Religion of Israel


The religion of Israel begins when the nation was organized in the time of Moses, perhaps in the 13th cent. b.c. An important phase of Israel’s religion to be treated in this article came to an end in 587 b.c. with the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple by the Babylonians. For Israel’s religion after that date, see Judaism. The religion of Israel is a uniquely historical religion, founded on mighty acts of God in saving and punishing men and on revelations of God to men in definite times and places. The first part of this article deals with Israel’s religion in the different stages of the nation’s historical development. Religion, more than a series of events, is a complex of beliefs about God and His relationships. Therefore the second part of this article summarizes Israel’s central religious beliefs.


History of Israel’s religion from Moses to fall of Jerusalem

In the time of Moses

The call of Moses.

a. The God of the Fathers. In calling Moses God identifies Himself as “the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exod 3:6). Thus the God of Moses is the same God who promised to bless Abraham’s descendants (Gen 12:1-3), to bring them out of Egypt, and to give them the land of Canaan (Gen 15:13-21).

c. Election of Israel. Several times in the call of Moses God refers to Israel as “my people” (e.g. Exod 3:7, 10). In Exodus 4:22 Israel’s special relation to God is expressed by the figure “first-born son.” Among the blessings which Israel is chosen to receive are the knowledge of God (6:7), deliverance from slavery in Egypt (3:8), the privilege of worshiping God (3:12), and possession of the land of Canaan.

a. God the deliverer. God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt—that was the pivotal event in the national and religious life of Israel. The Exodus demonstrated God’s election of Israel for a special historical and religious purpose. The Exodus showed that God cared about Israel (Exod 3:7) and that He was able to control the forces of nature and the army of Pharaoh to bring about this deliverance. Thereafter Yahweh for Israel was the one who brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage (Exod 20:2).

b. God’s control of nature. In order to force Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, God controlled the river water, animals (frogs, lice, flies, cattle, locusts, and men), meteorology (hail), and the light of the sun (Exod 7:14-12:30). At the Red Sea God managed the wind and the water to open a passage for the Israelites and to bring back the water again to trap the pursuing Egyptians (13:21-14:29).

The covenant at Sinai.

a. The covenant form. The form of God’s covenants with Israel has been illustrated by the study of Hitt. suzerainty treaties coming from about the time of Moses. In these treaties the Hitt. king reminds his vassals of his benevolent acts toward them (cf. Exod 20:2), the requirements which the king imposes are stated (cf. Exod 20:3-17 and the other laws of the Pentateuch), vassals are to appear before the king each year bringing tribute (cf. Deut. 26:5-10), a copy of the treaty is to be placed in the Temple and periodically is to be read publicly (cf. 31:9-13), and blessings are pronounced for those who keep the treaty and curses for those who break it (cf. 27, 28). Finally the covenant at Sinai was sealed by a sacrifice whose blood was sprinkled on the altar and on the people establishing a bond of relationship between God and Israel (Exod 24:6-8).

b. The covenantal requirements—the laws. The laws which Israel must observe to maintain the covenant with God occupy much of Exodus 20-40, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Because of the discovery of parallels to these laws in codes before the time of Moses many scholars now recognize the possibility of Mosaic origin for many of these laws.

1) Theological laws. The commandments of the Decalogue (Exod 20:1-17; Deut 5:6-21) teach that God is one (in contra-distinction to the many gods of the other nations), that He only is to be worshiped, that He cannot be represented by an image made and manipulated by man, that God’s name is not to be used lightly or profanely or for false swearing or magic, and that He is the creator of all. The Decalogue also gives some of God’s attributes: He is a jealous God who brooks no rival, He is a judge who punishes those who hate and disobey Him, He is merciful to those who love Him and keep His commandments. These laws certainly teach monolatry for Israel; monotheism (that there is only one real God) is implicit in the Mosaic laws. Some trace the origin of the Israelite belief in one God to Egyp. Atenism or to the Kenite religion (of which very little is known), but according to the Bible Moses received the knowledge of the one Yahweh by direct revelation.

2) Ritual laws.

a) Sacrifices. For a description of the sacrifices and offerings, see Sacrifice and Offerings. Sacrifices might be called enacted prayers (Ps 141:2). That the offerer placed his hand on the head of the animal to be sacrificed (Lev 1:4) seems to indicate that the offerer identified himself with the animal, which became his representative and substitute. The symbolism of the sacrifices included atonement (sin and guilt offerings), communion and thanksgiving (peace offering), dedication (burnt offering). Incense later was interpreted as symbolizing prayer (Ps 141:2; Rev 8:3, 4). Some, following Wellhausen, have considered this scheme of sacrifices too complex for the time of Moses, but the discovery of related names for various sacrifices among the Ugaritians before Moses has given support to the antiquity of the Mosaic sacrificial laws.

c) The tent of meeting and its furniture. For a detailed description of these, see Tent. At the heart of the Tent of Meeting was the Ark, which contained the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, the basic requirements of the covenant. The Tent reminded the people of the covenant, it illustrated both the availability of God and His holiness, and it served as the center for public sacrificial worship in which the people met with God. Some have suggested that this Tent was only an imaginary half-size retrojection of Solomon’s Temple, but the study of portable shrines in ancient Egypt and of tent shrines among the Carthaginians and Arabs has persuaded many scholars of the essential historicity of Israel’s tent shrine in the wilderness.

d) The priests. On the priests, descendants of Aaron of the tribe of Levi, see Priests and Levites. The primary duty of the priests was to perform various rituals in the worship at the central shrine. For example, the priest placed on the altar the blood and parts of the sacrifice brought by individuals (Lev 1:5, 8) and he also performed the daily morning and evening general sacrifice (Exod 29:38-42). Only the priests could enter the holy place of the Tent, where they presented the bread of the Presence, supplied oil for the lamps, and offered incense. Second, the priests were to teach the people all the statutes which the Lord had spoken to them through Moses (Lev 11:10; Deut 33:10). Finally, the priests acted as judges in difficult cases (Deut 17:8, 9, 12). In general the function of the priest was to serve as a mediator between the people and God.

The first high priest was Aaron. The high priest was to manipulate the Urim and Thummim, which were kept in a pouch of his breastpiece (Exod 28:30). These were small objects which were used to discover the Lord’s will, esp. for the nation and its leader (Num 27:21). Another distinctive duty of the high priest was to enter the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement to sprinkle on the cover of the Ark the blood of the sin offering to make atonement for the people (Lev 16:11, 14, 15, 16).

The Levites were men of the tribe of Levi but not priests of Aaron’s line. They were to carry the Tent and its furnishings as the people journeyed, to set it up when the people encamped, and to guard it (Num 1:47-53; 3:25-37). They were also to assist the priests in the rituals (Num 3:6-9), and they might be called assistant priests. Some have thought that the distinction of different grades of priests did not arise till the time of Ezekiel, but in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Ugarit there were hierarchies of high priest, priests and assistants before the time of Moses. Therefore such a hierarchy in the Mosaic laws certainly is possible and even to be expected.

e) Holy Days.

Sabbath. Both man’s six days of work and the seventh day of rest are related to God’s working in creation and then resting (Exod 20:11). The social significance of rest for servants is emphasized by the reminder that the Israelites were servants in Egypt (Deut 5:15).

Passover and Unleavened Bread (Exod 12:1-28). The sacrifice of a lamb and the presentation of a sheaf of the first fruits of barley acknowledged God as the giver of flocks and crops (Lev 23:9-14). There are many reminiscences of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt in the observance of this feast.

Weeks (Pentecost) (Lev 23:15-21). This was primarily a feast of the wheat harvest (Exod 23:16). Later Jews connected this feast with the covenant (perhaps 2 Chron 15:10-12) and the giving of the Law at Sinai (BT, Pesahim 68b).

Booths (Lev 23:33-43). At this feast, as at Passover and Weeks, all adult male Israelites were supposed to gather at the central sanctuary for celebration and worship. This was the final harvest thanksgiving festival (Exod 23:16). The people lived in booths during the week of the feast in memory of the booths their ancestors had lived in after coming out of Egypt. On the basis of certain Psalms (47; 93; 95-99) some scholars have connected with this feast a celebration of the enthronement of Yahweh on a Babylonian model, but most students question such an enthronement celebration in Israel.

Day of Atonement (Lev 16:1-34; 23:26-32). This was the only fast of the Mosaic law. On this day the high priest sprinkled the blood of a goat on the cover of the Ark to make atonement for the sins of the people. Then he confessed over another goat the sins of the people and sent this goat into the wilderness to Azazel. Perhaps Azazel was a demon of the wilderness, and sending the goat to him may have symbolized removing sins to their evil source. Some followers of Wellhausen have proposed an exilic origin for the Day of Atonement, but now many scholars recognize ancient elements in this ritual which may well go back to Mosaic times.

So the holy days of Israel served to remind them of their history, their blessings, their sins, and above all of Yahweh, their covenant God, their Deliverer, their Provider, and their Forgiver.

3) Ethical and civil laws. The covenant required not only duties to God, but also to men. The Mosaic civil and ethical laws came from God and are constantly related to God, His righteousness, His judgment, and His mercy.

In the Decalogue duties to men (Exod 20:12-27; Deut 5:16-21) are summarized under the following headings: (1) respect for parents. This implies mutual obligations of parents and children. (2) Forbidding of murder. This implies respect for the human person created in the image of God. (3) Forbidding of adultery. This implies respect for the unity of husband and wife as ordained by God, and sexual relations within marriage only. (4) Forbidding of stealing. This implies respect for the owner of objects which he uses for his livelihood or for his enjoyment. (5) Forbidding of false witness. This implies respect for one’s neighbor, whose name, property rights, and life should be maintained by true witness before the judge and God. (6) Forbidding of coveting. This goes beyond ethical law to the psychological and theological source of sin—a person’s desire for something which is not rightfully his. Most of the Mosaic civil laws can be classified under these commandments of the Decalogue.

