Studies in Biblical Lands
An investigation into the biblical theology in their historical, cultural, Archaeology, and geographical setting with major emphasis in Israel
Trinity College of Biblical Studies-Free Online Bible College
Studies in Biblical Lands
Purpose: An examination of the history of the Ancient Near East from its earliest period to the Babylonian conquest. The general purpose of this course is to supply the student with the background necessary to study the Old Testament in its historical context.
Read Online Textbooks(Click on Links to Download)
Book Report List
From one of the Books in the Book Report List Write a 10-12 Page Book Report
Virtual Museum Tours
The Semitic Museum at Harvard University
Virtual 3D Tabernacle Tours
Ancient Egyptian Virtual Temple Tour
Ancient Documents of Mesopotamia
Ancient Mesopotamia Links
History of the Meds and Persians
History of Ancient Babylon
The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
Reference Material(Click on links to view)
Commentary for the whole Bible
1. Read the Old Testament, online textbooks, and resource material. Document Key Points in your readings and turn into the Professor
2. Write a 5-page essay reflecting summary and insight from the class as you are putting these concepts together in your own person and ministry.
3.. Prepare a formal research paper of a 10 page (typed, double-spaced) on a specific topic related to the Studies in Biblical Lands.
4. Complete Quizzes, Essay questions print and send to Professor.
5. Make a timeline concerning Israel from Abraham to the exile
6. Make a timeline starting from early Bronze age up to the late Iron age listing major events
7.Make a map of the Fertile Crescent along with the Empires that existed there
8. 5-8 Page Book Report from the Book Report List above
A. The Ancient Orient
B. The Birth and Childhood of Israel
The History of the Ancient Near East- From Abraham to Moses
A. The Ancient Orient
ASSIGNMENT- Read Genesis 1-11;
Every historical document (and every document is historical in the sense that it is written at some specific time and in some specific place) must be understood in light of that historical situation. For instance, if we were to see a newspaper headline that said "WAR DECLARED" it would mean one thing if the dateline was 1941 and another thing if it said 1991. In short, to understand any piece of writing we must have some glimmer of the context in which it was written.
The same is true of the documents that have been collected in what we call the Old Testament. To grasp the meaning of these documents it is essential that the serious student of the Bible have some grasp on the historical events which gave them birth and shaped their development. Recent studies in the fields of OT History and Archaeology now suggest that it is quite possible, and even likely, that many of the documents contained in the OT were in fact written during the Hasmonean period of Israelís history! Scholars like Niels Peter Lemche of Copenhagen University and Philip Davies of Sheffield University have been maintaining for years that the texts we find in the OT were produced during this late age and that the historical material in the OT is therefore quite minimal. To Davies and Lemche (as well as many others) the OT texts we now have are simply retrojecting Israel into the past in order to justify its presence in the land in the (Hasmonean) present.
The Archaeological work of Helga Weippart of Wuppertal University has supported this late dating of the OT materials because, as she shows, there is simply no archaeological evidence for a distinct group called Israelites in the pre-hasmonean period. Jericho was destroyed, sure enough; but 400 years before the Biblical text has it destroyed. Jerusalem was little more than a hamlet until the Hasmonean period. There is no evidence of a United Kingdom. These archaeological discoveries lend credence to the theories of Davies and Lemche. But until further material is forthcoming and further study can be done their views remain provisional (though possible).
To gain an overview (for that is all we can accomplish in the course of one year) of the events and personalities which are the background of the Old Testament, we will simply follow the outline above. We will necessarily be brief on some topics and more detailed in others. But by the time the student has completed all three sections of the course, he or she should have a fairly good view of the Old Testament world.
Our study begins with the 3rd millennium BC. This was a very important time in the history of the Ancient Near East and thus for the Old Testament peoples as well. This era saw the birth of the great powers which would swap control of the area for the next 2000 years. Egypt, Babylonia, and Assyria, all began to walk into the light of history in this period. The peoples of the steppes and plains of the Tigris-Euphrates river valley began to migrate to the west, north, and east. Some of these peoples were called by their settled neighbors the "habiru" -- the nomads.
