| Chapter 2: The Hebrews: A New View of God and the Individual
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> Chapter 2
Chapter 2: The Hebrews: A New View of God and the Individual

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  • Outline of Hebrew History
  • Outline of Hebrew History
  • The Hebrews originated in Mesopotamia and migrated to Canaan
  • Some Hebrews journeyed to Egypt and became forced laborers
  • In the early thirteenth century, Moses led the Hebrews in the Exodus from Egypt
  • Wandering in Sinai, the Hebrews were uplifted by belief in one God, Yahweh
  • The Israelite Kingdom
  • Wandering Israelites returned to Canaan and joined other Hebrew tribes
  • Israelites were loosely organized into a confederation of 12 tribes under Yahweh
  • Philistines invade in late eleventh century and dominate Israelite territory
  • 12 tribes unite under leadership of Saul, their first king
  • Second king, David, was a warrior and poet who helped Israelites fight Philistines
  • Under David’s son, Solomon, trade and construction flourished
  • Jerusalem becomes the trade and religious center of ancient Israel
  • Israelite culture flowers under Solomon, height of its power and prosperity
  • Due to tax policies and territorial rivalries, kingdom divided in 922 B.C.
  • Kingdom of Judah (south)
  • Kingdom of Israel (north)
  • Conquest, Captivity, and Restoration
  • 722 B.C. Israel falls to the Assyrians
  • Assyrians deport Hebrews to other parts of the empire, where they merge and assimilate (10 lost tribes)
  • 586 B.C. Chaldeans conquer Judah, destroy Solomon’s temple, and deport Hebrews
  • The deportation of thousands of Hebrews to Babylon is known as the Babylonian Captivity
  • Darkest moment in ancient Hebrew history seen as the consequence of violating God’s laws
  • Some Hebrews do not assimilate in Babylon, keep to Yahweh and Law of Moses
  • Priests create the Torah by codifying laws/practices to prevent erosion of faith
  • 538 B.C. Persian King Cyrus permits exiles to return to Judah and rebuild temple
  • Majority of Hebrews stay in Babylon, but some return home
  • 515 B.C. the Hebrews, now called Jews, dedicate second temple at Jerusalem
  • Restored Jewish community overcomes internal tensions and spiritual backsliding
  • Jewish life reinvigorated under Nehemiah and Ezra in later fifth century B.C.
  • The Hebrew Scriptures
  • Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) are called Tanak by Jews
  • Hebrew Scriptures 39 books by several authors from different centuries
  • First five books or Torah (“teaching”) are also called Pentateuch (“five books”) in Greek, and are:
  • Genesis
  • Exodus
  • Leviticus
  • Numbers
  • Deuteronomy
  • Hebrew Scriptures represent Jewish oral and written tradition from 1250 to 150 B.C.