Positively, the Mosaic laws of the covenant may be summarized in love for God (Deut 6:5) and love for your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18; cf. Matt 22:34-40).

During the conquest and settlement of Canaan.

This was not only a period of military conflict between Israel and the Canaanites but also of spiritual conflict between the imageless worship of the one Yahweh and the idolatrous worship of the many gods of Canaan.


As the Israelites entered Canaan, they renewed the covenant with God by observing the rite of circumcision (Josh 5:2-9). This sign of the covenant went back to Abraham (Gen 17:9-14). They had practiced it in Egypt, as did the Egyptians, but not in the wilderness (Josh 5:4-7) though it is required in Exodus 12:48 and Leviticus 12:3. From their entrance into Canaan circumcision was practiced by the Israelites and distinguished them from the uncircumcised Philistines (Judg 14:3; 15:18). Circumcision was also a symbol of spiritual cleansing (Deut 10:16).

Holy war.

Renewals of the covenant.

At Mount Ebal Joshua gathered the people for a renewal of the covenant including sacrifice, writing the law upon stones, reading the law, and the pronouncement of blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience—all in the presence of the Ark of the covenant (Josh 8:30-35). Similarly at Shechem in Joshua’s old age the covenant was again renewed with a recital of God’s past dealings with Israel, a call to serve the Lord, the people’s promise to obey God, the recording of the covenant, and its memorialization by a stone (Josh 24:1-27). Such covenant renewals gave religious unity to the confederacy of the twelve tribes of Israel. That there was a temple of Baal-berith, Baal of the Covenant (Judg 9:4), at Shechem may indicate that there was a covenant-making tradition there.

Special leaders.

a. Judges. These were leaders called by God to rouse and defend the people. They were endowed by God’s Spirit with courage, wisdom, and strength for military leadership against Israel’s enemies (Judg 3:10; 6:34; 14:19). In addition, some of them judged cases, like Deborah and Samuel. Some of the judges were religious reformers, destroying idols (Judg 6:25-32) and calling people to repent and turn back to the Lord (1 Sam 7:3-9). Two judges were also priests, Eli and Samuel.

b. Nazirites. These were people dedicated to God. For the period of their vow they were not to shave or to drink wine or to cut their hair (Num 6:1-21). Samson (Judg 13:4, 5) and Samuel (1 Sam 1:11, 28) were lifelong Nazirites according to the vow of their parents.

The conflict of Yahwism and idolatry.

At Shittim in Trans-Jordan some Israelites were lured into the worship of Baal of Peor. These Israelites also indulged in promiscuity with Moabite women, for sacred prostitution was part of Canaanite worship. This idolatry and adultery were punished by execution of the offending Israelites (Num 25:1-9).

At Ophrah the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon at a sacred tree and received Gideon’s sacrifice (Judg 6:11-23). Then Gideon built an altar to the Lord which he called Yahweh Shalom, “the Lord is peace” (v. 24). There too was Gideon’s father Joash’s pagan altar to Baal and beside it the wooden symbol of Baal’s consort, the goddess Asherah. According to the Lord’s command, Gideon pulled down the altar of Baal and cut down the symbol of Asherah (6:25-32). Later however Gideon himself made a golden ephod and deposited it at the shrine in Ophrah (8:29). The ephod was perhaps a sacred garment holding the sacred lots which were used to discover God’s will. This golden ephod itself was worshiped, an example of how objects can become idols.

The priests of the shrine at Dan were Levites, descendants of Moses himself (Judg 18:30). Presumably Yahweh was worshiped at this shrine, but in it was an image, an ephod, and teraphim. Teraphim prob. were small images of household gods (Gen 31:19, 34) which were used in divination (Ezek 21:21). Here Canaanite idolatry had contaminated Yahwism.

The shrine at Shiloh and the Ark.

At Shiloh the Tent of Meeting was set up (Josh 18:1). Thereby Shiloh became the religious center for the Israelite tribal confederacy or amphictyony. There were, of course, other local shrines, e.g. at Gilgal, Shechem, Ophrah, Dan, and Mizpah. At Shiloh an annual vintage festival was observed, perhaps the feast of booths or ingathering (Judg 21:19). To the sanctuary at Shiloh the family of Samuel made an annual pilgrimage (1 Sam 1:3). The boy Samuel served in the sanctuary there with Eli the high priest. To Samuel God gave the warning of coming judgment on the priestly house of Eli because of the sins of his two sons (1 Sam 3:10-15). After defeating the Israelites in the battle of Aphek the Philistines destroyed Shiloh and the shrine of Yahweh (1 Sam 4:3, 4; Jer 7:12).

Eli’s sons carried the Ark from the shrine at Shiloh with the Israelite army to the battle of Aphek. The Philistines defeated the Israelites, killed Eli’s sons, and captured the Ark. The Ark was taken to various Philistine cities, in each of which plague broke out. Also in Ashdod the image of the grain god Dagon fell down and broke before the Ark, a sign of Yahweh’s superiority over the gods of the Philistines. Finally the Philistines in fear sent the Ark back to the Israelites. It was kept at Kiriath-jearim till the time of David (1 Sam 5; 6).

During the united monarchy

Constitutional monarchy.

At first Samuel opposed the people’s request for a king like the surrounding nations. Taking a human king would be rejecting Samuel and the charismatic judgeship and ultimately rejecting God as King. Samuel warned the people that a king would reduce their liberties, take them as servants, and tax them to support his own luxury (1 Sam 8:7-18; 10:18, 19; 12:17).

Finally Samuel helped in making Saul king and drew up a constitution stating the rights and responsibilities of the king (1 Sam 10:25). Probably some of Samuel’s regulations for the king were similar to the law of the king in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. There it is stipulated that the king should be chosen by God, that he should not depend on horses or alliances for security, that he should avoid luxury, and that he should rule in the fear of God, remembering that his subjects are his brothers.

On the basis of royal Psalms such as 2; 72; 110 some have thought that the king was considered divine in Israel as he was in Egypt. But divine kingship is contrary to Israelite conceptions of God as the Creator and Ruler, of man as the created subject of God, and of the king as limited by a constitution and by prophetic criticism.

Religion under Saul.

God’s selection of Saul was shown in the revelation to Samuel and in controlling the lots which finally indicated Saul. Samuel anointed Saul with oil, a symbol of spiritual empowerment, and shortly thereafter Saul joined some prophets in ecstatic prophesying (1 Sam 10:9-13).

Samuel’s relations with Saul changed from initial support to rejection. Saul failed to wait for Samuel, according to appointment, to offer sacrifices at Gilgal. Samuel warned that because of this disregard for him as God’s representative God would put another king in Saul’s place (1 Sam 13:8-14). Again Saul did not completely carry out God’s command through Samuel to destroy all the possessions and people of the Amalekites. Because of this disobedience Samuel declared that God had rejected Saul from being king (1 Sam 15).

Saul’s relations with the priests also deteriorated. At the battle of Michmash the high priest was with Saul, and Saul sought the guidance of God through the sacred lots manipulated by the priest (14:18, 19, 37, 41 RSV). Later Saul killed the priests of Nob and their families because they had given hospitality and weapons to David, whom they regarded as still in Saul’s employ (22:11-19).

When Saul received no guidance by dreams, the sacred lots, or by prophets, he sought advice from a medium as a substitute for God (28:3-25). Saul himself had banned mediums and wizards following the law of Leviticus 20:27 and Deuteronomy 18:10-11. Saul’s acceptance of the medium’s report of the appearance of Samuel at least shows a belief in a personal, conscious future life.

Religion under David (c. 1000-961).

David himself had a variety of religious experiences. He believed that God had chosen him to be king, that God had enabled him to overcome Goliath and other enemies of Israel, that God had delivered him from jealous Saul, and that God finally had made him king and given him a much larger kingdom than Saul’s. David also experienced prophetic condemnation when Nathan convicted him of the double sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. According to the heading of Psalm 51, David truly repented and experienced God’s forgiveness. The Psalms that are most surely David’s (e.g. Pss 3; 4; 7; 8; 11; 18) show strong confidence that God will help him, deliver him from his enemies, and guide him in the right way.

Through Nathan came the announcement of God’s covenant with David (1 Sam 7:4-17). God promised to give David rest from all his enemies, to establish the kingdom of David’s son who would build the Temple, and to make sure forever David’s royal line and kingdom. This promise was the basis for the hope for the royal Messiah, the ideal king of the house of David.

David made Jerusalem the religious as well as the political capital of Israel. He brought the Ark from Kiriath-jearim to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6). Guided by God he purchased a threshing floor just N of the city and designated it as the site for the future Temple (2 Sam 24:18-25; 1 Chron 22:1). David also gathered materials for the Temple (1 Chron 22:2-19; 29:1-9), organized the Temple functionaries and singers (23:2-4), and gave to Solomon a plan for the Temple (28:11-19).

Religion under Solomon (c. 961-922).

At the beginning of his reign Solomon deposed Abiathar as high priest and replaced him by Zadok (1 Kings 2:26, 27). In the contest for the successor to David Abiathar had backed Adonijah (1:25), while Zadok had supported Solomon (vv. 38, 39). Thereafter the priests at Jerusalem were regularly descendants of Zadok (2 Chron 31:10; Ezek 40:46).

Solomon hired Hiram from Tyre to supervise the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and much of the fine work was done by Phoen. craftsmen (1 Kings 5:10, 18; 7:13, 14). It is therefore not surprising that some features have parallels in ancient temples in Syria like that at Tell Tainat. In general plan the Temple resembled the Tent of Meeting, but in a grander and more permanent form. For a detailed description, see Jerusalem Temple.

