The Search for Meaning
Compared to ancient civilizations (Egyptians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, etc.), Jewish history seems insignificant
Hebrews were the "Little People" of the Ancient Near East
How did Judaism (smallest world religion…14 million) go from obscurity to global influence?
Is grounded in their "passion for meaning"
A Revolutionary Image of God
This passion for finding meaning in all things is rooted in the Hebrew’s unique understanding of God
God was Other and completely transcendent (meaning?)
Unlike other ANE traditions, natural elements such as the sun, rain, ocean, were personified as deities: Gods were
seen as imminent
The ancient Hebrews saw all of these as subservient to Yahweh, the One
Again, unlike the surrounding ANE cultures, this One, Nameless God, was ultimately good and compassionate
The ancient pagan Gods were amoral, capricious, and cared little for humanity
The Hebrews reversed this: whereas the Olympian gods pursued beautiful women, the Hebrew God looked
after orphans and widows
For the ancient Hebrews, God becomes a "Little Jew" who walks with them, protects and comforts, and
lifts his people out of slavery, while at the same time, was completely transcendent
History of the Tanakh
T = Torah: the Law (also known as the Pentateuch, or the Five books of Moses)
N = Nevi’im (Prophets)
K = Kethuvim (Writings)
Jewish History: The Patriarchs
Stories of the Patriarchs (the Fathers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) are linked to the political and
religious conflicts of 2nd and 3rd century Jerusalem
The three Hebrew canons are not found until 539 BC among Judean exiles who wanted to exert control
over the local inhabitants of Jerusalem.
*Therefore, these stories tend to obscure history
Key themes of obedience and covenant
Plot of Hebrews’ story is simple:
Covenant is made in the Teachings, or Torah
Covenant is broken in Prophets
Covenant is restored in Writings
Throughout, faithlessness is condemned, loyalty (to covenant) is rewarded
Historical Background: Abram "father" > Abraham "father
Left Ur in Mesopotamia (c. 1500 BCE) after Terah, father, passed away
"Called forth to the land of Canaan"
From a polytheistic tribe, dedicated to the moon goddess, Nana Sin
First to establish a covenant with God ("el shaddai" - god of the mountains)
Father of Western religions
Abraham and Hagar, the concubine, had Ishmael
Abraham and Sarah, the wife, had Isaac
Isaac married Rebekah and had Esau and Jacob
Jacob had two wives and two concubines and had 12 sons
Jacob’s name became Isra`el (argues with god)
12 sons became the 12 tribes
Joseph [#11]was first born son of Rachel, Israel’s favorite wife
EGYPT (1200 BCE?)
Moses’ (drawn from water) religious experience on Mt. Horeb
receives the name of God=YHWH "I am who am"
challenges Pharaoh (YHWH v. the Egyptian gods/goddesses)
the LAW is given in the desert
Time of judges
Monarchy - 1033 – 930 BCE
Split kingdom and fall of the kingdoms (Judah) falls
to Babylonians > Judahites in Exile
1. 721 BCE- north falls to Assyrians
2. 586 BCE- south
3. 536 BCE- Jews return to Judah w/ Zoroastrian influence
The Babylonian Captivity
Viewed primarily as punishment for sins
Would lead to the rise of the Talmud and Rabbinic Judaism
The Rise of the Greeks and Alexander the Great
Judaism would come into contact with Greek culture and philosophy and split into three groups:
By 5th and 4th centuries BC, Jewish communities were scattered and diverse throughout
the Mediterranean world
Greek philosophy challenged Jewish tradition like nothing ever before
Hellenistic Period – 332 BCE
Influence of Greek Philosophy: causes split within Judaism surrounding how to react to Greek philosophy
Four main sects develop
Sadducees- Temple and strict adherence to the Torah
Pharisees (rabbis)- liberal interpretation of the Torah
Essenes- monastic and apocalyptic group near the Dead Sea
Zealots- militant fanatics
Maccabean Revolt (168 BCE)
Under the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes IV, a statue of Zeus was placed in the Temple
Judas Maccabaeus started the revolt against the suppressors.
After defeating them militarily, he entered Jerusalem in triumph and cleansed the Temple, reestablishing
traditional Jewish worship there.
