This article discusses the historical roots of Judaism throughout the 1st millennium BCE. For the origins of the modern-day religion of Judaism, see Origins of Rabbinic Judaism.
Main article: History of Judaism

The origins of Judaism lie in the history of the Israelites during the Iron Age and Classical Antiquity. The Rabbinic form of Judaism, known generally simply as Judaism developed during Late Antiquity, during the 3rd to 6th centuries CE.

The ancient roots of Judaism lie in the earlier (Bronze Age) polytheistic Semitic religion, specifically of the Levant, and of the worship of Yahweh reflected in the early prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible. During the Babylonian captivity of the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, certain circles within the exiled Judahites in Babylon redefined pre-existing ideas about monotheism, election, divine law and Covenant into an exclusivist theology which came to dominate the former Judah in the following centuries.

From the 5th century BCE until 70 CE, Israelite religion then developed in the various theological schools of Second Temple Judaism, besides Hellenistic Judaism in the diaspora. The text of the Hebrew Bible was redacted into its extant form in this period. The origins of Rabbinic Judaism lie in Late Antiquity. The Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible (the addition of vowels to the consonant text) and the Talmud were compiled in this period.

Historical backgroundEdit


The Hebrew Bible, specifically the Torah and the Deuteronomist books (Joshua, Judges, Samuel) give an account of the history of the Ancient Israelites before the foundation of the United Monarchy under Saul.

Since there is little or no archaeological or historical evidence to trace the Ancient Israelites prior to the 11th century BCE, scholars are reduced to discussing the historicity of the biblical accounts themselves. Sceptics believe that these accounts may in part originate as early as the 10th century BCE[citation needed], but say that they were redacted in the 5th to 4th centuries BCE[citation needed] to comply with the theology of Second Temple Judaism, and there is little consensus in biblical scholarship as to which portions date to which period. The documentary hypothesis, distinguishing a Jahwist source of the 10th century BCE and an Elohist source of the 9th century BCE, which were redacted into an early monotheist source text during the 8th century BCE, is far from generally accepted, but is still frequently treated as a standard hypothesis for lack of a more widely accepted view.[citation needed]

The Hebrew Bible presents a genealogy of patriarchs, deriving the Israelites from Jacob. The central founding myth of the Israelite nation surrounds the exit from Egypt under the guidance of Moses. The Exodus cannot be established as historical, but Jewish tradition places it in the 14th century BCE.

The time between the conquest of the Promised Land and the establishment of the kingdom of Israel is known as the period of Judges. The biblical account places the center of the Israelite polity, and the location of the Ark of the Covenant, at Shiloh during the 13th to 10th centuries BCE. The earliest historical evidence of the existence of a polity or tribal confederation known as Israel comes from an Egyptian inscription, the Merneptah Stele (1208 BCE conventional chronology) recording the ethnonym ysrỉ3r as among those conquered in a military expedition.


The United Monarchy of the 11th to 10th centuries BCE was one of the political entities of the Levant during the Early Iron Age. These states were organized as monarchies, with kings ruling city-states and each city claiming a patron deity to whom the city's main temple was dedicated (see also Syro-Hittite states, Ugarit, Byblos). In Jerusalem, this was Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, constructed during the 10th century BCE.

Jerusalem was a Jebusite fortress, conquered by the Israelites and made into their capital around 1000 BCE (Edwin R. Thiele dates David's conquest of Jerusalem to 1003 BCE). As a result, the Jebusite cult exerted considerable influence on Israelite religion. The Jebusites observed an astral cult involving Shalem, an astral deity identified with the Evening star in Ugaritic mythology, besides Tzedek "righteousness" and El Elyon, the "most high God". It is plausible, however, that the application of the epithet Elyon "most high" to Israelite Yahweh predates the conquest of Jerusalem; the epithet was applied with sufficient fluidity throughout the Northwest Semitic sphere that assuming a transition from its application to El to the Yahwistic cult presents no obstacle.[1]

Both the archaeological evidence and the Biblical texts document tensions between groups comfortable with the worship of Yahweh alongside local deities such as Asherah and Baal and those insistent on worship of Yahweh alone during the monarchal period.[2][3] During the 8th century BCE, worship of Yahweh in Israel stood in competition with many other cults, described by the Yahwist faction collectively as Baals. The oldest books of the Hebrew Bible, written in the 8th century BCE,  reflect this competition, as in the books of Hosea and Nahum, whose authors lament the "apostasy" of the people of Israel, threatening them with the wrath of God if they do not give up their polytheistic cults. The monotheist faction seems to have gained considerable influence during the 8th century BCE, and by the 7th century BCE, based on the testimony of the Deuteronomistic source, monotheistic worship of Yahweh seems to have become official during the 7th century BCE, reflected in the removal of the image of Asherah from the temple in Jerusalem under Hezekiah (r. 715-686 BCE) so that monotheistic worship of the God of Israel can be argued to have originated during his rule.[4] Hezekiah's successor Manasseh reversed some of these reforms, restoring polytheistic worship, and according to 2 Kings 21:16 even persecuting the monotheist faction. Josiah (r. 641-609 BCE) again turned to monolatry. The Book of Deuteronomy as well as the other books ascribed to the Deuteronomist were written during Josiah's rule. The final two decades of the monarchic period, leading up to the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem in 597 BCE were thus marked by official monolatry of the God of Israel. This had important consequences in the worship of Yahweh as it was practiced in the Babylonian captivity and ultimately for the theology of Second Temple Judaism.