The Temple was thought of as the dwelling place of God. At the dedication of the Temple it was filled with a cloud symbolizing the presence of God (1 Kings 8:10; cf. Exod 33:9). His “name,” His presence was there (Deut 12:5, 11). At the same time Solomon in his dedicatory prayer recognized that heaven could not contain God, much less the house that He had built (1 Kings 8:27). The Temple was intended as a focus of prayer (8:28-53), not only for the Israelite but also for the believing foreigner (8:41-43).

Solomon was famous for his wisdom and known for his many proverbs and songs (4:29-34). Two collections of proverbs are attributed to him (Prov 10:1-22:16; 25:1-29:27), and Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes are associated with him. Though many proverbs at first glance seem to be distilled and memorable common sense, Israelite wisdom had a religious basis, that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10).

Unfortunately Solomon did not follow the law of the king (Deut 17:14-20) forbidding luxury and many wives, and his foreign wives led him into idolatry. He built shrines for his wives’ gods, Ashtoreth of the Sidonians, Milcom or Molech of the Ammonites, and Chemosh of Moab (1 Kings 11:1-8). Such idolatry not only was breaking the first commandment, but also had evil moral and social results. Sacred prostitution was part of the worship of Ashtoreth, and child sacrifice was offered to Molech and Chemosh.

Religion in northern Israel

Prophetic support of the northern revolt.

The prophet Ahijah promised the ten northern tribes to Jeroboam. These tribes were to be broken away from Solomon’s house because Solomon had broken God’s laws, specifically in worshiping other gods. To Jeroboam was promised a lasting dynasty in the northern kingdom, if he would obey God’s commandments (11:29-39).

Jeroboam’s golden calves.

Unfortunately for Yahwism in the northern kingdom, Jeroboam (c. 922-901) set up golden calves for worship in Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12:26-33). Jeroboam did not intend to depart from Yahwism, for he stated that the calves represented the God who brought them out of Egypt. Probably Yahweh was thought of as present but invisible above the calf, just as in the Temple in Jerusalem He was present over the cherubim. There was this difference that the cherubim were thought of as servants of God and were never worshiped, while Jeroboam said that the calves represented God and were to be worshiped. Therefore the calves clashed with the commandment forbidding the worship of any image (Exod 20:4-6). Futhermore the bull was associated with other gods by the Egyptians and the Canaanites so that the calves endangered the uniqueness of Yahweh and easily led to syncretism. Jeroboam’s purpose was that Bethel and Dan would replace Jerusalem as centers for corporate worship for northern Israelites. He expelled regular priests and Levites and installed priests who would carry out his religio-political program (2 Chron 11:13-15). These moves broke the religious unity of Israel. For all these reasons prophets (1 Kings 13:1-5; Hos 8:5, 6; 13:2) and the prophetic historians (e.g. 2 Kings 17:16) condemned the calf-worship of northern Israel.


In most of the incidents of Elijah’s ministry he is the protagonist for Yahweh in the contest with the Tyrian Baal, whose worship was introduced by Queen Jezebel, wife of Ahab king of northern Israel (c. 869-850).

In Zarephath in Phoenicia Elijah miraculously provided food for a widow and healed her son (1 Kings 17:8-24). This demonstration of power in the territory of the Tyrian Baal for a Canaanite woman indicates Yahweh’s universal rule and concern (cf. Luke 4:26).

At Mount Carmel Elijah represented Yahweh in the showdown with the priests of Baal and of his consort Asherah (1 Kings 18). There was no answer to the prayers of the prophets of Baal, but in answer to Elijah’s prayer Yahweh sent fire down to burn the sacrifice. So the assembled people acknowledged that Yahweh was the real God, and the priests of Baal were killed. At the same time Yahweh showed his superiority over Baal (who the Canaanites thought controlled the weather) by sending rain after he had withheld it for three years.

At Mount Horeb God gave to Elijah a demonstration of the ways of revelation (19:9-18). God sent wind, earthquake, and fire, showing his control over natural forces. But God’s message came to Elijah in a still small voice indicating that God also reveals Himself in quiet ways. The contents of God’s message shows that God acts also in history, in this case by judgments on the house of Ahab through Hazael king of Syria and through Jehu who would take the crown in Israel. Also God is concerned with the perpetuation of the faith by raising up a new prophet (Elisha) and by preserving a sizable remnant of the people who are true to Yahweh.

Elijah also condemned King Ahab for seizing Naboth’s vineyard and arranging for the death of Naboth (ch. 21). This courageous condemnation demonstrated that even the Israelite king was subject to God’s law.

The description of the death of Elijah as a departure in a fiery chariot certainly points to a belief in a personal future life where earthly service is rewarded (2 Kings 2:11).


Elisha took an active part in the affairs of state. He sent a young prophet to anoint Jehu as king of Israel to bring judgment on the house of Ahab and on Queen Jezebel (2 Kings 9:1-11). Elisha often gave counsel and help to the kings of Israel in their wars against the invading Syrians (6:24-7:20; 13:14-19) and together with Judah against Moab (3:1-27). Elisha also demonstrated Yahweh’s rule over the history and kings of other countries, for example in encouraging Hazael to take the throne of Syria (8:7-15). Elisha even directed the healing of the Syrian general Naaman who had invaded Israel (5:1-27).

Many of Elisha’s beneficent miracles manifested God’s concern for the poor and the sick (4:1-37).


Micaiah was one of the prophets consulted by Kings Ahab of Israel and Jehoshaphat of Judah before their battle with the Syrians (1 Kings 22:5-28). Zedekiah, leading four hundred prophets, used iron horns to symbolize the victory he promised over the Syrians. Only Micaiah warned of defeat and death for Ahab, though he knew this message would be unwelcome. Events showed that Zedekiah and his four hundred were false prophets and that Micaiah had brought the true word of the Lord.

The revolt of Jehu (c. 842-815).

As pointed out above, Jehu was anointed by a prophet and commissioned to execute judgment on the house of Ahab (2 Kings 9:1-11). Jehu first removed Jezebel and the descendants and even the friends of Ahab, a wholesale slaughter which Hosea later condemned (Hos 1:4). By these acts Jehu won the support of the Rechabites, who tried to maintain the desert way of life in order to preserve pure and original Yahwism (2 Kings 10:15, 16; cf. 1 Chron 2:55; Jer 35). Then in Samaria Jehu assembled the priests, prophets, and worshipers of Baal in Baal’s temple and killed them all. Though Jehu wiped out Baalism, he maintained the worship of the golden calves (2 Kings 10:28, 29).


Amos, though a Judean, was called to preach God’s message in Bethel, the chief shrine of northern Israel. Under Jeroboam II (c. 786-746) in Israel there was luxury for some, injustice for the poor, and a booming performance of feasts and sacrifices.

Amos saw God as sovereign over nature (4:6-9; 5:8) and over history (2:9, 10), and as the righteous Judge of the nations (1:3-2:8). God’s primary requirement from man, according to Amos, is justice (5:24) which Amos often saw denied to the poor of Israel.

Amos criticized and reinterpreted some assumptions of Israelite popular religion. Many Israelites thought that God’s election of Israel meant that God was not interested in other nations and that Israel’s security was inviolable. Against such chauvinism Amos preached that God was concerned also with the movements of other peoples, like the enemy Philistines and Syrians (9:7). God’s election of Israel to special religious privilege meant that the judgment of their iniquities would be heavier (3:1, 2).

Another assumption of popular Israelite religion was that the proper performance of ritual was God’s principal requirement and that such sacrifices guaranteed God’s favor. On the contrary Amos asserted that God hated offerings without righteousness in life (5:21-25). The cult centers, Bethel, Gilgal, and Dan, where the rich drank wine, indulged in prostitution, and oppressed the poor, would be destroyed, warned Amos (2:7, 8; 5:5-7).

Many Israelites thought that the Day of Yahweh meant victory over their enemies. On the contrary, said Amos, the day of God’s judgment will bring darkness on Israel (5:18), and Israel will go into exile beyond Damascus, i.e. to Assyria (5:27).

According to 9:9-15 Amos, like most other prophets, looked forward to a restoration and prosperity. Some think that this passage is inconsistent with the dark judgment of the rest of the book. Elsewhere also there are gleams of light, such as the hope that God may be gracious to a remnant who will practice justice (5:15).


Hosea prophesied not only during the prosperity of Jeroboam II but also during the following internal confusion and increasing external pressure from Assyria. Hosea’s wife was unfaithful to him and fell into prostitution and slavery, but Hosea bought her back in continuing love. He saw in his experience with his wayward wife an illustration of God’s experience with unfaithful Israel, who had broken her covenant vows to God by engaging in idolatry and who would be punished and eventually restored to fellowship and favor with God.

Because of these religious and social sins Hosea warns that the Israelites will go into captivity to Egypt and to Assyria (9:3, 6 RSV; 10:6; 11:5). Samaria’s king will perish (10:7), and many of its people will be slaughtered (13:16).

Much more than Amos, Hosea speaks of Israel’s future return to God (14:1, 2) and to their homes (11:10, 11) and of God’s spiritual and physical blessings on them (14:4-7).

Religious interpretation of the fall of Samaria.

The writer of 2 Kings 17:7-23 lists religious sins as the ultimate reason for the fall of Samaria (722) and the captivity of the Israelites in Assyria. The Israelites had despised God’s statutes and His covenant and had refused to listen to the warnings of the prophets. They had worshiped other gods, even sacrificing their children. They had practiced magic and worshiped the golden calves. Therefore the Lord was angry and removed the northern Israelites.

Religion in the southern kingdom.

Judah was more stable and less open to foreign influences than Israel in religion as well as in politics. In Judah there were faithless and idolatrous kings, but there were more faithful and reforming kings than in Israel. There were true prophets of Yahweh in the N, but there were more such prophets in the S, and their messages have been more fully preserved.

Rehoboam (c. 922-915).

This king forsook the law of the Lord (2 Chron 12:1), and under him the Judeans worshiped idols on the high places and at sacred trees (1 Kings 14:23, 24), even making use of male cult prostitutes. When Shishak of Egypt invaded Pal. and the prophet Shemaiah rebuked the idolatry of Judah, Rehoboam and the princes humbled themselves before God (2 Chron 12:5, 6).

