Ancient Israel was a country that existed in various forms, from around 1020 BC to its destruction by Rome around 70 AD. A brief history follows.
civilization begins with nomad
ic tribes then known as the Habiru
, who were living throughout North Arabia around 2000 BC. According to the Bible
, the Israelites originated from Mesopotamia
. Originally thought to be just an invention of the writers of the Bible, this has now been confirmed by many sources: linguistic data shows the Hebrew
language is a close relative of the Mesopotamian
. Also, it now seems that the conditions of the 16th-17th century BC, the time when these events occurred, were ideal for travel
ing, because good merchant routes and communication systems were being established at the time. The Bible is probably right once again when it comes to Egypt: it seems likely that Israelite tribes settled there in the 17th century. By 1550 BC, there was a rebellion in Egypt against the Hyksos
, who were Semitic just like the Jews, and the pharaoh Anosis
the 1st came to power. He is most probably the one referred to in the Bible as the "pharaoh who knew not Joseph" . What follows is uncertain – whether Moses existed or not is unknown, and there is little archaeological evidence for a massive movement of people from Egypt to Israel. It is, however, clear that by 1300 BC the Israelites had already left Egypt and settled in the eastern part of Canaan
. By 1250 BC the conquest of Canaan began, and, in the early 12th century BC, the Israelite tribes were well established throughout Israel
During that time, the Israelite tribes were not yet a united nation; like the Greek city-states, all the tribes shared the same culture and religion, but they were quite separate political units. Though all tribes were unified by their strong monotheistic faith, they each had a separate government. Each tribe was ruled by a "judge", who was really the leader of the tribe in all of its aspects; he was the judge, the military leader, the diplomat, and all else in one. In actuality, some of the judges were monarchs; many left their sons as judges when they died. The tribes resembled the Greek city-states in another aspect: they were often in war with each other, and only allied to defend Israel against the constant attacks by its neighbours. It is really due to these attacks that Israel first became a united nation, around 1020 BC.
In that century, Israel was suffering from attacks from its neighbouring countries. A unity of tribes was required to defend Israel, so a man named Saul became king of all Israel. Saul defeated the Ammonites and the Philistines, but he was killed by the latter around 1000 BC. He was succeeded by King David, made famous by the tale of David and Goliath. King David came to power during a fortunate time in the Middle East; all the countries around Israel were going through social and political upheaval, and none were in shape to attack or maintain their empires. King David thus managed to conquer three states west of the Jordan River, though he was later forced to give up some of them to the Syrians. He also established control over the Syrian desert, as far west as the Euphrates River, though his political dominion there was not very steady. In Israel itself, King David conducted reforms of the political structure, and made it very much like that of ancient Egypt: the king was the most powerful and there were many officials who were less powerful than he was. But King David died in the middle of the 10th century BC, and never finished all his plans. His son, Solomon, succeeded him.
Solomon was the greatest king of Israel, and Israel prospered the most under his rule. Though he lost most of the territories that David conquered, he managed to greatly fortify Israel's feeble economy. Solomon entered into economical treaties with the Phoenicians, who were coming to rule the Mediterranean, and Arabs throughout the Middle East. This brought such rich items to Israel as peacocks, gold, and sandalwood. Solomon was ambitious, but he was not very cautious. He spent most of the wealth earned by Israel through his wise economical management on building projects, like the royal palace, fortresses throughout Israel, and, most famous of all, the Jewish Temple. There was not enough money made from trade or from the payments of conquered states to compensate for these projects, so the Israelites themselves were forced to work on royal labour gangs – which basically meant they were enslaved. Indeed, as the Bible states, "You yourselves [the Israelites] will be slaves to him [the king]" . Obviously, the Israelites were dissatisfied and northern Israel rebelled after Solomon's death.