The deities which would be worshipped in these territories for millennium were being served by priests and chiefs; the world of the Near East was experiencing growth and relative prosperity. The Egyptians were building temples and cataracts while the Babylonians developed irrigation and a pantheon of great significance. Cities were being born and nomads were becoming city dwellers. The chiefs of great cities were conquering lesser cities and the citizens of those cities were made into the servant of the conqueror. The priestly caste was developing writing; and the kings were becoming more and more powerful. Sumerians and Babylonians and Mesopotamians and a hundred small tribes long lost in the dust of history were active and alive. Technology was being developed and life was becoming easier for the wealthy elite.
In short, life in the Ancient Near East was improving and there was no significant turmoil on the horizon to spoil the hopeful outlook held by many.
The following chart will help to put in perspective the significant events of the 3rd millennium BC:
The Egyptians and the Sumerians were building empires while the inhabitants of Palestine were building small city states. From one of the cities of the Chaldean empire, Ur, the people of Israel were to spring from their ancestor Abraham. Those who would later be known as Israelites began their history in the mists of ancient Chaldea. They would come to be known as Hebrews because they were nomads, "habiru," who wandered from their ancestral home to the land of the Canaanites.
It is to their ancestor, Abraham, that we now turn. He lived at the dawn of the second millennium and became the ancestor of a people who have outlived all of their Ancient Near Eastern contemporaries. There are Jews, but there are no more Edomites or Assyrians, or Babylonians or Hittites or Sumerians. Who was Abraham and how did he live? These are the questions on which we now must focus our attention as we move from the 3rd millennium to the second.
B. The Birth and Childhood of Israel
ASSIGNMENT: Read Genesis 12- 25
The story of Abraham brings us, in our progress through the history of the Old Testament, for the first time onto the stage of Biblical history. (Though, quite frankly, there is no archaeological evidence or extra-biblical evidence of any kind to corroborate this material). The first eleven chapters of Genesis have to do with the incursion and spread of sin; while the story of Abraham begins the historical account of God's solution to the problem of sin. Abraham is to be the father of many nations who will be blessed by him. He will, eventually, be the ancestor of the one who solved the sin problem ultimately and completely -- Jesus the Christ.
Who was this Abraham (whose name was Abram when we first meet him)?
Abraham began life in one of the more significant city states of the Sumerian empire. Ur (Tell el-Muqayyar), in south-Babylon, was the political and religious center of Sumeria and Akkadia. He migrated from there to Haran and eventually to Canaan. The archaeologist W.F. Albright believed that Abraham was one of the many "Donkey-caravaners" who traveled and traded along the route from the south of Sumeria to the borders of Egypt during the end of the 2nd millennium BC
Abram, or Abraham most likely means "the father is exalted." The situations which the Old Testament describe Abraham being involved in, were typical of the nomadic lifestyle. He lived in tents and not houses; he struggled for position in the territory he inhabited as a "stranger;" he conducted battles for possession of wells to supply his caravan with water; and he traveled a great deal.
His travels took him to places like Bethel, Shechem, Hebron, Beersheba, Gerar, Gilead, Penuel, and Succoth, among others in the land of Canaan. He worshipped at the sanctuaries of the Cannanites at Beersheba (where El-Olam was worshipped); and at Beerlacharoi (where El-Roi was worshipped) and at Shechem (where Ba'al Berith was worshipped). Abraham's life was thus a migratory one; wherein he was constantly moving from place to place. Beyond these facts, there is little that can be said about the historical Abraham,. Or indeed, that there was a historical Abraham at all (for, according to Lemche, the name is simply an eponym), so we will move on to the next segment of Israel's history. as described in the OT
ASSIGNMENT: Read Genesis 26-50.
The period of the Patriarchs is perhaps the most difficult to describe historically. The reason is simple -- there is a dearth of evidence for this period. In fact, what has been said of Abraham can also be said of the patriarchs as well. They were "donkey-nomads" who traveled from trade post to trade post. Though this too is highly questionable. The story of Joseph's sale to the Midianites is excellent attestation of this kind of existence. After all, how did the brothers know who to sell Joseph to if they did not have some experience in the matter.
The patriarchs all evidently died in Egypt where they
eventually wound up after the Joseph episode concluded in a happy manner.
Thus, the period of Israel's sojourn in Egypt is a long period of silence in
the history of Ancient Israel.
