What historians know about the early history of the Israelites is based on accounts from the Bible. In many ways, the Bible is in fact a history book for this civilization.
According to the Bible, Israel owes its beginnings to a man by the name of Abraham. Abraham lived in Mesopotamia in the city of Ur around 1900 B.C. Abraham was apparently a wealthy merchant with a large household consisting of his family and servants.
Abraham’s religion was revolutionary compared to other religions of the day. Most religions of that time period believed in the worship of multiple deities. Abraham and his followers believed in just one all-powerful God whom they referred to as Yahweh.
Abraham and his followers eventually left Ur to found a new civilization in the land of Canaan. Canaan was among the most fertile lands in the region, and was coveted by farmers for the ease of growing crops.
For the next two generations the Israelites lived in Canaan in relative peace. Abraham’s grandson, whose name was Jacob, was the father of 12 sons. Each of these sons grew to become leaders over their own tribe. These tribes became known as the 12 tribes of Israel.