The kingdom was then separated into two: the northern Israel, and the southern Judah. Both kingdoms still shared the same Hebrew culture, but they went to war against each other with no qualms about it. Eventually, King Asa of Judah entered into an alliance with the kingdom of Damascus. Damascus thus also started to attack Israel, which cost Israel part of its territory. The 9th century is the best-known period of Israelite history. In Israel, king Omri started a dynasty, during which Israel was relatively successful, but the dynasty ended in a violent overthrow in 841 BC. It was followed by the dynasty of Jehu, during which Israel alternated between greatness and weakness. Israel was completely defeated at war with Damascus in 815 BC, but won great victories under king Jeroboam II, of the same dynasty, from 786 to 746 BC. Meanwhile, Judah's strength also varied. When it was strong, like under the rule of great kings like Asa, Jehosophat, and Uzziah, it controlled a lot of territory and some caravan routes. When weak, it would shrink beyond its own borders.
Yet even this period of wars was but a prelude to what came next. In 741 BC, the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III attacked Syria. In 738, Israel and Judah were forced to pay tribute to Assyria. In 733, Assyria devastated Gilead and Galilee and turned them into provinces. By 732, Damascus was captured, and, in 725 BC, a siege of Samaria began. By 722 BC, just twenty years after Assyria gained power, Samaria was taken, and Israel no longer existed as a country. Judah was left alone at first, but, when king Hezekiah (715-686 BC) attempted to resist Assyria, he was defeated and forced to pay a tribute. Judah would have probably been desolated if not for an epidemic that wiped out Assyria's army. Assyrian rule lasted until 612 BC, when its capital was destroyed and its empire fell apart.
Even with Assyria's fall, relief did not come to the Israelites. They were soon conquered by Babylon, under the king Nebuchadnezzar II. He besieged Jerusalem in 598 BC, and it fell soon after. The Temple was destroyed, and most of the Israelites in Judah were then taken into Babylonian captivity. While in Babylon, the Israelites retained their distinct culture and religion, by focusing on religious studies. In their monotheism lay their strength; theirs was a belief strong enough to make sure they were not assimilated into Babylonian culture. In 539 BC, King Cyrus the Great of Persia took over Mesopotamia. He allowed the Israelites to go back into Judah, practice their religion freely, and rebuild Solomon's temple. The high priest became ruler of the province of Judah, and a theocracy (rule by the priesthood) emerged. The Israelites had control over internal affairs, but the Persians were still the main rulers.
Starting in 333 BC, Alexander the Great conquered Persia. Judah passed into Greek hands, but the main system of government and the way of life remained unchanged. The Jews were more accepted by the Greeks, so many emigrated and settled throughout the Greek colonies. This dispersion is known as the Diaspora. The Jews' culture became Hellenistic, though the religion remained Judaism. Upon Alexander's death, in 323 BC, Judah, along with Egypt, passed into the hands of the Ptolemies, a dynasty descended from one of Alexander's generals. The Seleucids, who had control of Syria and much of Mesopotomia, often fought with the Ptolemies over Judah, because it was a way of passage into Arabia. Finally, in 198 BC, the Seleucids won and Judah became their province. Unlike the Ptolemies, the Seleucids did not tolerate Judaism, and tried to ban it. In 168 BC, Judaism was declared illegal and the Judaic temple was desecrated. This caused the famous Maccabee rebellion, which is the basis for Hanukah. The Jewish forces were successful, and, for the first time in 550 years, Judah was independent.
The power came into the hands of the Maccabees, who established the dynasty of the Hasmoneans. The Hasmoneans focused on keeping the Judaic religion pure. They also established a council of elders, responsible for all decisions of the state, and they expanded the kingdom to include Samaria and Edom. This independence did not last long, and the downfall of Judah into Roman hands is the fault of the Hasmoneans themselves. Two rival Hasmonean brothers, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, were both vying for the throne. Antipater, Hyrcanus's friend, schemed with the Roman general Pompey to allow himself to come into power. The Roman army conquered Jerusalem in 62 BC, and made Judah into a Roman province. In 47 BC, Judah came to be under the direct rule of Rome, and Antipater was declared the Roman procurator. His son, Herod the Great, became governor in 37 BC.
The Roman governors were tyrannical and oppressive, and had no tolerance for the Jewish faith. Thus, in 68 AD, a violent rebellion was started against them. The rebellion was crushed by the army sent by Nero, and, in 70 AD, Jerusalem was destroyed. The Jews were mainly dispersed throughout the world, and few remained in Judah.