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Map of CanaanThe history of Palestine is one of immense richness; it was host to numerous prophets over the centuries and the home of many great civilisations. Palestine's location at the centre of various routes linking three continents made it the melting pot for many religious and cultural influences, from Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor.

When exactly, Palestine was first inhabited, is yet to unfold but archaeological discoveries found south of the Lake of Tabariyya have dated human remains to as far back as 600,000 B.C.! One of the earliest communities to be unearthed was at ancient Jericho, nestled in the Jordan river valley, comprising several hundred villagers forming part of what is known as Natufian culture (roughly 10,500-8500 B.C.E.). Unfortunately not much is known of Palestine during such epochs so we begin our journey from a land once known as Canaan....

Land of Canaan, 2000 B.C.E.--

Even before 3000 B.C.E., West Semitic tribal groups speaking variations of the Canaanite tongue inhabited much of what is now the modern Middle East. Many settled in the Syria-Canaan lands of Ancient Palestine. Early Mesopotamian documents refer to both nomadic shepherds and to traders. One such group, the Habiru {or Hapiru} migrated into Palestine perhaps as early as 2000 B.C.E. from northern Mesopotamia; later elements from among them formed the ancient Hebrews. As they entered Ancient Palestine, the Phoenicians in the north and the Philistines in the south occupied definite areas. "Phoenicia" is the Greek translation of "Canaan,"--the land of purple merchants," referring perhaps to the dye they used to colour cloth. Indeed, it is from the time of Canaan that Bethlehem is believed to have derived its name, Bethlehem - Beit Lahem in Arabic ("The house of Lahman - a Canaanite God").

The Canaanites, were a Semitic people speaking a language remarkably close to Hebrew. They were farmers, some were nomads, but they were also civilized. They used the great Mesopotamian cities as their model and had built modest imitations of them. They had also learned military technology and tactics from the Mesopotamians, as well as law. Thus when the Hebrews arrived at Canaan, they began the long, painful, and disappointing process of settling the land, but being uncivilized, tribal, and nomadic, they faced a formidable enemy. Even the accounts of this period in the Hebrew bible, the books of Joshua and Judges paint a pretty dreary picture of the occupation. They are eventually driven from the coastal plains and forced to settle in the central hill country and a few places in the Jordan River valley. They also faced another looming enemy, the Philistines, who overwhelmed everyone in their path. They had chariots and iron weapons and few could stand against these new technologies.

Thus it was that the Hebrews found themselves living in the worst areas of Canaan, spread thinly across the entire region, with the balance of power constantly shifting as local kingdoms would grab and then lose territory, finding themselves first under one and then another master.

The Monarchy, 1020 - 920 B.C.

Reign of Saul, 1020-1000 BC
After two hundred years of only marginal success in occupying and holding lands in Palestine, the Hebrews, who were initially a loosely coordinated series of tribes linked by the Ark of the Covenant, united for a century under a series of powerful kings, beginning with Saul, a farmer from the tribe of Benjamin. Saul's goal was to retake territory lost to the Philistines. He is eventually succeeded by David of Bethlehem (Prophet Daud, p.b.u.h.) who continued Saul's consolidation and established his capital at Jerusalem.

Reign of David, 1000-961 BC
Model of the City of DavidProphet David has been etched in time for his famous defeat of the Philistines' Goliath. The Philistines had established an independent state along the southern coast inflicting relentless damage on the Hebrews through their superior military organization and iron weapons. After centuries of losing conflict, the Hebrews finally defeat the Philistines unambiguously under the brilliant military leadership of David. David was a raw youth at the time with no arms or armour. He was not even in the Israelite camp, and the gian Goliath mocked him. When Saul offered his own armour and arms to David he declined for his shepherd's sling and staff were well tried implements. Using five smooth pebbles he knocked down Goliath and then used his own sword to slay him. There was consternation in the Philistine army: they broke and fled, and were pursued and cut to pieces. (Source: Ali, Yusuf commentary on the Quran) His military campaigns transform the new Hebrew kingdom into a Hebrew empire.

