A Concise History of Judaism

Judaism's Early Years

The Torah

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  Judaism's Early Years.

The Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the Origins of Judaism

" Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, known as the Patriarchs, are both the physical and spiritual ancestors of Judaism. They founded the religion now known as Judaism ..."

Abram, was born under the name Abram in the city of Ur in Babylonia in the year 1948 from Creation (circa 1800 BCE).. He questioned the faith of his father, believed that the entire universe was the work of a single Creator. He began to teach others this belief.  Abram received an offer from G-d that indicated that his leaving home would lead to a great nation and bless him. The covenant between G-d and the Jewish people was thus established. (Gen. 12). "The terms of this b'rit or covenant became more explicit over time, until the time of the Giving of the Torah (see below). Abram was subjected to ten tests of faith to prove his worthiness for this covenant. Leaving his home is one of these trials."

Living a nomadic lifestyle, Abram traveled for many years through what is now the land of Israel . G-d promised this land to Abram's descendents but Abram and his wife were growing older and had no children so wife Sara followed a common practice and offered her maidservant Hagar as a wife to Abram. According to tradition, Hagar was a daughter of the Pharaoh given to Abram during his travels in Egypt. She bore Abram a son Ishmael who according to both Muslim and Jewish tradition, is the ancestor of the Arabs. (Gen 16)

G-d changed Abram's name to Abraham (father of many), and Sarai's to Sarah (from "my princess" to "princess").  Sarah fulfilled a promise from G-d and bore Abraham a son Isaac (in Hebrew, Yitzchak) (Gen 17-18).

  Isaac was the ancestor of the Jewish people. Thus, the conflict between Arabs and Jews can be seen as a form of sibling rivalry! Isaac was the subject of the tenth and most difficult test of Abraham's faith as G-d commanded Abraham to follow a common religious practice and sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering. (Gen 22). "At the last moment, G-d sent an angel to stop the sacrifice." Judaism uses this story as evidence that G-d abhors human sacrifice.  Isaac married Rivka bore him fraternal twin sons:  Jacob and Esau. (Gen 25).

Jacob, the more spiritually-minded was Rebecca's favorite and Esau, a good hunter, was Isaac's favorite. Esau sold his birthright of spiritual leadership to Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew.

When Isaac was growing old, Rebecca tricked him into giving Jacob a blessing meant for Esau. Esau was angry about this and about the birthright so Jacob fled and met his beloved Rachel. Jacob was deceived into marrying Rachel's older sister, Leah, but later married Rachel as well, and Rachel and Leah's maidservants, Bilhah and Zilphah. Between these four women, Jacob fathered 12 sons and one daughter.

Jacob returned to his homeland and sought reconciliation with his brother Esau. Alone with G-d on the night before he was to meet his brother he wrestled with a man until the break of day at which time Jacob demanded a blessing  and the "man" revealed himself as an angel. He blessed Jacob and gave him the name "Israel" (Yisrael), meaning "the one who wrestled with G-d" or "the Champion of G-d." The Jewish people are generally referred to as the Children of Israel signifying them as descents from Jacob. The next day, Jacob met Esau and was welcomed by him.

Jacob's 12 sons are the ancestors of the tribes of Israel and the Children of Israel and the ones for whom the tribes are named. Son Joseph is the father of two tribes: Manasseh and Ephraim. Joseph's older brothers were jealous of their father's favorite and because he had visions that he would lead them all so they sold Joseph into slavery convincing their father that Joseph was dead. But this was all part of G-d's plan as  Joseph was brought into Egypt where his ability to interpret visions earned him a place in the Pharaoh's court paving the way for his family's later settlement in Egypt.

As centuries passed the descendants of Israel became slaves in Egypt and suffered greatly under the hand of later Pharaohs.

But G-d brought the Children of Israel out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses who led through the wilderness to Mount Sinai where  G-d revealed Himself to the Children of Israel and offered them a great covenant: and if the people would hearken to G-d and observe His covenant including the ten-commandments, then they would be the most beloved of nations, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Ex 19). G-d revealed the Torah to his people, both a written and Oral Torah which later was codified and written as the Talmud. The entire nation responded, ' "Everything that the L-rd has spoken, we will do!" '  "According to Jewish tradition, every Jewish soul that would ever be born was present at that moment, and agreed to be bound to this covenant."


