While many legendary tales appear to have been gathered and compiled by both Israelites and Judahites around the beginning of the first millennium BCE, the first attempt to tell the history of Israel dates to much later. There is no contemporaneous evidence of the ideal Kingdom of Israel, where Israel and Judah were one nation, under God, with one Dividic king, and liberty and justice for all. It is possible, but even if David did bring the north and the south together, and even if Solomon did build up Jerusalem into a kingdom that was the envy of the contemporary world, which is unlikely, it only lasted about 80 years. Prior to that time, and after that time, until 722 BCE, Israel was Israel and Judah was Judah.
The Documentary Hypothesis proposes that the earliest gathering of legends occurred during this latter period of time, after the kingdoms had separated (if they were ever actually combined) and they were anything but friends. The Jahwist source (J) betrays specific interest in the territory to the south, Judah, and is often hostile towards Israel. The Elohist source (E) represents interests of the north, Israel, and is sometimes hostile towards Judah. These different traditions with their own heroes developed side-by-side as the independent religions (plural) moved through time. Israel was a thriving, productive culture in a fertile land. Judah, not so much. It was arid with hilly and desert terrain. They were both surrounded on all sides by competing cultures.
Around 722 BCE, in response to outcry from the small and dusty vassal kingdom of Judah, which likely revealed a rebellion against the Empire, the government of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians. The Assyrians practiced dispersion; the elite, the influential and desired tradesmen were removed from their homeland and moved to other locations dictated by the Empire. The same class of people was imported from other conquered lands, expected to produce for the Empire. Relocation of assets was a tool employed to minimize the chance of rebellion and to utilize those assets to the maximum benefit of the Empire.
When Israel fell, many of the indigenous people fled, some to the south. They became refugees. According to archaeologist, Israel Finkelstein, the evidence shows that this was when the southern territory of Judah began to experience its first real growth. In this new diverse culture, legends of the north clashed with legends of the south. Over time, these legends were syncretically blended together to produce JE. But these were still just legends of great events and men of the past, oftentimes apparently borrowed from other cultures.
The first attempt to tell the history of these now combined people appears to have begun around the time of King Hezekiah, the ruler of Judah during the fall of Israel in 722 BCE. It was ultimately compiled before the death of King Josiah in 609 BCE. This material is what scholars call Dtr1. This author also appears to have been a displaced member of the priestly class from Israel, now living uncomfortably in a world where Jerusalem was now the center of religious thought and government, not Samaria in Israel. He is known as the Deuteronomistic Historian.
“Although the Deuteronomistic History did not reach its final form until after the exile (during the sixth century B.C.E.), substantial parts had certainly been completed by the time of Josiah’s death in 609 B.C.E. This history tells the story of Israel and Judah from the entry to the land of Israel to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 587/6 B.C.E. and the early days of the subsequent exile.” Cambridge Companion to the Bible, Second Edition, 2008, p. 111
This portion of the “Deuteronomistic History”, Dtr1, includes material in Deuteronomy and majority of the books of Joshua, Judges,1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings which ends with the fall of Judah in the 6th century, during the reign of the last king of Judah, Zedekiah, a son of Josiah. The first attempt to immortalize the history of Israel dates to about this time and was woven together with a very specific theo-political agenda. In “Get Thee to Anathoth”, I explored this author and have thus far ended up with more questions than answers.
“Now in the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month, which was the nineteenth year of king Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon, unto Jerusalem. And he burnt the house of the LORD, and the king’s house; and all the houses of Jerusalem, even every great man’s house, burnt he with fire. And all the army of the Chaldeans, that were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls of Jerusalem round about.”
2 Kings 25:8-10
This was the end of the First Temple Era and what I call Deuteronomistic Theology, which was probably a growing minority view. Many of the elite were deported to Babylon and many others fled to Egypt. During this time, a new religious movement would develop as a reflection on, a response to, and influenced by the fall of Jerusalem and Babylonian and Egyptian theology and politics. This was the birth of Judaism. Second Temple Judaism was a political tool that would dominate the post-exilic community through the Persian Era. The Hellenistic Era would usher in a new theodicy, Jewish apocalypticism, and the religion would again change to meet the needs and thoughts of the developing culture(s).
In the writings of the Deuteronomistic Historian, I think we find the last words from a priest of Israel. The Priestly source (P) would later be written, then the sources would all be edited and combined to give us what we know today as the Torah and the Major Prophets, perhaps the work of someone like Ezra, from the priestly class of Judah in Jerusalem.
In “Who Wrote the Bible”, R. E. Friedman proposes that the Deuteronomistic Historian might have been Jeremiah, writing through, or in collaboration with, Baruch. Like Shakespeare, if it wasn’t Jeremiah, it was someone like Jeremiah who lived at the same time as Jeremiah, who used the same language as Jeremiah and who shared the same outlook as Jeremiah.