Egypt was, in the period of Israel's sojourn there, an empire to reckon with. The 18th Dynasty saw Pharaohs of the most incredible brilliance and intellectual power. Amenhotep IV ( 1353-1336 BC) known to many as Akhenaton was the Pharaoh who introduced monotheism to the Egyptian people. For this act of kindness the people of Egypt (led by the many priests!) eradicated, to the best of their ability, any memory of him after his death. He was succeeded by a series of lesser rulers because the empire was in turmoil. The period of tumult was ended by the founding of a new dynasty -- the 19th, which saw the erruption of the Ramessides onto the scene of Egyptian politics.
Ramses I (1292-1290 BC) transferred the capital to the delta region.
Seti I (1290-1279 BC) was a brilliant military leader who kept Egypt's fragile empire together. But it is Ramses II whom most students of the Bible know. He ruled Egypt with an iron fist from 1279- 1213 BC and was the pharaoh (so many think) who ruled during the Exodus from Egypt of the descendants of Abraham.
The pharaohs (from, interestingly enough, a word in Egyptian that means "Bull") were, for the most part, at the mercy of the priests. They were essentially figureheads who were expected to make the lives of the priests enjoyable -- or the priests would invoke the gods on their behalf. Upon death (when they were well out of sight), the priests would deify the Pharaoh -- and thus they came to be known as divine.
This was the world of the Exodus. The event which will now be the focus of our attention is, therefore, the Exodus itself.
ASSIGNMENT: Read Exodus - Deuteronomy
The figure of Moses is so powerful and towering in the history of Israel that it is virtually impossible to see Israel without him. From the plagues to the Exodus to the mountain to the wandering to the border of the land.
The material which serves as a source for the history of Moses are the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy. There are no external sources which speak of Moses. Thus, the history of Moses, set in the period of Ramses II, can be gleaned only from there.
Yet the figure of Moses has, over the years, been interpreted in a vast variety of ways. He has been seen as:
Thus Moses has served as a mirror to the imagination of the writer attempting to describe him. Perhaps, indeed, he was most of these things. What is certain is the fact that Moses hold s a central position in the history and religion of Israel. It is Moses as the leader of the Exodus which will be our interest, however, from this point.
The Exodus began, formally, when Israel left Egypt on the night of the death of Pharaoh's son. This event must have taken place early in the reign of Ramses II for a number of reasons: first -- it would have taken several years for a Pharaoh to consolidate his power, and thus he was relatively weak in the earliest years of his reign. Second, his son Merneptah erected a stele in Canaan which specifically mentions Israel. Thus Israel must have been in the land for some period of time. If Merneptah (who ruled till 1204 BC) erected the stele towards the end of his reign (as seems reasonable) and Israel left Egypt early in the Reign of Ramses II (remembering that he ruled from 1279- 1213 BC), then this would allow time for the 40 years of wandering and for the tribes to take up bas ic positions in the land. The following chronology seems likely. The exodus took place around 1277; the people wandered 40 years and arrived in the land around 1237. They dispersed and settled for the next several years becoming established in the land -- so that when Merneptah erects his memorial stone in 1205 the people have dwelt in the land for some 30 odd years.
The various stories which are found in the Old Testament concerning the route of the exodus and the events of the period of wandering are neither verifiable nor unverifiable from external historical sources.
Essay Questions for Studies in Biblical Lands
1. Describe, in as much detail as possible, the Ancient Near East from Abraham to Moses.
2. Describe in detail the life of Abraham.
3. Describe Egypt during the 18th and 19th dynasties.
4. List the 10 Egyptian plagues and describe their significance.
5. Draw a map of the Exodus route and list the significant sites which Israel traveled through (as described in Exodus through Deuteronomy).
The History of the Ancient Near East- From Joshua to Solomon
A. The Conquest and Settlement
B. The United Kingdom of David and Solomon
Purpose: An examination of the history of the Ancient Near East from the time of Joshua through the time of Solomon. The general purpose of this course is to supply the student with the background necessary to study the Old Testament in its historical context.
Course Requirements: To accomplish the above mentioned goal the student will be required to read sections of the textbooks listed below and various segments of the Old Testament and other Ancient Near Eastern literature, as well as the lectures attached to this syllabus. Then the student will be required to answer, in essay form, the questions found at the end of the lectures.
