The Ancient Origin and Myths of Israel and Judaism

Mysteries of ancient human prehistory intrigue me. Of the “great religions” only Hinduism predates Judaism’s King Josiah, and, while the details are hugely mysterious and very controversial and surely fascinating, the Hindu religion’s origin can be safely pinned back to the 4th century BC pastoralists of the East European steppes. The ancient Irish religion, BTW, also traces back to the same place and time — and there are huge affinities between the religions of the Druids and of the Brahmin.

PLEASE NOTE that the origins of the Israelites more than 2000 years ago have nothing whatsoever to do with today’s Jewish people; the whole topic is merely one of pure curiosity.

Begin the story of Judaism with 3 or 4 Empires — Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt and the Hittites. In the midst of these empires, stretching from the Eastern Delta of the Nile to the valley of the Euphrates River, were smaller towns and tribes, often vassal to one of the empires: sedentary people near the Sea and nomadic shepherds inland. Egypt was the last of the empires to get war chariots — they were introduced by the conquering Hyksos. The Israelites were much later still, first using chariots, it’s written, in the time of King David. (And even he “houghed all the [enemy’s] chariot horses, but reserved of them for an hundred chariots.”)

I got interested in this ancient history when I realized that the words Yahweh, Hebrew/'Apiru and Israel all appear in Egyptian inscriptions, centuries before the time of the alleged King David.

It’s widely assumed that the worship of Yahweh began as a monolatry. There were some other monolatrous religions in that region. Some claim that the other religions tended to worship a sun god, while Yahweh worship began as moon god worship. I’ll let the Board’s experts straighten this out.

So. What time-frame do we speak of when we write “Ancient Origin of Jewish Religion” (which I will extrapolate to reference the Tribe of Israel more generally) ?

Wiki’s article with a similar title shows only:

There isn’t much detail here; the rest of the article reviews only Iron Age II and later. Similarly, begins its “History” or “Origin” of Judaism in 1st or 2nd century AD! Josiah isn’t mentioned in these accounts, let alone David or Solomon. But I’ll ask, for the purpose of this thread, that “Ancient” predates the alleged reigns of David and Solomon.

Arguments for such an early origin of proto-Judaism include the Beta Israel and especially Qemant people of Ethiopia. The former apparently separated from Judaea before the Captivity in Babylon, and the Qemant perhaps much earlier still. Note that King Tut’s tomb contained an Ark rather similar to the Ark specified in the Bible.

The historical problem can be phrased most simply with “Who was Pharaoh at Moses’ birth, and which Pharaoh later chased the fleeing Israelites eastward?” (Speculations for the date have a range of 300+ years IIUC.) I’ll offer my own comments, if any, later but for now, let’s note:
(1) The story of Moses as written in the Pentateuch is heavily distorted, if based on any true story at all.
(2) In particular, Pharaoh was following the Hebrew (Habiru/'Apiru) folk to ensure they fled far away, not to bring them back for enslavement.
(3) There is evidence that many of the locations described in Exodus/Numbers were near Petra in the Land of Edom, supposedly the tribe of Jacob/Israel’s brother Esau.

As for (2), consider how you would write an origin myth for your new religion. Assuming you describe an exodus from Egypt, would you want your heroes to be raiders being driven away? Or to flee enslavement for a Promised Land? IIRC there are ancient Egyptian inscription(s) describing the driving away of Shasu or Habiru people, who may have been mercenary soldiers turned rogue. The Habiru might have been a subset of the Shasu who in turn were nomadic shepherds. When did the Shasu conquer the Edomites, if at all? Some such questions are answered in the book Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in ancient times. This is available on the Internet as a free library book. I hope interested Dopers will check out the book and peruse it to help with the mysteries. I’m browsing it a little now — If mine is the only copy, just PM me and I’ll return the book forthwith.

That the ancient Israelites were shepherds rather than farmers is suggested by Genesis Chapter 4:

Was this myth more likely written by a farmer or by a shepherd?

Your initial post is kind of all over the place, so it’s kind of hard to follow it up, but my understanding is that Moses is no longer considered a historical figure by the majority of ancient historians who specialize in the levant or near east and the Exodus, if it happened at all in any form, was nothing like the mass migration of people (for whatever reason) of even as brief as span as decades as portrayed in the Bible.

