Aaron, the brother of Moses and Miriam, was a leader of the Israelites during the Exodus and in the wilderness. He was appointed as high priest, and the priestly lineage continued through him and his sons.
Abel was second son of Adam and Eve and the first shepherd. After God accepted his offerings of choice animals but rejected his brother Cain's offerings of fruits and vegetables, he was killed by his jealous brother.
Abraham is the father of the Jewish people and the husband of Sarah. God sent him from his homeland to the land of Canaan with the promise of making a great nation out of him. He built up a large household there and the Jewish line continued through his younger son, Isaac.
Adam was the first human being, created on the sixth day of creation. He and his counterpart Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden after eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. He was the father of all humanity.
Ahab was the seventh king of the northern Kingdom of Israel, and a wicked one. He allowed foreign worship to flourish under his wife Jezebel's influence, and was willing to arbitrarily dispossess his subjects. He was eventually killed in a military campaign against the Arameans.
Ahasuerus was the king of Persia in the Book of Esther. He agreed to his advisor Haman's plans to eradicate the Jews and confiscate their property, but his Jewish wife Esther and her cousin Mordechai foiled the plot when Esther revealed her true identity as a Jew.
Amalek was a nation that attacked the Israelites in the desert, coming at them from the rear to target the weak. Because of their actions, the Torah commanded the Israelites to simultaneously always remember them and to blot out their name.
Balaam was a non-Israelite prophet. When the Israelites were wandering in the desert, the Moabite king Balak paid him to curse the Israelites. However, he was only able to speak the words God put in his mouth and ended up blessing them instead.
Bath Sheba was one of King David's wives. He saw her bathing on a rooftop and arranged to have her husband sent to the front and killed so he could marry her. Their son Solomon succeeded King David, though he had many older brothers.
Bityah is the name that the Midrash gives to Pharaoh's daughter, who rescued Moses from the Nile and raised him in Pharaoh's palace. In Midrashic literature, she converted to Judaism so was given the name Bityah meaning "daughter of God."
Benjamin was the youngest son of Jacob. His mother Rachel died giving birth to him. He was especially beloved of Jacob and when he and his brothers traveled to Egypt to ask for food, Joseph accused Benjamin of stealing from him. Benjamin's brothers defended him, showing that they'd changed and grown.
Cain was the oldest child of Adam and Eve, the first human being born, and a farmer. After his own fruit and vegetable offerings to God were rejected, he killed his brother, the shepherd Abel, whose animal offerings had been accepted. He was then cursed to wander the earth, protected by God from being killed in revenge.
Kalev ben Yefuneh was one of the twelve spies sent to scout out Canaan soon after the Exodus. While most of the spies were intimidated by the Canaanites and their walled cities and gave discouraging reports, Kalev gave a more favorable account and was allowed to go into the Promised Land.
Daniel is the protagonist of the Book of Daniel. He was taken to the court of Nevukhadnetsar after he conquered Jerusalem. There he rose in the court but prophecied the destruction of Babylonia by Persia. He later had visions regarding the coming Macedonian and Seleucid Greek empires.
The daughters of Tzelofchad were Tzelofchad's only five children. As only men were allowed to inherit their fathers' land, they were concerned that Tzelofchad's land would leave their family. They petitioned Moses and God responded that if a man had no sons, daughters could inherit his land.
Dinah was the patriarch Jacob's daughter. When she went out to the city of Shechem, she was taken by force by its prince and raped. Her brothers Shimon and Levi took revenge by slaughtering the men of the city and taking their sister back with them.
Eliezer was Abraham's steward and, according to Midrash, the servant he sent to find Isaac a wife. The servant prayed for a woman who would show him kindness and hospitality and before he finished praying, Rebecca was there to greet him.
Eliyahu was a prophet in the Book of Kings who championed the worship of God during the reign of King Ahab, a time when many were turning to the worship of the Canaanite god Ba'al. He worked miracles to prove the superiority of God. He never died, but was taken to the heavens in a fiery chariot.
Elisha was a prophet in the Book of Kings and the successor of Eliyahu. He was known as a miracle worker, performing such feats as resurrecting the dead and healing the sick. He also aided and saved the life of the Israelite king Jehoash.
Queen Esther is the protagonist of the Book of Esther. She hid her Jewish identity after being chosen to marry the Persian king Ahashverosh and saved the Jewish people along with her cousin Mordechai from the genocidal vizier Haman.
Eve was the first woman created by being separated by Adam. The snake in the Garden of Eden convinced her to try the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and she gave some to Adam. They were both expelled from the Garden of Eden and she and her female descendants were cursed to difficult childbirths and subjugation to men.
Ezekiel was a prophet in the time of kings Josiah and Jehoiachin who had mystical visions about God's chariot, majesty, and hosts. According to Jewish tradition, accounts of his visions were later written down to make up the Book of Ezekiel.
Ezra was a priest who, when the Persians conquered the Babylonian empire and allowed the Jews to return, led the Jews to Israel and in rebuilding the Temple. He instituted a series of reforms meant to bring the Jewish people back to their religion.
