It is history that provides the key to an understanding of Judaism, for its primal affirmations appear in early historical narratives. Thus, the Bible reports contemporary events and activities for essentially religious reasons. The biblical authors believed that the divine presence is encountered primarily within history. God’s presence is also experienced within the natural realm, but the more immediate or intimate disclosure occurs in human actions. Although other ancient communities also perceived a divine presence in history, the understanding of the ancient Israelites proved to be the most lasting and influential. It is this particular claim—to have experienced God’s presence in human events—and its subsequent development that is the differentiating factor in Jewish thought.
Moreover, the ancient Israelites’ entire mode of existence was affected by their belief that throughout history they stood in a unique relationship with the divine. The people of Israel believed that their response to the divine presence in history was central not only for themselves but for all humankind. Furthermore, God—as person—had revealed in a particular encounter the pattern and structure of communal and individual life to this people. Claiming sovereignty over the people because of his continuing action in history on their behalf, he had established a covenant (berit) with them and required from them obedience to his teaching, or law (Torah). This obedience was a further means by which the divine presence was made manifest—expressed in concrete human existence. The corporate life of the chosencommunity was thus a summons to the rest of humankind to recognize God’s presence, sovereignty, and purpose—the establishment of peace and well-being in the universe and in humankind.
History, moreover, disclosed not only God’s purpose but also humankind’s inability to live in accord with it. Even the chosen community failed in its obligation and had to be summoned back, time and again, to its responsibility by the prophets—the divinely called spokespersons who warned of retribution within history and argued and reargued the case for affirmative human response. Israel’s role in the divine economy and thus Israel’s particular culpability were dominant themes sounded against the motif of fulfillment, the ultimate triumph of the divine purpose, and the establishment of divine sovereignty over all humankind.
Nature and characteristics
In nearly 4,000 years of historical development, the Jewish people and their religion have displayed a remarkable adaptability and continuity. In their encounter with the great civilizations, from ancient Babylonia and Egypt to Western Christendom and modern secular culture, they have assimilated foreign elements and integrated them into their own social and religious systems, thus maintaining an unbroken religious and cultural tradition. Furthermore, each period of Jewish history has left behind it a specific element of a Judaic heritage that continued to influence subsequent developments, so that the total Jewish heritage at any given time is a combination of all these successive elements along with whatever adjustments and accretions have occurred in each new age.
The various teachings of Judaism have often been regarded as specifications of the central idea of monotheism. One God, the creator of the world, has freely elected the Jewish people for a unique covenantal relationship with himself. This one and only God has been affirmed by virtually all professing Jews in a variety of ways throughout the ages.
Jewish monotheism has had both universalistic and particularistic features. Along universal lines, it has affirmed a God who created and rules the entire world and who at the end of history will redeem all Israel (the classical name for the Jewish people), all humankind, and indeed the whole world. The ultimate goal of all nature and history is an unending reign of cosmic intimacy with God, entailing universal justice and peace. Between creation and redemption lies the particularistic designation of the Jewish people as the locus of God’s activity in the world, as the people chosen by God to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). This arrangement is designated a covenant and is structured by an elaborate and intricate law. Thus, the Jewish people are both entitled to special privileges and burdened with special responsibilities from God. As the prophet Amos (8th century bce) expressed it: “You alone have I intimately known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities” (Amos 3:2). The universal goal of the Jewish people has frequently expressed itself in messianism—the idea of a universal, political realm of justice and peace. In one form or another, messianism has permeated Jewish thinking and action throughout the ages, and it has strongly influenced the outlook of many secular-minded Jews (see alsoeschatology).
Law embraces practically all domains of Jewish life, and it became the principle means by which Judaism was to bring about the reign of God on earth. It is a total guide to religious and ethical conduct, involving ritualistic observance as well as individual and social ethics. It is a liturgical and ethical way constantly expatiated on by the prophets and priests, by rabbinic sages, and by philosophers. Such conduct was to be performed in the service of God, the transcendent and immanent ruler of the universe, the Creator and the propelling force of nature, and the one giving guidance and purpose to history. According to Judaic belief, this divine guidance is manifested through the history of the Jewish people, which will culminate in the messianic age. Judaism, whether in its “normative” form or in its sectarian deviations, never completely departed from this basic ethical and historical monotheism.Salo Wittmayer BaronLou Hackett Silberman
The division of the millennia of Jewish history into periods is a procedure frequently dependent on philosophicalpredilections. The Christian world long believed that until the rise of Christianity the history of Judaism was but a “preparation for the Gospel” (preparatio evangelica) that was followed by the “manifestation of the Gospel” (demonstratio evangelica) as revealed by Christ and the Apostles. This formulation could be theologically reconciled with the assumption that Christianity had been preordained even before the creation of the world.
In the 19th century, biblical scholars moved the decisive division back to the period of the Babylonian Exile and the restoration of the Jews to the kingdom of Judah (6th–5th century bce). They asserted that after the first fall of Jerusalem (586 bce) the ancient “Israelitic” religion gave way to a new form of the “Jewish” faith, or Judaism, as formulated by the reformer Ezra (5th century bce) and his school. In Die Entstehung des Judentums (1896; “The Origin of Judaism”) the German historian Eduard Meyer argued that Judaism originated in the Persian period, or the days of Ezra and Nehemiah (5th century bce); indeed, he attributed an important role in shaping the emergent religion to Persian imperialism.
These theories, however, have been discarded by most scholars in the light of a more comprehensive knowledge of the ancient Middle East and the abandonment of a theory of gradual evolutionary development that was dominant at the beginning of the 20th century. Most Jews share a long-accepted notion that there never was a real break in continuity and that Mosaic-prophetic-priestly Judaism was continued, with only a few modifications, in the work of the Pharisaic and rabbinic sages well into the modern period. Even today the various Jewish groups—whether Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform—all claim direct spiritual descent from the Pharisees and the rabbinic sages. In fact, however, many developments have occurred within so-called normative or Rabbinic Judaism.
