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Time periods in Jewish history

Time periods in Jewish history
Article Index
Time periods in Jewish history
Roman rule in the land of Israel (63 BC - 324)
Middle Ages
Early Modern period
19th century
20th century
21st century
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Ancient Jewish history (before 37 BC)

Ancient Israelites

For the first two periods the history of the Jews is mainly that of the Fertile Crescent. It begins among those people who occupied the area lying between the Nile, Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. Surrounded by ancient seats of culture in Egypt and Babylonia, by the deserts of Arabia, and by the highlands of Asia Minor, the land of Canaan (roughly corresponding to modern-day Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan and Lebanon) was a meeting place of civilizations. The land was traversed by old-established trade routes and possessed important harbors on the Gulf of Akaba and on the Mediterranean coast, the latter exposing it to the influence of other cultures of the Fertile Crescent.

According to the Bible, Jews around the world are descended from the ancient Hebrew people of Israel who settled in the land of Canaan, located between the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River (1451 BC). The Children of Israel shared a lineage through their common ancestors, Abraham, his son Isaac, and Isaac's son Jacob, Hebrews whose nomadic travels centered around Hebron somewhere between 1991 and 1706 BC. The Children of Israel consisted of twelve tribes, each descendant from one of Jacob's twelve sons, Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Yissachar, Zevulun, Dan, Gad, Naftali, Asher, Yosef, and Benyamin. Jacob and his twelve sons left Canaan during a severe famine and settled in Goshen of northern Egypt. While in Egypt their descendants were enslaved by the Egyptian government led by the Pharaoh. After 400 years of slavery, YHWH the God of Israel sent the Hebrew prophet Moses, a man from the tribe of Levi, to release the Children of Israel from Egyptian bondage. Israel miraculously emigrated out of Egypt (an event known as the Exodus), and returned to their ancestral homeland in Canaan. This event marks the formation of Israel as a political nation in Canaan, in 1400 BC.

Also according to the Bible, after their emancipation from Egyptian slavery, the people of Israel dwelt in the Sinai desert for a span of forty years before conquering Canaan in 1400 BC under the command of Joshua. While living in the desert, the nation of Israel received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai from YHWH, by the hand of Moses. This marked the beginning of normative Judaism and the formation of the first Abrahamic religion. After entering Canaan, portions of the land were given to each of the twelve tribes of Israel. For several hundred years, Israel was organized into a confederacy of twelve tribes ruled by a series of Judges. In 1000 BC, an Israelite monarchy was established under Saul, and continued under King David and his son, Solomon. During the reign of David, Jerusalem eternally became the national and spiritual capital of Israel. David's son Solomon built the First Temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. Upon his death a civil war erupted between the ten northern Israelite tribes, and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the south. The nation split into two states, Israel, consisting of ten of the tribes (in the north), and the Kingdom of Judah, consisting of the tribes of Judah (Simeon was absorbed into Judah) and Benjamin (in the south). Israel was conquered by the Assyrian ruler Shalmaneser V in the 8th century BC. There is no commonly accepted historical record of the fate of those ten tribes, which are sometimes referred to as the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.

Babylonian captivity

The kingdom of Judah was conquered by a Babylonian army in the early 6th century BC. The Judahite elite was exiled to Babylon, but later at least a part of them returned to their homeland, led by prophets Ezra and Nehemiah, after the subsequent conquest of Babylonia by the Persians.

Post-exilic period

Construction of the Second Temple was completed under the leadership of the last three Jewish Prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi with Persian approval and financing. After the death of the last Jewish Prophets and still under Persian rule, the leadership of the Jewish people was in the hands of five successive generations of zugot ("pairs of") leaders. They flourished first under the Persians then under the Greeks. As a result the Pharisees and Sadduccees were formed. Under the Persians then under the Greeks, Jewish coins were minted in Judea as Yehud coinage.

Hellenistic period

In 332 BC the Persians were defeated by Alexander the Great. After his demise, and the division of Alexander's empire among his generals, the Seleucid Kingdom was formed.
During this time currents of Judaism were influenced by Hellenistic philosophy developed from the 3rd century BC, notably the Jewish diaspora in Alexandria, culminating in the compilation of the Septuagint. An important advocate of the symbiosis of Jewish theology and Hellenistic thought is Philo.

The Hasmonean Kingdom

A deterioration of relations between hellenized Jews and religious Jews led the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes to impose decrees banning certain Jewish religious rites and traditions. Consequently, the orthodox Jews revolted under the leadership of the Hasmonean family, (also known as the Maccabees). This revolt eventually led to the formation of an independent Jewish kingdom, known as the Hasmonaean Dynasty, which lasted from 165 BC to 63 BC. The Hasmonean Dynasty eventually disintegrated as a result of civil war between the sons of Salome Alexandra, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II. The people, who did not want to be governed by a king but by theocratic clergy, made appeals in this spirit to the Roman authorities. A Roman campaign of conquest and annexation, led by Pompey, soon followed.