A. The Conquest and Settlement
1. Joshua and the Conquest
The period of Joshua can be easily dated as occurring sometime after 1237 BC, according to the biblical chronology. The entry of the people into the land is fraught with debate. Some suggest that the notion of a "conquest" is extremely inaccurate. They suggest that the people did not conquer so much as they simply infiltrated and settled in small tribal groups. Others suggest that a small group left Egypt and along the way were joined by the landless; until eventually they entered the land as a surge of refugees. Though these suggestions are interesting, there is no reason to discount the traditional view that there were a relatively large group of people who left Egypt and conquered various cities until they gained a foothold throughout the territory of Canaan. From the conquest of Jericho to the covenant ceremony in Shechem, the people of Israel seem to have had no difficulty in attaining what they desired, again, according to the Biblical text. There was, after all, no centralized government in Canaan at the time; thus making it very easy for the Israelites to settle where they wished without much opposition. Yet we must remember that there is no archaeological or textual evidence for any of the narrative outside the bible.
As to the historical Joshua, little can be said apart what is said in the Biblical text. There is no evidence of him outside of the Bible. But this does not mean that he was merely a literary invention (as some modern scholars suggest). In fact, it seems quite reasonable that after the death of Moses a leader among the people would need to finish the journey that had begun so many years earlier.
2. The Period of the Judges.
Once the people of Israel had settled in their allotted territories, the y lived essentially as farmers. They grew crops and worshipped (for the most part) the gods of the Cannaanites among whom they lived. Each territory had its "Ba'al" or "master" who was worshipped at the local high place or temple. Such a temple has been unearthed as far north as Tell-Dan and as far south as Beer-Sheba. The most intriguing thing about this is that in the ancient Near East "whose territory was their god" was a philosophy hardly abandoned by any settler or traveler. That is, a visitor to Canaan from Ur would worship the local god at the local sanctuary, and vice versa. Thus, when Israel entered the land there was a very powerful urge to worship the gods of the area. Yahweh was, after all, the God of the desert and the God of deliverance. But once Israel settled in the land it was only proper for many of the Israelites to adopt the fertility gods worshipped by their neighbors -- who farmed as they did. The later Biblical writers railed against this attitude and it was not until the Babylonian exile that Israel can truly be called exclusively Yahwistic (that is, worshippers of Yahweh alone). (NOTE: Yahweh is the Hebrew name of God -- sometimes transliterated [inaccurately] as "Jehovah"; more often rendered "Lord" in English translations as a consequence of the Jewish tradition of never pronouncing God's name. Instead, when the Jewish people read the Bible and they come upon God's name, they say "adonai", which is Hebrew for "Lord". God's name in actuality seems to be a third person form of the Hebrew verb, "to be"; hense, if we were to translate God's name, it might actually be something like "He is", following the analogy of Exodus 3:14.)
During this period, after the death of Joshua, the Israelites were led by those who would later be called judges. These "judges" were not so much judiciaries as they were military leaders. Israel would wander from God; they would be oppressed by an enemy; they would cry out for deliverance, recognizing their unfaithfulness to God; God would raise up a judge who would deliver them. Then, after a few years, the cycle would repeat itself again. This "judges cycle" was never a country wide event. Rather, these judges were regional leaders who did not have authority in the entire country.
The last and most significant of these judges was Saul. Saul is usually considered the first King, but if the reader of the text pays particular attention he or she will notice that Saul is more judge than King. That is, his authority exists only when there is a crisis and when the crisis is over he returns to his farm to carry out his family's business. He had no centralized government and no regular army. He was, in short, more judge like than king like.
The historical time-frame of the Judges was from the death of Joshua (around 1230 BC, perhaps) till the establishment of the kingdom under David (around 1000 BC).
B. The United Kingdom of David and Solomon
The greatest bulk of the books of Samuel have to do with the kingdom of David and Solomon. There is, again, no archaeological evidence for the existence of this united kingdom. In all likelyhood, David and Solomon were, like Saul, tribal leaders whose names were later made into eponyms. But according to the biblical account, the rule of David probably began around the year 1000 and lasted until around 960 BC. His son Solomon ruled from 960 till 920 BCE The kingdom established by David and expanded by Solomon would see Israel at its greatest power and its greatest geographical control.