Asa (c. 913-873).

King Asa removed idolatrous images and altars and halted the pagan practice of cultic prostitution (2 Kings 15:12; 2 Chron 14:3-5). He even deposed his mother from her position as queen mother because of her idolatry and burned the image of the goddess Asherah which she had made (1 Kings 15:13). Encouraged by the prophet Oded (2 Chron 15:1-7), he summoned the people to renew their covenant with God, and they promised to seek the Lord with all their heart (15:9-15). Asa, however, imprisoned the seer Hanani, who had upbraided him for relying on help from Syria instead of on God during a war against the northern kingdom (16:7-10).

Jehoshaphat (c. 873-849).

Good King Jehoshaphat also removed pagan shrines and obeyed God’s law (1 Kings 22:46; 2 Chron 17:6). He inaugurated a program of popular religious education by sending out princes, Levites and priests with the Book of the Law to teach the people (2 Chron 17:7-9). Furthermore Jehoshaphat reorganized the judicial system of Judah on the basis of judging honestly with the Lord’s guidance. In addition to local judges Jehoshaphat appointed Levites, priests, and heads of families as a supreme court in Jerusalem to judge cases of murder and conflict of laws (2 Chron 19:4-11). Before a battle against the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites Jehoshaphat prayed for God’s help, and a Levite Jehaziel under the power of the Spirit promised victory (ch. 20). On the other hand, the prophets Jehu (19:1-3) and Eliezer (20:37) condemned Jehoshaphat for cooperating with the apostate kings of northern Israel.

Athaliah (c. 842-837).

Since Queen Athaliah was prob. the daughter of Jezebel, it is not surprising that she followed Jezebel’s example and tried to foster Baalism in Judah. She was the wife of King Jehoram. After the latter’s death she counseled her son King Ahaziah to do wickedly like the house of Ahab (2 Chron 22:3). After Jehu killed Ahaziah, she killed all Ahaziah’s sons, except for Joash, and took the royal power herself (2 Kings 11:1-3). Under her patronage there was in Jerusalem a temple of Baal (2 Kings 11:18). To Baal’s temple Athaliah transported some of the treasures from Yahweh’s Temple (2 Chron 24:7). Finally, Athaliah and her Baalism were swept away under the leadership of Jehoiada the high priest of Yahweh (2 Kings 11:13-20).

Joash (c. 837-800) and Jehoiada.

After he had crowned the young Joash, Jehoiada the high priest made a covenant with the people that they would be the Lord’s people (2 Kings 11:17). The people destroyed Baal’s temple and killed his priest (11:18). Yahweh’s Temple was repaired, and its worship was reorganized (2 Chron 24:12-14). After Jehoiada died, Joash fell into idolatry and killed Jehoiada’s son Zedekiah because of the latter’s rebuke (24:17-22).

Ahaz (c. 735-715).

Isaiah (later 8th cent.).

God cannot endure sacrifices, feasts or even prayers if they are combined with iniquity and murder (1:11-15). Idols are only the work of men’s hands, and idolatry will incur God’s judgment (2:8, 10).

To faithful believers Isaiah promised that God will protect them. The faithless Ahaz rejected this promise (7:1-11). Later Hezekiah believed Isaiah’s word, and God did destroy the Assyrian army besieging Jerusalem (2 Kings 19).

At the time of his call Isaiah had a vision of God as the enthroned King whose glory filled the whole earth (6:1, 3), and the prophet looks forward to the Messianic kingdom when God’s glory will be manifest everywhere. It will be a kingdom of peace centering in Jerusalem, and all nations will acknowledge God’s law (2:1-4). The Messianic king, of the line of David, will rule in peace and justice for ever (9:6, 7). The Messiah, endowed with wisdom and power by God’s Spirit, will punish the wicked and give justice to the poor. Everything harmful will be transformed into good, and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God (11:1-9).

For the important religious teaching of Isaiah 40-66, see Isaiah.

Micah (later 8th cent., from the village of Moresheth).

According to Micah, the primary demands of God are not sacrifices, but justice, kindness, and humility before God (6:6-8).

Because of these sins Micah predicts the destruction of Samaria (1:7) and of Jerusalem (3:12). The Judeans will go as exiles to Babylon (4:10).

Micah looks forward to the universal Messianic kingdom of peace (4:1-3 equals Isa 2:2-4). But he pictures the Messiah from Bethlehem (David’s town), not as a king (as Isaiah does), but as a shepherd of his people (5:2-4). He also refers to God with the same shepherd imagery (7:4) and is confident that God will show steadfast love and compassion to the remnant of Israel (7:18, 19).

Hezekiah (c. 715-687).

Manasseh (c. 687-642).

Manasseh’s many idolatries even within the courts of Yahweh’s Temple are listed in 2 Kings 21:2-9 (cf. 23:26, 27). After he was imprisoned by the Assyrians for revolting, he turned back to the God of his fathers. Manasseh then returned to his throne, removed the idols he had made, and served the Lord at the end of his life (2 Chron 33:11-16).

Josiah (c. 640-609).

This good king’s destruction of idolatry was more thorough than any preceding reform (2 Kings 23:4-14; 2 Chron 34:3-7). His abolition of local altars, which were pagan or syncretistic, extended not only throughout Judah but also into northern Israel, including the altar of the golden calf in Bethel (2 Kings 23:15-20; 2 Chron 34:5, 6). Also Josiah removed or killed the idolatrous priests (2 Kings 23:5, 20).

When the Temple was cleansed, the Book of the Law was found and brought to Josiah. Many scholars have thought that this book was some form of Deuteronomy because Josiah’s reforms centralized public worship in Jerusalem. Josiah was much concerned when he heard the punishments threatened in this book (perhaps Deut 28) if Israel disobeyed God’s law (2 Kings 22:9-13). The prophetess Huldah explained that the threatened judgments would come, but not in Josiah’s day because of his piety (22:14-20). Josiah then made a covenant before the Lord to keep God’s commandments as found in the Book of the Law (2 Chron 34:31, 32). Like Hezekiah Josiah celebrated a memorable passover in Jerusalem, in which not only Judeans but also Israelites from the N participated (35:1-19).

Zephaniah (early in the reign of Josiah).

This prophet condemns the idolatries of Judah (1:4, 5), the luxury of the officials (1:8), the accumulation of wealth by the merchants (1:11, 13), the rapaciousness of judges (3:3), the faithlessness of prophets (3:4), and the twisting of the law by the priests (3:4).

Because of such sins a day of wrath is coming on Judah and on all nations (1:14-18; 2:4-15). For those who would escape this wrath God requires obedience, righteousness, and humility (2:3).

Zephaniah also foresees a day of joy when the remnant of Israel would be cleansed from their sins and freed from their fears. All nations will join in worshiping the Lord (3:9-20).

Nahum (shortly before 612).

The main religious teaching of Nahum is that, though God is slow to anger, He does eventually judge the nations through the events of history, in this case the destruction of Nineveh in 612. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrians, who had terrorized and plundered the Near E for two hundred years. The obverse message is that by the downfall of Assyria God was bringing peace and freedom to the countries Assyria had oppressed, particularly to Judah (1:15).

Habakkuk (soon after 605).

Jeremiah (later 7th and early 6th centuries, of a priestly family in Anathoth).

Among the figures Jeremiah uses to describe God are: the fountain of living waters (2:13), the potter with Israel the clay (18:1-12), the husband of Israel (2:2), and the father of the nation (3:19).

The cure for Israel’s sin is repentance and a cleansed heart (4:14). No prophet more insistently calls the people to return to God (3:12-14; 4:1-4; 18:11). Jeremiah seems to have supported the reforms of Josiah based on a return to God’s law (22:15, 16), but later Jeremiah became convinced that the people would not repent any more than a leopard would change its spots (13:23).

Because of Israel’s sins and lack of repentance, God has sent and will send judgments upon them. In 14:1-6, 12 a drought and a famine in Judah are described as such a judgment. Jerusalem will be beseiged by an enemy (1:13-16; 4:11-22), in ch. 25 identified as Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, who is God’s servant to chastise Judah. The whole land of Israel will become a ruin, and Judah and other nations will serve the king of Babylon for a period.

In predicting capture and captivity for his people Jeremiah came in conflict with the false prophets who promised peace when no peace was morally or politically possible (6:13-15; 8:10-12). Such prophets are prophesying lies which come from their own minds, not from God (14:14-18; 23:9-40; 27; 28). Events proved that Jeremiah was right and these prophets were wrong.

Jeremiah looks forward to Israel’s return to Pal. after the Exile (30:17-22; 32:9-44; 33:9-12). This return will be not only geographical but also a spiritual return to the Lord in penitence (31:16-20).

Jehoiakim (609-598).

This king persecuted the true prophets and rejected their messages. He killed the prophet Uriah because the latter warned of coming judgment on Judah (Jer 26:20-23). Jeremiah’s scroll denouncing Judah’s sins and calling for repentance was cut up and burned by Jehoiakim, who vainly tried to arrest the prophet (36:20-26).

Zedekiah (597-587) and the religious interpretation of the fall of Jerusalem.

Israel’s main religious beliefs

About God and His relationships


Israel’s God was a dynamic and articulate God who spoke to men and manifested Himself to men in many different ways. God shows His power and wisdom generally through nature, which is His creation, and through His deeds in history. In nature the heavens are telling the glory of God (Ps 19:1). After describing the winds and the rain, the plants and the animals, the psalmist exclaims, “O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom thou hast made them all” (104:24). In history God shows His control over men and nations and events; for example, in the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, the saving of Jerusalem from the Assyrians in the time of Hezekiah, and the punitive destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans in the time of Zedekiah.

