and the more populous area. Her involvement in the larger world of nations meant that Israel was destined to fall politically more quickly than Judah. Israel fell to Assyria in 721, while Judah was conquered by Babylonia initially in 597.

Israel emerged as a separate power under Jeroboam I (922-901 B.C.), the initial king over what became a rather turbulent nation. Nineteen kings ruled during the country's two centuries of existence, and coup attempts brought eight succession crises. Jeroboam is most remembered, however, for his establishment of rival shrines at Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12:1 ). These shrines were in the form of bull images and were constructed as a conscious attempt to compete with Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem.

During the ninth century the Omride dynasty was established in Israel, beginning with Omri (876-869) and concluding with Jehoram (849-842). Perhaps the central issue during this period resulted from the emergence of overt Baalism with the clarification that Yahwism could not coexist with Baalism, the worship surrounding the indigenous Canaanite god of fertility, Baal. This issue was addressed particularly during the reign of King Ahab (869-850) and under the auspices of the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18-19 ). The worshiper of Yahweh could not worship both Yahweh and Baal.

Jehu (842-815) took up the struggle against Baalism. He successfully overthrew King Jehoram (ending the Omride dynasty) and instigated a violent anti-Baalistic purge in Israel. Not only did Jehoram of Israel die; so, too, did Queen Jezebel, many of the Baal worshipers, and King Ahaziah of Judah, who just happened to visit his kin in Israel during the year of his coronation!

This struggle against Baalism was a key factor in the emergence of Israel and Judah's prophetic movement during the second half of the eighth century. During an approximate fifty-year period, two primary prophets spoke in the south—Isaiah (742-701) and Micah (724-701)—while two prophets spoke in the north—Amos (about 750) and Hosea (about 745).

Amos emphasized especially social justice (Amos 5:24 ). He was particularly concerned that Israel recognize her covenantal responsibility before God (Amos 3:1-2 ). He was convinced that judgment was inevitable for Israel. (See especially the five visions recorded in Amos 7-9 ).

Hosea, the only northern prophet whose message is recorded in a book bearing his name, was Israel's eighth-century proponent of hesed (“covenant fidelity”) theology. On the analogy of his relationship with his wife Gomer ( Hosea 1-3 ), he exhorted Israel to be faithful to Yahweh. While assuring Israel of Yahweh's love, Hosea warned her of impending judgment resulting from her abuse of the covenant relationship.

The dangers the prophets saw materialized for Israel in the first quarter of the eighth century. King Hoshea (732-721) of Israel staged an anti-Assyrian revolt in anticipation of Egypt's coming to Israel's defense. Instead, the Assyrian troops under Shalmaneser V came to Israel and took the area around Samaria quickly. A siege of Samaria lasted for three years. During the siege Shalmaneser V died. Sargon II assumed the Assyrian throne and felled Samaria in 721. As per Assyrian policy, large numbers of the people of Samaria were deported to an unknown area, while peoples from another conquered area were imported into Samaria (2 Kings 17:1 ). This policy was intended to break down nationalism and to prevent political uprisings. In Israel's case it ultimately precipitated the emergence of the hybrid people despised by the “pure” Jew. Later history designated these people as “Samaritans.” The fall of Samaria in 721 marked the end of Israel as a part of the United Monarchy.

The death of Solomon in 922 marked the beginning of Judah as the separated Southern Kingdom also. Solomon left the throne in Judah to his son, Rehoboam (922-915). Rehoboam ruled over a more stable country than Israel in that a consistent line of Davidic rulers governed the country from 922 until 587, with the one exception noted. During the ninth century crisis in Israel precipitated by Jehu's revolt in 842, King Ahaziah (842) of Judah was killed. Ahaziah's death resulted in the usurpation of Judah's throne by the Queen Mother, Athaliah (842-837). Her five-year rule constituted the only non-Davidic break in the succession. More importantly, during this period a systematic attempt was made to establish Baalism also in Judah. The Southern Kingdom, in part because it housed the Jerusalem Temple and was thus the focus of Yahwism, did not embrace Baalism in the fashion of the north. Thus, when Yahwistic priests placed the young King Jehoash (837-800) on the throne, progress made by Baalism in displacing Yahwism was rapidly reversed.

As indicated above, Judah shared in the flowering of the prophetic spirit in the eighth century. Isaiah of Jerusalem, who experienced his commission (see Isaiah 6:1 ) to be Yahweh's prophet at the death of King Uzziah (742), was a prophetic spokesman during three political crises. During the rule of King Ahaz (735-715), he spoke in 735 at the time of the Syro-Israelite crisis (Isaiah 7:1 ). During the rule of King Hezekiah (715-687), Isaiah was a spokesman during two political crises. In 711 he warned against an Egyptian-led revolt against Assyria (Isaiah 20:1 ), and in 701 he was—Yahweh's spokesman when Sennacherib of Assyria laid siege to Jerusalem (Isaiah 36-37; see also 2 Kings 18-19 ). Isaiah is primarily remembered as the proponent of faith in Yahweh, letting—Yahweh struggle against those who would oppress. This God of Isaiah was One who was best described by the concept of holiness (Isaiah 6:3 ).