In any event, the history of Judaism can be divided into the following major periods: biblical Judaism (c. 20th–4th century bce), Hellenistic Judaism (4th century bce–2nd century ce), Rabbinic Judaism (2nd–18th century ce), and modern Judaism (c. 1750 to the present).Salo Wittmayer Baron
Biblical Judaism (20th–4th century bce)
The ancient Middle Eastern setting
The Bible depicts the family of the Hebrew patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (all early 2nd millennium bce)—as having its chief seat in the northern Mesopotamian town of Harran, which then belonged to the Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni. From there Abraham, the founder of the Hebrew people, is said to have migrated to Canaan (comprising roughly the region of modern Israel and Lebanon), which was a vortex of west Asian, Egyptian, and east Mediterranean cultures throughout the biblical period and later ages. From Canaan the Hebrew ancestors of the people of Israel (named after the patriarch Jacob, also called Israel) migrated to Egypt, where they lived in servitude; a few generations later they returned to occupy part of Canaan.
Israelite culture initially resembled that of its surroundings; it was neither wholly original nor wholly primitive. The Hebrews were seminomadic herdsmen and occasionally farmers. Their tribal structure resembled that of the West Semitic steppe dwellers known from the 18th-century-bce tablets excavated at the north-central Mesopotamian city of Mari; their family customs and law have parallels in the Old Babylonian and Hurro-Semite law of the early and middle 2nd millennium. The conception of a messenger of God that underlies biblical prophecy was Amorite (West Semitic) and also found in the tablets at Mari. Mesopotamian religious and cultural conceptions are reflected in biblical cosmogony, primeval history (including the Flood story in Genesis 6:9–8:22), and law collections. The Canaanite component of Israelite culture consisted of the Hebrew language and a rich literary heritage—whose Ugaritic form (which flourished in the northern Syrian city of Ugarit from the mid-15th century to approximately 1200 bce) illuminates the Bible’s poetry, style, mythological allusions, and religious or cultic terms. Egypt provides many analogues for Hebrew hymnody and wisdom literature. All the cultures among which the patriarchs lived had cosmic gods who fashioned the world and preserved its order, all had a developed ethical system expressed in law and moraladmonitions, and all had elaborate religious rites and myths.
Although plainer when compared with some of the learned literary creations of Mesopotamia, Canaan, and Egypt, the earliest biblical writings are so imbued with contemporary ancient Middle Eastern elements that the once-held assumption that Israelite religion began on a preliterate level must be rejected. Late-born amid high civilizations, the Israelite religion had from the start features characteristic of all the known religions of the area. Implanted on the land bridge between Africa and Asia, it was exposed to crosscurrents of foreign thought throughout its history.
The pre-Mosaic period: the religion of the patriarchs
Israelite tradition identified YHWH (by scholarly convention pronounced Yahweh), the God of Israel, with the creator of the world, who had been known and worshipped from the beginning of time. Abraham did not discover this God but entered into a new covenantal relationship with him, in which Abraham was promised the land of Canaan and numerous progeny. God fulfilled that promise, it is believed, through the actions of the Hebrew leader Moses (14th–13th century bce): he liberated the people of Israel from Egypt, imposed covenantal obligations on them at Mt. Sinai, and brought them to the Promised Land.
Historical and anthropological studies present formidable objections to the continuity of YHWH worship from Adam (the biblical first man) to Moses. The Hebrew tradition itself, moreover, does not unanimously support even the more modest claim of the continuity of YHWH worship from Abraham to Moses. This lack of continuity is demonstrated in Exodus 6:3, which says that God revealed himself to the patriarchs not as YHWH but as El Shaddai—an archaic epithet of unknown meaning that is not specifically Israelite but is found throughout the patriarchal narratives and in the Book of Job. The epithet El Elyon (God Most High) also appears frequently in the patriarchal narratives. Neither of these epithets is used in postpatriarchal narratives (excepting the Book of Ruth). Other compounds with El are unique to Genesis: El Olam (God the Everlasting One), El Bethel (God Bethel), and El Roʾi (God of Vision). An additional peculiarity of the patriarchal stories is their use of the phrase “God of my [your, his] father.” All these epithets have been taken as evidence that patriarchal religion differed from the worship of YHWH that began with Moses. A relation to a patron god was defined by revelations starting with Abraham (who never refers to the God of his father) and continuing with a succession of “founders” of his worship. Attached to the founder and his family, as befits the patron of wanderers, this unnamed deity acquired various Canaanite epithets (El, Elyon, Olam, Bethel, Qone Eretz [“Possessor of the Land”]) only after their immigration into Canaan. Whether the name of YHWH was known to the patriarchs is doubtful. It is significant that while the epithets Shaddai and El occur frequently in pre-Mosaic and Mosaic-age names, YHWH appears as an element only in the names of Yehoshuaʿ (Joshua) and perhaps of Jochebed—persons who were closely associated with Moses.
The patriarchs are depicted as objects of God’s blessing, protection, and providential care. Their response is loyalty and obedience and observance of a cult (i.e., a system of religious beliefs and practices) whose ordinary expression is sacrifice, vow, and prayer at an altar, stone pillar, or sacred tree. Circumcision was a distinctive mark of the cult community. The eschatology (doctrine of ultimate destiny) of their faith was God’s promise of land and a great progeny. Any flagrant contradictions between patriarchal and later mores have presumably been censored; yet distinctive features of the post-Mosaic religion are absent. The God of the patriarchs shows nothing of YHWH’s “jealousy”; no religious tension or contrast with their neighbours appears, and idolatry is scarcely an issue. The patriarchal covenant differed from the Mosaic, Sinaitic covenant in that it was modeled upon a royal grant to favourites and imposed no obligations as conditions of the people’s happiness. Evidently not the same as the later religion of Israel, the patriarchal religion prepared the way for the later one through its familial basis, its personal call by the Deity, and its response of loyalty and obedience to him.