In special revelations God sometimes shows Himself in visible manifestations, theophanies. For example, he appears to Abraham in human form, receives Abraham’s hospitality, and talks with him (Gen 18). Sometimes God appears, for example to Moses (Exod 3:2), as “the angel of the Lord” who identifies himself with God (v. 6). A more vague manifestation of God is His “glory,” which on Sinai resembled fire (Exod 24:16, 17).

God sometimes reveals His will or the future by dreams or visions. Dreamers are recognized in the law as recipients of messages from God (Deut 13:1-5), and Solomon received God’s promise of wisdom in a dream (1 Kings 3:5). A vision is some supernatural seeing, as when Isaiah had the vision of the Lord in the Temple (Isa 6).

Israelites also believed that God revealed His will through the Urim and Thummim, small objects which were kept in the breastplate of the high priest’s ephod (Exod 28:30). These sacred lots were used to decide between alternatives (1 Sam 14:41). With the rise of personal prophetism in Israel, the more mechanical Urim and Thummim were less used.

Sometimes God’s revelation was spoken in words like the Decalogue (Exod 20:1). Moses is said to have written God’s words (24:3, 4).

Most noteworthy in Israel was inspiration, internal and personal revelation to and through prophets. The prophet was God’s messenger, God’s mouthpiece (Jer 15:19). So the prophet could say, “Thus says the Lord” (e.g. Amos 1:3 and often). There were prophets, for example, in ancient Byblos and Mari; but their function was to offer advice in specific situations. The depth and breadth of the theological and ethical teaching of Israel’s prophets are unmatched in the ancient Near E.

The activities of God.

Many of God’s statements about Himself (e.g. Josh 24:2-13) and many of Israel’s confessions of faith (e.g. Deut 26:5-15) deal primarily with God’s actions.

a. Strong deliverer. In the introduction to the Decalogue God says, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exod 20:2). God is also the deliverer of the believer from enemies, as in the case of David (Ps 18), and from sickness, as with Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:1-11).

b. Creator. The Decalogue states that God created the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them (Exod 20:11). God created by His word (Gen 1:3 and often), by His spirit (Ps 104:30), and by wisdom (Prov 8:22-31). New life depends on the continued creative activity of God (Ps 104:30).

c. Provider. The Israelites in offering the first fruits of the harvest acknowledged that God was the ultimate giver of crops (Deut 26:10). God also provides for special needs as He gave water, manna, and quail to the Israelites in the wilderness.

d. Lord and ruler. God controls the forces of nature, as in the plagues of Egypt. He directs the lives of individuals, commissioning Moses to free the Israelites (Exod 3; 4). He manages the nations, bringing the Israelites from Egypt and the Philistines from Caphtor (Amos 9:7). God’s kingdom rules over all (Ps 103:19).

Qualities of God.

a. Power. The power of God over nature and men is shown in such acts as creation, the Flood, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the provision of water and manna for the Israelites in the wilderness. The regular forces of nature, such as the wind and the rain also are demonstrations of His power (Ps 104). Thus His power is used morally, sometimes in the provision for men’s needs, sometimes in saving the righteous, sometimes in judgment on the wicked.

b. Knowledge. God knows the actions and even the thoughts of every individual (Ps 139:1-6). Since God knows the future, He can declare to His prophets things to come (1 Sam 10:2-6; 2 Kings 19:7, 32-34). “His understanding is beyond measure” (Ps 147:5).

c. Omnipresence. God is active everywhere through His Spirit (Ps 139:7). He is a God at hand, filling heaven and earth (Jer 23:23, 24). Because God is everywhere, no image can adequately represent Him or localize Him.

d. Eternity. “From everlasting to everlasting thou art God” (Ps 90:2). “Thou, O Lord, art enthroned for ever” (102:12).

e. Moral attributes. A list of God’s moral attributes which reveal His “name” or personality is found in Exodus 34:6, 7: merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, forgiving, and punishing iniquity. It is noteworthy that this list stresses the goodness much more than the wrath of God.

f. Holiness. The holiness of God is His “otherness and perfection when compared with all created things” (Eichrodt, I, p. 273). Holiness expresses the awesome superiority of God not only in power but also in goodness (Lev 19:2; Isa 5:16; 6:1-5).

Nature of God.

Israelite religion is more concerned with the actions and character of God than with His essence, which remains a mystery. Two aspects of God’s nature are apparent in His revelations to Israel:

a. God is personal. He plans, He loves and hates, He acts. He speaks, hears, and sees. He is living (Deut 5:26). Yahweh here differs from the pagan gods, who often are only personifications of natural forces. Some have said that Israel’s God was anthropomorphic, like man. In Israelite terms this likeness is expressed by the reverse comparison: man is theomorphic, like God in personality.

b. God is one. Here also Israelite religion differed from the surrounding polytheisms. The oneness of Yahweh, taken in conjunction with His activities such as creator and ruler of all, certainly implies monotheism, which becomes explicit in Amos and Isaiah. If Yahweh is the only real God, He cannot but be jealous of the worship of idols, which are no gods. Finally, though God is one, some references in the OT to His spirit, His word, His wisdom, and to the angel of the Lord imply a complexity in the divine unity.

God and the world.

God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them (Gen 1). He also controls the world and supports its creatures and ongoing processes (Gen 8:12; Job 38-41; Pss 74:16, 17; 104). In the Messianic kingdom peace will be established among animals as well as among men (Isa 11:6-9).

God and angels.

God sends superhuman creatures called angels as His messengers to encourage and protect the righteous (Josh 5:13-15; Ps 34:7) or to destroy the wicked (2 Sam 24:16; 2 Kings 19:35). Angels also offer praise to God (Ps 148:2). The ministers of God called cherubim (Gen 3:24) and seraphim (Isa 6:2, 3) were later classified as angels.

God and Satan.

In the prologue of the Book of Job (whose dates of origin and of composition are uncertain) Satan, the accuser of Job and the cause of his troubles, acts only by permission of God. God finally turns Satan’s evil to a good end for Job. Two preexilic figures were later identified with Satan: the tempting serpent in the garden of Eden (Gen 3) and Day Star fallen from heaven (Isa 14:12). The doctrine of Satan was more developed in postexilic times. See Satan.

God and man.

God made man, male and female, in His image. One aspect of man’s likeness to God is the dominion God has given Him over the earth and its creatures (Gen 1:27, 28). Man is intended to obey, worship, and love God (Deut 6:4, 5). Man has rebelled against God (Gen 3), but if a person confesses his sin and repents from the heart, God will forgive him (Pss 32; 51).

God and suffering.

God and Israel.

God’s election of Israel began with the call and promises of blessing to their ancestor Abraham. God gave to Israel special privileges in the Exodus, the Covenant at Sinai to be their God, the law, and in the conquest of Canaan. God’s special concern for Israel also was shown in the warnings and instruction of the prophets. The prophets interpreted the exile as a punishment of Israel’s sins, but also promised that a remnant would return.

God and the nations.

About Israel’s duty to God

Obedience to law and wisdom.

The law, which has been outlined above (I. A. 3. b), and the wisdom of Proverbs, both come from God. While the law deals primarily with religious and civil matters, Proverbs emphasizes personal affairs, like family relationships, friendship, honesty, industriousness, chastity, and sobriety. The fear and love of God and love and justice to one’s neighbor are basic principles of both law and wisdom (Deut 6:4; Lev 19:18; Prov 1:7).


The rituals, place, and priestly personnel of sacrificial worship as found in Exodus and Leviticus are outlined above (I. A. 3. b. 2). Sacrifices had the value of teaching the need for confession, atonement, forgiveness, dedication, and fellowship with God. The prophets stressed obedience (1 Sam 15:22) and steadfast love (Hos 6:6) as more basic requirements than sacrifice. According to Psalm 51:17 the sacrifice God most desires from a sinner is a contrite heart.

About the future

Future life.

The Judgment.

The time of final judgment is called “the day of the Lord” or “the day.” All nations will be included in this judgment, and all God’s enemies will be destroyed (Isa 13:9-16; 24:21, 22; Zeph 1:14-18; 3:8).

The Messianic kingdom.

Conclusion: Permanent and temporary in the religion of Israel

Some aspects of the religion of Israel are of permanent validity for the Christian. First is the OT teaching about God, that He is one, personal, good and just, that He created and rules the world, guides human history, and answers prayer. Another is the Israelite belief about man, that he was created in the image of God, that he is a sinner, that he can be forgiven and transformed by the grace of God. The moral law is the best guide to satisfying individual and social life. The hope of the Israelite, like that of the Christian, is that God’s kingdom will come. The above beliefs are assumed in the NT and are basic for understanding the NT.

From a Christian standpoint, some temporary aspects of Israelite religion have been abolished or fulfilled in the NT. The oftrepeated sacrifices of animals have been fulfilled in the one sacrifice of Christ. The sometimes narrow nationalism of Israel has given way to the conviction that Jew and Gentile can be united in Christ. The OT concern with ceremonial defilement is replaced in the NT by an emphasis on moral purity. The distinction between clean and unclean foods which separated Israelites from Gentiles is no longer appropriate in the international fellowship of the Church. The old covenant with its law written on stone has been replaced by a new covenant whose law of love is written on the heart. The dimness of the OT view of immortality has been illuminated by the resurrection of Christ. The Israelite hope that the Messiah would come has become reality in Jesus, Emmanuel, “God with us” (Matt 1:23).

The prophetic promise of the outpouring of God’s Spirit (Joel 2:28, 29) has been fulfilled in Pentecost (Acts 2) and in the continuing experience of God’s people in the Church.


