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TheAncientNearEast
JUDAISM
TorahandTreeofLifesymbols
Judaism,thereligionoriginatingwiththeancientHebrews(orIsraelites),maintainsthatoneallpowerfulGod(Yahweh)existsandhasaspecialrelationshipwith
hisfollowers,theJews.Thisrelationshipismaintainedbythecorrect,ethicalactionsofbelievers,manyofwhichwerestatedintheTenCommandments.Jews
believethatGodselectedthemashischosenpeopleandrevealedhimselfandhiswillthroughaseriesofprophetsandimportanthistoricaleventsrecordedin
theJewishscripturetheTorah.
MonolatryandMonotheism
Overtime,theHebrews'religiousbeliefsunderwentmajorshiftsintheirviewofthenatureofGod,movingfrompolytheismtomonolatryandfinallyto
monotheism,atransitioncloselytiedtotheirbeliefthattheyareGod'schosenpeople.ThisdevelopmentmarkedJudaismasverydifferentfromotherNear
Easternreligions,whichwerepolytheistic.
Polytheismisthebeliefinandworshipofmanygods,whoareassociatedwithdifferentaspectsofthenaturalworld,places,powers,orcharacteristics.
Dependingoncircumstances,abelievermightprayormakeofferingstoaparticulargodforprotectionoraid.Thegodstookavarietyofformsandoftenhad
humanlikequalitiesandemotions.Thegodscouldbeunreliable,quarrelsome,anddistantorevenhostiletohumans.Moreover,polytheisticgodswerenot
necessarilyconnectedwithjusticeorethicalbehavior.MostreligiousbeliefsandpracticesthroughouttheancientNearEastsuchasthoseoftheEgyptiansor
theBabylonianswerepolytheistic.
Abrahamholdingasoul
ThereligionoftheancientHebrewsgraduallymovedfrompolytheismtomonolatry,inwhichtheexistenceofmorethanonegodis
acceptedbutonegodisworshippedexclusively.AtthisstageinJudaism'sevolution,theHebrewsbelievedthatthroughAbraham'scovenantwithYahweh,they
hadaunique,unbreakablerelationshipwithhimashischosenpeople.Thus,theHebrewsbelievedthatwhilemanygodsexisted,Yahwehwasthemost
powerfulgodandtheonlyonetheyshouldworship.
TheHebrews'monolatryeventuallydevelopedintomonotheism,withYahwehseenastheonlygodwhoexistedandtheallpowerfulandallknowingcreatorof
theuniverse.Asthesourceofjusticeandgoodness,herequiredhisfollowerstoadheretoamoralcode.ThisconceptbecamecentralnotonlytoJudaismbut
alsotothereligionsthatemergedfromit:ChristianityandIslam.
TheTenCommandmentsandtheTorah
ThemoralcodeknownastheTenCommandmentsandthescripturaltexttheToraharefundamentaltoJudaism.Theyarerootedinthebeliefthat,through
Abraham'scovenantwithYahwehandMoses'sconfirmationofthatcovenant,theJewswouldreceivedivineprotectioninexchangeforobediencetoYahweh's
laws.
MosesreceivestheTenCommandmants
ThelawofMoses(Mosaiclaw)includestheTenCommandmentsandotherlaws.AfterleadingtheHebrewsoutof
captivityinEgypt,MosesrenewedAbraham'scovenantbyreceivingtheTenCommandmentsfromYahwehonMountSinai.Thismarkedareaffirmingofthe
covenantthroughlaw.ThroughfollowingYahweh'slaw,theJewscouldmaintaintheirspecialrelationshipwithhim.
TraditionalJewishbeliefholdsthatYahwehdictatedtheTorah(literally"teaching")toMoses.TheTorahismadeupofthefirstfivebooks(thePentateuch)of
Jewishscripture(andoftheChristianBible):Genesis,Exodus,Leviticus,Numbers,andDeuteronomy.TheTorahrecordsYahweh'screationoftheuniverse
andmankind,earlyeventsinJewishhistory,familylineages,andincidentsintheJews'evolvingrelationshipwithYahwehandhislaws.TheTorahisoften
consideredtoalsoincluderabbinicalcommentariesonthetext.
TheCovenant
InJudaism,thecovenantisakindofcontractassertinganeternal,unbreakablebondbetweenYahwehandtheHebrewsashischosenpeople.Thecovenant
isformedbyAbraham,reaffirmedbyMoses,andreinforcedbylaterprophets.Keepingthecovenant(obeyingYahweh'slaws)wouldbringblessingstothe
chosenpeople,butbreakingitwouldmeanpunishmentandtemporaryseparationfromYahwehuntilthecovenantwasrestored.
Torah
IntheTorah,severalimportantfiguresprovideexamplesofthewisdomofobeyingYahweh.ThoughNoahlivedbeforeAbraham'scovenant,as
describedintheBookofGenesishefollowsYahweh'sinstructionstobuildanarkinpreparationforthegreatflood.AlsoinGenesis,Abrahamiswillingto
sacrificehissonIsaacinobediencetoYahweh'sorder.IntheBookofExodus,MosesanswersYahweh'scalltoleadtheHebrewsoutofEgyptandgivethem
thelawsoftheTenCommandments.
BesidesitsfundamentalroleinJudaism,theconceptofthecovenantasapermanentcontracthashadlastinginfluenceinChristianityandWesternculturein
general,ascontractsbetweenmonarchsandtheirsubjectswerecreatedtolayoutpowers,duties,andrights.
EthicalMonotheismandProphets
Judaism'sethicalmonotheismhasdeeplyinfluencedWesternconceptsofmorality.Inethicalmonotheism,aclearlegalcode(suchastheTenCommandments)
distinguishesacceptablebehaviorsfromforbiddenonesandistiedtobeliefinasinglegod.
SomeoftheHebrews'lawsaffectedsocietyasawholeandothersconcernedpersonalorspiritualmatters.Thelaws'commongoalwasthepursuitofmoral
behavior,whichwasseenasinherentlyrightbecausethegiverofthelaws,Yahweh,wasthesourceofperfectknowledgeandgoodness.

