Israel: kingdom and conquests

Some 300 hundred years after the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites (the nation of Israel) decided that they wanted to be ruled by a King.  The first of these was King Saul. Later on the throne was seized by a shepherd boy who had risen through society – David.

In King David, Israel had its high point.  He captured the city of Jerusalem and made it his capital.  It is to David and his descendants that Jews look for an anointed king. Christians believe that Jesus was a descendant of David.

David’s son, Solomon succeeded him as king and was renowned for his wisdom.  He built the temple in Jerusalem in 957BC (it took 7 years to build) and it was here that the Ark of the Covenant is supposed to have been kept.  The Ark held the tablets of stone containing the 10 Commandments given to Moses in the desert. It was placed in the very centre of the temple, in what was known as the Holy of Holies.  It was believed that God’s presence lived in the Holy of Holies. Only the High Priest was allowed in here and only on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur.

Solomon’s temple was a place of pilgrimage and was the site of animal sacrifice for the Jews.  It survived for 400 years before the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 597BC.  Eleven years later, they returned and destroyed the temple. They also took many of the Israelites away from their homeland.

It was the time between the Exodus and the reigns of King David and King Solomon that the belief in one God developed fully.  Around the time of Moses, the Jews believed in their God as supreme, but they accepted the existence of other gods and even worshipped some of them.  However, the prophet Jeremiah said that the conquest of the Israelites by the Babylonians was because God was displeased with this polytheistic belief.

Soon after Jeremiah’s prophecy, the King had all the idols in the temple destroyed.  By the 7th century BC, the Jews were truly monotheistic. They saw themselves as God’s nation, his chosen people.  Consequently, they saw Israel as their holy land, given to them by God.  The concept of diaspora (the scattering; Jews not in Israel) emerges from this exile.

A much smaller temple was rebuilt on the same site on the return from exile in Babylon.   This was eventually expanded upon by King Herod in the 1st century BC

There was a brief period of self-rule for Israel between 142BC and 63BC before they were conquered by the Romans.  Despite frequent Jewish uprisings and revolts, the Romans generally respected and tolerated Jewish traditions and beliefs.  King Herod the Great ruled this area with the blessing of the Romans and starting around 38BC, he began to rebuild the temple.  It became a building famous around the world at the time.

A model of King Herod’s temple

The temple was finished in AD64. However two years later, Jewish rebels called Zealots seized Jerusalem from the Romans.  The Romans fought back and in AD70 the temple was burned to the ground. Only one wall remains to this day – known as the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall.

The Western Wall