Israel and Judah
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Israel and Judah

January 2017 - After the death of Solomon, however, two of his sons (according to the Bible) divided the kingdom of Israel between them. Certainly Israel was divided into two different kingdoms around 900 BC. Israel was in the north, and Judah was in the south. This was the time of the prophet Elijah.

You might think that the Jews would be conquered by foreigners if they split themselves up in this way so that each half was weaker than they would have been together. But at this time most of West Asia was ruled by the Assyrians, and the Assyrians were satisfied to get tribute from the Jews, without really conquering them. On the other side of Israel, Egypt was being ruled by the Saites, from Ethiopia in the south, who were not so interested in conquering in the north.

The Bible doesn't talk too much about the Assyrians, but it does mention (in the second book of Kings) an Assyrian king who gave 6000 gold pieces to have his general cured of leprosy.

carving of captured prisoners on a wagon
Assyrian prisoners

But in 722 BC, the Assyrians did attack. They conquered the northern Jewish kingdom, Israel. The Assyrians forced the Jewish people who lived in Israel to move to other parts of the Assyrian Empire, in small groups, to keep them from revolting. Nobody knows exactly what happened to these people, but probably they gradually gave up being Jewish and married people in the towns where they ended up, in what is now Syria and Iraq. The Assyrian king, Shalmaneser V, moved a lot of Assyrian people into Israel, where they gradually became more and more like Jewish people. The Bible calls them the Samaritans.

Meanwhile, the kingdom of Judah, further south, kept on being independent until the 600s BC, when there was a lot of fighting between the Egyptians and the Babylonians over who would control the Eastern Mediterranean. In the end Judah became part of the Babylonian Empire.

Learn by doing: More on the Jews (Babylonian Captivity)
Main Judaism page

Bibliography and further reading about Jewish history:

King David and King Solomon
Babylonian Captivity
Jews under the Persians
Jews under the Maccabees
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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