Judaica (clockwise from top): Shabbat candlesticks, handwashing cup, Chumash and Tanakh, Torah pointer, shofar and etrog box
TypeEthnic religion[1]
ScriptureHebrew Bible
LeadersJewish leadership
MovementsJewish religious movements
AssociationsJewish religious organizations
RegionPredominant religion in Israel and widespread worldwide as minorities
LanguageBiblical Hebrew[2]
HeadquartersJerusalem (Zion)
FounderAbraham[3][4] (traditional)
Origin1st millennium BCE
20th–18th century BCE[3] (traditional)
Mesopotamia[3] (traditional)
Separated fromYahwism
CongregationsJewish religious communities
Membersc. 14–15 million[5]

The origins of Judaism lie in Bronze Age polytheistic Canaanite religion. Judaism also syncretized elements of other Semitic religions such as Babylonian religion, which is reflected in the early prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible.[6][failed verification]

During the Iron Age I period (12th to 11th centuries BCE[7]), the religion of the Israelites branched out of the Canaanite religion and took the form of Yahwism. Yahwism was the national religion of the Kingdom of Israel and of the Kingdom of Judah.[8][need quotation to verify][9] As distinct from other Canaanite religious traditions, Yahwism was monolatristic and focused on the exclusive worship of Yahweh, whom his worshippers conflated with El.[10] Yahwists started to deny the existence of other gods, whether Canaanite or foreign, as Yahwism became more strictly monotheistic over time.[11][12]

During the Babylonian captivity of the 6th and 5th centuries BCE (Iron Age II), certain circles within exiled Judahites in Babylon refined pre-existing ideas about Yahwism, such as the nature of divine election, law and covenants. Their ideas came to dominate the Jewish community in the following centuries.[13]

From the 5th century BCE until 70 CE, Yahwism evolved into the various theological schools of Second Temple Judaism, besides Hellenistic Judaism in the diaspora. Second Temple Jewish eschatology has similarities with Zoroastrianism.[14] The text of the Hebrew Bible was redacted into its extant form in this period and possibly also canonized as well. Archaeological and textual evidence pointing to widespread observance of the laws of the Torah among rank-and-file Jews first appears around the middle of the 2nd century BCE, during the Hasmonean period.[15][page needed]

Rabbinic Judaism developed in Late Antiquity, during the 3rd to 6th centuries CE; the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud were compiled in this period. The oldest manuscripts of the Masoretic tradition come from the 10th and 11th centuries CE, in the form of the Aleppo Codex (of the later portions of the 10th century CE) and of the Leningrad Codex (dated to 1008–1009 CE). Due largely to censoring and the burning of manuscripts in medieval Europe, the oldest existing manuscripts of various rabbinical works are quite late. The oldest surviving complete manuscript copy of the Babylonian Talmud dates from 1342 CE.[16]

Iron Age Yahwism

Further information: Yahwism and History of ancient Israel and Judah

Image on a pithos sherd found at Kuntillet Ajrud with the inscription "Yahweh and his Asherah"

Judaism has three essential and related elements: study of the written Torah; the recognition of Israel as the chosen people and the recipients of the law at Mount Sinai; and the requirement that Israel and their descendants live according to the laws outlined in the Torah.[17] These three elements have their origins in Iron Age Yahwism and in Second Temple Judaism.[18]

Iron Age Yahwism was formalized in the 9th century BCE, around the same time that the Iron Age kingdoms of Israel (or Samaria) and Judah became consolidated in Canaan.[19][failed verification][20][failed verification][21] Yahweh was the national god of both kingdoms.[22]

Other neighbouring Canaanite kingdoms also each had their own national god originating from the Canaanite pantheon of gods: Chemosh was the god of Moab, Milcom the god of the Ammonites, Qaus the god of the Edomites, and so on. In each kingdom, the king was his national god's viceroy on Earth.[8][23][24]

The various national gods were more or less equal, reflecting the fact that the kingdoms in Canaan themselves were more or less equal, and within each kingdom a divine couple, made up of the national god and his consort – in the case of Israel and Judah: Yahweh and the goddess Asherah – headed a pantheon of lesser gods.[20][25][26]