1. The Kingdom of David
When David assumed control of the tribes of Israel during the later life time of Saul, he set in motion a series of events that would prove to be very beneficial to his long term political goals. First, he eliminated t he descendants of Saul who could have challenged his leadership. As descendants of the most recent charismatic leader (judge), the children of Saul could have been a source of great disharmony in the united kingdom that David was attempting to establish. Thus, David, through his lieutenants, saw to it that the most capable of Saul's sons were removed from the scene.
Second, he made the capital of his kingdom the neutral city of Jabesh/Jerusalem. Jerusalem was not in the territory of any of the tribes and thus it was not politically connected to any of the tribes. David thereby a voided the natural pitfalls attendant to the choice of any city as a capital (i.e., "this is our city, not yours", etc.). Further, David also made Jerusalem the center of the spiritual life of the country by moving the here-to-fore mobile sanctuary to it and planning to build it a permanent home (the later Temple).
Along with David's political strategy lay his military strategy: provide security and you will be admired and adored. In line with this goal D avid eliminated the Philistine threat which had dogged Saul his whole life and expanded the territory of Israel to nearly double the size governed by Saul. David also established treaties with the larger states that surrounded Israel and thus was able to form a buffer zone between his nascent kingdom and the great powers of the Ancient Near East.
In short, David was a brilliant (if not crafty) politician and military leader. His shortcomings (as the Bathsheba incident, etc. show), served ultimately to endear him to his people ("because he is just like us!") David is thus called the "apple of God's eye"! A truly remarkable description in light of his incredible cruelty and his standing as an absolute despot.
The reign of David ended approximately 40 years after it began. His son Solomon was chosen by him as his successor.
2. The Rule of Solomon
The reign of Solomon was characterized by building and bureaucracy. Solomon built the famous Temple in Jerusalem in an incredible seven years (though there is as of yet no archeaological evidence that the Temple existed). Yet the Deuteronomist (the theological historiographer ) who penned the books of Joshua through 2 Kings) does not hesitate to tell us that it took fourteen years for Solomon to build his own house. Solomon also built a number o f fortresses, stables, villages, and storerooms. In fact, though ancient Israelites are not known for their architectural achievements, (the Egyptians far exceeded them in this) Solomon is a notable exception. Only Herod the Great built more than Solomon did!
Solomon's building projects did not end with his erection of a temple and the cities he is credited with establishing. He also built alliances with his neighbors. He married so many foreign women, in order to establish treaties with their respective countries, that the Deuteronomist maintains that he had 700 wives and 300 concubines! It is clear that the Deuteronomist was intentionally exaggerating the power and influence of Solomon.
To run this massive government (in ancient terms, of course) was an enterprise which no single person or small group of advisors could manage. Solomon thus began to train governmental employees in what can best be described as "wisdom schools". These schools (patronized by Solomon' s riches) were established in various parts of the country, but specifically in Jerusalem. These schools trained young men to be diplomats, ambassadors, and government employees. The remnants of the ideas taught in these schools are encapsulated in the Biblical wisdom literature: Psalms (in part), Proverbs, Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes), Song of Solomon, and Esther(!) as well as Daniel and Job. The purpose of this literature is to show the young "wise man" how he is to behave in the royal court, whether at home or abroad.
The later years of Solomon's reign were not as happy as the early year s. His foreign wives came to wield power over him so that his decisions were more beneficial to the families these women came from than they were to Israel. The high taxes he levied for his many projects came to be despised by the laborers who bore the burden of payment, and the tribes (except Benjamin) which were not "Davidic" were growing restless in their desire to have a representative on the throne. So when Solomon died (sometime around 920 BC) he left a vacuum of power which his weak son Rehoboam was not capable of filling. The death of Solomon, then, was the death of the United Kingdom (though the body would not be buried until later).
