World History Lecture One
"World history" is the true story of thought, ideas, culture, language, wars, governments, and economic systems throughout all of mankind. This includes billions of people over thousands of years. Every source is available to us, from the Bible to ancient and modern historians. Everything mankind has ever written, invented, observed, conquered and destroyed is part of "World history." For example, we will study how Carthage was built into a power, and how it was then forever destroyed by its enemies from Rome.
Our course will place a special emphasis on aspects of World history that continue to be influential today, such as world religions and cultural conflicts; we will link what happened in ancient times to what is happening today. We are the product of our past. You can think about whether that is a good thing, or a bad thing. Perhaps the answer depends on what we make of it. We will make use of the Bible, which is greatest history book ever written.
American history concerns only about 400 years; World history concerns over 5000 years, going back to the first evidence of recorded events. Our class covers much of the material in a course on Western Civilization or European history, but we cover more too. We will learn about Islam and Hinduism and all the forces that continue to shape our world to this day. One cannot fully understand 9/11, violence in the Middle East, or hostility between India and Pakistan without learning World history. We will.
We will consider how mankind progressed in understanding the unseen, such as truth and gravity and God. In mathematics, mankind progressed from the discovery of geometry (Greeks) to the concept of "zero" (Indians) to calculus (English). In economics, mankind progressed from wage and price controls (Romans) to the "invisible hand" of the free market (English), which then unleashed tremendous prosperity. Government progressed from rulers who claimed to be gods (Egyptians), to monarchs (Middle Ages), to constitutional republics (United States). World history spans from pre-Christian to Christian. What are we progressing towards now? Use history to predict the future.
Do not be misled by thinking that ancient peoples were dumb or boring because they lacked the technology of modern society. The Egyptians, for example, cleverly built the massive pyramids using techniques that no one to this day can figure out or duplicate. In 2600 B.C., they constructed the pyramid of Khufu containing 6 million tons of stone extending to a height of 481 feet. The workmanship was superior to what we do today: the rock base was virtually perfectly flat, not varying in elevation by more than a half-inch; its orientation is precisely aligned with the points of a compass; its stones were perfect fits. Inside was a chapel, a causeway, and a temple. It amazes architects to this day. We would not be able to duplicate it even now, and no one knows how they were able to do it 4600 years ago. Many other cultures, from Mesopotamia to Greece to Rome to India to China, invented things and discovered knowledge that no one today is smart enough to duplicate. Can you build a useful wheel, or make paper?
A word about terminology: "B.C" means "Before (the birth of) Christ" and "A.D." means Anno Domini (Latin for "in the year of our Lord") or simply "After (the birth of) Christ." The "1st century B.C." means the 1st century before Christ, counting backwards, which are the years 100-1 B.C. The "6th century B.C." is thus 600-501 B.C. The 20th century (A.D.) included the years A.D. 1901-2000. Because A.D. means "in the year of our Lord," the truly proper form is to put the date after the A.D., as in A.D. 2006. Dates are based on the birth of Christ. That is a fact and it is wrong to erase Christ from the annotation, as school textbooks do with "BCE" for "Before the Common Era" and "CE" for "Common Era." To convert from a public school textbook, remember that BCE = B.C. and CE = A.D.
World history divides into four sections: Ancient History (Creation-A.D. 500), the Middle Ages (A.D. 500-1500), the Pre-Modern Era (A.D. 1500-1900), and the Modern Era (A.D. 1900-Current). The Renaissance (A.D. 1300-1600), including the Reformation, overlap with the Middle Ages and Pre-Modern Era. Note that dates are not precise in this course: the further back in time we go, the less we know about the actual dates of key events. For events before 1000 B.C., historians would be lucky to know a date within a few hundred years of its actual date!
Let us begin.
Introduction to Ancient History
Ancient history is everything before about A.D. 500 or 600, when every major religion except Islam was established. Ancient history created civilization and achieved many of the greatest intellectual breakthroughs of all time. Literature, drama, mathematics, philosophy, language, etc., were all created and developed during ancient history, which is why it is emphasized so much in education.
When did mankind first begin? There is no reliable evidence of man existing before 3500 B.C. The oldest writing is a pictographic tablet called a "cuneiform" (pronounced kyu-NEE-uh-form) dated to perhaps 3400 B.C. from Sumer (SOO-mur) in Southern Mesopotamia (where Iraq is today). Cuneiform looks like chicken-scratches featuring wedge-like or arrow-shaped characters, a primitive writing style Cuneiform writing that continued in use until nearly the birth of Christ. Originally pictographs (e.g., to write "foot", you would draw a foot), cuneiform developed into 600 stick-based symbols or figures, with each one developing multiple meanings (e.g., the symbol for "foot" also developed the meanings of "to go" or "to stand," depending on the context). For those who "text message" on cell phones, notice how each key has multiple possible letters and how the phone resolves the ambiguity and forms words depending on how the letters fit together to form a word. Cuneiform had only 600 symbols, but their multiple meanings were resolved by seeing how they fit together to form sentences. Cuneiform was not an alphabet or western-style script; the oldest script-based language is from the Indo-Aryan language, and one dated to 1550 B.C. was found in the Sinai.
