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Facts about the origins of Judaism?
January 03, 2017 8:56PM
For historians, Judaism evolved from the polytheistic and then
monolatrous beliefs of the earlier Jews. Mark S. Smith (The
Early History of God) says that according to the available
evidence, Israelite religion in its earliest form did not contrast
markedly with the religions of its Levantine neighbours in either
number or configuration of deities. He says that in the Judges
period, Israelite divinities may have included Yahweh, El, Baal and
perhaps Asherah as well as the sun, moon and stars. He adds the
goddess Astarte for the monarchical period.
The Babylonian Exile and the subsequent Persian rule provided great stimuli to the evolution of Judaism away from its past and towards the Judaism we know today. For example, heaven became a reality, angels entered Judaism as the messengers of God, and the righteous could look forward to a reward in the afterlife. By this stage, Judaism already had much that was recognisably common to modern Judaism.
Even the late second-Temple Judaism of the first century was still far removed from the Judaism of today. Until the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, it was considered necessary to appease God by the almost continual offering of sacrifices, with prayer taking a less important role than it does today. Jewish theology was in a state of flux, and would not be settled until the Talmud was completed, centuries later. John Dominic Crossan says that Rabbinic Judaism, while claiming exclusive continuity with the past, is in truth as great a leap from that common ancestry as is Christianity.
January 03, 2017 5:15PM
Tradition states that Abraham (18th century BCE) founded Judaism, and Moses later received the Torah from God.
Abraham, tenth-generation descendant of Noah, of Hebrew lineage, was the son of Terah, uncle of Lot, father of Isaac, grandfather of Jacob, and forefather of the Israelites. His story is in Genesis ch.11 (end), through ch.25. Jewish tradition states that he was the first to actively spread belief in One God; and it is in his merit that Jews continue to exist (Genesis 18:19, and ch.17).
By the time of Abraham, the area where he lived was full of pagan cults; they were polytheistic, worshiping multiple deities.
Abraham became the first to advance the idea of ethical
monotheism: the worship of One God, and the appropriate ethical
code of conduct.
Nimrod, the idolatrous tyrant, had brought Abraham's father (Terah) from the Semitic ancestral seat near the confluence of the Balikh and the Euphrates, and instated him in a position of power in his army in the royal Babylonian city of Ur, where Abraham was born. Nimrod persecuted any who would question his idolatrous cult.
The Kuzari (Rabbi Judah HaLevi, 1075-1141) states that Abraham was gifted with high intelligence; and, as Maimonides (1135-1204) describes, Abraham didn't blindly accept the ubiquitous idolatry. The whole populace had been duped, but the young Abraham contemplated the matter relentlessly, finally arriving at the conclusion that there is One God and that this should be taught to others as well. This is what is meant by his "calling out in the name of the Lord" (Genesis ch.12).
As a young man, he remonstrated with passersby in public,
demonstrating to them the falsehood of their idols; and our
tradition tells how he was threatened and endangered by
Subsequently, Terah relocated to Harran; and it is here that Abraham began to develop a circle of disciples (Rashi commentary, on Genesis 12:5).
Later, God told Abraham in prophecy to move to the Holy Land, which is where he raised his family.
He continued his contemplations, eventually arriving at the attitudes and forms of behavior which God later incorporated into the Torah given to Moses.
Abraham became the greatest thinker of all time. His originality, perseverance, strength of conviction, and influence, cannot be overestimated.
Abraham, with God's help, trounced the supremacy of the evil Nimrod.
He received God's promise of inheriting the Holy Land (Genesis ch.13).
He strove to raise a family (Genesis ch.15, 17, and 24) which would serve God (Genesis 18:19); and God eventually blessed his efforts, granting him numerous descendants (ibid., ch.16, 21 and 25), in keeping with His promise (Genesis ch.17).
He saved the population of the south of Canaan from invading foreign kings (Genesis 14); and he was feared by neighboring kings (ibid., ch.12 and 20).
