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JUDAISM
Religious history

 

Timeline :

Judaism is a religion practiced today and is the basis for Christianity and Islam. Few adherents of these religions understand either the biblical time line of events described or the contributions from other cultures or religions. I will thus start with a timeline as described by the book of Jubilee. Jubilee is a prominent scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls, also known as the Quran Cave documents after the nearby community that is thought to have collected and/or written the scrolls. This is the opening sentence of the book:

“This is the account of the division of days of the Law and the testimony for observance of their Weeks (7 Years) and their Jubilees (Seven Weeks or 49 years + 1 year = 50 years) throughout all the years of the world just as the Lord told it to Mosses on Mt. Sinai.”

This is a timeline from Creation to Exodus. The Jubilees have been converted from Weeks and Jubilees to the years of our current calendar using 1290 BCE as the date of the Exodus.
symbol
Symbol
Torah
Torah

 

What is Judaism?
Key Events and Dates
Event 
       Years
(BCE, before the Common Era)

Creation of Adam and Eve in Eden

Death of Adam at 930 years old

Noah builds the Ark as commanded, the Flood enters

Building of the Tower of Babel

Abraham invents the plough

Abraham Journeys to Hebron and to Egypt

Near sacrifice of Isaac

Famine brings family of Jacob to Egypt

Birth of Moses

Moses return to Egypt; Exodus

3704

2774

2641

2109

1808

1745

1696

1528

1374

1290

Significant dates after the Exodus
Event 
       Years
(BCE, before the Common Era)

Dravidic monarchy

First indication of an Israelite script

Assyrian conquest of Israel (Dispersal of the 10 tribes)

The Exile to Babylon (First, Destruction of Jerusalem)

The return from Exile

Septuagint (Translation from Hebrew to Greek)

Birth of Christ

Destruction of the Second Temple

Masoretic Text (Judaism’s official version of the Tanakh)

1000 – 922

c. 800

722

597 587

539/8

200

c. 4 BCE

70 BCE

c. 900 CE

 

 

Holy Scrolls

Torah
Holy Scrolls

 

 

Synogoge

Synagogue

The major discussion of Judaism will be on the red bold typed events listed above. These events were chosen because they are significant in formulating Judaism as we know it and because a complete biblical and historic study would be prohibitive in this discussion. Thus, the major discussion will center on the Babylonian Exile of 587 BCE, the translation of the Hebrew text into Greek c. 200 BCE, and the Destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE. First we need to talk about pre-Exilic times to lay a background for our main themes.

According to the book of Jubilee, creation is dated to around 3704 BCE with the creation stories, the 7 days creation and the Adam and Eve story. It is common for the Hebrew Bible to contain more than one story of the same event. The Adam and Eve rendition is considered the much older version. Noah’s flood story is said to occur about 2641 BCE followed by the story of Abraham and his exodus from the Mesopotamian city of Ur. He is considered the Father of the Jewish peoples having lived about 1800 BCE. The calendar stated in Jubilee ends with the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt in about 1290 BCE.

The next major event after the Exodus is the Dravidic Monarchy of the 10th century. This period is when the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judea were under one rule by David and Solomon. The dividing line between the two kingdoms, after 922 BCE, was just north of Jerusalem with the southern region primarily inhabited by the tribe of Judah and the north by the Ten Tribes. The northern kingdom was conquered by the Assyrian Empire in 722 BCE at which time the Ten Tribes were dispersed by the Assyrians throughout their empire. The southern kingdom became a client state to the Assyrians until the Assyrian empire was conquered by the Chaldeans or the 11th dynasty of the Kings of Babylon during the end of the 7th century BCE. In 597 BCE and again in 587 BCE the Judeans revolted against the Babylonians with the exile of the most prominent people to Babylon occurring both times. We are now up to the time of our first key event, namely, the Babylonian Exile.

 Babylonian Captivity or Exile

While the Assyrian method of dealing with conquered peoples, as they did with the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE, was to scatter some people to other parts of the Empire and bring some new ones in, the Babylonians deported the leaders and families to Babylon from the conquered regions. (Notice that we are now referring to the southern kingdom of Judea only.) The first Babylonian Exile from Ye hud Province, Judea, was in 597 BCE and included the King and associated leaders but they left the province primarily functional with a new appointed king named Zedekiah. In 594 BCE there was an anti-Babylonian conspiracy leading to a siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon in 588 BCE.

