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Chapter 3, Section 2
Early Israelites
The Israelites (location) were also
known as the Hebrews
(culture/ethnicity), and are known
today as Jews (religion). They are
one of the oldest continuous
cultures, dating their history from
about 1900 BC!
The Israelites are different from all
other cultures of their time because
they believed in only one God.
This is
This religion is
now called
Christianity is
based on
Judaism (of
course with
one big
The Israelites believed that God’s
commands were revealed by
prophets (holy messengers) and that
people were to be held accountable
for their actions in a system of
punishments and rewards. (see
Deut. Chapter 28)
The Bible remains one of the main
historical texts of this period and
region. The Old Testament is all of
the books that the Israelites use as
their sacred books. The first 5 are
the Torah (pentateuch) and define
Jewish law. (Genesis, Exodus,
Leviticus, Numbers, and
The Torah is written
in scroll form, like
this picture shows.
The Israelites trace
their ancestry back
to Abraham (~1900
BC). He lived in the
Mesopotamian city
of Ur. He settled in
Canaan and made a
covenant with God.
The Israelites
shared Canaan
with many other
people throughout
history, including
the Phoenicians,
Philistines and the
Abraham’s grandson,
Jacob, had 12 sons. Each
of them led a separate
family-based tribe of
Israelites. To escape a
famine, they migrated to
Egypt. Unfortunately, the
Egyptians decided to make
the Israelites slaves.
Around 1200 BC, the prophet
Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt
in an Exodus into the Sinai Desert.
Moses parting
the Red Sea.
During the next 40 years, the
Israelites wandered in the desert.
The Israelites say that God renewed
the covenant of Abraham, and God
gave Moses a set of laws (the 10
The Ten Commandments
Found in
Exodus 20:2-14
This is seen as
the foundation
of Mosaic Law.
(See p.84)
Moses’ successor, Joshua, led the
Israelites across the river Jordan,
back into Canaan. But during their
absence, other people had occupied
the land. In ~200 years of war, they
whooped up on the Canaanites (their
mortal enemies-see Genesis 9) and
the Philistines.
The 12 tribes couldn’t
agree on much, so
they were ruled by
Judges until 1020 BC,
when Saul was
chosen as king.
Saul was unable to defeat the
Philistines, but had help from
David, who eventually became king
in 1012 BC and ruled for 40 years.
He established the Israelite capital at
Jerusalem. Jews now consider this
to be the most holy city (although
ownership is disputed).
David’s son Solomon, took over
in 961 BC. Resenting his high
taxes, 10 tribes broke away,
keeping the name Israel. The
other two tribes kept Jerusalem
and took the name Judah for their
country (that’s where they get the
word Jew).
Jerusalem today:
A divided city.
Divided and conquered: The
Assyrians defeated the Northern
tribes in 722 BC, and the Chaldeans
captured Jerusalem and destroyed
the holy temple in 586 BC. Most of
the Israelite people were scattered
throughout Babylon, some in
slavery. This was the Babylonian
This wasn’t all
bad. Several
prophets helped
the Israelites
become united
again and try to
observe Jewish
law more
Although the Jews did eventually
get back to Jerusalem, they also
spread out throughout the Middle
East. This diffusion of people
geographically is called a diaspora.
The Jewish legacy of slavery,
exile, and return makes them
view their history as one
of purpose. The Torah gives
answers for their sufferings
(liberation theology). (see
page 86) Jews can now be
found all over the world.