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Origins and Development.

The Covenant between God and Abraham that represents the start of Judaism appears in the Authorized King James Version of the Bible, Genesis 12:1–3:

Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:

And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing.

Abraham followed God’s instructions in his search for the Promised Land, and after many years of wandering around ended up in a place called Canaan.

Along the way, God tested his faith by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac, but at the last minute, God intervened and stopped the sacrifice.

He then repeated his promise to Abraham of becoming the father of a great nation.

Abraham and his descendants settled in Canaan.

When the famine came, Abraham’s son Jacob took his family to the land of Egypt.

They settled in, and Jacob fathered many sons and the family prospered.

The descendants of Jacob’s sons would later become the twelve tribes of Israel.

The new pharaoh of Egypt, worried that Jacob’s family might become more powerful than the Egyptians, came up with an idea to restrict their proliferation: kill every newborn male child at birth.

The account of this, recorded in the Bible in Exodus, has within its horror a wonderful story.


The midwives got around Pharaoh’s edict with some success, so the Pharaoh stepped up the campaign and ordered that every newborn son be cast into the river.

The Israelites’ daughters were spared.

One Jewish mother decided to hide her newborn son.

She made an ark from bulrushes, put the boy in it, and laid it by the riverbank.

The daughter of Pharaoh came to the river to wash herself and when she walked along the bank, she saw the ark and told one of her maids to fetch it.

The Pharaoh’s daughter opened the ark and saw a baby boy; it was crying and she had compassion.

The child became her son and she named him Moses.

When Moses was fully grown, he saw an Egyptian slave master beating an Israelite.

Moses killed the slave master and had to flee Egypt.

He settled in a rural farming area called Midian.

Around the same time, Pharaoh died during a time of great suffering for the Israelites.

God remembered his covenant with Abraham.

He looked on the people and had respect for them.

Moses was tending to his work in the desert when he came to a mountain.

An angel appeared to him in the form of a flame of fire on a bush.

The flame burned intently but did not consume the bush.

A voice then came from the bush and told Moses that he had been chosen to deliver the people from the Egyptians and take them to another land flowing with milk and honey.

God commanded Moses to return to the new Pharaoh.

Pharaoh, as expected, refused the demands from Moses.

As punishment, God sent ten plagues to the Egyptians, none of which had any effect.

Finally, one did: it brought death in one night to the firstborn son of every Egyptian family.

After this final plague, Pharaoh let the Israelites go.

Then, he had second thoughts and sent his army after them.

They caught up with the Israelites at the banks of the Red Sea.

The army prepared to destroy them, but God parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could get safely across.

Once the Israelites were safely on the other side, the Pharaoh’s army gave pursuit.

God made the Red Sea close again, drowning the entire army.

God had warned Moses of the final plague and told him that all Israelite families should smear lamb’s blood on their doorposts so their sons would not be killed on that night.

The lamb’s blood would be a token, and when God saw the blood, he would pass over the house.

God told Moses that sacrifice should be observed forever, and it is still celebrated as the eighth day of the Jewish festival of Passover (Pesach).

The Ten Commandments

Moses was now the leader of a large number of contentious people on the move, and he had some problems.

Being pursued was one of them; the others were hunger, thirst, and rebellion.

Fortunately, God was still communicating with Moses and issuing instructions.

About three months after leaving Egypt, the Israelites were camping in the wilderness of Sinai.

God told Moses to go up to the top of the mountain.

There, God revealed to Moses the Ten Commandments, written on two tablets of stone.

They dealt with the people’s relationship with God and each other.

God also gave Moses hundreds of more detailed rules and laws.

The Ten Commandments form the basis of all the Jewish laws.

They have had, and continue to have, immense influence on many other religions as well.

Pursuing the Promised Land

Deuteronomy 31 tells that when Moses was 120 years old, the Lord came to him and told him he was about to die and he would not reach the “Promised Land.

” God commanded Moses to write down the Law (or Torah) and give it to the Levites.

Moses’ brother Joshua was appointed by God to succeed as leader of the Israelites.

Moses then climbed up Mount Pisgah, which overlooked Canaan, the Promised Land that he would never enter.

Moses was never seen again, and how he died remains a mystery.

The two tablets containing the laws God gave to Moses were housed in a gold-plated chest called The Ark of the Covenant.

The Israelites carried the Ark with them before they settled in the Promised Land, and from time to time took it into battle.

It was taken to Jerusalem by King David, and was eventually placed in the Temple by King Solomon.

Placed inside the Tabernacle within the Temple of Jerusalem, the Ark was seen only by the high priest of the Israelites on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

The final fate of the Ark is unknown.

As time went on, the Israelites were ruled by a series of kings: Saul, David (who wrote many of the psalms in the Bible), and David’s son, Solomon.

After Solomon’s death, the kingdom of Israel split in two and formed Judah and Israel.

Throughout the centuries that followed, the Israelites were exiled to Babylon, although some came back.

In 63 B.C.E., the Romans conquered the land and gave it a new name: Palestine.

Three years later, the Jews revolted against Rome, but were defeated.

The Temple in Jerusalem, which was rebuilt after the Israelites returned from exile in Babylon, was finally destroyed in 70 C.E.

All that remains of the Temple is the western wall, called the Wailing Wall.

It is now a center of pilgrimage and prayer for Jews from all over the world.

This site, Judaism’s holiest place on earth, is used for private prayer (performed while facing the Wall) and for public services and bar mitzvahs.

Abraham, who may have lived about 3,000 years ago, is recognized as the father of the Jewish people.

God made a covenant with Abraham that his descendants would be God’s chosen people.

For their part, believers must obey God’s laws.

The laws were given to Moses by God, on Mount Sinai.

The Ten Commandments are but a fraction of the 613 Mitzvot or commandments.

These statements and principles of laws and ethics are all contained in the Torah or Five Books of Moses.

The Mitzvot are known as commandments of “Laws of Moses.

” They consist of a mixture of positive commandments to perform some act (to love God and to emulate His ways) and negative commandments to abstain from certain acts (not to profane His name or test Him unduly).

Although numerically a modest-sized religion (about 20 million adherents), Judaism has provided the historical foundation for two of the world’s largest religions: Christianity and Islam.

by Kenneth Shouler, Ph.D.

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