Sometimes it gets confusing reading the old testament, why awhile Persia seems to be ruling over the Jews, awhile Babylonian, when Jesus time it was Romans, what's going on? Well this animated map shows the history of the middle east up till modern day, so it's pretty cool!
So what's going on? Well Egyptians were one of the oldest civilisations to begin with, we all know that. Hitties were mentioned rather often in the Bible, all the way from Genesis.
Assyrians started appearing as the old testament progressed, eventually noting to it to be one of the most powerful people around. Which fits the map as you can see they owned a huge empire that captured most places but not Jerusalem. Nineveh which is referred to a few times in the Bible, most famously perhaps in the book of Job, was the capital of Assyria. Assyria was a huge threat to Israel, and about two hundred years after the incident that transpired in the book of Job, the old testament records that Assyria once again turned its back on God and attacked Israel. Assyria captured most of Israel, however notably, records show that Assyria never conquered Jerusalem. This is again reflected in the book Isaiah chapters 36 and 37, during the reign of Hezekiah.
Jerusalem did eventually fall as predicted by the prophets, but not under the hands of Assyria but under the Babylonians. The Babylonians defeated Assyria and proceeded to take over the other lands including Jerusalem. The Bible does not mention Assyrians after Babylonians have come into the picture for that reason, the empire has fallen. Originally, the Assyrians lorded over the Babylonians as well, but eventually the Babylonians managed to rise in power and retake their kingdom, this during the time of Nabopolassaur. That name may not be well known, but his successor who continued the fight against Assyria and eventually won is a well known name: Nebuchadnezzer II.
Speaking of Nebuchadnezzar II, in the book of Daniel, he had a dream about a statue with four parts, a golden head which Daniel said signified the Babylonians, and three more kingdoms after that to come. Daniel couldn't have known what was to come except from revelation of course, and one interpretation does suggest that the kingdoms Daniel spoke of are indeed the Kingdoms that would come and conquer Jerusalem until the time of Jesus: Persia, Macedonia, and finally the Romans.
In 539BC, Babylon was captured by Cyrus the Great of Persia. The reign of Cyrus is notable to be the end of the prophesied 70 year exile from Jerusalem, a remarkable prophecy indeed. Cyrus was a pagan king, but one whom God used mightily, again predicted by Isaiah. Daniel had also served under Cyrus just as he had served under Nebuchadnezzar II in his early years. The Persian rule is also the time in which the stories of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther were told. Names of Kings which ruled Persia and also appeared in the Bible include Darius, Xerxes and Artaxerses. Unfortunately it is confusing as it appears that there were three Darius, two Xerxes, and four Artaxerses during the Persian reign.
The Bible never discusses explicitly the Macedonian empire. This is because there is a four hundred year gap between the new and old testament, and the rise and fall of the Macedonian empire was during this period. This empire is most well known to the world as the Greek empire of Alexander the Great. The empire was so powerful and changed the world so profoundly that we still feel its effects today. Even the Romans who came after them adopted Greek into their language. Consider that the new testament is written in Greek. Very interestingly again, even though there is no actual talk of the Macedonian empire in the old testament and Alexander the Great, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel all prophesied about the empire, with Daniel expounding on the rise and fall of the Kingdom in great detail before it even actually transpired.
If there is one ancient empire more well known and has had greater influence on the world today than the Macedonian empire, it has to be the Roman empire. Not much has to be said of the Romans we all know them. We have finally moved past the old testament into the new testament. Julius isn't mentioned in the Bible, and Augustus only briefly for their reigns have ended by the time Jesus ministry began. Jesus ministered during the time of Augustus' successor Tiberius (though he was born during Augustus' reign), but the Bible often doesn't talk much about these rulers since they were ruling from Rome far away from Jerusalem. Instead, the governors (Pilate) and client kings (Herod) were more prominent figures. Although Jesus was crucified during Tiberius reign, the new testament does not end there and proceeds on to the reign of other Emperors, one well known one being Nero. Approximately half the the new testament was written during the reign of Nero, who was well known for his cruelty towards Christians whom he saw as a threat to the Roman empire.
Post roman empire is of course out of the scope of the Bible. The empire lasted for hundreds of years and finally collapsed, not exactly through conquest like the other empires have been so far but more out of fragmentation. Some scholars argue that Rome never 'fell', but rather underwent decades of a series of transformations until it no longer quite looked like itself. This is reflected in the map showing Roman disappearing and the Byzantine empire appearing, which is also known as the Eastern Roman Empire.
After the Byzantine empire, we see a series of Muslim empires rise and control the middle east, and they have been ever since. The Sassanid Empire, the Caliphate, the Seljuk empire, the Saladin empire and finally the Ottoman empire. The Ottoman empire would be well known by those who studied world war one, where it was finally defeated by the allied forces and the empire broken up. Again, a surprise for me as a history student since I always knew the empire as the ally of Germany and destroyed by the Allied forces, but never knew it was such a powerful empire.
Before the Ottomon empire of course there were the Mongols of Gengis Khan fame. They did come close but they never really took the whole of the middle east. For one, Jerusalem was never conquered by the Mongols. I must say I was surprised to find out that the Mongolian empire was the world's largest connected empire. Looking at the map, I was amazed to see how far it actually stretched, I always associated Mongols with China but these people attacked Europe. Seriously, the Mongols were larger than the Romans? Who knew.
After which the rest of the story should be familiar. Western colonialism and in particular the British empire, world war two, the founding of Israel after world war two which finally restored a place to the people of God after years of being conquered. Then today, the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Who owns this land? Looking at the map, it is clear why this is a question so difficult to answer, especially considering that this is the holy land for the Jews and for the Muslims.
So yea, history of the middle east, as told by historians and reflect the story that was told in the Bible very well. If anyone ever questions the historical accuracy of the Bible and how it is 'merely fiction' need to look at how well and how accurately the Bible told the stories of the middle east. History often focuses on the big things that were happening around the world, and I can imagine most of historical records centered around Rome but not Jerusalem, after all it was merely a small part of the massive empire. Yet it is here, that the King of Kings died and rose again.
Of all these things, I must say that the most incredible thing to me is the prophecies that were fulfilled by the various prophets. Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel all predicted amazing things about the empires, and these are just the empires, one of the many things prophecy concerns itself with. Let's not forget the prophecies regarding the coming of the Messiah and his deeds.
The story of the middle east is fascinating, but more than just that, it encourages me to know that I can trust the Word of God, and just as I can believe the promises that have come to pass, I can believe in the promises in there here and now, and in the promises that are yet to come.