By the late 8th century, both Judah and Israel had become vassals of the Assyrian Empire, bound by treaties of loyalty on one side and protection on the other. Israel rebelled and was destroyed c. 722 BCE, and refugees from the former kingdom fled to Judah, bringing with them the tradition that Yahweh, already known in Judah, was not merely the most important of the gods, but the only god who should be served.[27] Various prophets traditionally played significant roles in promoting Yahwism at the expense of its rival religions, both in the North and in the South.[28] The Yahwist-centred outlook was taken up by the Judahite landowning élite, who became extremely powerful in court circles in the next century when they placed the eight-year-old Josiah (reigned 641–609 BC) on the throne. During Josiah's reign, Assyrian power suddenly collapsed (after 631 BC), and a pro-independence movement took power in Jerusalem, promoting both the independence of Judah from foreign overlords and loyalty to Yahweh as the sole god of Israel. With Josiah's support, the "Yahweh-alone" movement launched a full-scale reform of worship, including a covenant (i.e., treaty) between Judah and Yahweh, replacing that between Judah and Assyria.[29]

By the time this occurred, Yahweh had already been absorbing or superseding the positive characteristics of the other gods and goddesses of the pantheon, a process of appropriation that was an essential step in the subsequent emergence of one of Judaism's most notable features: its uncompromising monotheism.[25] Philip R. Davies holds that the people of ancient Israel and Judah were not followers of Judaism; they were practitioners of a polytheistic culture worshiping multiple gods, concerned with fertility and local shrines and legends. They probably lacked a written Torah, elaborate laws governing ritual purity, and the sense of a covenant with an exclusive national god.[30]

Second Temple Judaism

Main article: Second Temple Judaism

Further information: Hellenistic Judaism and YHWH

Model of the Second Temple showing the courtyards and the Sanctuary, as described in Middot

In 586 BCE, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, and the Judean elite – the royal family, the priests, the scribes, and other members of the elite – were taken to Babylon in captivity. They represented only a minority of the population, and Judah, after recovering from the immediate impact of war, continued to have a life not much different from what had gone before. In 539 BCE, Babylon fell to the Persians; the Babylonian exile ended and a number of the exiles, but by no means all and probably a minority, returned to Jerusalem. They were the descendants of the original exiles, and had never lived in Judah; nevertheless, in the view of the authors of the Biblical literature, they, and not those who had remained in the land, were "Israel".[31] Judah, now called Yehud, was a Persian province, and the returnees, with their Persian connections in Babylon, were in control of it. They represented also the descendants of the old "Yahweh-alone" movement, but the religion they instituted was significantly different from both monarchic Yahwism[6] and modern Judaism. These differences include new concepts of priesthood, a new focus on written law and thus on scripture, and a concern with preserving purity by prohibiting intermarriage outside the community of this new "Israel".[6]

The Yahweh-alone party returned to Jerusalem after the Persian conquest of Babylon and became the ruling elite of Yehud. Much of the Hebrew Bible was assembled, revised and edited by them in the 5th century BCE, including the Torah (the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), the historical works, and much of the prophetic and Wisdom literature.[32][33] The Bible narrates the discovery of a legal book in the Temple in the seventh century BCE, which the majority of scholars see as some form of Deuteronomy and regard as pivotal to the development of the scripture.[34] The growing collection of scriptures was translated into Greek in the Hellenistic period by the Jews of the Egyptian diaspora, while the Babylonian Jews produced the court tales of the Book of Daniel (chapters 1–6 of Daniel – chapters 7–12 were a later addition), and the books of Tobit and Esther.[35]

Afterwards, Yahwism split into Second Temple Judaism and Samaritanism.[36] These religions initially had friendly relations but after John Hyrcanus's destruction of the Mount Gerizim temple in 120 BC, they became rival competitors. [37]The latter is infamously recorded in the Christian New Testament.[38]

Widespread adoption of Torah law

Further information: Torah

In his seminal Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels (Prologue to the History of Israel) of 1878, Julius Wellhausen argued that Judaism as a religion based on widespread observance of Torah law first emerged in 444 BCE when, according to the biblical account provided in the Book of Nehemiah (chapter 8), a priestly scribe named Ezra read a copy of the Mosaic Torah before the populace of Judea assembled in a central Jerusalem square.[39] Wellhausen believed that this narrative should be accepted as historical because it sounds plausible, noting: "The credibility of the narrative appears on the face of it."[40] Following Wellhausen, most scholars throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries have accepted that widespread Torah observance began sometime around the middle of the 5th century BCE.

