History of Palestine

I’m trying to do some research as to the general political and religious makeup of Palestine / the middle east at or around the time of Christ. I’m not, really, interested in studies of Christ Himself - the trouble is, all the stuff about Christ is drowning out all the background information I’m after when I google it. I just want a general overview of the whole region and the various factions and groups involved, what they were like, what Gods they worshipped, why they were there, etc etc.

Anyone have any ideas/recommendations/authors?

One of the Master’s Underlings speaks. Pretty good rundown by Dex.

Here’s Josephus, who might be helpful.

Here’s his “Jewish Antiquities”


Sorry…hit reply too soon. Here’s “The Jewish War”


You might also check sources like Biblical Archaeology Review, although I don’t think they have their articles online. A visit to your local public library will probably reveal several books on “Palestine under Roman Rule” if you want secondary sources.

If you want primary sources, Josephus is pretty much what there is, although you need to take him with several grains of salt – he changed sides during the war with Rome, and is a brown-noser beyond belief, willing to exaggerate and distort to please his patrons. It is also generally agreed that later scribes added their own personal opinions into Josephus.

A good work that keeps going in and out of print is A History of the Jews: From the Babylonian Exile to the Present 5728-1968 by Solomon Grayzel. (This Amazon page shows a 1-2 day shipping cycle, but the page from which I got the link said it was currently out of stock.)

You might check your library to see whether they have it.

just a little bit off-topic: why are you using google to research this subject? A good university library is the place to go.

The internet is a great thing,-- but are you too young to remember when it didn’t exist? Serious answers to complicated questions come from books, not html code. The web is fine for 30-second answers that fit into 3 paragraphs.

I was actually using a university library as well. I generally find that google throws up some leads, and generally also links to external university departments or specialists in the subjects I’m intererested in, or reviews of books, or interviews with researchers, and I can then go and use that as a starting point.

In this case, however, all I got was “What evidence do we have that JESUS is GOD” repeated thousands of times, which isn’t what I’m after at all. Thus, the options are trawling through many many books on the history of Judaism and Christianity, or asking people who might know something.

Don’t worry, you guys aren’t my only source :slight_smile:


try above link…

An excellent (albeit with a religious slant) historical review of Jewish (and therefore Palestine) history during the Greek and Roman periods is “Echoes of Glory” by Rabbi Berel Wein.

Take a look at Luke T. Johnson’s “The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation”. The first few chapters (1-6?) have a wonderful overview of Palestine in the 1st century. It includes descriptions and analysis of the various Jewish sects in 1st century Palestine (at the time, “Judaism” would be more properly understood as “Judaisms”) as well as descriptions and analysis of the pervasive Hellenic and cultic influences and groups in the area. I think that you would get a lot out of it. Read the rest of Johnson’s book if you like, but it’s not neccesarily every critical theologians cup of tea. Johnson is a Catholic and it shows a bit at times.

A nitpick: in the first century AD the land in question was known as Judea. The name Palestine (or more correctly, Syria Palestina) only appeared a century later, after the Bar Cochva Rebellion.

Fair enough. Whatever it was called then, when it makes its way through the mangling I’m giving it, it will be called Nevada. :slight_smile:

In a recent (2001, I think) book, “The Bible Unearthed,” two Israeli scholars, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, present a compelling case that, with respect to most Biblical events recorded as occurring prior to the reign of King Josiah (almost the last king of Judah), not only is there insufficient evidence that the event occurred that way, but there is sufficent evidence that it didn’t. Most of the Old Testament is a pack of provable lies, pure and simple. There was a House of David, but it ruled only the area immediately around Jerusalem. There never was a united kingdom of Israel and Judah, ever. There never was an Exodus from Egypt. And Father Abraham never came up out of Ur of the Chaldees. Most of these stories, apparently, were made up after the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and the Israelite priests and nobles fled south to Judah. They settled down in the court of King Josiah and then got started on a massive propaganda campaign to create a new national-religious myth. There’s even some question as to whether Israel or Judah really had a monotheistic religion before that time. Check out the March 2002 Harper’s Magazine – Daniel Lazare wrote an article about the book, “False Testament.”

Judaism as we know it really took form after Judah was, in turn, conquered by the Babylonians, and its elite had to spend 40 years in exile in Babylon and environs, trying to keep alive their distinctive national-religious culture and, against all odds, succeeding after a fashion. There’s a theory, by the way, that the “Sabbath” was originally not an every-seven-days observance, but a monthly full-moon festival; in Babylon, the Jews picked up the Babylonian custom of counting the days by sevens, and worked their Sabbath into it. I got that out of “Asimov’s Guide to the Bible” – which is an excellent introduction to the general history of Biblical-era Palestine. Another is Asimov’s “The Land if Canaan.” It is written for a high-school-age readership and Asimov, despite his famous skepticism, did not really question the basic outline of the Biblical account; but it’s still a good start.

(not to rain on your parade, but, um, that’s not entirely relevant to what I’m doing. I’m sure it’s very interesting, but it doesn’t really help me get a broad picture of the conflicting religions and politics of the region at the time.

Keep up the good work, though.)

I thought the Greeks used “Palestina” for the region before then.

I believe you’re both correct. “Syria Palaestina” is supposedly the Latinized version of “Philistine Syria”, which is how the Greeks apparently referred to the region.

  • Tamerlane