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Ancient Israel

It is generally agreed that the Semitic culture arose out of the Ghassulians, a tribe that has been carbon dated from 4300 BCE to 3300 BCE. The Semitic people built and occupied city states like Jericho that were located on trading routes. As the Semitic people were on transportation routes they were influenced by others from Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor. At the same time they were living on a battleground between empires and found themselves under the influence of these empires. Egypt was the first to exert power over the Semitic people in the 3rd millennium BCE.

Many aspects of the history of ancient Israel are based on ancient scripts that are disputed. The following history is accepted by some as factual. Others argue that many events may be mythical, but such events fit into a general understanding of what happened.

Around 1800 BCE, the Patriarchal Period began with Abraham who moved from Ur to Haran. Abraham declared a belief in One God and this initiated Judaism. He moved to Canaan with his extended clan. Jacob was Abraham’s son who was renamed Israel and was father to twelve sons, who in turn became fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel.

There is little historical evidence of the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt. The evidence suggests that around 1600 BCE the Egyptians were conquered by a Semitic tribe known as the Hyksos. Kamose who was the last king of the 17th dynasty in Egypt drove out the Hyksos. Ahmose I founded the 18th dynasty that lasted from 1540 BCE to 1070 BCE.

In approximately 1440 BCE, there was the first evidence of the Habiru, which could mean Hebrew in Egyptian texts. The Bible establishes the birth of Moses around 1300 BCE. The Bible says that Moses led the Israelites to the promised land of Canaan. Yet, some have suggested that the Red Sea was parted by the eruption of the Santorini volcano, which occurred in 1500 BCE.

Following the approximate date of 1200 BCE, Israel was led by judges and this led to the establishment of a kingdom. It was also at this time that the name Israel was first used.

In 1140 BCE, the Israelite tribes, led by Barak and the prophet Deborah, of northern and central Canaan defeated the Canaanite tribes who attempted to destroy them.

There continued to be unrest in Israel around 1030 BCE. The king of Israel was Saul in 1020 BCE who was succeeded by David around 1006 BCE. King David moved the capital of Israel from Hebron to Jerusalem. David was successful in his military campaigns, acquiring Philistia, Edom, Moab, and Ammon. He was able to take the parts of ancient Aram called Aram-Zobah, and Aram-Damascus that is known today as Syria. Around 965 BCE, David’s son, Solomon, succeeded him. After Solomon died around 926 BCE there was a rise of smaller kingdoms in Israel.

Two kingdoms formed after 922 BCE, with Judah in the south and Jerusalem as its capital. The northern tribes formed the Kingdom of Israel. In 721 BCE, the Kingdom of Israel was taken by the Assyrians. The capital city of Sargon Samaria was destroyed, as many of the Israelites went into exile while others faced captivity.

In 612 BCE, the Babylonians destroyed the Assyrian capital city of Nineveh, which won Babylon’s independence and led to the destruction of the Assyrian empire.

Around 597 BCE, the Babylonians conquered Judah, which brought a large exile of the population to Babylon. The Jewish people were either taken as slaves or fled to Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, or Syria.

Around 539 BCE, the Babylonian Empire was conquered by the Persians, who were led by Cyrus. From 550 BCE to 333 BCE, the Persian Empire controlled most of Western Asia and Israel.

Cyrus allowed the return of the Jewish people to Judah and Jerusalem from Babylon and they were permitted to construct the Second Temple in 537 BCE. Between 520 BCE and 515 BCE the Second Temple was completed.

In 332 BCE, Alexander the Great defeated the Persian Empire and took control of Israel. Jerusalem was not directly attacked as a delegation met Alexander and pledged their loyalty to him. When Alexander the Great died in 323 BCE there was a power struggle and Israel changed rulers at least five times in twenty years.

Ptolemy I Soter became Israel’s first Ptolemaic ruler in 301 BCE. In 198 BCE, Seleucid King Antiochus III took over Judea and Samaria and removed Ptolemy V. The Maccabees were Jewish rebels who staged a rebellion against the Seleucid dynasty and established the Hasmonean royal line that brought about Jewish independence. This independence lasted from 165 BCE to 63 BCE in the Land of Israel.

Roman forces led by Pompey conquered Israel in 63 BCE, making it a client kingdom of Rome. Caesar Augustus made Israel a province in 6 CE. The “Great Jewish Revolt” started in 66 CE and lasted until 73 CE when the Jewish garrison at Jodeptah was killed after a siege that lasted two months. Following a civil war, Vespasian took the throne in 69 CE. The Romans occupied Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE. More than 100,000 Jews died, while nearly 100,000 more became slaves in Rome. Many others fled to countries circling the Mediterranean.

The Romans renamed Judah as Syria-Palestine. The name Palestine is from the Latin word Palaestine, which means Philistines, the name of those who had occupied the coastal areas.

Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai was allowed to establish a centre for Jewish learning at Sanhedrin, a remote town of Yavneh after Jerusalem fell to the Romans. Here, Judaism survived and Sanhedrin became the supreme Jewish centre for religious, judicial, and political issues for Jews around the world.

This centre was disbanded by force in 425 CE by the Roman government that acted under the influence of the Christian Church.

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