History Affairs

A Concise History of Jew

How an ancient people from the Land of Israel shaped a religion and culture through centuries, continents, and the lives of millions today.

history of jew

Ancient writings describe the formation of the heavens and earth as the direct result of a powerful being or force. Light, order, and the natural world emerged from an initial state of chaos. Living creatures, including birds, fish, and land animals, were then created. Finally, humans, male and female, were brought into existence.

The first human to the Great Flood

The first humans are said to have lived in an idyllic place called the Garden of Eden. They were given access to abundant resources but forbidden to interact with a specific tree—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, they violated this rule and were consequently expelled from their home in the year 4004 B.C.

The first humans had two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain worked as a farmer, while Abel tended to flocks. Abel is described as righteous, while Cain possessed a more obstinate and envious nature. When both brothers presented offerings, Abel’s was favored. In a fit of rage, Cain killed his brother. As punishment, he was exiled and forced to wander, eventually settling in a land called Nod.

Later, a son named Seth was born. His descendants were known for their adherence to a moral way of life, in contrast to the descendants of Cain who gradually became known for their wickedness. Over time, alliances formed between the two lines, and the descendants of Seth also abandoned their previous ways.

It is written that various arts developed in this period—city building, animal husbandry, music, metalwork, and textile creation. However, widespread societal corruption ensued. As a result, a decision was made to cleanse the world through a great flood.

One man, Noah, a descendant of Seth, was seen as righteous. He was instructed to build a massive vessel, an ark, that could preserve his family and pairs of all animal species. In the year 1656 of the ancient calendar (2318 B.C.), Noah entered the ark. A catastrophic flood then covered the earth. After about a year, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat (2317 B.C.). Upon leaving the ark, Noah made an offering of thanks.

Ancient writings, historical accounts, and geological evidence seem to support the occurrence of a great flood. The ark itself is described as being 517 feet long, 91 feet wide, and 55 feet high.

Individuals born both before and after the flood are noted for their extremely long lives. Adam lived 930 years, Methuselah lived 969 years, and Noah lived 950 years.

Some historians believe that Noah may have been the founder of the Chinese empire, based on similarities between his story and that of Fohi, the first Chinese emperor.

Noah’s sons were Shem, Ham, and Japhet. Japhet, the eldest, and Shem were seen as blessed. Descendants of Shem include the Hebrews, Assyrians, Persians, and Syrians. Ham’s descendants include the Egyptians, Ethiopians, and other African peoples.

Noah’s Descendents

One notable descendant of Ham was Nimrod. He is described as a powerful hunter. Nimrod’s kingdom included the cities of Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneth.

Noah’s descendants left the area around Ararat and traveled to the plains of Shinar. Here, around 2247 B.C., they began building a city and a tower intended to reach the heavens. The construction reached a significant height before their language was divinely confused, making communication impossible. This city would become known as Babylon. The confusion of tongues forced the builders to abandon their project and disperse throughout the world.

Before this event, humanity shared a common language and territory. The separation caused by the different languages led to the formation of distinct nations. As populations grew, territories expanded, resulting in the development of towns and cities. This process gave rise to the diverse laws and customs that characterize different regions of the world.

Approximately 150 years after the deluge, Nimrod (known as Belus in secular historical accounts) founded the city of Babylon on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. Assur established Nineveh on the Tigris River, and it became the Assyrian Empire’s capital.

Ninus, the son of Belus, and his queen Semiramis are credited with elevating the Assyrian Empire to great prominence. Unfortunately, an 800-year gap exists in the historical records of Assyria and Babylon between the death of Ninus and the Median revolt under Sardanapalus. Similar uncertainties cloud the earliest periods of Egyptian history.

Some political theorists believe that laws were likely lenient in the earliest societies. However, historical evidence suggests that strict laws were necessary to manage more uncivilized peoples. Examples of these strict early laws can be found in the legal codes of the Jews, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Gauls.

Among the first laws were those governing marriage, an institution as old as society itself. Laws relating to inheritance followed, with fathers holding significant authority over the distribution of their estates. Primogeniture often granted specific rights to the firstborn.

Before writing was invented, legal agreements were established publicly. Examples are found in Jewish and Greek history. Some less advanced societies used symbols or tallies to represent agreements. The Peruvians used knotted cords of different colors called Quipos in place of writing, while Mexicans employed picture writing to communicate information. Other nations, such as the Egyptians, used symbols known as hieroglyphics.

The earliest historical records often took the form of poetry and song. Bardic songs contain much ancient history, and many early legal codes were written in verse. Uncivilized nations left historical records in the form of carved or uncarved stones, burial mounds, and earthworks. More advanced societies marked historical events with columns, triumphal arches, coins, and medals.

