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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > I > Israelites

Israelites

The word designates the descendants of the Patriarch Jacob, or Israel. It corresponds to the Hebrew appellation "children of Israel", a name by which — together with the simple form "Israel" — the chosen people usually called themselves in Old-Testament times. Foreigners and Israelites speaking of themselves to foreigners used the term "Hebrews", commonly explained as denoting those who have come from "the other side" of the river (the Euphrates). Another synonym for Israelites is the term Jews (Ioudaioi), especially used by classical authors, but also often found in Josephus and in the New-Testament writings. The object of the present article is distinctly geographical and ethnographical, leaving, as far as possible, the other topics connected with the Israelites to be dealt with in the article on JEWS AND JUDAISM, or in particular articles on the leading personages or events in Israel's history.

Semitic relationship

The Israelites belong to the group of ancient peoples who are designated under the general name of Semites, and whose countries extended from the Mediterranean Sea to the other side of the Euphrates and Tigris, and from the mountains of Armenia to the southern coast of Arabia. According to the Biblical classification of the descendants of Noah (Genesis 10), it is clear that the semitic group included the Arabs, Babylonians, Assyrians, Arameans, and Hebrews, to which peoples modern ethnographers add, chiefly on linguistic grounds, the Phoenicians and Chanaaneans. It thus appears that the Israelites of old claimed actual kinship with some of the most powerful nations of the East, although the nearness or remoteness of this kinship cannot be determined at the present day. As might be expected, their ethnic relation to the Semitic tribes who, together with the Israelites, make up the sub-group of the Terabites, is more definitely known.

The Moabites, the Ammonites, the Edomites, and the Israelites were tribes of kindred origin, a fact which is readily acknowledged by contemporary scholars. It shows no less plainly that the children of Israel were also conscious of a close relationship with both the Arameans (Syrians) to the north-east and the Sinaitic nomads to the south of Palestine; and there is no doubt that, despite the rejection of Israel's kinship with Aram by some recent critics, both the Aramean and the Arabian relationships of Israel should be admitted. In the abstract, these relationships are not exclusive of each other, for there is no reason to suppose that ancient Israel was more homogeneous than any other migratory and conquering people; and in the concrete, both the relationships in question are equally borne witness to in the earliest historical records (cf. Genesis 24:4, 10; 27:43; 29:4, etc., in favour of Israel's relationship with Aram).

Early migration

The history of the Israelites begins with the migration of the kindred tribes mentioned in the above table, in the person of their ancestor, Thare, from Babylonia. The starting-point of this memorable migration was, according to Genesis 11:28-31, "Ur of the Chaldees", which has recently been identified with Mugheir (Muqayyar; Accadian Uriwa, an important city in ancient days, some six miles (distant from the right bank of the Euphrates, and about 125 miles north-west of the Persian Gulf. Its actual goal, according to Genesis 11:31, was "the land of Chanaan". The movement thus generally described is in distinct harmony with the well-ascertained fact that at an early date Babylonian enterprise had penetrated to Palestine and thereby opened up to the Semitic element of Chaldea a track towards the region which at the present day is often regarded as the original centre of the dispersion of the Semites, viz. Northern Arabia. The course taken was by way of Haran (in Aram), a city some 600 miles north-west of Ur, and its rival in the worship of the Moon-god, Sin. Not in worship alone, but also in culture, laws and customs, Haran closely resembled Ur, and the call of AbrahamGod's command bidding him to seek a new country (Genesis 12:50) — was doubtless welcome to one whose purer conception of the Deity made him dissatisfied with his heathen surroundings (cf. Joshua 24:2 sq.). There is also reason to think that at this time Northern Babylonia was greatly disturbed by invading Kassites, a mountain race related to the Elamites. While, then, Thare's second son, Nachor, remained in Haran, where he originated the Aramaic settlement, Abraham and Lot went forth, passed Damascus, and reached the goal of their journey. The settlements which Holy Writ connects with Abraham and Lot need only to be mentioned here. The tribes directly related to Lot were those of Moab and Ammon, of which the former established itself east of the Dead Sea, and the latter settled on the eastern side of the Amorrhite kingdom which extended between the Arnom and the Jeboc. Of the tribes more immediately related to Abraham, the Ismaelites and the Madianites seem to have lived in the Peninsula of Sinai; the Edornites took possession of Mount Seir, the hilly tract of land lying south of the Dead Sea and east of the Arabah; and the Israelites settled in the country west of the Jordan, the districts with which they are more particularly connected in the Book of Genesis being those of Sichem, Bethel, Hebron, and Bersabee. The history of the Israelites in these early times is chiefly associated with the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel), all of whom kept a distinct remembrance of their close kinship with the Semitic settlement in Aram (cf. Genesis 24; 28), and the first of whom appears to have reached Chanaan about 2300 B.C., when he came into passing contact with Egypt (Genesis 12) and Elam (Genesis 14) (see BABYLONIA).

Sojourn in Egypt

The intercourse of Abraham with Egypt, just referred to, gave place eventually to one of much longer duration on the part of his descendants, when the Israelites went down to Egypt under the pressure of famine, and settled peaceably in the district of Gessen, east of the Delta. The fact of this later migration of Israel fits in well with the general data afforded by Egyptian history. About 2100B.C. Lower Egypt had been invaded and conquered by a body of Asiatics, probably of Semitic origin, called the Hyksos, who established themselves at Zoan (Tanis), a city in the Delta, about 35 miles north of Gessen. Their rule, to which the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth dynasties are assigned, lasted 511 years, according to Manetho (cf. Josephus, "Contra Ap.", I, xiv). It was of course repulsive to the native princes, whose authority was restricted to Thebes, while it proved attractive to other invading bodies, Asiatic like the Hyksos themselves. Among these later arrivals are naturally reckoned the Israelites, who probably entered Egypt sometime prior to 1600 B.C., the date assigned for the eventual expulsion of the Hyksos by the Egyptian native kings. The position of Gessen has been fixed by recent excavations, and, as the Israelites were left to pursue without molestation their pastoral life in that region, they rapidly increased in numbers and wealth. The history of Israel's settlement in Egypt is connected particularly with Joseph, Jacob's beloved son by Rachel.

