Notes for Religious Studies 369:

Introduction to Judaism

Names in Use


Origin and Meaning

Normal Usage


The name of the language in which Bible and other works of Jewish literature were composed.
Appears in the Bible as a description of Abraham (Genesis 14:13).
Possible meanings:
  • Foreigner ("from the other side of the River")
  • Descendant of Eber (Genesis 10:21-25) a descendant of Noah and Shem, who was an ancestor of Abraham.

This term is usually used to designate the people from the time of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) until the conquest of the Promised Land.


The name given to Abraham's grandson Jacob, father of the twelve tribes, after struggle with supernatural being, in Genesis 32:29, "for thou hast striven with God and with men, and hast prevailed."
The "Children of Israel," or: "Israelites," were his descendants.
During the era of the "Divided Monarchy," the northern kingdom was known as Israel, composed of ten tribes, as distinct from the southern kingdom of Judah.

This term is the one that has been used most often by the Jews to refer to themselves in their Hebrew texts.



After the fall of the Israelite kingdom, the ten northern tribes were lost. Only the Judeans survived their exile in Babylonia to continue their history and religion. Their country was known as the province of "Judea" under the Persian, Greek and Roman empires.

This term was used primarily by non-Jews to refer to the people from the era of the Babylonian exile and afterwards.


In the Bible, the Middle-Eastern peoples, including Jews, Arabs and others are traced to Noah's son Shem: Hence they are all "S(h)emites."
"Semitic" was also used to denote a language family to which Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic and other Near Eastern languages belong.
The term "antisemitism" was coined by Wilhelm Marr in 1879 as a more "polite" term for Jew-hatred.

The word "antisemitism" is the only context in which the term "Semite" refers to Jews.

The Structure of the Hebrew Bible: TaNaKh:

A modern acronym used to designate the three main divisions of the Hebrew Bible

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)

Manuscript of the Apocryphal work 'the Wisdom of Ben-Sira' (Ecclesiasticus) from the Cairo Genizah, now in the Cambridge University library
Manuscript of the Apocryphal work 'the Wisdom of Ben-Sira' (Ecclesiasticus) from the Cairo Genizah, now in the Cambridge University library

A Torah Scroll
A Torah Scroll

Meanings of "Torah":

  • Traditional Jewish belief is that the entire Torah was revealed letter-for-letter by God to Moses.
    Modern and non-traditional denominations have accepted documentary and historical theories of its composition.
  • Miscellaneous terms and concepts:


    Literal meaning: "Hidden, secret"

    Books that were contained in the ancient Greek versions of the Bible (in use primarily in Egypt), but were not included in the accepted Hebrew edition of the Jewish sacred scriptures.

    Covenant [Hebrew: B'rit(h)]:

    Bilateral agreements--between God and creation / creatures.

    Universal Covenants: