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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Levantine States

 

Israelites & Israel

Today's Israel and Palestine are irrevocably linked in terms of their history. The former was carved out of a large proportion of the already-expanded latter from 1948. Before that though lies four thousand years of history, sometimes recorded, sometimes alluded to, and sometimes a complete mystery. Unpicking it to establish a relatively stable story has been the work of decades, and even today there are differences of opinion regarding many of the details.

The region in which both names came to be created was Canaan, the long Mediterranean coast between ancient Syria and Egypt which today is known as the Levant. Various independent or united Semitic-speaking city states formed in this region from around 3000 BC onwards, reaching a peak of independent development in the second millennium BC. It was during the climate-induced social collapse of the late thirteenth century BC that both a state known as Israel and a region known as Palestine emerged, giving both terms similar founding dates (very approximately), with the Phoenicians emerging to the immediate north during the same period.

Then came the Jewish Diaspora and the age of great empires in the form of the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Eastern Romans, Islam, and the Ottomans, until the twentieth century saw the most recent phase of empire-building come to an end and individual sovereign states emerge.

The term 'Israelite' is often used interchangeably with the terms 'Hebrew' and 'Jew', but these terms are not strictly interchangeable. The specific term 'Israelites', or 'people of Israel', is best used only for periods after the followers of Yahweh undertook their exodus from Egypt. It can also be used conveniently for the earlier period in which these people were subject to patriarchs (approximately between the eighteenth and sixteenth centuries BC).

The term loses its accuracy after the united kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon divided into the kingdoms of Samaria and Judah around 927 BC. The Old Testament tends usually to use the term 'Hebrew' for the entire period before 1000 BC, but it is best to avoid it here due to controversy surrounding its origins (regarding whether it descends from 'Eber', the ancestor of Abraham, or habiru, a general term for brigands and the dispossessed).

Phoenicians shifting cedarwood from shore to land

(Information by Peter Kessler and from the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information by Sean Bambrough & Wayne McCleese, from The Amarna Letters, William L Moran (1992), from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (Gen Ed, 1986), from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, from Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F Unger (1957), from Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton (1897), from Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times, Donald Redford (Princeton University Press, 1992), and from External Links: Encyclopædia Britannica, and Bible Atlas.)

Judah (Canaan)
925 - 586 BC

Around 1035 BC the comparatively weak Israelites reputedly founded a small kingdom of Israel. The process seems to have been due - at least in part - to attacks by Ammon. The Israelites realised the only effective response was to unite the Israelite tribes. Once it had been regained from the Philistines, another major threat, the capital became the small walled city of Jerusalem. The kingdom held a largely united front until an internal civil war caused it to be divided in two (according to the Old Testament), creating Samaria in the north and Judah in the south.

From 925 BC Jerusalem was the capital of the southern division of two of the twelve Israelite tribes, these being the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. It kept the conquered kingdom of Edom as a dependency. The civil war which had divided Israel rumbled on with occasional flare-ups over successive generations, and this served to weaken both states. After the fall of the northern kingdom of Samaria in 721 BC and the conquests by Assyria, Judah became the sole surviving Israelite state.

It existed largely in and around the immediate confines of Jerusalem, the rest of its former lands now largely being under Assyrian occupation. Its population was swelled by the pouring in of refugees escaping the Assyrian rule of Samaria. Only then did Jerusalem grow to become a great city.

Additionally, even the Old Testament is unable to completely hide the fact that polytheism seemed to be prevalent throughout Canaan, even Hebrew Canaan. The early god El, who unmasked himself to Abraham as Yahweh, may have had a consort called Asherah, and a court of lesser gods in the typical format of Canaanite societies. Perhaps Jeroboam of Samaria was simply being more true to the origins of his people while the Babylonian-period Judeans who wrote down the books which make up the Old Testament required a more unifying message.

All dating here is arguable to an extent. Various scholars have proposed their own dating which can result in variances of four or five years up or down from the dates which are shown here, but overall the knowledge of its kings is on firmer ground than with Samaria, which largely lost its own voice in the story after it was conquered.