The Exodus and the wanderings

The final expulsion of the Hyksos by the native princes deprived the Israelites of their natural protectors; "nevertheless, the kings of the eighteenth dynasty, who came upon the scene about this time, did not interfere with them. On the contrary, these kings were themselves Asiatic in tone, marrying Syrian wives and introducing foreign customs. One of them, Amenhotep III, married Tyi, a Syrian princess and sun-worshipper, and their son, Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV), abandoned the national religion for the worship of the solar disc; and when this led to friction with the priesthood of Thebes, he changed his capital to Tell el-Amarna, and surrounded himself both in his temples and in the government of the country with foreigners. After his death, there was a reaction, the foreigners were ejected, and the national religion and party triumphed The next kings, therefore, those of the nineteenth dynasty, gave no quarter to foreigners, and these were the kings who knew riot Joseph, but made the lives of the Hebrews 'bitter with hard bondage, in mortar and in all manner of service in the field.' There was good reason why tyrannical kings like those who now arose should view with alarm the rapid increase of the Hebrews, seeing that they were aliens, and lived in a quarter where, if inclined to be disloyal, they could lend invaluable aid to Asiatic invaders" (Souttar "A Short History of Ancient Peoples", New York, 1903, 200 sq.). The particular Pharaoh of the nineteenth dynasty who treated the Israelites with special rigour was Rameses II, who became king at about the age of eighteen and reigned upwards of sixty years (about 1300-1234 B.C.). He employed them on field labour (Exodus 1:14); engaged them upon the store cities of Phithom (the ruins of which, eleven or twelve miles from Ismailia, show that it was built for that monarch) and Ramesse, thus called after his name; and finally made a desperate attempt to reduce their numbers by organized infanticide. Had not God watched over His people, Israel's ruin would have been simply a question of time. But He raised up Moses and commissioned him to free them from this harsh and cruel oppression. This Divine call reached Moses while he was living in the Peninsula of Sinai, whither he had fled from Pharaoh's wrath, residing among the Madianites or Kenites, who, like himself, traced their descent from Abraham. With the help of his brother, Aaron, and by means of the various scourges known as the plagues of Egypt, Yahweh's envoy finally prevailed upon Rameses' son and successor, Merneptah I (1234-14 B.C.; cf. Ex. ii, 23), to let Israel go free. In haste and by night, the Israelites left the land of bondage, turned eastward, and directed their course towards the Isthmus of Suez and the Red Sea, thus avoiding contact with the Egyptian troops which then occupied, at least in part, the Mediterranean coast, and making from the first for the encampments of their kindred, the Madianites, near Sinai.

While this general direction can hardly be doubted, the localities through which Israel passed cannot now be identified with certainty. The first movement of the Israelites was from Ramesse to Socoth (Exodus 12:37). The former of these two places has often been regarded as the same as Zoan (Tanis) which is called in many papyri

Pa-Ramessu Meriamum (the Place of Rameses II), but it is more probably to be located at Tell er-Retabeh, "in the middle of the length of the Wady Tumilat, about twenty miles from Ismailia on the East (Flinders Petrie), and only eight miles distant from Phithom. The name of the second place, Socoth, is probably a Semitic adaptation of the Egyptian word thku[t] which designated the district where the city of Phithom was situated. Proceeding thence, Israel encamped in Etham (Exodus 13:20; Numbers 33:6), a term which is supposed to refer to the southern fortress (Egypt. Htem) of Thku (Socoth), on the eastern frontier of Egypt, upon the edge of the Wilderness of Etham, or Sur (cf. Exodus 15:22; Numbers 33:8). At this point the children of Israel changed their easterly direction, and journeying southward reached Phihahiroth, which is described in Exodus 14:2 as "between Magdal and the sea over against Beelsephon". None of the places just spoken of have been identified; indeed, even the portion of the Red Sea which the Hebrews crossed miraculously, is a matter of controversy. Various writers maintain that at the time of Exodus the western arm of the Red Sea, now called the Gulf of Suez, from the modern town near its northern extremity, extended some thirty or forty miles farther north, and they admit for the actual place of crossing some point of this extension of the Red Sea. Others, on the contrary, apparently with greater probability, think that in the time of Moses the northern limit of the Gulf of Suez did not vary much, if at all, from what it is at the present day, and they maintain that the crossing took place at some point of the present head of the gulf, not far north of the present Suez, the ancient Greek name of which (Clysma) appears to embody a tradition of the Egyptian disaster. It is often and ably argued that after the Red Sea, the Israelites, resuming their journey in an easterly direction, took the haj route now followed by pilgrims going from Cairo to Mecca, running eastward across the Peninsula of Sinai to Elath at the northern point of the eastern arm of the Red Sea — the Gulf of Akabah, as it is called. To most writers, however, there does not seem to be sufficient reason for giving up the time-honoured view which holds that the Hebrews proceeded southward until they reached the traditional Mount Sinai.

