JUDAISM

 

Judaism differed from surrounding pagan religions for four leading reasons:

 

1.  Monotheism:  It believed in one God only.

2.  Covenant:  It believed the great universal God chose Israel to be his special nation and that they chose Him to be their God by an agreed contract ("the Old Covenant)."

3.  Graven images:  No pictures or statues of God were allowed.

4.  Sacred Name:  The actual personal name of God was (sometime after c. 400 b.c.) never to be spoken.

 

Because Christianity originated in Judaism, Judaism's beliefs affected many more people than the Jews alone as Christianity spread.

 

*Shema:  Basic creed, begins "Hear, O Israel:  The Lord our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might." (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)  

 

*Tetragammaton:  "The four letters," YHWH, for Yahweh or Jehovah.  Jews would read aloud "Lord" (Adonai) or sometimes "God" (Elohim) instead for this word.  Best single word translation of meaning:  "the Eternal."

 

*Torah:  "the Law" or "instruction;" refers especially to the first five books of the Old Testament (*Pentateuch).

 

Origins:  *Abraham (Abram) and Sarah (Sarai) of Ur (c. 1900 b.c.) migrate to Haran.  Circumcision introduced as a sign of a covenant with Yahweh.  Isaac and Ishmael (sons), Esau and Jacob (Israel) (grandsons), Joseph and Judah (great-grandsons).  "The Patriarchs."

 

*Moses:  Led Israel from slavery in Egypt (c. 1446 b.c.), used by Yahweh to reveal His Law to Israel at Sinai and elsewhere.  Wrote (or edited) the Pentateuch.  Ark of Covenant contained tablets with Ten Commandments in it.

 

Joshua successfully invades Palestine, followed by the judges and then the monarchy's establishment (Saul, David, Solomon).  First temple built under Solomon.  Israel divides into northern kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah after civil war under Rehoboam.  Northern kingdom conquered by Assyria (722 b.c.), becomes so-called "Ten Lost Tribes."  Southern kingdom devastated by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (Neo-Chaldean Empire), Jerusalem destroyed in 586 b.c.

The prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos):  condemned Israel, Judah for idolatry, oppressing poor, crimes of violence, sexual promiscuity and otherwise departing from Yahweh's will.  Predicted Israel's immediate punishment, but also its ultimate restoration during a period of idyllic righteousness and physical plenty under the *Messiah.

 

*Babylonian Captivity (586-538 b.c.):  Exile of Jews to Babylon, return under Ezra, Nehemiah, Zerubbabel after Persia conquers Babylon.  Judaism, as known today, begins from this time.

 

Maccabean Wars:  Antiochus IV Epiphanes (r. 175-65 b.c.) of the Seleucids tries to destroy Judaism by compulsory Hellenization, fails.  Origin of Hanukkah from rededication of the temple.

 

Herod the Great (r. 37-4 b.c.):  Not of Jewish ancestry, but ruled as puppet king of Judea under the Romans.  Cruel, but capable politician.  Year of his death used to date Jesus of Nazareth's birth.

 

Revolts against Rome:  Nationalism, as known today, may have been "invented" by the Jews.  Disastrous A.D. 66-70 and 132-35 revolts in Palestine.  *Diaspora:  The dispersion of the Jews from Judea to other nations.  Despite military defeat, loss of homeland, never lost their cultural identity.

 

*Talmud:  Composed of commentary (Gemara) on the Mishnah, or oral law.  Mishnah written down c. 70-200 A.D., commentary (Gemara) completed by 500 A.D. for Babylonian Talmud, 350-425 A.D. for Jerusalem Talmud.  Codified law so Judaism could survive centuries in exile away from original homeland.