Phoenicians shifting cedarwood from shore to land

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Wayne McCleese, from the BBC documentary series, Bible's Buried Secrets, first broadcast 22 March 2011, from Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F Unger (1957), from Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton (1897), from The Changes of Dynasties in the Northern Kingdom, Tomoo Ishida (Walter de Gruyter Gmbh, 1977), and from External Links: Israel and the Aramaeans (Quartz Hill School of Theology), and Jewish Encyclopaedia, and Bible Hub: Menahem, and Center of Ancient Kingdom of Judah Found in Jerusalem (Ancient Origins), and Controversial 3,000-Year-Old 'Yahweh' Idol (Ancient Origins).)

925 - 911 BC

Rehoboam

Retained only the southern part of a united Israel.

925 BC

The break-up of Israel has allowed Damas to rapidly grow in power and at times even threaten the existence of its southern neighbour. It is frequently called upon by Judah to help against Samaria and probably gains some of the latter's northern towns during this period.

External Jerusalem compound of the Iron Age
This Iron Age compound which is located three kilometres outside the walls of Jerusalem was an eighth and seventh century BC administrative centre which was 'encircled by concentric walls'.

Also not specifically mentioned in the Old Testament, Wayne McCleese believes that a treaty exists between Tab-Rimmon of Damas and the kingdom of Judah (based on 1 Kings 15:19).

Around the same time, and perhaps in the same year, Egyptian Pharaoh Shesonk mounts a full-scale invasion of Samaria, attacking its city of Megiddo but mainly ignoring Judah. Jerusalem is relatively untouched following a short siege by the invaders, although some Temple of Jerusalem treasures are looted.

911 - 908 BC

Abijam / Abijah

Son. Fought against Israel.

908 - 867 BC

Asa

Son.

c.860s? BC

Asa and Ba'asa (Baasha), ruler of Ammon, maintain a near-lifelong feud. When Ba'asa pushes Samaria's frontier to within five miles of Jerusalem, Asa, just like his father before him when under pressure, calls on Damas for help. In this case it is Ben-Hadad who responds to Asa's offer of payment if Damas will break its treaty with Ammon.

871 - 847 BC

Jehoshaphat

Son. Joint rule for five years.

853 BC

FeatureAhab of Samaria is a member of an alliance of states which also includes Ammon, Arqa, Arvad, Byblos, Damas, Edom, Egypt, Hamath, and Kedar. Together they fight Shalmaneser III of Assyria in a battle which consists of the largest known number of combatants to date, and is the first historical mention of the Arabs from the southern deserts. Despite claims to the contrary, the Assyrians are defeated (see feature link), since they do not press on to their nearest target, Hamath.

Map of Canaan and Syria c.850 BC
When the Neo-Assyrian empire threatened the various city states of southern Syria and Canaan around 853 BC, they united to protect their joint territory - successfully it seems, at least for a time (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.850 / c.847 BC

The Philistines sack Jerusalem about 850 BC, and this would fit in well with another event of the same year. The alliance of states of 853 BC breaks up when Ahab of Samaria, assisted by Jehoshaphat, wages war against Damas at Ramoth-Gilead. Ahab meets his death there, and the defeat may well make Judah vulnerable to an opportunistic attack by the Philistines.

Around three years later, Jehoshaphat, together with Joram of Samaria and the king (or governor) of Edom, form a coalition which attempts to retake Moab by force but, despite some initial gains, the attempt is unsuccessful.

846 - 843 BC

Jehoram

Son. m Athalia, dau of Ahab of Samaria.

843 - 842 BC

Ahaziah

Son. Killed by Jehu of Samaria.

842 BC

Ahaziah of Judah and Joram of Samaria engage Hazael of Damas in battle at Ramoth-Gilead (seemingly a common location for battles in this period). Joram is wounded and retreats to Jezreel where Ahaziah rejoins him. Both are killed there by Jehu, who then seizes the throne of Samaria.

