an ancient monotheistic religion which began in or near the modern
nation of Israel thousands of years ago.The Torah is its primary
scripture (part of the larger text known as the Tanakh or Hebrew
Bible), and supplemental oral tradition represented by later texts
such as the Midrash and the Talmud.
Early History of Judaism
Circa 2000 BC, the God of the ancient Israelites established a
divine covenant with Abraham, making him the patriarch of many
nations. The term Abrahamic
Religions is derived
from his name. These are the three major religions which trace their
roots back to Abraham: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Also,
smaller non-Jewish groups such as Falashas, Karaits, Mandaeanism,
Rastafarians, Samaritans, etc. trace their spiritual roots back to
The book of Genesis describes the events surrounding the lives of
the three patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Joseph, who
is recognized as a fourth patriarch by Christians is not considered
one by Jews). Moses was the next major leader of the ancient
Israelites. He led his people out of captivity in Egypt, and
received the Mosaic Law from God. After decades of wandering through
wilderness, Joshua led the tribes into the promised land, driving
out the Canaanites through a series of military battles.
The original tribal organization was converted into a kingdom by
Samuel; its first king was Saul. The second king, David, established
Jerusalem as the religious and political center. The third king,
Solomon built the first temple there.
Division into the Northern kingdom of Israel and the Southern
kingdom of Judah occurred shortly after the death of Solomon in 922
BCE. Israel fell to Assyria in 722 BCE; Judah fell to the
Babylonians in 587 BCE. The temple was destroyed. Some Jews returned
from captivity under the Babylonians and started to restore the
temple in 536 BCE. (Orthodox Jews date the Babylonian exile from 422
to 352 BCE). Alexander the Great invaded the area in 332 BCE. From
circa 300 to 63 BCE, Greek became the language of commerce, and
Greek culture had a major influence on Judaism. In 63 BCE, the Roman
Empire took control of Judea and Israel.
Jewish developments during the 1st century
About 24 religious sects had formed by the 1st century AD of
which the largest were the Basusim, Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees
and Zealots. Many anticipated the arrival of the Messiah, a
religious-political-military leader who was expected to drive out
the Roman invaders and restore independence.
One group of Zealots, centered in Jerusalem, took on the name
Christian about 45 AD. The group followed the teachings of Yeshua of
Nazareth, who is now commonly referred to as Jesus the son of Mary.
The group was led by James, one of Jesus' four brothers. They are
generally referred to as Jewish Christians. Paul broke with this
tradition, created an alternative belief system of Pauline
Christianity and spread the religion to the Gentiles (non-Jews) in
much of the Roman Empire. An earlier third religion, Gnosticism,
developed in a number of forms, such as Christian and Jewish
Many mini-revolts led to the destruction of Jerusalem and its
temple in 70 AD. The Jewish Christians were wiped out or scattered
at this time. The movement started by Paul flourished and quickly
evolved into the religion of Christianity. Jews were scattered
throughout the known world. Their religion was no longer centered in
Jerusalem; Jews were prohibited from setting foot there. Judaism
became decentralized and stopped seeking converts. The local
synagogue became the new center of Jewish life. Animal sacrifice was
abandoned. Authority shifted from the centralized priesthood to
local scholars and teachers, giving rise to Rabbinic Judaism.
The Tanakh (referred
to as the Old Testament by Christians) is the primary Jewish
Scripture. It is composed of three groups of books:
1) The Torah (aka
Pentateuch): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
2) The Nevi'im:
Joshua, Judges, Samuel (2), Kings (2), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel,
Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk,
Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah, and MalachiIsaiah.
3) The Ketuvim,
the "Writings" including Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs,
Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Esther, Lamentations, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah,
The Talmud contains
stories, laws, medical knowledge, debates about moral choices, etc.
It is composed of material which comes mainly from two sources:
1) The Mishnah's,
6 "orders" containing hundreds of chapters, including series of laws
from the Hebrew Scriptures. It was compiled about 200 AD
2) The Gemara (one
Babylonian and one Palestinian) is encyclopedic in scope. It
includes comments from hundreds of Rabbis from 200 - 500 AD,
explaining the Mishnah with additional historical, religious, legal,
sociological, etc. material. It often records many different
opinions on a topic without giving a definitive answer.
Further developments in Judaism
By the Third Century AD the only Jewish sect remaining was the
Pharisees, from which all of today's Jewish sects have derived.
Beginning about 600 AD heavy persecution of
the Jews by
Christians throughout Europe and Russia began. Many groundless
stories were spread,
accusing Jews of ritual murder, the desecration of the Catholic host
and continuing responsibility for the execution of Jesus. Unsubstantiated
rumors continue to be circulated today. In the 1930s and 1940s,
Adolph Hitler and the German Nazi party drew on centuries of Eastern
European anti-Semitism, and upon their own psychotic beliefs in
racial purity. They organized the Holocaust, the attempted
extermination of all Jews in Europe. About six million were killed
in one of the world's greatest examples of religious and racial
The Zionist movement
was a response within all Jewish traditions to centuries of
Christian persecution. Their initial goal was create a Jewish
homeland in Palestine. The state of Israel was formed on May 18,
There are currently over 18 million Jews throughout the world.
They are mainly concentrated in North America (about seven million)
and Israel (about 4.5 million).