Historians feel that spoken language originated in southeastern Europe near the Black Sea, not far from the Ararat mountain range cited in the Bible in connection with Noah. Using population estimates, we know that about 300 million people existed in the world at the time of Christ, and extrapolating backwards yields only one family in the year 3300 B.C. The oldest trees do not predate this time; the oldest sequoias, which never die of old age, are no older than 2000 B.C.
No "civilization" has been found that is older than about 3000 B.C. By "civilization" we mean an order and hierarchy in the way of life. Some type of political system or government is usually necessary to have a civilization. A structure similar to a city or town is necessary to bring together people, jobs, buildings or religious centers. Usually there are different classes of people, such as rich and poor. Some historians say there must be an agricultural surplus also: enough food to feed the people so that some workers could spend time in jobs other than farming. In a nutshell, a civilization must have cities, skilled (non-farming) workers, social and government institutions, writing to maintain records such as property ownership, and advanced technology. Memorize the oldest dates for the ancient civilizations:
|Name||Time of existence|
|Mesopotamia (Mes-uh-puh-tay-mee-uh)||3500 – 500 B.C., when conquered by Persia|
|Egypt||3100 – 525 B.C., when conquered by the Hyksos (HIK-sohs)|
|Indus (IN-dus) Valley:||beginning in 2900 B.C.|
|China:||beginning in 2200 B.C.|
|Mexican Olmec (AWL-mek):||1200 – 300 B.C., the earliest known American civilization|
|Peru (South America):||900 B.C.|
History books speculate at length about "prehistory", which predates writing (i.e., before 3400 B.C.). But there is no reliable evidence to support this speculation, and it is not worth spending time on. There is no reason to think that man existed for thousands of years without ever expressing himself in written form. But in case you are asked, historians describe the period of time known as "prehistory" as the "Stone Age." They divide the Stone Age into two time periods: "Paleolithic" and "Neolithic". The Paleolithic Age is older, when man relied mostly on hunting and picking nuts and fruit to supplement his diet. The Paleolithic Age was followed by the Neolithic Age, which consisted of the rise of agriculture. The "Neolithic Revolution" means the "Agricultural Revolution," when farming became dominant. The dates of these ages are controversial, and historians have a bias for giving them older dates than proven by archaeology.
After the Stone Age came the Bronze Age, beginning in 3500 B.C., when copper and/or bronze tools were used. That was followed by the Iron Age, which began in Turkey around 2200 B.C. and later spread to other regions. As its name suggests, it used iron for tools.
Ancient civilizations are often called "classical civilizations," particularly when they produced intellectual advances as Ancient Greece did. For example, "Classical Indian Civilization" refers to Ancient India, which lasted from 300 B.C. to A.D. 500.
Two of the oldest towns were the biblical town of Jericho, located in Palestine (on the "West Bank" of the Jordan River, between Israel and Jordan today), and Catal Huyuk, located in modern-day Turkey. Jericho was famous for its high city walls to protect against attack.
The ancient world was the source of the most basic aspects of life that we still use today, such as the seven-day week and marriage. The Bible remains the best written explanation for these and many other aspects of the ancient world. Note that all four civilizations discussed in this lecture arose in or near what we now call the "Middle East."
So where did civilization begin? In a region known as Mesopotamia, which is Greek for "land between the rivers." The "rivers" are the Tigris and Euphrates, located in Western Asia. Where, exactly? Civilization began in fertile areas of Iraq northeast of the desert, known as part of the "Fertile Crescent" that extends along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea (including modern Israel, Lebanon and Syria) and the fertile valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that run southeast into the Persian Gulf. These rivers deposited silt in the surrounding land, creating rich alluvial soil. Today the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are not far from the location of our soldiers in Iraq. However, our soldiers are mostly pictured in sandy areas, while the ancient people would have stayed close to the water. Moreover, ancient floods would have changed the landscape over time.
Genesis 2:8-17 (NAS) describes the beginning in Mesopotamia as follows: "The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. … Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. ... The name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates." Using the ages mentioned in the Bible and counting backwards, biblical scholars have dated this as about 6000 years ago, or about 4000 B.C. This is about 500 years before our earliest record of ancient writings, which what one might expect; it wouldn't take long for man to start writing messages, but the oldest messages are unlikely to be "extent" (still existing today).
In the fourth millennium before Christ, between about 3500 and 3000 B.C., cities began to sprout up with their own political and economic systems. Both of these developments occurred in southern Mesopotamia. This was known as Sumer, and the occupants were the Sumerians.
We owe a great deal to the work of the Sumerians. They developed the first system of writing (the cuneiform), the first codes of law and the first "city-state" (essentially a nation consisting only of a large city). Their inventions were marvelous: the seed plow, the sailboat, and the potter’s wheel. (Distinguish "cuneiforms" from "ideograms", which show ideas with symbols such as arrows for war, from "phonograms", in which symbols represent sounds).
Most workers in Mesopotamia were farmers, but some devoted their time to trade. They had a calendar based on the moon to aid the farmers, and they developed a mathematical system using base 12. They were marvelous inventors, creating complex systems of irrigation and discovering the plow, the cart and the wheel, and used bronze (a mixture of copper and tin) to make good farming tools. Both men and women owned private property, had slaves, and were ruled by a king.
