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5000 Years in 5 Minutes, Part 1: Canaanite and Israelite Periods

Canaanite and Israelite Periods

private tour to Megiddo

Middle Bronze Age gate at Megiddo

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“.

Egyptian gate Jaffa

Replica of a triumphal gate built by Ramses II in Jaffa

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.

Bethsaidah bull stelae

Bull Stalae representing a Canaanite God found in et-Tell/Bethsaidah (Biblical “Geshur”?)

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!.

philistine clay coffin ekron

Replica of a Philistine clay coffin on display at the “Philistine Street” near ancient Ekron

But while the Israelites settle the mountains, the coastal plain is inhabited by a new rivaling force – The PhilistinesArchaeology 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, Aacalon, 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(!)

Beth-shemesh site of the ark

Possible spot where the ark was kept after its return from Philistine captivity and given to the people of Beth-Shemesh

The turning point takes place about 3000 years ago, when the two forces will clash in the Ellah 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.

palace of King David jerusalem

House built over supportive walls of David’s palace found in the City of David

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 model king solomon

Presumed model of Jerusalem in the time of King Solomon

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.

city of david night show

A nighttime presentation at the City of David presenting the Babylonian Exile and the “Return to Zion”

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.


Trivia Question: How come the Jews did not loose their identity in Babylonian exile?

Answer: The most importan factor, in my opinion, is the relatively short period of the exile. But for a full answer, well, you might want to hire me for a tour..


On to the “Second Temple Period