The Torah and Judaism


Abraham and the Promised Land

Abraham is the first of the three Patriarchs of Israel, Abrahan, Isaac, and Jacob, whose story is told in the Book of Genesis. After the disaster of the Tower of Babel God told Abraham to leave the land of Ur with his family for he Promised Land Canaan. Eventually they settled in Beersheba. Read the well-known stories in Genesis cited above

In Jewish tradition, Abraham is cosidered both the biological progenitor of the Jews and the father of Judaism, the first Jew.

Much of the modern knowledge about Canaan stems from archaeological excavations in this area. Canaanite culture apparently developed in situ from the Circum-Arabian Nomadic Pastoral Complex, which developed from a fusion of Near Eastern Harifian hunter gatherers with Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) farming cultures, practicing animal domestication, during the 6200 BC climatic crisis. Linguistically, the Canaanite languages form a group within the Northwest Semitic languages; its best-known member today is the Hebrew language, being mostly known from Iron Age epigraphy. Other Canaanite languages are Phoenician, Ammonite, Moabite, and Edomite.

According to the Bible the Egyptians, during their rule of Canaan, deported the rebellious Hebrews to Egypt from where Moses lead them back to the Promised Land. None of these Biblical stories can be historically verified (see further down).

Exodus and the Song of Moses

Moses, according to the Hebrew Bible, led the tribe of Israel out of Egypt. Moses' God Yahweh had promised to guide them back to their Promised Land in Canaan. During their Exodus they crossed the Red Sea, wandered through the desert for forty days, and went to battle with local tribes. Yahweh was a jealous God, and when the people of Israel lost their faith in him and sacrificed to the idols of the local tribes, Yahweh spoke to Moses from a Burning Bush in the Sinai and gave him the Ten Commandments, in which he proclaimed himself as their Only God, of whom they were not allowed to make any images. Yahweh also told Moses that he would die within view of the Promised Land. When they had safely reached its borders near Mount Nebo, Yahweh commanded the stuttering Moses to sing to His Chosen People to remind them a last time of their obligations and duties towards their God.

The Song of Moses (Hebrew: Ha'azinu) found in Deuteronomy 32:1-43 (bilingual online text) is arguably the most strikingly poetic part of the Bible. Moses' song opens with an exordium (verses 1-3) in which he summons heaven and earth to hear what he is to say. In verses 4-6 the subject is defined: it is the rectitude and faithfulness of YHWH (Yahweh) toward His corrupt and faithless people. Verses 7-14 expound YHWH's providence, which conducted Israel in safety through the wilderness and gave it a rich and fertile land; verses 15-18 are a searing indictment of Israel's unfaithfulness and lapse into idolatry. This lapse had compelled YHWH to threaten his Chosen People (verses 19-27) with national disaster and extinction. Verses 28-43 describe how YHWH has resolved to speak to the Israelites through the severity of their trials, to lead them to a better mind, and to grant them victory over their foes.

This song, the Testament of Moses and YHWH's Ten Commandments were among the treasures carried by the Israelites in their “Ark of the Covenant”, the very foundations of Judaic Monotheism and the national Identity of Israel.
Moses died on
Mount Nebo. To prevent idolatry God buried him in an unmarked grave in an unknown place.

This is the story, which the Pentateuch, the oldest chapters of the Torah, the Hebrew Bible tells us. A unique religion centered on an intangible, irascible God proclaimed by a vanished Prophet, entirely based on written myths: no female presence, no divene love, no salvation, no hope of an afterlife, no rebirth either, no death rituals - at most an obituary.

The Hebrew Torah
950-400 BC

The Hebrew Torah (bilingual online text) is the foundational narrative of the Jewish people: their call into existence by God, their trials and tribulations, and their Mosaic covenant with their God, which involves following a way of life embodied in a set of strict religious obligations and civil laws. In a fabulously eloquent narrative it tells of the Creation of the World by a God who has no origin or female helpmate. This God is referred to varyingly as Elohim, El, and by the Tetragrammaton YHWH (Yahweh). The designation Elohim (plural, used in singular) is considered to refer to the abstract universal aspect(s) of God. The tetragrammaton appears to be the personal name of this God, but is not to be pronounced in the Jewish tradition.

Tetragrammaton in Phoenician, Aramaic (1000 BC), and modern Hebrew

The Torah was derived from originally independent, parallel and complete narratives, which were subsequently combined into the current form by a series of redactors (editors). Since the work of Julius Wellhausen the four historical writers (JEDP) are known by the initials:

J-Yahwist source 950 BC written in the southern Kingdom of Judah.
E-Elohist source 850 BC written in the northern Kingdom of Israel.
D-Deuteronomist 600 BC written in Jerusalem just before the Babylonian exile.
P-Priestly source 500 BC written for the Jewish community in Babylonia.
All dates are hypothetical and approximate.

