Background of Judaism BCE
Judaism was founded by Abraham sometime around 1800 BCE. Abraham is the founding father of the three Abrahamic religions; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Judaism is the first of these monotheistic religions, and it is said to be the oldest organized religion. Abraham’s teachings are documented in the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible) and have been handed down from generation to generation.
The Torah, the primary religious text of Judaism, was written over thousands of years from the 10th to 2nd century BCE. It was later compiled and redacted in the 5th century BCE by Ezra the scribe. This text served as the foundation for the development of the rabbinical oral law tradition for the Jewish people.
Origin of Judaism
The origins of Judaism are unclear, and theories abound. Academics, theologians, and historians have all expounded various theories about the origins, evolution, and meaning of Judaism. The various theories of origin range from theories which focus on an ethnic origin, those who focus on an ideological origin and some which focus on the Temple period origin.
The most widely accepted theory is that Judaism was an ethnic religion, originally derived from the religion of the ancient Semitic peoples in the southern Levant and the Mediterranean coast. This theory suggests that the religion may have even been practiced by Abraham’s family or ancestors before him.
Judaism Before Abraham
The general consensus is that Judaism as we know it today began with Abraham, the figure mentioned in Genesis (the first book of the Tanakh) as the father of the Israelites. But some scholars argue that the religion was already well established before Abraham. They argue that Abraham was a reformer, and his later teachings refined, updated, and transformed the existing religion.
One of the most prominent examples of this view is the belief in the existence of a religion known as Yahwism. This religion was allegedly practiced by an ancient Semitic nomadic tribe that worshipped Yahweh (the God of the Israelites). Though there is no clear evidence to support this, the idea of Yahwism has been mentioned in several ancient texts.
Judaism After Abraham
After the death of Abraham, his followers were left to carry on in his teachings. They eventually established the Israelite state and Moses brought them out of slavery in Egypt, leading them on their journey to the Promised Land. During the Exodus from Egypt, Moses received the Ten Commandments from God, which were later collected into a single, sacred text, known as the Torah.
The Israelites eventually settled in the land of Israel, where they adopted and adapted the customs and practices of the local peoples. This period is referred to as the era of the Judges and prophets, during which religious and ethical systems slowly evolved. The Ark of the Covenant was built and placed in the Tabernacle, forming the center of worship.
Development of Rabbinical Judaism
The period of the judges and prophets eventually ended with the rise of the Babylonian Empire. As the Babylonians conquered and exiled the Israelites, the Jewish religion was significantly altered by new ideas, beliefs, and customs. After their return, rabbis began to codify the Jewish religion into what we know today as Rabbinical Judaism, which served as the basis for all subsequent Jewish religious tradition and practice.
The rabbis also established the Sanhedrin, a legislative body representing the entirety of the Jewish people, which was responsible for interpreting and expanding the laws of the Torah into a comprehensive set of principles for daily life. The most important of these principles formed the core of rabbinical Judaism, which is still in practice today.
Rise of Mysticism
During the period of the Second Temple, a new Jewish movement began to emerge, known as mysticism. Mysticism sought to revive the ancient traditions and practices that had been largely forgotten. This movement focused on the spiritual and supernatural aspects of Judaism such as visions, dream interpretation, and predictions. These beliefs and practices eventually evolved into Kabbalah, a mystical tradition that has now become a branch of mainstream Judaism.
In the centuries since its founding, Judaism has evolved and adapted to the political and cultural norms of the times, while retaining the core teachings and principles established by the prophets. Today, Judaism is alive and flourishing, with its followers dedicated to the furtherance of its ideals and the respect of its traditions.
Rise of Christianity
Judaism was also integral in the founding of Christianity, one of the world’s largest religions. It was in the first century C.E. that a group of Jews, known as the Nazarenes, formed the early Church. They believed that Jesus of Nazareth was a messiah, who was sent by God to deliver salvation. This teaching spread quickly, and soon Christianity became its own distinct religion. Despite their divisions, Christianity still retains fundamental Jewish beliefs and observances, including the celebration of Sabbath, the practice of circumcision, and the reading of the Bible.
The Second Coming of Christ, another key belief of Christianity, is also derived from the Old Testament. The prophet Daniel prophesied that Christ will return and judge the living and the dead. This prophecy of judgment, originating in Judaism, was adopted in Christianity and remains a central element of belief in both religions.
Impact of Judaism
Judaism has had a significant influence on the world, even more so than its more well-known offshoot, Christianity. The ethical and moral guidelines laid out in the Tanakh, as well as its strong emphasis on education, provided the foundation for the development of modern law and democracy.
The Ten Commandments, one of the most important foundations of Judaism, can still be seen in many modern judicial systems, formulating cornerstone principles such as “Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not steal”. Similarly, the concept of a monotheistic God is shared by both Judaism and Christianity and forms the basis of morality and law in many societies.
Judaism has also been responsible for the development of numerous traditions and customs which are still celebrated around the world. These include the weekly Shabbat celebrations, the Passover meal, the Bar and Bat Mitzvah, and the High Holidays such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Rise of Islam
Judaism also played an important role in the rise of Islam. The Islamic faith was established in the 7th century by Muhammad and adopts the core beliefs of Judaism, including the existence of a single, all-powerful deity. It is also heavily influenced by many of the customs, traditions and rules of Jewish practice, such as the dietary laws, with many of the dietary restrictions shared by both religions.
Additionally, many of the Jewish prophets, such as Abraham, Moses, and David are regarded as sacred and respected by Muslims. These shared belief systems have made the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, unable to be truly separated, as they are all intertwined.
From its founding around 1800 BCE, Judaism has had an immense impact on the world. Its teachings, customs, and traditions can be seen in many other faiths, including Christianity and Islam. Judaism has shaped the world in ways that cannot be quantified, from influencing global laws and political systems to inspiring religious practices and notions of morality.