Gideon was a judge and military leader in the Book of Judges. He led the under-dog Israelites to victory against the Midianites. He was offered kingship, but refused it, declaring that God is the only sovereign.
When Sarah struggled with infertility, she gave Abraham her servant, Hagar, to be his concubine. She bore him Ishmael and was afterwards expelled to the desert with her son. They were rescued by an angel and became the ancestors of the Ishmaelites.
Hannah was a woman who struggled with infertility. She visited the temple and prayed verbally for a child, rather than just offering a sacrifice. God took note of her and she bore a son, the prophet Samuel who would lead the Israelites. According to Jewish tradition, Hannah became the model for verbal prayer.
Chizkiyah was the king of Judah who went on a religious campaign of reform to shore up Israelite monotheism. He prepared Jerusalem for an Assyrian siege that it withstood thanks to both miracles and his construction of a water tunnel to bring water into the city.
Hoshea was a prophet in the northern Kingdom of Israel. He was directed by God to take an unfaithful wife and to have his life play out as a metaphor for the Israelites who would stray and worship false gods.
Isaac is one of the three patriarchs of the Jewish people and the husband of Rebecca. After he was almost sacrificed in a test of faith for his father Abraham, he continued his father's work. The Jewish line continued through his younger son, Jacob.
Isaiah, to whom the Book of Isaiah is traditionally attributed, is one of the major biblical prophets. He is known for both prophesying the doom of Israel and its redemption, both politically, and in a messianic age.
Ishmael was the first son of Abraham, by his concubine Hagar. Acting on Sarah's advice and God's instruction, he and his mother were expelled from their home. An angel reassured them and showed them where to find water and he became the ancestor of the Ishmaelites.
Jacob is one of the three patriarchs of the Jewish people and the husband of Rachel and Leah. After wrestling with God, he received the name "Israel" which remains the name of the Jewish people to this day. He had twelve sons and one daughter. His sons were the fathers and namesakes of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Jehoiakim was the eighteenth king of Judah. Originally an Egyptian vassal, he switched allegiances to Babylonia in hopes of preventing them from destroying Jerusalem. In Rabbinic literature, he is portrayed as a very wicked king.
Jeremiah is one of the major Jewish prophets. He warned of the coming destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon as punishment for the sins of Israel but was mocked and ignored. After the destruction, he went into exile with many other Judeans. The Books of Jeremiah and Lamenations are traditionally attributed to him.
Yoab was King David's nephew and general, who led his forces against the rebellion of David's son Avshalom. After later joining the rebellion of David's son Adonijah, David ordered him killed by Solomon.
Jonah is the protagonist of the Book of Jonah. A reluctant prophet, he tried to avoid his instruction to prophecy destruction to Nineveh. He fleed by boat but was tossed overboard during a storm and swallowed by a great fish. After being saved by God, he went to Nineveh, whose people heeded his warnings and repented.
Joseph was the patriarch Jacob's second youngest son. After being sold into Egypt as a slave by his brothers, he became a master dream interpreter and adviser to Pharaoh. Because of him, Jacob and his family were able to move to Egypt to escape famine and the Jewish people settled there with Pharaoh's favor.
As Moses's successor, Joshua led the Israelites into the Land of Israel. Under his leadership, they conquered much of the land. Joshua was one of the only of the generation of the Exodus to remain alive to go into the Promised Land.
Josiah was the sixteenth king of Judah and considered to be a righteous king, unlike many of his forefathers. He renovated the Temple and discovered a lost book of Torah, perhaps the book of Deuteronomy.
Judah was the founder of the Tribe of Judah and an ancestor of King David, through whom his tribe gained prominance. The land of Judea is named for him, as are the modern Jewish people. He was one of the sons of Jacob and Leah and was blessed by his father to be a leader of his brothers.
Judith is an apocryphal character. While she does not appear in the Tanakh, versions of her story are found both in the Apocrypha and Rabbinic literature. In the Book of Judith, she was a widow who snuck into the Assyrian camp and won over their general Holofernes before beheading him.
King David was the second king of Israel and the founder of the Davidic dynasty. He established the capital in Jerusalem. The Book of Psalms is traditionally attributed to him. He was succeeded by one of his sons, Solomon. The future Messiah is supposed to be his descendant.
King Saul was the first Israelite king. He was anointed by Samuel, who advised him. While he initially took David into his household, he grew resentful of him and sought to harm him. God's favor passed to David. His daughter Michal had married him and after Saul killed himself in battle, David took the throne.
Leah is one of the matriarchs of the Jewish people and the first wife of Jacob. Her father tricked Jacob into marrying her and she suffered from knowing she was loved like Jacob's second wife, her sister Rachel. She was blessed with six sons who became tribes in their own right, and one daughter.
Lilith is a figure in Midrashic stories. She usually appears as a demon that preys on women in childbirth and young children. In Medieval Midrash, she was popularized as Adam's first companion who refused to submit to him and so was replaced by Eve.
Lot was Abraham's nephew. As he grew wealthy, his household separated from Abraham's and he settled in Sodom. Angels rescued him and his family when Sodom was destroyed. His daughters thought they were the last living people on earth and had children with him, becoming the ancestors of the Moabites and the Ammonites.