To the extent certain passages seem to favor a certain way of life over another, that could also point to different motives in the sources. Keep in mind, there were two separate kingdoms, Israel in the north and Judea (including modern Jerusalem) in the south, with certain passages in Genesis and Exodus seeming to favor one kingdom over the other (like which son get the inheritance vs which son gets the curse, or who sells who into slavery and who feels just awful about the whole darn thing). Whether there ever was a single, unified Kingdom of Israel encompassing both north and south under a single monarch (like David) is, I believe, a subject of debate.

But of course I am not a biblical scholar, archeologist, historian, or anything like that.


Want to try that again?

:dubious: :dubious:



Like to post a cite for that?

The thread title is Judaism, but let’s talk of other ancient religions instead!

One reason that I post at SDMB is: I avoid the need for bookmarks! I just Search for my old posts:

The cognacy of Epomeduos and Ashvamedha (अश्वमेध) seems especially convincing. Mallory’s In Search of the Indo-Europeans discusses other Druidism-Hinduism similarities.

ETA: Re-reading the above, I see another similarity I overlooked was Druid and Brahmin priests both chanting while circling a fire (or some such?. I won’t try to find a cite for that in the 5-minute Edit window.

Emphasis on father-son inheritance of clan or caste was also strong both in Ireland and India.

You are the one who started talking about other religions.

No, four castes. This is pretty basic, and even the most ancient Hindu and Vedic writings refer to four castes.
The Celtic languages belong to the Indo-European language group (as do dozens of other European, Slavic, and Indo-Iranian languages), so it’s not surprising that there are cognates. Horse sacrifices are also common in Indo-European religions.

As for circling fires, many Native-American and Australian tribes also circle fires in their ceremonies - does that mean they also have Indo-European origins?

Patrimomy exists in most world cultures.

I think these parallels are far-fetched, but in so far as they have any basis, they apply to a large number of different cultures.

Are you really quibbling about the number of castes? Most non-IE caste systems have TWO castes. The separation of Priests “above” Warriors is unique to IE, IIUC. And when a conquest requires incorporating a whole new group (who may have already had their own caste system) it will often be very convenient to add new caste(s).

Moreover (though barely necessary for my argument), your own Wikipedia refutes your insistence on "most ancient":

Uh … yeah. That was rather the point. In your judgement then, the compound words Epomeduos and Ashvamedha evolved independently, thousands of years after Celtic and Indo-Aryan’s ancestors split?

:confused: It’s similarity of details that are significant — Did you see the “No time to Google in the Edit window”? And as YOU should know (:)) as well as anyone I’m not masochistic enough to hunt down controversial cites single-handedly!

Cite? Especially for the emphatic patrimonial inheritance seen in Hindu, Celtic (and other I-E) cultures?

:dubious: :dubious: :dubious:

I think you must have meant “4th millennium BC”.

Nitpick: “Caste” is an ambiguous term that usually refers to the jati or more restricted endogamous hereditary occupational group. The word for one of the four major divisions of Vedic Indian society is varna.

:smack: :smack: OF COURSE that was what I meant. That’s probably why Johanna was quizzical. Sorry. I have been doing “billion”/“million” substitutions lately, and so on. Creeping senility. :frowning:

In future, please respond to what I meant to write, and not to where the fingers aimlessly wandered :p.

The ancient origins of Indo-European religions seems like an interesting topic to me. The ancient origins of Judaism seems like an interesting topic to me. (Although neither Wikipedia nor the SDMB seem interested in looking backward even as far as King Josiah when discussing Judaism’s origin. Is Josiah also considered fictional? :rolleyes: )

I participate in, or even start, threads which touch on such interesting topics. One thing I am NOT interested in is discussing my spelling errors and misplaced commas.

I heartily apologize for writing “century” when “millennium” was intended. I’ve also substituted “million” for “billion” in more than one post. I’m really not innumerate. I should proofread more carefully. When Johanna called my attention to the error, I just skimmed on … oblivious to her point. My brain skims too fast … and I especially ignore my own words: I already “know” (or rather, think I know) what they say! :stuck_out_tongue:

Discounting those who didn’t even know that the common ancestor of Indo-Aryan and Celtic was in the 4th millennium BC, there are two kinds of people:

  • Those who knew I made a “typographical” error (if such brain-farts can be called “typos”), and
  • Those who thought I was really so ignorant as to think “century” was correct.