The Messianic Idea in Judaism

The Messianic idea was always a part of God's plan as Joseph was brought into Egypt where his ability to interpret visions earned him a place in the Pharaoh's court paving the way for his family's later settlement in Egypt.

It is fundamental part of traditional Judaism and it is part of Rambam's 13 Principles of Faith, the minimum requirements of Jewish belief.  Modern scholars suggest the messianic concept was introduced later in the history of Judaism during the age of the prophets.

Also the Torah contains several references to "the End of Days" (acharit ha-yamim), which is the time of the mashiach; thus, the concept of mashiach was known in the most ancient times. source                             Please Share    


The Torah

Primary Source, Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition 3/15/19
Walter Antoniotti
centers on the history presented in this Great Course

The Documentary Hypothesis of Genesis
The Deuteronomistic History of Genesis


The Bible, the official scripture (canon) of Judaism, may be divided into three sections. 
1. The
Torah, consists of the first five books
2. "Prophets.”
3 “Writings” is everything else.


1. "Torah"  names the most important books
Attributed to Moses, most biblical scholars agree that these books are the work of more than one author because God is referred to as  Elohim (usually translated “God") and as YHWH (usually translated as “The Lord”). Also there are variations in vocabulary and style and contrasting perspectives given by the different versions of the same stories.

The Documentary Hypothesis of Genesis

The Documentary Hypothesis positions four main source documents assembled in stages.
1. Yahwist narrative” (usually called J) written in the 10th or 9th century B.C.

2. “Elohist narrative” (E) composed in the 9th century B.C.

3. Deuteronomy (D) version written if the 7th century B.C.

4. Priestly source (P) dates to the 6th or 5th century B.C.

In the 8th century B.C., an editor combined J and E. The resulting (hypothetical) document is often called JE. Around 500 B.C., a second editor added P, producing JEP. Deuteronomy was added to the first four books of the Torah around 400 B.C. These different stages are reflected in differing styles, emphases, and the ological viewpoints.

Creation Narrative

In Genesis 2:4b–3:24, the Yahwist creation narrative has the Lord created man from dust, before there were plants. The Lord planted a garden and placed the man in it but prohibited him from eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Lord then decided that the man needed a companion and made all the animals and brought them to the man. Man named all the animals, but “there was not found a helper as his partner.” Next, the Lord cast the man into a deep sleep, removed a rib from his body, and created a woman as the man’s companion. A serpent persuaded the woman to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree and she, persuaded her husband to eat, as well. This violation of the Lord’s prohibition and led to the humans’ expulsion from Eden. This is probably the most familiar part of the Genesis creation.

Genesis 1:1 through 2:4a differs both in emphasis and in details. This Priestly account, recount the creation of the whole cosmos  from a formless void. Then, on the second day God creates light and separated the primeval waters by creating the dome of the sky. God creates the dry land (earth) and the plants on the third day. On the fourth day, the sun and the moon were created. The Lord had  established the environment in which both animals and humans could live. God creates swimming and flying creatures on the fifth day. On the sixth day, God creates land animals of all kinds, including humans, both male and female. God gives the humans dominion over other creatures and tells them they may eat every seed-yielding fruit that contains seeds.


In the earlier Yahwist J account, the order is man, plants, animals, woman. In the later Priestly P  account, the order is plants, animals, humans (male and female). The Lord of the J narrative is strongly anthropomorphic; he walks in the garden and speaks directly to Adam and Eve.

God of the P narrative is far less anthropomorphic and  male and female humans are created at the same time. There is no etiology of female submission; both are given “dominion” over the earth. P narrative is far more focused on cosmology and the creation of the whole universe than the J narrative, which focuses mainly on human beings and their fall from primeval happiness. The J narrative also provides etiologies for the harsh realities of human existence, including the necessity of work and the pain of childbearing; the P narrative does not address these issues at all.

The Mesopotamian Enuma Elish has a creation narrative is strikingly similar to the P creation narrative. In the Enuma Elish, the original state of the universe is a watery chaos. This chaos is composed of two deities, Apsu (fresh water) and Tiamat (salt water). As they are mingled together, other gods are born out of them, beginning with a pair who represents silt. Several generations later, the story culminates in a war among many gods. The young god  Marduk emerges victorious. The cosmos attains recognizable form when Marduk kills Tiamat and divides her body in two. Marduk makes the sky out of one part of Tiamat’s body and the earth out of the other. It is possible that the author(s) of P wrote in intentional contrast to the Enuma Elish.

