IMPORTANT PEOPLE IN THE
FIRST TESTAMENT ERA

compiled by Sheila E. McGinn, Ph.D.
last update: 2 November 2001
Aaron
Brother of Moses and Miriam, he is noted in Exodus for being the first priest of Israel. He also is mentioned for leading the Israelites into Ba'al worship in the Golden Calf incident.
Abel
Second son of Eve and Adam, he offered an animal sacrifice which was more pleasing to God than the sacrifice of his elder brother, Cain. His brother murdered him out of jealousy.
Abraham
Originally named Abram, his name was changed to Abraham after God called him to leave his home country and go to a different land. He became the paternal ancestor of the Israelite and Arab nations.
Adam
According to Genesis 2-3, he was the first man. The Yahwist views him as the father of the human race. He was a vegetarian.
Amos of Tekoa
A shepherd of Judah (the southern kingdom) who was called to be a prophet to the people of Israel (the northern kingdom); he prophesied at Bethel during the reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 BCE).
Assyria
The Empire which conquered the northern kingdom (Israel) in 722 BCE.
Babylonia
The Empire which, under King Nebuchadnezzar, conquered the southern kingdom (Judah) in 597 BCE. Under Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 587 BCE.
Benjamin
The youngest of the twelve sons of Jacob, and the younger son of Rachel, he is one of the twelve patriarchs of Israel.
Bilhah
Maidservant of Rachel, her mistress gave her to Jacob for a consort. She had two sons for Rachel by Jacob; Rachel named them Dan and Naphtali.
Boaz of Bethlehem
A relative to Naomi, he marries Ruth after she and her mother-in-law return from Moab on the death of Naomi's two sons. He and Ruth become the grandparents of Jesse, and great-grandparents to King David.
Cain
First son of Eve and Adam, he offered the first fruits of his grain harvest to God. He became jealous of his younger brother, Abel, and murdered him, because God seemed to favor him over Cain.
Cyrus of Persia
King of Persia, he conquered Babylon and freed the Israelites in 538 BCE, allowing them to return from exile. Isaiah 45:1 calls him God's "messiah."
Deuteronomist (D)
One of the four sources of the Pentateuch (usually abbreviated "D"), this source probably arose in Northern Israel (Samaria) ca. 600 BCE and was largely responsible for the book of Deuteronomy
Deuteronomistic Historian (DH)
Name given to the theologian who was the final compiler of the historical information in the books of Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, and 1-2 Kings and commented on the theological significance of these events and the persons who gave rise to them.
Daniel
An Israelite exile in Babylon who, with his three companions (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) rose to power in the court of Nebuchadnezzar; while all four young men were noted for their proficiency in science and literature, Daniel's particular talent was his ability to interpret dreams and visions.
David
Youngest of the eight sons of Jesse of Bethlehem, he was a shepherd who killed Goliath, a great warrior from the Philistine army; he later became known as the greatest king of Israel.
Deborah
A female prophet who was one of the judges of the twelve tribes of Israel during the time between the death of Joshua and the institution of the monarchy. Ca. 1208 BCE, She and Barak led the armies of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali against the army of the Canaanite King Jadin. While the Israelite soldiers put the Canaanite army to rout, Deborah slew Sisera, the fleeing general of the Canaanite army (Judges 4-5).
Deutero-Isaiah
A poet who wrote the oracles in Isaiah 40-55 which predict the rescue of the Jews from the Babylonian Exile by Cyrus, King of Persia.
Eli
The priest of the sanctuary at Shiloh who trained Samuel; he was the second-last judge of Israel (ca. 1050 BCE).
Elijah
One of the former prophets, he came from Tishbe in Gilead. His name means "Yahweh is my God." He ministered in the northern kingdom during the reign of Ahab, King of Israel (ca. 873-850 BCE). He is known, among other things, for raising back to life the only son of a widow of Sarephath of Sidon, and for defeating the prophets of Ba'al in a God-calling contest. He chose Elisha, son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah, as his disciple and successor.
