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The northern Kingdom of Israel (green on the map) and the Kingdom of Judah to the south.

The history of ancient Israel and Judah refers to the Iron Age kingdoms of Israel (Samaria) and Judah. They emerged from the regional Canaanite and Israelite culture of the Late bronze age, and were based on villages and cities that formed and grew in the southern Levant highlands (i.e. today's definition for the region between the coastal plan and the Jordan Valley) between c.1200-1000 BCE, a period during which the biblical united monarchy was formed and eventually split to these two kingdoms. The northern kingdom, Israel, became an important local power in the 9th and 8th centuries BCE before falling to the Assyrians; the southern kingdom, Judah, fell to the Babylonians early in the 6th century; Judean exiles returned from Babylon to found the Second Temple early in the following Persian period.

By the 2nd century BCE, Judah, now the province of Yehud (formerly Yehud Medinata under Persian rule), revolted against Hellenistic Greek overlords and re-created a Judean kingdom, based on the biblical model; this kingdom eventually became part of the Roman Empire as the Iudaea Province before being dissolved due to major rebellions in the 1st century CE and 2nd century CE, after which the name Judah/Judea ceased to be used for any political entity.

Geographic and cultural background

Israel and Judah were neighbouring Iron Age (c.1200-600 BCE) kingdoms, located in a region defined today as southern Levant. The geographical area where they arose was between the eastern coast line of the Mediterranean Sea and the depression of the Jordan Valley. To the immediate south and east were the kingdoms of Edom (immediately south of the Dead Sea), Moab (east of the Dead Sea), with Aram and Ammon to their north. To the west, on the Mediterranean coast, were the city-states of the Philistines. Immediately to the north of the Philistines was a coastal extension of Israel, with more city-states, those of the Phoenicians, on the coast further north. Large empires lay to the southwest (Egypt) and northeast (Assyria in the 8th-7th centuries BCE, Babylonia in the 6th century, and Achaemenid Persia thereafter). There was also considerable contact between all of these and the city-states of Greece across the eastern Mediterranean.[1]

According to the Bible, the Israelites conquered land from the Canaanites at the time of Joshua, by divine promise and guidance after the The Exodus. Yet lingistically, based on the limited epigraphic archaeological evidence available, the Judahite and Israelite dialects of the early 1st millennium BCE group most closely with Phoenician, Ammonite, Moabite and Edomite; and within that grouping a "core Canaanite" of Israelite and Phoenician can be distinguished from a "fringe Canaanite" of Judahite, Ammonite, Moabite and Edomite.[2]

Origins (1200-1000 BCE)

The earliest mention of the name Israel comes at the very end of the Late Bronze Age, in an Egyptian inscription of about 1207 BCE. The Merneptah stele was erected to commemorate a victory over the Libyans and Sea Peoples, but includes a short poem or hymn listing victories over various cities in Canaan. Near the end occurs the line: "Israel is laid waste and his seed is not."[3] This Israel is identified as a people, and it is highly probable that they were located in the northern part of the central highlands, geographically part of what would later be the biblical Kingdom of Israel.[4]

At the end of the Late Bronze Age the central highlands were sparsely populated, with some 25 villages and a population of about 12,000; but the end of Iron Age I some two hundred years later the number of villages had increased to 300 and the population to 55,000.[5] Politically, the highlands lack any sign of centralised authority; religiously, they lack any sign of temples, shrines, or centralised worship in general (although cult-objects associated with the Canaanite god El have been found); the pottery remains strongly in the local Late Bronze tradition; and the alphabet used (although there have been very few examples found) is that of early Canaanite. Almost the sole marker distinguishing the "Israelite" villages from Cannanite sites is an absence of pig bones, although whether this can be taken as an ethnic marker or is due to other factors remains a matter of dispute.[6]

Iron age (1000-550 BCE)

Israel, Judah and surrounding kingdoms, 9th century BCE.