EthicalMonotheismandProphets
Judaism'sethicalmonotheismhasdeeplyinfluencedWesternconceptsofmorality.Inethicalmonotheism,aclearlegalcode(suchastheTenCommandments)
distinguishesacceptablebehaviorsfromforbiddenonesandistiedtobeliefinasinglegod.
SomeoftheHebrews'lawsaffectedsocietyasawholeandothersconcernedpersonalorspiritualmatters.Thelaws'commongoalwasthepursuitofmoral
behavior,whichwasseenasinherentlyrightbecausethegiverofthelaws,Yahweh,wasthesourceofperfectknowledgeandgoodness.
EthicalmonotheismhelpedsetJudaismapartfrompolytheisticreligions,inwhichgodsoftendidnotexpectorevenencouragemoralbehaviorinhumans.
Moreover,manyofthegodsinpolytheisticreligionsprovidedbadmoralexamplesforhumansanddisagreedoverwhatwasrightandwrong.
Jeremiahsculpture,AbbeyChurchofSaintPierre
TheHebrews'ethicalmonotheismwasconfirmedbytheircovenantwithYahweh,inwhichtheyagreedto
obeyhislaws.TheTorahrecordsthattheHebrewsneverthelessbroketheircovenantnumeroustimes.Atdifferentpointsinhistory,theHebrewprophets
believedtospeakonYahweh'sbehalfremindedthepeopleoftheirpromisetohonorthecovenantandurgedthemtoreformandleadbetterlives.
TheHebrewswereexpectedtoobeyYahwehthroughloveforhimandthedesiretobegood.However,thethreatofdivinepunishmentwasalsousedwhen
theywentastray.Throughvisions,commands,andrebukes,theprophetswarnedabouttheconsequencesofbreakingthelawsandinterpretedcatastrophes
asretribution.DuringtheBabyloniancaptivityoftheHebrews,whenmanywereheldasslavesinBabylon,theprophetJeremiahexplainedtheirmisfortuneas
thepenaltyfordisobedience.
EthicalmonotheismhadanenduringlegacyforJudaism,Christianity,andIslam.AllthreereligionssharefaithinasingleGodwhoisabsolutelygoodandcan
beknownpersonallybybelievers.Moreover,thesereligionsviewGodashavingsupremepowerandknowledge,makingitimpossibletoescapedivine
awarenessofone'sactions.
JenniferHutchinson

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ImageCredits
Jeremiahsculpture,AbbeyChurchofSaintPierre:AllanT.Kohl/ArtImagesforCollegeTeaching
Torah:ImageSource/elektraVision/PictureQuest
MosesreceivestheTenCommandmants:TheBritishLibrary
Abrahamholdingasoul:TheBritishLibrary
TorahandTreeofLifesymbols:PeterSpirer/Dreamstime.com
MLACitation
Hutchinson,Jennifer."Judaism."WorldHistory:AncientandMedievalEras,ABCCLIO,2016,ancienthistory.abcclio.com/Topics/Display/1919160?
cid=41&sid=1919160.Accessed2Sept.2016.

https://ancienthistory.abcclio.com/Topics/Display/1919160?cid=41&sid=1919160
EntryID:1919160