First ancestors: Abraham to Jacob

Abraham, at the age of seventy-five, obeyed God’s command and relocated from Mesopotamia to Canaan. Accompanying him were Sarah, his wife, and Lot, his nephew. In Canaan, God appeared before Abraham and promised that his descendants would inherit the land. A famine compelled Abraham to temporarily move to Egypt. During the brief stay in Egypt, Pharaoh was captivated by Sarah’s beauty and took her into his palace. However, God intervened, and Sarah was returned to Abraham.

After their return to Canaan, Abraham and Lot went their separate ways due to a disagreement among their shepherds over grazing land. God reaffirmed his promise that Abraham’s descendants would be a blessing to all nations, even though Abraham did not yet have any children. Abraham, upon Sarah’s advice, took her handmaid Hagar, who gave birth to Abraham’s son, Ishmael. Conflict between Sarah and Hagar caused Hagar to leave Abraham’s household. Ishmael would later become the ancestor of the Arab people.

At the age of one hundred, Abraham and Sarah had their son Isaac as God promised. Isaac was circumcised at eight days old in observance of God’s covenant with Abraham. God tested Abraham’s faith by ordering him to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham prepared to obey, but God, satisfied with his obedience, stopped the sacrifice and reaffirmed the promise that Abraham’s descendants would be numerous. Sarah later died and was interred in Hebron. Abraham married Keturah and had six more sons who settled in Arabia.

Wishing his son Isaac to be married, Abraham dispatched his steward to Padan Aram to find a wife. Rebecca, Abraham’s niece, became Isaac’s wife. Abraham died at the age of one hundred and seventy-five. He was buried by his sons in the same cave as Sarah.

Rebecca gave birth to the twins Esau and Jacob. As they grew, Esau became a skilled hunter, favored by their father Isaac, while Jacob was favored by Rebecca. Following a long day of hunting, Esau, in a moment of hunger, sold his birthright to Jacob. Later, Jacob tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing intended for Esau, leading to resentment from Esau. Fearing his brother, Jacob fled to Padan Aram, his mother’s homeland. While traveling, God reconfirmed the promises made to Abraham.

Jacob was welcomed by his uncle Laban and married his daughters Leah and Rachel after serving Laban for seven years for each. Along with their handmaids, Laban’s daughters gave birth to twelve sons (who became known as the twelve patriarchs) and a daughter named Dinah. Joseph and Benjamin were born to Jacob’s beloved wife, Rachel.

Jacob returned to his homeland after twenty years of working for Laban. He sent messengers and a generous gift to Esau, hoping for reconciliation. Esau and his men met with Jacob, and though Jacob feared a confrontation, the brothers made peace. Esau left for his home in Seir, while Jacob settled near Succoth. Isaac died at the age of one hundred and eighty and was buried by his sons.

The Israelites in Egypt

A famine struck Canaan, and Jacob, having learned of corn supplies in Egypt, sent ten of his sons to acquire some. Benjamin, Jacob’s youngest and most beloved son, remained at home. Upon arrival in Egypt, Joseph recognized his brothers. To test them, he accused them of being spies and imprisoned Simeon. He instructed the remaining nine brothers to return with Benjamin before he would see them again. Jacob was reluctant to send Benjamin due to his deep affection for him, but dire need and Judah’s promise of safe return eventually swayed him.

When Joseph saw Benjamin, he was overcome with emotion. After further testing their loyalty to Benjamin, he revealed his identity to his brothers. Acknowledging the role of providence in their past actions, he sent for Jacob and his entire family to join him in Egypt. Jacob was overjoyed to learn Joseph was alive, and the family relocated. Pharaoh granted them the land of Goshen and appointed Joseph’s brothers as his chief shepherds.

Jacob lived in Egypt for seventeen years. As his death approached, he blessed his sons and asked them to bury him in Canaan, with his ancestors. His body was embalmed according to the Egyptian tradition, and Joseph and his brothers carried it to Machpelah for burial.

Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten. Before his death, he reminded his brothers of God’s promise to give them Canaan and made them swear to carry his bones with them when they left Egypt.

Years later, a new Egyptian king began persecuting the Hebrews, enslaving them with harsh labor. Seeing their numbers increase, he issued a cruel order: the drowning of all newborn Hebrew males in the Nile. Around this time, Moses was born. His parents hid him until it was too dangerous, then placed him in an ark of bulrushes on the riverbank. Pharaoh’s daughter found the child and, at Miriam’s suggestion, hired Moses’ own mother to nurse him. Moses was raised as the princess’ adopted son and received a royal education.

As an adult, Moses witnessed the suffering of his fellow Hebrews. After killing an Egyptian who was abusing a Hebrew, he fled to Midian. Forty years later, he received a divine call to return to Egypt. Reunited with his brother Aaron, Moses went to Pharaoh and demanded freedom for the Hebrews in the name of their God. Pharaoh refused and increased the Hebrews’ burdens.