Babylonian exileEdit

Main article: Babylonian exile

Following the second siege of Jerusalem in 587, the Babylonians destroyed the city wall and the Temple. Judah became a Babylonian province, called Yehud Medinata. The first governor appointed by Babylon was Gedaliah, a native Judahite; he encouraged the many Jews who had fled to surrounding countries such as Moab, Ammon, Edom, to return, and took steps to return the country to prosperity. Some time afterwards, a surviving member of the royal family assassinated Gedaliah and his Babylonian advisors, prompting a rush of refugees seeking safety in Egypt. Thus by the end of the second decade of the 6th century, in addition to those who remained in Judah, there were significant Jewish communities in Babylon and in Egypt; this was the beginning of the later numerous Jewish communities living permanently outside Judah in the Jewish diaspora. According to the book of Ezra-Nehemiah, the Persian Cyrus the Great ended the exile in 538 BCE, the year in which he captured Babylon. The Exile ends with the return under Zerubbabel and the construction of the Second Temple in the period 520-515 BCE.

Second Temple periodEdit

Main article: Second Temple Judaism

The oldest writings of Judaism that survive directly date from the Hellenistic period. This includes Hebrew and Aramaic papyri with biblical fragments such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Greek documents such as the Septuagint. The contact of Israelite and Greek cultures resulted in the development of strict monotheism which recast the national God of Israel in the role of the Singular God who created the universe, corresponding to The One or The All of Hellenistic religion[citation needed]. Other scholars contend that the development of a strict monotheism was the result of cultural diffusion between Persians and Hebrews. While (in practice) dualistic, Zoroastrianism believed in escathological monotheism. Some[who?] suggest that it is not merely coincidence that the Zoroastrianism's model of escathological monotheism and the Deuteronomic historians strictly monotheistic model receive formative articulations during the period after Persia overthrew Babylon [5].

Second Temple Judaism was divided into theological factions, notably the Pharisees vs. the Sadducees, besides numerous smaller sects, such as the Essenes, messianic movements such as Early Christianity, and closely related traditions such as Samaritanism (which left the Samaritan Pentateuch, an important witness of the text of the Torah independent of the Masoretic text).

The 2nd to 1st centuries BCE, when Judea was under Seleucid and then Roman rule, the genre of apocalyptic literature became popular, the most notable work in this tradition being the Book of Daniel.

Development of Rabbinic JudaismEdit

Main article: Origins of Rabbinic Judaism

For centuries, the traditional understanding has been that Judaism came before Christianity and that Christianity separated from Judaism some time after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Starting in the latter half of the 20th century, some scholars have begun to argue that the historical picture is quite a bit more complicated than that.[6] In the 1st century, many Jewish sects existed in competition with each other, see Second Temple Judaism. The sects which eventually became Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity were but two of these. Some scholars have begun to propose a model which envisions a twin birth of Christianity and Judaism rather than a separation of the former from the latter. For example, Robert Goldenberg (2002) asserts that it is increasingly accepted among scholars that "at the end of the 1st century CE there were not yet two separate religions called "Judaism" and "Christianity"".[7] Daniel Boyarin (2002) proposes a revised understanding of the interactions between nascent Christianity and nascent Rabbinical Judaism in Late Antiquity which views the two religions as intensely and complexly intertwined throughout this period.

The Amoraim were the Jewish scholars of Late Antiquity who codified and commented upon the law and the biblical texts. The final phase of redaction of the Talmud into its final form took place during the 6th century, by the scholars known as the Savoraim. This phase concludes the Chazal era foundational to Rabbinical Judaism.

See alsoEdit


  1. Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, s.v. "Elyon", with reference to Sheow (1989), 41-54.
  2. 1 Kings 18, Jeremiah 2; Othmar Keel, Christoph Uehlinger, Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God in Ancient Israel, Fortress Press (1998); Mark S. Smith, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts, Oxford University Press (2001)
  3. Othmar Keel, Christoph Uehlinger, Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God in Ancient Israel, Fortress Press (1998); Mark S. Smith, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts, Oxford University Press (2001)
  4. Steven L. McKenzie, Deuteronomistic History, The Anchor Bible Dictionary Vol. 2, Doubleday (1992), pp. 160-168; Mark S. Smith, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts, Oxford University Press (2001) pp. 151-154
  6. Jews and Christians: the parting of the ways A.D. 70 to 135 : the second Durham-Tübingen Research Symposium on Earliest Christianity and Judaism. 1989. 
  7. Robert Goldenberg. Review of "Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism" by Daniel Boyarin in The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 92, No. 3/4 (Jan. - Apr., 2002), pp. 586-588
fr:Origines du judaïsme

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