Elisha
One of the former prophets, he was successor to Elijah after the Lord took him up to heaven in a whirlwind (II Kgs 2:1). Ministering in Israel (ca. 850-820 BCE) from the end of the reign of Ahab through most of the reign of Jehu, Elijah is especially noted for raising back to life the only son of a Shunammite woman, for a miracle involving the multiplication of twenty barley loaves, and for curing (and converting) Naaman, the army commander of the king of Aram.
Elohist (E)
One of the four sources of the Pentateuch, this one dates to ca. 750 BCE and probably comes from Northern Israel (Samaria); it is usually abbreviated "E"
Esau
Elder son of Isaac, he is remembered for having sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. Also, Genesis reports that his brother and mother tricked his father into giving the inheritance and the paternal blessing to his younger brother, Jacob rather than to him.
Esther
Also known as Hadassah, she was a Jewish woman who was orphaned by the deportation to Babylon (Esther 2:7) and adopted by her uncle, Mordecai. By marriage to King Xerxes (=Ahauserus; 485-464 BCE), she became Queen of Persia. Because of her royal connections, she was able to avert a pogrom planned against her people and have the royal decree of extermination reversed. Esther and this event are celebrated in the annual feast of Purim on the 14th and 15th of Adar (February-March).
Eve
Viewed as the first woman in Genesis 2-3, the Yahwist calls her the "mother of all the living," that is, the mother of the human race. She was a vegetarian.
Ezekiel
One of the major prophets, he was the first to receive the call to prophesy outside the Holy Land (i.e., in Babylon). His earliest message (597-587 BCE) attempted to prepare the Jewish exiles for the eventual destruction of Jerusalem. After this time, he promises salvation in a new covenant and lays out the conditions for obtaining it. He was a priest, and shows a great interest in the temple and liturgy. He had a tremendous influence on the manner in which Judaism was reconstituted after the exile.
Ezra
The partner of Nehemiah in reconstituting the Jewish nation after the return from exile, he was the great religious reformer who succeeded in establishing the Torah as the constitution of the returned community. His words and deeds are recorded in the books of Chronicles, and also in the book of Ezra, which is considered one of the twelve minor prophetic books (and probably was written by the Chronicler).
Habakkuk
One of the twelve minor prophets, his prophecy dates from 605-597 BCE, that is, the time between the great Babylonian victory at Carchemish and Nebuchadnezzar's invasion of Judah which culminated in the conquest of Jerusalem. Perhaps for the first time in Israelite literature, a person questions the ways of God.
Hagar
The Egyptian maidservant of Sarah. When Sarah had no children, she gave Hagar to Abraham for a concubine; thus, Hagar became the mother of Ishmael, Abraham's first son. Hagar is thought to be the ancestress of the Arab nations.
Haggai
One of the twelve minor prophets, he was the first of the post-exilic prophets (beginning in 520 BCE). Four of his five oracles are focused around the temple, with the fifth one concerning messianic hopes reposing in Zerubbabel, a descendent of David.
Hannah
The barren wife of Elkanah of Ramathaim, she was frequently reproached by his other wife, Peninnah, for this fact. She poured out her grief before the Lord at Shiloh, and promised that if she had a son she would give him into God's service. She and her husband had a son, and she named him Samuel ("name of God" or "God hears"), since God had heard her plea.
Hosea
One of the twelve minor prophets, he prophesied in the northern kingdom during the last years of the reign of King Jeroboam II (786-746 BCE). His family plays a large role in his prophecy, particularly his marriage to his wife, Gomer, whom he calls a harlot.
Isaac
Son of Sarah and Abraham's second son, he was the younger half-brother to Ishmael. His mother gave him this name (which means "God laughs") because she laughed when an angel predicted that she would bear a son in her old age (90's). Genesis reports that Isaac, rather than Ishmael, became the heir to Abraham and Sarah's property and to the promises God made to them.
Isaiah of Jerusalem
One of the major prophets, he was called by God in a vision the year that King Uzziah died (742 BCE). He is the author of the oracles in Isaiah 1-39 -- oracles which reflect the situation in Judah immediately prior to the Babylonian Exile.
Ishmael
First son of Hagar and Abraham, he was the older half-brother to Isaac. Genesis reports that he was disinherited by Abraham and that he and his mother were cast out of Abraham's clan because of bad relations between his mother and Sarah, Abraham's first wife.  His name means "man of God."
