According to the biblical account, much of which is impossible to verify in the archaeological record until late in the monarchial period, Jewish history begins with the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who considered Canaan (an area comprising present-day Israel and the West Bank) their home. Their history continues in Goshen, NE Egypt, where they settled as agriculturists many centuries before the Christian era. Under Ramses II the Jews were severely persecuted and, finally, Moses led them out of Egypt; at Mt. Sinai he delivered to them the Ten Commandments.
Many years of wandering in desert wildernesses followed before the Israelites conquered Canaan. Saul became the first king. Initially successful against the Philistines, he was finally defeated at Gilboa. David, of the tribe of Judah, ruled, conquered the enemies of the Jews, expanded his territory across the Jordan River, and brought prosperity and peace to his people. The reign of his son Solomon, who built the first Temple, was the last before a period of disruption. The tribes of the north formed the kingdom of Israel; those of the south formed the smaller but more strongly united kingdom of Judah.
In 722 B.C., Sargon II captured Samaria, capital of Israel, and most of the Israelites (the lost tribes) were exiled. Judah passed under Assyrian domination, then under Egyptian, and in 586 B.C., under Babylonian, when the Temple was destroyed and the people were exiled until their return was permitted by Cyrus the Great (538 B.C.). The rebuilding of the Temple was completed in 516 B.C. The Jews remained a strong religious group during the period of Hellenism, but regained political independence only under the Maccabees. A rebellion, led by Bar Kokba against the Romans in the 2d cent. A.D., ended in defeat. In 63 B.C. Rome conquered Palestine, and the second Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Judaism