Elish  P is normally dated to the period after the Babylonian Exile of the Jews (586–538 B.C.). A creation story reworking the Babylonian material into a form consonant with Jewish belief would make good sense. The P story of humans’ creation can also be read in contrast to the Mesopotamian version, where humans are created to work for the gods.


The Documentary Hypothesis covers not only Genesis but also the rest of the Torah. In recent years, the Documentary Hypothesis itself has come in for criticism and revision, but the complexity of the narrative tradition out of which the Pentateuch grew seems undeniable.

The Torah contains many foundational stories of both Judaism and Christianity. Genesis is rich in memorable and influential stories and it is with Abraham that the Lord makes a covenant and becomes a god specifically of the Hebrew people.

Exodus through Deuteronomy focus on Moses as hero, leader, and lawgiver. He receives direct visions of God but is at first unwilling to accept the task required of him. He is the recipient and spokesman of the Ten Commandments and the leader of the Israelites in their flight from Egypt. He leads his people within sight of the Promised Land but cannot reach it himself.


The Deuteronomistic History

The Book of Deuteronomy looks back to the Torah and forward into earlier Prophets and Latter Prophets. The  Deuteronomistic History combines the books of Deuteronomy through 2 Kings. It narrates the end of Moses’s life and leadership. Deuteronomy or “Second Law” refines and amplifies the Law presented earlier in the Torah.

The book’s current form probably dates to the 7th century B.C. Deuteronomy covers forms of religious worship, political institutions, and legal statutes. It assumes that Israel suffers or flourishes depending on its people’s obedience to God and to the Mosaic covenant. It is modeled on ancient Near Eastern treaties of mutual obligation where the vassal is protected in return for loyalty and obedience. In this view God's covenant is a promises to reward good behavior and to punish bad behavior. The Ten Commandments can be seen as fitting into this “treaty” framework.  “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” reflects the vassal’s standard oath of loyalty.

Deuteronomistic History positions that Deuteronomy itself was edited to serve as an introduction to the next four books of the Bible. It further claims that a single editor (or school) compiled these five books.  Another version of the theory positions successive editions of the Deuteronomistic History from the 7th century B.C. (700 to 601) and continuing into the period of the Babylonian Exile (captivity) beginning in 597 BC.

Why did the Israelites adopt monarchy as their form of government?
Why did the United Monarchy, founded by Saul and reaching a high point under David and Solomon, divide into two parts, Israel in the North, Judah in the South?
Why did Assyria conquer the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C.?
Most troubling of all, why did the Babylonians succeed in subduing Judah and capturing Jerusalem?

The Deuteronomistic History portrays these events as the consequences of vassals’ disobedience. Various leadership stories of different leaders culminating in the establishment of the monarchy and the Davidic line, are all directed toward explaining the ultimate destruction of the always questioned monarchy.

The Deuteronomistic History is as much a work of literature as of “history.”
There are historical facts embedded in the story. The 5 books were written long after the events they describe. Writers had to draw on their own imaginations to describe characters and events. “Fictionalized history” is a term used to describe the Hebrew Bible. Stories of David” are like Shakespeare’s approach to Henry V.
A similar comparison can be made with “Homer’s” relationship to his material.

Compiled and arranged to explain the monarchy and God’s hand in history,
it has important implications for our understanding of the monarchy and
of the roles of the most famous kings, as seen David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11–12).

Here, David is not admirable. His contradicts a king’s military duty by being idle at home while his troops are off at war. He contradicts a king’s civic duty by seducing  Bathsheba, the wife of a soldiers. We are not told what Bathsheba wants or whether David gave her a choice.  Her message to David that she is pregnant is the only time she communicates. Eventually David puts the soldier into battle where he dies and David marries Bathsheba. A prophet sent by the Lord who rebukes David.  David grows angry,  the prophet predicts evils to come in David’s family and David admits his guilt. The profit predicts Bathsheba's baby will die.


