Judaism is 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 Abraham.


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 and 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 BC.  Israel fell to Assyria in 722 BC; Judah fell to the Babylonians in 587 BC. At which time the Temple was destroyed. Some Jews returned from captivity under the Babylonians and started to restore the temple in 536 BC. (Orthodox Jews date the Babylonian exile from 422 to 352 BC). Alexander the Great invaded the area in 332 BC. From circa 300 to 63 BC, Greek became the language of commerce, and Greek culture had a major influence on Judaism. In 63 BC, the Roman Empire took control of Judea and Israel.

Jewish developments during the 1st century AD:

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, evolved into a number of forms, such as Christianity and Jewish Gnosticism.


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.

Jewish Scripture

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", which includes Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Esther, Lamentations, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles (2).


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, six "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 rumors were spread, accusing Jews of ritual murder, the desecration of the Catholic host and continuing responsibility for the execution of Jesus.  Many of these nsubstantiated 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 beliefs in racial purity. They organized the Holocaust, the attempted extermination of all Jews in Europe. About six million were killed in the world's greatest example of religious and racial hatred.


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, 1948.


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).