More recently, Yonatan Adler has argued that in fact there is no surviving evidence to support the notion that the Torah was widely known, regarded as authoritative, and put into practice, any time prior to the middle of the 2nd century BCE.[41] Adler explored the likelihood that Judaism, as the widespread practice of Torah law by Jewish society at large, first emerged in Judea during the reign of the Hasmonean dynasty, centuries after the putative time of Ezra.[42]

Development of Rabbinic Judaism

Scenes from the Book of Esther decorate the Dura-Europos synagogue dating from 244 CE

Main article: Rabbinic Judaism

Further information: Tannaim, Amoraim, Talmud, and Origins of Christianity

For centuries, the traditional understanding has been that the split of early Christianity and Judaism some time after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE was the first major theological schism in Jewish tradition. Starting in the latter half of the 20th century, some scholars have begun to argue that the historical picture is quite a bit more complicated than that.[43][44]

By the 1st century, Second Temple Judaism was divided into competing theological factions, notably the Pharisees and the Sadducees, besides numerous smaller sects such as the Essenes, messianic movements such as Early Christianity, and closely related traditions such as Samaritanism (which gives us the Samaritan Pentateuch, an important witness of the text of the Torah independent of the Masoretic Text). The sect of Israelite worship that eventually became Rabbinic Judaism and the sect which developed into Early Christianity were but two of these separate Israelite religious traditions. Thus, some scholars have begun to propose a model which envisions a twin birth of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism, rather than an evolution and separation of Christianity from Rabbinic Judaism. It is increasingly accepted among scholars that "at the end of the 1st century CE there were not yet two separate religions called 'Judaism' and 'Christianity'".[45] Daniel Boyarin (2002) proposes a revised understanding of the interactions between nascent Christianity and nascent Rabbinic Judaism in Late Antiquity which views the two religions as intensely and complexly intertwined throughout this period.

The Amoraim were the Jewish scholars of Late Antiquity who codified and commented upon the law and the biblical texts. The final phase of redaction of the Talmud into its final form took place during the 6th century CE, by the scholars known as the Savoraim. This phase concludes the Chazal era foundational to Rabbinical Judaism.

