HIST 101 Lecture Outline (Spring 2023 – Week 3)

HIST 101

Week 3: Tuesday

 The Monotheists: Jews and Persians, 1200-550 BCE


“Dig This”: Interview with Biblical scholar Richard Elliott Friedman, on who wrote the Torah (UC San Diego, 2002, 28:56 min.):

“Origins of the Bible”: Lecture by Biblical scholar William Propp (1997; 43:38 min.; begin at 31:40):



Cultures, pp. 55-78 (The Jews)


c. 1200 BCE    Arrival of the Hebrews in the land of Canaan. According to the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament), this was preceded by 400 years of slavery in Egypt, the Exodus (departure from Egypt) led by Moses, and 40 years in the Sinai desert.

The Hebrews were semi-nomads who moved with their herds; this put them at odds with the other peoples of Canaan, who were chiefly farmers and town-dwellers. The Hebrews worshiped a unique god, for whom the Hebrew Bible used  various titles, including YHWH (Yahweh; “Jehovah” in Latin), Elohim, and Adonai, all meaning “Lord.”

The Hebrews were divided into 12 tribes, each ruled by a religious and political leader called a judge. Their religious center was Shiloh, whose sanctuary held the Ark of the Covenant containing the stone tablets on which were inscribed the Ten Commandments.

c. 1005 – 965 BCE   Reign of David: He united the Hebrew tribes to fight against the Philistines, who had destroyed Shiloh and seized the Ark of the Covenant.  David chose Jerusalem as his capital, began to build a palace there, recovered the stolen Ark of the Covenant, and was credited with composing the book of Psalms (perhaps only Psalms 1-41).

c. 965-928 BCE   Reign of David’s son Solomon: He enlarged David’s palace  and built a great temple to house the Ark of the Covenant. He also built a fleet to sail from from the Gulf of Aqaba with copper from mines in the Negev desert. This lucrative trade helped to finance his palace and temple. Solomon was renowned as a wise and great ruler, and was credited with writing the Biblical books of Proverbs and the Song of Songs.

c. 950-200 BCE    Composition, revision, and editing of the Hebrew Bible, beginning in the reign of Solomon with the book of Genesis, the first book of the Torah, or “5 books of Moses” (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and  Deuteronomy). Scholars have identified 4 major writers of the Hebrew Bible, known as “J” (Jahwist, c. 950 BCE), “E” (Elohist, c. 750 BCE), “D” (Deuteronomist, c. 650 BCE), and “P” (Priestly, c. 550 BCE), and one possible later editor, “R” (Redactor).  (The final canon of the Hebrew Bible’s 24 books was established in the Roman period, c. 200 CE.)

The depiction in Genesis of the story of the Garden of Eden pioneered the concept of a lost “Golden Age” of human existence that thereafter became a recurring theme in Western culture.

c. 937-722 BCE   Dispute over the succession of Solomon’s son Rehoboam leads to division of the unified Israelite kingdom into two kingdoms: Israel in the north (10 tribes), and Judah in the south (2 tribes). Beginning of the age of the Hebrew prophets (messengers of God). They warned that failure to uphold justice, ethical behavior, and observance of the Torah put the Jews in physical and spiritual danger. Such teachings introduced concepts of self-criticism and moral responsibility into Western culture.

Israel and Judah were patriarchal societies, but women had some important economic, legal, educational, and religious rights, and held an honorable role in society. They could own and inherit property, receive a basic education, demand the respect and support of their husbands, lead prayers before the main daily meal, and make annual visits to the Temple. A few women were honored in the Hebrew Bible as matriarchs, prophets, and people of valor and authority – roles not extended to women in other cultures of the ancient Near East.

732-722 BCE  Assyrian emperor Sennacherib conquers Israel and carries off its surviving population (“ten lost tribes of Israel”).

c. 587 BCE  Neo-Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar II conquers Judah, destroys the First Temple, and deports surviving elites and skilled workers  to Babylonia (“Babylonian Captivity“), during which the Jews in Babylon turned to their rabbis (teachers of Jewish Law) for leadership.

538 BCE  The Jews in Babylonia are freed by Cyrus the Great of Persia following his conquest of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Some Jews remained in Babylon, while others returned (some of them decades later) to Judaea. Conflicts then arose between the returnees and the priests, who wanted to rebuild the Temple and restore the authority of the hereditary priesthood.



Persia and the Religion of Fire


Zoroastrianism (brief documentary by ABC Australia; 8:29 min.):

What is Zoroastrianism? (by Harvard’s Zoroastrian chaplain, 1:33 min.):

Persia’s Forgotten Empire (documentary, with focus on Persepolis,  49:33 min.):



Cultures, pp. 78-87  (The Persians)

Sources, pp. 28-46 (Genesis 1-8; Exodus 7, 11-12, 14; Jeremiah, 7-8; I Kings 6-8; Jonah; Cyrus Cylinder)


c. 1000 BCE    Arrival of the Persians on the Iranian plain. Their origins are unknown, but they spoke an Indo-European language (language tree).