Little can be said of the relation between the religion of the patriarchs and the religions of Canaan. Known points of contact between them are the divine epithets mentioned above. Like the God of the fathers, El, the head of the Ugaritic pantheon, was depicted as both a judgmental and a compassionate deity. Baal (Lord), the aggressive young agricultural deity of Ugarit, is remarkably absent from Genesis. Yet the socioeconomic situation of the patriarchs was so different from the urban, mercantile, and monarchical background of the Ugaritic myths as to render any comparisons highly questionable.
The Mosaic period: foundations of the Israelite religion
The Egyptian sojourn
According to Hebrew tradition, a famine caused the migration to Egypt of the band of 12 Hebrew families that later made up a tribal league in the land of Israel. The schematic character of this tradition does not impair the historicity of a migration to Egypt, an enslavement by Egyptians, and an escape from Egypt under an inspired leader by some component of the later Israelite tribes. To disallow these events, it can be argued, would make their centrality as articles of faith in the later religious beliefs of Israel inexplicable.
Tradition gives the following account of the birth of the nation. At the Exodus from Egypt (13th century bce), YHWH showed his faithfulness and power by liberating the Israelites from bondage and punishing their oppressors with plagues and drowning them in the sea. At Sinai he made the Israelites his people and gave them the terms of his covenant, regulating their conduct toward him and each other so as to make them a holy nation. After sustaining them miraculously during their 40-year trek in the wilderness, he enabled them to take the land that he had promised to their fathers, the patriarchs. Central to these events is Moses, who was commissioned by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, mediate God’s covenant with them, and bring them to Canaan.
Behind the legends and the multiform law collections, it is possible to discern a historical figure to whom the legends and the legislative activity can be attached. And it is precisely Moses’ unusual combination of roles that makes him credible as a historical figure. Like Muhammad (c. 570–632 ce) at the birth of Islam, Moses fills oracular, legislative, executive, and military functions. He shapes the main institutions of Israel: the priesthood and the sacred shrine, the covenant and its rules, and the administrative apparatus of the tribal league. Although Moses is compared to a prophet in various texts in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), he is never designated as one—the term being evidently unsuited for so comprehensive and unique a figure.
The distinctive features of Israelite religion appear with Moses. The proper name of Israel’s God, YHWH, was revealed and interpreted to Moses as meaning ehye asher ehye—an enigmatic phrase of infinite suggestiveness, literally meaning “I am/shall be what I am/shall be.” The covenant, defining Israel’s obligations, is ascribed to Moses’ mediation. It is impossible to determine what rulings go back to Moses, but the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, presented in chapter 20 of Exodus and chapter 5 of Deuteronomy, and the larger and smaller covenant codes in Exodus 20:22–23:33 and 34:11–26 are held by critics to contain early covenant law. From them the following features may be noted: the rules are formulated as God’s utterances—i.e., expressions of his sovereign will, directed toward and often explicitly addressed to the people at large, Moses merely conveying the sovereign’s message to his subjects—and, publication being of the essence of the rules, the people as a whole are held responsible for their observance.
The liberation from Egypt laid upon Israel the obligation of exclusive loyalty to YHWH. This meant eschewing all other gods—including idols venerated as such—and the elimination of all magical recourses. The worship of YHWH was aniconic (without images); even figures that might serve in his worship were banned, apparently because their use suggested theurgy (the art or technique of influencing or controlling a god by fixing his presence in a particular place and making him accessible). Although there is a mythological background behind some cultic terminology (e.g., “a pleasing odour to YHWH” and “my bread”), sacrifice is conceived as tribute or is regarded (in priestly writings) as purely a sacrament—i.e., as a material means of interacting with or making a connection to God. Hebrew festivals also have no mythological basis; they either celebrate God’s bounty (e.g., at the ingathering of the harvest) or his saving acts (e.g., at the festival of unleavened bread, which is a memorial of the Exodus).
The values of life and limb, labour, and social solidarity were protected in the rules governing interpersonal relations. The involuntary perpetual slavery of Hebrews was abolished, and a seven-year limit was set on bondage. The humanity of slaves was defended: one who beat his slave to death was liable to death; if he maimed a slave, he was required to set the slave free. Murderers were denied asylum and could not ransom themselves from death, and for deliberate and severe bodily injuries the lex talionis—the principle of “an eye for an eye”—was ordained (seetalion). Theft and harm to property were punished monetarily rather than by death.
Moral exhortations called for solidarity with the poor and the helpless and for brotherly assistance to those in need. Institutions were created—e.g., the sabbatical, or seventh, fallow year, in which land was not cultivated—to embody such exhortations in practice.
Since the goal of the Israelites was the conquest of a land, their religion had warlike features. Organized as an army (called “the hosts of YHWH” in Exodus 12:41), they encamped in a protective square around their palladium—the tent housing the ark in which rested the stone “Tablets of the Covenant.” When journeying, the sacred objects were carried and guarded by the Levite tribe or clan, whose rivals, the Aaronites, exercised a monopoly on the priesthood. God, sometimes called “the warrior,” marched with the army; in war, part of the booty was delivered to his ministers.
The period of the conquest and settlement of Canaan
The conquest of Canaan was remembered as a continuation of God’s marvels at the Exodus. The Jordan River was split asunder, the walls of Jericho fell at Israel’s shout, the enemy was seized with divinely inspired terror, and the sun stood still in order to enable Israel to exploit its victory. Such stories are not necessarily the work of a later age; they reflect rather the impact of these victories on the actors in the drama, who felt themselves successful by the grace of God.