Moses, empowered by God, returned to Pharaoh. He performed a series of signs, including turning the Nile to blood. These were followed by devastating plagues: frogs, flies, lice, boils, and ultimately the death of Egypt’s firstborn. Terrified, the Egyptians urged the Hebrews to leave. On this night, the Passover was established as a remembrance.

Guided by God, the 600,000 Hebrew men, along with their families, servants, and livestock, departed Egypt. They carried Joseph’s bones with them. Pharaoh pursued them to the Red Sea, but Moses, with God’s help, parted the waters. The Hebrews crossed safely, while the pursuing Egyptians were drowned.

The Hebrews continued through the desert, miraculously sustained. At Mount Sinai, God’s voice delivered the Ten Commandments. Moses ascended the mountain for forty days, receiving two stone tablets inscribed by God. Upon his return, he found the people worshipping a golden calf made by Aaron. In anger, Moses broke the tablets. After the people repented, God provided two new tablets, and Moses organized the construction of the Tabernacle to house them. Aaron and his sons were consecrated as priests.

Moses sent spies to Canaan. Their negative report caused the people to rebel against Moses and Aaron. Only Joshua and Caleb urged them to conquer the land. God decreed that none of the current generation over the age of twenty, except Joshua and Caleb, would enter Canaan, including Moses, who had angered God. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years, and Moses died at the age of one hundred and twenty, within sight of Canaan.

The Judges and Rise of the Israelite Monarchy

Joshua succeeded Moses as leader of the Israelites. After reaching Canaan, Joshua sent spies to Jericho who reported the inhabitants were terrified by their approach. The Israelites crossed the Jordan and marched to Jericho. This walled city fell after the Israelites marched around it for seven days as instructed by God, then slaughtered most of its inhabitants. The Israelites continued their conquest, and Joshua, at one point, commanded the sun and moon to stand still to allow more time for battle. After the Land of Promise was divided, Joshua reminded the Israelites of their covenant with God before dying at age 110.

Following Joshua’s death, the tribe of Judah conquered and burned Jerusalem, forcing other nearby cities to submit. Other tribes did not fully expel the Canaanites, instead imposing tribute. Due to intermarriage and Canaanite religious practices, the Israelites frequently suffered disaster and defeat. The tribe of Benjamin was nearly wiped out in a war with the other tribes but later managed to recover.

The Israelites’ transgressions led to their oppression by various regional powers, including the Assyrians, Moabites, Canaanites, and Midianites. During these periods, several figures emerged as leaders or “judges”:

  • Othniel: Caleb’s nephew, delivered Israel from the Assyrians and ruled for 40 years.
  • Ehud: Killed the Moabite king Eglon, restoring Israelite freedom for 80 years.
  • Barak and Deborah: Defeated the Canaanites and ruled for 40 years.
  • Gideon: Defeated the Midianites and ruled for 40 years.
  • Abimelech: Gideon’s son, killed most of his brothers and ruled tyrannically before his death.
  • Jephthah: Defeated the Ammonites but sacrificed his daughter as a result of a rash vow.
  • Samson: Known for his strength, he fought against the Philistines. He was eventually betrayed by Delilah and died after killing many Philistines in an act of vengeance.
  • Eli: Served as high priest. His corrupt sons were killed in battle against the Philistines, who captured the Ark of the Covenant. Upon hearing this, Eli died.
  • Samuel: Prophet who succeeded Eli and ruled justly. At the people’s demand, despite his protests, he anointed Saul as Israel’s first king.

Saul led successful campaigns against the Ammonites and Philistines. However, he disobeyed the prophet Samuel’s instructions and was told his kingdom would be taken from him. Samuel then anointed David as the future king. Saul became mentally troubled, and David was brought to court to soothe him with music. David later gained fame for defeating the Philistine giant Goliath. Saul grew jealous and tried to kill David, who fled and eventually sought refuge with the Philistines. The prophet Samuel died, and Saul, before a battle against the Philistines, consulted with a medium to contact Samuel’s spirit. He was told of his impending defeat and death. Saul and most of his sons died in battle.

Saul’s surviving son, Ishbosheth, was proclaimed king by some, while David was made king over the tribe of Judah. A civil war ensued, ultimately ending with Ishbosheth’s assassination and David becoming king over all the Israelite tribes.

David’s Reign and the Rise of Solomon

David, firmly established as king, expanded his territory by conquering the Philistines and annexing their lands. He further subdued the Moabites, Syrians, and Idumeans. Recognizing the house of his friend Jonathan, he brought Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son, into his court. David’s armies were victorious over the Ammonites, besieging their capital city.

