By Tim Lambert

The Patriarchs and the Exodus

The history of Ancient Israel traditionally begins with Abraham who lived around 2,000 BC. At that time what is now Iraq was divided into city states ruled by kings. So was the land we now call Israel. Egypt was a single united kingdom. According to the Bible Abraham was born in the city or Ur but moved to Israel. He and his descendants lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle raising herds of animals. However Abraham's descendants eventually settled in Egypt during a famine.

In time his descendants increased in number and fearing they were now a threat to Egypt's internal security the Egyptians enslaved them. Moses led the Israelites to freedom some time before 1200 BC. The Israelites then invaded what is now Israel led by Joshua. Israel was divided into 12 tribes but at first they did not have a king. The Israelites were often oppressed by neighboring peoples but at intervals a leader called a judge rose up to drive the oppressors back.

In time the Israelites decided they wanted a king to lead them like the surrounding nations. The first king was Saul. He was followed by David and Solomon. As a united kingdom Israel prospered and became powerful.

The Divided Kingdom

However after the death of Solomon about 930 BC the kingdom split into two. Israel in the north and the kingdom of Judah in the South. The capital of Israel was Samaria and the capital of Judah was Jerusalem. Both kingdoms were threatened by the growing power of the Assyrians. Finally in 722 BC the Assyrians captured Samaria the capital of Israel and the northern kingdom came to an end. Most of the inhabitants of Israel were deported to other parts of the Assyrian Empire. They were replaced by people from other provinces of the empire. In 701 BC the Assyrians laid siege to Jerusalem, the capital of Judah but they failed to capture it.

Eventually the city of Babylon led a rebellion against the Assyrians. In 612 BC they captured the Assyrian capital and brought its empire to an end. However the Babylonians created a new empire and they became a threat to the remaining kingdom, Judah. In 597 BC the Babylonians captured Jerusalem and they installed a puppet king. However the king foolishly rebelled and he appealed to Egypt for help. However in 587 BC the Babylonians captured Jerusalem again. This time they deported most of the people of Judah to other parts of their empire. However the Jews kept their religion and their identity while in exile.

The Jews Return From Exile

In 539 BC the Persians brought the Babylonian Empire to an end and replaced it with their own empire. Yet in 538 BC Cyrus, the ruler of the Persian Empire gave the Jews permission to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Many did return to Israel and the temple was rebuilt.

However the Persian Empire was overthrown by the Greeks under Alexander the Great. Alexander died young and his empire was split between his generals. One of them called Seleucus took Syria and Iraq. In 198 BC his descendants the Seleucids captured Jerusalem. In 168 BC a Seleucid ruler named Antiochus Epiphanes defiled the temple and he provoked the Jews into rebellion. The Jews gained their independence in 142 BC but it did not last long. The Roman Empire was growing rapidly and in 63 BC the Romans captured Jerusalem.

The Jews rebelled against the Romans in 66 AD but the rebellion was crushed. In 70 AD the Romans captured Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. In 395 AD the Roman Empire permanently split in half and Israel became part of the Eastern Empire, later known as the Byzantine Empire.


The Persian Empire

The Roman Empire