First Temple Period: Jerusalem as the Capital of Judahite Kingdom (930-722)
From the death of King Solomon (c.930) until its destruction by the Neobabylonians under Nebuchadnezzar (586), Jerusalem functions as the capital of the kingdom of Judah.

From c.930 until 722, its greatest antagonist is the kingdom of Israel which breaks away from the royal house of David without establishing a lasting dynasty of its own. Of the two kingdoms, Israel is the stronger and wealthier one. Here we also encounter the first of the literary prophets whose oracles are contained in the prophetic books of the Bible (Hosea, Amos). Israel is most likely the place where many of the later biblical traditions originated (e.g., stories about Jacob/Israel located in Israelite places such as the sanctuary in Beth-El).

When Israel is destroyed and many of its people exiled, Judah and Jerusalem become the "sacred remnant" of prophet Isaiah, absorbing the theological value of "Israel" and her traditions.

Periodization In later historiography, the period c. 930-586 is often referred to as “The First Temple Period”, referring to the time when the Jerusalemite royal shrine, built by King Solomon, represented the continuous rule of a single dynasty. As long as this temple stood, Jerusalem was the capital of the kingdom of Judah (briefly also of the united kingdom of Israel, i.e., of Northern and Southern tribes united by David).

This period ends with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 by the Neo-Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar. Henceforth, the House of David turns into the symbol of a golden age, glorified in the literary imagination of Judahite historians and prophets, whose restoration in the future is hoped and prayed for in ever more phantastic terms (“Messianism”).

With the end of the “Babylonian exile” brought about by the 536 edict of King Cyrus of Persia (see the end of the 2. Book of Chronicles and the opening of the Book of Ezra), a new period begins under different geo-political, local political, and cultural conditions, allowing us to speak of the ensuing period (“Second Temple period”) as distinct from the preceding.

The religion and culture of Judah and Jerusalem until the Babylonian exile is often referred to as "Israelite", as distinct from the "early Jewish" culture developing during and after the exile. Among the characteristics supporting such a distinction are the language of the returning Jews (Aramaic as the lingua franca of the Persian empire in contrast to the Hebrew spoken during the First Temple Period) and the Torah promulgated by Ezra (see Nehemia chapter 8).

Furthermore, until the Hasmoneans' assumption of the royal title (104BCE), Jerusalem and Judah are ruled by the priestly elite of the Babylonian returnees rather than by davidic rulers.

In sum, while First Temple Judahite culture was Hebrew and its major institutions were royal and prophetic, Second Temple Judaism is a predominantly Aramaic speaking Persian satrapy ruled by a theocratic law, where new forms of literature displace the ancient art of prophecy.

A note on theophoric names: Many biblical names contain references to deities. The name of the Israelite/Judahite deity YHWH (commonly in forms such as Yah or Yahu) appears in many theophoric names of the First Temple Period, e.g., Yirme-yahu, Yesha-yahu, Netan-yah, Yedid-yah, Adoni-yah, Nekhem-yah. Theophoric names of this period may also refer to different deities, as in the name Solomon (S-l-m=Salem as in “R-S-l-M, i.e., Urushalimum or Rushalimum). This practice of naming is not limited to ancient Israel or Judah but has been a common practice of many cultures (cf., e.g., the Hebrew “Yedid-yahu”, i.e., YHWH has loved, with Greek “Theophilus” and German “Gottlieb”).

Key dates

c. 930 (or 929 or 926) Death of Solomon: Israel constitutes itself as an independent kingdom (King Jeroboam) with Samaria (Hebrew: Shomron) as the capital and Bethel and Dan as locations of royal shrines dedicated to YHWH (or El, Elohim, or YHWH-Elohim), marking the southern and northern border of the realm.

929-722 Two kingdoms: Judah and Israel.

722 The kingdom of Israel is destroyed, many people (esp. the elite) forcibly exiled by Neo-Assyrian king Shalmaneser V. With the competitor out of the way (and a theological justification of this destruction, i.e., the North should never have broken away from the South), Judah takes on a far greater political and religious role. Thus begins the rise of the Judahite kingdom and its capital Jerusalem in political reality, but also in pan-Israelite imagination. In the prophetic language of Isaiah, Judah begins to be referred to as a “sacred remnant”. This may be related to the fact that many Northerners migrated South (before, during, and after the destruction of the capital Samaria), bringing along their YHWH-related traditions, stories, and cultic sensitivities (e.g., insistence on worship of YWHW alone).


The history of ancient Israel is the focus of 1. Kings 12 through 2. Kings 17, with bits of Judahite history thrown in. Israel is the theatre of some of the great stories concerning prophet Elijah and Ahab, King of Israel, and his much maligned wife, Queen Jezebel. The Books of Chronicles (or Divrey Hayamim) are late post-exilic and have little interest in the history of Israel (the Northern kingdom), focusing on Judah instead. Their purpose is to justify later institutions not (or not prominently) mentioned in the Books of Kings as ancient (preferrably Davidic) institutions. One of its major interests is the institution of the Levites. While not a reliable source on the periods it covers, the Chronicles are a first rate source for the importance of Jerusalem to Second Temple period Jewish piety.