Jewish History Essay, Research Paper
Throughout the history of the world, the Jewish people have been persecuted and oppressed because of their religious beliefs and faith. Many groups of people have made Jews their scapegoat. Jews have suffered from years of intolerance because people have not understood what the religion really means. They do not understand where and why the religion began, nor the customs of it’s people. For one to understand the great hardships, triumphs, and history of the Jewish people one must open-mindedly peruse a greater knowledge of the Jewish people and faith.
In the beginning, Judaism was founded by Abraham when he began to worship a figure called “Elohim.” There were twelve original tribes that were enslaved for several generations in Egypt. In Egypt the Jews were persecuted and sold into slavery. It was not until Moses, a Hebrew adopted by the pharaoh, realized his duty to release his people from their oppression. He eventually led the people from Egypt into the desert where they wandered for 40 years (Encyclopedia Britannica 6).
Israel began as a confederation of tribes, then as a kingdom and celebrated as its formative experiences the redemption from Egyptian bondage. The notion of an independent Jewish confederation of tribes started as a kingdom that was to celebrate its freedom from Egyptian bondage. The settlement of the land Cannon, the future sight of the land Israel, is a perfect example portraying such a redemption. According to the Exodus tradition in the torah and the conquest tradition in the bible this coarse of events appears to have taken place during the late 13th century BCE and perhaps to the beginning of the 12th century (Microsoft Encarta 3).
The exile of the Judeans to Babylonia in 586 BC was a major turning point in Israelite religion. The prior history of Israel was reinterpreted in light of the events of 586, laying the foundation for the traditional biblical Pentateuch, prophetic canon, and historical books (Microsoft Encarta 4). The prophets Ezekiel and Deutero-Isaiah believed that Yahweh had used the Babylonian Empire to punish the Israelites for their sins, and he therefore had the power to redeem them from captivity if they repented. The Babylonian exiles’ messianic hope for a restored Judean kingdom under the leadership of a scion of the royal house of David seemed to have been justified when Cyrus the Great, after conquering Babylon in 539 BC, permitted a repatriation of subject populations and a restoration of local temples. The restored Judean commonwealth did not fully realize this hope, however, because the Persians did not allow the reestablishment of a Judean monarchy, but only a temple-state with the high priest as its chief administrator. A truly monotheistic religion developed as the God of Israel came to be seen as the God ruling universal history and the destiny of all nations (Rich 2).
As for a common thread throughout Judaism, the area of focus is the place associated with the religion, Jerusalem, a place to call home. No other religion has ever been so attached to its birthplace as Judaism. Perhaps this is because Jews have been exiled and restricted from this place for most of their history. Jerusalem is not only home to Judaism, but to the Muslim and Christian religions, as well. Historically, this has made it quite a busy place for the various groups. Jerusalem is where the temple of the Jews once stood, the only place on Earth where one could leave the confines of day to day life and get closer to God. In 586 BCE when the temple was destroyed, no Jew would have denied Jerusalem as being the geographic center of the religion (BCE 4). From that point on the Jewish people migrated around the world, but not one forgets the fact that Jerusalem is where it all began. It is truly a sacred place, and helps to define what Judaism means to many people; a common thread to run through all the various splinters of the religion and help hold them together (B’nei Shaare Zion Congregation 2). Even today, as the Jewish people have their precious Jerusalem back (through the help of other nations and their politics) there is great conflict and emotion surrounding it. Other nations and people in the area feel that they should be in control of the renowned city, and the Jews deny fiercely any attempt to wrestle it from their occupation. It is true that there is no temple in Jerusalem today, nor are all the Jews in the world rushing to get back there. It is apparent, however, that the city represents more to the religion of Judaism than a mere place to live and work. The city of Jerusalem is a spiritual epicenter, and throughout Judaism’s long and varied history this single fact has never changed (Jewish Student Online Research Center 2).
Tribal, pre-monarchy Judaism’s roots lie far back in the beginnings of recorded history. The religion did not spring into existence exactly as it is known today, rather it was pushed and prodded by various environmental factors along the way. One of the first major influences on the religion was the Canaanite nation (Falgin 1). Various theories exist as to how and when the people that would later be called Jews entered into this civilization. Regardless of how they ultimately got there, these pioneers of the new faith were subject to many of the ideas and prejudices of the time. Any new society that finds itself in an existing social situation can do no more than to try and integrate into that framework (The Jewish Student Online Research Center. 2) This is exactly what the Jews did.
Early Jew’s worshipped multiple gods. One of these gods was known as Ba’al, a ’statue god’ with certain limitations on his power. The other primary deity was called Yahweh, who enjoyed a much more mysterious and elusive reputation. He was very numinous and one was to have great respect, but great fear for him at the same time. Ba’al was never really feared, as his cycles (metaphorically seen as the seasons) were fairly well known, and not at all fear-inducing (Microsoft Encarta 6). The fact that the early Jews and Canaanites had these two radically different representations of a deity active in their culture assured that there would be splits in the faith. One group inevitably would focus on one of the gods, and the other would focus on another. In this way, the single religion could support multiple types of worship, leading to multiple philosophies and patterns of behavior, which could then focus more and more on their respective niche, widening the gap into a clear cut distinction between religious groups (Encyclopedia Britannica 8).