On the basis of this latter view, Israel's intervening stations between the place of crossing and Mount Sinai have been identified as follows. After three days' march through the Wilderness of Sur, on the narrow and comparatively level coast-track of the Gulf of Suez, the Israelites came to a spring named Mara (Exodus 15:22 sq.), probably the 'Ain Hawara, with its bitter waters. They next reached the oasis of Elim, usually identified with Wady Gharandel, where there are, even at the present time, wells and palms (Exodus 15:27). Proceeding southward, they followed the road which winds by the Wady Tayibeh until it strikes the seashore, at which point the encampment by the sea (Numbers 33:10) is naturally placed. Before turning inland the coast-track expands into a plain four or five miles broad, called el-Markha, and probably to be identified with the Wilderness of Sin (Exodus 15:1), wherein the stations of Daphea and Alus (Numbers 33:12-13) were presumably situated. Thence Moses led his people in the direction of the sacred mount of Sinai, the next station being at Raphidim (Exodus 17:1), which is commonly regarded as identical with Wady Feiran, a long and fertile plain overhung by the granite rocks of Mount Sherbal, probably the Horem of Holy Writ. From Feiran the road winds through the long Wady es-Scheykh and leads to the extensive plain er-Rahah, which is directly in front of Mount Sinai, and which offered more than sufficient standing ground for all the children of Israel. It is true that none of the foregoing identifications enjoys more than a certain amount of probability and that, consequently, their aggregate cannot be considered as an unquestionable proof that the traditional road along the Gulf of Suez is the one actually followed by the Hebrews. Yet, as may readily be seen, it is a fact of no small importance in favour of the route described that its distance of some 150 miles between the place of crossing and Mount Sinai admits of a natural division into stages which on the whole correspond well to the principal marches of the Hebrews; for nothing of the kind can be put forth in support of their position by the contemporary scholars who prefer to the traditional road an eastward one running across the Peninsula of Sinai to the northern shore of the Gulf of Akabah.

On leaving Sinai, under the guidance of Moses' brother-in-law, the Israelites proceeded in a northerly direction towards the Wilderness of Pharan, the barren region of et-Tih which lies south of Chanaan and west of Edom. They seem to have approached it the shore of the eastern arm of the Red Sea, now called the Gulf of Akabah. Of the various places mentioned as being on their route only two have been identified with some degree of probability. These are Kibroth Hattawah (graves of lust), regarded as identical with Erweis el-Ebeirig, and Hazeroth, apparently identical with the modern 'Ain Hudherah (cf. Numbers 11:34; 33:16-17). On entering the Desert of Pharan, the people established themselves at Cades, also Cadesbarne (the holy place), which has been identified with great probability with 'Ain Kedis, some fifty miles south of Bersabee (Numbers 33:36). Proceeding northward, after the return of the spies whom they had sent to explore Southern Palestine, they made a mad attempt to force their way into Chanaan. They were repulsed by the Chanaanites and the Amalecites at Sephaath, a place subsequently named Horma (cf. Judges 1:17; now Sebaita) and some thirty-five miles north of Cades. (Cf. Numb., xii, xiv.) Then began a most obscure period in Israel's life. During thirty-eight years they wandered in the Badiet et Tih (Wilderness of the Wanderings) on the southern confines of Chanaan, apparently making Cades the centre around which their movements turned. It is possible that while here, they came, for the first time since the Exodus, into contact with the Egyptians. An inscription of the Pharaoh Mernptah has been found recently (at Thebes, in 1896), the close of which relates the conquest by the Egyptians of the land of Chanaan and of Ashkelon, and then adds: 'The Israelites are spoiled so that they have no seed; the land of Khar [perhaps, the land of the Horites, i.e. Edom] is become like the windows of Egypt. Of the circumstances alluded to nothing positive is known; but the situation of the Israelites implied in the inscription is in or near Southern Palestine, and, as the fuller records of later date show no trace of any relations between Israel and Egypt until the time of Solomon, the sojourn at Cades seems to be the only occasion that will suit the conditions. On the assumption that the Exodus took place in the reign of Mernptah, the only alternative to the view just set forth is to regard the inscription as a boastful account of the Exodus itself', considered as an expulsion of the Israelites". (Wade, "Old Test-Hist.").

In the beginning of the fortieth year of Israel's wanderings, the march towards Chanaan was resumed from Cades. In approaching Palestine this second time, it was determined to avoid the southern frontier, and to enter the Land of Promise by crossing the Jordan at the northern end of the Dead Sea. The shortest road for this purpose was through the territories of Edom and Moab, and Moses asked permission from the King of Edom to take this route, reminding him of the relationship between his people and Israel. His refusal compelled the Israelites to journey southward towards the Gulf of Akabah, and there to skirt the southern possessions of Edom, whence they marched northward, skirting the eastern frontier first of Edom and next of Moab, and finally encamping over against the River Arnon (the modern Wady Mojib). Such is the general line of March commonly admitted by scholars between Cades and the Arnon. Owing, however, to the fact that the several lists of Israel's stations in Numb., xx, 22-xxi, 11; xxxiii; Deuteronomy 10:6-7, contain differences as to the encampments which they mention, and as to the time which they assign to Aaron's death, some uncertainty remains as to which side of Edom — east or west — the Hebrews actually skirted on their way to the Arnon. With regard to the various stations named in those lists, a still greater uncertainty prevails. In point of fact, only a few of them can be identified, among which may be mentioned the place of Aaron's death, Mount Hor, which is probably the modern Jebel Madurah on the western border of Edom, some thirty or forty miles north-east of Cades; and next the encampment at Asiongaber, a place which may be identical with 'Ain el Gudyan which lies about fifteen miles north of the Gulf of Akabah. Resuming their march towards the Jordan, the Children of Israel crossed the Amon, and encountered the hostility of the Amorrhite chief, Sehon, who had taken from Moab the territory between the Arnon and the Jeboc (Wadv Zerkah). They defeated him at Jasa (not now identified), captured his capital Hesebon (the modern Resban), Jazer (Beith Zerah, three miles north of Hesebon), and the other cities of his dominions. They were thus brought into contact, and apparently also into conflict, with the northernmost kingdom of Basan, which lay between the Jeboc and the foot of Mount Hermon. They gave battle to its king, Og, defeated him at Edrei (now Edr'a), and took possession of his territory. Their victories and, still more, their occupation of the land north of Moab by Ruben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasses aroused the enmity of the Moabites who, at this juncture, summoned Balaam to curse the Israelites, and who succeeded but too well in their efforts to betray them into idolatry at Settim (Accacids), in the plains of Moab, over against Jericho (Eri'ka). The crowning events of the Wanderings were the induction of Josue into office as Moses' successor in command, and the death of Moses himself on one of the heights of the Abarim (Numbers 27:12), which is variously called Nebo (Jebel Neba; Deuteronomy 32:49) or Phasga (Ras Siaghah; Deuteronomy 3:27), the western projection of Mount Nebo.

