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Ancient Israel
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ancient israel
Israel is universally known as the chosen people of God as explained in the Bible specifically the Old Testament, which is known as the Hebrew Bible. The Old Testament itself is solely a historical description of the civilization, traditions, events, conquests and prophecies related to the nation of Israel. This description begins with the calling of Abraham in Genesis (circa 1738 BCE) to the reformation of the nation of Israel with a promise of further liberation through the prophecies of Malachi (circa). Outside of the Bible not much is known, heard or seen of the nation of Israel.

However, through the careful research of theological, anthropological and archeological scholars (and in some cases DNA testing) many details have been drawn for the culture, location and influence of the nation that produced well-known men such as Moses, King David and Ezra. Although there is question as to the actual existence and whereabouts of the nation of Israel today their moral code, the Torah (Hebrew for law or instructions), which includes the renowned Ten Commandments is the basis of the world's three major religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The covenant, or promise, that God made with the nation of Israel and the portion of land designated to them in the Middle East, as described in the Bible, has caused many groups of people to claim to be this nation and has given rise to much conflict in the Middle East and beyond. With or without Israel being in its proper place and position the world has always looked towards Israel's customs and culture for social and economical balance. We are first introduced to the name "Israel" in the Thirty-Second (32nd) chapter of the book of Genesis. Verses 25-29 illustrate a scene where Jacob, who is the progenitor of the nation of Israel, wrestles with an angel of God. As a result of Jacob prevailing in this struggle he is blessed. "And he said, 'No longer will it be said that your name is Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.'" The name "Israel", properly pronounced "Yisrael" in Hebrew, itself means "He will strive with God" from the conjugation of the Hebrew words "sarah", meaning to struggle, persist or persevere, and the word "El", meaning God. From thence began the legacy of Israel who had twelve sons becoming the twelve tribes of Israel, their redemption from slavery in Egypt and deliverance into the Promised Land formerly known as Canaan and now called Israel or Palestine.

During Jacob's lifetime, he and his family migrated into Egypt due to a famine which overspread the known world. This famine allowed Egypt to become a dominant world power because of the dependence other nations had for it. As told in Genesis, Egypt's sustenance during the famine was afforded by Joseph, Israel's 11th son. Joseph was sold into Egypt by nine of his brothers, eventually became a prisoner in Egypt, released from prison to interpret a dream for Pharaoh and ascended to second-in-command in Egypt because his interpretation delivered Egypt from the looming famine. A foreigner turned prisoner ascending to such power within the Egyptian society seems strange but certain occurrences within Egypt made allowance for Joseph to gain acceptance in the sight of Pharaoh. Egypt, which was founded as a Hamite nation by the name Mitzrayim (who was a son of Ham) was overthrown by the Hyksos (Shepherd Kings), a primarily Semitic group of people. Their initial migration into Egypt came at a time when there was a famine in the Earth and they eventually dominated around 1720 BCE. This temporary control of Egypt by the Hyksos allowed their king, then Pharaoh of Egypt, to empathize with Joseph who was also a Semite. These circumstances also made allowance for Jacob and his remaining sons to sojourn in the best part of Egypt, Goshen, which had adequate land for their herds. This separation was also caused because "all shepherds are an abomination to Egyptians." This allowed Jacob and his children to live in seclusion, grow into a large nation and perform their duties and worship of God exclusive of Egyptian scrutiny and intervention. The death of Jacob (circa 1506 BCE) marked the end of the Patriarchal Period of Israel. However, this was only the beginning for the nation that would continue to "struggle with God and with man" in an attempt to assert themselves as the holy nation of God.

Before all of this could have taken place a significant man, named Abraham, stepped unto the scene. This marks the beginning of what is called by Judaists the Patriarchal Period of Israel. It continues with Abraham's son, Isaac, and concludes with Abraham's grandson, Jacob (Israel). This period is generally believed to have taken place between 2000 and 1600 BCE but closer study points to Abraham's birth in 1813 BCE and Jacob's death in 1506 BCE. We are first introduced to Abraham (as Abram) in the twelfth (12th) chapter of Genesis. Abraham is said to have come from Ur of the Chaldeans, migrated to Haran with his father Terah, and finally into the land of Canaan with his wife Sarah (then Sarai), his nephew Lot and his servants at the command of God at the age of seventy-five (75). Ur of the Chaldeans was a city in Sumer belonging to a broader area commonly known as Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia is agreed to be the beginning (or cradle) of civilization (which contains Babylon and Nineveh) and is located within the Fertile Crescent in modern-day Iraq. The title "Fertile Crescent" is given to this area because of its flourishing land which is well-watered by the rivers Euphrates and Tigris. Abraham's journey shows him traveling from Ur along the Fertile Crescent into Canaan (as opposed to a direct route across the Arabian Desert which would have been more difficult). Abraham's lineage can be traced from Shem (one of Noah's sons) as such: Shem, Arpachchad, Shelah, Eber, Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, Terah, Abraham. (This lineage is important in understanding of which group of people and what area(s) the nation Israel derived from. Of the three sons of Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth, all of the nations of the earth were derived. Shem's descendants formed the Asiatic nations, Ham's sons formed the African nations and Japheth's sons formed the European nations. Many sources agree with this point but the proof is beyond the scope of this document). Abraham's calling and his observance of God was a stark contrast to what other nations around him in that time and along his travels worshipped their gods. He worshipped "one" unseen and intangible God (Creator) without idolatry and barbaric practices. His worship was passed on to his son Isaac and unto his grandson Jacob in what they called a covenant with God.

