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1000 BCE – 500 BCE

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  • The Hebrew-speaking Israelites controlled most of the area equivalent to modern Israel plus the West Bank from approximately 950 BCE. Following the death of Solomon (about 930), two kingdoms developed: the northern kingdom, Israel, dominated by the Ephraimite (Joseph) tribe, and the southern kingdom, Judah. The Temple in Jerusalem, built by Solomon, was located in the southern kingdom.
  • The Israelite kingdoms were in the paths of the land trade routes between the two major powers of the era, Egypt to the south and the dominant empire in Mesopotamia to the northeast. Depending upon the relative strengths of the two superpowers, the Israelites aligned themselves with (i.e., paid tribute to) either Egypt or the current Mesopotamian power. The Israelite land was regarded as fringe or frontier territory by the major powers, useful principally as an outpost to guard against invasion from either direction.
  • The northern Israelite kingdom lay squarely across the main trade route, The Way of the Sea, while the southern kingdom, including Jerusalem, occupied mainly hill country east of the trade route. The location of the northern kingdom was both an advantage and a disadvantage; an advantage in that it became more prosperous during relatively peaceful times, and a disadvantage because it became an invasion target from either the south or the north during superpower wars. The only significant economic advantage of the southern kingdom was the Temple, to which Israelites from both kingdoms made pilgrimages and paid for sacrifices.
  • The strategic location of the northern kingdom proved its undoing when it was captured and destroyed by Assyria in 722. The Assyrian siege of Jerusalem two years later was suddenly abandoned, miraculously according to the Book of Kings, or possibly as a result of a revolt in Nineveh, the Assyrian capital. To guard their new southern frontier, the Assyrians deported much of the population from the conquered northern kingdom and established a garrison in Samaria with troops from regions of Assyria. The deported Israelites (the “Ten Lost Tribes”) were scattered in Assyria where they probably adopted local gods in addition to YHVH. The Assyrian garrison in Samaria, assimilating with the remaining Israelites, adopted the “god of the land,” YHVH. Their descendants are the Samaritans of history and the present.
  • The southern kingdom, Judah, maintained an increasingly precarious independence for another 130 years, surrendering hostages and tribute as demanded by the prevailing Mesopotamian power. After many years of popular practice of the abominations described in Kings and in Deuteronomy, Hezekiah (729-686) made some progress in restoring the religious allegiance to YHVH. The most significant reforms, which included the absolute rejection of idolatry and centralization of sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem, occurred during the reign of Josiah (639-608), following the appearance of the book of Deuteronomy in 622. Much to the regret of the author of Kings, in 608 Josiah attempted to intercept the Pharaoh Necho at Megiddo as he was marching toward Babylonia. Josiah was killed and his army defeated. In the next 20 years, Babylonia, which had taken control of Mesopotamia from Assyria, made increasing demands on Judah, culminating in 586 with the exiling to Babylonia of the last king of Judah plus most of the ruling class. The exiled Judahites were settled in a relatively comfortable area near Babylon, and they formed the nucleus of a continuous Jewish community in Mesopotamia which prospered until 1948 CE. For the most part, the Jews of Babylonia retained their allegiance to YHVH, rather than adopting any of the gods of the land.
  • Because of the existence of a garrison in Samaria, the Babylonians and subsequently the Persians were able to maintain control of Jerusalem without establishing a garrison there. In 539 Persia conquered Babylonia. The Persian policy for securing subject territories was to restore the original inhabitants and encourage worship of the god of each land, YHVH in the case of Judah. In 538 Cyrus said to go back (the last lines in Tanakh). A portion of the Babylonian community returned, and the Temple was rededicated by the priests in 516. Cyrus did not permit the Davidic king to return.
  • All that remains to be considered for this time period is how this insignificant community far from the centers of civilization produced a body of literature unsurpassed in its era, or in any era since. Note that the J & E authors and the early prophets predated Homer, and Deuteronomy and the prophets of exile predated the classic Greek authors. A theory by Jacques Berlinerblau is that, in contrast to the prevailing practice of scribes extolling the deeds of god-like rulers, the Hebrew Bible “…is anything but the voice of official religion. It is the religion of an embattled minority endowed with sublime literary imagination and an uncompromising commitment to one God, the God of Israel.”