The conquest of Chanaan

Soon after the death of Moses, Josue resolved to attempt the invasion and conquest of Chanaan proper, or the country west of the Jordan, which Israel's great lawgiver had indeed contemplated, but had not been allowed to effect. In some respects this was at the time a hard task. The crossing of the Jordan was in itself a difficult .undertaking. The heights on the other side of the river were crowned with numerous cities, strongly walled, and therefore able to offer a stout resistance. Even the population in the lowlands was much superior to the Israelites in the art and appliances of war, in touch, as they had long been, with the advanced civilization of Babylonia and Egypt. In some other respects the work of conquest was then comparatively easy. The various peoples (Chanaanites, Hethites, Amorrhites, Pherezites, etc.) who made up the population of Western Palestine, constituted a number of mostly independent cities, distracted by those mutual jealousies which have been revealed by the Tell el-Amarna tablets, and hence not likely to combine their forces against Israel's invasion. "Moreover there was no possibility of outside alliances against the intruders. Tyre and Sidon, and other cities of the coast, were going their way, increasing their wealth and commercial connections by peaceful means, and were averse to entangling foreign complications. The Amorrhites east of the Jordan were the most formidable remnant of their decaying race, and they had been rendered powerless; while the Philistines, themselves a strange people, had not yet grown into power" (McCurdy). Circumstances such as these naturally called for Josue's prompt and vigorous action. With God's special help he crossed the Jordan at the head of all the tribes encamped at Galgal, identified with the modern Tell Jiljulieh, four miles from the river, and thence advanced upon Jericho. This city was one of the keys to the trans-Jordanic region, and it soon fell into his power. He next proceeded by the pass of Machmas (the Wady Suweinit) against Hai, a town two miles east of Bethel, and captured it by strategem. After this rapid conquest of Central Chanaan, Josue made alliance with he Gabaonites, who had outwitted him, and won the memorable battle of Bethoron over the five kings of the nearest Amorrhite peoples. This victory was followed up by the subjugation of other districts of Southern Palestine, a work which seems to have been accomplished mainly by the tribes of Simeon and Juda, assisted by the Cinites and the Calebites. Meantime, the kings of the north had rallied around Jabin, King of Azor in Galilee, and mustered their hosts near the Waters of Merom (Lake Huleh). At the head of the House of Joseph, the Jewish leader took them by surprise, defeated them, and subdued numerous northern towns. Josue's glorious achievements secured for the tribes of Israel a firm foothold in Chanaan, by means of which they settled in their allotted territories. Great. however, as were these victories, they failed, even in conjunction with the efforts of the individual tribes (an account of which is supplied in the scattered notices in the Book of Josue and by the opening chapter of that of Judges), to complete the subjugation of Palestine. Many of the larger cities, together with the cultivated valleys and the coast-land, were still, and remained for a long time, in the possession of Chanaan's earlier inhabitants.

The period of the Judges

As long as Josue lived, his personality and his generalship succeeded in keeping up among the Israelites some manner of central authority, despite the tribal rivalries which manifested themselves even during the conquest of Western Palestine. When he died, with a previously appointed successor, all central authority actually ceased, and the bonds of union between the different tribes were quickly dissolved. The tribes were dispersed in different districts, and the Semitic love of tribal independence strongly reasserted itself among them. The immediate pressure of the war of conquest was no longer felt, and in many cases the distinct Hebrew communities were either unwilling or unable to exterminate the older population which survived in the land. The bond of union which naturally arises from close kinship, was likewise considerably relaxed by intermarriage between the Israelites and the Chanaanites. Even the bond created by the community of religion was time and again seriously impaired in Israel by the corruption of the ancestral worship of Yahweh with the attractive cult of the Baalim of Chanaan. This deep disunion of the tribes accounts naturally for the fact that, during a long period after the death of Moses' successor, each section of Israel's possessions was in its turn harassed and humiliated by a powerful foreign foe, and each time delivered from his oppression by a military leader, "judge" as he is called, whose authority never extended over the whole land. In the course of time, the drawbacks of such disunion were felt by the Israelites, and in order to withstand their enemies more effectively by concerted action, they wished for a king. Their first attempts in this direction were indeed unsuccessful: Gedeon refused the crown which they offered him, and Abimilech, his son, who accepted it, proved an unworthy ruler. Yet the longing of the Hebrew tribes for a monarchy could not be suppressed; during Israel's fierce conflict with the Philistines, Samuel, the last judge, wielded the universal and absolute power of a monarch with the title and the insignia of royalty; and when to the hostility of Western enemies was joined that of Eastern foes, like the Ammonites, the Israelites strenuously asked for a king and finally obtained one in the person of the Benjamite Saul.