Perhaps, because David’s crimes were remembered by the tradition, the author “had” to include them. However, the author could have tried to explain these traditional details away. Instead, the author stresses the cruelty and deceit of David’s actions.

Perhaps the author wants to remind us that the legitimacy of the king  does not depend on his own ethical behavior. Though anointed by God, David is fallible and at times, evil.

Perhaps such stories serve as reminders of the dangers inherent in even a good king’s rule.

The Deuteronomistic History presents a multifaceted view of kingship.
The books of the Deuteronomistic History were written for retroactive effect
to explain not what went right in the monarchy so much as what went
wrong. The idea that God rewards good behavior and punishes bad underlies the nature of
good and bad fortune and is often called the
Deuteronmist Theology.

Deuteronomistic Theology.

In this worldview, good fortune is evidence of righteousness, while bad fortune is evidence that one did wrong. With the conquest of Judah the question arose, what have we done wrong to deserve this?  The Deuteronomistic History’s development of the monarchy attempts to answer this question.

Most important, the people tended to fall into idolatry and to worship other gods.
One fascinating point here is that the other gods are not denied or seen as meaningless. Even in the Ten Commandments, the prohibition on having any other god
before God does not necessarily imply monotheism. Turning to other gods is seen as breaking the treaty’s requirement of loyalty to one’s overlord.



2. Prophets

The Former Prophets include the Books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings. The Latter Prophets are the Books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the 12 “minor prophets.”

The role of the Hebrew prophet in the monarchy depended upon the time periods represented by the prophecy of interest.

The Latter Prophets reflect the sayings of spokesmen, or wise men considered intermediaries between God and his people. These oral sayings were recorded and later edited, annotated, and augmented to formed a nucleus around which the books developed. They did not assume canonical form until the 5th through 3rd centuries B.C.

The Greek prophētēs indicates an interpreter or proclaimer who “speaks forth”  God’s word. Hebrew prophets did not necessarily foresee or predict future events. They were messengers. Prophets were less concerned with predicting the future than with analyzing present people and their behavior in  in terms of God’s requirements. Nathan’s rebuke to David in 2 Samuel 12 is a good example. This rebuke ends with a prediction of the future, but Nathan’s main purpose is to chastise David’s present behavior.

However, Christian theologians interpreted the prophets as foretelling the coming of Christ. To understand the influence of prophets on the Western literary, we must consider how these texts were interpreted both at the time they were written and later when they had influence.

Four Major Periods of Prophetic Activity

In the early monarchical period (11th through 9th centuries B.C.), prophets advise and warned kings. Local prophets, advised individuals and communities  The advent of the monarchy meant prophets could announce that God had chosen an individual to be king or had rejected a king for wrongdoing.

During the 8th century B.C., the prophets’ role changed from “kingmaker” to public adviser. Social justice and religious practice issues were their concerns. The Assyrian Empire had destroyed the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and subjugated the Southern Kingdom (Judah). Prophets interpreted these events as signs of God’s judgment against the Hebrew people.

The Babylonian exile had the prophets providing hope for an eventual return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple.

In post-exilic period, Cyrus of Persia allowed the Jews to return to Judah. The main issue the prophets addressed was the challenge of reestablishing a community in postexilic conditions. Community’s identity, social organization, and resistance to assimilation were concerns.

Prophet Isaiah's Three different Time periods: First, Second, and Third Isaiah.

Isaiah (chapters 1–39) represent the life of Isaiah who lived in the late 8th and/or early 7th centuries B.C. Chapters 40 through 66 dates to the 6th century B.C. because these chapters refer to the fall of Jerusalem and the deportation of the people. Third Isaiah may be post-exilic.

One reappearing theme of these historical events reflect God’s plan of the  Deuteronomistic History. An examples is the similar actions of great empires, such as the Assyrian Empire in the 8th century B.C. and the Babylonian and Persian Empires in the 6th century B.C.

Isaiah represents the manner in which the prophet’s words were gathered in his own day and the process by which they were reinterpreted and reapplied in later periods. In his own day, Isaiah’s descriptions of hostile and threatening foreign powers must have referred to the Assyrians. Later, these descriptions were applied to the Babylonian conquest of Judah. In its final redaction, the contrast between “worldly” governments and the Jewish people is highlighted by the primacy of Jerusalem and the expectation of a righteous “anointed leader.”

