An Overview of Israelite and Jewish History
by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.

Main Stages of Israelite & Jewish History: 4000 Years of Development
(Adapted from the Encyclopedia of Religion)

  1. Pre-Historic Period (begins 3760 BCE, acc. to traditional Jewish calendar)
  2. Hebrew/Israelite Period (Second Millennium to 539 BCE)
  3. Second Temple Period (ca. 539 BCE - 70 CE)
  4. Rabbinic Period (ca. 70 CE - 6th Century)
  5. Medieval Period (6th - 16th Centuries)
  6. Early Modern & Modern Period (17th - 21st Centuries)

MAIN POINTS: Domination & Independence

  1. For most of biblical history, the land known as Canaan, Israel, and/or Palestine was ruled by six major empires:
  2. Before the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948, there were only two relatively short periods of independence for the people of ancient Israel in a unified kingdom:
  3. Before the Nazi-era Holocaust/Shoah, the two most traumatic events in the history of the people of Israel involved the total destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem, and the subsequent expulsion of the Jews from the Holy Land:

Historical Highlights (and Literary Activity):


3760 BCE - the traditional date of the creation of the world;  Year 1 in the Orthodox Jewish calendar, based on chronological calculations from numerous genealogies in the Book of Genesis; see Genesis 1-11 for stories of the Creation of the World, Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel, Noah and the Flood, the Tower of Babel, etc.

Do these stories contain factual history (Orthodox/Fundamentalist view) or are they foundational myths conveying theological truths (Liberal/Progressive view)?

I) HEBREW / ISRAELITE PERIOD (Second Millennium to ca. 539 BCE):

ca. 3000 - ca. 1000 BCE - EGYPTIAN ERA - the Egyptians are overlords of the Levant, a.k.a. land of Canaan, later Israel and/or Palestine:

ca. 1800-1700? - Foundations of the People of Israel under the Patriarchs/Ancestors - God promises to give the Holy Land to the descendants of Abraham (see Genesis 12-50); the first four generations of patriarchs & matriarchs include the following main characters (see my chart of Abraham's family):
     1) ABRAHAM & Sarah (also her handmaid Hagar)
     2) Isaac & Rebekah (also Isaac's elder half-brother Ishmael, son of Hagar)
     3) Jacob = Israel (with two wives, Leah & Rachel, and two handmaids, Zilpah & Bilhah)
     4) Twelve Sons of Jacob = Twelve Tribes of Israel (Judah becomes the "Royal Tribe"; Levi the "Priestly Tribe"; Joseph; etc.)

ca. 1700-1300? - Israelites (a.k.a. Hebrews) in Egypt (since the time of Joseph, the "dreamer"); they were welcome at first, but later endure worsening conditions and slavery (see Genesis 46-50; Exodus 1-2)

ca. 1270? - MOSES and the Exodus - Plagues; Passover; Exodus from Egypt (possibly during reign of Pharoah Rameses II, 1279-1213); Torah/Covenant on Mount Sinai; Wandering in the Desert for 40 years (see Exodus; Leviticus; Numbers; Deuteronomy)

ca. 1200-1030 - Joshua and the Judges - the conquest of Promised Land led by Joshua; loose confederation of the tribes of Israel (see Joshua, Judges, Ruth; see HCSB map 3); military/political leaders called "Judges," incl. Othniel, Ehud, Shagmar, Deborah, Gideon, Abimelech, Tola, Yair, Jepthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Samson; rulers at end: Eli (priest) and Samuel (prophet).

ca. 1030-930 BCE - UNITED KINGDOM OF ISRAEL - the "Golden Age" of the Israelite Monarchy, as Egypt's power declines and before Assyria's empire rises

ca. 1030 - twelve tribes of Israel united more closely under a monarchy; first ruler is King Saul; continual war with Philistines (see 1 Samuel; also HCSB map 4)

ca. 1000 - conquest of the Jebusite city of Jerusalem by the army of King DAVID; Jerusalem becomes the capital of all Israel; David consolidates his rule and expands the kingdom; God promises that the House of David (his descendants) will rule over Israel forever (see 1 & 2 Samuel)

ca. 970 - Building of the first Temple of Jerusalem by King Solomon (i.e. Solomon's Temple); centralization of Jewish worship in Jerusalem; further expansion of land and influence (see 1 Kings 1-11)

ca. 930 - death of Solomon; struggles for the throne succession for several years; the kingdom soon divides into two parts:

922-587 BCE - DIVIDED MONARCHIES: ISRAEL & JUDAH  (see 1 & 2 Kings; 1 & 2 Chronicles; also HCSB maps 5-9), during the rise of the ASSYRIAN empire (9th-7th cent.) and later of the BABYLONIAN empire (6th cent.)

