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Israel and Judah Overrun

The Old Testament describes King David as taxing his subjects and forcing them to labor for his kingdom, and it describes some of his subjects as having rebelled, led by his son, Absalom. The Second Book of Samuel describes a messenger reporting to David that the "hearts of the men of Israel" are with Absalom. David crushed the rebellion and with it the life of Absalom. (2 Samuel 15:13)

After David's death, two other sons vied with each other to succeed him. Monarchical succession was again a bloody business. When Solomon emerged as the victor he had his rival, Adonijah, executed on the pretext that Adonijah had demanded a woman from David's harem — or so the story goes.

Solomon died of natural causes around the age of 80, his reign said to have ended in 931 BCE. His son and successor, Rehoboam, confronted the people of Israel and the people said to Rehoboam: "Lighten the heavy burden which your father put upon us and we will serve you." Rehoboam responded: "Whereas my father loaded you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions. (1 Kings 12:11)

There was more rebellion. What had been Solomon's empire split in two. The new rebellion's leader, Jeroboam, took power in the north: Samaria, to be known also as Israel. The area to the south, which included the town of Jerusalem, was to be known as Judah. The south would be described as consisting of the Benjamin and Judah tribes. The north, with questionable accuracy or myth, would be described as consisting of ten tribes, among them the Asher, Dan, and Ephraim.

In Israel, the seventh king after Jeroboam, ruling from 885 to 850, was Ahab. He took as his queen the daughter of the king of Tyre – a Phoenician city and small empire on the coast of what today is Lebanon. Like King David more than a century before, Ahab worshiped a god or gods other than Jehovah (Yahweh), a worship described as common among the wealthy and cosmopolitan elite in Israel. There too were some angry Jehovah worshipers led by Elijah, and they went on a rampage and angered Jezebel by killing her priests of Ba'al worship. Elijah fled into the wilderness.

King Ahab had another concern. In Mesopotamia, the Semitic kingdom of Assyria was a threat. Assyria's warrior nobles yearned for glory and plunder. King Ahab made a defensive alliance with Tyre and the Aramaean kingdom of Aram-Damascus. In 853 they fought the Assyrians at Qarqar, in what today is northwestern Syria. According to Wikipedia, the alliance had from 53,000 to 63,000 infantrymen, 2,000 cavalry and 1,000 chariots. The Assyrians had an army of 35,000 including 12,000 cavalry and 1,200 chariots. The alliance won. Danger from the Assyrians was averted.

Actually, the danger for Samaria was only postponed. As important as it was, the alliance fell apart and a new king in Aram-Damascus invaded Ahab's Samaria and was defeated.

Samaria fought another war east of the Jordan River, and in that war Ahab was struck by an arrow and died. One of Ahab's generals, Jehu, wished to succeed him. He is described in the Old Testament as enlisting the support of what was left of Elijah's Jehovah movement. They murdered more priests of Ba'al, burned the temple of Ba'al worship and converted it to a latrine. They murdered the remaining members of the Ahab family, including Jezebel, who is said to have been thrown from a window, run over by Jehu's chariot and left to be torn apart by dogs. And Jehu murdered others he saw as possible rivals.

It worked out well for Jehu. He became king in 842 or 841 and ruled for something like 27 years, during which he lost interest in Jehovah worship and began worshiping other gods, as expressed in the Second Book of Kings 10:31-32.

The Assyrians overrun the Israel and Judah

Decades passed, and by the mid-700s the Assyrians were expanding again. They had a greater army that was well-trained, with iron weapons, siege machines, and archers on horseback who could move fast across hilly terrain. Assyria's ruler, Tiglath-pileser, extended his rule across Syria. He destroyed cities, robbed and often deported entire populations, resettling them elsewhere in order to end their consciousness as a nation. In 733 his army conquered Gilead and Galilee. Intimidated, Israel began paying Tiglath-pileser tribute (taxes). A new ruler in Israel, Hoshea (from 732 to 723), rebelled against paying tribute and sent messengers to Egypt, hoping for an alliance. The kings of Tyre and Sidon were also seeking an alliance with Egypt. But it was too late. Assyria attacked, and some in Israel fled before the invaders. For three years the Assyrians besieged Israel's capital city: Samaria. In 721 Samaria fell. The Assyrians took 27,000 Israelites away as slaves. Israel as a nation-state was no more. Israel's so-called Ten Tribes scattered and disappeared.

A view among Jehovah worshippers in Judah was that the wicked people of Israel had brought calamity upon themselves. In the Old Testament a nobleman from Jerusalem, Isaiah, is described as claiming that the Assyrians were agents of Jehovah, punishing the Israelites collectively for their sins. Isaiah was opposed to an alliance with Egypt, believing that what mattered above all else was not military strength but to "seek" the Lord Jehovah. Isaiah is described as leaving his fellow Jehovah worshipers with hope of a better time to come. He wrote of a new world when the wolf would lie down with the lamb, when men would beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks and nations would not lift up swords against other nations, and people would learn of war no more.

The Assyrians didn't stop at the Israel-Judah border. Around the year 701 they pushed beyond to Jerusalem's walls. They threatened to destroy the city unless they were paid a ransom. The ransom was paid and the city was spared. Judah was overrun and Judah became a vassal state.

The Assyrians were creating what historians were to call the Neo-Assyrian Empire. In the year 671 they crossed the Sinai Desert and overran Egypt. Assyria's empire was to encompass a large swath across the Middle East, including Asia Minor, the Assyrians believing that they were enjoying the blessing of their god Assur. The Assyrians were creating the kind of peace that Hammurabi had created in Mesopotamia. They build roads, which helped West Asia became more integrated economically and helped trade and industry to flourish. Assyria and its empire prospered.

Judah's king, Manasseh (reigned c. 686–42 according to Britannica) was a loyal vassal to the Assyria's emperor and required to provide materials for Assyria's building projects. Manasseh gave his support to the god Assur, whose image he placed at the entrance to the temple that Solomon is said to have built for Jehovah. Manasseh allowed pagan priests into the "House of the Lord." The Old Testament describes Manasseh as erecting altars for Ba'al worship, practicing witchcraft, using divination and mediums and as having "seduced" the people of Judah "to do evil." (2 Kings 21)

The Old Testament would describe some in Judah as dismayed at Jehovah's toleration of the success of the wicked and the subjugation of righteous believers. Many in Judah saw Jehovah as having abandoned them, or they lost faith in His ability to do anything for their benefit. Merchants abandoned their Hebrew identities and adopted foreign dress.

Judah benefited from the commerce that had come with Assyria's domination. It was after Assyria's conquest, according to the archeologist-scholar Israel Finkelstein (Tel Aviv University), that Judah emerged "as a full blown bureaucratic state." (David and Solomon, p 27.)

CONTINUE READING: Empire and the Torah

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