They built cities known as Eridu, Lagash, Ur, Uruk, Isin, Kish, just to name a few. They were smart, and developed Akkadian as their language. One interesting aspect of Akkadian is that it lacks any tense forms such as past or future tense. The verbs expressed the manner of an action rather than its time.
By 3000 B.C. the people had built major canals to channel water, and roads on which to travel. Shepherds had dogs to help them tend the sheep, just as we use today to help herd sheep together. Each city was surrounded by a moat and a wall of brick, with as many as 900 towers inside the city. Soldiers watched entry back and forth, and chariots and wagons carried people and goods within the city. By 3000 B.C. mankind had already built a mini-version of Manhattan, without the automobile and steel skyscrapers. But Mesopotamia (unlike Egypt and China) was not protected by geography, and would constantly face invasion by foreigners.
Do not think there was anything primitive about these ancient cities. They had shipping, fishing, brewers and bakers. They spun wool and traded fine jewelry. They discovered the Pythagorean Theorem, though it was later named after a Greek. In 2500 B.C., the queen of Ur, which was a prominent city, lived in a palace that featured harps and many servants. Slavery existed, but it was typically confined to domestic work in the cities rather than hard labor on the farm. Slaves were given a minimum standard of living and often had the opportunity to rise to freedom through diligent work.
Temples were everywhere. But the people also built stepped mountains known as ziggurats, with a temple on top, and the Bible tells how they tried to build one higher and higher. A massive ziggurat at Ur that is described in Genesis 11:1-9 as the Tower of Babel led to hundreds of different languages (and also created different ethnic groups?) in the world. As we shall learn in this course, language is a central part of a society that has much to do with its success or failure. Societies with useful and powerful languages prospered; those with difficult-to-use and weak languages failed.
Genesis Chapter 10 places the roots of modern mankind in Noah and his three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. The term "Semitic" means "pertaining to the descendants of Shem," and includes Assyrians, Chaldeans, Aramaeans, Sabaeans, and Hebrews (now known as Jews). Semitic languages include Hebrew and Arabic. Semitic religions include Judaism, Christianity and Islam. One of Noah's descendants was Abram, who later changed his name as Abraham to reflect his covenant with God.
Both the Bible and many independent sources describe a Great Flood (or "Deluge"), which historians date at about 3300 or 3000 B.C. Very little of any history, including writings and civilization, has survived from before that time. The biblical account of the Flood is at Genesis 5-8, describing an ark having reasonable dimensions similar to modern ocean steamships. A non-biblical Sumerian (from Sumer in Mesopotamia) account of the Flood was found in the last hundred years, and that account was apparently written about 1600 B.C. Even better, a cuneiform tablet from Babylon was found dating from 3000 B.C., which also described a massive flood in great detail. There are many other ancient accounts of a massive flood found in most other cultures around the world. Fossils and limestone (the result of ocean sediment) are found today on mountaintops and land worldwide at all altitudes. Independent accounts of a great flood can be found in ancient works of China, India, Britain (Druid) and American Indians, all having striking similar details. Recently two scientists at Columbia University published a widely praised book that proved that the Flood did occur, entitled "Noah's Flood," which concludes that the biblical Flood "is surely a true story of the permanent destruction of a land and its people ...." Yet no public school textbook ever mentions a massive flood.
The conflict between the Hebrew (Jewish) and Arab peoples in the Middle East and throughout the world is described by some as a family feud. They are descended from the same father, Abraham, as described in Genesis 16. But Jewish and Arab peoples trace their lineage from different sons of Abraham who were rivals for their father's love. The Bible states that Jewish people are descendants of Isaac, the child of Abraham and Sarah. The Koran (the main holy book of Islam) states that Arabs are descended from Ishmael, the son of Abraham (then Abram) and the Egyptian woman Hagar. The Old Testament teaches that Abraham offered to sacrifice Isaac to the Lord, while Islam teaches that Abraham's sacrifice was of Ishmael. Islam teaches that Ishmael helped Abraham build a mosque in Mecca (the venerated Kaaba), and that it was Ishmael (rather than Isaac) who was nearly sacrificed. Regardless, Ishmael went a different way from the rest of Abraham's family, and there have been hard feelings by Ishmael's descendants ever since. The Bible's version came first, preceding the Koran by over a thousand years.
Civilization quickly prospered in Sumeria, the northwest (Akkad) was constantly fighting the southeast (Sumer), and eventually an Akkadian warrior named Sargon conquered Mesopotamia. Sargon was the first person in recorded history to create an empire or multi-ethnic state, from 2334 to 2279 B.C. His empire included the region of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and also part of what is Turkey today. The capital of his empire was Agade in Akkad. But like many military rulers, his empire collapsed when he died. He did not have a civil (non-military) form of government to pay his soldiers and sustain his empire. Instead, he could only survive as long his soldiers continued to capture and loot. Once the empire stopped expanded upon his death, it collapsed. After Sargon's death, the city of Ur in Sumer was the leading city.
In sum, the Sumerians established many of the things that define civilization today: buildings, engineering, legal codes, written language and a military. The Sumerians also had literature: in 2000 B.C., they wrote "The Epic of Gilgamesh," considered to be oldest fictional story ever written, although some say the Book of Job is also that old, and the Book of Genesis may be based on earlier versions that are just as old. The Epic of Gilgamesh was based on a real person who ruled a city-state in Sumer. He struggles with religious issues in the form of multiple gods, and the story seems to draw on some of the wisdom of the Bible. This non-biblical source also describes a great flood.