Abraham gave tithes (Genesis ch.14), entered into a covenant with God (Genesis ch.15 and 17), welcomed guests into his home (Genesis ch.18) unlike the inhospitable Sodomites (Genesis ch.19), prayed for people (Genesis ch.18), rebuked others when necessary (Genesis ch.20), eulogized and buried the deceased (Genesis ch.23), and fulfilled God's will unquestioningly (Genesis ch.22).
He became renowned as a prince of God (Genesis 23:6).
The gravesite of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives (Genesis 49:29-32) is located in Hebron and has been known and attested to for many centuries.
All of the above practices of Abraham were based upon the ways of God, which Abraham understood through his contemplations. These, and similar personality traits, were the teachings of Abraham and his descendants (unlike idolatry, which had no moral character; with worship of the gods accompanied by things such as human sacrifice, "sacred" prostitution, and animal worship).
It is therefore clear why God expresses His love for Abraham (Isaiah 41:8) and calls Himself the God of Abraham (Genesis 26:24), and says that Abraham obeyed Him fully (Genesis 26:5). And this is why Abraham is credited with having begun the religion which became known as Judaism. (However, Abraham and his descendants observed their traditions voluntarily, until the Giving of the Torah to Moses 3325 years ago, when God made it obligatory.)
Moses was an Israelite, a great-great grandson of Jacob. He was born 245 years after the death of Abraham. The time when Moses was born was when the Pharaoh had ordered his people to kill all Israelite male infants because he (Pharaoh) was afraid that the Israelites would become too strong for him (Exodus ch.1-2).
Moses' mother didn't want him to die. So she made a basket for him and put him in it to float in the Nile reeds. He was found by Pharaoh's daughter, who took pity on him (Exodus ch.2) and raised him as her own son.
Moses was forced to flee after killing a cruel Egyptian taskmaster, and went to Midian, where he wedded the daughter of Jethro.
He eventually achieved the highest level of prophecy (Deuteronomy ch.34) and was called upon by God (Exodus ch.3). He brought the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery (Exodus ch.12). He received the Torah from God (Exodus 24:12) and later recorded it in writing (Deuteronomy 31:24). He went up on Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights (Deuteronomy ch.9-10) and brought down the Two Stone Tablets with the Ten Commandments (Exodus 31:18). He brought the Israelites into the covenant with God (Exodus ch.19 and ch.24), and he oversaw the building of the Tabernacle (Exodus ch.35-40). He was the humblest of men and the greatest of prophets (Numbers ch.12).
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January 03, 2017 5:14PM
Judaism in terms of its monotheistic fundamentals originated in Egypt influenced by Egyptian theological ideas which contradicted the older belief in pantheism. Through the Egyptian experience Hebrews learnt to record scripture which was then attributed to the notion of Torah Minhashamayim (instruction received direct from heaven). Most Jewish scripture particularly Torah is a form of oral history which became recorded in writing. In that respect it emanates from Africa in origin but later developed in Canaan which later became the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Hebrew as a language is classified as Afro-Asiatic and is related to both Amharic (Ethiopian) and Somali. The language of Hebrew and its origins therefore must relate to the origins of the belief system represented in Judaism. The development of Judaism thereafter especially in terms of modern orthodoxy and progressive branches relied heavily on ideas developed outside the middle east especially in Europe. In the case, however, of both the Sephardim (Spanish-Portuguese Jews) and the Mizrachi (oriental Jews), the development of Judaism until recent times was much more influenced by non-European factors.
Neither Africa nor Egypt. On the contrary, Judaism rejected their polytheism.
According to tradition, Abraham founded Judaism, and Moses later
received the Torah from God.
Abraham (18th century BCE) came from ancestry that had been God-fearing a couple of centuries earlier but had afterwards slipped into idolatry (Joshua 24:2). Abraham was gifted with high intelligence, and didn't blindly accept the ubiquitous idolatry. The whole populace had been duped, but the young Abraham contemplated the matter relentlessly, finally arriving at the conclusion that there is One God and that this should be taught to others as well.