Micah of Moresheth (724-701) was the other eighth-century prophet in Judah. In many ways, Micah seemed to lack the original spirit of the other eighth century prophets. Micah 6:1-8 , however, is an excellent description of a courtroom scene where Yahweh's people are brought to trial for their constant rejection and transgression of the covenant. The climax to that passage, Micah 6:8 , is perhaps the best definition of eighth century prophetic religion available to the modern interpreter.

Israel having fallen in the eighth century, Judah continued into the seventh and early sixth centuries. The seventh century was both dismal and exalted. In the lengthy rule of Manasseh (687-642), Judah jettisoned much of the concern for exclusive Yahwism. Yahwistic prophets were persecuted; Baalism was encouraged; activities associated with the Assyrian astrological rites were incorporated; and the practice of human sacrifice was revived. This was, indeed, a dark period in Judah's history.

Very soon after Manasseh, however, King Josiah (640-609) reversed the decline Manasseh had set in motion. Under Josiah, and at least as early as 621, the Deuteronomic Reformation was instituted. This reform movement had a dual focus. On the one hand, Josiah sought to take advantage of the weakened conditions of both the Mesopotamian and Egyptian powers to unite anew the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. This political aspiration was coupled with a religious fervor for combating Baalism. Even the mandate that all sacrificial worship take place in the Jerusalem Temple was partially motivated by his desire to prevent the use of Baalistic “high places” and to keep all sacrificial activity where it could be carefully monitored to prevent Baalistic assimilation. This reform had long-range repercussions on the development of Yahwism and Judaism, but the primary impetus for the reform was removed with Josiah's death in 609 as he fought against Pharaoh Necho of Egypt at Megiddo (2 Kings 23:29 ).

Following Josiah's death, the nation no longer had the leadership to sustain an effective reformation. Jehoiakim (609-598) waged a revolt against the nation's Babylonian overlordship. Before Nehybuchadrezzar of Babylon arrived, however, Jehoiakim died, bringing his son Jehoiachin (598-597) to the throne. Thus, Jehoiachin was taken into Exile in 597 when Nebuchadrezzar conquered Jerusalem. In his place Nebuchadrezzar placed Zedekiah (597-587). His revolt against Babylon in 588 led to the ultimate fall of Jerusalem, including the razing of the Jerusalem Temple by Nebuchadrezzar in 587. Thus the kingdom of Judah was ended, and the Babylonian Exile (597/587-539/538) initiated.

The Babylonian Exile (Ezekiel, Isaiah 40–55 ) The Babylonian Exile was initiated in 597 by the initial deportation of Jerusalemites to Babylon, with additional deportations in 587,582 (Jeremiah 52:15 ). This was a significant period in the life of the people, although relatively few persons were involved (4,600 according to Jeremiah 52:30 ). Basically, life was not completely unacceptable, because the people enjoyed a degree of social and economic freedom. Nonetheless, they were secluded from Jerusalem and the Temple and hardly desired to sing Yahweh's song in this strange land (Psalm 137:1 ).

The Babylonian Exile, in spite of its relative brevity, was the benchmark in the religious development of the people. Most importantly, during and just following the Exile the Torah was drawn essentially into its present form. This provided the basis for the emergence of what authentically is Judaism and the Jews, “the people of the book.” In addition, other literary products were formulated, including most of the written record associated with the preexilic prophets, the final editorial work on the Deuteronomic History (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings), and the prophetic contributions of Ezekiel and the anonymous figure known as Deutero- or Second Isaiah.

Ezekiel was strongly nationalistic in his concerns, but nonetheless he made significant contributions. He increased the awareness that Yahweh has absolute mobility, that He was not geographically confined to Jerusalem (Ezekiel 1-3 ). While his message is often quite cryptic, he encouraged hope in the future (Ezekiel 33-39 ); and he suggested a type of “faith's” blueprint for a restored Jerusalem (Ezekiel 40-48 ).

The prophecies of Isaiah 40-55 spoke to conditions near the end of the Babylonian Exile (about 540), preparing the people for a second Exodus ( Isaiah 40:1 ) and impressing upon them their role as the servant people of Yahweh (Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 49:1-6; Isaiah 50:4-9; Isaiah 52:13-53:12 ). These chapters in Isaiah provide the first undisputed literary evidence for monotheism in the Bible (Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 45:5 ), a concept inevitably coupled with Yahweh's—universality (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 45:22 ).

