Facts About the Hebrews
You won’t ever meet a Phoenician or a Sumerian or an Akkadian. The ancient nations where those people lived have disappeared. Of all the ancient people who lived in the Fertile Crescent, only the Hebrews have kept their identity as a people. Today they are known as Jews, after the Kingdom of Judah, where they lived long ago.
We know about the customs and beliefs of the Hebrews from what is written in the Bible. The Bible also contains great poetry and stories as well as religious teachings that have influenced the other religions of the world.
Before the Hebrews, the people of the Fertile Crescent worshiped many gods. The Hebrews accepted the idea of a belief in one God. This is called monotheism. According to the Bible, the story of the Hebrews begins with a man named Abraham. He lived in Ur, part of Mesopotamia, and was a nomad who moved his flocks from place to place in search of pasture land.
The Bible tells that God appeared to Abraham and made a covenant with him, God promised to give Abraham and his descendants a land of their own if they would worship Him. Abraham took his family west to the eastern Mediterranean seacoast. They settled in the land of Canaan which was ‘flowing with milk and honey.’
After several centuries a famine came to Canaan. The Hebrews followed Jacob’s son Joseph to Egypt. There the Hebrews remained for many generations. The Bible tells us that after sometime the Hebrews were enslaved by the pharaoh in Egypt. Another Hebrew leader, Moses, led them out from Egypt and the departure is known as the Exodus.
After wandering in the desert for 40 years,, the Hebrews again settled in Canaan. They worshiped in a tent called the Tabernacle. Here was kept the Ark of the Covenant, a chest containing the actual tablets of the Ten Commandments.
By this time the Hebrews had divided into 12 tribes. Each tribe was descended from one of the sons of Jacob. Enemies were raiding the Hebrew villages and destroying their crops. They decided that they would be stronger if the unite under a king.
King David, the Hebrews greatest military leader, conquered the land that stretched from Mesopotamia to Egypt. After David captured Jerusalem, he made it the capital of his kingdom. His son Solomon built Jerusalem into a great city. He started work on a magnificent temple. The temple was a permanent home for the Ark of the Covenant. It showed that the Hebrews had finally become the strong nation that God had promised.
Soon after Solomon’s death, the 12 tribes divided into two kingdoms. Ten tribes formed the Kingdom of Israel in the north, with a new capital at Samaria. Jerusalem remained the capital of the Kingdom of Judah in the south. Assyrians captured Samaria and drove the people of Israel into distant parts of the Assyrian empire.
Later, the Babylonians captured Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. The people of Judah were enslaved and sent to Babylon. The Babylonian captivity lasted for 70 years. When the Persians conquered Babylon, the people of Judah were allowed to return to their kingdom. They rebuilt the temple.
After the return to Judah, Hebrew scholars wrote down the first five books of the Bible. These books are also called the Torah, which means “law.” The Torah was based on teachings that had been passed on orally since the time of Moses.
The Kingdom of Judah survived for another four centuries. In 63 BC, the Roman Empire conquered it. About 100 years later, the Jews rebelled. But Roman power was too great. To punish the Jews, the Romans destroyed the temple and exiled the Jews. This began the Diaspora, or dispersal, when Jews lived in many other parts of the world.
Throughout those 2,000 years, the Jews have continued to follow the laws and traditions of their ancestors. Despite persecution and attempts to force them to abandon their religion, they have kept the ancient covenant that God made with Abraham.