However, a dark period arose when David, infatuated with Bathsheba, the wife of his soldier Uriah, arranged Uriah’s death in battle to possess her. God sent Nathan the prophet to reprove David for his actions, using the parable of the ewe lamb to highlight David’s transgression. Acknowledging his sin, David sought God’s forgiveness.

Meanwhile, David’s general Joab conquered the Ammonite capital. But internal troubles plagued the king. One son, having committed incest, was killed by his brother. Another son, Absalom, raised a rebellion, forcing David to flee Jerusalem. Absalom was ultimately slain in battle, leaving David to lament his death. David returned to Jerusalem after ending the rebellion and died at the age of seventy-five, his reign lasting forty years.

Solomon succeeded his father David and consolidated power, taking measures against those suspected of disloyalty. He entered into a marriage alliance with the Pharaoh of Egypt. Early in his reign, Solomon demonstrated prudence and moderation. God appeared to him in a dream, offering Solomon a wish. The young king requested wisdom to govern justly and was granted his wish along with great understanding.

The Hebrews enjoyed peace during Solomon’s rule. He established trade with Hiram, king of Tyre, securing timber for the temple David had planned. Construction of the magnificent temple began in Solomon’s fourth year as king and was completed seven years later at great cost. Solomon dedicated this temple to God, moving the ark of the covenant into it with a grand ceremony. Additionally, he expanded trade and built a large fleet.

Division of the Kingdom

After Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam took the throne. At an assembly in Shechem, Rehoboam announced his intention to rule with greater severity than his father. This angered the people, leading to a revolt by ten of the twelve tribes. These tribes established an independent kingdom, naming Jeroboam as their king. Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to Rehoboam in Jerusalem.

Jeroboam, fearing his subjects would return to Rehoboam if they continued to worship in Jerusalem, established two golden calf idols for worship, one in Bethel and the other in Dan. Those who opposed his religious changes fled to Jerusalem, increasing Rehoboam’s power base.

God, displeased with Rehoboam’s practices, allowed Shishak, the Egyptian king, to invade. The Egyptian army reached Jerusalem and seized it without resistance, taking great riches from the city and the temple. Rehoboam’s reign lasted seventeen years, and he died at the age of fifty-seven, succeeded by his son Abijah.

Jeroboam’s rule continued, but after Abijah became king of Judah, the two kingdoms clashed. Abijah decisively defeated Jeroboam’s large army. Abijah died shortly after his victory and was succeeded by Asa. Jeroboam died after a twenty-two-year reign, leaving his son Nadab to rule. Nadab’s wicked reign was cut short after two years when he was murdered in a conspiracy by Baasha, who seized power and eliminated Jeroboam’s lineage.

Asa, king of Judah, was known for his devoutness. Zerah of Ethiopia attacked Judah with a large army, but Asa, trusting in God, defeated them decisively. Later, Baasha of Israel invaded Judah, leading Asa to ally with the king of Damascus for aid.

Baasha’s son Elah became king but was murdered by Zimri, who reigned for only seven days before Omri took power over the ten tribes. Omri’s son Ahab eventually succeeded him. Asa of Judah enjoyed a long reign and was succeeded by Jehoshaphat. Ahab of Israel was known for his wickedness and married the Phoenician princess Jezebel, who established idolatrous worship in Israel.

Ahab, King of Israel, surpassed previous rulers in ungodliness. He married Jezebel, a princess from Sidon, who introduced the worship of foreign idols to the kingdom. She established priests and prophets to serve these idols, and those faithful to the God of Israel were persecuted.

Naboth, a citizen, owned a field adjacent to the king’s property. Ahab desired to acquire Naboth’s field, but Naboth refused to sell. Jezebel then orchestrated Naboth’s execution on false charges of blasphemy and treason. In response to these actions, the prophet Elijah delivered a message from God: both Ahab and Jezebel would be killed, with dogs consuming their remains. This prophecy was later fulfilled. Note that Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, ruled during the same period.

Ahab’s son, Ahaziah, became the next king of Israel. After suffering an injury from a fall, Ahaziah sent messengers to consult the idol of Ekron regarding his health. Elijah, the prophet, intercepted these messengers. He instructed them to inform their king that, due to his disregard for the God of Israel, he would not recover. Ahaziah died soon after, with his brother Joram ascending to the throne.

During Joram’s reign, Benhadad, a Syrian general, besieged the city of Samaria. The siege caused such severe famine that extreme prices were paid for minimal food, and reports circulated of desperate mothers resorting to cannibalism. However, God intervened, inspiring sudden fear in the besiegers. They fled, abandoning their camp and leaving behind vast stores of food. This abundance resulted in food prices in Samaria becoming dramatically more affordable.

