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Hebrew Religion and Ethics
1. Historic Language
Hebrew Bible, Babylonian Talmud (parts in Aramaic)
Language of Jewish religious instruction in medieval period
Revived in 19th century by immigrants to Palestine
Official language of modern state of Israel (1948-)
2. Sense of History
Hebrew Bible composed of Torah (5 books of Moses), historical works such as Judges
and Chronicles; Prophets; and Psalms. Some biblical books discussing specific events
in parentheses below
Other historical works: Books of Maccabees, book of Esther, Josephus
Hebrew arrival in Canaan, ca. 1200 BCE (Book of Joshua)
King Saul (Judges, 1 Samuel)
King David subdued Philistines ca 1000 BCE, ruled to 962 BCE (2 Samuel, I Kings, I
King Solomon 962-922 BCE, built Temple to contain Ark of Covenant
Northern kingdom of Israel, Southern kingdom of Judah (I Kings)
727-722 BCE Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and Temple, deported Jewish people of
Judea to Babylon (II Chronicles)
Late 7th, early 6th c. BCE Prophets Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and
Sage Daniel
538 BCE When Babylon under Persian Cyrus the Great, some Jews return to Judah (Isaiah
II); Persian toleration policy recorded in the Cyrus cylinder in Cuneiform.
Persian, then Greek, then Roman domination of Judah
515 BCE Completion of Second Temple
around 458 BCE Scribe Ezra compiles parts of Torah (Orthodox Jews and Christian
Fundamentalists view Torah as God-given) (Liberal scholars since 18th century investigating
when different parts first written down.)
Sense of History, cont.
Diaspora: Spread of Jews to Egypt, North Africa, Arabian peninsula, Asia
Minor, and some to Europe
2nd c. BCE Translation of Hebrew Bible into Greek: the Septuagint
Maccabees (Celebration of cleaning the Temple in holiday of Hanukkah)
(Books of the Maccabees)
Jewish High Priests in Judah come under political dominion of Romans
63 BCE Roman control of Judaea, called by Romans province of “Palestine”
Diaspora: Spread of Jews to European cities: Athens, Corinth, Rome, Milan,
Cordoba, Marseilles, Lyons, Cologne
Roman Converts to Judaism (Philo of Alexandria’s philosophy known in
Greek-speaking areas of Roman Empire)
70 C.E. Destruction of Second temple. 73 CE Masada
3. Beliefs
God: One despite different peoples’ different names for God
Creator of world, plants, animals, humans
Not bodily
Providential history
Divine Covenant with Hebrew people
First Century CE Sadducees-value rituals in Temple & written Torah
Pharisees, value oral tradition, develop worship in synagogues, talked of
afterlife as resurrection of body, talk of future leader to bring divine
justice on earth (a messiah). Sadducees and high priests disappeared;
rabbis, read and commented on Torah, continued work of Pharisees.
Rabbis discuss list of 36 books of canonic Hebrew Bible (Torah, Prophets
and other works, wisdom Literature)
Essenes, ascetic sects of Jews living in isolate communities. Left Records
in Dead Sea Scrolls (sections of Hebrew Bible found in 1947)
4. Mitzvahs
Ethical Life—Ten Commandments primary
Laws as commandments of God
Religious Observance Sabbath as oldest most sacred holiday (7th day of
creation, 7 day week with 1 day of rest)
Rosh Hashanah (Start calendar year)
Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement in Leviticus XV), 3
Agricultural Harvest Festivals: Passover (Exodus
from Egypt)
Shavuot (Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai),
Succot (Leviticus, Lived in huts during wandering
after exodus)
ca. 500 C.E. Babylonian Talmud gave rabbinical discussion on ethics and religious
observance. Law (halachah) and Folklore (agadah) In the medieval period, the
Babylonian Talmud was authoritative for individual rabbi’s interpretation of law
and custom in scattered Jewish communities. It gave guidance for living as Jews in
states dominated by other religions. Both the Hellenistic philosophers and the
rabbis of the Talmud tried to provide answers to the question of how to live well
within a world ruled by others. The Babylonian Talmud, trans. in English with
Index, in Occidental College Library.