922-721 - Northern Kingdom, called "Kingdom of Israel"; ruled by several series of corrupt kings; much political intrigue and challenges by prophets, e.g. Elijah & Elisha (see a list of all Kings of Israel - offsite)

722 or 721 - fall of the Northern Kingdom and its capital city Samaria to the ASSYRIANS; deportation of most Israelites to places unknown; importation of foreigners into the territories of Northern Israel

922-587 - Southern Kingdom, called "Kingdom of Judah";  ruled continuously by descendants of David: some bad, some good; some early books of the HB written during these centuries, esp. some prophetic books and royal historical annals (see a list of Kings of Judah - offsite)

720's - religious reforms of King Hezekiah; building of Hezekiah's tunnel; successful resistance against Assyrian takeover
620's - religious reforms of King Josiah (reigned 640-609); writing or "discovery" of book of Deuteronomy

605 - Battle of Carchemish: BABYLONIANS (under King Nebuchadnezzar) defeat the Egyptians; territory of Judah becomes part of the Babylonian Empire
597 - first unsuccessful revolt of Judah (under King Jehoiakim) against Babylon; ruling elite of Judah exiled to Babylon; puppet king installed
587 - another unsuccessful revolt of Judah (under King Zedekiah) against Babylon; ends in Total Destruction of the City and Temple of Jerusalem by BABYLONIANS under King Nebuchadnezzar; many more people exiled

587-539 BCE - BABYLONIAN EXILE - most upper-class Jews (officials, priests, artisans) deported to Babylon; others flee to Egypt, etc.; much of the HB written, esp. major prophets; final compilation of the Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy) & the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua to 2 Kings) by Judean scribes living in exile.


539-332 BCE - PERSIAN ERA - some (not all!) exiled Jews return to Judea & Galilee; limited local autonomy under Persian overlords (see detailed chart)

539 - after the Babylonian empire is conquered by the PERSIANS, King Cyrus allows all deported peoples to return to their homelands; in particular, the Jews are encouraged to rebuild the city and temple of Jerusalem

ca. 520-515 - rebuilding of the Second Temple in Jerusalem under Zerubbabel; but not as nice or large as Solomon's Temple!
ca. 458/445 - more exiles return to Jerusalem under the leadership of Ezra & Nehemiah; religious and political reforms (see Ezra & Nehemiah)
other Jews remain living in various parts of the Middle East, sometimes encountering conflict with others (see e.g. Esther)

332-141 BCE - HELLENISTIC/GREEK ERA - conquest of the entire Persian Empire by a Macedonian general, Alexander the Great (HCSB map 10-11); establishment of Greek language, Hellenistic culture, religion, and government throughout the East; founding and/or reconstruction of many new Greek-style cities (e.g. anything named Alexandria, Antioch)

323 - Alexander dies while still very young; entire empire divided among four of his generals, who fight each other for control in the "Wars of the Diadochi"; eventually two dynasties control most of the East: the Ptolemies & the Seleucids (see detailed chart)

323-198 - Ptolemaic dynasty rulers in Egypt control Palestine (Judea, Samaria, etc.) - few historical records;

ca. 250 - Hebrew scriptures translated into Greek in Alexandria, Egypt; new writings added (LXX; the Septuagint Bible)

198-141 - Seleucid dynasty from Syria rules over Palestine; growing pressure on Jews to assimilate & accept Greek culture

167 - desecration of Jerusalem Temple by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, i.e. statues of Greek gods put there, sparking a revolt by pious rural Jews led by Mattathias (an old priest) and carried on after his death by his sons, especially Judas "Maccabeus" (167-61) - eldest son, nicknamed "the hammer"
164 - Maccabean revolt successful: most of Jerusalem retaken; "rededication" of the Jerusalem Temple (still celebrated by Jews in the Feast of Hanukkah!)
161-142 - Jonathan (another son of Mattathias), led the continued fight against the Seleucids to gain control gradually over more of Israel

141-63 BCE - MACCABEAN ERA / Hasmonean Dynasty - another short period of Jewish independence under various Maccabean/Hasmonean rulers (see detailed chart);  Monastery of Qumran founded by Essenes; Pharisees and Sadducees become prominent; Samaria & Idumea conquered by Jews

141-134 - Simon (last surviving son of Mattathias) gains total independence for Israel; given titles "Ethnarch" (ruler of the people) and "High Priest"; since he was not of the "Zadokite" line of high priests, some Jews ("the Essenes") dispute his high priestly authority, form a separatist movement with a monastery at Qumran, where many "Dead Sea Scrolls" were found in 1948.