This early time period was generally non-centralized, stemming from the fact that technology was at a very low level and people’s life spans were fairly short. These conditions led to a rapid rate of turnover in religious thought and left many factions of people to their own devices. Widespread geographic distribution, combined with poor communication, certainly did not help in holding the many faiths together. The Tribal Period in Jewish history is one of the more splintered eras in the religion, but since these people were all living in the area near Jerusalem, the common thread can be seen clearly through the other less defined elements of the religion (Rich 5).
By its very name, it is apparent that the period of Divided Monarchy is host to a great deal of division in the Jewish religion (Hasall 3). As Solomon was king, people began to grow more and more restless. Some objected to worshipping a human king, while others cringed at the oppression of the poor that was going on. Political unrest in this period led to a decisive split in geographic territory, and thus a split in religious views. A group of people left the area of Judah and traveled North to found Israel, where they could be free to practice their own political and religious beliefs (B’nei Shaare Zion Congregation 7).
This sort of behavior has come to be seen as common of oppressed people, and the result is almost always a great deviation in the ways of the “old world”.
Communication between the two cities was sparse. The priests and prophets were undoubtedly addressing items relevant to one group, but not necessarily the other. The influence of foreign traders in each of the two places, as well as the political attitudes of each, would have had enormous impact on a newly created religion. Thus it can easily be seen that the religion was split into two major divisions during this time period (B’nei Shaare Zion Congregation 7). Toward the end of the Divided Monarchy, it seems that the prophets began calling for major changes in the basic foundation of the early Jews’ lives. The kings and priests had no major disputes with the status quo, but apparently the prophets were calling for a reorganization. This sort of turmoil within can do nothing but further split people’s faith (Hasall 7). As the next major historical division occurred, this sort of argument would continue and the Jewish people were left to practice their religion in whatever way they felt best (Faligin 1). There were multiple groups of people with varying faith in the many forms of Judaism as it existed toward the end of the Divided Monarchy (Hasall 7).
The Hasmonean, Maccabean and Roman Era in Jewish history was politically violent, leading to high levels of splits and variations in the religion itself.
One of the most disruptive types of war is a civil war. And this is exactly what occurred at the outset in the Jewish homeland of Jerusalem. The Jewish civil war was against the extreme Hellenizers, people who tended toward utter reason in their beliefs, and the moderate Hellenizers, people who can see things rationally, but believe there are more items to consider than this (Powell 5). An example was the Maccabean family, who became the Hasmonean kings. Right away, it is apparent that the ideas that the Greeks introduced into Jewish culture have created a major split in the religion. When the violence of the war had subsided, the moderate Hellenizers ruled for a short time, until the Roman empire attacked and threw even more kinks into the Jewish society. When the Romans took over, the Hasmonean kings were left in place as ‘puppet kings,’ which ultimately forced the general population to question its governing body (The learning Network Inc. 2). When the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, it was made painfully clear that some changes were going to be made. Most obvious, the priests suddenly had no major role in the religion. Their primary purpose had been to tend to the sacrificing of animals, and since it is illegal to sacrifice an animal outside the temple, the priests were in an unsettling position. As can be seen in countless other examples, politics and religion are invariably tied, and people began practicing their own flavors of Judaism after their civilization had been so radically altered. At this point in history there is really no solid rule to prevent such splits, and for a time a mixed form of Judaism with many varieties flourished (Falgin 3). No one was sure what to do once the heart of Judaism, the temple had been destroyed, but it soon became apparent that an appealing option was arising. Two major social groups of the time period were struggling for power. The first group, the Saducees, were associated with the displaced Hasmonean kings. The second group, the Pharisees, had an idea that would help work around the tragic destruction of the temple. People were split, once again. They could stay with the conservatively traditional Saducees, who had the political power, believed in only written Torah, and did not subscribe to resurrection, or they could side with the newcomers, the Pharisees, who had religious power, believed in both the written and the oral Torah, and believed in resurrection. The latter hoped to preserve it’s Jewish heritage by worshipping outside of the temple in their life. It was not a hard decision, and the Pharisees eventually gained power, leading the Jewish religion into its next phase of Rabbinic Judaism (B’nei Shaare Zion Congregation 2).
Competing philosophies, outside political forces, and geographic isolation are among the most obvious of the dividing forces. Every religion has many pieces, but as long as there are a few constants (such as the birthplace, the language, and the literature) it is possible to view the whole as a single force and still acknowledge variations that will inevitably spring-up.
The Jews have suffered great adversity and this adversity continues to plague them today. The fight for freedom against religious persecution and the ability to practice their beliefs are three factors that have been incredibly apparent as hardships to the Jews since the core of their existence. Comprehension of the Jewish faith will never be reached, unless people take into account the blatantly obvious: understanding the past is understanding the future.