Israel

Definition

by
published on 31 July 2010
Map of the Levant circa 830 BCE (Richardprins)

The Kingdom of Israel occupied the land on the Mediterranean Sea corresponding roughly to the State of Israel of modern times. The region was known, historically, as Canaan, as Phonecia and, later, as Palestine. Named after the Hebrew patriarch Jacob (also known as Yisrae’el, `persevere with God’) and, by extension, his nation, Israel was, at first, the region allegedly conquered by the Hebrew General Joshua around 1250 BCE. The biblical book of Exodus tells the story of the Egyptianized Hebrew leader Moses and how he led his people out of slavery in Egypt to the “promised land” of Canaan.

According to the story, Moses was unable to enter the land himself owing to a misunderstanding with God and passed his leadership to his second-in-command, Joshua, who then led the Israelites to victory over the indigenous people. This version of history, it should be noted, is only found in the Hebrew Bible and, while archaelogical evidence in the region once known as Canaan does support the wide-spread upheaval of a conquest, said evidence does not fit neatly with the biblical narrative. Whether there was such a general named Joshua and whether the Hebrews did, in fact, conquer the Canaanites is a matter of belief in the biblical narrative. It has been established, however, that something of moment did occur circa 1250-1200 BCE which resulted in a displacement of indigenous people, not only in Canaan, but elsewhere throughout the region.

The reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon have been traditionally characterized as a `golden age’ of unity and prosperity.

Israel developed into a united kingdom under the leadership of King David (c.1000-960 BCE) who consolidated the various tribes under his single rule (having taken over from Israel’s first king, Saul, who ruled circa 1020 BCE). David chose the Canaanite city of Jerusalem as his capital and is said to have had the Ark of the Covenant moved there. As the Ark was thought to contain the living presence of God, bringing it to Jerusalem would have made the city both a political and religious center of considerable importance. David intended to build a great temple to house the Ark but that task fell to his son, Solomon (circa 960-920 BCE) whose rule corresponds to the height of Israelite grandeur. Solomon consolidated treaties with neighboring kingdoms such as Tyre to the north, Egypt, Sheba and sponsored building projects which made Jerusalem a great and opulent city (including, of course, the First Temple). The reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon (but especially the latter two) have been traditionally characterized as a `golden age’ of unity and prosperity. 

The Kingdom of Israel, culturally, seems to have been characterized by a strong belief in a fierce desert god (the same who was claimed to have inspired Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt) named Yahweh who was considered the only `true god’ and the creator Lord of the Universe. David and Solomon, especially, seem to have used this belief to their benefit in unifying the people but, upon Solomon’s death (around 920 BCE) the kingdom split in half, Israel occupying the northern region with a capital at Samaria and the Kingdom of Judah in the south with Jerusalem as capital. The two kingdoms would sometimes ally and sometimes war but would never again achieve the strength and wealth of the kingdom under the rules of David and Solomon. The Kingdom of Judah prospered under the reigns of the kings Omri (c.876-869 or 884-872 BCE) and Ahab (c.876-853 BCE) and, later, Jehu’s dynasty (842-746 BCE) according to archaeological evidence and the biblical narrative, but seems often characterized by instability. 

Unable to achieve a lasting, meaningful alliance with each other, Israel fell to the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 721 BCE and the population was deported (replaced by Assyrian settlements) and, in 587 BCE, the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II defeated Judah, sacked Jerusalem (destroying the temple) and deported the aristocracy, scribes and skilled craftsmen back to Babylon (known as the Babylonian Captivity). Following the sack of Samaria, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Diaspora, Israel ceased to exist until the creation of the modern State of Israel in 1947-1948 CE by the United Nations. This link between the ancient Kingdom of Israel and the modern state of the same name has been hotly contested through the years and continues to remain a contentious subject of debate.



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Timeline

Visual Timeline
  • 1250 BCE - 1200 BCE
    Destruction of many Canaanite towns hints at a probable invasion of the Israelites into Canaan.
  • 1200 BCE - 1100 BCE
    Hebrew tribes settle Canaan.
  • c. 1020 BCE - c. 1000 BCE
    Saul reigns as the first king of Israel.
  • 1000 BCE
    Rise of the kingdom of Israel.
  • 1000 BCE
    David captures Jerusalem.
  • 965 BCE - 928 BCE
    Solomon is king of Israel.
  • 950 BCE
    Solomon builds the first Temple of Jerusalem.
  • 841 BCE
    Israel pays tribute to Assyria.
  • 721 BCE
    Israel is conquered by Assyria.

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