Abraham: can be seen as the physical and spiritual ancestor of the Jewish people – around 1300 BCE, God chose the
Hebrews (who came from a town in Mesopotamia) as his chosen people, and called Abraham to be their leader by
serving as an example of the righteous life. Abraham, along with his two sons Ishmael and Isaac are told by God to go to
the promised land of Canaan, but are first sent to Egypt, where Moses eventually frees their descendants. *Covenant*
Moses and Exodus: the migration of Hebrews from Egypt under the leadership of Moses, understood in later Hebrew
thought as marking the birth of the Israelite nation. After a period of decline and suffering in Egypt, Moses, under God’s
direction, led his people from slavery to the abundant life in God’s promised land (Israel). Moses also takes on the role
of lawgiver when he renews the covenant and receives the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai
Covenant: The purpose of life for those bound by the covenant is defined by the special contractual relationship into
which first Abraham, then Jacob and Moses and the people of Israel, enter with God, since the covenant specifies
exactly how God desires Abraham’s decedents to behave. The people must be obedient to God, and in exchange they
will be rewarded with good favour, offspring, and a homeland.
David and Solomon: After the first king of Israel Saul and his son were killed, God, through the prophet Samuel, chose
David to become the second king. He created the beginning of a stable Israelite Empire with Jerusalem as its capital. His
son, Solomon, succeeds him, and builds the Temple to Yahweh on Zion as an earthly dwelling for God. After Solomon’s
death, the kingdom is divided once again into North and South
Early Period: Exile and Second Temple Period
Babylonian Exile and Destruction of Temple: In 586 BCE the Judean kingdom fell to the Babylonians – the Temple was
razed and the Hebrews’ leaders were sent into exile. This marks the transition of Judaism from national cult to a
religious heritage of a diaspora. Furthermore, in the absence of a temple, the focus shifted from formal worship
towards congregational life, and the institution known as the synagogue was born.
Return to Jerusalem: When Cyrus the Persian conquered Babylon in 538 BCE he sought to restore the ancient regimes
destroyed by the Babylonians, and thus allowed the Jews to go back to Judea to re-establish their Temple.
Ezra the Scribe and the Establishment of the Torah: during the 5 or 4 century BCE, the priestly aristocracy, which
included Ezra and Nehemiah, properly compiled and edited the first five books of the Bible to form the Torah. This
became the foundation document or constitution of the nation in the second commonwealth.
Hellenism and its Influence: The Persian Empire (and subsequently Israel) fell to Alexander the Great in 331 BCE, making
Hellenistic influence even more pervasive. Jews began adopting Greek names, architecture and dress, and knowledge of
Hebrew declined to a point that the Torah had to be translated into Greek (Septuagint, rearranged by subject).
Maccabean Revolt: after being under the control of the Ptolemies (a Greek dynasty) for more than 100 years, in 198 BCE
the territory was passed into the hands of the Seleucids, the rulers of Syria. The new rulers transformed the temple into
a cult place of Zeus, raided its riches, and moved his troops there, suspending the local Torah constitution. Seeing this as
a major threat to their community and therefore religion, in 166 BCE a general revolt broke out among the Jews, led by a
group called the Maccabees. They succeeded, and even expanded the Jewish state to its pre-exilic boundaries. This
victory is celebrated through Hanukkah.
First Century Sects: as a result of Hellenistic influence, various sects fighting for power emerged in the first century…
Sadducees: formed from the aristocracy that embraced Hellenization, they were the party of the priestly
establishment and the custodians of the Temple, in charge of its operations. They insisted on a narrow, literal
interpretation of the law.
Pharisees: formed from the middle classes, they sometimes held power in the Temple but had more connection
with the synagogues. They interpreted the scriptural text more broadly, but paid detailed attention to matters
of purity and tithing.
1 Essenes: an ascetic sect credited with the writing of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the group consisted of rigorously
observant priests. When a candidate they disapproved of was appointed High Priest in Jerusalem, they left and
retired to the desert, where they prepared for a supposed apocalypse.
Zealots: sect which rejected any Roman control – revolted in 66 CE and defended the fortress of Masada for four
years before engaging in a mass suicide to avoid Roman prosecution.
Samaritans: rejected the Prophets or Writings, accepting only their own version of the Five Books of Moses
which varied in that it included several reference to a messianic figure expected to be a prophet like Moses.