Jehu, Amaziah, and their successors

Jehu, after being anointed king by a prophet, executed seventy of Ahab’s sons and forty-two princes from the house of Judah. He also killed Jezebel and eradicated her idol worshippers. However, Jehu did not completely abolish idolatry, permitting the worship of golden heifers. Because of his fervor for God, Jehu’s descendants were promised a four-generation reign over Israel. His reign lasted twenty-eight years.

During Jehu’s reign as an advocate of Jewish worship, Jezebel’s daughter, Athaliah, ruled Jerusalem. Athaliah sought to eliminate the house of David, but Joash escaped through loyal assistance. Athaliah was deposed in the seventh year of her reign and replaced by Joash. Joash eventually abandoned the worship of the true God and was assassinated by his servants after reigning for forty years.

Amaziah, Joash’s son, succeeded him as king of Judah. He brought his father’s murderers to justice. His reign began favorably but was subsequently marked by wickedness that led to captivity and hardship. A conspiracy ended Amaziah’s life in the twenty-ninth year of his reign.

Jeroboam II ruled Samaria during the latter part of Amaziah’s reign. Initially, Jeroboam II burdened his subjects with troubles but later revitalized the kingdom of Israel. He reigned for forty-one years. His son, Zechariah, succeeded him but was treacherously murdered by Shallum after only six months in power. Subsequently, Israel’s history became filled with betrayal, murder, and anarchy. During the reign of Pekah, the Assyrian king Tiglath Pileser invaded the region beyond the Jordan River and enslaved many of the inhabitants.

While Israel suffered under brutal tyrants, Amaziah’s son, Uzziah, ruled Judah. He led his kingdom to prosperity and conducted several successful campaigns. Uzziah audaciously sought to usurp the duties of a priest and was stricken with leprosy, which led to his death. Jotham, his son, known for his virtue, pious enthusiasm for improving the temple, and reconstruction of the walls of Jerusalem, succeeded Uzziah. Jotham died after a sixteen-year reign.

Jotham’s son, Ahaz, inherited the throne of Judah. His impious actions brought an invasion from the joint forces of Israel and Syria. Israel killed one hundred and twenty thousand of Judah’s soldiers and captured two hundred thousand prisoners. Obed, a prophet, persuaded the Israelites to release their captives. Ahaz’s reign was characterized by vice, impiety, and misfortune.

Hoshea betrayed and killed Pekah, king of Israel, and took his place. In the ninth year of his reign, the Assyrian king, Shalmanezer, captured Hoshea and carried the ten tribes off to Media. Hoshea was the last king of Israel.

Hezekiah followed his father Ahaz on the throne of Judah. He considered the worship of God paramount. He convened priests and Levites, announced a passover, and welcomed all true worshippers to the temple. Sennacherib, king of Assyria, attacked Judah with a large force in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign. Sennacherib defied the God of Israel and dispatched troops to destroy Jerusalem under Tartan, Rabsaris, and Rabshakeh. However, God’s angel extinguished one hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrians in a single night, forcing the generals to return home. Hezekiah became seriously ill, and the prophet, Isaiah, predicted Hezekiah’s death. Hezekiah pleaded for his life, and God granted his wish. As a sign, the shadow of the sun retreated ten degrees. Hezekiah died after a twenty-nine-year reign.

Xerxes, Artaxerxes, and early Judaic History

Xerxes, Darius’s son and successor as king of Persia, favored the Jewish people. He sent the priest Ezra to Jerusalem with those Jews who wished to return. Ezra revitalized Jewish religious practices and organized the sacred texts. Later, the king allowed Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls.

During Artaxerxes’ reign, Haman, an Amalekite who held a position of power within the Persian court, planned to destroy the Jews. However, Queen Esther intervened, saving her people and leading to Haman’s execution.

Judea became part of the Syrian prefecture, with high priests overseeing its affairs. During Artaxerxes Mnemon’s rule, the high priest John murdered his brother Jesus within the temple, leading the Syrian governor Bagoses to defile the temple and impose a sacrifice tax on the Jews.

When Alexander the Great defeated Darius, he demanded supplies from Jerusalem for his siege of Tyre. The city’s refusal angered Alexander, but the priests averted conflict by meeting him outside the city.

After Alexander’s empire fragmented, Ptolemy invaded Judea in 320 B.C., capturing Jerusalem and taking many Jews captive to Egypt. He placed them in strategic positions and granted significant freedoms in Alexandria. His successor, Philadelphus, released over a hundred thousand Jewish captives and had their law translated for his library. Simon the Just, a pious high priest, died around this time, succeeded by his brother Eleazer.

Antiochus the Great of Syria attempted to seize Palestine from Ptolemy Philopater. After Philopater’s death, the Jews were forced to submit to Antiochus, and later his son Seleucus. Disputes over the position of high priest after the death of Onias led some Jews to side with Seleucus. He captured Jerusalem, looted the temple’s treasury, forbade Jewish religious practices, and constructed a fortress overlooking the temple.

