Israel and the Bible
The Early Israelite period (Iron Age I, 1200–1000 BCE) has traditionally been associated with the conquest of Canaan by the twelve Israelite tribes and the settlement of the tribes under the leadership of the Judges. According to the Bible, the Israelites united under a single ruler to counter the threat of the Philistines. Gradually prevailing against their enemies, the Israelites expanded into Judah, the Galilee, and the Negev. The Israel Museum's collection from this period reflects the various peoples who occupied different parts of the land: the Canaanites, the Israelites, and the Philistines. The Canaanites continued to occupy the large cities of the valleys; the Israelites were organized in rural settlements scattered throughout the central hill country and the Galilee; and the Philistines lived in the southern coast and the inner Shephelah (lowlands). Canaanite cult stands, pottery, and tools demonstrate continuity from the Late Bronze Age. The simple, utilitarian pots and large storage jars made by the inhabitants of the central hill country reflect the lives of the early Israelites. Philistine pottery, decorated with birds and fish, indicate an Aegean inspiration.
The Late Israelite Period (Iron Age II, 1000–587 BCE) is also called the First Temple period. It starts with the United Monarchy under Kings David and Solomon and ends with the destruction of the northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 BCE, and of the southern Kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The finds from this period are especially important, as many are associated with events described in the Bible, especially in the books of Kings and Chronicles, as well as in the books of the Prophets. Among the highlights of the collection are decorated architectural elements, such as the balustrade from Ramat Rachel, ivory inlays from the palace of Ahab in Samaria, and ostraca (inscribed pottery sherds) and seals written in Paleo-Hebrew, some of which mention names familiar from the Bible. Of particular significance are the ”House of David” inscription from Tel Dan and two silver amulets inscribed with the Priestly Benediction (Numbers 6:24–26) from a burial cave in Jerusalem.
A large section of the collection focuses on artifacts from Tel Lachish: arrowheads, sling stones, remains of an Assyrian helmet, armor scales, and a chain used for tearing down walls. These finds are complemented by a full-scale replica of a relief from Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, depicting the conquest of Lachish. The city’s conquest by the Assyrian king Sennacherib in 701 BCE is recounted in the Bible (2 Kings 17:13). Another relic, an Assyrian clay prism, relates the story of the conquest from an Assyrian perspective.
Jerusalem was destroyed and its Temple razed in 586 BCE, bringing to an end the Kingdom of Judah. A significant portion of the Jewish population was exiled to Babylonia. Shortly after the fall of Judah, the Babylonians were defeated by the Persians. A declaration by the Persian king Cyrus in 538 BCE paved the way for the return of the Jews to their land and the building of a Second Temple, dedicated in 515 BCE.
An important part of the collection is devoted to ancient Hebrew script, with a wide range of items with inscriptions in Paleo-Hebrew. These include inscribed jars, ostraca, seals, papyri, and burial inscriptions.