Miriam was a prophet who, along with her brothers Moses and Aaron, led the Israelites out of Egypt. She led the Jewish women in song and dance. According to Midrashic stories, a well of fresh water followed the Israelites in the desert because of her merit and it disappeared when she died.
Moses was the greatest prophet in the Biblical tradition. Brought up in the Egyptian royal family, he fled Egypt before being sent back by God to lead the Israelites out of slavery and to the Promised Land. He brought the Torah down from Mount Sinai, and, according to Jewish tradition, wrote it all down. He died before reaching Israel.
Nadav and Avihu were Aaron's two oldest sons. After they were invested as priests, they brought an incense offering that was not according to rules that had been laid out for offerings. They were then consumed by fire and were succeeded by their younger brothers.
Naomi is one of the chief figures of the Book of Ruth. She was Ruth's mother-in-law who moved to Moab with her family during a famine, only to return to her home in Bethlehem with Ruth after her husband and sons died. Despondent and poor, she found hope again when Ruth married Boaz and bore a son.
Nevukhadnetsar, commonly known as Nebuchadnezzar, was a Babylonian king and conquerer of Jerusalem and exiler of the Jews. The Book of Daniel describes him as later recognizing God's power and going mad.
Noach was the sole righteous person in the midst of a wicked generation. When God decided to flood the earth, Noach was given warning and was instructed to build an ark. During the flood, he, his family, and represenatives of every animal survived on the ark.
While there are a few pharaohs mentioned in the Tanakh, the most famous one was the Pharaoh who enslaved the Israelites and hardened his heart in his refusal to set them free. During his reign, God struck Egypt with ten plagues. Pharaoh and his army were destroyed when they chased the fleeing Israelites into the Red Sea.
Pinchas was a priest best known for his violent reaction to Israelite worship of the god Ba'al Pe'or. As this worship was associated with sexual relationships between Israelite men and Moabite and Midianite women, he killed one such couple mid-intercourse. Pinchas was a leader of the Israelites when they went into the Promised Land.
Rachel is one of the four matriarchs of the Jewish people. The favored wife of Jacob, who had first married her sister Leah, she suffered from infertility before bearing his two favored sons: Joseph and Benjamin. She died giving birth to Benjamin.
Rebecca is one of the four matriarchs of the Jewish people. After proving her worth through acts of kindness and hospitality, she married Abraham's son Isaac. She favored her younger son Jacob and helped him to get the blessing meant for her older son Esau.
Reuven was the founder of the Tribe of Reuven and the oldest son of Jacob and Leah. He convinced his brothers not to kill their brother Joseph, but to throw him in a pit, thinking he might save him later. When Jacob blessed his sons, he gave Reuven a mixed one, due to Reuven having had an affair with Bilhah, Jacob's concubine.
Ruth is the protagonist of the Book of Ruth. Though a Moabite foreigner, she followed her beloved Israelite mother-in-law Naomi to Bethlehem after their husbands died. She committed herself to Naomi and the Israelite people. There she found a new husband and became an ancestor of King David.
Samson was a judge, Nazirite and military leader in the Book of Judges. After victories against the Philistines, he was tricked by his lover, Delilah, into betraying the source of his strength. He was captured and blinded by the Philistines, but he was eventually able to kill many of them, and himself, by destroying their temple.
The prophet Shmuel led the Israelites before the time of kings. Under his leadership, they rose up against the Phillistines. He annointed Saul as king and advised him before secretly annointing David when God's favor passed to David.
Sennacherib was an Assyrian king who sought to conquer Jerusalem. Isaiah prophesied his defeat. He laid siege to the city, but King Hezekiah withstood the siege. An angel defeated the Assyrian army and Sennacherib withdrew his forces.
Shimon was the second son of Jacob and Leah. After his sister was kidnapped and raped by Shechem, he and his brother Levi went on a rampage against their city. Because of his rash actions, he was cursed by his father so that his descendants would be scattered. He was the founder of the Tribe of Shimon.
Solomon was the second king of Israel and the son of David. Best known for building the first Temple in Jerusalem, he also built up the kingdom and expanded Israelite borders. Known for being wise, the Book of Proverbs, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes are traditionally attributed to him.
Tamar was Judah's daughter-in-law. After she married two of his sons who then died, he refused to do his duty by giving her his third son in marriage. Instead, she seduced him by pretending to be a prostitute. She kept his personal effects as a pledge and used them to prove that he owed her his household and protection. The son they had became an ancestor of King David.
Shifra and Puah were two midwives who were ordered by Pharaoh to kill the Israelite boys they delivered. They refused and defended themselves by telling Pharaoh it was because Israelite women had their children before they could reach them.
Yael was a figure in the Book of Judges who lured Sisera, an enemy Canaanite general, into her tent. She put him to sleep there by giving him warm milk and killed him by hammering a tent-peg into his skull.
Yerovam was the first king of the northern Kingdom of Israel after revolting against the rule of the Davidic dynasty. In Israel they set up their own priesthood and temple in opposition to the Judean priesthood and temple.