Introduction to Biblical Judaism

General features:

The Structure of the Hebrew Bible: TaNaKh:

Hebrew Name Translation Other Renderings Contents
1. Torah Teaching, Instruction Five Books of Moses
History of humanity from creation of world to death of Moses (before the Israelites' entry to Promised Land)
Laws given to Israel at Mount Sinai through Moses
2. Nevi'im Prophets Historical Works ("Early Prophets"): History of Israel from conquest of Promised Land to Beginning of Second Commonwealth
Teachings (often in poetry) of "Prophets"
3. Ketuvim [Sacred] Writings Hagiographa Various types, usually later than other sections:
  • Prayers (Psalms)
  • stories (Ruth, etc.)
  • love poetry (Song of Songs)
  • proverbs (Proverbs)
  • philosophy and theology (Ecclesiastes, Job)
  • history (Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah)
  • laments over Jerusalem (Lamentations)
  • Apocalypse (Daniel)

Main Events in Biblical History

Influences on subsequent Jewish practice and ideas

  • The Common Origins of Humanity:

    Adam and Eve; Noah and the Flood

    • Belief in common moral worth of all humans

    • Universal covenant between God and humanity--
      embodied in fundamental duties of the "Seven commandments of the children of Noah."

  • Map of Middle East and IsraelAbraham:

    Promise that Abraham's children would become a great nation, be enslaved in a foreign land, and be liberated.
  • Ideas of
    • "Covenant";
    • chosen people (=historical mission [?])
    • Sign of covenant: circumcision.
    • Promise of homeland.
  • Exodus from Egypt

    The Route of the Exodus
    • Ideal of freedom
    • Festival of Passover
  • Moses at Mt. Sinai with Tablets of the Law Revelation of Torah at Mount Sinai

    Jews believe that every word and letter of the Torah was communicated literally by God through Moses, the greatest of the prophets.
    • Israel obligated to observe God's commandments
      (According to a later tradition: 613 = 248 positive + 365 negative).
    • Belief in the Written and Oral Torahs.
    • Establishment of sacrificial worship and hereditary priesthood.

  • Joshua
  • Establishment of monarchy.
  • Possession of the "Promised Land"
  • Map of Israel in the time of King David King David

    • Jerusalem becomes Israel's capital.
    • Eternal Divine covenant with David's line.
      Medieval Illumination of King David
  • King Solomon

    • The Building of the Temple of Jerusalem.
    • Exclusive place of worship.
    Solomon's Temple
  • Era of Monarchy

    Divine spokespersons who tried to insure the people's observance of the Covenant. Use of threats and consolations.

    Israel and Judah during the "Divided Monarchy"
    • Ideals of Prophecy:

    • Social justice.
    • Loyalty to the Covenant determines political success.
    • Eschatological visions: Punishment and Restoration.
  • Destruction of First Temple

    by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia
      Experience of Babylonian Exile
    • Judaism without territory: Distinction between religious and national elements.
    • Redaction of Torah.
    • Worship without Temple (synagogue?)
  • Ezra and Nehemia:

    The Restoration of Judea

    • Rebuilding of Jerusalem Temple
    • acceptance of the Torah as national law.
    • End of prophecy

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