A complex process of occupation, involving both battles of annihilation and treaty agreements with indigenous peoples, has been simplified in the biblical account of the wars of Joshua (13th century bce). Gradually, the unity of the invaders dissolved (most scholars believe that the invading element was only part of the Hebrew settlement in Canaan; other Hebrews, long since settled in Canaan from patriarchal times, then joined the invaders’ covenant league). Individual tribes made their way with varying success against the residue of Canaanite resistance. New enemies, Israel’s neighbours to the east and west, appeared, and the period of the judges (leaders, or champions) began.
The Book of Judges, the main witness for the period, does not speak with one voice on the religious situation. Its editorial framework describes repeated cycles of apostasy, oppression, appeal to God, and relief through a champion sent by God. Israel’s troubles prior to the institution of the monarchy under Saul (11th century bce) were caused by the weakness of the disunited tribes and were thus accounted for by the covenantal sin of apostasy. The individual stories, however, present a different picture. Apostasy does not figure in the exploits of the judges Ehud, Deborah, Jephthah, and Samson; YHWH has no rival, and faith in him is periodically confirmed by the saviours he sends to rescue Israel from its neighbours. This faith is shared by all the tribes; it is owing to their common cult that a Levite from Bethlehem could serve first at an Ephraimite and later also at a Danite sanctuary. The religious bond, preserved by the common cult, enabled the tribes to work together under the leadership of elders or an inspired champion in time of danger or religious scandal.
Both written and archaeological testimonies, however, point to the Hebrews’ adoption of Canaanite cults—the Baal worship of Gideon’s family and neighbours in Ophrah in Judges, chapter 6, is an example. The many cultic figurines (usually female) found in Israelite levels of Palestinian archaeological sites also give colour to the sweeping indictments of the framework of the Book of Judges. But these phenomena belonged to the private, popular religion; the national God, YHWH, remained one—Baal sent no prophets to Israel—though YHWH’s claim to exclusive worship was obviously not effectual. Nor did his cult conform with later orthodoxy; Micah’s idol in Judges, chapter 17, and Gideon’s ephod (priestly or religious garment) were considered apostasies by the editor, in accord with the dogma that whatever is not orthodoxy is apostasy—heterodoxy (nonconformity) being unrecognized and simply equated with apostasy.
To the earliest sanctuaries and altars honoured as patriarchal foundations—at Shechem, Bethel, Beersheba, and Hebron in Cisjordan (west of the Jordan); and at Mahanaim, Penuel, and Mizpah in Transjordan (east of the Jordan)—were added new sanctuaries and altars at Dan, Shiloh, Ramah, Gibeon, and elsewhere. A single priestly family could not operate all these establishments, and so Levites rose to the priesthood; at private sanctuaries even non-Levites might be consecrated as priests. The Ark of the Covenant was housed in the Shiloh sanctuary, staffed by priests of the house of Eli, who traced their consecration back to Egypt. But the ark remained a portable palladium in wartime; Shiloh was not regarded as its final resting place. The law in Exodus 20:24–26, which authorized a plurality of altar sites and the simplest forms of construction (earth and rough stone), suited the plain conditions of this period.
The period of the united monarchy
The religious and political problem
The decentralized tribal league could not cope with the constant pressure of external enemies—camel-riding desert marauders who pillaged harvests annually and iron-weaponed Philistines (an Aegean people settling coastal Palestine c. 12th century bce) who controlled key points in the hill country occupied by the Israelites. In the face of such threats, a central authority that could mobilize the forces of the entire league and create a standing army had to be established. Two attitudes were distilled in the crisis—one conservative and anti-monarchic, the other radical and pro-monarchic. The conservative attitude appears first in Gideon’s refusal to found a dynasty in Judges 8:23: “I will not rule you,” he tells the people, “my son will not rule over you; YHWH will…!” This theocratic view pervades one of the two contrasting accounts of the founding of the monarchy fused in chapters 8–12 of the First Book of Samuel (seeSamuel, books of). The popular demand for a king was viewed as a rejection of the kingship of God, and in response to the demand there appeared a series of inspired saviours, from Moses and Aaron (14th–13th century bce) through Jerubbaal, Bedan, and Jephthah to Samuel (11th century bce) himself. The other, more radical account depicts the monarchy as a gift of God, designed to rescue his people from the Philistines (1 Samuel 9:16). Both accounts represent the seer-judge Samuel as the key figure in the founding of Israel’s monarchy, and it is not unlikely that the two attitudes struggled within him.
The Benjaminite Saul was made king (c. 1020 bce) by divine election and by popular acclamation after his victory over the Ammonites (a Transjordanian Semitic people), but his career was clouded by conflict with Samuel, the major representative of the old order. Saul’s kingship was bestowed by Samuel and had to be accommodated to the ongoing authority of that man of God. The two accounts of Saul’s rejection by God (through Samuel) involve his usurpation of the prophet’s authority. King David (10th century bce), whose forcefulness and religious and political genius established the monarchy on an independent spiritual footing, resolved the conflict.
The Davidic monarchy
The essence of the Davidic innovation was the idea that, in addition to divine election through Samuel and public acclamation, David had received God’s promise of an eternal dynasty; a conditional (perhaps earlier) and an unconditional (perhaps later) form of this promise exist in Psalms, chapter 132 and 2 Samuel, chapter 7, respectively. In its developed form, the promise was conceived of as a covenant with David, paralleling the covenant with Israel and instrumental in the latter’s fulfillment—the covenant being that God would channel his benefactions to Israel through the chosen dynasty of David. With this new status came the inviolability of the person of God’s anointed (a characteristically Davidic idea) and a court rhetoric—adapted from pagan models—in which the king was styled “the [firstborn] son of God.” An index of the king’s sanctity was his occasional performance of priestly duties. Yet the king’s mortality was never forgotten: he was never deified, and, although prayers and hymns might be said on his behalf, they were never addressed to him as a god.
