2500 BCE to 539 BCE: The Story
The biblical material beginning with the reign of King David (c. 1000 BCE) tends to preserve more historically accurate material, including palace and Temple records. Israel’s first king, Saul, is succeeded by David, the founder of one the longest running dynasties in history. It was David’s son Solomon, however, who is credited with the centralization and prosperity of the kingdom, evidenced by his great building achievements (including the Temple) and vast trade network.
This period of prosperity was short lived. According to the biblical account, the kingdom was divided after Solomon’s death into two kingdoms. The southern kingdom of Judah consisted primarily of the tribe of Judah and was ruled by the Davidic family. The Northern Kingdom, also known as Israel, consisted of the remaining tribes and was ruled by a series of dynasties.
Beginning in the ninth century BCE, we witness an increase of extra-biblical textual references--from Mesopotamia and throughout the Near East--to the Israelite nation and other international affairs mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. During this period, both the northern and southern kingdoms experienced periods of prosperity as well as conflict. At times, these two kingdoms fought each other; at others, they joined together against hostile neighbors.
The greatest threat began in the middle of the eighth century BCE, with the western campaigns of Assyria (Iraq) that eventually brought about the demise of the Northern Kingdom in 722 BCE. Assyrian control over the region continued until the end of the seventh century BCE. At this time, Judah experienced a brief resurgence under King Josiah. This too, however, was short lived. In 586 BCE, the Babylonian heirs to the Assyrian empire ravished Judah.
The fall of Judah resulted in the exile of a significant population from Judah. Some were led off to Babylonia and some fled to Egypt, but many also remained in Judah. It would be almost 50 years before the exiles were allowed to return to their homeland.
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