Roman Rule (63 BCE)
General Pompey enters Jerusalem
King Herod is appointed ruler by Roman Senate in 43 BCE
Jesus is born during Augustus’ reign (6 BCE)
Rome grants freedom to worship as long as Herod rules with an iron fist
Zealot’s Revolt (66-70 CE)
Temple was destroyed in 70 CE
Only remaining group loyal to Judaism were the Pharisees
Rabbinic (Pharisaic) Judaism of today
Followers of Jesus became predominantly Gentile (non-Jew)
The rise of Rabbinic Judaism follows the devastating destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem
The destruction of the Temple posed a unique dilemma:
To maintain the covenant, official sacrifices had to be made at the Temple
Since this was no longer possible, the Torah now came to stand for the entire body of the Jewish religious
The covenantal relationship now came to rely on interpreting tradition outside of Scripture
Interpreting Torah fell to the Rabbis who dedicated their lives to its and how to apply it to everyday
To become a rabbi required long and diligent discipleship to a rabbinic sage
The Mishnah (200-225 CE)
The Mishnah: means "repeated tradition": the earliest example of the rabbinic tradition
Underlying assumption: rabbinic explanation is continually needed on how to implement commandments
to one’s everyday life
These teachings were compiled and collected. The most famous collection of these is the Talmud
Talmud roughly means "curriculum", a Latin word that means "the path taken"
From the destruction of the Temple in 70 to the 6th and 7th centuries, Judaism
underwent a fundamental transformation under the Rabbis
This transformation would continue through the medieval and modern period
God, Torah, and Israel
For Christians, the primary revelation and mediator between God and humanity (how God communicates
to humanity) is through Jesus the Christ
In Judaism, the primary means of communication between God and Israel (His Chosen People) is…..?
Torah, the Law
The relationship between the People of Israel and God depends on the people’s loyalty to God
as expressed in Torah
Main question continually asked: What has entered to disrupt this relationship?
The Jewish Messiah
A fourth element to the Jewish view is the Messiah
The figure in Judaism is problematic
Roughly translates as "Anointed One", or anointed king
Historically, Isaiah referred to the Persian King Cyrus as Messiah
King David was also given the title
The Messiah is viewed as an earthly king who delivers the Chosen People from religious and political
Over time, as hopes of a real political deliverer faded, such hopes of deliverance were projected
on a cosmic scale
The concept of the End of Days developed where a cosmic figure would preside over the Fate of all
All this contributed to the Jews inability to have a crucified figure as a meaningful symbol
Mitzvot and the Messiah
According to the Talmud, the Torah possesses 613 mitzvot, (laws of covenant)
The Ten Commandments are the foundational mitzvot
The 613 involve every aspect of Jewish life
It is believed that the better they as a people, (Israel) obey these mitzvot, the more they will hasten
the coming of the Messiah
Vertical and Horizontal Axis
Israel Mitzvot Messiah
A. Meaning In God (YHWH)
Judaism says that man’s philosophy must come to be based in God because...
man will always realize that he is not self created, but other created
man will always find his power limited and, therefore, needs an almighty
this Other, of whom the Jewish speak, must not only be almighty, but meaningful
meaning comes in the characteristics of the divine
Adonai / Hashem cannot be…
a meaningful God cannot be prosaic (shallow)
Jews say He is poetic by personifying Him
Jews say He is ultimate by calling his might incomprehensible
a meaningful God cannot be chaotic
Jews say God is single, supreme and nature-transcending
Jews say God is unified, not multiple or multi-personified
a meaningful God cannot be amoral
Jews say God is all-chaste and the protector of all
a meaningful God cannot be hostile
Jews say God centers in love for his prime creation: man
since there is meaning in God, the Jews can follow Him wholeheartedly
B. Meaning in Creation
There is often great difficulty in finding meaning in the universe due to its chaotic nature
Judaism addresses this concern immediately in Genesis...
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."
superficially, this explains how the world was created and why it exists
philosophically, it says that since God is good, and he created the world and existence, then as His
creations, they, too, are good
But, if creation is good, then why do things go wrong?
Either man is helpless and life is inherently tragic and meaningless
Or man is imperfect and responsible, but can mend his life
Judaism follows the second answer and furthers it...
God created the universe
creation is inherently good
life in harmony with God is good
Judaism goes on to assert that the natural world is good and that man has dominion here
Contrary to most Eastern religions, then, Judaism centers both in spirit and matter
From this position on matter, three premises follow...
the material aspects of life are important
matter figures into salvation
the natural world can be host to, or make manifest, the divine
C. Meaning in Human Existence
Humans are limited, frail, and mortal
Humans are created in the image of God
Crux of creation
Free will and responsibility
Children of God
Humans are not evil, they are good, but inherently errant (man "misses the mark" )
D. Meaning in History
The context in which a life is lived (actions) affects that life
If single acts affect one life, then social acts change the context of all life
God acts purposefully, so history is a field of opportunity
Humans must be attentive to see God’s will
Because of this concept of history, Judaism asserts...
God has direct intervention in history (Exodus)
Humans wouldn’t have been created if they couldn’t affect history/matter
Because the social order is out of line with God’s Will there is the possibility of social revolution
E. Meaning in Morality
Because humans are social, moral laws are necessary to prevent disorder
Jewish moral codes come in two forms
Ritual and ethical prescriptions
Cornerstone of the laws (mitzvot) lie in the Decalogue
of the 10, 4 are the essential ethical considerations that lead to a moral life
the Decalogue prescribes the minimum by which man can endure
their genius is not in an exhaustive finality, but in the foundation they lay
Four laws set the groundwork for brotherly love
You can argue and quarrel, but there is a boundary
Thou shalt not kill
You can flirt, but there is a boundary
Thou shalt not commit adultery
You can accumulate wealth, but there is a boundary
Thou shalt not steal
You can speak your mind, but there is a boundary
Thou shalt not bear false witness
Context of the Decalogue
1st and 2nd mitzvot imply that YHWH was to be the primary god of the Hebrews (henotheism) and that idolatry
was dangerous because the object became more important than one’s faith and morals.