David captured the Jebusite stronghold of Jerusalem and made it the seat of a national monarchy (Saul had never moved the seat of his government from his birthplace, the Benjaminite town of Gibeah, about three miles north of Jerusalem). Then, fetching the ark from an obscure retreat, David installed it in his capital, asserting his royal prerogative (and obligation) to build a shrine for the national God and thus at the same time joining the symbols of the dynastic and the national covenants. This move of political genius linked the God of Israel, the chosen dynasty of David, and the chosen city of Jerusalem in a henceforth indissoluble union.
David planned to build a temple to house the ark, but the tenacious tradition of the ark’s portability in a tent shrine forced the postponement of the project to the reign of his son Solomon. As part of his extensive building program, Solomon erected the Temple on a Jebusite threshing floor, located on a hill north of Jerusalem, which David had purchased to mark the spot where a plague had been halted. The ground plan of the Temple—a porch with two freestanding pillars before it, a sanctuary, and an inner sanctum—followed Syrian and Phoenician sanctuary models. A bronze “sea” resting on bulls and placed in the Temple court had a Babylonian analogue. The Temple of Jerusalem resembled Canaanite and other Middle Eastern religious structures but was also different from them: notably, in the inner sanctum of the Temple there was no image of God but only the ancient ark covered by the wings of large cherubim. YHWH, who was enthroned upon celestial cherubim, was thus symbolically present in the Temple.
Alongside a brief inaugural poem in 1 Kings 8:12–13, an extensive (and, in its present form, later) prayer expresses the distinctively biblical view of the Temple as a vehicle through which God provided for his people’s needs. Since no reference to sacrifice is made, not a trace appears of the standard pagan conception of temple as a vehicle through which humans provided for the gods.
The quality of the preserved narrative of the reign of David, which gives every indication of having come from the hand of a contemporary eyewitness, demonstrates that literature flourished under the aegis of the court. Attached to the royally sponsored Temple must have been a library and a school (in keeping with the universally attested practice of the ancient Middle East), among whose products would have been not only royal psalms but also liturgical pieces intended for the common people that eventually found their way into the book of Psalms.
The latest historical allusions in the Torah literature (the Pentateuch) are to the period of the united monarchy—e.g., the defeat and subjugation of the peoples of Amalek, Moab (seeMoabite), and Edom by Saul and David, in Numbers 24:17–20. On the other hand, the polity reflected in the laws is tribal and decentralized, with no bureaucracy. Its economy is agricultural and pastoral; class distinctions—apart from slave and free—are lacking; and commerce and urban life are rudimentary. A pre-monarchic background is evident, with only rare explicit reflections of the later monarchy—e.g., in Deuteronomy 17:14–20. The groundwork of the Torah literature most likely crystallized under the united monarchy.
In this period the traditional wisdomcultivated among the learned in neighbouring cultures came to be prized in Israel. Solomon is represented as the author of an extensive literature comparable to that of other sages in the region. His wisdom is expressly attributed to YHWH in the account of his night oracle at Gibeon (in which he asked not for power or riches but for wisdom), thus marking the adaptation to biblical thought of this common Middle Eastern genre. As set forth in Proverbs 2:5, “It is YHWH who grants wisdom; knowledge and understanding are by his command.” Patronage of wisdom literature is ascribed to the later Judahite king, Hezekiah (8th–7th century bce); the connection of wisdom with kings is also common in extra-biblical cultures.
Domination of all of Palestine entailed the absorption of “the rest of the Amorites”—the pre-Israelite population that lived chiefly in the valleys and on the coast. Their impact on Israelite religion is unknown, though some scholars contend that there was a “royally sponsored syncretism” aimed at fusing the two populations. Because popular religion incorporated pagan elements, it is likely that it did not meet the standards of the biblical writers; such elements may have increased as a result of intercourse with the newly absorbed Amorites. The court itself welcomed foreigners—Philistines, Cretans, Hittites, and Ishmaelites are named, among others—and made use of their service. Their effect on the court religion may be surmised from what is recorded concerning Solomon’s many diplomatic marriages: foreign princesses whom Solomon married brought with them the apparatus of their native cults. The king even had shrines to their gods built and maintained on the Mount of Olives. Yet such private cults, while indeed royally sponsored, did not make the religion of the people syncretistic.
Such compromise with the pagan world, entailed by the widening horizons of the monarchy, violated the sanctity of the holy land of YHWH and turned the king into an idolator in the eyes of zealots. Religious opposition, combined with grievances against the organization of forced labour for state projects, led to the secession of the northern tribes (headed by the Joseph tribes) after Solomon’s death.
The period of the divided kingdom
Jeroboam I (10th century bce), the first king of the north, now called Israel (the kingdom in the south was called Judah), appreciated the inextricable link of Jerusalem and its sanctuary with the Davidic claim to divine election to kingship over all of Israel (the whole people, north and south). He therefore founded rival sanctuaries at the ancient cult sites of Dan and Bethel and staffed them with non-Levite priests whose symbol of YHWH’s presence was a golden calf—a pedestal of divine images in ancient iconography and the equivalent of the cherubim of Jerusalem’s Temple. He also moved the autumn ingathering festival one month ahead so as to foreclose celebrating this most popular of all festivals simultaneously with Judah.