842 - 836 BC

Athaliah

Queen. Mother of Ahaziah & daughter of Omri of Samaria.

c.840 BC

Jehu puts an end to the house of Omri of Samaria by massacring the entire royal family and seizing the throne. The only known survivor is Omri's daughter, Athaliah, who is queen in Judah. Soon after his reign begins, and despite Old Testament claims to the contrary, Moab defeats Samaria and Damas takes all the Hebrew possessions east of the Jordan, ravaging Judah, and rendering Samaria impotent.

Damascus wall
This colour photochrome print shows a wall in Damascus' defences which is rumoured to be the one over which St Paul escaped in the first century AD

Later in his reign, Jehu is also represented on the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III as submitting to Assyria, the only representation of an Israelite ruler in existence today.

836 - 798 BC

Joash / Jehoash

Son of Ahaziah of Judah.

During his reign, Judah under Joash is comparatively weak. Damas to the north, commanded by the active and aggressive usurper, Hazael, is clearly the dominant regional power. Joash has to pay him off at least once to get him to leave Jerusalem alone.

798 - 781 BC

Amaziah

Son. Murdered.

781 - 740 BC

Uzziah / Azariah / Azarias

Son. Lead the kingdom to peak strength. Became a leper.

740 BC

Under the command of the proud Uzziah, Judah reaches the height of its power and prosperity. He fights successfully against other regional states and exacts tribute from the Ammonites. The kingdom's borders are expanded westwards, with settlements being taken or created in Philistia.

Unfortunately, in true Biblical fashion, the king's pride leads to his destruction. He is struck with leprosy in front of the Ark of the Covenant and dies soon afterwards.

Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria
Tiglath-Pileser III dominated the Levantine city states during the later years of the eighth century BC, terminating the kingdom of Samaria and, shown here, with his foot on the shoulder of Hanunu of the Philistine city of Gezer, a gesture of dominance in the face of Hanunu's crouched submission

740 - 736 BC

Jotham / Yotham

Son.

736 - 716 BC

Ahaz

Son. Assyrian vassal from 733 BC. Rebelled?

734 - 733 BC

Pekah of Samaria and Rezon II of Damas form an anti-Assyrian coalition. They try to force Ahaz to join them but are stopped when Tiglath-Pileser III marches an army into the region (partially thanks to payments of silver and gold by Ahaz).

Over the next two years he re-conquers all the rebellious states, and takes Damas. Megiddo is also taken, without responsibility regarding its own destruction being clear. Judah becomes an Assyrian vassal, but the king remains on the throne and probably rebels at some point.

721 BC

Sennacherib of Assyria conquers all of Israel and Judah except the city of Jerusalem itself, to which he lays siege. As documented by Isaiah (who himself writes the Book of Isaiah chapters 1-39 at this time), Hezekiah addresses the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple of Solomon and Sennacherib's forces are decimated, whether by plague or the legendary 'power' of the Ark itself is unknown.

With much of the rest of the Israelite lands remaining occupied, the Jewish faith and their god, Yahweh, survive only in this one small pocket which is now little more than a city state.

Judean clay head
A contentious claim that this clay head of about 1000 BC, found in the Judean stronghold of Kirbet Qeiyafa, represents a Yahweh whose idolotry was banned still holds some merit thanks to the likelihood of continued polytheism in the Judeans of the early first millennium BC

716 - 687 BC

Hezekiah

Lands reduced. Assyrian vassal.

716 - 702 BC

FeatureHezekiah (see feature link) has dealings with the usurper king of Babylonia, Marduk-apla-iddina II (Merodach-Baladan), between these dates. However, in 701 BC Hezekiah's refusal to pay tribute to Assyria leads to Sennacherib besieging Jerusalem until the wayward king capitulates.

687 - 642 BC

Manasseh

Son of Hezekiah. Crowned at the age of twelve.

687 - 642 BC

The first Jewish monarch to turn his back on the established faith (openly, at least), Manasseh introduces pagan idols and worship, and persecutes the prophets, leading a sustained campaign against the worship of Yahweh. The Old Testament (2 Kings 21:11-16) proclaims that Manasseh is the reason that Jerusalem and Judah will be destroyed.