G. E. Wright, The Old Testament against Its Environment (1950); J. Muilenberg, “The History of the Religion of Israel,” IB, I (1952), 292-348; G. E. Wright, “The Faith of Israel,” IB, I (1952), 349-389; G. E. Wright, God Who Acts (1952); W. F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel, 3rd ed. (1953); H. H. Rowley, The Faith of Israel (1956); W. F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity, 2nd ed. rev. (1957); B. W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament (1957); E. Jacob, Theology of the Old Testament, tr. A. W. Heathcote, P. J. Allcock (1958); T. C. Vriezen, An Outline of Old Testament Theology, tr. S. Neuijen (1958); Y. Kaufmann, The Religion of Israel from Its Beginnings to the Babylonian Exile, tr. M. Greenberg (1960); W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, tr. J. A. Baker, I (1961), II (1967); R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, Its Life and Institutions, tr. J. McHugh (1961); G. von Rad, Old Testament Theology, tr. D. M. G. Stalker, I (1962), II (1965); H. J. Kraus, Worship in Israel, tr. G. Buswell (1966); H. Ringgren, Israelite Religion, tr. D. E. Green (1966); H. H. Rowley, Worship in Ancient Israel (1967); T. C. Vriezen, The Religion of Ancient Israel, tr. H. Hoskins (1967); W. F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan (1968); J. N. Schofield, Law, Prophets, and Writings, The Religion of the Books of the Old Testament (1969); G. E. Wright, The Old Testament and Theology (1969).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)



1. Pre-Mosaic Religion of the Ancestors of Israel

(1) The Traditional View

(2) The Modern View

(3) A Higher Conception of the Deity; ’ilu, ’el

(4) Totemism, Animism, etc.

(5) Conception of God

(6) Cult

2. The Mosaic Covenant with Yahweh

(1) The Covenant-Idea

(2) The Covenant-God, Yahweh

(3) Monotheism of Moses

(4) Impossibility of Representing Yahweh by an Image

(5) Ethical Character of the God of Moses

(6) The Theocracy

(7) The Mosaic Cult

3. The nodetitle before the 8th Century BC

(1) Decay of Religion in Canaan

(2) The Theocratic Kingdom

(3) Religious Ideals of the Psalms from the Time of David

(4) Wisdom Literature from the Time of Solomon

(5) The Sanctuary on Mt. Zion

(6) The Religion of the Kingdom of Ephraim

(7) Elijah and Elisha

4. Development of the Religion of Israel from the 8th Century BC to the Exile

(1) The Writing Prophets

(2) Their Opposition to the Cult

(3) Their Preaching of the Judgment

(4) Their Messianic Promises

(5) Reformations

(6) Destruction of Jerusalem

5. The Babylonian Exile

(1) Spiritual Purification through the Exile

(2) Relations to the Gentile World

6. Religion of the Post-exilic Period

(1) Life under the Law

(2) Hellenism

(3) Pharisees and Sadducees

(4) Essenes

(5) Positive Connections between Judaism and Hellenism

(6) Apocalyptic Literature


1. The Living God

2. The Relation of Man to This God


I. Introduction: Historical Consideration of the Religion of Israel

In former times it was the rule to draw out of the nodetitle its religious contents only for dogmatic purposes, without making any distinction between the different books. These writings were all regarded as the documents of the Divine revelation which had been given to this people alone and not to others. At the present time the first inquiry in the study of these books deals historically with the religious development of the Israelites. This religion was not of a strictly uniform nature, but is characterized by a development and a growth, and in the centuries which are covered by the Old Testament books it has passed through many changes. Then, too, in the different periods of this development there were various religious trends among the people and very different degrees in the extent of their religious knowledge. The common people were at times still entangled in crude heathen ideas, while the bearers of a higher Divine light ranked vastly above them. And even in those times, when these enlightened teachers secured full recognition, there occurred relapses into lower forms of religion on the part of the masses, especially because the influence of the nations surrounding Israel at all times made itself felt in the religious life and thoughts of the latter. And even when the correct teachings were accepted by the people, a malformation of the entire religion could readily occur through a petrifaction of the religious life. It is the business of the science of the history of religion to furnish a correct picture of this development, which in this article can be done only in the form of a sketch.

One of the recent results of the science of the history of religion is the knowledge that the religion of Israel itself, and not merely the corruptions of this religion, stood in a much closer connection with other religions than had in former times been supposed. The wealth of new data from the history of oriental nations lately secured has shown that it is not correct to regard the religion of Israel as an isolated phenomenon, but that considerable light is thrown upon it from analogous facts from surrounding regions. Of especial importance in this respect is the study of Assyrian and Bah antiquities, with their rich and illustrative monuments, and, by the side of these, also those of Egypt; and, further, although these are indeed much smaller in number, the inscriptions and monuments of a number of peoples situated much nearer to Israel and ethnologically more closely connected with them, such as the Moabites, Arameans, Arabians, Canaanites, Phoenicians, and others. For later times, Parsiism is an especially important factor.

These antiquities have shown that between the religion of Israel and the religions of these nations there existed such close connections that a relationship between them cannot be denied. It is indeed true that these similarities are mostly of a formal nature, but they nevertheless point to similar conceptions of the Divine Being and of the relation of man to this Being. We find such connecting links in the cult, in the traditions concerning the creation of the world, concerning the earliest history of man kind, etc.; further, in the conception of what is legally right and of the customs of life; in the ideas concerning death and the world beyond; concerning the souls of men and the supernatural spiritual world, and elsewhere. These analogies and related connections have appeared so pronounced to some savants, especially Assyriologists, that they are willing to find in the religion of the Israelites and Jews only a reflection of the Babylonian, or of what they call the "religion of the ancient Orient." But over against this claim, a closer and deeper investigation shows that a higher world of thought and ideals at all times permeates the Israelite religion and gives to it a unique character and a Divine truth, which is lacking in all other religions and which made Israel’s religion capable of becoming the basis of that highest Divine revelation which through Christ came forth from it. We will here briefly sketch the progress of the development of this religion, and then formulate a summary of those characteristics which distinguish it from the other religions.

II. Historical Outline.

1. Pre-Mosaic Religion of the Ancestors of Israel:

(1) The Traditional View.

The sources for this period are meager. Yet what has been reported concerning the religion of the period of the Patriarchs is enough to give us a picture of their conception of the Deity. And this picture is more deserving of acceptance than is the representation of the matter by the traditional dogmatics of the church and also that of those modern scholars who are under the spell of the evolutionary idea, and who undertake to prove in the Biblical history of Israel the complete development from the lowest type of fetishism and animism to the heights of ethical monotheism. The views of the old church teachers were to the effect that the doctrine concerning the one true God had been communicated by God to Adam in its purity and perfection, and by him had been handed through an unbroken chain of true confessors of the faith (Seth, Noah, etc.), down to Abraham. But this view does not find confirmation in the Biblical record. On the contrary, in Jos 24:2,15, it is even expressly stated of the ancestors of Abraham that they had worshipped strange gods in Chaldea. And the ancestors of the people, Abraham, Jacob, and others, do not appear on the stage of history with teachable creed, but themselves first learn to know gradually, in the school of life, the God whom they serve, after He has made Himself known to them in extraordinary manifestations. Abraham does not yet know that Yahweh does not demand any human sacrifices. Jacob still has the narrow view, that the place where he has slept is the entrance portal to heaven (Ge 28:16,17). Omnipresence and omniscience are not yet attributes which they associate with their idea of the Divinity. They still stand on a simple-minded and primitive stage, as far as their knowledge of the living God is concerned.

(2) The Modern View.

Over against this, modern scholars describe pre-Mosaic Israel as yet entirely entangled in Semitic heathen ideas, and even regard the religion of the people in general, in the post-Mosaic period down to the 8th century BC, as little better than this, since in their opinion the Yahweh-religion had not thoroughly permeated the ranks of the common people, and had practically remained the possession of the men, while the women had continued to cultivate the ancient customs and views. W. R. Smith and Wellhausen have pointed to customs and ideas of the pre-Islamic Arabs, and S.I. Curtiss to such in the modern life of oriental tribes, which are claimed to have been the property of the most ancient Semitic heathen tribes, and these scholars use these as the key for the ancient Israelite rites and customs. But even if much light is thrown from these sources on the forms of life and cult as depicted by the Scriptures, much caution must be exercised in the use made of this material. In the first place, neither those Arabs of the 6th century AD, nor their successors of today, can be regarded as "primitive Semites." In the second place, it is a question, even if in the earliest period of Israel such customs are actually found, what they really signified for the tribe of Abraham. We are here not speaking of a prehistoric religion, but of the religion of that tribe that came originally from Ur of the Chaldees, and migrated first by way of Haran to Canaan, and then to Egypt. In this tribe such primitive customs, perhaps, had long been spiritualized. For these Hebrews cannot be regarded as being as uncivilized as are the New Zealanders, or the Indians of North America, or those Bedouins who have never left the desert; for they had lived in Babylonia for a long period, even if, while there, they had withdrawn themselves as much as possible from the more cultured life of the cities. The patriarchs were in touch with the civilization of the Babylonians. We do not, indeed, want to lay special stress on the fact that they lived in Ur and in Haran, two cities of the moon-god, the worship of which divinity shows monotheistic tendencies. But the history of the family of Abraham, e.g. his relation to Sarah and Hagar, shows indisputable influence of Babylonian legal ideas. Probably, too, the traditions concerning the beginnings of history, such as the Creation, the Deluge, and the like, were brought from Babylon to Canaan by the tribe of Abraham.

(3) A Higher Conception of the Deity; ’ilu, ’el.

But this tribe had come to Babylonia from Northern Arabia. It is a very important fact that the oldest Arabian inscriptions, namely the Minaean and the Sabean, lead us to conclude that these tribes entertained a relatively high conception of the Deity, as has been shown by Professor Fritz Hommel. The oldest Arabian proper names are not found combined with names of all kinds of gods, but with the simple ’ilu, ’el, or God, or with ’ili, "my God." Then, too, God is often circumscribed by the nouns expressing relationship, such as ’abhi, "my father," or ’achi, "my brother," or ’ammi, "my uncle," and others, which express an intimate relationship between man and his God. Corresponding to these are also the old Semitic proper names in Canaan, as also the name Abraham, i.e. ’Abhiram, "my father is exalted," or Ishmael, and many others. We accordingly must believe that the ancestors of Abraham immigrated into Babylon with a comparatively highly developed religion and with a uniform conception of God. Here their faith may have been unfavorably influenced, and it is not impossible that the religious disagreement between the patriarch and his neighbors may have been a reason for his migration. Abraham himself is regarded by the Canaanites as a "friend of God," who stands in an intimate relationship with his God, and he is accordingly to be regarded, not merely as a secular, but also as a religious tribal head, an Imam, a prophetical personality.