I have no interest in discussions with the second group. Fortunately, I’m certain all Dopers are in the first group. I apologize again. I doubly apologize to Johanna who gently pointed out the error but, skimming as I was, I missed her point. :stuck_out_tongue: Sorry. Thanks to Kimstu for finally waking me up to it.

And thanks to GreenWyvern, the only one who has made substantial contribution here. What do you think about the alleged recency of the term “Shudra”? (I may confuse billion and million, but I do still remember that Four take-away One is THREE!) And, do you maintain that religious rituals developed independently and the cognate compound words Epomeduos and Ashvamedha evolved independently in coincidence?

Any other spelling errors or misplaced commas we need to discuss? :slight_smile:

For those talking issue with the OP’s first paragraph, Wikipedia has a summary:
It’s seems he’d rather discuss that topic elsewhere, if people are interested.

As for the topic on hand, this is a good start:

I never said or implied that, so I’m not sure where you get that from.

On the contrary, I pointed out that both languages have Indo-European roots, and that some ritual practices are found across many Indo-European cultures.

No, The Hindu religion did not originate on the steppes, and there’s no reason to believe it originated with pastoralists.

We know very little about the religion of the Druids, and absolutely nothing before the Greeks and Romans wrote about them. What little we know doesn’t show ‘huge affinities’ with the religions of India aside from a common belief in reincarnation.
I really don’t know what any of this has to do with the origin and myths of Israel and Judaism.

No one knows who they were, or what they were doing, but their legacy remains . . .


This was intended as sarcastic. I thought if someone wanted to discuss Hinduism/Druidism they should have the grace to start another thread.

:confused::confused::confused: I almost snarked at this confused conception, but edited it out on Preview.

“Really”?? :stuck_out_tongue:
Omygosh! *** Just go away.*** (How many times am I supposed to write “Nothing nothing nothing” on the blackboard, dear guru?)

I wanted to discuss the earliest known historical basis for Jewish people or religion. I (stupidly) mentioned other religions for which the prehistoric basis can be traced much farther back than Judaism.

GreenWyvern hijacked the thread to discuss links between Hinduism and Druidism. Fine. That’s an interesting topic in its own right. (And nobody wanted to discuss Judaism here anyway.)

The cognacy of Epomeduos and Ashvamedha and the associated religious rituals seem like a very strong hint, especially since horses were introduced to both Ireland and India by the Indo-Europeans.

If someone wrote “The cognacy of Epomeduos and Ashvamedha is intriguing but not convincing. Find another 2 or 3 such coincidences and we’ll take the thesis seriously,” Then I might be motivated to show more examples."

But nobody did, so I won’t. Instead we’re left with SDMB wisdom something like: “Horse sacrifices are common. There’s probably a South American tribe that bathes its queens in the broth from a white stallion too.” !!

:smiley: Over and out.

Just to be clear: Nobody is claiming that Hinduism and Druidism are the same religion, recently split, like the Southern Baptists and Black Baptists split apart 180 years ago.

No. I find it intriguing to trace religions, and other cultural modes, to their most ancient origins. The Hindu religion doubtless also borrowed from Harrapan religion; discussion of that would NOT be out of place (in a thread with a different title! :smiley: ) Heck! Trace religions all the way back to Laurasian mythology — That might be interesting!

Instead, some of you seem fixated on my misprint of “4th century” instead of “4th millennium” and are trying to disabuse me of basic ignorances. ***Just Go Away!

Darn right there’s no fermented honey in medha. The Sanskrit cognate of mead is madhu. But medha is a completely different word. Oo, and it was so close!!! Tantalizingly close. Sorry!

For some reason, this thread makes me think of a person repeatedly hitting himself over the head while shouting that it hurts. :D



Mallory cites Jaan Puhvel, UCLA Emeritus Professor of Classics and Indo-European Studies, for asvamedha < *ekwo-meydho [PIE] ‘horse-drunk’

and this etymology is ubiquitous via Google. But whatever the relationship between fermented honey and ritual dunkenness, what do you think about the insistence on a white mare in one ceremony and a white stallion in the other? Chance coincidence?