This time Jerusalem was sacked including destruction of Solomon’s Temple and the export of its precious objects to Babylon. Many more of the leading families were now deported to Babylon and many more killed during the siege. Also, during the period of the Babylonian conquest many Jewish people fled to other countries with Egypt being a prime destination including the prophet Jeremiah and his scribe. Thus, began the Jewish Diaspora to Babylon, Egypt and other locations.

The exile ended in 538 BCE after the Persians, under Cyrus the Great, conquered Babylon and allowed the exiled people from many countries, including the Jews, to return to their homelands. The policy of the Persians was to allow the conquered subjects to return to their native territories respecting their customs and religions but under the direction of a Persian Satraps. Many Jews returned to their homeland but many stayed in Babylon and the Diaspora. Those that returned found the land in “apostasy” meaning the worship of other gods than just Yahweh. What was the significance of this in Jewish history?

During the captivity there were significant changes in the fundamental practices and customs of the Jewish religion. Before the exile Yahweh was a regional deity of the Hebrews with other peoples and empires having their own regional gods. This is referred to as Henotheism. At this time Zoroastanism was popular in Babylon and surrounding areas. This is thought to have influenced the concept that Yahweh was a universal deity that appears in the text written during and after the Exile. The post exile period includes the adoption of the present Hebrew script. This period was the high point of Biblical prophecy followed by the emergence of the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, to a central role in Jewish life. According to many historical scholars, the Torah was edited and redacted during this time and was the beginning of a canonized text for the Jews. For instance, the book of Isaiah is a compellation from three different periods. One from the 8th century in the time of the Assyrians, the second from the exile period and the last from shortly after the return to Jerusalem possibly having several authors. After the Exile is the period when the scribes and sages emerge as Jewish leaders. After this time there were sizable numbers of Jews living outside of Eretz Israel and marks the beginning of the “Jewish Diaspora.”

From this we can start to comprehend the emergence of the Jewish people and religion as a people familiar to us in our modern concepts. Here is a religion that relies on a text, but not the full Tanakh as yet, that defines a unique people and their Deity. Prior to this event, the Jewish religion was primarily oral and changed from generation to generation as all oral traditions do.

Hesetic Jew Wailing Wall
Synagogue Prayers at the Wailing Wall
Septuagint

In this context the Septuagint, sometimes designated by the Roman numerals LXX or 70, is the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Koi ne Greek in the late 3rd century BCE plus later translated works. The title refers to the legendary account of how seventy-two Jewish scholars were asked by the Greek King of Egypt, Ptolemy II, to translate the Torah from Biblical Hebrew into Greek to put in the Library of Alexandria. Part of the legend is that the 72 scholars were put in separate rooms and produced identical translations in exactly 72 days. This and later translations of other Hebrew text were used as the official text by most of the Jewish scholars and teachers of the Hellenistic world of their regions. Relatively complete manuscripts of the LXX postdate the Hexapla by Origen in the 3rd century CE in two codexes dating to the 4th and 5th centuries CE. The LXX became the bases for the Vulgate Bible, the first Christian Bible written in the 5th century CE, and the Old Testament. The Vulgate was written in Latin translated from the Greek.

The significance of this event is the influence of the Greek culture on the Jewish Religion. Any time you translate from one language to another there are words and phrases that take on a new meaning. Examples of changes that occurred include the designation in the Exodus story of the crossing of the Red Sea instead of the Sea of Reeds as in the Hebrew text. A second mistranslation comes from Isaiah of a “virgin” instead of “young women” who in the Tanakh is already “with child.” These are examples of individual words that took on new meaning but the significant changes were the introduction of the Apocalyptic Literature.

Apocalyptic Literature deals with the end of times when God will come and reward the suffering of the chosen ones and punish the others. In Jewish religious literature Daniel 7-12, or the Apocalypse of Daniel, is the most prominent writing. In one vision Daniel sees the Son of Man awarded an everlasting dominion that requires an angelic explanation. Most scholars date Daniel’s apocalyptic visions to the 2nd century BCE at about 176 BCE just prior to the Maccabean revolt.