"And a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph." During their stay in Egypt a new regime took over overthrowing the Hyksos and expelling them from Egypt around 1580 BCE. This new regime in expelling the Hyksos sought any means necessary to prevent foreign rule over their nation again. This even meant the genocide of the very people who were responsible for Egypt's status as a world power. Harsh slavery was inflicted upon the nation of Israel who dwelt in Egypt and when that did not work to the liking of the Egyptians an extermination of all newborn Israelite males was instituted. During this time a man named Moses was born and according to the Bible it was him whom God used to deliver the nation of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt and fulfill the covenant He made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to give to their children the land which was promised. This began the Mosaic Period of Israel (circa 1393) which is arguably the most important period for the nation of Israel. However, without the Patriarchal Period none of this would have taken place. Moses' role however is very important in the succession of Israel as a nation and in bringing forth the ideals of the Torah, this brought about the notion of Moses being the Lawgiver. The Torah is the rule of law which the nation of Israel lived by and which later became the basis of Judaism and its offshoots Christianity and Islam. As the Bible tells it, Moses was born during the time a decree was made by the Pharaoh of Egypt to slay all newborn Israelite males however, Moses' mother hid him in an ark which they sent it down the Nile river where it fell into the hands of Pharaoh's daughter. Pharaoh's daughter adopted Moses and had his mother nurse him. This caused Moses' to grow up in the royal house of Egypt, studying in their schools, while knowing his true heritage. At age 40 Moses fled from Egypt because they sought to punish him for slaying an Egyptian who was beating an Israelite. He returned to Egypt at age 80 at the command of God who appeared to him and told him to go to Egypt because He would cause Pharaoh to release the nation of Israel. After God inflicted Egypt with ten plagues, including the slaying of all firstborn males (man and beast) in Egypt on the infamous "Passover" night, the nation of Israel was released from their bondage in Egypt (circa 1313 BCE.). After deliverance at the Red Sea (or historically the sea of reeds) the children of Israel were gathered together at Mount Sinai to be given the Law of God and received the Ten Commandments from God Himself. The remaining commandments of the Torah were given to Moses by God after a 40 day and 40 night stay on Mount Sinai and given to the nation of Israel by Moses. At this point the covenant of God with the nation of Israel was consummated causing Moses to be a pivotal figure in the advancement of the nation of Israel. After a 40 year wandering in the wilderness because of the nation of Israel's disobedience to God Moses died marking the end of the Mosaic Period (circa 1273 BCE).

Israel enjoyed a rise in society during the Period of the Judges (circa 1200-1000 BCE). This started with the conquests of Joshua and continued with the deliverance from the oppression of surrounding nations by the hand of judges such as Samson and Jepthah. It concluded with Samuel who was also the beginning of a line of prophets who were sent by God to warn of eminent danger for disobedience. Israel's rise in society continued within the Monarchial Period (circa 1000-587 BCE) through the likes of Kings Saul, David and Solomon. A decline proceeded shortly after the reign of King Solomon (circa 931 BCE) with the secession of the Northern Kingdom from Judah, Benjamin and Levi and with the influence of surrounding nations upon Israel causing them to stray from God. The decline continued until the Assyrian exile of the Northern Kingdom around 721 BCE and finally with the Babylonian exile of Judah and the destruction of the Temple around 587 BCE.

Israel enjoyed a brief period of Reformation after the Babylonian exile during the Persian Empire's rule with the edict of then king of Persia, Cyrus, who allowed those of the nation of Israel living in exile to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. This was completed between 520 and 515 BCE. Later on, the political affairs of the nation were headed by Nehemiah while the spiritual and social affairs were directed by Ezra. The two together reformed the social and spiritual structure of Israel including the removal of foreign wives and children from their midst and the sanctification of the Sabbath day. It was this Ezra who is responsible for the creation of the synagogue and the early canonization of the Torah as the Pentateuch (Five Books of Moses).

The Reformation Period of Israel ended around 400 BCE and Israel was not able to recover and therefore went through further exile by other nations (such as Greece followed by Rome) causing their culture and identity to be lost. This culture however has been retained within the pages of the Bible and also discovered by scholars who study the Bible and sequential texts as well as those excavating the land of Israel. Israel's culture has also evolved into what is known today as Judaism and has taken many forms as it spread through different nations and culture often assimilating and adapting to its regions of practice.

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