In the second half of the 10th century BCE the Egyptian pharaoh Shoshenq I (probably identical with the Shishak of 1 Kings 14:25-26 and 2 Chronicles 12:2-9) recorded a series of campaigns directed at the northern part of the Judah/Israel region, although his inscriptions mention cities, not kingdoms.[7] He does not mention Jerusalem, nor is it mentioned in other texts from the time such as the Arad and Kuntillet Arjud ostracons, making it unlikely that the city was a major power at this time.[8]

There is ample evidence of Israel as an important regional state during the 9th and 8th centuries. The Assyrian king Shalmaneser III names king Ahab of Israel among his enemies at the battle of Qarqar, reliably dated to 853 BCE); in the Mesha stele a king of Moab celebrates his success in throwing off the oppression of the "House of Omri", and the Tel Dan stele of c.850-825 BCE tells of the death of a king of Israel, probably Jehoram, at the hands of an Aramaen king about 841 BCE. Excavations at Samaria, the Israelite capital, further reinforce the impression of a powerful, centralised kingdom.[9] In the second half of the 8th century king Hoshea of Israel revolted against the Assyrians, and was crushed. Part of the population was deported, outside settlers were brought in to replace them, and Israel became an Assyrian province (c.722 BCE).[10]

The 9th century Tel Dan stele also tells of the death of a king of the House of David, although again there is no explicit mention of the name Judah. By the 8th century the territory of Judah was a collection of small towns, the most notable of which were Jerusalem, Lachish and Hebron. It became an important city in the 7th century, following Assyria's annexation of Israel, with a population far greater than at any time before and with clear primacy over the surrounding towns. The older scholarly reconstruction of events is that this was due to an influx of refugees from Israel, but the newer view is that it reflects a cooperative effort between Assyria and the kings of Judah to establish the latter as a loyal vassal state exercising control over the valuable olive industry.[11] The sudden collapse of the Assyrian power in the last half of the 7th century led to an unsuccessful bid for independence under king Josiah, followed by the destruction of Jerusalem by Assyria's successor, the neo-Babylonian empire (587/586 BCE).

Babylonian and Persian periods (586-333 BCE)

In 586 BCE, the Babylonians, under king Nebuchadnezzar II, defeated the Kingdom of Judah, captured Jerusalem, and destroyed the First Temple. The biblical texts (2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Jeremiah and sundry references in Ezekiel and Daniel) say that after the Babylonian captivity, only the poorest were left behind in Judah, now the Babylonian province of Yehud. A few years later, again according to the bible, the governor of Yehud was murdered by rivals, triggering an exodus of refugees to Egypt. Thus by about 580 the people of Judah were to be found in three separate locations, the elite in Babylon (where, incidentally, they appear to have been well treated), in Egypt, and a remnant in Judah.[12]

The Babylonian exile was relatively brief, ending when Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylon (traditionally 538 BCE). Over the following decades some of the exiles returned to Jerusalem, but the majority chose to remain in Mesopotamia. Relations between the returnees and those they found in the land appear to have been strained: for over a century the administrative capital remained at Mizpah in the territory of Benjamin, and the northerners (previously Israel, now Samaritans) opposed the rebuilding of the walls and Temple in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the Temple was rebuilt and rededicated in the sixth year of Darius (516/515 BCE) through the efforts of Nehemiah and Ezra.[13]

Under Persian rule and protection, the Jewish community in the Land of Israel established the Yehud Medinata autonomy.

Hellenistic and Roman periods (333 BCE-70 CE)

The extent of the Hasmonean kingdom

Iudaea Province and surrounding area in the 1st century

In 331 BCE Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire. Upon his death in 323 BCE, the province of Yehud changed hands regularly between two Greek successor-kingdoms, the Seleucids of Syria and the Ptolemies of Egypt. Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt (281-246 BCE) promoted Jewish culture: the Septuagint translation of the Torah was begun in Alexandria in his reign, which also saw the beginning of the Pharisees and other Jewish Second Temple parties such as the Sadducees and Essenes.[14] Antiochus IV Epiphanes of Syria (174-163 BCE), in contrast, when he gained control of Yehud, attempted complete Hellenization of the Jews. His desecration of the Temple sparked the Maccabee rebellion, which ended in victory for the Jews with the expulsion of the Syrians and the re-consecration of the Temple.

