Some interesting notes on early Judaism:
“The early history of the Israelites cannot be confirmed from any source outside the Old Testament, and it is impossible to know at what point it ceased to be purely legendary. David and Solomon may be accepted as kings who probably had a real existence, but at the earliest point at which we come to something certainly historical there are already the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah.” p. 309
In 596 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem, destroying the Temple and removed a large part of the Jewish population to Babylon. Babylon fell in 538 B.C., and the new king Cyrus, king of the Medes and Persians, allowed the Jews to return to Palestine under the leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra. The “temple was rebuilt, and Jewish orthodoxy began to be crystallized.” p. 310
It is during this time that Jewish thought underwent an important change. The first commandment stating “Thou shalt have no other gods but me” is a new belief preceding this time of captivity. This is the first indication that worship of other gods was sinful. This, in turn, was used to explain why the Jews were being persecuted – for their worship of heathen gods. After the return from Babylon, Ezra and Nehemiah forbid and dissolved mixed marriages in Jerusalem.
“After Ezra and Nehemiah, the Jews disappear awhile from history. The Jewish state survived as a theocracy, but its territory was very small – only the region of ten to fifteen miles around Jerusalem.” p. 313
It is surprising to me to me that this 10 to 15 mile ring around Jerusalem continued the Judaic religion until 175 B.C. when the Seleucid king Antiochus IV attempted to Hellenize the Jewish population. This was vehemently opposed by the mostly rural Hasidm, who prompted the Jews to rebel when Antiochus became involved in a war with Egypt. Apparently Antiochus decided to destroy the Jewish religion by outlawing circumcision and the practice of abstaining from pork. The urban Jews apparently submitted, but the rural Jews resisted. This period is known as the First Book of Maccabees. This period of persecution reinforced Jews’ belief that salvation lies in the hereafter. Also, “in enduring and resisting persecution the Jews of this time showed immense heroism, although in defence of things that do not strike us as important, such as circumcision and the eating of pork.” p. 316.
“The time of the persecution by Antiochus IV was crucial in Jewish history. The Jews of the Dispersion were, at this time, becoming more and more hellenized; the Jews of Judea were few; and even among them the rich and powerful were inclined to acquiesce in Greek innovations. But for the heroic resistance of the Hasidim, the Jewish religion might easily have died out. If this had happened, neither Christianity nor Islam could have existed in anything like the form they actually took.” p. 316