How did the descendants of the
Israelites become slaves? Or did they become slaves at all? The
historical background behind the narrative is unclear. A few
historians believe that this may have been due to the changing
political conditions within Egypt. In 1600 BCE, Egypt was
conquered by tribes, apparently Semitic, known as the Hyksos by
the Egyptians. The Hyksos were later driven out by Kamose, the
last king of the seventeenth dynasty. Between 1540-1070 BCE,
Ahmose I founded the 18th Egyptian dynasty, and a new age for
Egypt, the New Kingdom. Thutmose III established Egypt's empire in
the western Near East. From then on, the chronology can only
roughly be given in approximate dates for most events, until about
the 7th century BCE.
The Egyptian reign of Amenhotep II, during which the first mention
of the Habiru (possibly the Hebrews) is found in Egyptian texts
. Recently discovered evidence (see Tikunani Prism) indicates
that the Habiru spoke Hurrian, the language of the Hurrians - who
were later (c. 1300-1200) assimilated by Assyria, and thereafter
began speaking a dialect of Akkadian that ultimately developed
First mention of the Shasu in Egyptian records, located just south
of the Dead Sea. The Shasu contain a group with a Yahwistic name.
The Bible places the birth of Moses around this time.
Egypt's 19th dynasty began with the reign of Ramses I. Ramses II
(1279-1213 BCE) filled the land with enormous monuments, and
signed a treaty with the Hittites after losing the northern Levant
to the Hittite Empire.
to the Bible, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. According to
the Biblical narrative, the Israelites wandered in the desert for
40 years, and eventually came to "the promised land" in
Canaan. Moses died before entering Canaan, and Joshua became the
next leader. (If, however, the parting of the Red Sea was caused
by the eruption of the Santorini volcano, then the Exodus might
have happened around 1500 BCE.)
of the Judges:
After around 1200 BCE, Israel was led by
a series of judges, before establishing a true kingdom. Around
this time, the name "Israel" is first mentioned in a
contemporary archaeological source, the Merneptah Stele.
The Hittite empire of Anatolia was conquered by allied tribes from
the west. The northern, coastal Canaanites (called the Phoenicians
by the Greeks) may have been temporarily displaced, but returned
when the invading tribes showed no inclination to settle. 
The Sea People, as they were called by the Egyptians, swept across
Asia Minor and the Mediterranean. They invaded Egypt, but were
repelled. Amongst them were a group called the P-r-s-t. 19th
century Bible scholars identified them with the ancestors of the
Philistines who gave their name to the coastal region of Philistia
(Peleshet in Hebrew), a view that remains popular.
The Canaanite tribes tried to destroy the Israelite tribes of
northern and central Canaan. According to the Bible, the Israelite
response was led by Barak, and the Hebrew prophet Deborah. The
Canaanites were defeated.
* 1030 BC.
The tribes were settled in the land of Israel. It was a time of
unrest and strife. Saul became the first king of the Israelites in
approximately 1020 BC. David succeeded him in c.1006 BC, and moved
the capital from Hebron to Jerusalem. David waged several,
successful military campaigns, annexing Philistia, Edom, Moab,
Ammon, and parts of ancient Aram (Syria) known as Aram-Zobah, and
Aram-Damascus. Aram itself became a vassal state of Israel under
was succeeded in about 965 BC by his son Solomon, who constructed
the First Temple at Jerusalem and had a prosperous reign. However,
on Solomon's death in c. 926 BC the kingdom began to fragment,
bisecting into the kingdom of Israel in the north (including the
cities of Shechem and Samaria), and the kingdom of Judah in the
south (containing Jerusalem).
The period of the Kingdoms of Israel and
In 922 BCE, the Kingdom of Israel was
divided. Judah, the southern Kingdom, had Jerusalem as its capital
and was led by Rehoboam. It was populated by the tribes of Judah,
Benjamin, and Simeon (and some of tribe of Levi). Simeon and Judah
later merged, and Simeon lost its separate identity.
led the revolt of the northern tribes, and established the Kingdom
of Israel, consisting of nine tribes: Zebulun, Issachar, Asher,
Naphtali, Dan, Menasseh, Ephraim, Reuben and Gad (and some of
Levi), with Samaria as its capital.
Israel fell to the Assyrians
Judah fell to the Babylonians
The period of captivity:
* 722 BCE.
The Assyrians, under Shalmaneser, and then under Sargon, conquered
Israel (the northern Kingdom), destroyed its capital Samaria, and
sent many of the Israelites into exile and captivity. The ruling
class of the northern kingdom (perhaps a small portion of the
overall population) were deported to other lands in the Assyrian
empire and a new nobility was imported by the Assyrians.
Reign of king Hezekiah of Judah. He is noted in the Bible for
initiating reforms that outlawed, or enforced Jewish laws against,
idolatry (in this case, the worship of Ba'alim and/or Asherah,
among other traditional Near Eastern divinities).
