The Divided Monarchy

All through the reigns of David and Solomon the whole of Palestine had been known as "Israel." But upon the death of Solomon (about 930 BC), he was succeeded by his son Rehoboam, and the uneasy truce between north and south ended. Although Jerusalem was now the government and worship center of Israel, Rehoboam still had to journey north to Shechem (modern Nablus) to be confirmed as the new king by the elders of Israel. Upon his arrival, they addressed him, appealing for relief from the oppressive taxation and forced labor instituted by his father for his extensive building program. Against the advice of his older and more experienced counselors and encouraged by the hard-line policy of his younger advisors, Rehoboam made a tactless response:


"My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier." (1 Kings 12:11)


The people of the north rebelled. Adoram, Rehoboam's minister in charge of forced labor, was stoned to death; the king himself barely escaped.

Meanwhile, the rebel Jeroboam, who had fled to Egypt during Solomon's rule, returned to Israel. When the people of the north learned he was back, they called an assembly and named him king. They also took over the name Israel, while the south kept the old name of Judah. This was the beginning a period known as the Divided Monarchy, with each part considering itself the "true" nation of the Hebrews. Rehoboam continued to rule from Jerusalem, but over a much smaller area (the tribal territories of Judah and Benjamin to the south), while Jeroboam to the north, set up his capital at Shechem. Of the two kingdoms, Israel was stronger, larger and richer. It had access to the sea, its population was greater, its army more powerful and its resources more bountiful. Yet for all its material advantages, its two centuries of history were marked by political chaos: 19 kings from 9 different dynasties rose and fell, 7 were assassinated. Throughout its history, the Southern Kingdom of Judah—whose strengths were political stability and religious continuity—remained under the rule of a single dynasty, the House of David, and lasted nearly 150 years longer.

Because of its strategic position between Egypt and Mesopotamia, the United Kingdom had always been vulnerable to aggression. Two of antiquities' major trade routes—the Via Maris and the King's Highway—ran through it. David and Solomon had been successful partly because none of the larger nations were powerful enough to to attack during their reigns. But with the split, surrounding nations became more aggressive. From the mid-9th century BC, Assyria in northern Mesopotamia repeatedly attacked the Northern Kingdom, and soon forced it to pay an annual tribute.

Jerusalem, too, was threatened. The kings of Judah were forced to strip the Temple of its immense treasures accumulated by David and Solomon to appease every would-be conqueror: first (at the invitation of Jeroboam) by the Egyptian pharaoh Sheshonk I, called Shishak in the Bible (1 Kings 14:25-26), again by Ben-Hadad, son of Tabrimmon, the son of Hezion, the king of Syria (1 Kings 15:16ff), and yet again by Hazael, king of Syria (2 Kings 12:17). Then Pekah, the king of Israel foolishly adopted an openly antagonistic policy towards powerful Assyria (in modern Iraq). Allied with Damascus, he tried to force Judah to join the resistance. Instead of joining the alliance, Ahaz of Judah (c.735-720 BC), against the warnings of the prophet Isaiah, appealed to the ruthless Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser III, for help, offering him bribes from the Temple and palace treasuries.

Above, high hill where Samaria, capital city of
 the Northern Kingdom of Israel, was located.

Events took a disastrous course. Damascus was conquered in 732 BC and its territory was made into an Assyrian province. Assyria took Hazor, Galilee and Gilead," including all the land of Naphtali," and deported the people to Assyria. (2 Kings 15:29) Israel was reduced to a small area around its capital, Samaria. Soon afterward, Pekah was murdered by Hoshea, who took his place as a vassal of Assyria.

In 727 BC Shalmanesar V became king of Assyria and Hoshea chanced a rebellion, conspiring with Egypt and refusing to pay his annual tribute. It proved a grave mistake. The Bible describes what happened next:


"In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria." (2 Kings 17:6)

For three years, the mountain fortress of Samaria held out against the superior Assyrian forces. According to cuneiform texts, Shalmaneser V died unexpectedy during the siege. His successor Sargon II continued the attack and in 721 BC Samaria, the third (and last) capital of Israel fell. Sargon boasted, "In the first year of my reign I besieged and conquered Samaria... I led away 27,290 people who lived there" (see 2 Kings 17:23).

Tens of thousands of the Israelites were violently uprooted from their homeland and deported to foreign lands. They were replaced by others from elsewhere in the Assyrian empire. Some of the remaining refugees fled to Jerusalem and the city expanded onto the western hill to accommodated them. The northern tribes disappeared as organized entities and are remembered in tradition as the "ten lost tribes of Israel." Tiny Judah, with its capital of Jerusalem, was all that was left of the empire of David and Solomon...

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