See also



  1. ^ Jacobs 2007, p. 511 quote: "Judaism, the religion, philosophy, and way of life of the Jews.".
  2. ^ Sotah 7:2 with vowelized commentary (in Hebrew). New York. 1979. Retrieved Jul 26, 2017.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  3. ^ a b c Mendes-Flohr 2005.
  4. ^ Levenson 2012, p. 3.
  5. ^ Dashefsky, Arnold; Della Pergola, Sergio; Sheskin, Ira, eds. (2018). World Jewish Population (PDF) (Report). Berman Jewish DataBank. Retrieved 22 June 2019.
  6. ^ a b c Moore & Kelle 2011, p. 402.
  7. ^ Hackett 2001, p. 132: "The period in Israel's history that extends for most of the twelfth and eleventh centuries BCE is the era of the judges, which archaeologists call Iron Age I."
  8. ^ a b Hackett 2001, p. 156.
  9. ^ Compare: Ahlström, Gösta Werner (1982). Royal Administration and National Religion in Ancient Palestine. Volume 1 of Studies in the history of the ancient Near East / Studies in the history of the ancient Near East. Leiden: E. J. Brill. p. 83. ISBN 9789004065628. Retrieved 11 November 2023. [...] the picture drawn for us of the northern kingdom and its religion is not reliable. Furthermore, the so-called conservative Yahwism which is said to have predominated in Judah, seems to have existed only in the biblical writers' reconstruction of history.
  10. ^ Smith 2002, pp. 8, 33–34.
  11. ^ Betz 2000, p. 917: "Monotheism in Israel [...] appears to have developed over a long period of time, beginning about the 10th century up until the end of the Babylonian Exile."
  12. ^ Albertz 1994, p. 61  The propagation of the sole worship of Yahweh is said to have begun only at a late stage, at the earliest with Elijah in the ninth century, but really only with Hosea in the eighth century, and to have been the concern of only small opposition groups (the 'Yahweh alone['] movement). [...] According to this view, this movement was only able to influence society for a short period under Josiah, but then finally helped monotheism to victory in the exilic and early post-exilic period.
  13. ^ Gnuse 1997, p. 225.
  14. ^ "Diseases in Jewish Sources". Encyclopaedia of Judaism. doi:10.1163/1872-9029_ej_com_0049.
  15. ^ Adler 2022.
  16. ^ Golb, Norman (1998). The Jews in Medieval Normandy: A Social and Intellectual History. Cambridge University Press. p. 530. ISBN 978-0521580328. A copy [...] was completed at the end of 1342 [...] by the scribe Solomon b. Simson [...]. [...] This manuscript, now at the Bayerische Staatsbibliotek in Munich (MS Heb. 95), remains the only complete manuscript of the Babylonian Talmud to survive from the Middle Ages.
  17. ^ Neusner 1992, p. 3.
  18. ^ Neusner 1992, p. 4.
  19. ^ Schniedewind 2013, p. 93.
  20. ^ a b Smith 2010, p. 119.
  21. ^ Finkelstein, Israel, (2020). "Saul and Highlands of Benjamin Update: The Role of Jerusalem", in Joachim J. Krause, Omer Sergi, and Kristin Weingart (eds.), Saul, Benjamin, and the Emergence of Monarchy in Israel: Biblical and Archaeological Perspectives, SBL Press, Atlanta, GA, p. 48, footnote 57: "...They became territorial kingdoms later, Israel in the first half of the ninth century BCE and Judah in its second half..."
  22. ^ Hackett 2001, p. 156: "[...] some contemporary scholars propose that what distinguished 'Israel' from other emerging Canaanite Iron I societies was religion - the belief in Yahweh as one's god rather than Chemosh (of the Moabites), for example, or Milcom (of the Ammonites). Indeed, the early Iron Age marked the rise of national religion in the Near East, tying belief in the national god to ethnic identity. Thus the Israelites are the people of Yahweh, just as Moabites are the people of Chemosh; Ammonites, worshipers of Milcom; Edomites, of Qaus. [...] (The terms national religion and national god, though commonly used, are admittedly misleading: the particulars of modern nation-states should not be read back into these ancient societies.)"
  23. ^ Davies 2010, p. 112.
  24. ^ Miller 2000, p. 90.
  25. ^ a b Anderson 2015, p. 3.
  26. ^ Betz 2000, p. 917.
  27. ^ Staples, Jason A. (20 May 2021). "The Other Israelites: Samaritans, Hebrews, and non-Jewish Israel". The Idea of 'Israel' in Second Temple Judaism: A New Theory of People, Exile, and Israelite Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 61, 62. ISBN 9781108842860. Retrieved 4 February 2024. [Note 23:] The settlement of Israelite groups in Judah in the wake of the northern kingdom's destruction may have brought much of the northern biblical material with it, engendering a pan-Israelite sentiment in Judah (Finkelstein, Forgotten Kingdom, 155).
  28. ^ Rogerson, John (27 August 2009) [2007]. "Ancient Israel to the fall of the Second Temple". In Hinnells, John R. (ed.). The Penguin Handbook of Ancient Religions. London: Penguin UK. ISBN 9780141956664. Retrieved 4 February 2024. 'Pure' Yahwism was upheld by ecstatic prophetic groups led by men such as Samuel, Elijah and Elisha who involved themselves actively in political matters. Later, this role was taken on by the so-called writing prophets: Hosea, Amos, Micah and Isaiah [...] in the eighth century. These prophets were the creators of the ethical monotheism of ancient Israel.
  29. ^ Rogerson 2003, p. 153-154.
  30. ^ Davies, Philip R. (1 April 2016) [2011]. "Early Judaism(s)". On the Origins of Judaism. Abingdon: Routledge. p. 15. ISBN 9781134945023. Retrieved 4 February 2024. The culture of the Israelite or Judean farmer seems to have been polytheistic, concerned with fertility and based on local and domestic shrines. Its folklore would probably have comprised such things as local legal practices, local stories about ancestors and places, and a collection of proverbial sayings and myths and legends associated with local shrines, not with a written torah, purity laws or belief in a corporate 'covenant' with an exclusive national deity.
  31. ^ Moore & Kelle 2011, p. 397.
  32. ^ Coogan et al. 2007, p. xxiii.
  33. ^ Berquist 2007, p. 3-4.
  34. ^ Frederick J. Murphy (15 April 2008). "Second Temple Judaism". In Alan Avery-Peck (ed.). The Blackwell Companion to Judaism. Jacob Neusner. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 61–. ISBN 978-0-470-75800-7.
  35. ^ Coogan et al. 2007, p. xxvi.
  36. ^ Pummer 2016, p. 25.
  37. ^ Knoppers 2013, pp. 173–174.
  38. ^ "Samaritan | Definition, Religion, & Bible | Britannica". britannica.com. Retrieved 2022-05-25.
  39. ^ Wellhausen 1885, p. 405–410.
  40. ^ Wellhausen 1885, p. 408 n. 1.
  41. ^ Adler 2022, p. 223: "[...] the literary sources that are firmly dated to the early Hellenistic period provide no compelling evidence regarding the degree to which the Torah might have been known or regarded as authoritative among the Judean masses of the time."
  42. ^ Adler 2022, p. 223–234.
  43. ^ Becker & Reed 2007.
  44. ^ Dunn, James D. G., ed. (1999). Jews and Christians: the parting of the ways A.D. 70 to 135. William B Eerdmans Publishing Company. ISBN 9780802844989.
  45. ^ Goldenberg, Robert (2002). "Reviewed Work: Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism by Daniel Boyarin". The Jewish Quarterly Review. 92 (3/4): 586–588. doi:10.2307/1455460. JSTOR 1455460.