Reign of King Manasseh.
Reign of King Amon. These last two kings
reversed Hezekiah's reforms and officially revived idolatry.
According to later rabbinical accounts, Manasseh placed a
grotesque, four-faced idol in the Holy of Holies.
The reign of king Josiah was accompanied by a religious
reformation. According to the Bible, while repairs were made on
the Temple, a 'Book of the Law' was discovered (possibly the book
Nabopolassar of Babylonia attacked and destroyed the Assyrian
capital city of Nineveh, regaining Babylonia's independence. The
Assyrian empire was destroyed.
Babylon, under king Nebuchadnezzar II, seized Jerusalem. The
First Temple was destroyed; the date was the 9th of Av, or Tisha
Conquest of Judah (Southern Kingdom) by Babylon. A large part
of Judah's population was exiled to Babylon.
722 & 586 BCE.
The First Dispersion, or Diaspora. Jews were either taken as
slaves in what is commonly referred to as the Babylonian captivity
of Judah, or they fled to Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, or Persia.
Cyrus the Great became King of Persia.
The Babylonian Empire fell to Persia under Cyrus.
The Persian Empire ruled over much of Western Asia, including
Rebuilding the Temple:
* 537 BCE.
Cyrus allowed Sheshbazzar, a prince from the tribe of Judah, to
bring the Jews from Babylon back to Jerusalem. Jews were allowed
to return with the Temple vessels that the Babylonians had taken.
Construction of the Second Temple began.
Under the spiritual leadership of the Prophets Haggai and
Zechariah, the Second Temple was completed. At this time the Holy
Land is a subdistrict of a Persian satrapy (province).
The reformation of Israel was led by the Jewish scribes Nehemiah
and Ezra. Ezra instituted synagogue and prayer services, and
canonized the Torah by reading it publicly to the Great Assembly
that he set up in Jerusalem. Ezra and Nehemiah flourished around
this era. (This was the Classical period in Greece)
The legacy of Alexander the Great and the dawn of Rabbinic
* 332 BCE.
The Persian Empire was defeated by Alexander the Great. The Empire
of Alexander the Great included Israel. However, it is said
that he did not attack Jerusalem directly, after a delegation of
Jews met him and assured him of their loyalty by showing him
certain prophecies contained in their writings.
Alexander the Great died. In the power struggle after Alexander's
death, the part of his empire that included Israel changed hands
at least five times in just over twenty years. Babylonia and Syria
were ruled by the Seleucids, and Egypt by the Ptolemies.
Ptolemy I Soter became the first Ptolemaic ruler of Israel.
The beginning of the Pharisees party (rabbinic, or modern, Jews),
and other Jewish sects such as the Sadducees and Essenes.
Armies of the Seleucid King Antiochus III (Antiochus the Great)
ousted Ptolemy V from Judea and Samaria.
The Maccabee Rebellion, Hanukkah and the Hasmonean Kingdom
Pompey conquered the region and made it a client kingdom of Rome.
In 6 CE, Caesar Augustus made it a Roman province under a
The Great Jewish Revolt broke out, lasting until 73. In 67,
Vespasian and his forces landed in the north of Israel, where they
received the submission of Jews from Ptolemais to Sepphoris. The
Jewish garrison at Jodeptah was massacred after a two month siege.
By the end of this year, Jewish resistance in the north had been
Vespasian seized the throne after a civil war. By 70, the Romans
had occupied Jerusalem. Titus, son of the Roman Emperor, destroyed
the Second Temple on the 9th of Av, ie. Tisha B'Av (656 years to
the day after the destruction of the First Temple in 587 BCE).
Over 100,000 Jews died during the siege, and nearly 100,000 were
taken to Rome as slaves. Many Jews fled to Mesopotamia (Iraq), and
to other countries around the Mediterranean.
The Romans, seeking to suppress the name "Judaea",
reorganized it as part of the province of Syria-Palestine. The
Latin name, Palaestina, was chosen in honour of the Philistines,
who had occupied the coastline much earlier. From then on the
region was known as Palestine.
Yochanan ben Zakkai escaped from Jerusalem. He obtained permission
from the Roman general to establish a center of Jewish learning
and the seat of the Sanhedrin in the outlying town of Yavneh.
Judaism survived the destruction of Jerusalem through this new
center. The Sanhedrin became the supreme religious, political and
judicial body for Jews worldwide until 425 CE, when it was
forcibly disbanded by the Roman government, by then officially
dominated by the Christian Church.
The last Jewish resistance was crushed by Rome at the mountain
fortress of Masada; the last defenders are thought to have
committed suicide rather than be captured and sold into slavery.
BCE- 100 CE.
At some point during this period the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, Old
Testament) was canonized.