Israel Short History, Part 1: Canaanite and Israelite Periods
5000 years ago the geo-political situation in the Holy Land was of city-states (like the Greek Polis, later in Aegean world). Every city controlled a certain territory, and cities would sometimes collaborate, and some times would fight each other. Archaeologists call this period “The Bronze Age“, because of the use of that metal in that period; The Bible calls its people – “The Canaanites“.
3200 years ago, the Canaanites became weak, and so were the neighboring cultures – the Egyptian in the SE and the cultures in Mesopotamia in the NW. And the mighty Hittites? – They completely disappeared!. Why is it happening?, the common explanation is a climatic disaster, causing a famine and turmoil.
And while big powers weaken, new local powers rise – Moabites, the Ammonites, the Edomites, and in the Samaria and Judean hills – the Israelites. They are unique group speaking the language called Hebrew, and sharing a revolutionary religious concept of a belief in one god (only) and that it has no physical shape!.
But while the Israelites settle the mountains, the coastal plain is inhabited by a new rivaling force – The Philistines. Archaeology proved that the Philistines were members of the “Sea People“, groups of people who migrated from the Aegean area, apparently because of the overall famine. Coming from the sea they settled along the coastal plain, and formed five major cities – Ashdod, Ascalon, Gaza, and in land Ekron and Gath. Having an advanced metal technology, the Bible admits to their superiority, and how once they even capture the ark of the covenant(!)
The turning point takes place about 3000 years ago, when the two forces will clash in the Ella Valley. Both sides agree to have representative fight in their name, and declare “if you win we’ll be your slaves; if we win you will ours”. The Philistines send an “uncircumcised giant” named Goliath. The Israelites are all scared, but to the rescue comes a young red head from Bethlehem named David. He hits Goliath straight in his forehead, and for the first time the Israelites are victorious.
The philistines retreat to their cities, and gradually they will disappear from the face of history. David becomes a celebrity, and after the death of Saul he is appointed king. He unites for the first time ALL the 12 tribes under his throne, and it then that he decide to create a new capital for his new united kingdom – Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is a small Canaanite village inhabited by Jebusites, yet David designates it to be the new capital for the new kingdom he created. He takes it over by force, yet by the mountain top above, intending it to be the place of the Temple. Later tradition will place the near sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham on the same mountain top. David’s son, Solomon, builds the Temple on top of the Temple mount above the city, and for about 400 years it will be the focal point of pilgrimage and admiration. Archaeologically however there is nothing left of it today.
In 586 BCE the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the city, demolished Solomon’s temple, and sent the Jewish people to exile in Babylon. Frankly this should have been the end of the Jews. Similar ethnic groups disappeared in this process – the Maobites, the Ammonites, and the Philistines.
Read Our Take on the Rest of the History of the Holy Land –
- Israel Historical Introduction, Part 1: Canaanite and Israelite Periods
- Israel Historical Introduction, Part 2: The Second Temple Period
- Israel Historical Introduction, Part 3: Roman and Byzantine Periods
- Israel Historical Introduction, part 4: The Crusades and the Islamic Periods
- Israel Historical Introduction, part 5: Modern Times