The Book of Kings (later divided into two books; seeKings, books of) remains the almost exclusive source for the evaluation of Jeroboam’s innovations and the subsequent official religion of the north down to the mid-8th century. However, this work has severe limitations as a source for religious history. It is dominated by a dogmatic historiography that regards the whole enterprise of the north as one long apostasy ending in a deserved disaster. The culmination of Kings’ history with the exile of Judah shows that it came from the northern kingdom. Yet the evaluation of Judah’s official religion is subject to an equally dogmatic standard: namely, the royal adherence to the Deuteronomic rule of a single cult site. The author considered the Temple of Solomon to be the cult site chosen by God, according to Deuteronomy, chapter 12, the existence of which rendered all other sites illegitimate. Every king of Judah is judged according to whether or not he did away with all places of worship outside Jerusalem. The date of this criterion may be inferred from the indifference toward it of all persons prior to Hezekiah—e.g., the prophets Elijah and Elisha and Jehoiada, a priest of Jerusalem (all 9th century bce).
Another serious limitation is the restriction of Kings’ purview: excepting the Elijah-Elisha stories, it recognizes only the royally sponsored cult and pays scant attention to popular religion. In the mid-8th century the writings of the classical prophets, starting with Amos, first appeared. These take in the people as a whole, in contrast to Kings; on the other hand, their interest in theodicy (the problem of reconciling the presumed goodness of God with the existence of evil in the world) and their polemical tendency to exaggerate and generalize what they deem evil must be taken into consideration before accepting their statements as history per se (see alsoevil, problem of).
For half a century after the north’s secession (c. 922 bce), the religious situation in Jerusalem was unchanged. The distaff side of the royal household perpetuated, and even augmented, the pagan cults. King Asa (reigned c. 908–867 bce) is credited with a general purge, including the destruction of an image made for the goddess Asherah by the queen mother, granddaughter of an Aramaean princess. He also purged the qedeshim (“consecrated men”—conventionally rendered as “sodomites,” or “male sacred prostitutes”).
Foreign cults entered the north with the marriage of King Ahab (reigned 874–853 bce) to the Tyrian princess Jezebel (died c. 843 bce). Jezebel was accompanied by a large entourage of sacred personnel to staff the temple of Baal and Asherah that Ahab built for her in Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. Although Ahab’s orthodoxy was in every other respect irreproachable, some members of his court may have worshipped the gods of the foreign princess. Jezebel’s persecution of the prophets of YWHW—conduct untypical of a polytheist except in self-defense—was probably prompted by the fierce opposition to non-YHWH cults in Israel. Elijah’s assertion that the whole country apostatized is a piece of hyperbole based on the view that whoever did not actively fight Jezebel was implicated in her polluted cult. Such must have been the view of the prophets, whose fallen were the first martyrs to die for the glory of God. The quality of their opposition may be gauged by Elijah’s summary execution of the foreign Baal cultists after they failed at the contest on Mt. Carmel (Elijah and the priests of Baal appealed respectively to YHWH and Baal to set a pile of wood ablaze to prove whose god was truly God). A three-year drought (attested also in Phoenician sources), declared by Elijah to be punishment for the sin of apostasy, did much to kindle the prophets’ zeal.
To judge from the stories of Elisha, devotion to the cult of Baal existed in the capital city, Samaria, but was not felt in the countryside. The religious tone there was set by the popular prophets and their adherents (“the sons of the prophets”). In popular consciousness these men were wonder-workers—healing the sick and reviving the dead, foretelling the future, and helping to find lost objects. To the biblical narrator, they witnessed the working of God in Israel. Elijah’s rage at the Israelite king Ahaziah’s recourse to the pagan god Baalzebub, Elisha’s cure of the Syrian military leader Naaman’s leprosy, and anonymous prophets’ directives and predictions in matters of peace and war all served to glorify God. Indeed, the equation of Israel’s prosperity with God’s interest generated the first appearance of the issue of “true” and “false” prophecy. The fact that prophecy of success could turn out to be a snare is exemplified in a story of conflict between the prophet of doom Micaiah (9th century bce) and 400 unanimous prophets of victory who lured King Ahab to his death. The poignancy of the issue is highlighted by Micaiah’s acknowledgment that the 400 were also prophets of YHWH—but inspired by him deliberately with a “lying spirit.”
The period of classical prophecy and cult reform
The emergence of the literary prophets
By the mid-8th century, one hundred years of chronic warfare between Israel and Aram had finally ended—the Aramaeans having suffered heavy blows from the Assyrians. King Jeroboam II (8th century bce) undertook to restore the imperial sway of the north over its neighbour, and Jonah’s prophecy that Jeroboam would extend Israel’s borders from the Dead Sea to the entrance to Hamath (Syria) was borne out. The well-to-do expressed their relief in lavish attentions to the institutions of worship and to their private mansions. But the strain of the prolonged warfare showed in the polarization of society between the wealthy few who had profited from the war and the masses whom it had ravaged and impoverished. Dismay at the dissolution of Israelite society animated a new breed of prophets—the literary or classical prophets, the first of whom was Amos (8th century bce), a Judahite who went north to Bethel.
The point that apostasy would set God against the community was made in early prophecy; the idea that violation of the social and ethical injunctions of the covenant would have the same result was first proclaimed by Amos. Amos almost ignored idolatry, denouncing instead the corruption and callousness of the oligarchy and rulers. He proclaimed the religious exercises of such villains to be loathsome to God; on their account Israel would be oppressed from the entrance of Hamath to the Dead Sea and exiled from its land.