(4) Totemism; Animism, etc.

Still less is it correct to ascribe to this tribe the lowest religious stage possible, namely that of fetishism or of totemism (worship of demons or worship of animals) and the like. Some think they find evidences of the worship of animals in Israel. The fact that some Israelites were regarded as descendants of Leah ("wild cow"(?)), others of Rachel ("mother sheep"), is claimed to refer to the fact that these animals were totems of the tribe, i.e. were worshipped as ancestors. But for this claim there is no scintilla of proof. These names of women, especially in the case of a nomadic tribe, can be explained in a much more simple way. The calves that appear in later times as images of Yahweh are just as little a proof for the claim that calves were worshipped by the ancestors of Israel as divinities. We read nothing of such an image before the sojourn in Egypt, and after that time this image was always regarded symbolically. The fact, again, that from the days of Moses, and without a doubt earlier than this, certain animals were not allowed to be eaten, does not justify the conclusion which Professor B. Stade and others have drawn from it, namely, that these animals were in olden times regarded as divine (tabu), and for that reason were not permitted to be eaten, and only afterward were avoided as "unclean." The list of unclean animals in Le 11 and De 14 speaks for an altogether different reason for regarding them as unclean. It is not at all thinkable that these many, and as a rule unclean and low class of animals, were at one time accorded divine honor, while the higher and cleaner class had been excluded from this distinction. We have accordingly no reason for finding animal worship here. On the other hand, it is self-evident, in the case of such an old nomadic tribe, that man stood in a more familiar relationship to his animals, and for this reason the slaughter of these was a more significant matter than was afterward the case. This was done only on extraordinary occasions, and it readily was accorded a religious consecration.

See also TOTEMISM.

The idea is also emphatically to be rejected, that in the pre-Mosaic period mere animism prevailed in Israel--the worship of spirits and of demons. It has been tried in vain to show that in the most primitive period of Israel’s religion the worship of ancestors occupied a prominent place. As Professor Emil Kautzsch has emphasized, the arguments which have been drawn from the mourning customs of the Israelites in favor of this claim (as this is done by F. Schwally, Das Leben nach dem Tode, nach den Vorstellungen des alten Israel und des Judentums, Giessen, 1892) are altogether inadequate, as is also the appeal to the marriage with a deceased wife’s sister, as though the purpose of the institution was to secure for the deceased who had died without issue somebody who would attend to his worship. Because of the strongly developed mundane character of the religious life in Israel, it is natural that it was regarded as a calamity if there was no issue who kept alive the memory of the departed in the tribe. But even if the argument from the mourning customs of Israel were more convincing than is actually the case, and that gifts, such as food, oil, and the like, were placed in the tomb of the departed, as was often done by the Canaanites, yet this would be in the ancient Israelite religion a matter of subordinate importance, which could readily be explained on the ground of natural feelings. It could never be made to appear plausible that all religions had grown out of such a cult. If the teraphim are to be regarded as having been originally images of ancestors, which is quite plausible, then they would indeed represent a continuous ancestral cult, as the people evidently kept these images in their houses in order to attract to themselves blessings, to avert misfortunes and to secure oracles. But these dolls, modeled after the form of human beings, already in the period of the Patriarchs were regarded as a foreign element and in contradiction to the more earnest religious sentiments (compare Ge 31:19; 35:2,4).

That Israel, like all ancient peoples, did at one time pass through an "animistic" stage of religious development could best be proved, if at all, from their conception of the soul. Among the purifications those are especially necessary which are demanded by the presence of a dead body in the same room with the living, as the living are defiled by the soul of the deceased in leaving the body (Nu 19:14). Even the uncovered vessels are defiled by his soul-substance (Nu 19:15). This, however, is a biological conception, which has nothing to do with the conception of the Deity.

Or are those perhaps right, who think that the primitive Israelites had accepted animism in this sense, that they did not as yet worship any actual divinities, but only a multitude of spirits or demons, be these ghosts of departed human beings or the spirits of Nature, local numina? In favor of this last-mentioned view, appeal is made to this fact, that in the ancient Semitic world local divinities with very circumscribed spheres of power are very often to be met with, especially at springs, trees, oases, at which a demon or divinity is regarded as having his abode, who is described as the ba`al or master in this place; compare such local names as Baal-tamar, Baal-hermon, and others. Such local spirits would then be the ’elohim, out of which would grow more mighty divinities of whole cities and countries. To these it would be necessary yet to add those spirits which were worshipped by individual tribes, partly spirits of ancestors, who also could have grown into higher divinities, while the rest of the mass of deities, good and bad, had to content themselves with a lower rank.

As against this, we must above all consider the fact that in ancient Israel the demons played a very subordinate role. The contrast in this regard with Babylonia is phenomenal. It is probably the case that at all periods in Israel there existed a belief in unclean spirits, who perhaps lived in the desert (compare the se`irim), or in the demoniacs, and could otherwise, too, do much harm. But they are not described as having much influence on man’s life. How few indications of such a view can be found and how little most of these indications prove we can see in the work of H. Duhm, Die bosch Geister im Altes Testament, Tubingen, 1906. After the Babylonian exile, and still more after the longer sojourn of the Israelites in Babylon, their imagination was to a much greater degree than before saturated by the faith in spirits. Then the closer study of such Semitic be`alim teaches us that they were not originally conceived in such a narrow sense. They are very often of a solar nature, celestial powers who have their abode at a particular place, and there produce fertility, but in this special function represent a general power of Nature. The same is the case with the tribal divinities. These are by no means merely the personifications of the small power of a particular tribe, but claim to be absolute beings, which shows that they are regarded as higher divinities which the tribe has appropriated and adapted to its own political ideas. We accordingly have no right to think that such a divinity was to be regarded as really confined to a particular hill, or even to a certain stone or tree where it was worshipped. The rock or stone or tree divinities of the ancient Arabs are celestial powers, who have only taken their abode at these places, even if popular superstition did actually identify them with such stones or trees.

It is therefore a misconception of the actual state of affairs when the conclusion is drawn that stone-worship is meant when Jacob erects a stone monument, the matstsebhah at Bethel, and anoints it with oil, and when this is understood to be a low type of fetishism. Stones are to the present day, for the wandering tribes, the signs by which important localities, especially sacred places, are designated. The symbolical significance of such stones may be quite different, as also the relation which a divinity is thought to sustain to such a stone monument. For this reason, too, the judgment of the Bible concerning such objects is quite different. Only then, when they are symbols of idolatry, as the chammanim, i.e representations of the sun-god, ba`al chamman, are they everywhere rejected in the Old Testament. In the same way a mighty tree, especially if it is found near a spring of water, is in the Orient, by its very nature, a proof of the life-producing God. Such a tree naturally suggests that it is a place where divine life can be felt. Trees that have been made sacred by manifestations of the divinities or have been consecrated by the memory of a great personality, especially the oak, the terebinth, the palm, were regarded as favorite places beneath which the divinity was sought. Only in that case, as was indeed common in Canaan, when the unhallowed powers of Nature were here adored, was this custom reprehensible in the eyes of the prophets. The ’asherim, too, are of a decidedly heathen character, as these trunks of trees were symbols of the goddess Ashera. Further, it was a favorite custom to worship the divinities on the high places, for the reason that they were regarded as in or attached to the heavens. Only because of the heathen worship which was practiced on these bamoth were they, in later times, so hateful to the prophets.

(5) Conception of God.

In answer to the question, what ideas the patriarchs, the pre-Mosaic leaders of the people of Israel, entertained concerning God, attention must first of all be drawn to the fact that God spoke to some of these personally, be this in one form of manifestation or in another. These men heard the word of God with their own ears, and that, too, in the most important moments of their lives. In the case of Abraham, these revelations are fundamental for him and for his people. The prophetic factor, which goes through the entire history of Israel and constitutes the life-principle that fills its religion and causes its further development, is at the very first beginnings the source whence the knowledge of God is taken. This presupposes a personal God; and, as a matter of fact, a fixed personality is demanded by the character of such a God. His "I" impresses itself upon man with absolute power and demands his service entirely. This "I" constantly remains the same, and everywhere evinces the same power, be this in Haran or in Canaan or in Egypt, and whether it manifests itself to Abraham or to Isaac or to Jacob. This oneness is not formulated as a didactic proposition, but as a living reality: only this God existed for His adherents. These appeal to Him at all times with equal success. The manifestations of this God may be of a different kind at different times. He is even entertained, on one occasion, as a personal guest by His friend Abraham, together with two companions (Ge 18:1 ). On another occasion (Ge 15:17) Abraham beholds Him in symbolical form as a burning and fiery furnace (probably to be regarded as similar to the movable altar discovered by Sellin in Taanach). But these are to be regarded as special favors shown by God. In general it was the rule that God could not be seen without the beholder suffering death. Then, too, the conviction is very old, that what man sees in the case of such theophanies cannot have been God Himself, but that He had manifested Himself through a subordinate agent, an angel (this is particularly the case in the document E in Genesis). This angel, however, has no significance in himself, but is only the creature-veil, out of which God Himself speaks in the first person. In the most elementary manner this formal limitation of God appears in Ge 11:5, where He goes to the trouble of descending from heaven in order to look at something on earth; and in 18:21, when He desires to go to Sodom personally, in order to convince Himself that what He has intended to send upon this city is also the right thing. It is indeed possible to find in the first instance some traits of irony, and possibly in the second case the epic details may have added something. However, God is no longer spoken of in such a human way in the post-Mosaic times. This shows that the document J (Jahwist) at this place contains material that is very old. All the more is it to be noted what exalted conceptions of God prevail already in these narratives. He dwells in heaven (11:5; 19:24), something that has without reason been claimed not to have been the idea entertained in the older period. He is the God of the world, who exercises supremacy over all the nations. He rules with justice, checks pride, avenges injustice, and that, too, not only in a summary manner on whole countries, but also in such a way that He takes into consideration every individual and saves the one just man out of the midst of the mass of sinners (18:25; 19). In short, He is already the true God, although yet incompletely and primitively grasped in His attributes.