500s BCE         The Persian tribes unite, overthrow the rule of the Medes,  conquered the neighboring Lydians, and went on to conquer the rest of the Near East and Egypt

559-530 BCE    Reign of  Cyrus the Great of Persia: Cyrus conquered the Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 BCE, created the largest Western empire yet seen, and founded an imperial dynasty (the Achaemenids) that ruled Persia until its conquest in 330 BCE by Alexander the Great. His tomb at Pasargadae survives.

530-522 BCE   Reign of Cyrus’s son, Cambyses: He expanded the Persian empire by conquering Egypt and much of Anatolia. The Persian empire now extended more than 2000 miles east-west, and more than 1000 miles north-south.

521-486 BCE: Reign of Cambyses’ cousin Darius, who built the Royal Road (photo) from Sardis (near Aegean coast in Asia Minor) to Susa (near Persian Gulf); cut a canal linking the Red Sea to the Nile River to facilitate trade with Egypt; and constructed an irrigation system for the Iranian plateau that greatly increased Persian agricultural output. However, his attempt in 490 at conquering Greece failed when his army was defeated by Athens at the battle of Marathon.

Innovations of Persian imperial rule included:

  • Reliance on accommodation and tolerance in governance rather than brutality
  • Respect for local customs and religions
  • Degree of local autonomy, under control of local satraps (governors), so long as vassal states were obedient to Persian overlordship and sent required taxes and tribute
  • Imposition of a single currency and standard weights and measures throughout empire
  • First state-run postal service
  • Royal Road ran for 1600 miles east-west through empire; it  facilitated use of horse transport and imperial cavalry to serve as main artery for both commercial and military needs
  • Multi-ethnic imperial bodyguard (“Immortals”) and main infantry (“Shield-Bearers”) were drawn from peoples across the empire
  • Development, by mid 400s, of a fleet manned by Persian sailors

Features of Persian culture:

Imperial capital at Persepolis, with its magnificent palaces, was a center of government, art, and intellectual life. A great library held government records, literature (such as folk tales and poetry), scientific works (including astronomical charts), religious texts, and translations of foreign works.

Architecture (using stone and glazed brick), garden design, and carpet weaving were signature Persian arts

Very rich and sophisticated cuisine, and great fondness for wine


c. 1250 BCE Zoroaster (Zarathustra) preaches a wise and good god, Ahura Mazda, who is locked into eternal conflict with an evil god, Ahriman.

Ahura Mazda created the world and all living things as a battle ground for the cosmic fight between the forces of Good vs. Evil. Ahura Mazda created seven principal elements: Sky, Water, Earth, Plants, Cattle, Man, and Fire. The first 5 are self-regenerating, always renewing life and thus Good in the world. Only Man has choice, and thus moral responsibility; Man’s ethical choices determine the fate of the worldFire represents divine righteousness, purity, strength, and hope. Righteous living requires prayer 5 times daily in the presence of fire, performance of temple rituals, and leading an ethical life of honesty, charity, cleanliness, and respect for nature, or “Good thoughts, good words, and good deeds.” White-robed magi (priests) tend the temple fires, study the Avesta (book of holy scripture), and conduct religious rituals. All people (men and women, boys and girls) have equal access to the temple and equal initiation rites. Zoroastrianism spread widely within the Persian empire, but other beliefs were tolerated.


Primary sources:

Genesis 1-8:  God creates the heavens and the earth and all living things in the first six days. All creatures were to eat green plants and fruit. On the 7th day God rested, and declared the 7th day a holy day. Adam and Eve broke God’s prohibition against eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for which they were cast forth from the garden of Eden into a mortal life of toil, pain, and death. In time, God came to regret his creation of humans because they were so corrupt, so he chose Noah to save pairs of animals and his own family in an ark, and killed all other air-breathing creatures by creating a vast flood.

Exodus 7, 11-12, 14:  Moses and Aaron obey God’s instructions to confront Pharaoh; the Plagues of Egypt, the Passover, and death of the Egyptian firstborn; departure from Egypt of the Israelites with their flocks, and with borrowed valuables and clothing, and unleavened bread; God enables Moses to part the sea so that the Israelites can cross on dry land, but Pharaoh’s army is drowned when the waters rush back.

Jeremiah, 7-8:  Jeremiah the prophet warns of God’s anger against the Israelites for worshiping other gods and the goddess called the Queen of Heaven, and because everyone is greedy and corrupt, even the priests and prophets

I Kings 6-8:  Solomon’s construction and consecration of the first Temple to enshrine the Ark of the Covenant

Jonah:  Jonah the prophet tries to flee God’s command to go to Nineveh and proclaim that it faces divine punishment for its wickedness

Cyrus Cylinder: Cyrus claims that the Mesopotamian gods were angry at the Neo-Babylonian king (Nabonidus), and that the great Babylonian god Marduk chose Cyrus to conquer Mesopotamia and to seize the city of Babylon without a fight, and to become king of the world, and Cyrus restored all the Mesopotamian gods to their own cities, and asked them to entreat Marduk to approve of Cyrus.