J has a distinct, most eloquent style in his/her narratives, making up half of Genesis and half of Exodus, plus fragments of Numbers. J has a special interest in the territory of the Kingdom of Judah and individuals connected with its history. According to one exalted literary critic (H. Bloom, 1990) J was a woman of royal descent - possibly Bathsheba!

E parallels J, often duplicating J's narratives. E makes up a third of Genesis and half of Exodus, plus fragments of Numbers. E describes a human-like God initially called Elohim, and Yahweh subsequent to the incident of the burning bush, at which Elohim reveals himself as Yahweh. E focuses on the Kingdom of Israel and on the Shiloh priesthood, and has a moderately eloquent style.

D, a moralist, wrote in the middle of the 6th century BC with the purpose of addressing his contemporaries in the Babylonian exile to show them that their sufferings were fully deserved consequences of centuries of decline in Israel’s loyalty to Yahweh.

P portrays Yahweh as granting his presence to the chosen people “who know his name”. The priesthood, the rituals, and the law represent the cosmic order in priestly garment, 5th century BC

The 5th-cent-AD redactors (editors) distributed the JEDP source texts through out the Torah – from where they were recovered on the basis of stylistic criteria during modern times:

Redistribution of the original JEDP-texts over the books of the Torah
by its 5th-cent-BC redactors, Richard E. Friedman (2003)

Is it necessary to recapitulate the legends of the “Old Testament”? - According to the Bible the World and Adam and Eve were created by God in seven days of the year 3760 BC. Old Kingdom period 2700-2400 BC. The Flood (Noah) wiped out humankind 2150 BC. Middle Kingdom period (under Egyptian rule) 2100-1700 BC. Israel's Patriarchal period, Abraham and the Promised Land 2000-1700 BC. First Temple destroyed by Babylonians: Babylonian Exile 587/586 BC. First Jews returned from Babylon in small numbers to rebuild Jerusalem and its walls. Seventy years of exile ended by the Achmaenid Persians under Cyrus 541-539 BC. Persian Period 538-333 BC. Second Temple built in Jerusalem 520-515 BC. Torah recognized as Jewish Scripture. 450 BC. Alexander the Great conquers Persia including the Land of Israel 333-331 BC. Jews under the Greeks, Ptolemies and Seleucids 320-168 BC. Romans annexed the Land of Israel 63 BC. Christ 30 AC. After another uprising Jerusalem and the Second Temple, the only tangible holy places of Judaism, were destroyed again in 68-70 AD by Roman Emperors Vaspasian and Titus. Dates from jewishvirtuallibrary

Jews deported from Jerusalem in 70 AD, Triumphal Arch of Emperor Titus, Rome, Photo Wikipedia

The difficult proposition for any “non-believer”, Jewish or Christian, is that, except for the dates printed in bold, none of the history described in the Torah (Old Testament) can be verified from archeological or independent sources. The date of Creation, of the Flood, Abraham and King David, Solomon, the First Temple, the Exodus from Egypt, Moses and the Burning Bush, the various Prophets of the Biblical narrative are poetic legends composed by J and E, reordered by D, P, and the redactors for political and doctrinal reasons. Words, an entire religion built on a corpus of poetic myths, which, however, could be read by anybody with a certain degree of education – and that may be their strength among a people as dispersed as the Jews were during the following centuries.

A century of research by archaeologists and Egyptologists has arguably found no evidence that can be related to the Exodus narrative from an Egyptian captivity and the escape and travels through the wilderness, leading to the conclusion that Iron Age Israel—the kingdoms of Judah and Israel—has its origins in Canaan, not Egypt: The culture of the earliest Israelite settlements is Canaanite, their cult-objects are those of the Canaanite god El, the pottery remains in the local Canaanite tradition, and the alphabet used is early Canaanite.

After revolting against the new dominant power of Babylon and an ensuing siege, the Kingdom of Judah (Jerusalem) was conquered by the Babylonian army in 587 BC, and the First Temple was destroyed. The elite of the kingdom including the dethroned King of Judah, Jehoiachin, and many of its people were deported to Babylon, where Jewish religion developed outside their traditional Temple. Others fled to Egypt. Babylonia (modern day Iraq), would become the center of Judaism. The historical time-line of the Jewish people effectively begins with the “Babylonian Exile”.

The first Jewish communities in Babylonia were founded during the exile of the Tribe of Judah to Babylon and the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BC. Many more Jews fled to Babylon following the 70 AD uprising and in 135 AD after the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman administration.

Babylonia, where some of the largest and most prominent Jewish cities and communities were established, became the center of Jewish life all the way up to the 13th cent AD. By the first cent AD, Babylon already held a steadily growing population of Jews, estimated to have been 1 million, which increased to an estimated 2 million between the years 200 and 500 AD, both by natural growth and by immigration of more Jews from the Land of Israel, making up about 1/6 of the world Jewish population at that time. Wikipedia

It is, therefore, no surprise that one of the oldest synagogues (224 AD) was found in the ruins of the multicultural, Hellenistic city of Dura Europos (today Syria) complete with extensive, rare murals illustrating the Torah – in defiance of the Mosaic edict against “making pictures of God and Man”.

