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Manual for Faculty
Unit 1: A People Is Born
(Thirteenth Century B.C. to Sixth Century B.C.)
Introduction Teaching This Unit Directions to Students Bookmarks
Program Overview

The first show opens with a description of contemporary Jewry and then asks when and where this people and their glorious civilization began.

For the answer, we travel back to ancient times, to the second millennium B.C., and note that the Near Eastern world was divided among three cultures: Egyptian, Canaanite, and Mesopotamian. Mesopotamian culture is observed through its buildings, cuneiform writings, and its abundant artifacts. In this civilization, we recognize items familiar from the Bible such as the creation myth, the flood story, and certain laws.

In Egypt, we not only glimpse the ruins of one ancient culture but also view where the Exodus from Egypt might have occurred. We follow the Israelites who originated in Mesopotamia, sojourned in Egypt, and left with the cultural baggage of two civilizations. The Israelites incubated a new idea, that one God alone controlled the world. This concept was given its full expression in the biblical story of the revelation at Mount Sinai.

The Israelites, after leaving Egypt, crossed the Sinai desert, and took control of Canaan through military conquest and gradual infiltration. There they probably joined other Israelite tribes who had not been with them in Egypt. They worshipped at a portable shrine that contained a record of the covenant they had made with their God. They were led by "judges," who responded to the external threats by rallying a few of the tribes to fight off their common enemies.

Tired of temporary rulers, the people demanded that the prophet Samuel give them a king; grudgingly he acceded to their wishes. Saul was chosen, but he and his children died in a battle with the Philistines, Israel's most ferocious enemy. Emerging as the next king, David subdued the Philistines and other peoples, and greatly expanded the Israelite kingdom. His son Solomon, noted in the Bible for his wisdom, maintained David's kingdom and built a beautiful royal palace and a permanent temple in Jerusalem where the Israelites could worship.

But Solomon antagonized the people by overtaxing them and drafting them as laborers for his building projects. The country split in two: ten northern tribes formed the kingdom of Israel, while two southern tribes joined to make the kingdom of Judah.

Throughout the following years, Israelite prophets exhorted all the Israelites to be just and merciful, warning them against the idolatrous ways of the surrounding nations. Although it had an unstable government, the northern kingdom enjoyed periods of prosperity. Eventually, it was overwhelmed by a new power in the Near East: the kingdom of Assyria. The Assyrians crushed Israel's capital, Samaria, and the kingdom fell in 722 B.C.

In the south, the kingdom of Judah continued under the strong leadership of King Hezekiah, but it too was destroyed by another new power -- Babylonia. The conquerors exiled many of the Israelites, transporting them to Babylon. Fortified by the messages of their prophets, the exiles continued their traditions on foreign soil.

Learning Objectives
  • Determine where and when Israelite history begins.
  • Learn about the origins of the ancient Israelites and what they derived from the Near Eastern culture.
  • Understand the development of the children of Israel through their formative experiences in Egypt and during their Exodus from the country.
  • Trace the conquest and settlement of Canaan against the background of the beginnings of the Iron Age.
  • Appreciate the nature of the tribal system and the "judges" who were chosen to lead it.
  • Chart the evolution of a monarchic-urban society in ancient Israel.
  • Evaluate the achievement of the United Monarchy in the setting of its time.
  • Correlate the history of the Divided Monarchy with the diplomatic, political, and military developments in the Near East.
  • Trace the effect of the downfall of Israel and Judah on the political and ideological outlook of the Israelites.
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