Each civilization or culture had its inventions. We can thank Mesopotamia (probably Ur) for inventing the wheel in about 3500 B.C., which is the single greatest invention of all time. It is used for much more than transportation. The wheel is essential to manufacturing and even pre-digital watches. No American civilization had the wheel until the Europeans brought it to them.
Babylonia was a relatively late achiever in the Mesopotamian world, occupying southern Mesopotamia where Sumer was. Babylonia was built around 2300 B.C. Babylon was its main city, located about 55 miles south of where Baghdad is today in Iraq. Babylonia is now in ruins, but thousands of years ago was a thriving city known for its "Hanging Gardens of Babylon," which were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Babylon was known as a city devoted to materialism and self-indulgence. As an example of usage, the English author G.K. Chesterton once wrote, "the Babylonian halls of the big hotel."
As a city Babylon was smaller and less important than Ur, which enjoyed several dynasties. But the constant fighting led to the fall of the 3rd dynasty of Ur, and an Amorite king named Sumuabum established a kingdom in 1894 B.C. there. His successors built it up, and then a brilliant ruler name Hammurabi took power as the sixth king of Babylon from 1792 to 1750 B.C. (That is over forty years: there were no term limits for rulers then!).
The reign of Hammurabi signaled the end of the early Mesopotamian civilization. He created a system of justice by promulgating an elaborate code of law (called the Code of Hammurabi, or "Hammurabi's Code"). The code imposed harsh punishment of "an eye for an eye," and lower classes of people received harsher punishment than higher classes of people. If you broke the bone of a "free man" (non-slave), then the punishment was to break one of your bones. That was simple and effective, and the Old Testament uses a similar approach in some ways (ask yourself: who used this first?). The Eighth Commandment in the Old Testament states, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." Hammurabi's Code states if someone accuses another of doing something wrong, but cannot prove it, then the accuser shall be killed.
Hammurabi attempted to be righteous and much of his correspondence survives to this day. He encouraged legal contracts, but he also limited the amount of interest and wages that could be earned. After 29 years of establishing order, he then conquered all of Mesopotamia, making him the first king of the Babylonian Empire. To this day Hammurabi is respected by historians as a great leader who achieved an enormous amount for all of mankind.
Debate: Which matters more in making a society successful: its laws or its language?
Chaos resulted when Hammurabi died, a common result after the passing away of a powerful ruler. The Hittites (HIT-eyets) were Indo-Europeans who migrated into Anatolia (now Turkey). The Hittites were famous for bringing iron smelting to many other groups, and using the superior iron weapons and tools. They attacked and weakened the Babylonian empire, ultimately defeating it in 1600 B.C. The Kassites, led by king Agumkakrine, then took advantage of situation and grabbed power. But they continued to honor the Code of Hammurabi during their 400 year rule of the territory.
In 1124 B.C. the first Nebuchadnezzar rose to power over the Babylonian empire. He moved its capital to Babylon, then the world's largest city. Its spanned 10,000 hectares, which is slightly larger than San Francisco today.
The Babylonian empire acquired great power, and power corrupts. Eventually it turned against religion. That ultimately occurred in 598 through 586 B.C., but we have more history to cover before getting to that period!
Much of the Bible, Old and New Testaments, is written with references to Babylon. The main reason is that Babylon rose to enormous power and captured the Hebrews, and held them in captivity. This is known as the Babylonian Exile or Babylonian Captivity.
While the Kassites were in control of Babylon, the oldest religion that is still active began: Judaism. The ancient Hebrews were descendants of Abram (later in his life his name became "Abraham", meaning "father of many"), who lived in Ur around 2000 B.C., and his wife Sarah, through their son Isaac and his son Jacob. later the name of the ancient Hebrews became known as the "Israelites", once the kingdom of the Hebrews was established with the crowning of King David around 1000 B.C. But Israel did not remain intact as a nation in the ancient world; after the reigns of King David and his son Solomon it split into two kingdoms, and then was captured and taken into captivity. Beginning with the terminology in the Book of Esther, which was written between 200 and 300 B.C., the people of the former Israel became known as the "Jewish people," or the "Jews". Judaism did not exist before Abraham, and it is not known where his ancestors lived in the prior millennium; they could have lived throughout the Middle East, including ancient Egypt.
The timeline is easy to remember: Jesus (6 B.C. to about A.D. 30) lived half-way between Abraham (2000 B.C.) and today (A.D. 2009). King David and the founding of Israel was halfway between Abraham and Jesus.
The ancient Hebrews who were descended from Jacob migrated away from Ur in Mesopotamia to Palestine, where they resided in about 1500 B.C. But they migrated over to Egypt to escape a bad famine. There they generally served as slaves for over 400 years, though they undoubtedly contributed greatly to the intellectual progress of the Egyptian culture. As described in the Book of Exodus, Moses (who had been adopted by a royal family there) ultimately led 600,000 Hebrews out of Egypt around 1250 B.C. Egyptian historians refer to slaves and captives called "Hapiru", but and some doubt that thesewere the Hebrews. Regardless, the Bible contains many verified references to the Egyptian pharaohs demonstrating that the Jewish ancestors were in Egypt. The Hebrew escape from Egypt is called the "Exodus", and is described by that book in the Old Testament. During the passage, Moses received the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai. (In Manhattan today there is a famous medical school on the upper East Side named "Mount Sinai.") Moses is also credited as being the scribe for the first five books of the Bible (the "Pentateuch" or, in parchment scroll in the Jewish liturgy, the "Torah").