The undivided kingdom

Israel's first monarch resembled in many respects the judges who had preceded him, for the simple reason that, under his rule, the Hebrew tribes did not really coalesce into a nation. He was indeed the King of All Israel; his royal title and authority were to be hereditary, and at his summons all the tribes rallied around him. With their common help, he rescued the men of Jabes Galaad from impending destruction at the hands of the Ammonites, fought for a time successfully against the Philistines, and overcame the Amalecites. All the while, however, his kingship was little more than a judgeship. His court and ways of life were simple in the extreme; he had no standing army, no governors over subordinate districts; the war against the Philistines, the great enemies of Israel in his day, he waged like the judges of old, by hasty and temporary levies; and when he died at Gelboe, the profound and inveterate disunion of the tribes, which had been momentarily checked, immediately reappeared; most of them declared themselves in favour of his son, Isboseth, but Juda gathered around David and made him king in Hebron. In the civil war which ensued, "David grew always stronger and stronger", with the final result that his sovereignty was formally and voluntarily acknowledged by the elders of all the tribes. The new king was the real founder of the Hebrew monarchy. One of his first cares was to secure for Israel a political and religious capital in Jerusalem, a city of considerable size and of considerable natural strength. His military genius enabled him gradually to overcome the various nations who had cruelly oppressed the chosen people in the days of the judges. On the south-west he fought against the Philistines, and took from them the town of Geth (Tell es-Safi), and a great part of their dominions. On the south-east, he conquered and established garrisons in the territory of Edom. To the east of the Jordan he attacked and wellnigh exterminated the Moabites, while on the north-east he overthrew the Syrians of Soba as well as those of Damascus who had marched to the defence of their kindred. Finally, he waged a protracted war against the Ammonites, who had entered into a defensive alliance with several of the Syrian princes, and wreaked upon them a frightful vengeance. The possessions secured by these various wars formed a vast empire whose boundaries remained forever after the ideal extent of the Realm of Israel, and whose wise internal organization, on regular monarchical lines, greatly promoted the agricultural and industrial interests of the Hebrew tribes.

Under such circumstances one might not unnaturally have supposed that the old tribal jealousies were at an end forever. And yet, on the occasion of the king's domestic broils, a rebellion broke out which for a while threatened to rend the nation asunder on the old, deep lines of cleavage. This disaster was, however, happily averted, and at his death David left to his son Solomon an undivided kingdom. David's reign had been pre-eminently a period of war and of territorial acquisition; Solomon's rule was, in the main, an era of peace and commercial achievement. Of special value to the new monarch were the friendly relations between Phnicia and Israel, continued from David's time. Through the help of Tyre he erected the Temple and other beautiful edifices in Jerusalem; the help of Tyre also enabled him to maintain for a time something of a foreign commerce by the Red Sea. His relations with Egypt were likewise peaceful and profitable. He received in marriage the daughter of Psibkhenao II, the last Pharaoh of the twenty-first dynasty, and kept up with Egypt a brisk overland commerce. He carried on a friendly intercourse and lively trade with the Hittites of Cilicia and of Cappadocia.

Unfortunately, his love of splendour and luxury, his unfaithfulness to Yahweh's law and worship, gradually betrayed him into oppressive measures which especially alienated the northern tribes. In vain did he strive to overrule this dissatisfaction by doing away with the ancient territorial divisions of the tribes, and by appointing the Ephraimite Jeroboam as collector of taxes of the house of Joseph: his tampering with the old tribal principle did but increase the general discontent, and the great authority with which he invested the son of Nabat simply afforded the latter better opportunity to realize the extent of the disaffection of the northern tribes and to avail himself of it to rebel against the king. About this same time, Edom and Moab revolted against Solomon's suzerainty, so that, towards the end of his reign, everything threatened the continuity of the empire of Israel, which had always contained the hidden germs of disruption, and which, to a large extent, owed its very existence to the extreme temporary weakness of the great neighbouring nations of Egypt and Assyria.

The kingdom of Israel

Roboam's insulting reply to the northern tribes, when, gathered at Sichem, after Solomon's demise, they asked for some relief from the heavy yoke put upon them by the late monarch, was the immediate occasion of their permanent rupture with the line of David and the southern tribes. Under Jerboa's headship they formed (c. 937 B.C.) a separate kingdom which is known as the Kingdom of Israel, in contradistinction to that of Juda, and which greatly surpassed the latter in extent and population. The area of the Northern Kingdom is estimated at about 9000 square miles, with a population of about four or five millions. It included eight tribes, viz., on the west of the Jordan, Ephraim, one-half of Manasses, Issachar, Zabulon. Aser, Nephtali with the coastline between Acre and Joppe; on the east of the Jordan, Ruben, Gad, and one-half of Manasses. Its vassal-states were Moab and so much of Syria as had remained subject to Solomon (1 Kings 11:24; 2 Kings 3:4). The Kingdom of Juda included that tribe itself together with that of Benjamin, and — at least eventually — a part, if not the whole, of Simeon and Dan. Its area is estimated at 3400 miles, with a population of about one million and three quarters. Besides this, Edom continued faithful to Juda for a time. But while the Northern Kingdom was larger and more populous than the Southern, it decidedly lacked the unity and the seclusion of its rival, and was therefore the first to succumb, a comparatively easy prey to the eastern conquerors, when their victorious march brought them to the western lands. The history of the newly formed kingdom may be conveniently divided into three great periods, during which various dynasties ruled in Israel, while the line of David continued in sole possession of the throne of Juda. The first period extends from Jeroboam to Achab (937-875 1 B.C.). The kings of this opening period were as follows:

ISRAEL
Jeroboam I — 937-915 B.C.
Nadab — 915-913 B.C.
Baasa — 913-889 B.C
Ela — 889-887 B.C.
Zambri — a few days
Amri — 887-875 B.C.
JUDA
Roboam — 937-920 B.C.
Abiam — 920-917 B.C.
Asa — 917-876 B.C.
Josaphat — 876-

