Society

The Biblical Northern Kingdom Of Israel (Samaria)

After breaking away from Judah to the south, Samaria was taken over by the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 720 BC.

5. Background and Initial Formation

The Hebrew people who were settled in Canaan after the Exodus met with frequent clashes from enemy tribes based around their new areas of residence. They soon decided that they needed a military leader, namely a king, to consolidate their kingdom, and act as a leader of their people. Samuel, a High Priest of the Hebrew tribes in Canaan, was assigned with the responsibility of selecting a king. Then, after much thought and deliberation, he anointed Saul, a tribesman from the tribe of Benjamin, as the first King of a United Monarchy over all of the Israelites. Saul the Benjaminite ruled between 1025 and 1005 BCE, and was succeeded, not by an heir, but by David from the tribe of Judah, who ruled between 1005 and 965 BCE. David’s successor was the son he had with Bathsheba, Solomon, who ruled over Israel from 968 to 928 BCE. After the death of Solomon, all of the other Israelite tribes, with the exception of the tribes of Benjamin and Judah, protested against the appointment of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, as their king. Rehoboam’s refusal to lower the taxes levied by his father triggered mass anger against him. Soon, the United Monarchy fell apart and the kingdom was divided into the Northern Kingdom of Israel (or Samaria) and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

4. Rise To Power And Accomplishments

Jeroboam was the first king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. As a young man, Jeroboam was appointed by King Solomon to supervise and lead his Ephraimite tribesmen in various public works conducted in the interests of the United Monarchy. Soon, taking advantage of the widespread public resentment against the extravagances of King Solomon, he conspired against the king, and established his own leadership among the northern tribes of the region. With the discovery of his rebellious actions, he was forced to flee the kingdom and take shelter in Egypt, where he remained until the death of Solomon. He was the head of the delegation that visited Rehoboam to request the reduction of the tax burden on the people of the kingdom. A downright rejection of this proposal by Rehoboam led to the widespread revolts among the Northern tribes, who now accepted Jeroboam as their king.

Soon thereafter, Jeroboam constructed places of worship for idols at Beth-El and Dan within the boundaries of his own kingdom, both to discourage his people from visiting the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, which was now capital of the Kingdom of Judah, and to defy the monotheistic Jewish religious establishment with the worship of idols (namely golden calves) at Beth-El and Dan. Nadab, the son of Jeroboam, ruled after his father for a period of around 2 years in 901 and 900 BCE. He was then slain by his own army captain, Baasha, who also murdered the rest of the royal family and established himself as the new king. Thereafter, a number of kings and their successors captured the throne of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and many fell prey to internal rivalries and were met with quick and unfortunate deaths due to foul play. The rule of the kingdom by the House of the Baasha was followed by the House of Zimri, the House of Omri, the House of Jehu, the House of Shallum, the House of Menahem, the House of Pekah, and, finally, the House of Hoshea. Shechem, then Tirzah, and finally Samaria, were the capitals of the Northern Kingdom from time to time. Samaria was built by King Omri, and survived as the capital of the kingdom until the ultimate dissolution of the kingdom itself by the Assyrians that would conquer it.

3. Challenges and Controversies

After the division of the United Monarchy, the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah fought constant battles with one another for the next sixty years. Besides fighting so many battles with the south, internal rivalries and rebellions existed throughout the rule of the various Houses of the Northern Kingdom. Many kings were killed in such internal conspiracies and conflicts, with their positions being continually usurped by the rival leaders of such conspiracies. For example, the House of Baasha ended when its last king, Elah, was killed by Zimri, one of his own officials, who then went on to become the next king. The House of Omri ended with the murder of King Joram by Zehu, who then founded the House of Zehu. Similar incidents led to the end of each successive House of the Kingdom, events wherein the kings were murdered, and often replaced by their own killers. Even though internal rivalries and conspiracies killed many kings of the kingdom, the battle with the Kings of Judah did not continue for the Northern Kingdom's duration, finally ending after sixty years from the time of the Unified Monarchy's breaking apart. Then, for the next eighty years, there were friendly alliances between the two kingdoms, which now cooperated against their common enemies. Marriages between high-ranking families of the two Hebrew kingdoms were the prime factors in forging such peaceful alliances.

2. Decline and Demise

Tensions between the Kingdom of Judah and the Northern Kingdom of Israel surfaced again in 732 BCE, when King Pekah of Israel joined hands with King Rezin of Aram and threatened to attack Jerusalem. The frightened king Ahaz of Judah appealed to the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III for help. The latter soon attacked Damascus and Israel, and captured territories in both kingdoms. Even though the territory of the Northern Kingdom of Israel was reduced by such attacks, the kingdom continued to exist independently until 720 BCE, when the Assyrians further attacked the kingdom, forcing its inhabitants to flee. The deported inhabitants were commonly known as the Ten Lost Tribes. Thus, the Northern Kingdom of Israel was dismissed, and its occupants lost forever.

1. Historical Significance and Legacy

The fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel has often been portrayed by Biblical standards as a punishment sent by God, and a prophetic doom which had been bestowed upon the population of the Northern Kingdom for not adhering to the sole worship of Yahweh, and instead engaging in idol worship. The Israelite shrines based in Bethel and Dan, established by Jeroboam, were heavily criticized by the Biblical writers as something that was against the will of God, and thus led to the kingdom's collapse. Critics of the modern day, however, point out that the Biblical history was probably penned down by priests of the Kingdom of Judah, and hence is biased, written in the favor of their own Southern Kingdom.

More in Society