The Prophets (Introduction to Western Civilization 2.11)

The 50 year period of the Babylonian Captivity, which lasted from about 586 BC to 536 BC, was a time of great difficulty for the Israelites. During this time, most Israelites chose to give up their identity as descendants of Abraham and instead worship the gods of other nations and blend into their cultures. A small but important group, however, chose to remain faithful to the God of Israel. They resisted the attempts of the Babylonians to force them to give up their traditional beliefs and culture.

This group of faithful Israelites collected all of the sacred writings, or scriptures, of the Israelites and had them written on scrolls in order to preserve them. They encouraged public readings of the scriptures so that all people, even if they could not read, could hear the history of their nation and the commandments of their God. They encouraged the Israelites to stand strong and continue to obey the commandments their God had given them through Moses long ago.

Some of the members of this group were called prophets. The prophets were certain individuals who brought messages from God for the people. The prophets included such people as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Joel, and, later, Daniel.

The prophets told the Jews that the conquest of their nation by foreign powers and their captivity in Babylon was the consequence of their sins. Because they had ignored the God of Abraham, worshipping other gods and disobeying the commandments he had given them, God was punishing them. They told the people that if they stopped worshipping foreign gods and started obeying the commandments of their God then God would forgive them and allow them to return to their homeland.

The prophets also taught the people that God was using them for a much bigger purpose. They taught that God was in charge of the whole world, not just Israel, and that he was controlling the events of history. He was arranging things so that he could eventually bring about a time of peace when nations would no longer fight wars against other nations. In this time in the future, they said, there would be no more fighting and no more injustice. Instead, people would be at peace with each other and no one would be poor or mistreated. They said this time of peace would be brought by the Messiah, a Jewish man who would fight against the armies of evil and finally defeat them.

The message of the prophets brought hope for the Israelites who were suffering during the Babylonian Captivity. Their message continues to inspire hope in people today, especially in parts of the world that are still affected by war every day and where people are treated in an unjust way. One of the statues outside of the United Nations building in New York is a statue of a man who is bending a sword into a plowshare, turning a weapon into a tool used to farm and provide food for people. This statue is a representation of one of the most famous passages from the writings of the prophets (Isaiah 2:4):

He shall judge between the nations,

and shall decide disputes for many peoples;

and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,

and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

neither shall they learn war anymore.




Review Questions

 1. According to the prophets, why were bad things, like the Babylonian Captivity, happening to the Israelites? Answer in a complete sentence.

2. What did the prophets say the Messiah would do?




Vocabulary Words

Justice – giving to each person what they deserve to receive


Messiah – a leader and savior of his people


Scriptures – sacred writings

The Destruction of Israel (Introduction to Western Civilization 2.10)

Solomon became king of Israel after the death of his father David. Soon after he became king, God came to Solomon in a dream and told him to ask for anything he wanted. Rather than choosing a long life or riches, Solomon chose wisdom. Because he chose wisdom, God blessed him and he became one of the wisest men who ever lived. He was known throughout the world for his wisdom and people came from far away to receive his advice.

One story that is told about the wisdom of Solomon concerns two women who came to him. In the hands of one woman was a living baby and in the hands of the other was a baby who had died. The women were arguing over which baby belonged to whom. One of the woman said, “Her baby died while it was sleeping next to her and she came and stole my baby and placed the dead baby next to me.” The other woman said, “No, her baby died while it was sleeping next to her and now she has brought me here to try to take my baby away from me.” As they continued to argue back and forth, Solomon stood up from his throne and ordered, “Silence!” He sat and thought for a moment. Finally, he said, “Since both of you claim to be the mother of the living baby and since you cannot agree who is the real mother, each of you will have half of the living baby.” He turned to his guards and ordered them to cut the baby in half and give one half to each woman. One of the women said, “Good; that is fair!” The other woman cried out, “No, please! Don’t hurt the baby! Just give it to her!” Solomon said, “The woman who cried out is the mother. Give the child to her.” There are many stories like this that are told about Solomon’s great wisdom and the ways he solved difficult cases by thinking very carefully.

Solomon was also known for his great wealth. He acquired many possessions, including many animals and a great deal of gold and jewels while he was king of Israel. He used his money to build a large, beautiful temple dedicated to his God. This temple became the center of religion in Israel. People from all around Israel gathered at this temple to worship their God and offer sacrifices to him.

