The Story of Israel

I. Who are the Jews?

A. An ancient semi-nomadic people originating perhaps around 2000 B.C.E. in the hill country around present day Israel

B. Established a kingdom there around 1000 B.C.E. under a leader named David; temple built by King Solomon

C. Temple destroyed by the Babylonians 586 B.C.E.; rebuilt in 539

1. From 539 B.C.E. to the destruction of this temple by the Romans in 70 C.E., referred to as "second temple Judaism"

D. After the Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks, another Israelite kingdom was established by the Maccabees around 330 B.C.E.

1. The Romans conquered the Maccabean kingdom shortly before the 1st century B.C.E.

E. Romans governed Israel first by friendly kings (the Herods) and then by a Roman governor (Pontius Pilate)

1. Judaism a legally recognized religion because of its age

2. But because Jews could not sacrifice to Roman gods or to the emperor, they remained second class citizens

3. Romans established several Roman-styled cities in Israel (Sephoris, Caesarea Maritima) but did not "Romanize" Jerusalem

II. Features of Jewish religion by the first century C.E. that most Jews could agree upon: Berit, Torah, Mitzvot

A. Covenant (Berit)

1. One G-d (YHVH) made a covenant with the ancestors (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob)

2. People promised obedience, G-d promised land (Israel)

3. Covenant renewed with their leader, Moses, after miraculous escape from Egypt called the Exodus (ca. 1200 BCE)

4. G-d led the people from slavery to freedom

B. Torah

1. After the Exodus, G-d revealed the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai

2. Torah contains laws that people must follow

3. There is an unbroken bond between Israel and G-d

4. Theme of exile and redemption echoes throughout the Torah, which was written down after the destruction of the first Temple and exile of people to Babylonia

C. Commandments (Mitzvot)

1. People promise to follow the laws in the Torah forever

2. G-d acts in history; if people disobey, punishment will follow

3. Periodically G-d sent prophets to call people to repentance

III. Features of Judaism that were contested in the first century C.E.

A. Davidic kingship: David established the kingdom of Israel

1. The prophets promised that it would last forever, but it didn't

2. Eventually there would be a return of a Davidic figure -- but in what way?

B. Messianic apocalypticism

1. Belief that at the end of time the monarchy would be restored

2. Prophet Elijah would return to herald a new age of peace and justice

C. Status of the second temple

1. For most, center of Judaism

2. Governed by a priestly class, the Sadducees, who of necessity were collaborators with the Romans

D. The Essenes

1. Temple hopelessly polluted; only hope is to withdraw completely from Jerusalem and prepare for apocalyptic showdown

E. the Pharisees

1. Accepted the temple as legitimate but added other practices

2. Every Jew should follow priestly Torah laws -- every home should be as a temple

3. Belief in an oral Torah in addition to the written one

4. May have been involved in new institution: synagogue

***Contested areas in first century Judaism center around

1. right practice rather than right belief

2. Who is the heir to Israel's story?