Ancient Israel: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

One of the oldest civilizations known to man, ancient Israel traces its history back over four thousand years. Learn about the culture, beliefs, and achievements of the society that developed the Jewish faith.

In the Beginning

Do you know how many modern sayings originate in the Old Testament of the Bible? Whenever you say 'bite the dust' or 'go the extra mile' or 'see eye to eye,' you're using a saying from ancient Israel that's thousands of years old. American society borrows a lot from the Old Testament, which is one of the most impressive historical documents ever. Think about it: how many other societies have left behind a giant book about their religious beliefs and experiences?

The Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, displayed in scrolls
Tanakh, Hebrew Bible

Ancient Origins

Have you heard about the story of Moses parting the Red Sea so that the Hebrews (the people who lived in ancient Israel) could escape Egypt? Maybe you've seen one of the movies based on the story. Perhaps you've also heard the story of small David defeating mighty Goliath. These are the foundation myths, the legends, of Hebrews in ancient Israel. Most historians agree that they more likely represent how the Israelis liked the think of their ancestors, rather than what their history was really like. That's pretty common among lots of societies: Americans like to say that George Washington cut down the cherry tree and would not lie about it, but it never actually happened.

We do know that the Israelis established a kingdom about 3000 years ago under a leader named Saul. For about two hundred years, the Hebrews of Israel were doing fine minding their own business, but then they were conquered by the Assyrians, an empire in the Middle East. The Assyrians forced some Israelis to leave their homeland, creating a dispersion, or spreading, of Hebrews around the Middle East and Europe. Even so, their religion stayed firm. Israel was famous for its religion, Judaism, which claims there is only one God.

A map of the 12 tribes of ancient Israel
12 tribes map

New Empires

Historians know quite a bit about ancient Israel, and one of the facts is that Israel was never a very powerful country. Ancient Israel was small and not very rich, meaning that powerful empires controlled much or all of the region throughout most of their history. After the Assyrians came the Babylonians, based out of modern-day Iraq, and then the Persians a few hundred years later.

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