Israel
A name meaning "God sees;" this name is given to Jacob, Abraham and Sarah's grandson, after he wrestles with the angel of God and asks a blessing from him. All of the twelve tribes which derive from the twelve sons of Jacob thus are called the twelve tribes of Israel. In the period of the divided monarchy, the name also refers to the territory and tribes of the northern kingdom, as distinct from the southern kingdom of Judah.
Jacob
Grandson of Sarah and Abraham, and second son of Isaac and Rebecca, he is remembered for having bought his brother's birthright. Also, Genesis reports that he and his mother tricked his father into giving the inheritance and the paternal blessing to him rather than to his elder brother, Esau. He fled the country and went to live with his uncle, Laban, and later married Laban's two daughters, Leah and Rachel.
Jahwist (J)
First of the four sources of the Pentateuch, the Yahwist dates to ca. 950 BCE and may have been the court theologian for the Davidic Monarch
Jephthah's daughter
An unnamed young Israelite woman who becomes a human sacrifice to God because her father, a soldier, made a rash vow to God and would not repent of it.
Jeremiah of Anathoth
One of the major prophets, he was born ca. 650 BCE of a priestly family from a little village near Jerusalem. He began his career as prophet in 628 BCE, during the reign of the religious reformer, King Josiah (641-609). He foresaw the downfall of Judah at the hands of Babylon, and remained in Jerusalem after its destruction to continue his ministry as prophet. He later was forced into exile in Egypt, and was there reportedly murdered by his own countrymen. The book of Lamentations is also traditionally attributed to Jeremiah.
Jesse of Bethlehem
Father of King David, he was the grandson of Ruth and Boaz.
Jethro
A priest of Midian who was the father-in-law of Moses; he was also called Reuel.
Job
An oriental chieftain from the country of Uz who is the main protagonist in a dramatic poem about the suffering of the innocent, composed sometime between the seventh and fifth centuries BCE
Joel
One of the twelve minor prophets, this book was composed about 400 BCE in Judah. The dominant theme of the prophecy is the day of the Lord.
Jonah
One of the twelve minor prophets, this book was written in the post-exilic era, probably in the fifth century BCE. It is a didactic story where a disobedient and vindictive prophet is set against a merciful and playful God. The book seems to take its name from a prophet named Jonah, son of Amittai, who lived at the time of Jeroboam II (786-746 BCE).
Joseph
First son of Rachel, and one of the twelve sons of Jacob, he is a dreamer and visionary who is sold by his jealous brothers into slavery. He rises to power in the court of the Pharaoh of Egypt and prevents mass starvation due by predicting and preparing for a seven-year famine throughout the land. Thus, he becomes a savior to the Egyptians and to his own family as well.
Joshua
General of the army of Israel, at Moses' death he succeeded to leadership of the people. He was the one who actually led the Israelites into the promised land.  His name means "Yahweh is [our] salvation."
Josiah
King of Israel and Judah ca. 620 BCE, he is remembered (in II Kgs 22:1-23:30) for his strict religious reforms, based on a book of the law discovered in the Jerusalem Temple and in response to a pronouncement from the prophetess Huldah. Scholars think this law book may have been a prototype of our book of Deuteronomy.
Judah
The fourth son of Leah and Jacob. In the period of the divided monarchy, the name also refers to the territory and tribes of the southern kingdom, as distinct from the northern kingdom of Israel.
Judith
A Jewess who defeats the Assyrian forces of Nebuchadnezzar by killing Holofernes, the commander-in-chief of his armies, when he is in a drunken stupor. This legend was composed as a reflection on the meaning of the annual Passover observance.
Leah
The first daughter of Laban and first wife of Jacob, she became the mother of six sons whom she named Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun; she also had one daughter, whom she named Dinah.
the Levite's concubine
The Israelite woman from Bethlehem who became the lower-class wife of a Levite from Ephraim. Her fate is recounted in Judges 19, where she suffers unto death for the sins of Israel and finally becomes a sacrifice for sake of Israelite unity.
Lot
Abraham's kinsman whose family is the one who is saved when God destroys the cities of because of their immorality. His wife is rescued, too, but she turns into a pillar of salt because she cannot resist looking back when they are fleeing the city.
