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Ancient Israel

Ancient Israel existed from the late of the 2nd MILL BCE until its destruction by Babylonians in BCE. The entire region — the greater Levant — came under Babylonian control. With the loss of Ancient Israel and the destruction of the Temple, the next phase of Jewish history was the Babylonian exile.

  • Ancient Israel emerges

  • Pre-Monarchic Israel

  • United Monarchy, BCE - BCE

  • Divided Monarchy, BCE - BCE

  • Babylonian Control, BCE - BCE

    • Deportations, BCE, BCE, BCE

    • Temple destroyed, BCE

Ancient Israel emerges

At latest, pre-monarchic Israel emerged by the mid-13th CENT BCE. Highland settlements appeared during the Middle Bronze Age as mostly farmsteads, terraced fields and rock-cut and plastered cisterns. The earliest Israelite settlement was in the 11th CENT BCE at Wadi Feinan. Early Israelite material culture, BCE- BCE, is characterized by collared-rim storejars (very large store jars) and four-room houses (found at Jericho and Ai).

Their material culture was distinctly Canaanite; this does not jibe with the Bible's Exodus tale, which would have led to an Egyptian material culture.

The Merneptah Stele, ~ BCE, recounts Merneptah's siege of Ashkelon, and is the earliest definitive mention of an Israelite ethnic group. Ancient Israel must have emerged within a generation of that time. During the mid-13th CENT BCE (Late Iron Age), settlements such as Hazor were being destroyed; Israelites claimed to have been the culprits, but other candidates include the Sea Peoples (too decentralized), Philistines (too far away) or 'Apiru (likely Israelites themselves).

There are competing theories about Israel's emergence,




Invasion & Conquest

Albright, Bright and Wright's invasion and conquest model regards the Biblical conquest narrative as historical, and that Israel's emergence was led by Joshua and completed in his life. This model mentions destructions of towns, including Jerusalem Joshua 12:10; Judges 1:21, Jericho, Ai and Hazor Joshua 11:11-13. To verify this, destruction layers were sought at sites mentioned.

There are differences between Joshua and Judges, with Joshua presenting a utopia and Judges providing issues of failure.

Gradual Infiltration

Albrecht's 1929 model postulates that some Canaanites fled crowded centers, entering the highlands as pastoral nomads. This opposes the Biblical view of a group feeling Egypt.

The earliest Iron I evidence is from the 11th CENT BCE in Wadi Feinan, making this theory difficult to verify. Most settlements were in the lowlands, not the highlands. This does not perfectly square with the Biblical tradition of the Transjordan from Numbers.

Peasant Revolt

Mendenhall's 1969 model postulates that disaffected Canaanite peasantry revolted against their overlords in the costal plain and fled inland. This presumes that people were being oppressed and viewed it as such. This relies upon the 'Apiru in the Amarna texts being Israelites (ie, Amarna Letter 254 and 290). This is an essentially Marxist theory based on strict, non-applicable dichotomies: elites vs. peasants; rural vs. urban; sedentists vs. pastoralists; polytheists vs. monotheists.

It is rare that peasants of the ancient Near East revolted, per the battered wife phenomenon. Also, this view is based on modern standards. Not only were these urban centers still inhabited by sheep — people would often live right above their animals — but Mendenhall makes the difficult-to-digest notion that revolutionary monotheists had an epiphany and mobilized to escape from polytheists.

Social Evolution

Finkelstein's 1988 model relies upon an explosion of small, village-like rural/agrarian highland sites during the Iron Age I, BCE- BCE. He argues that iron was used to carve out cisterns into the hill, from which water could be extracted; also, terraces were formed to allow agriculture and horticulture.


Stager's 1998 economic model postulates labor shortages at the Late Bronze Age's end due to North Kingdom empire and collapse of city-states. This collapse, combined with free land, free peasants and non-working land owners, was a catalyst for people to evacuate from Canaan.

No Israel

This minimalist theory uses the fact that so-called Israelites are actually Canaanites (based on material culture) and that an actual Israel did not arise until the Hellenistic period.

"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" — also, the Merneptah Stele is considered definitive evidence of Israel.

Pre-Monarchic Israel

Israelite king Saul, ? - BCE

The first Israelite king, Saul was a failed king who preceded David, known as the good king. Saul's son Jonathan was victorious over Philistines at Michmash.

United Monarchy, BCE - BCE

Also known as the Golden Age, the United Monarchy was the era of Israel under the Davidic dynasty before fracturing into two kingdoms. No ceramic assemblage belongs just to the 10th CENT BCE (they continued into the 9th CENT BCE). Cult stands of the 10th CENT BCE / 9th CENT BCE are exemplary. Red burnish is exemplary of 10th CENT BCE / 9th CENT BCE ceramics.

Israelite king David, BCE - BCE

David's capture of Jerusalem established the United Monarchy. However, David ruled from Hebron because Jerusalem was not the seat of Israelite power yet. David, like his successor Solomon, was essentially a warlord ruling a territorial kingdom, which requires a minimal of formal bureaucracy (forts/palaces/etc). David warred against the Philistines, whose movement to the east placed them in direct conflict with the Israelites Exodus 12:41.

In BCE, David conquered Jerusalem 2 Sam. 5:6-10 and and built a palace there using timber and craftsmen supplied by Hiram of Tyre 2 Sam. 5:11-12. Next, David embarked on a series of clockwork military campaigns to defeat various other population groups.