134-67 - the Hasmonean Dynasty continues ruling Israel for several more generations:

- John Hyrcanus I (134-104) - expands Israel; conquers Samaritans & Idumeans, destroys city/temple of Samaria; "Pharisees" & "Sadducees" first appear as rival Jewish groups, with different interpretations of Jewish Laws
- Aristobulus I (104-103) - cruel leader; imprisons and/or kills his mother and several brothers; soon dies of illness
- Alexander Jannaeus (103-76) - surviving brother, who marries Aristobulus' widow Alexandra
- Alexandra (76-67) - rules as queen after her second husband dies; appoints her son Hyrcanus II as high priest
67-63 - Alexandra's sons Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II vie for power; each appeals for Roman help to become sole ruler

63 BCE to ca. 650 CE - ROMAN ERA of domination in Israel/Palestine (see chart of Rulers in Israel in the Roman Era)

63 BCE - Roman army under General Pompey takes over much of Middle East, incl. Israel (see HCSB, maps 12-13)

- Hyrcanus II (63-40) - member of the Hasmonean family; remains as high priest, but not as king
- Antipater (from Idumea) and sons Herod & Phasael - very influential politically & militarily, with Roman support
40-4 BCE - HEROD the Great; Roman Senate names him "King" over Judea, Idumea, Perea, Samaria, Galilee
40-37 - Herod fights to gain sole control over Israel; defeats & executes Antigonus II (who was high priest 40-37)

37-7 - Herod consolidates his power, executes scores of enemies, and begins massive building/rebuilding projects, including cites with Roman temples (esp. Caesarea Maritimae - huge artificial harbor; Sebaste - formerly Samaria), fortresses (Masada, Herodium, Hyrcania, Machaerus, etc.), and esp. rebuilds/expands the Jerusalem Temple

7-4 - near the end of his reign, Herod is paranoid about losing power, so has several sons and wives executed!

4 BCE - 66 CE - when Herod the Great dies, his kingdom is divided between three surviving sons & one sister (see chart of Herodian Dynasty):
4 BCE - 6 CE - Herod Archelaus rules as "Ethnarch" of Judea, Idumea, Samaria

6-66 CE - Judea, Idumea, Samaria under direct rule of Roman Procurators (e.g. Pontius Pilate), responsible to the Governors in Syria; various political/resistance movements form (Zealots, Sicarii, etc.), with some small-scale revolts

4 BCE - 33 CE - Herod Philip rules as "Tetrarch" of regions North-East of the Sea of Galilee

4 BCE - 39 CE - Herod Antipas rules as "Tetrarch" of Galilee and Perea

ca. 27-30 CE - preaching of John the Baptist and public ministry of Jesus, both mostly in Galilee and Perea
ca. 29/30 CE - arrest, crucifixion & death of Jesus, while Pontius Pilate (26-36 CE) is Procurator of Judea

37-44 CE - Herod Agrippa I (a grandson of Herod the Great) allowed by Romans to rule more of Palestine

50-70's - Herod Agrippa II rules parts of Palestine, esp. in Northeast

49-54 - "all Jews" (or only Jewish Christians?) expelled from Rome by "Edict of Claudius" (until his death)

66-74 CE - FIRST JEWISH REVOLT / WAR against ROME; begins in Galilee and Jerusalem (recorded in Josephus' Jewish War)

67-68 - Roman armies under General Vespasian retake Galilee, Samaria, Perea, and most of Judea; also destroy Qumran
68-70 - pause in war because Emperor Nero dies; 3 transitional emperors; then Vespasian himself becomes emperor
70 - Jerusalem captured by General Titus; whole city burned; destruction of the Second Temple by the ROMAN army
73/74 - Roman conquest of last Jewish holdouts in the desert fortress of Masada, overlooking the Dead Sea

III) RABBINIC PERIOD (ca. 70 CE - 6th Century):

Land of Palestine/Israel: domination by the ROMANS continues:

Jewish Life elsewhere:

IV) MEDIEVAL PERIOD (6th - 16th Centuries CE):

Land of Palestine/Israel:

Jewish Life elsewhere:

V) EARLY MODERN & MODERN PERIODS (17th - 21st Centuries CE):

Jewish Life outside of Palestine/Israel:

Within the Land of Palestine/Israel:


Related Resources on the Web:

Electronic New Testament Educational Resources
Biblical Resources Page

Return to the HOME PAGE of Felix Just, S.J.
This page was last updated on December 15, 2007
Copyright © 1999--2007