The dates given below are imprecise, and the homework encourages you to improve on them:
|Creation of Adam and Eve||3700-4004 B.C.|
|Flood||perhaps 3300 B.C.|
|Tower of Babel||perhaps 2500 B.C.|
|Call of Abram (Abraham)||born c. 2000 B.C.|
|Abraham to Israel||1921 B.C. to 1690 B.C.|
|Joseph to Egypt||1880 B.C.|
|Moses and Exodus||1447 or 1270 B.C.|
|Enter Promised Land||1400 or 1230 B.C.|
|Israelite kingdom established under King David||1010 B.C.|
|Israel divided into Israel and Judah||931 B.C.|
|Israel (10 tribes) conquered by Assyrians||721 B.C.|
|Judah (2 tribes) conquered by Neo-Babylonians||585 to 515 B.C.|
|Persians conquer Babylonian empire, captives freed||515 B.C.|
|Jerusalem rebuilt||starting 515 B.C.|
While most ancient peoples worshiped many pagan (non-existent) gods, the Hebrews worshiped only one God (but even the Hebrews had false gods – note the Second Commandment). The Hebrews referred to God as "Yahweh" (or "Jehovah"), and to this day some observant Jewish people consider it improper to write the name of God and instead write "G-d". "Yahweh" simply means "I am who I am," written in the Hebrew language (which lacks vowels) as YHWH. ("Yah" by itself means simply, "I am.") It is the name God instructed Moses use at the encounter at the miraculous burning bush that continued to burn without destruction in Exodus 3:14: "God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM'; and He said, 'Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"
It remains a mystery as to precisely when the books of the Old Testament were written, but here are some estimates for several of the most prominent books:
|Book||Estimated Dates||Basis for Dates||Books included|
|Genesis and all of Pentateuch||1440-1400 B.C.||Time of Moses and Exodus (early dates used)||Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy|
|Joshua and historical books||1400 - 250 B.C.||dated by evidence of historical events||Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther|
|Wisdom Literature||dating back perhaps older than Genesis||Job, David & Solomon are main authors||Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs|
|Major Prophets||785-520 B.C.||dated by evidence of historical events||Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations (of Jeremiah), Ezekial and Daniel|
|Minor Prophets||753-455 B.C.||dated by evidence of historical events||Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi|
After leaving Egypt, the Hebrews settled back in the hills of Palestine or Canaan along eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, approximately where Israel is today. They quickly developed a productive society despite the barrenness of the land. They implemented a system of private property, which much sharing within the family structure. Before long, they became targets for their less sophisticated and pagan neighbors. Worst among these were the Philistines, who had iron weapons and good organization. The Hebrews, in contrast, were loosely affiliated and unprepared to defend against outside invasions. The Bible recounts many of these struggles with the Philistines, which Hebrews interpreted as God's punishment for their disobedience.
Inevitably a Hebrew warrior, Saul, took power around 1000 B.C. and defeated the Philistines and Canaanites. The priest Samuel anointed Saul king, but many Hebrews declined to obey him. David, a shrewd fighter who had trained as a mercenary with the Philistines, became famous as a teenager for defeating the Philistine giant Goliath as described in the Bible. David then built an empire for Israel that extended from Damascus, then a thriving city in the Fertile Crescent, all the way south past what is now the Gaza Strip. For its capital he built a hill city called Jerusalem, and encapsulated it within a wall. II Samuel 9-20 describes this period.
David's son was Solomon, who ruled for forty years (965-925 B.C.) and constructed the great temple of Jerusalem. He was known for his wisdom and justice. He created two states: Israel in the north, with a capital at Samaria, and Judah in the south, with a capital at Jerusalem. But Solomon also taxed the Hebrews heavily and, after he died, the empire fell into decline. The Kingdom of Israel split after the death of Solomon. I Kings 12.
Judah in the south survived longer than Israel in the north. The southern Kingdom of Judah consisted of two of the twelve Hebrew tribes, while the northern Kingdom of Israel had the other ten Hebrew tribes. But due to its northern location, the Kingdom of Israel had to contend with Assyria, which was cruel and extremely powerful kingdom of northern Mesopotamia. It was located in present-day northern Iraq and at times controlled the northern part of present-day Syria. Assyria became an independent state in the 14th century B.C., expanded in the 9th century B.C. and, under powerful kings like Sargon II, united most of the Middle East from Egypt to the Persian Gulf under Assyrian rule. It was finally destroyed by a Chaldean-Median coalition in 612-609 B.C.
The Assyrians defeated the Kingdom of Israel in 772 B.C, and then scattered and dispersed its ten Hebrew tribes throughout the Assyrian Kingdom. The Assyrian empire was so powerful because it is used iron weapons along with battering rams, and did not hesitate even to tunnel under enemies' walls. The Assyrians also enslaved the peoples it captured, taking them away from their homeland. The scattering of the Hebrews by the Assyrians was the first of several "diaspora" (pronounced deye-AS-puh-ruh), which means the scattering of the Jewish people away from their homeland. In Judah, however, a young ruler known as Joshua ultimately rose to power in 640 B.C. and overthrew the Assyrian influence, which was in a state of decline then. But Judah himself ran into the merciless power of the Chaldean empire.