During the Exile an institution arose which was to have crucial influence on the future of Judaism, the synagogue. It was impossible to gather at the Temple in Jerusalem, so the synagogue became a social, educational, and religious center for the community. Importantly, the synagogue was never a place where sacrificial worship could be offered. Nonetheless, once Rome destroyed the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the synagogues preserved Judaism wherever Jews were settled.


1. The Persian Period (Ezra 1; 5–6;9–10; Nehemiah 1–6; 8–9; 13; Haggai; Zechariah; Obadiah; Malachi; Job; Ecclesiastes; Proverbs; Ruth; Jonah; Esther) Judah's postexilic era began in late 539 with the entrance of the troops of Cyrus of Persia into Babylon. In early 538 Cyrus issued a decree (Ezra 1:2-4; Ezra 6:3-5 ) permitting the exiles to return home. Many did return under the leadership of Zerubbabel, a descendant of King Jehoiachin. Unfortunately, Zerubbabel mysteriously disappeared, probably because the Persians recognized the inherent dangers associated with some of the Jews thinking Zerubbabel to be the anticipated messiah (Haggai 2:20-23 ).

Immediately following their return to Jerusalem, work was begun on rebuilding the Temple. For various reasons, they accomplished little. Eventually, primarily under the influence of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the Temple was rebuilt from 520 to 515; and the Temple worship reinstituted.

The city remained defenseless until Nehemiah (appointed twice in 445,432 to be Persia's governor in Judea) rebuilt and repaired the walls around the city. About the same time Ezra, (our first indication of the scribal office, lawyer of the Torah), came to Jerusalem and impressed upon the people the importance of placing Torah at the center of community life, giving birth to the modern phenomenon of Judaism.

In the interval between the completion of the Temple (515) and Nehemiah's first visit (445), several prophets spoke, each giving a sense of the period. Obadiah's brief message was a hymn of hate against the Edomites, who had assumed Judah's lands and homes when the people were taken into Exile. Joel emphasized the day of—Yahweh as a day of Judah's preservation coupled with the destruction of Edom and Egypt. Malachi addressed the need for reformation in worship, condemned the activities of the priesthood, denounced the intermarriage of Jews with non-Jews, and criticized the popular piety so prevalent in his day.

One of the most important literary movements of the postexilic period was that associated with Wisdom Literature, represented in the Bible by the Books of Job, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs, plus some of the Psalms (1; 32; 34; 37; 49; 91; 112; 119; 128). This literature borrowed heavily from Israel's neighbors, as Proverbs 22:17-23:11 , directed itself predominately to the youth (note the allegory on old age in Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 ), and basically sought to enhance one's ability to live a healthy and productive life, recognizing that the fear of God served as the basis for such a life.

Job recounts the difficulties experienced by Job through loss of loved ones, deprivation of material goods, and an assault upon his physical health. Throughout his ordeal he remained firm in his conviction of God's ultimate sovereignty, although his restiveness with his inability to understand (theodicy, or understanding the ways of God) certainly belies his characterization as patient. Regardless, the Book of Job does not give the reason for the suffering of innocent individuals; rather, it affirms that, if one will be submissive to God even in the midst of suffering, then one may experience a meaningful relationship with God even in the direst of circumstances. In this sense, the book was a direct attack on the idea that suffering automatically results from wrongdoing and reward from right action, as Job's friends argued.

Ecclesiastes, or Koheleth, is a very different type of book. Essentially, the author portrayed a life which can only be characterized as meaningless (Ecclesiastes 1:2 , “vanity”). The concern is whether any avenue might be successfully pursued to give meaning to life. The routes of pleasure (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 ), wisdom (Ecclesiastes 2:12-16 ), wealth (most of Ecclesiastes 4:13-6:12 ), and religious vows (Ecclesiastes 5:1-6 ) were tried, but all to no avail. The nearest suggestion of a meaningful existence is in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 which suggests that, even though persons do not understand, they might find meaning by accepting the givenness of life. Perhaps through this acceptance, they might find themselves attuned to God's purpose and hence discover meaning.

The Book of Proverbs defies any systematic analysis. It deals with a multitude of subjects and in diverse manner, usually through the short, pithy saying but at least in Proverbs 31:1 through an extended poem. The subject orientation ranges from Yahweh as the Giver of life ( Proverbs 1:1-7 ) to the importance of controlling one's tongue (Proverbs 16:28 ). It emphasizes watchfulness in business (Proverbs 6:1-5 ) and in friendship (Proverbs 18:24 ). It contrasts being industrious (Proverbs 6:6-11 ) and lazy (Proverbs 24:30-34 ). While the book defies outline or categories, it is wisdom in the unique Hebraic sense.