It seems possible that the Ark of the Covenant is withdrawn from Jerusalem by 650 BC by its Levite protectors. At the same time, Israelites are known to be settling in Egypt, on the island of Elephantine (creating the origins of the Falasha Jews). Manasseh is captured by the Assyrians and is treated terribly. He humbles himself and repents of his bad ways, is forgiven and serves Yahweh for the rest of his life.

Jewish temple ruins on Elephantine island in Egypt
The Jewish settlement on the island of Elephantine had been founded around 650 BC by Israelites who were escaping a period of unrest and discord in their own state and, living alongside a native population, they even built their own version of the Solomonic temple

642 - 640 BC

Amon

Son. Assassinated by royal household for his paganism.

640 - 609 BC

Josiah

Son. Killed by Nech of Egypt.

640 - 609 BC

Josiah is aged eight when he succeeds to the throne. The Old Testament books, Deuteronomy and I Kings, are compiled during his reign, which sees a return to established religious practices - with some modernising - but the king is later killed fighting Egypt.

c.626 BC

Jeremiah composes at least part of his eponymous Biblical book at the start of his prophetic ministry. It is probably later on that he also authors the Book of Kings and - officially at least - the Book of Lamentations which is a collection of poetic laments for the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Seeing as this is compiled at least forty years later, this particular claim seems unlikely. Instead the book is probably the collected works of several poets.

609 - 608 BC

Jehoahaz II

Third son of Josiah. Ruled for 3 months.

608 BC

Necho of Babylon deposes Jehoahaz and imposes his successor on the kingdom in the form of Jehoiakim. Necho also gains Tabal in Anatolia (probably in 609 BC). The crown prince, Nebuchadnezzar, leads the Babylonian forces in Syria as he inflicts a serious defeat on the Egyptians at Carchemish in 605 BC. However, the Egyptians manage to hold onto Megiddo in northern Canaan.

Oxus Treasure chariot
The Oxus Treasure contains this Persian model of a Median war chariot, although it is only pulled by two horses rather than the customary four.

608 - 597 BC

Jehoiakim

Son of Josiah. Rebelled against Babylonian rule.

597 BC

Jehoiachin / Jeconiah

Son. Ruled 3 months. Taken into captivity in Babylon.

597 BC

For its continued support of Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar invades and occupies Jerusalem (with the help of Ammon), showing no hesitation in stripping the city of its treasures. The Judeans are made vassals under Babylonia, and ten thousand subjects are shipped to Babylon, including the ruling elite. This population forms the basis of the beginnings of the Jewish Diaspora, and the formation of a group known as Babylonian Jews.

Moab apparently takes advantage of Judah's fall, joining in the plunder and seizing some of its territory. Jehoiachin retains his status in Babylon, at least as far as his own people are concerned. He is the 'Prince of Judah' until 560 BC during the Judean Exile period, although one record of him in Babylon states that he and his five sons are recipients of food rations.

Nebuchadnezzar II of Neo-Babylonia
Nabûkudurrius.ur, better known as Nebuchadnezzar II of Neo-Babylonia, gradually built up an empire which was based on seizing former Assyrian subject territories

597 - 586 BC

Zedekiah / Sedecias

Son of Josiah. Babylonian puppet king.

587/586 BC

Zedekiah rebels against Babylonian overlordship so the Babylonians storm and sack the city of Jerusalem. Zedekiah himself is captured and forced to watch the execution of his children before his eyes are poked out.

Much of the population is moved to Babylon, but exiles can apparently be found across areas of northern and western Canaan, with Israelites in Sarepta and Judeans in Sepharad. Remarkably, a community of members of the Jewish Diaspora appears in the Caucasian kingdom of Colchis, later to be known as the Georgian Jews (although this is only the most popular of theories regarding the origins of this group).

Occupied Judah becomes a province of Babylon. The First Temple is burned to the ground after being pillaged. The final fragment of the Israelite kingdom has been destroyed and its line of kings ended, although Zedekiah himself is taken to Babylon with his enslaved people. Babylonian Governors are forced upon Judah.

 
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