The Chaldean empire defeated both the Hebrews and the Assyrians. Chaldea was the region in southern Babylonia, covering what is now southern Iraq. This land borders the coast of the Persian Gulf between the Euphrates delta and the Arabian desert.
As Assyrian power began to decline, a ruler named Nabopolassar was able to establish a Chaldean dynasty, beginning in 625 B.C. and extending until the Persians conquered the territory by invading in 539 B.C. from present-day Iran. In that brief span of time an important ruler commanded the Chaldean dynasty and all of Babylonian empire: Nebuchadnezzar II (NEB-uh-kuhd-NEZ-ur), who reigned from 605 to 562 B.C.
He was a military genius who demonstrated his prowess with a massive conquest of the Egyptian army in 606 or 605 B.C., thereby gaining control of all of Syria. After his father's death, he obtained the submission of Judah and spent the next few years expanding the Babylonian empire into Palestine. Although suffering losses, he persisted and ultimately captured Jerusalem on March 16, 597, and then later again in 586, when the Chaldeans also destroyed Solomon's temple. Nebuchadnezzar kidnapped and deported prominent Hebrews back to Babylonia, as recounted in the Bible and known as the Babylonian Exile. Nebuchadnezzar was a godless military commander who suffered from seven years of madness, but at times he protected key prophets like Jeremiah. Daniel describes seven years of madness for the ruler, but the Babylonian people did not dare criticize their own ruler. Daniel 4:34-37.
Babylon was a culture that did not have the value system of the Hebrews, and Babylonians did not accept God. The Babylonians were constantly raiding, kidnapping, killing or converting into slaves the Hebrews. Much of the Old Testament is about how the Hebrews would gain or lose favor with the Lord, and the Babylonians would prevail against the Hebrews as they lost favor with the Lord. "Babylon" is mentioned 246 times in the Old Testament!
Because he captured and exiled the Hebrews, King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon is mentioned frequently in the Old Testament. During his second invasion of Jerusalem, the city that had been previously established as the Hebrew center by David in 1000 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the holy Temple built by King Solomon ("Solomon's Temple"). Nebuchadnezzar then captured the Jewish people and took them back to Babylon in what is known as the Babylonian Exile or Captivity, which lasted from 597 to 538 B.C. (beginning with his first invasion of Jerusalem). "But because our ancestors had angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house and carried away the people to Babylonia." Ezra 5:12.
The death of Nebuchadnezzar II signaled the end of the Babylonian empire, which then fell into decline. It was inevitable that Babylon itself would be conquered. Cyrus the Great was the King of Persia (the ancient name for Iran) (539-530 B.C.), who conquered Asia Minor for the Persians, including the territories of Assyria, Babylonia, Palestine and Syria. His kingdom was known as the Achaemenid (ə-kē'mə-nĭd) (or Persian) empire. He freed the Hebrews and ended the Babylonian Exile, allowing the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their Temple. The tomb of Cyrus the Great still exists at Pasargadae, the town that was the capital of his empire but which is now in ruins in present-day Iran.
More than a thousand years later, during the Islamic conquest of Iran, the Muslims planned to destroy this tomb because it is contrary to their religion. However, the possibility that the tomb was somehow built to honor the mother of King Solomon, a respected prophet in Islam, justified preserving the tomb to this day, and it is inscribed today with the following verse of the Qur'an (Koran): "Qabr-e Madar-e Sulaiman."
The Hebrews rebuilt the Jerusalem walls and the temple, but did not restore the magnificence it had under Solomon. The Hebrews remained under Persian rule until Alexander the Great conquered the Persians around 330 B.C. Later, when the Roman Empire rose to power, Palestine became a province to Rome, until Palestine rebelled and Rome retaliated by destroying the temple in A.D. 70, again dispersing the Jewish people to distant lands.
To what do we owe the ancient Hebrews? The concept of monotheism: one and only one God. The Hebrews established the covenant of loyalty between God and his chosen ones. Part of the covenant was the promise of a future Messiah to save the people from their sins, and Jewish people debate today whether the Messiah was supposed to establish a kingdom on earth. Later some Jewish people accepted Jesus as the Messiah, while some did not. The moral code by which the Hebrew people promised to live was set forth in the Ten Commandments, which were carved in stone and kept in the sacred Ark of the Covenant as described repeatedly in the Bible (see, e.g., Exodus 25:9-10). Highly specific requirements of daily life are also set forth in the Torah (the Pentateuch, or first five books of the Old Testament). The authorities on Jewish law are known as "rabbis", but there is no single, centralized religious authority on Judaism like a pope. Next to the Bible, the next most authoritative Jewish work is the Talmud, which is a collection of writings by rabbis.
Ancient Egypt was a tremendous civilization located in the fertile Nile Valley. Ancient Egypt existed from about 3000 B.C. up until Alexander the Great conquered it in 332 B.C. The Nile is the greatest river in the world, and is unique in flowing south-to-north, emptying into the Mediterranean Sea. It floods with great regularity each year (unlike the Tigris and Euphrates rivers), providing plentiful water for farming. Situated in a desert, Egypt developed irrigation techniques that led it to be called an "hydraulic empire."