As Judaism developed, inevitably, debate rose as regards Yahweh's availability to the non-Jew. Literarily, the Books of Ruth and Jonah encouraged the Jews to embrace all humankind within the umbrella of their faith, while the Book of Esther, which supports the highly nationalistic festival of Purim, encouraged a narrow patriotism which affirmed Yahweh to be God for the Jews protecting them from foreign enemies. This conflict was continued into New Testament times (Acts 15:1 ).

2. The Hellenistic Period Philip of Macedon was murdered in 336. This brought Alexander, his nineteen-year-old son who had earlier been tutored by Aristotle and who would later be designated Alexander the Great, to Philip's throne. After two years spent in consolidating his power, Alexander crossed the Hellespont, beginning his bid for a unified Hellenistic Empire. Alexander was not quite 33 when he died unexpectedly in 323. By the time of his death, however, an indelible Hellenistic imprint had been left on the massive area he had conquered; assuredly Canaan sensed strongly this influence.

Partly as a result of this Hellenization process, approximately 300, the chronicler's history was formulated. The chronicler's work is composed of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Unlike Samuel and Kings, Chronicles emphasizes the accomplishments of Judah and its Davidic kings. It ignored many events that did not suit its purpose, such as the David-Bethsheba story. The chronicler encouraged purity within the Jewish worship practices in the face of Alexander's Hellenization. Closely related, the chronicler focused upon the conflict between the supremacy of the Jerusalem cultus over that of the Samaritans. See Chronicles.

3. The Maccabean Period (Daniel 1–7; 12; Psalter) The apocalyptic era is usually understood to encompass the period from 200 B.C. to A.D. 200. During this period, the Jews were religiously and politically persecuted. To address this circumstance a highly symbolic, cryptic literature developed which promised the faithful community the hope of Yahweh's imminent intervention.

The emergence of the apocalyptic era coincided with events resultant to Alexander the Great's fourth-century conquest of Canaan. When Alexander died in 323, his massive kingdom was thrown into turmoil. Eventually, the control of Canaan was contested between two of his successor rulers, Seleucus and Ptolemy. Resultant to battles waged between 200,198, the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus III (223-187), gained control of Canaan. The significance of this transition in power became clear only with his successor, Antiochus IV (187-175), who attempted a systematic destruction of Judaism. His attempts to eradicate the faith precipitated an uprising led by a priest, Mattathias, and his four sons. One of these sons, Judas Maccabeus, was the military architect of the revolt and the individual whose name the revolt bears, the Maccabean Revolt.

The revolt was more successful than the Jews could have anticipated. On the twenty-fifth of Chislev, 165, Judas Maccabeus captured the Jerusalem Temple, purified it, and reinstituted the worship of Yahweh (the basis for the festival of Hanukkah). The Book of Daniel, clearly an apocalyptic book, focused on this era. See Daniel . By 142 the Jews were exempted from all Seleucid taxation, and in 129 all Seleucid soldiers were removed from the country. Once again, the Jews were totally free within the borders of their own country.

The Psalter was finally completed in this era, though many of the 150 poems are preexilic (as Psalm 29:1 ). Some are exilic (as Psalm 137:1 ); some, post-exilic (as Psalm 119:1 ). See Psalms. The Psalter, as the hymnbook of the second Temple, is particularly important for portraying the people as a worshiping community through her diverse historical eras and for enlightening the multitude of problems and situations she encountered.

4. The Roman Period True freedom had been achieved through the Maccabean Revolt, but unfortunately the Hasmonean rule was constantly beset by internal dissension. In addition, intermarriage of Jews with non-Jews in surrounding countries precipitated conflict. This unrest came to a climax in 63 when the constant turmoil, which now involved the governor of Idumaea and the Nabataean king, brought Pompey, the Roman general to Judea. Jerusalem fell; and the country, henceforth designated as the Roman province of Palestine, continued under Roman control until the fourth Christian century.

Jewish history beyond the Roman conquest would clearly fall within the postexilic rubric, and a rich history it is as one traces Jewish development. Nonetheless, the beginning of the Roman era is the outside limit for canonical Old Testament history and carries the thrust of this essay to its logical conclusion. See Alexander the Great; Apocalyptic Literature; Ark of the Covenant; Assyria; Baal/Baalism; Babylon; Canaan; Covenant; Egypt; Exodus; Israel; Judah; Judge; Maccabees; Monotheism; Moses; Philistines; Prophet (see also individual prophets); Psalms; Sinai; Synagogue; Temple; Torah; Wisdom Literature; Wise Man; Yahweh.

Frank E. Eakin, Jr.

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Israel, History of'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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