| Light iron-age reading|
|Gabbin' with God|
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. This is largely because the Israelites were the "chosen people of God" according to the Bible, so people want to take that claim for themselves.
An Israelite is also an Israeli with 30% fewer calories.
According to the Bible, Israelites were descended from a guy named Jacob, who later changed his name to Israel after a fight with God, hence 'Israelite'. 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.
Rather, they 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 collapse.
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 BC 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).
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 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, and 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 captivity 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, although the Babylonian and Persian records tend not to be very specific about which conquered peoples they're discussing, and the Bible makes everything very 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).
- Israelites, Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. Accessed 13 June 2018
- Archeology of the Hebrew Bible, PBS Nova, 2008
- History of Israel, History Channel website
- See the Wikipedia article on Babylonian captivity.
- Israel : A Brief History of Israel and the Jewish People, Israel Hanukoglu, Israel Science and Technology Directory website