  • Texts include history, poetry, legends, and religious inspiration
  • The scriptures record more than 1000 years of ancient Jewish history
  • Emphasis on human qualities and relationship to God crucial for Western civilizations
  • God: One, Sovereign, Transcendent, Good
  • God: One, Sovereign, Transcendent, Good
  • Ancient Hebrews before Egypt were probably not monotheist
  • Hebrew view of the one God marked clear break with Near Eastern religious thought
  • In contrast to Near Eastern gods, Yahweh was seen as:
  • Fully sovereign
  • Eternal, omnipotent, the source of all
  • Possessing a supreme will
  • Transcendent, above and not part of nature
  • Emphasis in ancient Jewish thought on orderly intervention of God in the world
  • Hebrews demythicized nature in a revolutionary way, but did not view it as system governed by natural law
  • Yet Hebrew removal of the gods from nature was a key precursor to scientific thought
  • The Individual and Moral Autonomy
  • The Individual and Moral Autonomy
  • New Hebrew conception of God made possible awareness of the individual:
  • Hebrews developed notion of “self” or “I,” moral autonomy and personal worth
  • Hebrews insisted God did not create people to be slaves
  • Men and women thought to bear responsibility for choice of good or evil
  • Hebrews rejected worshiping idols or other gods, broke with Near Eastern religion
  • Ultimate loyalty could be granted only to God, not to a human ruler or institution
  • Freedom means voluntary obedience to divine commands
  • Human dilemma is that freedom to choose includes freedom to disobey God and suffer the consequences (e.g., Adam and Eve in Genesis)
  • Hebrew assertion of human dignity and autonomy is at core of Western tradition
  • The Covenant and the Law
  • The Covenant and the Law
  • Central to Hebrew religious thought and history was the covenant (God’s agreement with the Hebrew people)
  • As a nation, Hebrews see themselves as a “chosen people” rescued from bondage in Egypt so they could lead others to know God
  • As a nation, Jews bore heavy responsibility of being moral teachers of humanity
  • Ten commandments believed to be divine moral code, obligation of each Hebrew
  • Violation of the Law meant breaking the covenant, major national implications for even one violation
  • Justice is central theme of Hebrew ethics, duty to care for poor and weak
  • Israelite law incorporates elements from Near Eastern law and oral traditions but shows greater ethical awareness and more humane spirit
  • People more important than property
  • Mercy toward the oppressed
  • Reject the idea of differential legal treatment for rich and poor
  • Hebrew law regulates all aspects of daily life, including patriarchal family
  • Women subordinated to men, yet also respected in their given social positions
  • The Hebrew Idea of History
  • The Hebrew Idea of History
  • Idea of God made Hebrews aware of importance of historical time
  • To the Jews, Exodus and the covenant at Mt. Sinai were singular, nonrepetitive events
  • Thus Jews kept the past alive through rituals and celebrations
  • They also valued the future, regarding history as a process leading to a goal with God’s active intervention
  • For the Hebrews, history was a divine drama filled with sacred and moral meaning
  • As a result, historical events were seen as worth recording
  • The Prophets
  • The Prophets
  • Spiritually inspired prophets emerged in times of distress
  • Great prophets of the ancient Jews include Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Jeremiah
  • Prophets see national misfortune as opportunity for repentance and reform
  • Social Justice
  • Eighth century B.C. brings flowering of prophetic movement (literary prophecy)
  • Critique disparity between wealthy and poor, social evils
  • Amos denounces pomp and hypocrisy, call to unify religion and social conduct
  • He and other prophets stressed direct spiritual-ethical encounter between individual and God
  • Revolutionary social doctrine that everyone has equal right to justice, to denounce evil
  • Radical proposition that life on earth could be improved by individuals behaving morally and with dignity
  • Universalism
  • Two key tendencies in Hebrew thought are:
  • Parochialism
  • Universalism
  • Parochialism stresses destiny of chosen people by Law, the Torah
  • Universalism is characterized by concern for all humanity, as expressed by prophets
  • Prophets of universalism desired all nations to join peacefully under God
  • Individualism
  • Prophets’ universalism accompanied by awareness of individual’s value to God
  • In early sixth century B.C., Jeremiah predicted doom for sinful Judah
  • In particular, he emphasized individual responsibility and the coming of a new covenant between God and each person
  • Jewish prophets understand God’s law as appeal to the inner person
  • This prophetic emphasis on individuality also key legacy to Western tradition
  • The Legacy of the Ancient Jews
  • The Legacy of the Ancient Jews
  • Ancient Hebrews’ interest in the individual lay foundation for Western thought
  • Jewish Bible has played pivotal role as cornerstone of Western civilization
  • Christianity emerged from ancient Judaism, and the two share many links
  • Monotheism
  • Moral autonomy
  • Prophetic values
  • Hebrew Scriptures as the Word of God
  • Historical Jesus’ Jewish background
  • Judeo-Christian tradition essential component of Western civilization
  • Hebrew vision of future messianic age at root of Western idea of progress



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