In spite of his great wisdom and wealth, however, Solomon also made many mistakes. He allowed his wives to influence him to build temples dedicated to other gods than the God of Israel. As a result, Israel began to suffer terribly and fall apart after Solomon’s death.

In 930 BC, almost immediately after the death of Solomon, there was a civil war in which the southern portion of Israel, called Judah, split off and formed its own kingdom. The two kingdoms remained at war for a very long time as each claimed to be the true heir of the kingdom of David and Solomon. Eventually, however, both were swallowed up by other nations. In 722 BC, the Assyrian Empire conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. In 586 BC, the Babylonians conquered the Assyrian Empire, including Israel. They also conquered the southern kingdom of Judah.

In order to force the people of Israel and Judah to stop worshipping their God and start worshipping the Babylonian gods, the Babylonians took the people of Israel and Judah away from their homeland and destroyed the temple which Solomon had built. For 50 years, the Israelites were forced to live in Mesopotamia, where they were treated as slaves by the Babylonians. This is the period called the Babylonian Captivity, during which Psalm 137, which you have already read, was written.

In 536 BC, however, the Persian Empire conquered the Babylonian Empire. The king of the Persians, Cyrus the Great, who was also a monotheist, allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. He even gave them money to help rebuild their temple. For a while, while the Jews were ruled by the Persians, they were allowed to live at peace in their homeland and to worship their own God. This situation, however, would not last long.


Review Questions

 1. What virtue was Solomon known for? How did he gain this virtue?

2. List the events which occurred in each of the following years:

a. 930 BC

b. 722 BC

c. 586 BC

d. 536 BC

3. Which king of Persia conquered the Babylonian Empire and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland to rebuild their temple?


Vocabulary Words

Civil war – a war between two groups within the same nation or country

Wisdom – a combination of experience and knowledge which produces good judgment

Primary Source: Selection from the Code of Hammurabi (1772 BC) (Introduction to Western Civilization 2.2)

21. If anyone breaks a hole into a house to steal from it, he shall be put to death before that hole and be buried.

22. If anyone is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death.

195. If a son hits his father, his hands shall be cut off.

196. If a man puts out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out.

197. If he breaks another man’s bone, his bone shall be broken.

198. If he puts out the eye of a freed man, or break the bone of a freed man, he shall pay one gold mina.

199. If he puts out the eye of a man’s slave, or break the bone of a man’s slave, he shall pay one-half of its value.

200. If a man knocks out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out.

201. If he knocks out the teeth of a freed man, he shall pay one-third of a gold mina.

202. If any one hits the body of a man higher in rank than he, he shall receive sixty blows with an ox-whip in public.

203. If a free-born man hits the body of another free-born man of equal rank, he shall pay one gold mina.

204. If a freed man hits the body of another freed man, he shall pay ten shekels in money.

205. If the slave of a freed man hits the body of a freed man, his ear shall be cut off.

206. If during a quarrel one man hits another and wounds him, then he shall swear, “I did not injure him on purpose,” and pay the physicians.

207. If the man dies of his wound, he shall swear similarly, and if he was a free-born man, he shall pay half a mina in money.

208. If he was a freed man, he shall pay one-third of a mina.

209. If a man hits a free-born woman so that she loses her unborn child, he shall pay ten shekels for her loss.

210. If the woman dies, his daughter shall be put to death.

211. If a woman of the free class loses her child by being hit, he shall pay five shekels in money.

212. If this woman dies, he shall pay half a mina.

213. If he hits the maid-servant of a man, and she loses her child, he shall pay two shekels in money.

214. If this maid-servant dies, he shall pay one-third of a mina.

229 If a builder build a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.

230. If it kills the son of the owner the son of that builder shall be put to death.

231. If it kills a slave of the owner, then he shall pay slave for slave to the owner of the house.

232. If it ruins the things inside, he shall make compensation for all that has been ruined, and inasmuch as he did not construct properly this house which he built and it fell, he shall rebuild the house from his own means.


Review Questions

1. What is the punishment if a man knocks out another man’s eye?

2. What is the punishment for a builder who builds a house that falls down and kills the owner?

3. Do you think the laws of the Code of Hammurabi are fair or unfair? Answer in a paragraph.