In 167 B.C., Mattathias, a Jerusalem priest, and his sons led a revolt against the Syrians, destroying the idols Antiochus had erected. His son, Judas Maccabeus, became the leader, defeating Syrian forces and retaking Jerusalem. He restored traditional temple practices, rebuilt fortifications, and established an alliance with Rome.

Antiochus Eupator besieged Judas in Jerusalem but was forced to withdraw after a peace treaty. Later, Demetrius, Antiochus’ successor, sent forces led by Bacchides and Alcimus against Judas. Judas defeated them, but instability followed. Judas’ brother Jonathan took command in 160 B.C. His forces defeated Bacchides, leading to a period of stability.

Political maneuvering between various claimants to the Syrian throne led to alliances between the Syrians and Jonathan. However, he was later treacherously killed. Jonathan’s brother, Simon, followed him as high priest and delivered Judea from Syrian rule. Antiochus, brother of Demetrius, initially formed an alliance with Simon but later turned against Judea. Simon was assassinated by his son-in-law, Ptolemy, who tried to kill Simon’s son John Hyrcanus. Hyrcanus survived to take his father’s place.

Roman Dominion and the Asmonean Dynasty

Antiochus, a Seleucid king, invaded Judea around 135 BCE. His armies ravaged the land and besieged Hyrcanus, the Jewish leader, in Jerusalem. The city was reduced to a state of famine, forcing Hyrcanus to agree to a peace treaty with Antiochus. The terms included disarmament, tribute for the city of Joppa, hostages, and a substantial payment of silver.

After Antiochus’s death, Hyrcanus successfully led Judea in breaking free from Seleucid rule around 130 BCE. He expanded his territory through military campaigns, capturing the cities of Shechem, Gerizim, and Samega. A temple built by Sanballat, a rival leader, was destroyed. Hyrcanus maintained positive relations with Rome by renewing a mutual defense agreement. His thirty-year leadership was a period of stability for Jerusalem, with the city and its temple returned to their former prominence.

Upon Hyrcanus’s death, his son Aristobulus succeeded him. Aristobulus declared himself king and brutally murdered his mother and brother to consolidate his power. His reign was short and marked by cruelty. Succeeding Aristobulus, his brother Alexander led military campaigns against the city of Ptolemais but faced a devastating defeat on the banks of the Jordan River at the hands of Ptolemy Lathyrus. Alexander then campaigned in Coelo-Syria, capturing and pillaging the city of Gaza.

Alexander’s unpopularity with his subjects grew due to his brutal actions. During a religious sacrifice, he was attacked by the people, leading to a six-year conflict His excessive use of force in subduing his people, coupled with his personal indulgence, led to his death by illness in the 27th year of his reign.

Alexander’s sons, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, fought a civil war for succession to the throne. Initially, Hyrcanus II became high priest but was forced to abdicate in favor of his younger brother. An influential Idumean named Antipater sought to restore Hyrcanus II to power and convinced him to seek support from King Aretas of Arabia. Aretas’s forces defeated Aristobulus II and besieged Jerusalem. Roman general Scaurus intervened at Aristobulus II’s request and forced Aretas to withdraw from Judea.

When Pompey, another Roman general, arrived in the region, both Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II presented their cases to him. Pompey declined to make an immediate decision, promising to settle the matter later. Aristobulus II, however, acted rashly by withdrawing to Judea and preparing for conflict. In response, Pompey imprisoned Aristobulus II and besieged Jerusalem. Factions within the city opened the gates to Pompey’s forces but fighting broke out within the temple complex. The priests continued to perform sacrifices even as many were slaughtered by Roman forces. Pompey gained access to the temple’s inner sanctum, restored Hyrcanus II to the position of high priest, and took Aristobulus II and his children to Rome as prisoners.

Aristobulus II’s son, also named Alexander, escaped Roman captivity and returned to Judea, rallying an army against the Romans. He was defeated, bringing further Roman intervention. Gabinius, a Roman general, divided Judea into five districts, each governed by a separate council, effectively ending Judea’s status as a monarchy. Cassius, another Roman leader, subsequently raided the temple for its treasures.

Herod’s Reign

Herod, King of the Jews, amassed valuable possessions from Jerusalem to use as gifts for potential allies. During this time, the former high priest Hyrcanus returned to Jerusalem after being held captive by the Parthians. Herod, pressured by popular sentiment, appointed Aristobulus, brother of his wife Mariamne, as the new high priest. Aristobulus was well-liked, but Herod grew suspicious and had him secretly killed.

