From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Warning icon orange.svg This page contains too many unsourced statements and needs to be improved.

Israelite could use some help. Please research the article's assertions. Whatever is credible should be sourced, and what is not should be removed.

Light iron-age reading
The Bible
Icon bible.svg
Gabbin' with God

An Israelite is one of a race of people who lived in Ancient Israel, specifically in the Bronze/Iron Ages (mostly). They are generally considered the ancestors of most modern Jews. They are also extensively mentioned in the Bible (in fact, the Bible is written by and for them), thus leading countless people to claim to be "their" descendants, and quite an amount of woo to surround them as well.

An Israelite is not a citizen of modern-day Israel; the term for such a person is Israeli.


According to the Bible, the Israelites descended from a guy named Jacob, who later changed his name to Israel after a fight with God, hence "Israelite".[1] The same book also says that they were slaves in Egypt for 400+ years, then escaped to Canaan (but only after wandering the desert for 40 years) where they fiercely conquered the Canaanites just for living there. There is zero archaeological evidence for any of this.[2]

Research suggests that the Israelites were Canaanites who gradually gave themselves a separate identity after escaping to the highlands of Israel due to the destruction of the Canaanite coastal cities in the Late Bronze Age collapseWikipedia.


Most knowledge of their history comes from the Bible, and much of the Bible is deeply suspect as a work of history. While the earlier parts are clearly mythical, most people assume that around 1000 BCE, the Israelites lived in a single kingdom ruled by David and then his son Solomon who built the legendary temple (there is some question over the historicity of David, and Solomon's wealth and territory may have been somewhat exaggerated; see their articles).[3]

After Solomon's rule, his kingdom was split into two smaller states, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. The historical record shows various bad things happening: the Assyrians invaded the north in 722 BCE and took over the whole area. Following the Assyrians' defeat by the Egyptians, the region fell under Babylonian control. After Jerusalem rebelled, king Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon conquered the city in 597 BCE, returning a few times to rampage some more and finally destroy Jerusalem in 587 BCE. The period of Babylonian captivityWikipedia followed, with many Israelites being forcibly removed to Babylon, although some stayed behind.

Persian king Cyrus the Great captured Babylon in 537 BCE, and the Jews gradually came home, rebuilt Jerusalem and its temple, and tried to make sense of their past by writing lots of imaginary history books that we now know as part of the Hebrew Bible. There is some historical evidence for this beyond the Bible. The Babylonian and Persian records tend not to be very specific about which conquered peoples they're discussing, and the Bible makes everything much neater and more extreme than what records and archaeology suggest (not all the Israelites were removed, and they didn't all come back at once).[4]

After that, they were ruled by the Persians until Alexander the Great showed up in 333 BCE, then by the Roman Empire, under which things went to shit.[5]

Claims of Israelite heritage[edit]

The claim to the ancestral connection the Israelites has been something that many ethnic groups have claimed. Ethnic Jews are generally recognized as having this ancestry.[citation needed] The Khazar myth, meanwhile, claims that Ashkenazi Jews are in fact descended from the Khazars, which has been utilized by various antisemitic groups.

Many non-Jewish groups have also claimed to be the true, rightful descendants of Israelites, or (more commonly) one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Samaritans have had their descent proven[citation needed], but are not considered Jews. Groups that have made unproven claims to be the true descendants of the Israelites (other than Jews) include but are not limited to:

See also[edit]


  1. Israelites, Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. Accessed 13 June 2018
  2. Archeology of the Hebrew Bible, PBS Nova, 2008 (Interview with William G. DeverWikipedia)- "The settlements were founded not on the ruins of destroyed Canaanite towns but rather on bedrock or on virgin soil. There was no evidence of armed conflict in most of these sites. Archeologists have discovered that most of the large Canaanite towns supposedly destroyed by invading Israelites were either not destroyed at all or destroyed by 'Sea People'—Philistines, or others.
    So gradually the old conquest model [based on the accounts of Joshua's conquests in the Bible] began to lose favor amongst scholars."
  3. History of Israel, History Channel website
  4. See the Wikipedia article on Babylonian captivity.
  5. Israel: A Brief History of Israel and the Jewish People, Israel Hanukoglu, Israel Science and Technology Directory website