From Hobson's Choice
Religion of the Levant with great importance in the history of Europe; comparatively few adherents (probably around 11 million). Adherents of Judaism are known as "Jews" or B'nei Yisrael. The sacred text of Judaism is the Torah, which also constitutes (in translated form) the first five books of the Christian bible. Another important text is the Talmud, which represents an exposition of Mosaic law.
Judaism is actually a good example of the ambiguity of religion as a belief system; some authors (e.g., Kohler-2002) have argued that Judaism is not a religion, but religious legislation for the B'nei Yisrael. This is actually a trait of most widespread belief systems; the supposed unifying feature of a common identity actually hides the fact that there are great differences in outlook among adherents in different times and places. And indeed, the philosophical outlook of the B'nei Yisrael has always been extremely diverse.
Judaism is probably the oldest religion to bear any meaningful continuity over its history. According to the Torah itself, Judaism originated with a covenant between God and Avram (Abram). Since the covenant included a promise that his children would form many nations, he adopted the name "Abraham," and was compelled to change his wife's name from Sarai to "Sarah" (princess). The only part of the covenant mentioned in the book of Genesis is that the male children would be circumcised.
Later, the B'nei Yisrael relocated en masse to Egypt because they won special favor from the reigning pharaoh; over time, however, they became so numerous that they were enslaved by a subsequent pharaoh. This same pharaoh also resolved to exterminate the male population of the B'nei Yisrael, chiefly by overwork, then by infanticide, and then by racial violence. Attempts to interpret Exodus 1 & 2 as formal history result in chaos; but as a poetic characterization of racial oppression, the text is quite sophisticated. The B'nei Yisrael arrived as welcome immigrants for one regime; they bring wealth, but their customs are anathema to the host population. The wealth they brought to the ruler made him powerful; the pharaoh was now the sole landlord, as well as the ruler. But time passes, and the ruler and natives turn against the immigrants. In this case, the immigrants are geographically segregated, but they are impressed into "storehouses" (a rather blunt reference to capital accumulation). This fails to allay the fears of the ruler, so he endeavors to secretly murder the baby boys, then announces that "all his people" (Ex 1:22) are to drown the boys and save the girls.
The pharoah in this narrative is still unprepared to sacrifice the property inherent in Israelite wombs (as he regards the girls); but a general ban on the boys he regards as "policy." Even this fails to alter the economic role of the Israelites, who continue to suffer mainly from corvée labor (bondage), not the pharaoh's efforts to exterminate them (Ex 2:23). In the pharaoh's mind, men toil or resist; they can only resist if they are in general contact with his state. Women he regards as movable assets, probably available for export as extra wives for foreign aristocrats.
The Mosaic law came in the form of a creation narrative and an ideological narrative: the B'nei Yisrael had a peculiar relationship to the divine, which took the form of recurring covenants between YHWH and ancestors. The B'nei Yisrael had a peculiar ritual of circumcision; up to then, it was the crucial attribute that distinguished them.
Moses (Moshe) represents the arrival of moral content to the Abrahamic religion. The moral content comes in a flood tide: the Ten Commandments, dietary laws, sumptuary laws, laws governing marriage, and of course, economic relations. These laws are usually confusing in their import; they are combined with laws concerning ritual purity and sex that strike the modern reader as stunningly cruel, or else merely bizarre. There followed the conquest of Canaan (Palestine), which is one of the most brutal literary accounts anywhere. The sacred texts of Judaism catalog a succession of horrors: the ban of the Midianites (Numbers 31:7-18) the ban of Ai (Joshua 8:24ff), the ban of the Hazorites (Joshua 11:10-11), the ban of the Ammonites (Judges 11:29-40), the ban of the Amalekites (I Samuel 15:8), and so on. We find a very strange theme occurring again and again:
So Joshua took all that land, the hill-country, and all the South, and all the land of Goshen, and the Lowland, and the Arabah, and the hill-country of Israel, and the Lowland of the same... There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon; [the Israelites] took all in battle. For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, to come against Israel in battle, that they might be utterly destroyed, that they might have no favor, but that they might be destroyed, as the Lord commanded Moses. (Joshua 11:16-20)
This aspect of the sacred text is perhaps the most decisive aspect of Judaism, and it is addressed in the next section.
The Divine in Judaism
This section is under construction
Hellenism in Judaism
This section is under construction
- ↑ "B'nei Yisrael" is Hebrew for "Children of Israel"; it refers to the descendants of the person Yisrael ben Yitshak (Israel son of Isaac, also known as Jacob). The main source of statistics on the B'nei Yisrael is the American Jewish CommitteeYearbook (published annually); these statistics are available on The Jewish Virtual Library "The Jewish Population of the World (2006)." These are c.2006, 13.1 million B'nei Yisrael worldwide, but this figure includes non-practicing as well as religious. Reliable estimates of the number of practicing B'nei Yisraeli is difficult, since it involves consolidating incomparable statistics from around the world.
- ↑ Genesis 17; link is to A Hebrew - English Bible according to the Masoretic Text and the JPS 1917 Edition. All biblical references are to this site. Avram is Hebrew for "Exalted father," so Avram/Avraham was probably never called that during his lifetime. Also, Sarai was the half-sister of Avram (common father, different mother); see Genesis 20.
- ↑ Genesis 46:34
- ↑ Genesis 47:18-25
- ↑ The covenant of circumcision with Abraham allows people with no blood or marital ties to his descendants to become parties to that covenant (Genesis 17:12). Conversely, when YHWH resolves to kill the firstborn children of the Egyptians, Moses' wife Zipporah saves their child by circumcising him and throwing the foreskin at Moses' feet; see Exodus 4:21-26. For an analysis of this passage, see Ronald B. Allen The "Bloody Bridegroom" in Exodus 4:24-26 , Bibliotheca Sacra 153 (July-September 1996). Note in the original Hebrew this passage does not specify at whose (male) pair of feet she throws the boy's foreskin; the text seems to imply it is YHWH's feet.
Incidentally, Zipporah was not herself B'nei Yisrael, but she was B'nei Avraham: as a Midianite, she would have been descended from Abraham through his second wife, Keturah. See Genesis 25 and I Chronicles 1:32. See also Isidore Singer & M. Seligsohn, "Midian and Midianites," Jewish Encyclopedia (2002). Circumcision was practiced among the Midianites, naturally, since they were bound by the covenant as well; but Allen (1996) believes that infant circumcision was peculiar to the Israelites.
- ↑ For a polemical treatment of Moses as economic liberator, see Henry George, "Moses — Apostle of Freedom" (1878). This is a text of a speech he gave to a Jewish group in New York City where he was a fairly prominent ideological crank and office seeker. The gist of the speech is that Mosaic law established the land of the nation as a commons, thereby ensuring householders the right to work for a livelihood. George's speech ignores (a) the fact that his listeners, being Jewish, probably were irritated by his imputing Mosaic law to Moses, rather than to YHWH; and (b), there were a lot of laws in the Pentateuch that were extremely disturbing.
- Kaufmann Kohler, "Judaism," Jewish Encyclopedia (2002)
- Sean M. McDonough, YHWH at Patmos: Rev. 1:4 in its Hellenistic and early Jewish setting Mohr Siebeck (1999)