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1095 BCE - 926 BCE - The Davidic Kingdom

Prior to the emergence of David, the Hebrew tribes, as portrayed in the last three chapters of the Book of Judges, were fighting among themselves when the Phoenicians (Philistines whence the term Palestine) appeared on the coast and pushed eastward. The Philistines were a warlike people possessing iron weapons and organized with great discipline under a feudal-military aristocracy. Around 1050 BC, having exterminated the coastal Canaanites, they began a large-scale movement against the interior hill country, now mainly occupied by the Israelites.

To unify the people in the face of the Philistine threat, the prophet Samuel anointed the guerrilla captain Saul as the first king of the Israelites. Saul was by no means exclusively devoted to Yahweh. Two of his sons were named after Baal,and he did not hesitate to have priests of Yahweh killed if they opposed him. Fundamentally he saw religionas subordinate to politics, and did not mind participating in Canaanitic rituals to consolidate the alliance withthe Canaanites in his domains. Only one year after his coronation, the Philistines destroyed the new royal army at Mount Gilboa, near Bet Shean, southeast of the Plain of Yizreel (also known as the Plain of Jezreel and the Plain of Esdraelon), killing Saul and his son Jonathan.

Facing imminent peril, the leadership of the Israelites passed to David, a shepherd turned mercenary who had served Saul but also trained under the Philistines. Although David was destined to be the most successful king in Jewish history, his kingdom initially was not a unified nation but two separate national entities, each of which had a separate contract with him personally. King David, a military and political genius, successfully united the north and south under his rule, soundly defeated the Philistines, and expanded the borders of his kingdom, conquering Ammon, Moab, Edom, Zobah (also seen as Aram-Zobah), and even Damascus (also seen as Aram-Damascus) in the far northeast. His success was caused by many factors: the establishment of a powerful professional army that quelled tribal unrest, a regional power vacuum (Egyptian power was on the wane and Assyria and Babylon to the east had not yet matured), his control over the great regional trade routes, and his establishment of economic and cultural contacts with the rich Phoenician city of Tyre. Of major significance, David conquered from the Jebusites the city of Jerusalem, which controlled the main interior north-south route. He then brought the Ark of the Covenant, the most holy relic the Israelites possessed and the symbol of their unity, into the newly constituted "City of David," which would serve as the center of his united kingdom.

Despite reigning over an impressive kingdom, David was not an absolute monarch in the manner of other rulers of his day. He believed that ultimate authority rested not with any king but with God. Throughout his thirty-three-year reign, he never built a grandiose temple associated with his royal line, thus avoiding the creation of a royal temple-state.

Some see David as a mythological figure, and surely the shadow this character cast over subsequent Israelite and biblical history is one of mythic proportions. David was most likely a real character. Even a cursory reading of the book of Samuel demonstrates that David was hardly a paragon of virtue. David's enemies seem to time and again suffer violent deaths, even as the text insists that David is blameless.

His successor and son Solomon, however, was of a different ilk. He was less attached to the spiritual aspects of Judaism and more interested in creating sumptuous palaces and monuments. According to the Hebrew Bible, King Solomon built a Temple to the Lord in Jerusalem on a threshing floor that his father, King David, purchased from Araunah the Jebusite for 50 shekels of silver. The commencement of the building of the Temple, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign, is expressly stated to have been in the 480th year after the children of Israel left Egypt. The Temple in Jerusalem was built, according to various estimates, some time between 1027 BCE and 1012 BCE.

To carry out his large-scale construction projects, Solomon introduced corves, or forced labor; these were applied to Canaanite areas and to the northern part of the kingdom but not to Judah in the south. He also imposed a burdensome tax system. Finally, and most egregious to the northern tribes of Israel, Solomon ensured that the Temple in Jerusalem and its priestly caste, both of which were under his authority, established religious belief and practice for the entire nation. Thus, Solomon moved away from the austere spirituality founded by Moses in the desert toward the pagan cultures of the Mediterranean Coast and Nile Valley.



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