I’m a university student doing a course in Study of Religions. I am giving a presentation on Judaism and its history. However, I’m not entirely where I should take the begining of Judaism to be. Common sence tells me that it is mostly thought to have begun with Abraham, although I have ideas that it started before this. I would be very greatful for any input or ideas on this subject.
Judaism considers Abraham as the father of the Jewish people, and of monotheism / monodeism (the latter being the belief in a single deity). Under the old maxim, “Two Jews, three opinions,” there are differing beliefs within Judaism as to whether Abraham is the father in fact, in spirit, or not at all of the Jewish religion. (Personally, I’m of the “in spirit” school.)
What has always interested me is that I’m not sure we’d recognize Judaism from his time – virtually everything we associate with Judaism – all the traditions, the writing, the calendar, the Ten Commandments, etc. – by the Book’s own account came much later. One might define Judaism as beginning with him, whatever that may mean, but it seems to me just a label – he probably wouldn’t have any of the distinguishing characteristics or beliefs that we associate with Judaism, aside from monotheism and the Biblical traditions preceding him.
Technically, Judaism refers to the descendants of Judah, one of the twelve sons of Jacob (or Israel), who was Abraham’s grandson. After the Exodus, the twelve tribes split up the land they conquered but were all considered the people of Israel. Later on, they split into two nations, Israel (10 of the tribes) and Judah (the other two tribes). When Israel was captured and carried away into captivity by the Assyrians and Babylonians, Judah was all that remained, although portions of the other 10 tribes remained within Judah. Today, all descendants of Israel are generally referred to as Jews, and they do trace their lineage through Abraham. Not all of Abraham’s descendants are Jews, however. Abraham is also the father of the Muslims and many other inhabitants of the region.
FWIW, when I did my conversion, the rabbi held that while Abraham was a patriarch (actually, the first patriarch), and a monotheist, he couldn’t properly be called a Jew. Seems reasonable to me. IMO, it would be impossible to be a Jew without the Torah.
You’re applying an English language term to a religion that has had 3,000 years of evolution. So, basically, it’s going to depend on how you define “Judaism.”
The fact that one can trace an ideology (at least, if you accept the biblical account) or a set of basic principles, beginning with Abraham, through the Israelite tribes, unification under a kingship, civil war under another kingship, through the Babylonian exile, through re-establishment as a new nation Judea, through the scattering of the nation in Roman times and the re-establishment of the religion via the rabbinic period… Well, as I say, it depends on what you want to define as “Judaism.” And on how you want to define the linkage.
Look, take (as an analogy) the United States. Would you say that the U.S. begins with the Magna Carta in 1215? You can establish a clear linkage from that document through to the U.S. Constitution. So, you could write about how the U.S. emerged from British concepts of freedom. Or, you could argue that the U.S. began in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence. Or you could argue that modern U.S. politics began with Andrew Jackson. Or…
My point is that there’s no “answer” to such questions, it depends on where you stand and what point you want to make.
I’ve no doubt I’ll be corrected if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that Judaism traces its roots as a religion to the Revelation at Sinai when Moses presented them with the law, thus making Abraham their patriarch and Moses their “founder” (for lack of a better term). When Moses was in self-imposed exile from Egypt, God actually had to identify himself to Moses, implying that at least to a degree the people had lost faith in if not even the memory of the God of Abraham.
Abraham was the first true believer in the diety who is worshipped by those descendants of his now known as Jews.
I say “true believer” rather than merely “believer” because clearly (according to the Bible), such folks as Adam and Noah actually communicated with G-d, obviously they believed in his existence. However, it seems that the think that made Abraham distinct is that he originated the belief that it was possible for human beings to develop a meaningful, personal relationship with G-d, and that divine providence exists on a personal level, not merely on a macro-cosmic level. This matter is core to Judaic belief.
The details and practice of Judaism that are familiar today can be said to have begin at the time of Moses and the Israelites whom G-d rescued from Egypt. But the relationship between the Israelites and G-d was established by Abraham. And as such, Abraham can indeed be considered the beginning of Judaism.
What Sampiro said.
I’ll also put on the table that Abraham (as far as religion goes) is really closer to Christianity than Judaism, as Abraham was justified by faith and not the law.