Ancient Religions (3,500-Jesus)
• Dealing with areas such as
− Fertile Crescent
− Mesopotamia (FC)
− Egypt (FC)
− Ancient Greece
− Ancient Rome
When Christianity came to be, the Romans themselves had many gods and were incorporating
gods from all their conquered territories. There was a context of tolerance to other religions, or
at least syncretism.
Common and Defining features ofAncient Religions
− Usually gods have different purposes and associations
− They were designed to help you in specific areas if worshipped accordingly
− Ahierarchy of gods
− Followers were known as “pagans”
• Anthropomorphic (in human likeness)
− Represented in art as humans
− Also acted like humans and misbehaved like humans (needed to be fed and
− Asocial stratification between them
− Many begin as humans, like some Roman emperors
• Linked to the State
− Religion sponsored by the state
− State appointed priests and religious authorities − Religion informed politics
− Civic festivals were the same as religious festivals
• Focus on Present Life vs. Afterlife
− Afterlife not at the center of many religions
− More a question of what can the gods do for me right now?
− Focus on improving the quality of life
• Worship (the correct observation of ritual)
− Often done as animal sacrifice
− Everything must be done the right way
− Rituals (prayer, processions and festivals) might get the gods to help you, but they
are also very fickle
− Not about an emotional connection with the gods, except for mystery cults
− Not about a sacred text or specific moral code. Literature was elevated like
Homer,Aeneid, and Gilgamesh. Moral code was derived from philosophers like
Plato, Socrates, andAristotle.
− No laws or creeds
Lecture 3: The Jewish Legacy
Why do we learn about Judaism?
− Jesus was Jewish and lived in a Jewish world
− Christianity began as a movement in Judaism – the first Christians were Jews
− Much of Christianity is Judaism in terms of history and content
Common Ground with Christianity
− The same God (Yahweh)
− Common book: The Old Testaments or Tanakh (law, prophets, and writings) *Like theApocrypha, it is common but not identical
Judaism was very different from other ancient religions but shared some similarities...
Similarities to other Ancient Religions:
− AGod that people could turn to for help
− He would favour them if they worshipped him properly
− Use of animal sacrifice
1. What was the Origin of the Jewish People?
• Semi-nomadic shepherds near the Tigris and Euphrates
• Bound by blood to the tribe and family
• Originally have no land of their own. Their story is getting a land and keeping it.
− Land known as Canaan, Palestine, the Holy Land or the Land of Israel
− Is it from the Mediterranean to Jordan
• The land was given to them by God
− Promised that they would multiply
− Claimed name of Chosen People
− Given the Promised Land
• Father of Israel isAbraham (c. 2000 BC)
− The Patriarch and first of the chosen people
− God speaks directly to him and asks things of him.
− Abraham lived in a polytheistic world. Why would he listen to God?
− God trusts him to father his people (likely because of his implicit obedience)
2. How did Judaism take shape? (2000 BC- 0) The Question of why Israel?
• Not because they were “better” than other people or more righteous
• He chose one group because he had a plan to end the polytheistic era. The Jews were
given a vocation to lead others away from false gods to the one true God.
• Choosing one group is just a part of larger plan
• Israel always under guidance of chosen individuals
• Patriarchs:Abraham, Isaac, Jacob
• Prophets: Moses (responsible for revealing God’s revelations and acting as a moral
• Kings: David
• These people were mediators between God and the people
• Vessels for God
• Acontract that binds two parties with responsibilities for both
• One created betweenAbraham and God: God promises to provideAbraham with
descendents and love them. Abraham must be obedient, morally upright, and employ
circumcision as a symbol of their choseness.
• One between Moses and God: And expanded coven