Israelite king Solomon, BCE - BCE

Solomon entered a treaty with the pharaoh 1 Kings 3:1 and inherited Gezer from Pharaoh's conquest 1 Kings 9:16f. He established 12 administrative districts, not including Judah 1 Kings 4:7-10 and ruled over neighboring states who pay tribute 1 Kings 4:21-28. According to 1 Kings 5:1-18, entered into trade and treaty relations with Hiram of Tyre (Phoenicians); cedar and craftsmen from Lebanon to Israel; wheat, oil and conscripted laborers from Israel to Lebanon. In BCE - BCE, Solomon built a temple in Jerusalem 1 Kings 6:1-36. In BCE - BCE, Solomon built a new palace in Jerusalem 1 Kings 7:1-12. Note how much more time he gave to the palace than the temple.

Solomon bestowed 20 towns in Galilee to Hiram of Tyre 1 Kings 9:10-14. Solomon built and fortified settlements like Jerusalem 1 Kings 9:15-19. He also undertook maritime trade venture with Hiram of Tyre 1 Kings 9:26-28 10:11f, 22. In 1 Kings 4:7-19 there are brief descriptions of the 12 districts belonging to Solomon; one district for each month, so that taxes (grain payments) feed the king's house year-round.

Split of Monarchy, BCE

Jeroboam leads a rebellion and Israel breaks into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms.

Divided Monarchy, BCE - BCE

In BCE, the Northern Kingdom (keeping the name Israel) of ten tribes broke away from the Southern Kingdom (called Judah).

Jeroboam led ten northern tribes to rebel at Shechem against cruel king Solomon's even more curel son Rehoboam. It appears that solomon began to tax the people too much to support his palace and temple construction, and these taxes were especially heavy on the ten tribes in the north. These ten tribes secede from the Davidic dynasty, forming their own state in the north.

This is a damning critique of Solomon, who appears to be the typical Oriental despot described by God when he warned the Israelites of the pitfalls of having a king. However, Jeroboam's actions broke away from the Davidic dynasty which was intertwined with God; the Hebrew Bible frames this sin as the reason for the Northern Kingdom's collapse under Assyrian attack, which Judah withstood. It would be Judean king Manasseh's heresy that eventually demised Judah.




Egyptian Conquest


In ~ BCE, Shishak (Sheshonq) invades and attacks town in Israel and Judah 1 Kings 14:25-28.

Syro-Ephraimite War

Before BCE, Judah (Jotham) is attacked by Damascus (Rezin) and Israel (Pekah) in an attempt to force Judah to join them against Assyria. But an attack by Assyria upon Aram relieved Judah's pressure.

Sennacherib's Campaign


Rise of the Edomites

After the Assyrian conquest, Edomites entered Judah in hopes of exploiting its land.

Judean king Josiah


After the paganism brought about under Manasseh, BCE- BCE, Josiah enacted religious reforms that returned Judah to Mosaic laws and loyalty to God. He claimed to have discovered a book of Mosaic law, a treaty to renew the bond between Israelites and God; stylistic similarities to contemporaneous documents suggest that this book is Deuteronomy. Amidst the power vacuum that followed the collapse of Assyria, Josiah tried to establish a greater Judean state. However, Josiah made a bid for Megiddo to meet with Pharaoh Neco and there he was assassinated. Thereafter, Judah went into an irreversible decline that climaxed in BCE with the Babylonian destruction of Solomon's Temple during the Second Deportation.

Babylonian Control

Babylonian control lasted BCE - BCE.

The Babylonian administration in Judah used an Assyrian approach of balkanization: Megiddu (capital at Megiddo); Samerina (Samaria); Dor; and Yehud (Mizpah). Between deportations and looting, Judah totally collapsed: there were almost 120 sites in the time of Josiah, and just over 40 sites in the time of Babylonia. The Babylonian presence in Judah is attested only via its army, which left behind scythian arrowheads (a giveaway of Babylonian presence), slingballs and much fiery destruction. Destroyed sites included Jerusalem, Ashlar House, House of Ahiel, Burnt Room and House of the Bullae.

This era is also called the Exilic Period.

To quash rebellion, Babylon exiled almost the entire population of Judah. There were three Judean deportations by the Babylonians.




In the first deportation, BCE, king Jehoiachim and the elites were exiled; Babylon installed the puppet king Zedekiah on the throne.


Following more unrest in Jerusalem, Babylon performed a second deportation, BCE, whereby the general populace was exiled and the temple was destroyed.


In the third deportation, BCE, some remaining Judeans were exiled.

Babylonians destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in BCE.

The destruction of Jerusalem by Babylonians in BCE means that Israel ceased to be its own independent political entity, and from this point on the history of Israel hinges around the relationship of the Jews to Jerusalem.


After the deportations and the first destruction of Jerusalem, the Northern and Southern Kingdoms no longer existed. The Israelites persisted, however, and the Persian conqueror Cyrus allows the Jews to return to their native land. This resulted in waves of Jews returning to Jerusalem. The history of the Israelites and Jews continued at Jerusalem. The history of the greater Levant continues to be a story of foreign control.


The New Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha, Third Edition. 2011. Oxford University Press, USA.

Smoak, Jeremy. Class lecture. ANE 10W Jerusalem: Holy City. University of California, Los Angeles. Spring 2011.

Cleath, Lisa. Class discussion. ANE 10W Jerusalem: Holy City. University of California, Los Angeles. Spring 2011.