Of the twenty-two years of Jeroboam's reign, few details have come down to us. At first, the founder of the Northern Kingdom took for his capital the city of Sichem, in which Abimelech had once set up kingdom, and in which the actual outbreak of the revolt against Juda had just occurred; he exchanged it for the beautiful Thersa, eleven miles to the north-east. To offset the attractiveness of Jerusalem and the influence of its Temple, he extended his royal patronage to two ancient sanctuaries, Dan and Bethel, the one at the northern, and the other at the southern, extremity of his realm. To guard against Juda's invasion of his territory, he built strong fortresses on both sides of the Jordan. With regard to Jeroboam's early military expeditions, Biblical narrative imparts no distinct information: it simply represents as practically continual the war which soon broke out between him and Roboam (cf. 1 Kings 14:30; 15:6). From the Egyptian inscriptions at Karnak it appears that the Northern Kingdom suffered much in connection with the invasion of Juda by Sesac, the first king of the twenty-second dynasty, so that it is not likely that this invasion was the result of Jeroboam's appeal Egypt for help in his conflict with the King of Juda. The hostilities between the sister kingdoms continued under Abiam, Roboam's son and successor. and in their pursuit, Jeroboam was, according to the chronicler's account, badly worsted (2 Chronicles 3). Jeroboam's own line lasted only through his own son Nadab, who, after reigning two years, was slain by a usurper, Baasa of Issachar (913 B.C.), while Israel besieged the Philistine fortress of Gebbethon (probably Kibbiah, six or seven miles north-east of Lydda). After his accession, Baasa pushed the war so vigorously against Asa, King of Juda, that, to save Jerusalem from an impending siege, the latter purchased the help of Benadad I, of Damascus, against Israel. In the conflict with Syria which ensued, Baasa lost much of the territory on the west of the Upper Jordan and the Sea of Galilee, with the fateful result that the controlling power in the west was now no longer Hebrew, but Aramean. Baasa was succeeded by his son Ela, whose reign lasted only a part of two years (889-87 B.C.). His murderer, Zambri, got himself proclaimed king, but perished after a few days giving place to his military competitor, Amri (887-75 B.C.), the skillful head of a new dynasty in Israel. Under Amri, Samaria, admirably and strongly situated in Central Palestine, some twelve miles to the west of Thersa, became, and remained to the end, the capital of the Northern Kingdom. Under him, too, the policy of hostility which had hitherto prevailed between Juda and Israel was exchanged for one of general friendship based on common interests against Syria. In some directions, indeed, Amri suffered considerable losses, as, east of the Jordan, Ramoth and other cities of Galaad fell into the power of the King of Damascus, while on the west of the same river, he was forced to grant to that monarch trading privileges (cf. 1 Kings 20:34). But in other directions he succeeded in extending his authority. The inscription of Mesa proves that he brought Moab under tribute. He cemented Israel's alliance with Tyre by the marriage of his son Achab with Jezabel, the daughter of the Tyrian priest and king, Ethbaal. His territories, now apparently limited to the tribes of Ephraim, Manasses, and Issachar, with a portion of Zabulon, were consolidated under his firm rule, so much so that the Assyrians, who henceforth carefully watched over the affairs of Palestine, designated Israel under the name of "the House of Amri", even after his dynasty had been overthrown

The second period comprises the kings from Achab to Jeroboam II (875-781 B.C.). These kings were as follows:

ISRAEL
Achab — 875-853 B.C.
Ochozias — 853-851 B.C.
Joram — 851-842 B.C.
Jehu — 842-814 B.C.
Joachaz — 814-797 B.C.
Joas — 797-781 B.C.
JUDA
Josaphat — 876-851 B.C.
Joram — 851-843 B.C.
Ochozias — 843-842 B.C.
Athalia — 842-836 B.C.
Joas — 836-796 B.C.
Amasias — 796-782 B.C.
Azarias (Ozias) — 782-

The reign of Achab, Amri's son and successor, was a memorable one in the history of the chosen people. It was marked at home by a considerable progress of Israel in the arts of peace (cf. 1 Kings 22:39); by the public adoption of the Phoenician worship of Baal and Astarthe (D.V. Ashtaroth, Ashtoreth), and also by a strenuous opposition to it on the part of the Prophets in the person of Elias, the leading religious figure of the time. Abroad, Israel's friendly relations with Juda assumed to permanent character by the marriage of Athalia the daughter of Achab and Jezabel, with Joram the son of Josaphat; and in point of fact, Israel was at peace with Juda throughout the twenty-two years of Achab's reign. Israel's chief neighbouring foe was Syria over whose ruler, Benadad II, Achab won two important victories (875 B.C.). Yet, upon the westward advance of their common enemies, the Assyrians, under Salmanasar II, the kings of Israel and Syria united with other princes of Western Asia against the Assyrian hosts, and checked their onward march at Karkhar on the Orontes in 854 B.C. Next year, Achab resumed hostilities against Syria and fell mortally wounded in battle before Ramoth Galaad. Achab's Son, Ochozias, died after a short reign (853-51 B.C.) and was succeeded by his brother Joram (851-42 B.C.). The two wars of Joram's reign Were unsuccessful, although, in both, Israel had the help of the Southern Kingdom. The first was directed against Mesa, King of Moab, who, as related in Holy Writ and in his own inscription (known as "the Moabitic St one"), had thrown off the yoke of Israel, and who did not hesitate, when very hard pressed, to offer his oldest son as a burnt-offering to Chamos (A.V. Chemosh). The second was waged against Damascus and proved exceedingly disastrous: Samaria nearly fell into the hands of the Syrians; Joram himself was seriously wounded before Ramoth Galaad, and next slain, at Jezrael, by one of his officers, Jehu, who assumed the crown and began a new dynasty in Israel. Jehu's long reign of twenty-eight years (842-14 B.C.), was most inglorious. Israel's deadly foe was the Syrian king Hazael, who had also reached the throne by the murder of his master, Benadad II. Instead of helping him to withstand the attacks of Salmanasar II, Jehu secured peace with Assyria by the payment of a tribute (842 B.C.), and let Hazael face single-handed the repeated invasions of the Assyrian king. Apparently, he had hoped thereby to weaken the Aramean power, and perhaps even to get rid of it altogether. It so happened, however, that after a while Salmanasar desisted from his attacks upon Hazael, and thus left the latter free to turn his arms against Israel and against Juda, its ally. The Syrian king secured for Damascus not only Basan and Galaad, and the whole of the country east of the Jordan, but also Western Palestine, destroyed the Philistine city of Geth, and was bought off by Joas of Juda with the richest spoil of his palace and temple. Joachaz (814-797 B.C.), the son and successor of Jehu, was compelled during the greater part of his reign to accept from Hazael and his son, Bernadad III, the most humiliating conditions yet imposed upon a King of Israel (cf. 2 Kings 13:7). Relief, however, came to him when the resources of Damascus were effectively crippled by Assyria during the closing years of the ninth century B.C. Israel's condition was further improved under Joas (797-81 B.C.), who actually defeated Syria three several (sic) times, and reconquered much of the territory — probably west of the Jordan — which had been lost by Joachaz, his father (cf. 2 Kings 13:25).