The Hasmonean kingdom established by the Maccabees was a deliberate attempt to revive the Judah described in the bible: a monarchy stretching over most of Palestine, defeating and absorbing (and forcible converting) the one-time Moabites, Edomites and Ammonites, and re-conquering the lost kingdom of Israel.[15]

In 64 BCE the Roman general Pompey conquered Jerusalem and made the Jewish kingdom a client of Rome. In 57-55 BCE Aulus Gabinius, proconsul of Syria, split it into Galilee, Samaria & Judea, with 5 districts of Sanhedrin/Synedrion (councils of law).[16] In 40-39 BCE Herod the Great was appointed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate.[17] and in 6 CE his successor, Herod Archelaus, ethnarch of Judea, was deposed by the emperor Augustus and Samaria, Judea and Idumea annexed as Iudaea Province under direct Roman administration.[18]

In 66 the Jews revolted against Rome. The rebellion was crushed and the Temple destroyed (70 CE); over 100,000 Jews died during the siege of Jerusalem, nearly 100,000 were taken to Rome as slaves, and many others fled to Mesopotamia and to other countries. In 132 a second revolt, Bar Kokhba's Revolt, began, led by Simon bar Kokhba, and an independent state in Israel was declared. By 135 this revolt also was suppressed, and the Romans reorganized Judaea as part of the province of Syria-Palestine.


Template:Wikify section Israel and Judah inherited the religion of late first-millennium Canaan, and Canaanite religion in turn had its roots in the religion of second-millennium Ugarit.[19] In the 2nd millennium, polytheism was expressed through the concepts of the divine council and the divine family, a single entity with four levels: the chief god and his wife (El and Asherah); the seventy divine children or "stars of El" (including Baal, Astarte, Anat, probably Resheph, as well as the sun-goddess Shapshu and the moon-god Yerak); the head helper of the divine household, Kothar wa-Hasis; and the servants of the divine household, including the messenger-gods who would later appear as the "angels" of the Hebrew bible.[20]

In the earliest stage, Yahweh was one of the seventy children of El, each of whom was the patron deity of one of the seventy nations. This is illustrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls and Septuagint texts of Deuteronomy 32:8-9, in which El, as the head of the divine assembly, gives member of the divine family a nation of his own, "according to the number of the divine sons": Israel is the portion of Yahweh.[21] The later Masoretic text, evidently uncomfortable with the polytheism expressed by the phrase, altered it to "according to the number of the children of Israel"[22]

Between the eighth to the sixth centuries El became identified with Yahweh, Yahweh-El became the husband of the goddess Asherah, and the other gods and the divine messengers gradually became mere expressions of Yahweh's power.[23] Yahweh is cast in the role of the Divine King ruling over all the other deities, as in Psalm 29:2, where the "sons of God" are called upon to worship Yahweh; and as Ezekiel 8-10 suggests, the Temple itself became Yahweh's palace, populated by those in his retinue.[24]

It is in this period that the earliest clear monotheistic statements appear in the Bible, for example in the apparently seventh-century Deuteronomy 4:35, 39, 1 Samuel 2:2, 2 Samuel 7:22, 2 Kings 19:15, 19 (= Isaiah 37:16, 20), and Jeremiah 16:19, 20 and the sixth-century portion of Isaiah 43:10-11, 44:6, 8, 45:5-7, 14, 18, 21, and 46:9.[25] Because many of the passages involved appear in works associated with either Deuteronomy, the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua through Kings) or in Jeremiah, most recent scholarly treatments have suggested that a Deuteronomistic movement of this period developed the idea of monotheism as a response to the religious issues of the time.[26]

The first factor behind this development involves changes in Israel's social structure. At Ugarit, social identity was strongest at the level of the family: legal documents, for example, were often made between the sons of one family and the sons of another. Ugarit's religion, with its divine family headed by El and Asherah, mirrored this human reality.[27] The same was true in ancient Israel through most of the monarchy - for example, the story of Achan in Joshua 8 suggests an extended family as the major social unit. However, the family lineages went through traumatic changes beginning in the eighth century due to major social stratification, followed by Assyrian incursions. In the seventh and sixth centuries, we begin to see expressions of individual identity (Deuteronomy 26:16; Jeremiah 31:29-30; Ezekiel 18). A culture with a diminished lineage system, deteriorating over a long period from the ninth or eighth century onward, less embedded in traditional family patrimonies, might be more predisposed both to hold the individual accountable for his behavior, and to see an individual deity accountable for the cosmos. In short, the rise of the individual as the basic social unit led to the rise of a single god replacing a divine family.[28]