Alexandra, Aristobulus’s mother, sought justice by contacting Cleopatra of Egypt. Herod was summoned to defend himself before Antony but was ultimately acquitted, likely due to the influence of his gifts. Before departing, Herod instructed his uncle Joseph to kill Mariamne if he were condemned by Antony. This order was revealed to Mariamne, causing a rift upon Herod’s return. Further fueled by his sister Salome’s accusations, Herod executed Joseph and imprisoned Alexandra.

Herod led a successful military campaign against the Arabians and gained control of their lands. Following Antony’s defeat, Herod sought to appease the new Roman ruler, Caesar. Anticipating failure, he confined his family and directed his brother Pheroras to kill them should he not return. Herod ultimately won Caesar’s favor and returned home to domestic conflict with Mariamne, culminating in her execution. This act caused Herod immense grief and destabilized his mental state.

Amidst this turmoil, Alexandra conspired against Herod, leading to her demise and the deaths of her supporters. Herod sought to quell discontent among his subjects by introducing Roman customs, but this further alienated them and led to conspiracies against him. To gain influence at the Roman court, Herod sent his sons Alexander and Aristobulus to be educated in Rome. They later married into neighboring royal families. Jealousy arose between these sons and Herod’s favored son, Antipater, fueled by court intrigue.

Herod accused his sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, of treason before Caesar. Despite a brief reconciliation, their relationship again deteriorated. Alexander faced imprisonment and later provided written accusations against powerful persons close to Herod, escalating Herod’s distrust. Though Alexander was cleared of some of the accusations, further plots arose, and ultimately both sons were executed on Herod’s orders.

Antipater, Herod’s remaining son, rose in prominence but also plotted against his father in collusion with Herod’s brother Pheroras. Pheroras withdrew from court and later died, exposing the conspiracy and leading to Antipater’s condemnation to death. Herod fell gravely ill and in his final days, ordered the confinement and execution of Jewish nobles upon his death, seeking to ensure a somber reaction to his passing. This command was ultimately disobeyed and Herod’s son, Archelaus, was named his successor.

During Herod’s reign, Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. Eastern Magi, guided by a celestial sign, sought the newborn king, leading to a period of alarm for Herod. He instituted a cruel decree in an attempt to eliminate the perceived threat.

Herod’s will designated Archelaus as his successor, but Roman approval was required. Antipas, another son of Herod, also sought the throne. Following review, Caesar appointed Archelaus ruler of half of Herod’s former territories, promising future kingship upon merit. The remaining lands were divided between Antipas and Philip, Herod’s other sons.

Judea under Roman Rule (6 A.D. – 73. A.D.)

In 6 A.D., Roman dissatisfaction with the rule of Archelaus led to his banishment. Judea became a Roman province administered by a series of procurators dispatched from Rome. One of these governors, Pontius Pilate (in office 20 A.D.), sparked controversy by introducing images of Caesar, which were seen as a violation of Jewish religious traditions. Despite the Jews’ strong protests and Pilate’s initial threats, the images were ultimately removed.

Around this time, Jesus Christ became a prominent figure in Judea. He performed miracles and preached a message of salvation, selecting twelve close followers. Though the Jewish people anticipated a Messiah, Jesus was brought before Pilate’s tribunal. Despite the Roman governor’s declaration of innocence, Jesus was crucified in 33 A.D. It’s recorded that three days later, he rose from the dead and instructed his followers to spread his teachings.

After Emperor Tiberius’s death, Agrippa, who had been imprisoned, was made king of his deceased uncle Philip’s territory. During his reign, an incident occurred where the people proclaimed Agrippa’s voice as godlike. He died shortly after from a severe illness. Judea’s procurators after Agrippa included Cuspius Fadus, Tiberius Alexander, and Cumanus.

Under Claudius Felix, Judea suffered from increased social unrest, including banditry and acts of violence. His successors, Porcius Festus and Gessius Florus, also faced challenges with widespread crime. Florus’s oppressive actions fueled Jewish resentment, eventually leading to armed revolt against Rome.

The ensuing conflict resulted in significant bloodshed on both sides. Josephus, among others, was appointed by the Jews to lead the war effort. In 70 A.D., Roman Emperor Nero sent Vespasian to Judea to suppress the rebellion. Vespasian’s military campaign focused on Galilee. Meanwhile, internal divisions weakened Jerusalem, with factions violently clashing for control of the city.

Upon becoming emperor, Vespasian left the siege of Jerusalem to his son, Titus. The besieged Jerusalem suffered greatly from famine and disease. Despite fierce resistance, the Romans ultimately conquered the city. The temple was destroyed amidst the chaos. In 73 AD, after six months of siege, Jerusalem fell. An immense number of lives were lost, and many Jews were taken captive. Victorious Titus had the rebel leaders John and Simon captured.

The Romans imposed heavy taxes on the remaining Jews and confiscated their lands. Dispersed throughout the empire, the Jewish people endured centuries as a persecuted minority, yearning for the restoration of their homeland.