Maccabees
Judas Maccabeus and his relatives who organized a successful revolt against Antiochus IV Epiphanes, King of Syria (ca. 150 BCE).  The war is called the Maccabean revolt, and is discussed in the two deutero-canonical books 1-2 Maccabees. The revolt liberated the people of Israel from foreign domination for the first time since the Babylonian Exile.  The Maccabean household established a dynasty (also called the Hasmonean dynasty) through the choice of kings and through the appointment of new priests to serve in the Jerusalem Temple.  Their selection of priests did not fit with the Torah regulations, which angered a number of their contemporaries enough that they fled the city to live in the Judean desert until two messiahs should come to reestablish the kingship and cleanse the Temple; we call these dissenters the "Essenes."  The Maccabean Dynasty ruled for nearly a century, until the conquest of Jerusalem by the Roman General Pompey.
Malachi
One of the twelve minor prophets, this book was composed by an anonymous author shortly before Nehemiah's arrival in Jerusalem (445 BCE). The author leveled sharp reproaches against the priests and rulers of the people, and therefore was probably interested in concealing his/her name; so the name used, Malachi ("My Messenger"), makes a claim for the divine authority of the message. The prophecy gives us a picture of life in the post-exilic community between Haggai and the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah. The Day of the Lord is a main theme of the prophecy, and there also is mentioned a forerunner who will prepare the way for God.
Melchizedek
The King of Salem and priest of God Most High who blessed Abraham (Gen. 14:18-20).
Micah of Moresheth
One of the twelve minor prophets, and a contemporary of Isaiah of Jerusalem, he came from the Judean foothills. His message is directed toward both Samaria (the northern capital) and Jerusalem (the southern capital).
Miriam
The elder sister of Moses, she was a prophet who led the people of Israel in worship after the crossing of Yam Suph.
Moses
The son of a Levite man and woman, he became the foster-son of the daughter of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, during a time when the Israelites were enslaved there. He is called by God to organize a slave revolt and gain the Israelites' freedom from Pharaoh. He becomes the mediator between God and the people of Israel. He is known in Exodus, Deuteronomy, and in later Jewish tradition as the giver of the Law.  His name means "[I was] drawn out."
Nahum of Elkosh
One of the twelve minor prophets, he gave an oracle about the hated city of Nineveh before its fall in 612 BCE.
Naaman the Syrian
Commander of the army of the King of Aram, Naaman was afflicted with leprosy and could not be cured. He heard of the great power of the prophet Elisha, who lived in Samaria, and journeyed to Israel to ask for healing (2 Kgs 5:1-19).
Nathan
The prophet in David's court who is known for challenging the King's actions in regard to Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah.
Naomi of Jerusalem
Mother-in-law of Ruth the Moabitess, she returned to Judah after the death of her husband and sons. She did what she could to obtain justice for her daughter-in-law from Boaz, her kinsman.
Nebuchadnezzar
King of Babylon who, in the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim (BCE), conquered Judah and destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem. He is also noted for a dream of four empires which would be replaced by one unending kingdom that God would establish (Dan 2).
Nehemiah
Partner with Ezra in the reconstitution of the Jewish people after the exile, he was the man of action who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and introduced the necessary administrative reforms (445 BCE and following). His words and deeds are recorded in the books of Chronicles, and also in the book of Nehemiah, which is considered one of the twelve minor prophetic books (and probably was written by the Chronicler).
Noah
The one righteous man left on earth according to Genesis 6:8-10, God told him to build an ark to avoid destruction in a great flood. After the flood, he and his family were the first human beings to eat meat.
Obadiah
One of the twelve minor prophets, he composed a vengeful oracle against Edom, a long-standing enemy of Israel, sometime during the fifth century BCE.
Pharaoh
The king of Egypt who was considered by his people to be a god. The book of Exodus reports that, in the time of Moses (ca. 1250 BCE), he contested with the God of Israel over keeping the Hebrew people as his slaves, but the Pharaoh lost; Israel was freed by God from slavery in Egypt.
Pharaoh's daughter
An unnamed woman in Exodus 2 who discovers a Hebrew baby boy floating in a little ark among the reeds of the Nile and decides to controvert her father's order to kill the Hebrew boy and to adopt him as her son; she names him Moses, because "I drew him out of the water (Ex 2:10)."