The second major factor was the rise of the neo-Assyrian and neo-Babylonian empires. As long as Israel was, from its own perspective, part of a community of similar small nations, it made sense to see the Israelite pantheon on par with the other nations, each one with its own patron god - the picture described with Deuteronomy 32:8-9. The assumption behind this worldview was that each nation was as powerful as its patron god.[29] However, the neo-Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom in ca. 722 challenged this, for if the neo-Assyrian empire were so powerful, so must be its god; and conversely, if Israel could be conquered (and later Judah, c. 586), it implied that Yahweh in turn was a minor divinity. The crisis was met by separating the heavenly power and earthly kingdoms. Even though Assyria and Babylon were so powerful, the new monotheistic thinking in Israel reasoned, this did not mean that the god of Israel and Judah was weak. Assyria had not succeeded because of the power of its god Marduk; it was Yahweh who was using Assyria to punish and purify the one nation which Yahweh had chosen.[30]

By the post-Exilic period, full monotheism had emerged: Yahweh was the sole God, not just of Israel, but of the whole world. If the nations were tools of Yahweh, then the new king who would come to redeem Israel might not be a Judean as taught in older literature (e.g. Psalm 2). Now, even a foreigner such as Cyrus the Persian could serve as the Lord's anointed (Isaiah 44:28, 45:1). One god stood behind all the world's history.[31]

Demographic history

Template:Wikify section By the 8th century Israel's population in the north had grown to about 350,000. At the time of the Omrides it may have been even more, as Israel had lost Hazor, Dan and Bethsaida to Damascus, and the sacking of Megiddo and Taanach by Hazael of Damascus had led to a depopulation of the Jezrael. Under the Omrides, Israel was the most populous state of the Levant, probably surpassing even Damascus; but after the wars with Damascus and the coup of Jehu, it was probable that Aramaean Damascus had become the larger state. Thus, under the Omrides, the population of Israel may have been about 500,000.

The south was much less populated. Judea's population, which before the collapse of the north had been low, grew 500% to 120,000. This means, the previous size of Judea before the reign of Ahaz had been about 24,000 people in the south with 96,000 coming as refugees from the north (about 1/3rd of the total of the previous population). This would suggest that the population of Judea was less than 1/20th that of the northern kingdom. During the 10th century it would have been still smaller.[32]

But the enormous population after the fall of Israel did not last. The Assyrian campaign against Hezekiah, and the plague with which it was associated (Hezekiah himself narrowly escaped) reduced the population by nearly 50,000, so that by the end of the monarchy, Judah's population, based fairly accurately upon surveys at the time, was about 75,000, with 20% of it (about 15,000) living in Jerusalem.

The Book of Jeremiah reports that a total of 4,600 went into exile in Babylon. The Book of Kings suggests that it was ten thousand, and then eight thousand. Israel Finkelstein, a prominent archaeologist, suggests that 4,600 represented the heads of households and 8,000 was the total, whilst 10,000 is a rounding upwards of the second number. Jeremiah also hints that an equivalent number may have fled to Egypt. Given these figures, Finkelstein suggests that 3/4 of the population of Judah did not move.

The returnees at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah are said to be 50,000, possibly over a period of 100 years. Thus, about 50% of the total population in the Persian period, in the truncated territory of Yahud, estimated at about 100-150,000 was of the "new" post- exilic monotheism, and 50% practiced the old Canaanite pre-exilic polytheism. Given that Yehud did not include Bethsheva or Hebron, which were ruled by the Idumaeans, it is possible that the population within the border of old Judea was twice that (about 240,000). With the population of Israel nearly 10 times that of the south, the total population living within the borders of monarchial Israel and Judah at the end of the Persian period together may have numbered as many as 3 million, the number recorded roughly at the time of the Jewish Revolt. At this time it was estimated that Jews may have been 1/10th of the total population of the Empire, of between 50-60 million, and that the number of Jews in Diaspora, largely living in Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor (modern Turkey) was equal to the numbers living in the Land of Israel.

See also

Notable people
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Benjamin, Moses, Aaron, Joshua

Kings of Israel
Main: List of the Kings of Israel

Saul, Ish-bosheth, David, Solomon, Jeroboam, Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, Ahab Ahaziah, Jehoram, Jehu, Elisha, Jehoahaz, Jehoash, Jeroboam II, Zachariah, Shallum, Menahem, Pekahiah, Pekah, Hoshea

Kings of Judah
Main: List of the Kings of Judah

Rehoboam, Abijam, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, Ahaziah, Athaliah, Jehoash, Amaziah, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jeconiah, Zedekiah


