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Judaism develops


  • Judaism emerged in the Near East, possibly as early as the eleventh century BCE
  • Judaism was relatively unique in the ancient world in that it was monotheistic—believed in only one God
  • Judaism was influenced by the historical contexts in which it developed

Contextualizing religions

Historians do not try to determine whether the beliefs of a certain religion are objectively true or not. Instead, historians ask questions about how religious beliefs and practices influenced people's actions and shaped historical events.
When historians look at how religions developed, they try to understand how contextual factors shaped the beliefs and actions of people who followed particular religious traditions. For example, a historian might ask what events were occurring in the Near East when Judaism first appeared. Who were Jews interacting with, and what did these people believe?
What are historians trying to do when they study the development of religions?
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Development of Judaism

Jews were monotheists—they believed in and worshipped only one god. This stands out to historians because monotheism was relatively unique in the ancient world. Most ancient societies were polytheistic—they believed in and worshiped multiple gods.
What was the most common form of religion in the ancient world?
Choose 1 answer:

From some time in the eleventh century BCE until the end of the sixth century BCE, the Jews lived in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The two kingdoms split apart, probably around 930 BCE.
Map depicting the kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the eighth century BCE. Image credit: Wikimedia
In the late eighth and early sixth centuries BCE, the Assyrian Empire and then the Babylonian Empire, respectively, conquered these Jewish kingdoms. In both instance, these empires forced many—though not all—Jews to move other regions of the empire. The period after the conquest by the Babylonians is often called the Babylonian exile and it played a major role in shaping Jewish thought.
When the Babylonian Empire was conquered by the Persians, the Persian ruler, Cyrus the Great, allowed the Jews to return to their homeland in 539 BCE. To celebrate their return, the Jews rebuilt the Temple of Solomon that had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Historians call the time from 539 BCE until 70 CE the Second Temple period. It was during this time that many of the writings that would become the Torah—the history and religious thinking of the Jewish people—were compiled.
It was also during this time that Jewish monotheism became more clearly defined. According to Jewish beliefs, they had a special covenant—agreement— with their God. This covenant said that the Jews were God's chosen people, and in exchange they would follow God's laws, and worship only him. This was the source of an exclusive belief in the Jewish God.
Some historians have argued that Jewish monotheism was influenced by Zoroastrianism—a faith the Jews would have encountered during the Babylonian Exile and in their broader interactions with other Near Eastern peoples. Zoroastrianism was not entirely monotheistic, but it did teach that there was a single Supreme Being. Zoroastrianism was common in Persia under Cyrus the Great. It's possible that Cyrus the Great's actions of restoring the Jews to their homeland and helping them rebuild the Temple positively influenced Jewish views of Zoroastrianism.
Some historians have also argued that Hellenism—Greek culture and ideas—influenced Judaism during the Second Temple period. Alexander the Great's conquest of the Near East in the 330s BCE brought Greek influences to Jewish thinkers. It also led to divisions within the Jewish community, as some Jews opposed adopting Greek culture and ideas.
What religious and cultural influences likely affected the development of Judaism in the Second Temple period?
Choose all answers that apply:

Judaism and Rome

Communities of Jews lived under Roman rule from at least the second century BCE, and Jews had typically been allowed freedom to follow their own religious traditions. The Romans first became involved in Judea—the historical homeland of the Jews—in 64 BCE when the Roman general Pompey intervened in a civil war between two rival claimants to the Judean throne.
Once in control of Judea, the Romans maintained their usual practice of permitting most local traditions to continue. But there were political independence movements, as well as conflicts between rival political factions within Judea. These things made governing difficult for both local Jewish leaders and the Romans.
Between 66 CE and 70 CE, and again from 132 CE to 135 CE, there were full-scale Jewish revolts against Roman rule. After the Bar Kochba Revolt was crushed in 135 CE, the Romans renamed the province of Judea to Syria Palaestina and changed Jerusalem’s name to Aelia Capitolina. This effectively erased the overt connections of the area to the Jewish people. Large numbers of Jews left Judea at this time and were relocated to other parts of the empire—many were enslaved.
Scene on the Arch of Titus depicting the Sack of Jerusalem during the Jewish War, from 66 to 73 CE. Image credit: Wikimedia, derivative work, Steerpike, CC BY 3.0
These conflicts raised questions about what it meant to be Jewish and also about what the relationship between Rome and its Jewish subjects should be. These conflicts also drew clearer distinctions between Judaism and the emerging Christian religion.
Stop and consider: How did Roman rule affect the Jewish people of Judea?