Ancient Nations Connected with the Jewish People

The Phoenicians

The Phoenicians are believed to be part of the Aramaean ethnic group. It’s thought they first settled around the Persian Gulf and became involved in trade. A colony later migrated to the Syrian coast, acquiring the name Phoenicians. Sidon was their primary city, and they later constructed Tyre on an island near the Mediterranean coast. They are recognized for early advancements in commercial seafaring, likely influenced by their convenient harbors and access to quality ship-building materials.

The Phoenicians traded during the time of Abraham. As the Hebrew Judges governed, Phoenicians started colonizing, beginning with Cyprus and Rhodes and extending to Greece, Sicily, Sardinia, Spain, and even along Africa’s western coast. Their most significant colony was Carthage. During the Trojan War, Sidonians conducted extensive trade, and Tyre resisted the powers of Israel, Egypt, and Babylon.

Manufacturing appears to have developed early among the Phoenicians. Sidon’s glass and the fine linen and purple fabrics of Tyre were highly valued. Tyre’s merchants held great wealth, demonstrating the presence of luxury in this well-protected island city. The Syrians traded extensively with eastern nations, exchanging eastern goods throughout the west.

Some historical accounts suggest that Phoenicians circumnavigated Africa around 600 B.C., under commission from the Egyptian king Nechos.

Arabia

Historical records show that Arabs have traditionally lived a nomadic lifestyle, likely due to the nature of their desert environment. Numerous tribes, led by Sheikhs and Emirs, independently traverse the desert, sometimes interacting peacefully, and other times with hostility. Camels and horses are fundamental to their way of life. Those who enter their domain have often been considered potential spoils of war. Historically, terms like Edomites, Ishmaelites, and Midianites have been used to refer to Arab peoples.

The Moabites

The Moabites descended from one of the daughters of the Biblical figure Lot. They occupied territory bordering Arabia known as Moab. Their religious practices combined elements of Judaism and idolatry. The Israelites passed through Moab when King Balak sought to have Balaam curse them.

The Ammonites

Descended from Lot’s younger daughter, the Ammonites settled in the region adjacent to Moab and were frequently at war with the Israelites. Historical records mention Nabash, an Ammonite king during the time of Saul and his son, Hanun, who mistreated ambassadors sent by King David. Though practicing circumcision, their primary deity was Moloch, to whom some accounts suggest they made human sacrifices. Now extinct, they likely integrated with the broader Arab population.

The Midianites

The Midianites originated from Midian, a son of Abraham from his second wife, Keturah. They lived in Arabia-Petrea, between the Dead Sea and the Arabian Gulf. Some were nomadic shepherds, while others engaged in trade via caravans. Though initially free of idol worship, Midianite religion is thought to have become influenced by neighboring practices. They have blended with the Arab population and are no longer a distinct nation.

The Edomites

The Edomites stemmed from Esau, first-born son of Isaac and Rebecca, who traded his birthright to his brother, Jacob. Their territory, known as Idumea, was located between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. They engaged in trade with Tyre, Sidon, and along the Red Sea. While practicing circumcision and monotheism like their ancestors, some elements of idolatry were present in their beliefs. The Edomites and Israelites, though descendants of brothers, were perpetually hostile. However, during the 2nd century B.C., John Hyrcanus compelled them to adopt Judaism, ultimately leading to their integration with their conquerors.

The Amalekites

Descended from Eliphaz, first-born son of Esau, the Amalekites were a powerful and prominent people known for their warlike nature. Kings Saul and David both fought against them. However, during the time of Hezekiah, they were eradicated, fulfilling an ancient prophecy.

The Canaanites

The Canaanites inhabited the land later promised to the twelve tribes of Israel. They were comprised of distinct groups known as Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, Hivites, Perizzites, and Canaanites. They appear to have been affected by the curse pronounced on Ham and his son Canaan. While initially monotheistic, the Canaanites later developed idolatrous practices. Numerous independent states, each with a king or chief, existed within Canaanite society.

The Israelites conquered most Canaanite tribes over several years but failed to entirely destroy them as instructed. This led to the Israelites adopting elements of Canaanite religious practices.

The Philistines

The Philistines likely had Egyptian origins and later occupied a prime coastal strip south of Tyre in the Promised Land. Initially known for simple customs and religious purity, they adopted the vices of surrounding idolatrous peoples by the time of the Israelites. Their primary deity was Dagon, a sea god. While Philistine religious practices were elaborate, they also were involved in arts and sciences. After numerous wars with the Israelites, they eventually fell under Assyrian rule along with other regional powers.

History Affairs
Kim Luu is a writer specializing in Chinese history and civilization. Born and raised in Vietnam, a country with a shared cultural heritage with China, he developed an early fascination and conducted in-depth studies on the greatest civilization in East Asia.

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