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Jews, Judaism

Jews, Judaism

The Old Testament. Judah the Patriarch. Judah initially referred to thefourth son of Jacob (Israel) by his wife, Leah. Direct references to the patriarch Judahare limited to the Book of Genesis. He was born in Paddan Aram before Jacob returned toCanaan ( Gen 35:23 ).In the brotherly conspiracy to eliminate Joseph, Judah recommended selling Joseph to apassing caravan of Ishmaelites rather than killing him, and his brothers agreed ( Gen 37:26-28 ).

Later, Judah moves west to Adullam, away from the Jacob clan, where he married aCanaanite woman. She bore him three sons—Er, Onan, and Shelah. The two oldest sonsdied young, but not before the eldest had married Tamar. According to custom, she shouldhave become wife of Judah's youngest son; however, Judah feared that Shelah might alsodie, so through a ploy Judah denied Tamar her due. Subsequently, Tamar became pregnant byJudah by means of deception, bearing him twin sons, Perez and Zerah (Gen. 38). David was aJudahite through Perez. The one notable descendant of Judah through Zerah was Achan, whobrought calamity on the Israelites when he took booty from Jericho at the time of theconquest ( Joshua 7:1 Joshua 7:18 Joshua 7:24 ).

Judah went to Egypt with his brothers for food in both expeditions ( Gen 42:3 ; 43:3-5 ). Heappears to have been the leader on the second trip, for it is he who pleads with Josephfor Benjamin's release. When the extended family of Jacob immigrated to Egypt, Judah'sfamily was in the retinue while he was in the advance party ( Genesis 46:12 Genesis 46:28 ).

The blessing of Jacob suggests the significant future role Judah's descendants weredestined to play. They are to be ferocious warriors and powerful rulers in a fertile andproductive land ( Gen49:8-12 ). Judah died and was buried in Egypt ( Exod 1:6 ).

The Tribal Name. The name appears frequently in the Old Testament to identifythe tribe of Judah. Bezalel, the chief artisan in beautifying the tabernacle, was of thetribe of Judah ( Exod31:2 ). The third tribe mentioned in the census of Numbers is Judah ( Num 1:7 ), and theypossessed the largest group of fighting men ( Num 1:26 ). Thetribal contingent led by Judah was first in the line of march through the wilderness ( Num 2:3-9 ), andCaleb of Judah joined Joshua, of the tribe of Ephraim, in bringing back a good reportabout the trip of the twelve spies into Canaan. In the second census, Judah was still thepredominant tribe ( Num26:22 ).

The Territorial Name. The division of the land takes the size of the tribe intoaccount, allotting a large region to Judah. The Negeb in the south and the wilderness tothe east, however, were marginal areas, not capable of sustaining agriculture. Thenorthern boundary extended from the point where the Jordan River enters the Dead Seawestward (to the north of Jerusalem) along the Wadi Sorek to the Mediterranean Sea.Smaller tribal groups and clans within the tribal boundaries were in time absorbed intoJudah—Kenites ( Judges1:16 ), Kenazzites ( 1:11-15 ),Simeonites ( 1:17 ),Jerahmeelites, and Othnielites.

The State Name. The tribal elements of Judah were united under the rule of Davidat Hebron ( 2 Samuel 2:4 2 Samuel 2:11 ), and he subsequently united the kingdoms of Judah and Israel ( 2 Sam 5:3 ). Davidwas addressed as "king of Israel" by Michal ( 2 Sam 6:20 ), butafter the division of the kingdom upon the death of Solomon, Rehoboam bore the title"king of Judah" ( 1 Kings 14:21 ).The rulers of the southern kingdom continued to bear that title; the last to be calledking of Judah was the captive Jehoiachin ( 2 Kings 25:27 ).

Israel and Judah. The title "king of Israel" was comparable to"king of Judah" during the period of the two kingdoms; however, the name"Israel" also could connote the whole people of God, including Judah. Earlytexts identify Israel as the people of Yahweh, the God of Israel ( Exod 5:1 ). Theconcept is clearly that of a religiously identifiable group.

The political distinction between Judah and Israel apparently developed early in theperiod of David, but following the demise of the northern kingdom, prophets and poetscontinued to speak of Israel, obviously including the people of Judah ( Psalm 76:1 ; Isa 1:3-4 ; 5:7 ; Jer 2:1-4 ). Isaiahreferred to "both houses of Israel" ( 8:14 ), andJeremiah, in prophetic speech intended for those in exile, referred to Judah as the"Virgin Israel" ( 31:21 ). Ezekielalso refers to the exiled community in Babylonia as "the house of Israel" ( 3:1 ) and as the"people of Israel" ( 4:13 ). Otherpostexilic writers also employed the expression "Israel" in reference to thenonpolitical, cultic community of the exiled people of Judah ( Ezra 2:70 ; Neh 7:73 ). InBabylonia, those exiled from the kingdom of Judah adapted the Israelite religion, whichhad been bound to territory and temple, transforming Yahwehism into a universalistic earlyJudaism.