What is special about Egypt? Well, for starters, it is the oldest stationary civilization that remains in existence. Geography helped protect it against invaders. To its east and west are deserts, to the north is the Mediterranean Sea and to the south is the rest of Africa and the Nile. In between is the great and mighty Nile. Egypt is self-sufficient with natural resources also, having plentiful clay and stone and being able to trade for timber from nearby Lebanon and copper from Sinai. Just as the unique, closed-in geography of the island of Manhattan has encouraged the development of a powerful economy in New York City, the landscape of Egypt enhanced its independence. Even when conquered, the civilization does not shift anywhere, thanks to the natural boundaries.
Ancient Egypt was always ruled a "pharaoh" or king, who was considered to be a god and absolute owner and dictator of the country. He was worshiped by the people.
The Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Turks and British did conquer and rule over it at some point. In that respect, the story of who ran Egypt is an account of the great world powers in history. Egypt did not have native rule between 341 B.C., when the Persians conquered the last Pharaoh (Nectanebo II), until until A.D. 1952, when the native Egyptian president Nasser overthrew a British constitutional monarchy.
Ancient Egypt is divided into three periods: Old Kingdom (3100-2200 B.C.), Middle Kingdom (2100-1650 B.C.) and New Kingdom (1550-700 B.C.). The peak in power of ancient Egypt was 1567-1085 B.C. The Old Kingdom is known for its security and prosperity, free from foreign invaders. A unique Egyptian kingship developed during this period, and they built the great pyramids, including the Great Pyramid of Giza (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) as built by Pharaoh Khufu or Cheops (pronounced KEE-aps). The pyramids protected and preserved pharaohs for what they expected in the after-life, and were marvelous engineering feats that cannot be duplicated even today.
The Middle Kingdom was a period during which Egyptian religion extended beyond the kings to the nobles and ordinary citizens. Pharaohs began to share power with local distinguished persons. The pharaohs were strong during this period and promoted trade by digging the Great Canal, which connected the Nile River to the Red Sea. The Middle Kingdom is best known for its cultural achievements, such as literature and artwork. During this period the Egyptians were also successful in draining parts of the Nile delta in Lower (northern) Egypt. Trade expanded, but civil war plagued the Middle Kingdom just as it was a problem in the Old Kingdom.
The New Kingdom followed a period of foreign rule for a century by the Hyksos (HIK-sohs) (from 1650 to 1580 B.C.), who were Semitic peoples invading Egypt from across the Sinai Peninsula. The Hyksos adopted much of Egyptian culture, including calling themselves pharaohs. The Hyksos introduced the horse and chariot into Egypt. Afterward, the Egyptians extended their empire along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean into Mesopotamia, primarily under the great warrior Thutmose III. A dynasty from Upper Egypt began this period of the New Kingdom, and it extended throughout Syria, Palestine and, to the south, Nubia. Also, the pharaohs constructed large buildings and massive cities.
After the New Kingdom ended in 700 B.C., Egypt went into a decline and was subsequently conquered by the Persians in 525 B.C.
Here is a brief review of the famous Egyptian rulers. The first was Menes (or Mena). In 3100 B.C. he was already king of southern Upper Egypt, and he united it with northern Lower Egypt (note that lower Egypt is closer to the sea-level of the Mediterranean, north of Upper Egypt, as explained below). We know his name because Egyptian men, not women, wore make-up and his name was found on palettes used to apply make-up.
Though Menes is called the first "pharaoh" (Egyptian ruler), actually that term was not used until the 18th Dynasty, 1539-1292 B.C. (Egypt was organized by "dynasties", where one family (including descendants) controlled the country.) The term "pharaoh" signifies the Egyptian custom claiming that its ruler was a god, similar to the sky god Horus and the sun gods Re, Amon and Aton. He was considered to be the preserver of a god-given order, called ma'at. Even after death the pharaoh supposedly retained divine status and magical powers. This was a theocracy (rule by a god).
The Egyptian people were divided into separate levels or classes. The highest level consisted of the priests and nobles, and below them were the peasants, and below the peasants were the slaves (which included the Hebrews until Moses led them out in the Exodus). Women were respected in their role of child-rearing and managing household finances, and there were two Egyptian queens: Queen Ahhotep and Queen Hatshepsut. Queen Ahhotep ruled in the Middle Kingdom and helped liberate Egypt from the Hyksos. Her mummy was discovered in A.D. 1859, and her tomb contained many military artifacts honoring her. Queen Hatshepsut served in the place of her young boy who was heir to the throne, and she ruled for 15 years until her death in 1458 B.C. She is known for expanding trade. Women were also included in the gods (goddesses) that Egyptians worshiped. More generally, rights of dynasty were inherited through the mother's side, making Egypt a "matriarchal" society.
The most famous pharaoh was Pharaoh Ramses II, who served during the New Kingdom. Slavery first became widespread during the New Kingdom, probably using Hebrews as slaves. The Hebrew Exodus occurred under Ramses II, making him the last great pharaoh in the New Kingdom.
