Unlike many other "holy" books, the Bible contains a large amount of history. This Bible history begins with the creation of the "heavens and the Earth" (i.e. everything) and concludes with Paul's missionary journeys around AD 50.
From the beginning to the incident at the Tower of Babel, this is effectively a history of the world. After that, it is a history of the nation of Israel, culminating with the beginnings of Christianity.
The Bible contains a number of chronogenealogies and other references to periods of time which can be used in many cases to determine how much time elapsed between two events.
Numerous scholars have derived absolute chronologies based on these, including the famous chronology by Archbishop James Ussher. This article uses Ussher's dates. "A.M." dates are Anno Mundi, or year of the world.
For a more detailed treatment, see Creation.
The Bible begins with God creating the "heavens and the Earth", which is a merism for "everything", or in modern terms, the universe. Creation proceeds over a period of six days, culminating with the creation of the first two humans, Adam and Eve. God provides a garden for Adam and Eve, with all its plants being available for food for them, except that he does not allow them to eat from one tree in the centre of the garden, with the punishment being that they will die if they do.
However, Adam and Eve do eat from that tree. As a result, God causes them to begin dying, although it will be 960 years before Adam is dead. In the beginning, God and His creation of man and woman had perfect spiritual fellowship. Because of sin, that spiritual fellowship was broken immediately, a separation occurred, and death resulted.
For a more detailed treatment, see Great Flood.
By about one and a half millenia after creation the population is almost universally wicked, and God decides to destroy most of mankind and give it a fresh start. There is one righteous man, Noah, so he instructs Noah to build a large boat (ark), and prepare it for pairs of each kind of animal.
120 years later, God sends a flood over the whole planet, destroying all air-breathing life except that on the ark, which includes Noah and his three sons and their wives, eight in all. The flood lasts about one year. When they disembark, they are told to "fill the Earth".
The Tower of Babel
For a more detailed treatment, see Tower of Babel.
However, the new population does not fill the Earth, but bands together in one place, and builds a large tower as a focal point of their new city, defying God in the process.
God disperses the group up by causing them to speak different languages. One of the people in this era was Eber, a great great grandson of Noah. His name is the source of the term Hebrew.
Abraham and Isaac
God calls Abraham, a resident of the city of Ur, to leave his home and go to a new place that God will show him. God also promises Abraham that he will be the ancestor of nations, and that through him the entire world will be blessed.
Abraham does what God instructs, although his faith that God will bless him with an heir is tested, and he has a child by his wife's maid. However, this son, Ishmael, is not the promised heir, and he later has Isaac by his wife, Sarah. (The Arab nations trace their ancestry back to Ishmael.)
Jacob and Joseph
Isaac has two sons, Esau and Jacob. Jacob is given a new name by God, Israel. He has twelve sons, and his descendants are collectively known as Israelites. They make up what was to become the nation of Israel.
One of Jacob's sons, Joseph, ends up in Egypt as the second-in-charge under Pharaoh. He invites his father and family to live in Egypt. However, after several generations, the Egyptians grow wary of the Israelites living amongst them, and try to control them by making them slaves and killing all the newborn male children.
For a more detailed treatment, see Moses.
One of the children who was supposed to be killed was hidden in a floating basket on the river, where he was found by Pharaoh's daughter, who raised him as her own son. She named him Moses.
When Moses was older, God called Moses to lead the enslaved Israelites out of Egypt, to the land of Canaan, which God had promised to Abraham years earlier. This journey, which took 40 years because the people disobeyed God, is known as the 'exodus'. During the exodus, God gave Moses numerous laws for the emerging nation, including the famous Ten Commandments, which God wrote Himself on stone tablets.
Time of the judges
The Israelites, in twelve separate tribes mostly corresponding to the twelve sons of Israel, settled in different parts of Canaan.
There was initially no central government, but from time to time God appointed individuals, known as judges to lead the people. However, the Israelites yearned for a king to rule over them, as surrounding countries had.
The Kings of Israel
God gave the people what they wanted by appointing Saul as their king. During his rein, Israel was challenged by the Philistine army, and in particular by a giant named Goliath. The Israelite army was afraid of Goliath, but a shepherd boy, bringing supplies to his older brothers in the army, offered to take on Goliath. This was David, and he used his sling to knock Goliath unconcious, then beheaded him. David went on to fight other battles, and eventually succeeded Saul as King. David also made Jerusalem the capital of the country.
The divided kingdom
After Solomon's death, his two sons divided the kindom in two. The southern part, comprising the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, became known as Judah, whilst the northern part, comprising the other ten tribes, retained the name Israel. (It is from the name Judah that we get the word Jew.)
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, invaded the southern kingdom, Judah, and Jerusalam was taken. Many of the people were taken to Babylon, but in this case they remained separate and maintained their own identity.
In 3468 A.M./537 B.C. the Israelites in Babylon were allowed to return to their country and rebuild Jerusalem.
All modern Jews trace their ancestry to these members of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. People descended from the northern ten tribes, no longer pure Israelites, were treated as outcasts. This includes those known as Samaritans.
For a more detailed treatment, see Jesus Christ.
The Bible's history then jumps forward 400 years. During this time the Roman Empire conquered the land, and Israel (the former Judah) has become a vassal state of Rome.
Jesus is born to Mary, a resident of the Galilean town of Nazareth, but whilst she and her husband Joseph are in Bethlehem for a census. Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt to escape King Herod's slaughter of all the young boys of the area. They later return to Nazareth, where Jesus grows up, learning carpentry from his father. Apart from an incident in the temple in Jerusalem when Jesus was 12, nothing else of his life is recorded in the Bible until he begins his ministry when he is 30 years old.
Jesus gathers a following of twelve disciples, and travels around Israel teaching, forgiving sin, healing, and performing other miracles. His implicit and explicit claims to be God and his flouting of the petty rules that have been introduced to the religion make the religious leaders his enemies. The religions leaders petition Pilate, the governor, to have him arrested and killed. Pilate reluctantly agrees to their request, and Jesus is executed by the Romans by means of crucifixion.
Demonstrating his power over death, Jesus returns to life after being interred in a sealed cave. He then continues his ministry for a short while, before ascending to heaven.
For a more detailed treatment, see Saint Paul.
Saul, also known as Paul, was a Jew with Roman citizenship who was hunting down members of the new sect of followers of Jesus when was dramatically converted (Acts 9:1-19; 22:6-16; 26:14-18). He subsequently became a leader of the new movement, or at least, the prominent character Luke writres about in his history, the Book of Acts. The followers of the Lord Jesus became known as Christians (Acts 11:26). He undertook several missionary journeys around the Roman Empire, preaching, debating, and starting churches. Paul's letters to individuals and churches make up much of the New Testament. He is known to have written Romans, Corinthians (First and Second), Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians (First and Second), Timothy (First and Second), and Philemon. Some think that he wrote Hebrews, but the evidence for that is disputed.
- One tribe, the Levites, were given no land, as they were the priests and were supported by the rest of the population. However, descendants of Joseph's two sons each made up a separate tribe, so that there were still twelve groups.
- Online Etymology Dictionary