The Development of Judaism. Nascent Judaism. The Judahites became theJews in Babylon. Even Mordecai of the tribe of Benjamin is identified as a Jew ( Esther 2:5 ), althoughthe designation "Israel" also continued in use to identify the whole of theethnic and cultic community ( Ezra 2:70 ). Thefirst Jews to return from the Babylonian exile to Jerusalem rebuilt the temple; however,the religious practices of the next generation did not conform to the vision of Judaismthat the Babylonian Jewish community held. The reforms of Ezra, based on the Torah, whichhe brought to Jerusalem and read publically to its inhabitants, revived and redirectedPalestinian Judaism (Neh. 8-10).

The reforms of Ezra resulted in a number of practices. There was a strict prohibitionagainst mixed marriages. All who were of foreign descent were excluded from Israel ( Neh 13:3 ), includingwives and children ( Ezra10 ). Thus, a Jew was one born of a Jewish mother. Adherents pledged to observe theTorah. Thereafter the Jews were identified as the people of the Book, a people committedto keeping the law of Moses. There was also strict observance of the Sabbath.

Jewish tradition holds that the shekinah, the Spirit of Divine Inspiration,departed Israel after Ezra, who was himself ranked second to Moses. With Ezra, the law ofMoses was a given; there was no need for further revelation. What was needed was thetransmission of the text by careful scribes and the interpretation of the text bycompetent scholar-teachers. These circumstances led to the ongoing interpretive expansionof the traditions into the oral law.

Despite the departure of the prophetic spirit, certain devout Jews were inspired towrite religious works during the intertestamental period. These survive as the Apocrypha,works found in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, but later denieda place in the Hebrew Bible by Jewish leaders. However, in the Roman Empire outsidePalestine, the Septaugint was the Bible of Jewish communities and the early church untilthe end of the first century a.d. Other works similar to the Apocrypha written in the sameperiod were never considered for inclusion in the canon. These include the pseudepigraphaand the sectarian documents of the Dead Sea Scroll community.

The noncanonical writings of the intertestamental period attest to the development ofJewish religious thought. The transcendence of God was stressed; he was remote fromhumankind and the world. Angels, as intermediaries between God and man, were emphasized,as well as their demonic counterparts. Jews thought much about the cause and manifestationof human sin and conflict between good and evil. Related to this problem was thedevelopment of ideas latent in Hebrew Scripture on resurrection of the body, immortalityof the soul, and the concept of the afterlife. During this period the biblical concept ofthe Messiah took on new importance. He was to be the eschatological figure chosen by Godto lead in the last great conflict between good and evil and to institute the kingdom ofGod that would last forever.

Ezra and Nehemiah acted under the authority of the Persian monarch. They imposed ethniccleansing on the population within the small province named Yehud [dWhy](Judea), a province that included Jerusalem and its hinterland in a radius of ten tofifteen miles. At first under Persian authority, then under the Greeks, the province wasgoverned by high priests who were descendants of Aaron. The Maccabean revolt establishedan independent commonwealth under priest-kings of the Hasmonean house rather than the lineof Aaron. Herod the Great married into the Hasmonean family, and he and his successorswere kings under Roman authority. High priests continued to control the temple until itsdestruction in the first revolt of the Jews against the Romans in a.d. 70.

Early Jewish Sects. The Samaritans became the earliest Jewish sect. The ethnicdivision may be traced back to the eighth century b.c. ( 2 Kings 17:24-41 ),but the religious separation apparently became permanent due to the reforms of Ezra ( Neh 13:28 ). TheSamaritan sect believed only in the Five Books of Moses.

Following the conquests of Alexander the Great, Greek culture predominated. Jewishleaders in Jerusalem tended to assimilate Hellenistic culture, subtly undermining thestrict religious practices of the Judaism Ezra had mandated. Those opposed toHellenization tended to stand apart from the Jerusalem hierarchy, forming a pious group ofHassideans who opposed foreign rule and culture. The Maccabean revolt against Syriansovereignty broke out, and an extremely religious fanatical sect of Zealots supported therevolt and high priesthood of the Hasmoneans. Controversy over the high priesthood andother issues led to the fragmentation of Judaism. The Pharisees were strictly orthodox,holding to the authority of both the Torah and the oral tradition, and believing inresurrection and immortality. They conflicted with the Sadducees who believed in the Torahonly, rejecting the interpre tation of the rabbis of the Pharisees. The Essenes separatedthemselves from much of Jewish society. The Qumran community opposed the loss of theAaronide priesthood; they may have been associated with the Essenes. Others opposed thealliance between political power and religious authority, advocating instead layleadership. The Qumran community apparently believed in the revealing presence of theShekinah; the Temple Scroll is written as inspired scripture.

Christianity also began as a Jewish sect. Jesus insisted on a moral and ethical lifebased on love for God and love for one's neighbor, rather than the observance of amultitude of rules as advocated by the rabbis of the Pharisees. The first revolt of theJews against the Romans deeply affected both Judaism and Christianity. TheJewish-Christian sect in Palestine was superseded by Gentile Christianity due to themissionary efforts of Paul, the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, and the defensiveefforts of rabbinical Judaism to separate the church and the synagogue.