Priestly source (P)
The last of the four sources of the Pentateuch, and perhaps also the final redactor of the work ca. 450 BCE
Puah
One of the Hebrew midwives who was ordered by the Pharaoh to kill any Hebrew boy she helped deliver. She disobeyed the Pharaoh's order, and was rewarded by the God of Israel.
Rachel
The shepherdess who was the younger daughter of Laban, and second wife of Jacob; she was Jacob's first love, and had two sons by him whom she named Joseph and Benjamin.
Rahab of Jericho
A "harlot" (a woman who kept a public house) who hides Israelite spies sent by Joshua and thereby saves them from the King of Jericho; Because of her help, the Israelites are able to conquer the city of Jericho. Rahab is one of the four women Matthew's gospel names in the genealogy of Jesus.
Rameses II
Pharaoh of Egypt between ca. 1290-1235 BCE, the Israelite Exodus took place during his reign (see Moses).
Rebecca
The wife of Isaac, and mother of Esau and Jacob; she favors her second son, Jacob, and successfully plots with him to win his elder brother's birthright from him.
Ruth
Daughter-in-law of Naomi of Jerusalem, she returned to Judah with her mother-in-law after the death of her husband. There she married Boaz, after calling him to account for trying to avoid his duty under levirate marriage laws. She was the grandmother of Jesse, and great-grandmother to King David. Matthew's gospel names her in the genealogy of Jesus.
Samuel
Son of Hannah and Elkanah of Ramathaim, as a young boy he was consecrated to God as a nazirite. He served in the sanctuary at Shiloh under Eli, the priest; he heard God calling him in a dream and became a famous prophet and one of the last judges in Israel.  His name means "heard by God."
Sarah
Formerly known as Sarai, God changed her name to Sarah when she was called to be the ancestress of Israel. She was the first wife of Abraham who, in her old age, became the mother of Isaac.
Saul
The first King of Israel, he lost favor with Yahweh (and hence, lost the throne) because he consulted with a foreign witch rather than listening to God's prophet. His son, Jonathan, was a close friend of David.
Seti I
Pharaoh of Egypt between ca. 1310-1290 BCE, he was father of Rameses II
Shiphrah
One of the Hebrew midwives who was ordered by the Pharaoh to kill any Hebrew boy she helped deliver. She disobeyed the Pharaoh's order, and was rewarded by the God of Israel.
Solomon
Son of David and Bathsheba, he succeeded to the throne of the united monarchy after his father's death. The great Temple in Jerusalem was built during his reign.
Tamar
Daughter-in-law of Judah, her first two husbands (Er and Onan) died childless and at an early age. Judah prevented her marriage to any other man, but also refused to give her the third brother in marriage -- as was required under the law of the levir. After the death of Judah's wife, Tamar uses a ruse to get justice out of Judah, who then marries her himself. They become the parents of twin brothers, Perez and Zerah. Tamar is one of the four women Matthew's gospel names in the genealogy of Jesus.
Trito-Isaiah
The name given to the author of the third section of the book of Isaiah (chapters 56-66), which treats of issues from the post-exilic period; this part of Isaiah may very well have been composed by a group of disciples rather than one individual author.
Uriah
A soldier in the Israelite army, he was the first husband of Bathsheba.
Yahwist
see Jahwist
Zechariah
One of the twelve minor prophets, his first oracle is dated to 520 BCE, the same year in which Haggai began his ministry. The first six chapters of the book certainly belong to Zechariah, while the last six chapters (sometimes called Deutero-Zechariah) generally are attributed to one or more unknown authors.
Zephaniah
One of the twelve minor prophets, his ministry took place during the reign of Josiah (640-609 BCE), King of Judah. The two main themes of his prophecy are the Day of the Lord, and a reproach and promise for Jerusalem.
Zilpah
Maidservant of Leah, her mistress gave her to Jacob for a consort. She had two sons for Leah by Jacob; Leah named them Gad and Asher.
Zipporah
One of the seven daughters of Jethro (=Reuel), she married Moses and became the mother of Gershom.


 
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Sheila E. McGinn, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Religious Studies
John Carroll University
Last page update: 9 December 1999

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