  1. James Maxwell Miller and John Haralson Hayes, "A History of Ancient Israel and Judah" (Westminster John Knox Press, 1986) pp.30-49
  2. Thomas L. Thompson, "Early History of the Israelite People" p.413
  3. Lawrence E. Stagger, Forging an Identity: The Emergence of Ancient ISrael, in Michael D. Coogan (ed), "The Oxford History of the Biblical World (Oxford UP, 1998), p.91
  4. Niels Peter Lemche, "The Israelites in History and Tradition" (Westminster John Knox, 1998) pp.35-8
  5. Paula McNutt, "Reconstructing the Society of Ancient Israel" pp.47-8
  6. Anne E. Killebrew, "Biblical Peoples and Ethnicity" (Society of Biblical Literature, 2005) p.176
  7. Kenneth Kitchen, "On the Reliability of the Old Testament" p.10
  8. Thomas L. Thompson, Early History of the Israelite People" pp.409-410
  9. Amihai Mazar, The Divided Monarchy: Comments on some Archaeological Issues, in Israel Finkelstein and Amihai Mazar, "The quest for the historical Israel" (Society of Biblical Literature, 2007) p.163
  10. Stephanie Dalley, "The Legacy of Mesopotamia" (OUP, 1998) p.62
  11. Thomas L. Thompson, "The Early History of Israel" pp.410-412
  12. Kenneth Kitchen, "On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003) pp.66-70
  13. Victor H. Matthews, "A Brief History of Israel" (Westminster John Knox, 2002) p.103
  14. Jewish Virtual Library
  15. Philip R. Davies, "In Search of 'Ancient Israel'" pp.149-150
  16. Antiquities of the Jews 14.5.4
  17. Jewish War 1.14.4
  18. H.H. Ben-Sasson, A History of the Jewish People, Harvard University Press, 1976, ISBN 0674397312, page 246
  19. Karel van der Toorn, editor, "Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible" (second edition, Eerdmans, 1999)
  20. Robert Karl Gnuse, "No Other Gods: Emergent Monotheism in Israel" (Sheffield Academic Press, 1997)
  21. Meindert Djikstra, "El the God of Israel, Israel the People of YHWH: On the Origins of Ancient Israelite Yahwism" (in "Only One God? Monotheism in Ancient Israel and the Veneration of the Goddess Asherah", ed. Bob Beckering, Sheffield Academic Press, 2001)
  22. Meindert Djikstra, "I have Blessed you by Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah: Texts with Religious Elements from the Soil Archive of Ancient Israel" (in "Only One God? Monotheism in Ancient Israel and the Veneration of the Goddess Asherah", ed. Bob Beckering, Sheffield Academic Press, 2001)
  23. Karel van der Toorn, "Goddesses in Early Israelite Religion in Ancient Goddesses: the Myths and the Evidence" (editors Lucy Goodison and Christine Morris, University of Wisconsin Press, 1998)
  24. Karel van der Toorn, editor, "Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible" (second edition, Eerdmans, 1999)
  25. Ziony Zevit, "The Religions of Ancient Israel: A Synthesis of Parallactic Approaches (Continuum, 2001)
  26. Mark S.Smith, "Untold Stories: The Bible and Ugaritic Studies in the Twentieth Century" (Hendrickson Publishers, 2001)
  27. Mark S. Smith and Patrick D Miller, "The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel" (Harper & Row, 1990)
  28. Mark S. Smith, "Untold Stories: The Bible and Ugaritic Studies in the Twentieth Century" (Hendrickson Publishers, 2001)
  29. William G. Dever, "Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient ISrael" (Eerdman's, 2005)
  30. Mark S.Smith, "Untold Stories: The Bible and Ugaritic Studies in the Twentieth Century" (Hendrickson Publishers, 2001)
  31. Mark S.Smith, "Untold Stories: The Bible and Ugaritic Studies in the Twentieth Century" (Hendrickson Publishers, 2001)
  32. Thompson, Thomas L. (2000), "The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology And The Myth Of Israel" (Basic Books)

Further reading

cs:Starověké dějiny Židů da:Oldtidens Israels og Judæas historie sw:Israeli ya Kale ms:Sejarah Israel dan Judah purba fj:Na Veitarataravi ni Veigauna vaka i Isireli kei Jiuta ja:古代イスラエル no:Oldtidens Israels og Judeas historie ru:История еврейского народа в Ветхом Завете sh:Historija Drevnog Izraela i Judeje fi:Israelin ja Juudan historia