In terms of history and origins, briefly describe the origins of Judaism in general, but focus more discussion on the history of the religion. How did this religion come to Israel?
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#4 has a very good point, echoed by other posters: the Old Testament, while taken as historical truth by religion, is not an historical document per se. Instead, by historical and scientific standards, it is a metaphorical or subjective account, like the Iliad and Odyssey. Therefore, objective truth about the origins of a religion must be searched for in other places, such as on the ruins of ancient cities. However, one thing that is objectively known is that Judaism as a religion has been in the region for at least four-to-six thousand years, depending on interpretation.
Skeptoid, while not addressing this particular issue, has an interesting essay on the Jews in Egypt with some solid sources.
Judaism originated in the first century of the Common Era with a Covenant given by God to Abraham of Ur of the Chaldees (said to be living in Haran) that specified making Abraham's descendants a people of sacred calling who were to dwell in a holy land.
I agree with others that Israel is a politically formed country. By that, I mean it was recently created in the aftermath of the second world war. However, it has an ancient basis in addition to what is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament itself.
In opposition to post 4 and 6, even if there are questions of historicity in the Hebrew Bible, we cannot undermine the importance of the Hebrew bible in the formation of Judaism. This was one of the most important sources of information for the Jews in any period. This is a fact. Second, the contours of their religion were shaped by these writings. To be sure, these teachings were combined with other elements of society, but to trace the history of Judaism is to start with the Hebrew bible.
I have to support the posts by pohnpei and accessteacher. The religion was/is spoken of in the Old Testament. The problem with looking to the Old Testament is that some do not look at the Bible in the same way which followers of it do. As for its very beginning, I would suggest that it is simply too old to know.
Scholars argue that ancient Judaism emerged from one of the many polytheistic religions in the Levant during the late Bronze Age. Many elements of Genesis correlate strongly with Mesopotamian creation and flood stories, but what distinguished Judaism was the adoption of monotheism in the form of Yahweh worship. Abraham, according to tradition and scriptural writings, moved to Canaan from Mesopotamia, and it seems to be at about this point (c. 2000 BC) when a concept of both monotheism, or at least monolatrism (acknowledging many gods while worshipping only one) emerged.
As Post 2 says, the story can be found in the Bible. There is, however, no real historical evidence to back that story up. Abraham is said to have come from Mesopotamia (what is now Iraq) to Canaan (modern day Israel, Lebanon, and parts of Syria and Jordan). He is said to have brought monotheism (in the form of Judaism) with him. Again, we have no evidence as to the historical truth of this story.
Israel as a modern nation did not exist until 1948, although Jews had lived in the area for centuries. The idea of creating the state of Israel had been a goal of the modern Zionist movement. The events of World War II helped strengthen the case for the founding of a Jewish state. Interestingly, opposition to creation of the state came from some highly orthodox Jews. The tensions such opposition could cause in the Jewish community in the U. S. are described in Chaim Potok's novel The Chosen.
The story can be found in the Old Testament, when God selected Abraham to be the founder of the nation that he selected for himself to be his people. The rest of the Biblical narrative tells us of how Abraham became heir to a massive people that suffered various troubles and finally was able to take possession of the Holy Land: modern day Israel.
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