3rd mitzvot implies that YHWH’s name was never to be used for malicious intentions.
The sabbath (shabbat) was reserved for YHWH. Constantine, a Pagan Roman sun-worshiper, moved
the day of rest to Sunday in 364 CE, ordered that religious observances be moved from Saturday to Sunday.
The 5th mitzvot exemplifies how honoring one’s parents was integral to the
Hebrew society. The family was a microcosm of the society.
The 6th mitzvot uses the term, "ratsach", and it is commonly believed to
describe the premeditated killing of a human being.
The 7th mitzvot refers to a man engaging in sexual intercourse with a woman who
was either married or betrothed to another man.
If a man seduced a virgin, he was required to pay her father an amount of money, and perhaps to marry
the woman. Women had no say in the matter; some were forced to marry a rapist who they loathed
The 8th mitzvot prohibits stealing from Israelites and has been interpreted to refer
to someone who kidnaps a person, forces him or her to work for him, and then sells him or her into slavery.
The 9th mitzvot forbids perjury and a person who lies in court receives the penalty
that would be due a person guilty of the crime at question.
The 10th mitzvot uses the word covet (hamad) meaning "to wish for enviously."
F. Meaning in Justice
Meaning in Justice
The vehicle in determining God’s justice was the prophet
Prophet... from the Greek ‘prophetes: pro (for) phetes (to speak): "to
speak for God"
Two western convictions are owed to the prophets:
A society’s future depends on the justice of that social order
individuals are responsible for the well being of the society and the self
The prophetic movement has gone through three distinct phases...
prophesy was performed only in frenzied groups
Individual pre-writing prophets
prophets prophesied individually (Judges, Eli, Nathan)
specific call for social justice in the midst of a corrupt society (Amos, Hosea, Ezekiel, Isaiah,
The Prophetic Principle
political stability cannot exist w/o social justice
asserts that God’s standards are High and He won’t stand for corruption
Jews saw their social justice as a means to avoid destruction by larger, unjust peoples
G. Meaning in Suffering
The prophets saw the threat of the destruction of their country (8th-6th Cen. BCE) as a call for
threat of being destroyed means that you have something worth destroying
721 BCE... Northern territories destroyed by Assyria
586 BCE... Judah, in the south, conquered which leads to Babylonian captivity
At the point of greatest despair prophets give hope
Prophets interpreted Babylonian Captivity as a learning experience...
punishment for past ways
teaching for true worth of freedom
teaches passion for freedom and justice
teaches value of vicarious suffering
accept our present pain to spare future others
Judaism places a high emphasis on ritual and has no creeds, except for Shema:
"Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with all
your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. "
Judaism (not Kabbalah) focuses on the concrete rather than the abstract
The purpose of ritual:
Eases the uncertainty of tense situations
Gives form to what would be chaos
Directs life in ‘positive’ direction and channels emotions
Softens tragedy by removing thought
Intensifies appreciation for events
Makes life holy
Piety (holiness) is seeing the entire world as God’s and as his glory manifest
The manual for the hallowing of life through piety, tradition and ritual is the Torah
Holidays and Life Events
Pesach, or Pasch (Passover)
commemorates the Exodus from Egypt (Seder meal)
Rosh Hoshanah: Jewish New Year
Yom Kippur: Day of Atonement
Festival of lights; commemorates the Maccabean Revolt
commemorates the wandering in the Sinai desert
Purim: Jewish Mardi Gras, more or less
Brit Milah: Circumcision
Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah: Coming of Age
Kiddushin and Nisuin
Betrothal and marriage
The groom smashes a glass (or a small symbolic piece of glass) with his right foot, to symbolize the
destruction of the Temple
Death and mourning
Jewish mourning practices can be broken into several periods of decreasing intensity.
Clothes are torn
Judaism requires prompt burial
Shiva begins on the day of burial and continues until the morning
of the seventh day after burial
Kaddish: prayer of mourning
Certain animals may not be eaten at all.
Of the animals that may be eaten, the birds and mammals must be killed in accordance with Jewish law.
All blood must be drained from the meat or broiled out of it before it is eaten.
Certain parts of permitted animals may not be eaten.
Meat cannot be eaten with dairy. Fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables and grains can be eaten with either
meat or dairy.
Utensils that have come into contact with meat may not be used with dairy, and vice versa. Utensils
must be boiled.
Grape products made by non-Jews may not be eaten.
J. Preserving the Tradition
Judaism insists that it has a unique cultural and ethnic identity to preserve, based on:
Faithas we have discussed it and its emphasis on meaningObservance
the path to making life holy through ritual, piety, and traditionCulture
a distinct language (Hebrew)
a distinct lore
Talmud: interpretation of Torah
Midrashim: stories expanding on incidents in the Tanakh to derive
principles of Jewish law or to teach moral lessons