The New Testament. The word "Jew" (Gk. Ioudaios [Ioudai'o"])and its derivatives occur many times in the New Testament, with the largest number ofoccurrences in the Gospel of John and the next largest number occurring in Acts. Judahoccurs eleven times, four times in reference to the patriarch ( Matt 1:2-3 ; Luke 3:30 Luke 3:33 ; Heb 7:14 ), twice tothe territory ( Matt2:6 ; Luke 1:39 ),and three times to the tribe ( Heb 8:8 ; Rev 5:5 ; 7:5 ). References toJudah are contained in quotations from or references to the Old Testament, frequentlyrelated to Jesus as the fulfillment of ideas or statements in the Hebrew Bible.

References to Jews and Judaism, however, bear a range of negative, neutral, andpositive connotations. For example, John's Gospel contains sixty-three references to theJews, of which approximately 60 percent are negative in nature, with another 20 percentneutral and a group of 20 percent that reflect a positive image. When Luke refers to Jewsin Acts, the references tend toward anti-Judaism. Overall, when Jews are mentioned in theNew Testament, the connotation usually is negative, reflecting the developing rift betweenthe church and the synagogue. Unfortunately, this became the seed that in time wouldmature into modern, ungodly, anti-Semitism.

Theology. Genesis provides hardly a hint that Judah, the fourth son of Jacob,would providentially become the conduit through which God would fulfill his promises toAbraham. The biblical biography of Judah is not pleasant reading. He helped pillage theShechemites after his brothers, Simon and Levi, had slain the men of the city ( Gen 34:27 ). Hemoved away from his kindred into Canaanite territory and married a Canaanite woman ( Gen 38:2 ). He failedto bring his sons up in the way of the Lord ( Genesis 38:7 Genesis 38:10 ), andhe failed to do right by his daughter-in-law, Tamar ( Gen 38:11-26 ).Yet it was through Perez, one of the twin sons born to Tamar and fathered by Judah, thatDavid's lineage is traced, and ultimately that of Jesus, the Messiah ( Matt 1:3-6 ). Onlythe Blessing of Jacob hints at not only the dynasty of David but the enigmatic"Shiloh, " which has traditionally been interpreted as a prophetic reference toChrist ( Gen 49:10 ).The story of Jacob illustrates how unsearchable are God's judgments ( Rom 11:33 ).

The dynasty of David and the kingdom of Judah survived intact for over four centuriesbefore it succumbed to the destructive power of Nebuchadnezzar's army. The history of thatkingdom was marred and largely inglorious, despite the reforms of devout kings such asHezekiah and Josiah. The demise of the kingdom and the deportation into exile of itsleaders and much of its population was the direct result of ill-conceived internationalpolitics, domestic inequities and injustice, and religious deviation ( 2 Chron 36:13-20 ).Yet among the deportees was the remnant of the faithful who saved the precious scrollsthat comprise the bulk of Bible and carried them into exile with them. And in exile thepeople of Judah became the Jews, the people of the Book, transforming the territorialtemple-centered religion of their forefathers into a uNIVersal religion devoted to theworship of the one true God. Prophetic promises and messianic hope based on the study ofGod's Word among those in exile made possible the remnant that returned to rebuild templeand town, as God had promised through the prophet Jeremiah (25:11; 29:10-14). Theestablishment of nascent Judaism and the return and rebuilding of Jerusalem testify to thegraciousness of God and his faithfulness in all generations.

The intertestamental period established the Jewish matrix into which Jesus of Nazarethwas born at the turn of the era. In that period various currents of thought in Judaismresulted in the development of the oral law, the writing of the Apocrypha, and thefragmentation into factions such as the Sadducees, Pharisees, and the Dead Sea Scrollsect. This environment stimulated Jews to develop ideas that would be important in therise of Christianity. These ideas included messianic stirring, interest in the eschaton(the end of days), the resurrection from the dead, and the rule of God. The Jewish soil inwhich the church sprouted and grew reflects the fullness of time ( Gal 4:4 ).

R. David Rightmire

See also Apocrypha;DeadSea Scrolls; Israel;Pharisees;Sadducees

Bibliography. J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination; Encyclopedia Judaica, 10:21-25,383-97; J. Gager, The Origins of Anti-Semitism: Attitudes Toward Judaism in Pagan andChristian Antiquity; H. R. Greenstein, Judaism—An Eternal Covenant; N. P.Lemche, Early Israel; M. Mansoor, Jewish History and Thought: An Introduction;E. M. Meyers and J. Strange, Archaeology, the Rabbis, and Early Christianity: TheSocial and Historical Setting of Palestinian Judaism and Christianity; H. A. Oberman, TheRoots of Anti-Semitism in the Age of Renaissance and Reformation; M. Shermis, Jewish-ChristianRelations: An Annotated Bibliography and Resource Guide; M. H. Tanenbaum, M. R.Wilson, and A. J. Rudin, eds., Evangelicals and Jews in Conversation; R. de Vaux, Translatingand Understanding the Old Testament.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Jews, Judaism'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.