Second Isaiah’s depicts God as the only god, the universal God of all peoples, not just a god of the people covered by the covenant. In 45:5–7 Isaiah thus articulates true monotheism.

In chapters 44 and 45, Cyrus is referred to as God’s “anointed,” who will carry out God’s purpose. Cyrus is identified as the/a messiah, an anointed one. This is the only biblical passage where the term messiah refers to someone who is not an Israelite.

Christian reinterpretation and reapplication of Isaiah was a rich source for predictions concerning Christ. One of the most important verses in this regard is 7:14: “Look, the x woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”

Matthew 7:14 and later Christian works refer to X, Mary, as a virgin.
The Greek translation
of X is based upon
parthenos, a  “young unmarried woman,”
The Revised Standard Version uses Hebrew  almah, young woman
Hebrew for virgin is bethulah.

Another crucial passage for later Christian thought was the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 53:3–9. Early Christian writers identified these verses with Christ, especially with his Passion. The “suffering servant” of Isaiah lent support to the developing idea of an atoning Messiah, rather than a triumphant Messiah.


















3. The Writings

This wisdom literature, developed after the exile, has important books such as Ecclesiastes and Proverbs. They meditate on the nature and place of justice in the world. Ecclesiastes casts doubt on assumption of Deuteronomistic Theology that righteousness is rewarded and evil punished. The Book of Job poses the strongest questioning of the Deuteronomistic Theology of any text in the Hebrew Bible.

The Torah’s composition and importance require further analysis. The creation story  addresses questions about the composition of Genesis, the Torah, and the Bible.

Tradition attributes the Torah to Moses, but most biblical scholars agree to more than one author because of Variations in ways of referring to God, as Elohim (usually translated “God”) and as YHWH (usually translated as “The Lord”) plus Variations in vocabulary/ style plus contrasting perspectives given different versions of the same stories.

The Genesis 2:4b–3:24 creation narrative has the Lord created man from the dust before there were plants on the earth. The Lord planted a garden and placed the man in it but prohibited him from eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Lord felt man needed a companion so all the animals were created no helper was found so the Lord created a woman companion.  The serpent persuaded the woman to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree.  She, persuaded her husband to eat fruit. This violation of the Lord’s prohibition led to the humans’ expulsion from Eden.

The Genesis 1:1 through 2:4 creation narrative differs in emphasis and details. It  recount the creation of the whole cosmos. There is a formless void and then God creates light, separates the primeval waters by creating the dome of the sky. On the second day, God creates the dry land (earth) and on the third day, the plants.  On the fourth day God creates the sun and the moon. On the fifth day, having established a proper environment, God creates swimming and flying creatures. Day six brings humans and other animals. God gives the humans dominion over other creatures. He tells them they may eat every seed-yielding plant and any fruit that contains a seed.


In the earlier account, the order is man, plants, animals, woman. In the later account, the order is plants, animals, humans. In one narrative the Lord is strongly anthropomorphic or human-like and walks in the garden speaking directly to Adam and Eve. In another God creates man and woman a the same time, and there is no causation of female submission as  both are given “dominion” over the earth. One depicts the harsh realities of human existence, including the necessity of work and the pain of childbearing the other narrative does not address these issues.



The creation narrative of the Mesopotamian Enuma Elish, is similar to one Bible account, as the original state of the universe is a watery chaos composed of fresh and salt water deities. Mingling they create other gods beginning with a pair representing silt. The cosmos attains recognizable form when God Marduk kills Tiamat and divides her body in two. Marduk makes the sky out of one part of Tiamat’s body and the earth out of the other.




It is possible that the Bible authors, who wrote after the Babylonian Exile (586–538 B.C.), intended to contrast with Enuma. A form compatible with Jewish belief makes sense and in the Mesopotamian version humans are created to work for the gods.

The Documentary Hypothesis covers the rest of the Torah. For example, the flood narratives are interwoven with one another to form one coherent story, but traces remain of two different original versions.

In recent years, the Documentary Hypothesis itself has come in for criticism and revision, but the complexity of the narrative tradition seems undeniable.

The Documentary Hypothesis posits four main source documents developed over centuries and reflected in differing styles, emphases, and theological viewpoints. The different “voices” of the Torah are clearly detectable in the creation stories.