A Brief History of Judaism
1. 0 Introduction
Judaism is a religion that is based on the life of the Jews. It encompasses their spiritual, physical, and emotional life. This religion has its origin from Abraham. The word “Jew” is derived from the name “Judah”, which was the fourth son of Jacob.
2. 0 Judaism: Historical Context and Fundamental Principles
2.1 Abraham as the Father of Judaism
Abraham is considered as the father of Judaism. He was born in the city of Ur in Mesopotamia. His father’s name was Terah and his mother’s name was Sarah. When he was seventy-five years old, God called him to leave his country and go to the land of Canaan.
When Abraham reached Canaan, he built an altar to God at Shechem. Then he moved to Bethel and built another altar there. After this, he went southward and settled in Hebron. It was here that his wife Sarah died and was buried in a cave known as Machpelah.
Later, Abraham married Keturah and had six more sons by her. When he was one hundred years old, his son Isaac was born to him by Sarah. Two years later, Ishmael, the son of Hagar, was born.
When Abraham was ninety-nine years old, God appeared to him and told him that his wife Sarah would have a son by him and that she would name him Isaac. In due course, Isaac was born and Abraham circumcised him on the eighth day after his birth according to the commandment of God.
When Isaac grew up, Abraham took him to Mount Moriah and told him that they were going there to sacrifice him to God as a burnt offering. However, when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, an angel of the Lord stopped him and told him not to do so as he had now shown his obedience to God.
Instead of Isaac, Abraham sacrificed a ram which was caught in a thicket by its horns. From this event onwards, Mount Moriah became a place of sacrifice for the Jews. Later on, it became the site of the temple built by Solomon.
2. 2 The Patriarchs: Isaac and Jacob
Isaac had two sons by Rebekah – Esau and Jacob. Esau married Judith, daughter of Beeri the Hittite, while Jacob married Leah and Rachel, who were sisters and daughters of Laban the Aramean.
Leah bore Jacob four sons – Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah – while Rachel remained barren for a long time. Finally, she gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin. Since Rachel was Jacobs favored wife, Leah gave her handmaid Zilpah to Jacob so that she could also have children by him through her maidservant Zilpah gave birth to Gad and Asher while Rachel remained childless for some more time before she finally gave birth to Benjamin. */
In due course, Isaac died and was buried at Hebron. Then Jacob and his family moved to Egypt as a famine had arisen in the land of Canaan. It was here in Egypt that Jacob died and was buried in the Cave of Machpelah at Hebron. Before his death, he blessed each of his twelve sons, who later on became the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel.
2. 3 The Tabernacle at Shiloh
After the death of Joshua, the leadership of Israel was assumed by the Elders. However, they did not have a central place of worship and so they used to go to various places for offering sacrifices to God.
Finally, they settled at Shiloh and built a tabernacle there. The tabernacle was a portable shrine which consisted of two rooms – the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. The Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments was kept in the Most Holy Place.
Only the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place and that too only on the Day of Atonement. The tabernacle remained at Shiloh for almost four hundred years until it was destroyed by the Philistines.
2. 4 The Temple of Solomon
After the destruction of the tabernacle at Shiloh, David, who was then the King of Israel, wanted to build a temple for God at Jerusalem. However, God did not allow him to do so as he had been a man of war. Instead, God told him that his son Solomon would build the temple.
Solomon began to build the temple on Mount Moriah where Abraham had almost sacrificed his son Isaac. The foundation stone of the temple was laid by David and it took seven years to complete its construction.
The temple was a beautiful structure built entirely of stone and cedarwood. It had two rooms – the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place or the Holy of Holies.
The Ark of the Covenant was kept in the Holy of Holies. Only the High Priest could enter this room and that too only on the Day of Atonement. Outside the temple, there was a large court known as the Court of Israel where only Jews could assemble for worship. There was also a smaller court known as the Court of Gentiles where only Gentiles could assemble for worship. However, they were not allowed to go beyond a certain point as it was considered to be sacred ground.
2. 5 The Temple of Zerubbabel
After Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam became king but he maltreated the people and so they revolted against him under Jeroboam who made Shechem his capital instead of Jerusalem. As a result, there were two kingdoms in Israel – Judah with its capital at Jerusalem and Israel with its capital at Shechem. In 722 BC, Assyria conquered Israel and took away its people into captivity leaving only a remnant behind in Judah. This remnant continued to worship in Solomon’s temple till its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC when he conquered Jerusalem and took away its people into exile in Babylon (present-day Iraq).
However, fifty years later, Cyrus, king of Persia (present-day Iran), conquered Babylon and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple. They began to rebuild the temple under the leadership of Zerubbabel, a descendant of David, but they were opposed by the Samaritans who were then living in that land. However, they persevered and completed the construction of the second temple in 516 BC. This temple, however, was not as magnificent as Solomon’s temple.
2. 6 The Temple of Herod
In 20 BC, Herod the Great became the king of Judea. He undertook to rebuild the temple on a larger and more magnificent scale. The construction work began in 19 BC and continued till 64 AD when it was finally completed. But even before its completion, the Jews revolted against Herod’s rule in 66 AD and this led to the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 AD. Since then, there has been no Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
3. 0 Conclusion
Judaism is one of the oldest religions in the world. It has a rich history and culture which is based on the principles of monotheism. These principles were first propounded by Abraham and later on developed by his descendants Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. The Judaism religion believes in one God who is the creator and ruler of the universe. They also believe in angels and prophecy and consider the Torah as their sacred text.