The third period in the history of the Northern Kingdom extends from Jeroboam II to the fall of Samaria (781-22 B.C.). On the basis of the Assyrian inscriptions combined with the data of Holy Writ, the chronology of the last period may be given approximately as follows:

ISRAEL
Jeroboam II — 781-740 B.C.
Zacharias — 6 months
Sellum — 1 month
Manahem — 740-737 B.C.
Phaceia — 737-735 B.C.
Phacee — 735-733 B.C.
Osee — 733-722 B.C.
JUDA
Azarias (Ozias) — 782-737 B.C.
Joatham — 737-735 B.C.
Achaz — 735-725 B.C.
Ezechias — 725-696 B.C.

During the long reign of Jeroboam II, the Northern Kingdom enjoyed an unprecedented prosperity. Owing chiefly to the fact that Israel's enemies had grown weaker on every side, the new king was able to eclipse the victories achieved by his father, Joas, and to maintain for a while the old ideal boundaries both east and west of the Jordan (2 Kings 14:28). Peace and security followed on this wonderful territorial extension, and together with them a great artistic and commercial development set in. Unfortunately, there set in also the moral laxity and the religious unfaithfulness which were in vain rebuked by the Prophets Amos and Osee, and which surely presaged the utter ruin of the Northern Kingdom. Jeroboam's son, Zacharias (740 B.C.) was the last monarch of Jehu's's dynasty. Ile had scarcely reigned six months when a usurper, Sellum, put him to death. Sellum, in his turn, was even more summarily dispatched by the truculent Manahem. The last-named ruler had soon to face the Assyrian power directly, and, as he felt unable to withstand it, hastened to proffer tribute to Theglathphalasar Ill and thereby save his crown (738B.C.). His son Phaceia reigned about two years (737- B.C.) and was slain by his captain, Phacee, who combined with Syria against Achaz of Juda. In his sore distress, Achaz appealed for Assyrian help, with the result that Theglathphalasar again (734 B.C.) invaded Israel, annexed Galilee and Damascus, and carried many Israelites into captivity. Phacee's murderer, Osee, was Assyria's faithful vassal as long as Theglathphalasar lived. Shortly afterwards, at the instigation of Egypt, he revolted against Salmanasar IV, Assyria's new ruler, whereupon Assyrian troops overran Israel and laid siege to Samaria, which, after a long resistance, fell, near the close of the year 722 B.C., under Sargon II, who had meantime succeeded Salmanasar IV. With this ended the Northern Kingdom, after an existence of a little more than two hundred years. (For the fate of the Israelites left in Palestine or exiled, see CAPTIVITIES OF THE ISRAELITES.)

The kingdom of Juda

Of the two kingdoms formed upon the disruption of Solomon's empire, the Southern Kingdom, or Kingdom of Juda, was in several respects the weaker, and yet was the better fitted to withstand the assaults of foreign enemies. Its general relations with Israel, Egypt, and Assyria, during the existence of the Northern Kingdom, have been briefly mentioned in connection with the history of that kingdom, and need not be more fully set forth here. Hence the following sketch of the Kingdom of Juda deals exclusively with the period of its existence subsequent to the overthrow of the Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians. At the time of the fall of Samaria, Ezechias was King of Juda (725-696 B.C.). He long persevered in the allegiance which his father, Achaz, had pledged to Assyria; Sargon's death, however, in 705 B. c., appeared to him and other Western princes a favourable opportunity to throw off the Assyrian yoke. He therefore formed with them a powerful league against Sennacherib, Sargon's successor. In due time (701 B.C.), the Assyrian forces invaded Western Asia, captured several Judean cities, and compelled Ezechias to renounce the league and pay an enormous fine. Not long afterwards, Sennacherib ravaged Juda again, and haughtily threatened Jerusalem with destruction . In accordance with Isaias's prophecy, however, his threats came to naught: "the Angel of the Lord decimated his army, and disturbances in the East recalled him to Nineveh (2 Kings 18:13; 19). It was under Ezechias that Juda came in contact for the first time with Babylonia (2 Kings 20). The long reign of his son, Manasses (696-41 B.C.), was, almost throughout, marked by religious degeneracy and faithful vassalage to Assyria. In the latter part of it, Juda rebelled against Asarhaddon, Sennacherib's son and successor, but the insurrection was speedily crushed, and misfortune brought back Manasses to the worship of the true God. The brief reign of Amon (641-39 B.C.) was an imitation of the first and the worst practices of his father. In 608 B.C. Palestine was traversed by an Egyptian army under Nechao II, a prince of the twenty-sixth dynasty, ambitious to restore to his country an Asiatic empire. As a faithful vassal of Assyria, the pious King Josias (639-08 B. c.) marched out to arrest Pharaoh's progress. He was defeated and slain at Mageddo, and his kingdom became an Egyptian dependency. This vassalage was indeed short-lived. The Chaldean Nabuchodonosor, on his victorious March to Egypt, invaded Juda for the first time, and Joakim (A.V. Jehoiakim) (608-597 B.C.), the eldest son and second successor of Josias, became a vassal of Babylon in 604 B.C. Despite the advice of the Prophet Jeremias, the Jewish king rebelled in 598. Next year, the newly enthroned king, Joachin (A.V. Jehoiakin), was taken, with Jerusalem, and was carried captive to Babylon together with many of his subjects, among whom was the Prophet Ezechiel. In 588 B.C., Juda rebelled again under Sedecias (597-86 B.C.), the third son of Josias. In July, 586 B.C., the Holy City surrendered, and its blinded king and most of his people were deported to Babylon. Thus began the Babylonian exile (see CAPTIVITIES OF THE ISRAELITES).