Essay Questions for Studies in Biblical Lands
1. Describe, in detail, the entry of the Israelites into Canaan under the leadership of Joshua.
2. List all of the "judges" in the book of Judges and describe their major activities.
3. Defend the idea, using whatever resources available, that Saul was the first King of Israel.
4. Describe the personality of David, and list his major accomplishments.
5. Describe the activities of Solomon.
The History of the Ancient Near East -- From The Divided Kingdom till the Babylonian captivity
A. The Northern Kingdom Till 722 BC
B. The Southern Kingdom Till 586 BC
Purpose: An examination of the history of the Ancient Near East from the time of the divided monarchy until the Babylonian captivity. The general purpose of this course is to supply the student with the background necessary to study the Old Testament in its historical context
The History of the Ancient Near East -- From The Divided Kingdom till the Babylonian Captivity
When Solomon died the united kingdom died. His son Rehoboam was incapable of leading the country and Jereboam became the leader of the 10 tribes that were not directly aligned to the Davidic monarchy. As may well be expected, this caused a civil war to erupt which lasted for quite some time.
The division of the Kingdom took place around 918 BC; and the northern kingdom was attacked and destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC Thus, the Northern Kingdom, Israel, existed as an independent entity for only 200 or so years.
Jereboam (known to historians as Jereboam I) attempted to help the Northern Kingdom break away religiously as well as politically. In an attempt to see this happen he established 2 sanctuaries in the kingdom so that the northerners would worship there instead of making the dangerous trip to Jerusalem. Dan was the sanctuary erected in the north of the kingdom and Bethel was built in the south. Jereboam created for himself a self contained kingdom which did not need to rely on the Southern Kingdom in any respect. But he also earned for himself the undying disrespect of those authors and theologians who would write what would come to be the Deuteronomic history. The Deuteronomist would excoriate the northern kingdom until it was destroyed for its idolatry.
The northern kingdom was the home of the greatest of Israel's prophets -- Hosea. In fact, Hosea is the only prophet (whose sermons are still extant) who was a northerner by birth and habitation. The other prophets, without exception, were southerners -- including Amos who, though working in the north (briefly), was a southerner.
As can be easily seen, the Israelite kings did not tend to have very long reigns. In fact, the northern kingdom was constantly in a state of political turmoil (at least so far as we can tell from the sources). Since the Assyrian empire was the major foe and ultimate conqueror, the student is offered an incomplete chronology of the Assyrian monarchs:
The kings of Israel were: (all dates are BC)
When the Assyrians finally conquered Samaria (the capital of the northern kingdom) in 722 BC, the leaders were deported and foreigners were "planted" in the land. The descendants of these transplants would come to be known as the "Samaritans" famous from the stories of Jesus.
Unfortunately, the Northern Kingdom disappeared from history. Unlike their southern brothers, their conquerors were not very beneficent -- so when the kingdom was destroyed -- it was utterly exterminated.
B. The Southern Kingdom till 586 BC
The southern kingdom (Judah) lasted some time longer than its northern sister. Jerusalem was saved from destruction by the Assyrians by a substantial payment of cash to the invading forces. All of the books of the Bible (save Hosea) were penned and preserved in the south; and the great prophets all preached in the south (or in the exile and return of the southern kingdom). Thus the southern kingdom was the intellectual center of the ancient Israelites.
The political history of Judah was as rocky as the Northern kingdom. There were, however, no dynastic changes. That is, all of the kings were descendants of David.
The kings (and one queen) of Judah were both complimented and excoriated by the Deuteronomic historian. Those who adhered to the ideals of the Deuteronomist were complimented and those who did not were cursed. When the Babylonians attacked and sacked Jerusalem after a lengthy siege in 586, the nobles, priests, and clerics were deported to Babylonian territory.
The prophets of Judah paint a very interesting picture of the kingdom of Judah; and archeological evidence supports this incredible picture. To wit -- there were, besides the temple in Jerusalem, a number of lesser temples throughout the kingdom. There were also various cultic centers scattered throughout the kingdom. Thus the idea that there was only one temple and one place of worship in Judah is historically impossible. In fact, the southern kingdom was as distant from the Deuteronomic ideal as the northern kingdom was.
The great prophets attributed the Babylonian conquest to Judah's unfaithfulness to God. This theological explanation notwithstanding, the most likely historical reason the kingdom was destroyed was because it had the gall to oppose the Babylonians.
Thus ended the great kingdom of Judah. And thus ends the history of ancient Israel.
Essay Questions for Studies in Biblical Lands
1. Describe the civil war between Israel and Judah.
2. In detail, discuss the causes of the destruction of the Northern kingdom.
3. Discuss, in detail, the causes of the destruction of the southern kingdom.
Trinity College of Biblical Studies
Studies in Biblical Lands