The westward push of the Neo-Assyrian empire in the mid-8th century bce soon brought Aram and Israel to their knees. In 733–732 Assyria took Gilead and Galilee from Israel and captured Aramaean Damascus; in 721 Samaria, the Israelite capital, fell. The northern kingdom sought to survive through alliances with Assyria and Egypt; its kings came and went in rapid succession. The troubled society’s malaise was interpreted by Hosea, a prophet of the northern kingdom (Israel), as a forgetting of God (seeHosea, Book of). As a result, in his view, all authority had evaporated: the king was scoffed at, priests became hypocrites, and pleasure seeking became the order of the day. The monarchy was godless, putting its trust in arms, fortifications, and alliances with great powers. Salvation, however, lay in none of these but in repentance and reliance upon God.
Prophecy in the southern kingdom
Judah was subjected to such intense pressure to join an Israelite-Aramaean coalition against Assyria that its king Ahaz (8th century bce) instead submitted to Assyria in return for relief. Ahaz introduced a new Aramaean-style altar in the Temple of Jerusalem and adopted other foreign customs that are counted against him in the Book of Kings. It was at this time that Isaiah prophesied in Jerusalem (see alsoIsaiah, Book of). At first (under Uzziah, Ahaz’s prosperous grandfather) his message emphasized the social and religious corruption of Judah, stressing the new prophetic themes of indifference to God (which went hand in hand with a thriving cult) and the fateful importance of social morality. Under Ahaz the political crisis evoked Isaiah’s appeals for trust in God, with the warning that the “hired razor from across the Euphrates” would shave Judah clean as well. Isaiah interpreted the inexorable advance of Assyria as God’s chastisement. The “rod of God’s wrath,” Assyria would be broken on Judah’s mountains because of its insolence when God was finished with his purgative work. Then the nations of the world, which had been subjugated by Assyria, would recognize the God of Israel as the lord of history. A renewed Israel would prosper under the reign of an ideal Davidic king, all humanity would flock to Zion (the hill symbolizing Jerusalem) to learn the ways of YHWH and to submit to his adjudication, and universal peace would prevail (see alsoeschatology).
The prophecy of Micah (8th century bce), also from Judah, was contemporary with that of Isaiah and touched on similar themes—e.g., the vision of universal peace is found in both their books (seeMicah, Book of). Unlike Isaiah, however, who believed in the inviolability of Jerusalem, Micah shocked his audience with the announcement that the wickedness of its rulers would cause Zion to become a plowed field, Jerusalem a heap of ruins, and the Temple Mount a wooded height. Moreover, from the precedence of social morality over the cult, Micah drew the extreme conclusion that the cult had no ultimate value and that God’s requirement of humanity could be summed up as “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Reforms in the southern kingdom
According to the Book of Jeremiah (about 100 years later), Micah’s prophetic threat to Jerusalem had caused King Hezekiah (reigned c. 715–c. 686 bce) to placate God—possibly an allusion to the cult reform instituted by the king in order to cleanse Judah of various pagan practices. A heightened concern over assimilatory trends resulted in his also outlawing certain practices considered legitimate up to his time. Thus, in addition to removing the bronze serpent that had been ascribed to Moses (and that had become a fetish), the reform did away with the local altars and stone pillars, the venerable (patriarchal) antiquity of which did not save them from the taint of imitation of Canaanite practice. Hezekiah’s reform, part of a policy of restoration that had political as well as religious implications, was the most significant effect of the fall of the northern kingdom on official religion. The outlook of the reformers is suggested by the catalog in 2 Kings, chapter 17, of religious offenses that had caused the fall; the objects of Hezekiah’s purge closely resembled them. Hezekiah’s reform is the first historical evidence for Deuteronomy’s doctrine of cult centralization. Similarities between Deuteronomy and the Book of Hosea lend colour to the supposition that the reform movement in Judah, which culminated a century later under King Josiah, was sparked by attitudes inherited from the north.
Hezekiah was the leading figure in a western coalition of states that joined with the Babylonian king Merodach-Baladan II in a rebellion against the Assyrian king Sennacherib shortly after the Assyrian’s accession in 705 bce. When Sennacherib appeared in the west in 701, the rebellion collapsed; Egypt sent a force to aid the rebels but was defeated. His kingdom overwhelmed, Hezekiah offered tribute to Sennacherib; the Assyrian, however, pressed for the surrender of Jerusalem. In despair, Hezekiah turned to the prophet Isaiah for an oracle. While condemning the king’s reliance upon Egyptian help, Isaiah stood firm in his faith that Jerusalem’s destiny precluded its fall into heathen hands. The king held fast, and Sennacherib, for reasons still obscure, suddenly retired from Judah and returned home. This unlooked-for deliverance of the city may have been regarded as a vindication of the prophet’s faith and was doubtless an inspiration to the rebels against Babylonia a century later. For the present, although Jerusalem was intact, the country had been devastated and the kingdom turned into a vassal state of Assyria.
During the long and peaceful reign of Manasseh in the 7th century bce, Judah was a submissive ally of Assyria. Manasseh’s forces served in the building and military operations of the Assyrian kings Esarhaddon (reigned 680–669 bce) and Ashurbanipal (reigned 668–627 bce). Judah benefitted from the increase in commerce that resulted from the political unification of the entire Middle East. The prophet Zephaniah (7th century bce) attests to heavy foreign influence on the mores of Jerusalem—merchants who adopted foreign dress, cynics who lost faith in the power of YHWH to do anything, and people who worshipped the pagan host of heaven on their roofs (see alsoZephaniah, Book of). Manasseh’s court was the centre of such influences. The royal sanctuary became the home of a congeries of foreign gods; the sun, astral deities, and Asherah (the female fertility deity) all had their cults alongside YHWH. The countryside also was provided with pagan altars and priests, alongside local YHWH altars that were revived. Presumably, at least some of the blood that Manasseh is said to have spilled freely in Jerusalem must have belonged to YHWH’s devotees. No prophecy is dated to his long reign.
