World History: Journey Across Time
The Ancient Israelites
The Israelites practiced monotheism, or the belief in one God. Although the Israelite population was small, their religion, today known as Judaism, influenced Christianity and Islam.
The 12 tribes of Israel lived in Canaan for about 100 years. A drought forced them into Egypt. The Egyptian pharaoh enslaved the Israelites to build pyramids. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. According to the Bible, Moses received the moral laws known as the Torah from God. Included in the Torah are the Ten Commandments. The Israelites believed they had a covenant with God, promising to return them to Canaan if they followed his laws.
The Israelites had to fight the Canaanites to return to their homeland. They won control over the hilly region in central Canaan, and the Canaanites controlled the coastal areas. The Israelites built walls around their towns to protect themselves.
The 12 tribes of Israel often quarreled, so they asked a prophet to choose a king to unite them against their enemies. Under David and Solomon, Israel became a great empire with Jerusalem as its capital. After Solomon died, the 12 tribes split into two kingdoms: Israel and Judah.
Under Roman rule, the Jews splintered into different groups, including the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. The Jews revolted time and again against the Romans. Many Jews were waiting for a messiah. In A.D. 132, the Romans forbade the Jews to live in or visit Jerusalem. They renamed Judah, calling it Palestine in honor of the Philistines the Israelites had conquered centuries before. For more than 2,000 years, the Jews endured exile and persecution for their religious beliefs. Many Jews lived outside of Palestine, while others settled in Asia and Europe. Leaders called rabbis kept the study of the Torah alive. After World War II, Palestine was divided into a Jewish nation called Israel.