Murals and prayer niche in the Synagogue of Dura Eropos, 224 AD
photo catholicnewslife

Rabbinical (Babylonian) Talmud
10-1038 AD

The most important contribution by the Babylonian diaspora was the Talmud, the interpretative text of Rabbinical Judaism. The whole Talmud consists of 63 tractates, and in standard print is over 6,200 pages long. It is written in Tannaitic Hebrew and Aramaic. It Talmud contains the teachings and opinions of thousands of rabbis on a variety of subjects, including Halakha (law), Jewish ethics, philosophy, customs, history, lore and many other topics. It is the basis for all codes of Jewish law and is much quoted in rabbinic literature. There exist two parts a Jerusalem and a Babylonian Talmud.
The more important Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli) consists of legal documents first compiled during late Antiquity. The most important Talmudic Academies in Babylonia (589-1038 AD) were Nehardea, Nisibis, Mahoza (Sassanian Ctesiphon), Pumbeditha, and Sura. The three centuries in the course of which the Babylonian Talmud was developed were followed by five centuries during which it was zealously preserved, studied, expounded in the schools, and, through their influence, recognized by the whole diaspora. Sura and Pumbedita were considered the most important seats of learning: their heads and sages were the undisputed authorities, whose decisions were sought from all sides and were accepted wherever Jewish communal life existed.

Judaism under Islamic Rule
638-1099 AD

In 638 AD the rapidly expanding Islamic Empire under Caliph Omar conquered Jerusalem and the lands of Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine and Egypt, and eventually under the Umayyads North Africa and most of Spain (711-1031 AD). During this time Jews lived in thriving communities all across ancient Babylonia. The Babylonian theological academies expanded their influence.
Jerusalem became the holiest place for all three religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.


The Dome of the Rock, 691 AD

The Rock from which the Angel Gabriel took Prophet Muhamad on a Miraculous Journey of Heaven

The rock of discontent between Islam and Judaism: the Dome of the Rock occupies the place of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. It prevents the archeologists from excavating the Temple's remains and the State of Israel from the impossible temptation of building a Third Temple (Map of Jerusalem). Both Religions regard the location of the stone as the holiest spot on Earth, the site of the Holy of Holies during the Temple Period. The spectacular Dome, built by Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik 691 AD, is the first major Islamic building in Palestine, - another one is the Byzantine Church of St. John-Baptist converted into the Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, 715 AD.

Mozarab Spain a Golden Age for Judaism
711-1031 AD

The Golden Age of Mozarabic culture in Spain Jews were highly regarded in society and Jewish religious, cultural, and economic life blossomed.

An Arab and a Jew receiting poetry together

A period of cooperation between Arabs, Jews and Christians dawned on the Iberian Peninsula. The number of Jews was considerably augmented by immigration from Egypt, North Africa, and Morocco. Especially after 912, during the reign of Abd-ar-Rahman III and his son, Al-Hakam II, the Jews prospered, devoting themselves to the service of the Caliphate of Cordova, to the study of the sciences, and to commerce and industry, especially to trading in silk and slaves. Jewish economic and intellectual expansion was unparalleled. In Toledo, Jews were involved in translating Arabic texts into the Romance languages, as well as Greek and Hebrew texts into Arabic. Such famous figures as Samuel Ha-Nagid, Moses ibn Ezra, Solomon ibn Gabirol, Judah Halevi contributed to the rich Mozarab poetry, medicine, mathematics, and philosophy.
During 'Abd al-Rahman's time, Moses ben Enoch was one of four scholars that went from Sura, the seat of the then declining Babylonian Talmud academy, in order to collect contributions for that school. During their voyage from Bari, along the coast of Italy, to Spain they were captured by the Moorish-Spanish admiral Ibn Rumahis. Moses was taken to Cordova (948 AD) where he was redeemed by the wealthy Jewish community who elected him rabbi. Moses organized a Talmudic school at Cordova, which became independent of Babylonia and was attended by many pupils. Through him Cordova became a center of Talmudic study, and the meeting-place of Jewish savants – foremost among them Moses Maimonides.

The Mozarab Golden Age ended with the invasion of the Almohades and the Christian Reconquista. The Jewish presence in Iberia continued to flourish until they were forcibly converted or expelled en masse by the Christian Kings of Spain in 1492 and a similar decree by Christian Portugal in 1496. Between 1493 and 1498 Tomas de Torquemada, the Dominican Grand Inquisitor of Spain and a grandson of a Jewish conversa, mercilessly persecuted the Jews of Spain. During his tenure many housands were burnt on the stake, forcefully converted, or had to bribe their way out of the country.