With the death of Ashurbanipal, Assyria’s power faded quickly. The young king of Judah, Josiah (reigned c. 640–609 bce), had already set in motion a vigorous movement of independence and restoration, a cardinal aspect of which was religious. First came the purge of foreign cults in Jerusalem under the aegis of the high priest Hilkiah; then the countryside was cleansed. In the course of renovating the Temple, a scroll of Moses’ Torah (by scholarly consensus an edition of Deuteronomy) was found. Anxious to abide by its injunctions, Josiah had the local YHWH altars polluted to render them unusable and collected their priests in Jerusalem. The celebration of the Passover that year was concentrated in the Temple, as it had not been “since the days of the judges who judged Israel,” according to 2 Kings 23:22, or since the days of Samuel, according to 2 Chronicles 35:18; both references reflect the theory of the Deuteronomic (Josianic) reformers that the Shiloh sanctuary was the precursor of the Jerusalem Temple as the sole legitimate site of worship in Israel (as demanded by Deuteronomy, chapter 12). To seal the reform, the king convoked a representative assembly and directed it to enter into a covenant with God over the newfound Torah. For the first time, the power of the state was enlisted on behalf of the ancient covenant and in obedience to a covenant document. It was a major step toward the establishment of a sacred canon.
Josiah envisaged the restoration of Davidic authority over the entire domain of ancient Israel, and the retreat of Assyria facilitated his ambitions—until he became fatally embroiled in the struggle of the powers over the dying empire. His death in 609 was doubtless a setback for his religious policy as well as his political program. To be sure, the royally sponsored syncretism of Manasseh’s time was not revived, but there is evidence of a recrudescence of unofficial local altars. Whether references in the Book of Jeremiah and the Book of Ezekiel to child sacrifice to YHWH reflect post-Josianic practices is uncertain. Yet there is stronger indication of private recourse to pagan cults in the worsening political situation.
The unsettled conditions following Assyria’s fall dismayed the devotees of YHWH, who had not been prepared for it by prophecy. Their mood finds expression in the oracles of the prophet Habakkuk in the last years of the 7th century bce (seeHabakkuk, Book of). Confessing perplexity at God’s toleration of the success of the wicked in subjugating the righteous, the prophet affirms his faith in the coming salvation of YHWH, tarry though it might. And in the meantime, “the righteous must live in his faith.”
Despite these expectations of salvation, the situation grew worse as Judah was caught in the Babylonian-Egyptian rivalry. Some attributed the deterioration to Manasseh’s sin of moving toward polytheism. For the prophet Jeremiah (c. 650–c. 570 bce), the Josianic era was only an interlude in Israel’s career of guilt, which went back to its origins. His pre-reform prophecies denounced Israel as a faithless wife and warned of imminent retribution at the hands of a nameless northerner. After Nebuchadrezzar II (reigned c. 605–c. 561 bce) decisively defeated Egypt at Carchemish (605 bce), Jeremiah identified the scourge as Babylonia. King Jehoiakim’s attempt to be free of Babylonia ended with the exile of his successor, Jehoiachin, along with Judah’s elite (597 bce); yet the court of the new king, Zedekiah (reigned 597–587/586 bce), persisted in plotting new revolts, relying—against all experience—on Egyptian support. Jeremiah now proclaimed a scandalous doctrine of the duty of all nations, Judah included, to submit to the divinely appointed world ruler, Nebuchadrezzar, as the only hope of avoiding destruction; a term of 70 years of submission had been set to humiliate all nations beneath Babylonia. Imprisoned for demoralizing the people, Jeremiah persisted in what was viewed as his traitorous message; Judah’s leaders, on their part, persisted in their policy, confident of Egypt and the saving power of Jerusalem’s Temple to the bitter end.
Jeremiah also had a message of comfort for his hearers. He foresaw the restoration of the entire people—north and south—under a new David. And since events had shown that human beings were incapable of achieving a lasting reconciliation with God on their own, he envisioned the penitent of the future being met halfway by God, who would remake their nature so that doing his will would come naturally to them. God’s new covenant with Israel would be written on their hearts, so that they should no longer need to teach each other obedience, for young and old would know YHWH.
Among the exiles in Babylonia, the prophet Ezekiel
History Of Judaism Essay
History of Judaism
Running head: HISTORY OF JUDAISM
HISTORY OF JUDAISM
History of Judaism
Judaism is one of the oldest religions. Depending on one's point of view, Judaism can go back two thousand years or much longer. When Prophet Moses was born, Hebrew's were slaves in Egypt. The pharaoh was scared that Hebrew's will take over Egypt so he ordered to have all Hebrew baby boys to be killed at birth. Moses's mother put him in a basket in the Nile River trying to save him (Molloy, 2013). This paper will summarize the life of Moses in the Jewish history. The paper will explain the opening of the Red Sea as Moses and his followers moved out of Egypt, as well as the sacred Ten commandments that were given to Moses to pass on to the Hebrews.
Summary of Moses life in Jewish History
Moses was the founding father of believing in one God. Moses's life began as a journey when his parents put their trust in God trying to save him, and when he followed Gods directions step by step to save the Hebrews (Keeth, 2009). Moses was found in the Nile River by an Egyptian princess who raised him as her own son and he grow up to be a prince himself. When he saw an Egyptian foreman beating an Israelite slave, in trying to stop the mistreatment he ended up killing the Egyptian foreman. He then was scared for his own life and had to flee from Egypt (Molloy, 2013).
God introduced himself to Moses through a burning bush that even though was burning but did not burn down. This was a miracle (Aust, 2014). God talked to Moses and commanded him to return to Egypt in a mission to free the Hebrews from slavery and to tell them that he will be sent to them.
Some major events happened in Egypt, miracles, to prove to the Pharaoh the existence of the creator or the Lord. These were the plagues God unleashed to people. Examples of...
Loading: Checking Spelling0%