Modern discoveries shed new light on the Egyptian culture. In A.D. 1922, Howard Carter discovered in the Valley of the Kings the untouched tomb of Tutankhamen, a young pharaoh surrounded by magnificent gold and other artifacts that have been displayed around the world ever since. Tutankhamen ruled from 1361 to 1352 B.C., and very little is known about his reign.
Egyptian invented mummification, which began in the 4th Dynasty. It took the Egyptians a long time to develop this art, but they ultimately succeeded to perfection. Without going into all the gory details, it consists of removing the internal organs from a body after death, treating the body with resin, and then wrapping it tightly in linen bandages. You should consider becoming a doctor if you have an interest in this!
Religion: The ancient Egyptians worshiped many gods, often inspired by animals or aspects of nature such as the sun. Only nobles could aspire to an afterlife, and only the king himself could become unified with Osiris, a legendary king who represented the forces of agriculture. These religious views could not survive the spread of Islam and Christianity today. Now Egypt is 90% Sunnite Muslim, and the remainder mostly Christian (Copts). The Copts trace their ancestors directly to the ancient Egyptians. Unlike the Muslims in Egypt, who consider themselves Arabs, the Copts do not and still use ancient Egyptian surnames. They cite the sojourn by Jesus' family in Egypt to escape Herod, and the proselytizing in Egypt by Saint Mark the Evangelist, who wrote the Gospel and was martyred at Alexandria, Egypt. He is considered the first leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, followed by an unbroken line of 117 successors to the present Pope Shenouda III. A pharaoh was considered to be a sun god, and eventually monotheism (one all-powerful god) became popular in Egypt, with the sun god Aton commanding all Egyptians’ attention.
Language: The Egyptians developed a written language consisting of hieroglyphics, which are pictographs. It originated around 3100 B.C. Papyrus, a thin parchment constructed from reeds near the Nile river, was the "paper". Historians could not understand it until the discovery of the "Rosetta Stone" by Napoleon's troops found in 1799 near the seaside town of Rosetta, located in northern Egypt. It sits in the British Museum today. It consists of a slab of black basalt inscribing a royal decree to the king Ptolemy V, dating from 196 B.C. The Stone is marvelous in inscribing the same message three times: once in Greek, once in Demotic (a simple form of hieroglyphics used 700 B.C. to A.D. 400), and once in hieroglyphic. This enabled a French expert in the Greek language, Jean Francois Champollion, to determine what the hieroglyphic characters mean, and build a dictionary that could be used to translate other works written in hieroglyphics. Champollion had been a child prodigy in learning numerous languages while still a teenager.
Egypt's complex, picture-based language probably hindered its growth. The picture-based language was not as easy to use as the alphabet-based Phoenician language later adopted by the Greeks and Romans. How would one express Christian concepts like salvation, faith, hope and redemption? It seems impossible.
Science: A magnificent city named "Alexandria" was created by Alexander the Great in Egypt in 334 B.C., and it became a cultural center for many centuries. Eventually it grew to be second only to Rome in size and wealth, but declined over a thousand years later after Islamic conquerors established Cairo as the capital of Egypt. Alexandria was best known for the Lighthouse of Alexandria, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the Library of Alexandria, which was the largest in the world at that time and reflected the cultural leadership of the city.
In A.D. 100, while Alexandria was still a great city, Ptolemy (pronounced “tah-luh-mee”) was born there and was named after the long line of Egyptian kings. He wrote magnificent works on astronomy, optics, geography, mechanics and geometry. He is best known for his complex theory that placed planet Earth at the center of universe, since all things appeared to fall towards Earth and thus towards the center. The Ptolemaic system was the prevailing view until Copernicus proposed the sun as the center of the solar system over 1000 years later.
Culture: Egypt used slaves as most ancient cultures did. Women in Egypt had powerful rights, including the right to own property, divorce their husbands, manage businesses and even become priestesses. It was possible for poor people to rise to the upper class through talent and hard work. Taxes were a burden. The government claimed ownership of one-fifth of all produce (Genesis 47:24). The society had some ethical principles, such as the royal advice that "more acceptable is the character of one upright of heart than the ox of the evildoer." Feeding the poor, taking care of the disadvantaged, and avoid bribes in administering justice were respected. The Egyptians learned to travel up and down the Nile River by using the current in one direction, and the Etesian winds to propel sailboats upstream into the other direction. Egyptian architecture was the pyramid and colonnaded temples like the one Karnak, using a style later copied by the Greeks.
Trade: Egypt was not as advanced as Mesopotamia in trade, though trade did improve during the New Kingdom and some commerce with Sumer was established then.
Inventions: Egyptians invented our 365-day solar calendar, based on 12 months of about 30 days each. But Mesopotamia was more advanced than Egypt. To Mesopotamia we owe our "base 60" system for our clock (60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour). Egyptians lacked the concept of money, and relied on primitive barter (selling a good in exchange for a different good in return). The Egyptian Old Kingdom lacked the wheel; the pyramids were built without use of the wheel!
- See, e.g., http://www.searchgodsword.org/enc/isb/view.cgi?number=T2631
- "Noah's Flood," p. 251.
- 1250 B.C. is known as the "late date" or estimate for the Exodus; the "early date" or estimate for the Exodus is 1447 B.C.
- This is based on the "early date" estimate for Exodus. See http://www.christiananswers.net/q-abr/abr-a027.html
- There are two books of Samuel because the work was longer than the size of the ancient scroll!