Thus, the effect of the Hellenization of the Jewish religion led to the incorporation of the well developed visions of an afterlife into their scriptures. Zoroastrian dualism also had an influence on their perception of good and evil.

Destruction of the Second Temple

The construction of the Second Temple began after the Babylonian Exile in about 516 BCE and was destroyed by Romans in 70 CE after a revolt by the Jewish population in Jerusalem. The temple was constructed on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Actually, the Second Temple had been significantly changed under Harod the Great in about 19 BCE but kept the Second Temple designation. The Romans, under the generals Vespasian and his son Titus, had destroyed Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 CE after the Great Jewish Revolt that started in 66 CE. The lower levels of the Western Wall are the remnants of this destruction. Most of the history is from the work “The Jewish War” by Josephus a Jewish General turned historian, later a Roman citizen, after his armies defeat by the Romans in the northern province of Galilee.

According to Josephus the rebellion was led by the Zealots. There were three main Jewish sects at that time, namely, the Sadducees, the Essenes and the Pharisees. The Sadducees were the ruling group controlling the Temple and interfacing with the Romans until a fourth group, the Zealots, took over leadership during the revolt including Jerusalem and the Temple.

The Great Revolt began in 66 CE over the Greek and Jewish religious tensions and later due to the taxation protests and attacks upon Roman citizens. The Zealots quickly over ran the military garrison in Jerusalem and then defeated the Syrian legion that was brought in to quell the rebellion.  The Jewish people, under the leadership of the Zealots, thus controlled most of the Judaea province which shocked the Roman leadership.

By 67 CE the Roman general Vespasian and his son Titus with four legions started retaking Judaea beginning in Galilee. In 69 CE Vespasian became the Roman Emperor and turned the leadership of the legions to Titus. The revolt ended with the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE by Titus and his legions. Supposedly, the Jews fought using every one that could pick up a weapon including women and children. By this time a large number of people had died from starvation or had been captured and crucified by the Romans while trying to escape. The remaining Jews were slaughtered by the legions and the Second Temple was destroyed. The treasures from the Temple were carted off to Rome. The Romans had taken control of Judaea but there were pockets of rebellion and two more Jewish major rebellions, namely, the Kitos War in 115-117 CE and the Bar Kokhba’s Revolt in 132-135 CE.

The significance of this event in Jewish history is that the Pharisaic Jewish beliefs became dominant and the hiding of the Qumran Cave, Dead Sea Scrolls, documents. The Pharisaic beliefs became the bases for Rabbinic Judaism which is the basis for all contemporary Judaism except for Karaism.  Other sects such as the Sadducees and the Essenes were still viable but greatly reduced in numbers. The Essenes are thought to be the sect that wrote or collected the Qumran Cave documents and hid them in the caves when the Romans came to subdue them at the village of Qumran. Jewish writings including religious and contemporary scrolls have been found stored in the caves with the latest dating to about 68 CE.

This event was very significant for the development of the Masoretic text and modern forms of Judaism. The Qumran Cave documents, first discovered in 1947, are the oldest Judaism scrolls available today.

 

 

 

Ancient Synogogue

Ruins of Ancient Synagogue

 

Synagogue St. Petersburg

 

Synagogue
St. Petersburg Russia


Tora Ark
Torah Ark

Synagogue Interior
Synagogue Interior

Summary

The Jewish religious text and practices have evolved over the last 3,000 years with three significant milestones discussed here. The reason that Israel, including Judaea, was conquered by so many Empires including the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Chaldeans, Alexander the Great, The Romans and other empires is because they are on a strategic trade route between Egypt and eastern and mid-eastern powers. Each one of these conquests had an effect on their lives including their religious practices.

The Hebrew religion, prior to the Exile, was based on a contractual arrangement between Yahweh and His chosen people. That is God promised to protect them in return for their following his dictates. This was a contract between Yahweh and the nation, not a requirement for an individual belief. The nation was conquered by these empires, then, because they did not follow the covenant or fell into apostasy. The Exile changed these tenants to include the acceptance of Yahweh as a universal God and the necessity to write down a document to be used by the priesthood to guide the people. Each successive contact with other civilizations left an imprint that was incorporated into this religion.

The Jewish tradition is and has been an important influence on western culture and religions

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