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Early Judaism, part 1

An overview of the stories of the Torah (first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament).

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Video transcript

- [Sal] What I'm going to do in this video is give a very high-level history of some of the significant events in Judaism. I will use the word, history, loosely, because historians aren't able to really find a lot of evidence for some of what I'm going to talk about before the First Millennium BCE. These stories we get from the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, often referred to as the Torah, also the first five books of the Old Testament, also we get them from the Muslim Koran. But there isn't a lot of historical evidence for them. And so, many historians view it more along the lines of legend, but there are many people who view these as historic facts and have attempted to place them on a historic timeline. What I'm gonna do in this video is I'm going to attempt to fit onto this historic timeline where some of the people who believe it did happen, when they believed it happened. Keep in mind that there's not a lot of strong archeological evidence, historical record here, and these accounts were written several hundred years after when they were purported to occur. So let's start in the beginning. Let's start in the Book of Genesis, in the Torah, in the Hebrew Bible, and the Old Testament. I'm not gonna go into detail on the Book of Genesis. It starts, of course, with the monotheistic God creating the heavens and Earth. And then we have the stories of Adam and Eve, and then, several generations later, the story of the Great Flood of Noah. And then Noah's son, Shem, and I talk about Shem because this is where the word Semitic comes from. You might have heard people refer to Jewish people as Semitic; but also, Arab people are referred to as Semitic; because, according to Biblical accounts, they are both viewed as descendants of Abraham, who is a descendant of Shem. So they are viewed as Semitic. The first real significant patriarch of the Hebrew Bible is considered Abraham, who I just mentioned. It has Abraham moving from the City of Ur. There's debate on which Ur that is. It might be the ancient Sumerian city in lower Mesopotamia. Or, some people believe that it was an Ur in upper Mesopotamia. But regardless of which account you take... Once again, Abraham is considered by many historians as a legendary figure. So there's not clear evidence that he existed in a historical sense. But if you take the accounts in the Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible, he would have gone with his family from Ur, and eventually migrated to Canaan, which is in, near, or around modern-day Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, that general area. So it's either from this Ur or that Ur. And Abraham is considered the first of the three significant patriarchs for the Jewish people; the other two are Isaac and Jacob. Once again, I could do a whole series of videos on the stories of Abraham. But Abraham's first son is Ishmael, who he has with the servant of his wife Sarah after they determine that they're not able to, or they don't think that they're able to, have children. According to Biblical accounts, Ishmael is viewed as the progenitor, as the patriarch of the Arab people. But later in life, Abraham, and at this point he is roughly 100 years old, and his wife Sarah, according to Biblical accounts, is in her 90s, they have Isaac, who is considered a significant patriarch in Judaism. This is a painting by Rembrandt of the famous Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac, but then he gets stopped at the last minute. But it's viewed as a sign of his willingness to his faith in God and his willingness to follow God. Isaac's son is Jacob, and Jacob is later named by God as Israel. And so, this is where the word, Israelites, come from, and even the modern state of Israel. Now, one of Jacob's son is Joseph. Once again, this is according to Biblical accounts. There isn't a lot of historical evidence here. But it's a fascinating story, the story of Joseph, how he is sold by his brothers into slavery, and taken from Canaan to Egypt. But Joseph, once again, fascinating story, is eventually able to rise through the ranks, become the vizier of Egypt, and later, his family, including Jacob, come to Egypt when there is a famine in Canaan. And that is the explanation for the Biblical settlement of a significant fraction of the Israelites in Egypt. But then they are enslaved. According to Biblical accounts, they are enslaved for 400 years, over 400 years, and that's what you see in this green line right over here. They stay enslaved in Egypt until we get to Moses, who's considered the most significant of the prophets in the Jewish tradition, and one of the very most significant prophets amongst Christians and Muslims. So let's get to Moses. Moses' story, once again, one of these famous stories, how the pharaoh is feeling threatened by the growing population of the Jewish people, who, remember, are enslaved. And so, as the story goes, he orders all newborn Hebrew Jewish boys to be killed, but Moses' mother hides Moses, and he puts him on a basket in the Nile, and the pharaoh's daughter discovers him, and raises Moses. And so, he's able to get an education and is part of the royal court of the pharaoh. But later in life, he sees a slavemaster that's abusing a Jewish person to death, and then he kills the slavemaster. And so, he's afraid for his life, and so he runs away, fearing the penalty for killing the slavemaster, and he goes to Mount Sinai, or Mount Horeb, and this is where we think the Biblical mount, this is where the current Mount Sinai, Mount Horeb, is, and that's where we think the Biblical one might have been. That's where we have the story of the burning bush, where he is commanded by God. The angel of the Lord is speaking through this bush, and telling Moses: "Go back, and you need "to free the Jewish people from enslavement." And so, he does go back, and he is able to liberate them. Once again, this is a very famous story. The pharaoh's armies follow him. He parts the Red Sea. The pharaoh's army is eventually destroyed. He takes the Jewish people back to Mount Sinai, Mount Horeb. These are sometimes viewed as two different mountains, sometimes the same mountains, different sides of the same mountains. We are not exactly sure. But most people view them as the same mountain. It was at Mount Sinai, Mount Horeb, where now Moses is able to receive the famous Ten Commandments, and he's able to receive the Jewish laws. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah, the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the authorship of these is ascribed to Moses. Once again, historians really debate that, but this is according to Biblical accounts. Now, once he receives this word of God, he then takes the Jewish people, they set up a tabernacle, they go through the desert for 40 years, and he brings them to the promised land, and before entering, Moses dies. But he, essentially, is able to resettle the Jewish people back in Canaan.