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YAHWEH. The development of Judaism was closely connected to the social and economic evolution of the Hebrew people A group of Israelites adopted the desert god, YAHWEH, while they were lost in the Sinai peninsula after their escape from slavery in Egypt An austere, intolerant god.

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  • The development of Judaism was closely connected to the social and economic evolution of the Hebrew people

  • A group of Israelites adopted the desert god, YAHWEH, while they were lost in the Sinai peninsula after their escape from slavery in Egypt

    • An austere, intolerant god

God of abraham

  • Some Israelites had monotheistic tendencies ever since time of Abraham

    • Abraham allegedly had an agreement with the “God of Abraham” to worship only him in exchange for his special protection

      • He never saw this god as the only god

      • Just viewed as one of many that Abraham chose to worship

Reinterpretation by moses

  • YAHWEH was not one god of many whom the Israelites chose to worship

    • He was the only god

      • All-knowing, all-powerful, and universal

  • Made covenant with the Israelites

    • Embodied in the 10 Commandments

      • Promised to make them his “Chosen People” if they obeyed his commandments

      • Some dealt with religion but others dealt with everyday conduct

  • YAHWEH demanded ethical conduct from his followers

Arc of the Covenant

Culture clash

  • Israelites worship of their powerful, but simple, desert god clashed with their new surroundings in Palestine

    • Lush agriculture land inhabited by civilized people with their own polytheistic religion

  • Result was not just war between an invading tribe and a settled people

    • Also a serious cultural clash between a nomadic, semi-civilized desert people with their austere god and an established and prosperous urban people with a complex and elaborate religion centered on fertility


Civilizing process

  • Long struggle with Canaanites left lasting impression on the culture and religion of Israelites

    • Absorbed several aspects of Canaanite religion

      • Turned several Canaanite fertility celebrations into their own religious festivals

    • Co-opted Canaanite language and alphabet

    • Original harshness of Israelite religion began to soften under influence of less harsh environment and advanced civilization of Canaanites

Political evolution

  • Religion of Israelites also transformed by creation of kingdom of Israel by David and Solomon

    • Replaced loose confederation of independent tribes united only by their claim to be descendants of Abraham with bureaucratic entity that levied taxes, made war, and enforced the law

  • David made Jerusalem his capital

    • Old Canaanite city

    • Did so without specific instructions from YAHWEH

  • Israelites moved away from old total dependence on YAHWEH and towards a growing reliance on the secular power of the state, with its armies, kings, and laws

David modifies the covenant

  • David realized that drift towards secular state might cause a serious division among his people

    • Also was religious himself and was uncomfortable with this development

    • He therefore transformed the Covenant

      • David became YAHWEH’s adopted son whose function was not only to make sure Israelites obeyed the Ten Commandments but also to rule them

      • Symbol of new covenant was transfer of the Arc of the Covenant to Jerusalem

Written tradition created

  • Religious tradition of the Israelites first put down in writing during reigns of David and Solomon

    • Had been a confusing mass of oral legends, songs, rituals, prayers, sayings, proverbs, and laws that differed from tribe to tribe

    • David wanted to construct a unified, comprehensive narrative

  • Books of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Judges, and Samuel written under David and Solomon

    • First and Second Kings written much later

    • Deuteronomy and Leviticus already written down by time David was king

    • Created foundation for modern Bible

The prophets

  • Tension remained between new idea that YAHWEH now operated through the middleman of the state and older belief that emphasized unconditional and total dependence on YAHWEH

    • Appearance of prophets was in response to growing centralization of religion with the growth of a hereditary castes of priests and their obsession with rules and rituals

      • Prophets claimed to convey messages that had come directly from YAHWEH and communicated them to the people directly through sermons and symbolic acts

Prophets come into their own

  • Several minor prophets appeared during reigns of David and Solomon

    • But it was not until after the death of Solomon and the division of the kingdom into Judah and Israel that the prophets really came into their own

      • Became moral and religious leaders of the people


  • Lived in northern kingdom of Israel just before it was taken over by Assyrians

  • Claimed that Israel was on the verge of a great catastrophe

    • Caused by the Israelites failure to live up to the terms of the Covenant

      • Especially by only participating in religious rituals without grasping the true essence of their religion

  • Common theme for many prophets

    • Israelites were losing sight of the true meaning of their religion

      • Either by disobeying the commandments, worshipping other gods, or becoming obsessed with the formal, ritualistic aspects of their religion and forgetting its fundamental principles

      • Theme repeated by Hosea, Isaiah, Elijah, Elisha, etc.

One more development

  • Destruction of Israel by Assyrian, the Babylonian Captivity, and conquest by the Persians appeared to have permanently destroyed the secular state of the Israelites

    • Israelites themselves now scattered

      • Some still in Palestine but others were in Babylonia and Egypt

      • Israelites no longer possessed a geographic unity

      • Danger was that they would be absorbed by local populations in the Middle East and lose their religion

Creating a sense of spiritual identity

  • To forestall this development, Israelite leaders and prophets began to stress Mosaic law and Israelite traditions

    • Hoping that this would bind Israelites together no matter where they lived

    • Composed books of Job, Proverbs, and Psalms and added story of Creation and Adam and Eve to Genesis

    • Provide Israelites with a strong sense of their special history

      • YAHWEH had always watched over them and that he always would, as long as they obeyed his law