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  • blobby green style avatar for user kjayrat
    Why did the Jews never go back to the promised land until the 20th century?
    (18 votes)
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    • female robot ada style avatar for user Faigie1836
      There was always a Jewish presence there, but although dispersed Jews longed to return, travel wasn't so simple in those days. In the 20th century, travel became a lot easier (nobody had to travel on foot anymore; there were trains and boats and eventually, airplanes), so the Jews were like, "Hey! We can go back now!" Many Jews stayed in Europe, but after the Nazis tried to kill them and most of their neighbors helped them (like at the barn at Jedwabne), egged them on (voted for the Nazi party), or did nothing and pretended they didn't know what was happening, they kind of didn't want to live there anymore. You can read about the pogroms that took place AFTER the Holocaust, which were another reason that most Jews went either to the US or Israel, joining relatives and co-religionists who had been there before the war.
      (17 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user maxk026
    why did the persians help the jews in the first place?
    (7 votes)
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  • aqualine seed style avatar for user Madeline
    Why is the Jewish religion always at the bottom? throughout history we have seen multiple examples of this, for example just in this reading, the Jews were under Roman control, and during world war two the Natzis targeted them to kill, known as an event we call the Great Holocaust.
    (2 votes)
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    • leafers sapling style avatar for user W
      I know this question is an old one, but I just wanted to point out a couple of things.
      The Jews were persecuted in every country that they've found themselves.
      There were pogroms and Blood Libels in Russia and Eastern European countries, there were ghettos in Venice, the Jews were expelled from England, Spain, Portugal, and persecuted in Spanish colonies in South America. They were targeted during the Crusades, they were targeted during the Plague, they were targeted by the KKK, and they were targeted in Middle Eastern countries as well (especially in the 1900s).
      Many people think that the Jews were targeted because of their religion and/or culture. To them I ask the following:
      Why was Alfred Dreyfus (a secular Jewish officer in the French Army) prosecuted for crimes he didn't commit?
      Why did Hitler consider anyone with 1 Jewish Grandparent a Jew (Meaning, Jews were persecuted not for religious practices, but for racial identity, according to Britannica)?
      Why weren't Conversos (Spanish Jews who converted to Christianity to avoid expulsion) accepted in Spanish society?
      Why was Leo Frank (a secular Jew) lynched for the murder of Mary Phagan (which he did not do)?
      Throughout the ages, a large percentage of Jews tried to avoid antisemitism by dropping their religion and adopting the culture of their host country. How many of them succeeded?
      I think Jewish history proves that antisemitism has nothing to do with religion or culture. It was true then, and it is true today (just check the percentage of antisemitic hate crimes).
      However, just like there were always people who hated the Jews, there were also people who did all they can to help them. There were many who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust, there was Emile Zola, who fought tooth and nail for Alfred Dreyfus' freedom. Georgia Governor John Slaton risked his life to help Leo Frank.
      While we haven't been successful in eradicating antisemitism, we can learn from Emile Zola, Irene Sendler, Oskar Schindler, Chiune Sugihara, Governor John Slaton, Raoul Wallenberg, and the countless heroes who did all they can to help others.
      (9 votes)
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Fernanda Muriedas
    How did Jewdism spread?
    (3 votes)
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    • duskpin tree style avatar for user Vik
      Jews scattered outside of Palestine after the Babylonian exile (the diaspora). Many Jews became merchants, and their religion was spread through trade—a monotheistic religion based on the fundamentals of Judaism founded in 33 C.E. by Jesus.
      (3 votes)
  • aqualine tree style avatar for user npereira24
    what were some challenges faced by early jews? like in Judah and Jerusalem?
    (3 votes)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user Eli Daily
    Did Jews ever gain control of Judea back from the Romans?
    (2 votes)
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  • duskpin seed style avatar for user yv880930
    How were the other religions affected by Judaism?
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user kandi.campbell
    how did roman rule affect the Jewish people of Judea?
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Jeff Liu
    So how did Judaism spread?
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user jackie chen
    Where is the ten commandments
    (0 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      They are found twice in the Torah. The first occurrence is in a chapter popularly known as Exodus 20. They are listed again is a chapter popularly known as Deuteronomy 5. The lists each contain 10 items, but those are divided into individual items differently by: 1)Jewish scholars; 2) Roman Catholic and Lutheran scholars; and 3) Protestant (other than Lutheran) scholars.
      (5 votes)