Reign of Solomon, 961-922 BC
"To David We gave Solomon (for a son), how excellent in Our service! Ever did he turn (to Us)" <Qur'an Sad 38:30> Peace and prosperity continued under David's son and successor, Solomon. It is was this third and final king of a united Hebrew state that turned the Hebrew monarchy into something comparable to the opulent monarchies of the Middle East and Egypt. Solomon's reign was a peaceful one. He did not expand his territory any further; rather he built alliances with surrounding countries and developed trade. Of all of Solomon's accomplishments, the building of the temple and the palace were significant. They were milestones for the Hebrews who felt like they were finally becoming a nation on the scale of other nations. It is estimated 80,000 men worked for seven years on the temple and thirteen years on the palace. Solomon exported wheat and oil in exchange for the lumber and gold required for these projects. But at his death the country was divided: the north remained Israel and the south became Judah. The great empire of David and Solomon was no more and never to return; in its place were two mighty kingdoms which lost all the territory of David's once proud empire within one hundred years of Solomon's passing.

The Two KingdomsThe Two Kingdoms, 920 - 597 B.C.

When Solomon died, his kingdom split in two: in the north, Israel, and in the south, Judah. The Israelites formed their capital in the city of Samaria, and the Judeans kept their capital in Jerusalem. These kingdoms remained separate states for over two hundred years. The Hebrew empire soon collapses; Moab soon successfully revolts against Judah, and Ammon successfully secedes from Israel. Within a century of Solomon's death, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah are tiny little states. Located directly between the Mesopotamian kingdoms in the northeast and the powerful state of Egypt in the southwest, Israel and Judah were of the utmost commercial and military importance to all these warring powers. Being small and weak was a liability, and Israel was the first to learn this lesson.

"When the first of Our warnings came to pass, We sent against you Our servants given to terrible warfare: they entered the very inmost parts of your homes; and it was a warning (completely) fulfilled" < Qur'an Bani Israel 17:5>

The Conquest of Israel
A weakened and divided country could not sustain its independence indefinitely; consequently, Israel fell to Assyria in about 722 B.C. and the Babylonians ultimately conquered Judah in 586 BC. The Assyrians were a Semitic people living in the northern reaches of Mesopotamia; they were aggressive and effective; the history of their dominance over the Middle East is a history of constant warfare. In order to assure that conquered territories would remain pacified, the Assyrians would force many of the native inhabitants to relocate to other parts of their empire. They almost always chose the upper and more powerful classes, for they had no reason to fear the general mass of a population. They would then send Assyrians to relocate in the conquered territory. When they conquered Israel, the Assyrians did not settle the Israelites in one place, but scattered them in small populations all over the Middle East. When the Babylonians later conquered Judah, they, too, relocate a massive amount of the population.

The Conquest of Judah
Judah, barely escaped the Assyrian menace, but would eventually be conquered by the Chaldeans or "New Babylonians" about a century later. In 701, the Assyrian Sennacherib gained territory from Judah, and the Jews would have suffered the same fate as the Israelites, but by 625 BC, the Babylonians, under Nabopolassar, would reassert control over Mesopotamia, and the Jewish king Josiah aggressively sought to extend his territory in the power vacuum that resulted. But Judah soon fell victim to the power struggles between Assyrians, Babylonians, and Egyptians. When Josiah's son, Jehoahaz, became king, the king of Egypt, Necho (put into power by the Assyrians), rushed into Judah and deposed him, and Judah became a tribute state of Egypt. When the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians in 605 BC, then Judah became a tribute state to Babylon. But when the Babylonians suffered a defeat in 601 BC, the king of Judah, Jehoiakim, defected to the Egyptians. So the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, raised an expedition to punish Judah in 597 BC. The new king of Judah, Jehoiachin, handed the city of Jerusalem over to Nebuchadnezzar, who then appointed a new king over Judah, Zedekiah. In line with Mesopotamian practice, Nebuchadnezzar deported around 10,000 Jews to his capital in Babylon; all the deportees were drawn from professionals, the wealthy, and craftsmen. Ordinary people were allowed to stay in Judah. This deportation was the beginning of the Exile.

The story should have ended there. However, Zedekiah defected from the Babylonians one more time. Nebuchadnezzar responded with another expedition in 588 and conquered Jerusalem in 586. Nebuchadnezzar caught Zedekiah and forced him to watch the murder of his sons; then he blinded him and deported him to Babylon and again, Nebuchadnezzr deported the prominent citizens. Thus in 586 BC, Judah itself ceased to be an independent kingdom.

(Sources: © Richard Hooker, World Civilisations; Richard Stockton College;;




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