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Religion Library: Judaism

Beginnings

Written by: Marc A. Krell

 

 

Later in the narrative, God enters into another unconditional covenant, this time pledging eternal support for the Davidic Kingdom based on David's prior fidelity. Yet because of the king's bloodstained past, he is not able to build the sacred house for God that he envisioned, but instead must cede the construction of the Holy Temple to his son Solomon.

Reconstructed plan of Solomon’s temple Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ideacreamanuelapps/3542206274/God's loyalty to David and his descendants is severely tested during the ensuing division of the kingdom into two commonwealths following the death of King Solomon: the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Despite its superior size, geographical position, and military strength, Israel would meet an earlier demise than that of Judah in 722 B.C.E. because of its political and religious instability. Yet Judah would not fare much better, facing its own demise in 586 B.C.E. with the destruction of the Holy Temple and ensuing exile, perhaps as a result of being squeezed by the two larger powers of Egypt and Babylonia and forced to switch political allegiances.

 

With the blessing of the Persian king Cyrus, many Judeans would come back to Jerusalem to rebuild their Holy Temple anew under the leadership of the priest Ezra in 516 B.C.E. The Sanhedrin, the original body of legal interpreters began to construct the rough outlines of what would later become rabbinic Judaism by instituting the oral tradition in 444 B.C.E., a collection of ongoing oral interpretations of the written Torah received by Moses at Mt. Sinai. The later Pharisees or "interpreters" of the 1st century B.C.E. would go further by claiming that one cannot understand the written law without consulting the parallel "oral law" that was also believed to be transmitted to Moses at Mt. Sinai by God.

The conquest of Alexander the Great brought the Persian era to an end in 333 B.C.E., ushering in the Greco-Roman period in which there was a process of Hellenization, or infusion of Greek culture into Judean society, reflected at the popular level with the introduction of a common language, dress, and schools. Yet Judean assimilation into Greek culture even occurred at the institutional level with different priestly families competing for the position of High Priest of the Jerusalem Temple based on how much tribute they could give the Ptolemaic and Seleucid kings of the Greek empire to sanction their office.

 

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