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The Israelites represent a branch of Canaanite society. During the period that Egypt dominated the land of Canaan (c.1480-1150 BC), disaffected and dispossessed Canaanites, known to the Egyptians as Habiru migrated to the less accessible hill country regions. This Habiru or “Hebrew” population formed the kernel of what was to become historical Israel, and is referred to as such by the pharaoh Merneptah (reigned 1236-1223 BC) on a victory stela now in the Cairo Museum. Following the withdrawal of the Egyptian Empire around 1150 BC, the Israelites were able to extend their territory by gradually and slowly re-integrating with their Canaanite counterparts. This expansion was initially held in check by battles with the Philistines, people of Aegean origin, who had settled on the southern Canaanite coast during the time of Ramses III (1198-1166 BC).
Eventually, however, towards the end of the tenth century BC, the Israelites, established a kingdom with its capital at Samaria. Some time later, in the eighth century BC, as this kingdom weakened under pressure from the advancing Assyrians, a second kingdom of Judah emerged with its capital at Jerusalem. In 722 BC Israel was conquered and absorbed into the Assyrian Empire. Judah maintained an uneasy independence but was eventually incorporated into the Neo-Babylonian empire when it was conquered by the armies of king Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC. Some of the population was deported to cities in Babylonia, beginning the period known as “the Exile”. It was during the Exile that the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) was mostly compiled and written.