The history of the Hebrew people contains a large number of military campaigns and battles.
The history of the Hebrew people contains a large number of military campaigns and battles. The biblical stories of the walls of Jericho falling down and of David standing against Goliath with a slingshot are familiar ones to many people. These are, however, only two of many well-known war stories from the Bible. Initially, warfare was one of the methods the Israelites employed to first settle a homeland. The location of that homeland, the strategic Syro-Palestinian corridor, guaranteed that they would be engaged in continual warfare, trying to secure the land and to protect themselves from invasions from Mesopotamia and Egypt.
Israel and Judah, c. 900
The first military engagements of the Hebrew people of the late Bronze Age were wars of conquest. These included, in Transjordan, the defeat of Sihon, king of Heshbon, and Og, king of Bashan, and the campaign against Midian, both of which are described in the biblical Book of Numbers. Later, Joshua ben
Although the unified strategy of Joshua ben Nun succeeded in defeating the coalition of forces capable of threatening Israel’s position in Canaan, the task of mopping up fell to individual tribes at the beginning of the Iron Age (1200-1000
Hebrew leader Joshua ben Nun begins the occupation of Canaan, the Hebrew “promised land” west of the Jordan, with the taking of Jericho.
After consolidating his reign in
During the years of the divided monarchy, the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel were reduced to fighting each other in civil war or supporting each other in defensive battles against outside invasion. Two particular examples of the latter stand out. In 853
Judah remained a vassal-state of Assyria. However, at the end of the eighth century
For several centuries after the fall of Jerusalem the Hebrews were subject to foreign masters. Successively conquered by Babylon, Assyria, Persia, and Greece, they generally cooperated with rulers who tolerated their religious practices. Despite the pacifist strains of Isaiah and other prophets, the Jews could be quite bellicose in defending their religion. When Alexander the
The later Maccabees allied with Rome and allowed Judea to fall under Roman
David, the Hebrew king of Judah and Israel, who besieged and captured the Jebusite city of Jerusalem and made it the capital of his kingdom.
A wide range of offensive and defensive weapons are mentioned in biblical texts. None of these are in essence unique to the Israelite soldier. By the time of the Iron Age, the Hebrew soldier employed the same weaponry used in the surrounding ancient Near Eastern area.
The most practical offensive weapon was the small sword or
The most common defensive arm, the leather buckler or
At the end of the Bronze Age, military service was a part of the life of every capable male. Although some exceptions were granted, as described in the biblical Book of Deuteronomy, the survival of the nation as a whole depended upon the tribal fighting units that could be called up for battle as needed. These forces were voluntary and functioned on an as-needed basis. Soldiers returned to their homes and fields after the war.
A major change took place during the monarchy.
The early Hebrew army did not seem to do well in pitched battles on open terrain. Usually outnumbered, they were far more effective when they employed
David instituted a particular military and political doctrine that provided great wealth for himself and his son Solomon. Even later, when the kings of Israel and Judah also followed this doctrine, political power and prosperity followed. First, David sought peace between Israel and Judah. Second, he exercised a strong hand in matters east of the Jordan. His plan was to subjugate the Aramaeans, Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites, and thus to control the trade along the Kings
A fair knowledge of the military achievements of the nations of the ancient Near East is revealed by the numerous paintings, drawings, reliefs, and inscriptions left behind. Even peace treaties describe the titles and functions of individuals in the army. The famous Assyrian bas-relief of the siege of Lachish was at Nineveh and is now held at the British Museum. It has a detailed depiction of Hebrew soldiers. However, information about the military organization of Israel from 1400
Aharoni, Yohanan, and Michael Avi-Yonah. The Macmillan Bible Atlas. 3d ed. New York: Macmillan, 1993. Bright, John. A History of Israel. 4th ed. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000. Chapman, Cynthia R. The Gendered Language of Warfare in the Israelite-Assyrian Encounter. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2004. De Vaux, Roland. Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997. Gabriel, Richard. The Military History of Ancient Israel. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003. Gonen, R. Weapons of the Ancient World. London: Cassell, 1975. Herzog, Chaim, and Mordechai Gichon. Battles of the Bible. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1978. Kelle, Brad. Ancient Israel at War, 853-586 B.C. New York: Osprey, 2007. Pritchard, J. B., ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1969. Yadin, Yigael. The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands in the Light of Archaeological Study. 2 vols. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963. Masada. Television miniseries. ABC, 1981. Moses the Lawgiver. Television miniseries. 1975. The Myth of Masada. Film. Humanities and Science/Arkios Productions, 1993. The Ten Commandments. Film. Paramount, 1956.
Violence in the Precivilized World