After the Babylonian exile

"Politically and nationally the Babylonian captivity put an end for ever to the people of Israel. Even when, 350 years later, there was once more a Jewish state, those who formed it were not the people of Israel, not even the Jewish nation, but that portion which remained in the mother country of a great religious organization scattered over all Asia and Egypt" (Cornill). The exiles who, in 538 B.C., availed themselves of Cyrus's permission to return to Palestine, were mostly Judeans, whose varied fortunes after their settlement in and around Jerusalem belong in a very particular manner to the history of Judaism and consequently need be set forth only in the briefest manner in the present article. Prompted by the religious impulse which had led them to come back to the land of their fathers, their first concern in reaching it was to resume God's holy worship. Their perseverance in rearing the second Temple was finally crowned with success in 516 B.C., despite the bitter and prolonged opposition of the Samaritans. Their great leaders — not only the Prophets of the time (Zachary and Malachy), but also their local secular heads (Nehemias and Esdras) — were religious reformers, whose one purpose was to secure the people's fidelity to God's law and worship. They made no attempt to set up a monarchy of their own, and as long as the Persian Empire lasted they and their descendants gloried in their loyalty to its rulers. Within the Persian period falls the formation of the Jewish military colony at Elephantine, the existence and religious worship of which have been disclosed by Judeo-Aramean papyri discovered quite recently. The conqueror of Persia, Alexander the Great, seems to have bestowed special privileges upon the Jewish community of Palestine, and to have granted to the Jews who settled in Alexandria — a city which he founded and called after his name — equal civil rights with the Macedonians (331 B.C.).

Alexander died before consolidating his empire. During the period of bloodshed which followed his death, Palestine was the bone of contention between the Syrian and Egyptian kings, often changed masters, and suffered oppression and misery at each change. As time went on, the welfare, moral and religious, of the Palestinian Jews was more and more seriously threatened by the influence of Hellenism, at first chiefly exercised by the Ptolemies from Alexandria as the centre (323-202 B.C.), and later by Antiochus III, the Great, of Syria, and his two successors Seleucus IV and Antiochus Epiphanes, reigning at Antioch (202-165 B.C.). Under this last named Syrian prince, Hellenism appeared to be on the point of stamping Judaism out of Palestine. The high-priests of the time, who were the local rulers of Jerusalem, adopted Greek names, and courted the king's favour by introducing or encouraging Hellenic practices among the inhabitants of the Holy City. At length Antiochus himself resolved to transform Jerusalem into a Greek city, and to destroy Judaism from the towns of Palestine and, indeed, from all his dominions. A most cruel and systematic persecution ensued, in the course of which the Machabees rebelled against their oppressors. The final result of the Machabean revolt was the overthrow of the Syrian power and the rise of an independent Jewish kingdom.

Under the Asmonean dynasty (135-63 B.C.) the Palestinian Jewish community gradually spread, by conquest and forcible conversion, from its narrow limits in Nehemias's time, to practically the extent of the territory of ancient Israel. Internally, it was divided between the two rival sects of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, themselves the slow outcome of the twofold movement at work during the Syrian suzerainty, the one against, and the other in favour of, Hellenism. The war which broke out between the last two Asmonean kings, John Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, who were supported by the Pharisees and the Sadducees respectively, gave to the Romans the 9pportunity they had long sought for intervening in Judean affairs. In 63 B.C. Pompey invested and took Jerusalem, and put an end to the last Jewish dynasty. Up to 37 B.C., the year of the accession of the Idumean Herod to the throne of Judea, the history of the Palestinian Jews reflects, for the most part, the vicissitudes of the tangled politics of the Roman imperatores. Herod's despotic reign (37 B.C. to A.D. 4) was marked by a rapid growth of Hellenism in nearly every city of Palestine, and also by a consolidation of Pharisaism in the celebrated schools of Hillel and Shammai. Upon the death of Herod, the Emperor Augustus divided his kingdom and placed Judea under procurators as a part of the Roman Province of Syria. The last political struggles to be mentioned are (1) the Jewish revolt against Rome in A.D. 66, which ended in the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70; (2) the rebellion of liar Cochba in A.D. 132 under the Emperor Adrian, who finally transformed Jerusalem into the Roman colony of Ælia Capitolina from which all Jews were banished. Ever since then, the Jews have been scattered in many countries, often persecuted, yet surviving, always hoping in some manner for a future Messias, and generally influenced by the customs, and morals, religious beliefs of the nations among whom they live.

Sources

Besides the works on Biblical history referred to in the bibllography to ISAAC, the following deserve special mention: VIGOUROUX, Bible et dcouvertes modernes (Paris, 1896); SAYCE, Higher Criticism and the Verdict of the Monuments(London, 1894); McCURDY, History, Prophecy and the Monuments (New York, 1895; new ed. announced, 1909); LAGRANGE, Etudes sur les religions sémitiques (Paris, 1903); PINCHES, The Old Testament in the Light of the Historical Records and Legends of Assyria and Babylonia (London, 1903); WINCKLER, History of Israel (Berlin, 1903); BREASTED, Ancient Records of Egypt (Chicago, 1906-07); VINCENT, Chanaan d'après l'exploration récente (Paris, 1907); CORNILL, History of the People of Israel, tr. (Chicago, 1899); SOUTTAR, A Short History of Ancient Peoples (New York, 1903); WADE, Old Testament History (New York, 1904).

About this page

APA citation. Gigot, F. (1910). Israelites. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08193a.htm

MLA citation. Gigot, Francis. "Israelites." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08193a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Bob Mathewson.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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