This God, ruling with omnipotent power in Nature and history, has entered into a special relationship with the tribe of Abraham. He has become the Covenant-God of the patriarch, according to the testimony of the old document J in Ge 15. We accordingly find here already the consciousness that that God who rules over the world has entered into a special relationship with one small nation or tribe. This fact appears also in this, that Abram (Ge 14) acknowledges the highest God of the priest-king Melchizedek (Ge 14:20 ) as his God, as the founder of heaven and of earth, and identifies Him with his own Covenant-God Yahweh.

(6) Cult.

As far as the cult is concerned, it can be stated that at this period it was still of simple, but solemn and dignified character. The people preferred to worship their God at such places where He had manifested Himself, usually on high place, on which an altar had been erected. There were no images of the Divinity extant. As the word mizbeach, "altar," shows, the sacrifices were usually bloody. Human sacrifice had already in the days of Abraham been overcome by the substitution of an animal, although in olden times it may have been practiced, perhaps, as the sacrifice of the firstborn; and in later times, too, through the influence of the example of heathen nations, it may have found its way into Israel now and then. Both larger and smaller animals were sacrificed, as also fowls. The idea that prevailed in this connection was that God, too, enjoyed the food which served man as his sustenance, although God, in a finer way, experienced as a pleasure only the scent of the sacrifices, as this ascended in the flame and the smoke (Ge 8:21). But the main thing was the blood as the substratum of the soul. The fruits of the field, especially the first-fruits, were also offered. Of liquid offerings, it is probable that in primitive times water was often brought, as this was often a costly possession; and in Canaan, oil, which the inhabitants of this country employed extensively in their sacrifices (Jud 9:9, something that is confirmed also by recent excavations); also wine (Jud 9:13). As the ancient burnt or whole sacrifices (Ge 8:20) give expression to reverence, thankfulness, the prayer for protection or the granting of certain favors, the people from the very beginning also instituted sacrificial feasts, which gave expression to the covenant with God, the communion with the Covenant-God. In this act the sacrifice was divided between God and those who sacrificed. The latter ate and drank joyously before God after the parts dedicated to Him had been sacrificed, and especially after the blood had been poured around the altar. The idea that this was the original form of the sacrifice and that gift-sacrifices were introduced only at a later period when agriculture had been introduced is not confirmed by historical evidences. That man felt himself impelled, by bringing to his God gifts of the best things he possessed, to express his dependence and gratitude, is too natural not to have been from the beginning a favorite expression of religious feeling. In connection with the sacrifices the name of God was solemnly called upon. J even says that this was the name Yahweh (Ge 4:25), while E (Elohist) and P (Priestly Code) tell us that this name came into use only through Moses.

According to P (Ge 17:10 ), circumcision was already introduced by Abraham in his tribe as the sign of the covenant. There are good reasons why the introduction of this custom is not like that of so many other ceremonies attributed to Moses. The custom was without doubt of an older origin. From whatever source it may have been derived in its earlier ethnological stage, for the Israelites circumcision is an act of purification and of consecration for connection with the congregation of Yahweh. A special priesthood, however, did not yet exist in this period, as the head of the family and of the tribe exercised the priestly functions and rights (compare Ge 35:1 ff), although the peoples inhabiting Canaan at that time had priests (Ge 14:18).

2. The Mosaic Covenant with Yahweh:

(1) The Covenant-Idea.

Israel claims that its existence as a nation and its special relation to Yahweh begins with its exodus from Egypt and with the conclusion of the covenant at Mt. Sinai (compare Am 3:2; 9:7). As the preparation for this relation goes back to one individual, namely, Abraham, thus it is Moses through whom God delivered His people from bondage and received them into His covenant (see concerning Moses as a prophet and mediator of the covenant, ISRAEL, HISTORY OF). It is a matter of the highest significance for the religion of Israel that the relation of this people to Yahweh was not one which existed by the nature of things, as was the case with the other oriental tribal and national religions, but that it was the outgrowth of a historical event, in which their God had united Himself with them. The conception of a covenant, upon which Yahweh entered as a matter of free choice and will, and to which the people voluntarily gave their assent, is not an idea of later date in the religious history of Israel, which grew out of the prophetic thoughts of the 8th and 7th centuries BC, as has been claimed, but is found, as has been made prominent by Professor French Giesebrecht (Die Geschichtlichkeit des Sinaibundes, 1900), already in the oldest accounts of the conclusion of the covenant (E, J), and must be ascribed to the Mosaic age. This includes the fact, too, that this covenant, which unites Yahweh with Israel, could not be of an indissoluble character, but that the covenant was based on certain conditions. The superficial opinion of the people might often cause them to forget this. But the prophets could, in later times, base their proclamations on this fact. Further, the thought is made very prominent that this covenant imposed ethical duties. While the divinities of other nations, Egyptian Babylonian, Phoenician, demanded primarily that their devotees should erect temples in their honor and should bring them an abundance of sacrifices, in Israel the exalted and ethical commandment is found in the forefront. The covenant relation to the God of Israel can legitimately be found only where the relation to one’s fellow-man is normal and God-pleasing (Decalogue).

(2) The Covenant-God, Yahweh.

The special revelation which Moses received is characterized by the word Yahweh (Yahweh) as a name for God. This name, according to the well-authenticated report of Ex 6:3 (P), which is supported also by E, had not been "known" to the fathers. This does not necessarily mean that nothing had been known of this name. Babylonian prayers often speak of an "unknown god," and in doing this refer to a god with whom those who prayed had not stood in personal relation. The God of the fathers appeared to Moses, but under a name which was not familiar to the fathers nor was recognized by them. In agreement with this is the fact that only from the time of Moses proper names compounded with some abbreviation of Yahweh, such as Yah, Yahu, Yeho, are found, but soon after this they became very common. Accordingly, it would be possible that such names were in scattered cases found also before the days of Moses among the tribes of Israel, and it is not impossible that this name was familiar to other nations. The Midianites especially, who lived originally at Mt. Sinai, have been mentioned in this connection, and also the Kenites (Stade, Budde), some scholars appealing for this claim to the influence which, according to Ex 18, Jethro had on the institutions of Moses. However, the matters mentioned here refer only to legal procedure (compare 18:14 ff). We nowhere hear that Moses took over the Yahweh-worship from this tribe. On the contrary, Jethro begins only at this time (Ex 18:11) to worship Yahweh, the God of Moses, and the common sacrificial meal, according to 18:12, did not take place in the presence of Yahweh, but, accommodating it to the guest, in the presence of Elohim. Then we nowhere hear that the Kenites, who lived together with the Israelites, ever had any special prominence in the service of Yahweh, as was the case, e.g., with the Median Magi, who had charge of the priesthood among the Persians, or with the Etruscans among the Romans, who examined the entrails. Yet the Kenites would necessarily have enjoyed special authority in the Yahweh-cultus, if their tribal God had become the national God of Israel. The only thing that can be cited in favor of an Arabian origin of the name of Yahweh is the Arabic word-form, hawah, for hayah. On the other hand, a number of facts indicate that Ja or Jau as a name for God was common in Syria, Philistia and Babylonia; compare Joram, son of the king of Hamath (2Sa 8:10), and Jaubidi, the king of this city, who was removed by Sargon. In these cases, however, Israelite influences may have been felt. Friedrich Delitzsch claims to have discovered the names Jahve-ilu and Jahum-ilu on inscriptions as early as the times of Hammurabi. But his readings are sharply attacked. However this may be, the name God as proclaimed by Moses was not only something new for Israel, but was also announced by him (possibly also with a new pronunciation, Yahweh instead of Yahu) with a new signification. At any rate, the explanation in Ex 3:14 (E), "I AM THAT I AM," for doubting which we have no valid reasons, indicates a depth in the conception of God which far surpasses the current conceptions of the Syrian and the Babylonian pantheon. It would, perhaps, be easier to find analogous thoughts in Egyptian speculations. But this absolute God of Moses is not the idea of speculative priests, but is a popular God who claims to control all public as well as private life.

(3) Monotheism of Moses.

Attempts have been made to deny the monotheistic character of this God, and some have thought that the term "monolatry" would suffice to express this stage in man’s knowledge of God, since the existence of other gods was not denied, but rather was presupposed (compare passages like Ex 15:11), and it was only forbidden to worship any god in addition to Yahweh (Ex 20:3). However, this distinction is fundamental, and separates, in kind, the religion of Moses from that of the surrounding nations. For among these latter, the worship of more than one divine being at the same time was the rule. The gods of the Phoeniclans, the Arameans, and the Babylonians are, like those of the Egyptians, beings that spontaneously increase in number. They are divided into male and female groups of two, while in Hebrew there is not even a word extant for goddess, and the idea of a female companion-being to Yahweh is an impossibility. Then, too, it is characteristic of the ethnic god that he is multiplied into many be`alim, and does not feel it as a limitation or restriction when kindred divinities are associated with him. However, the Yahweh of Moses does not suffer another being at His side, for the very reason that He claims to be the absolute God. Passages like Ex 15:11, too, purpose chiefly only to express His unique character; but if He is without any equals among the gods, then He is the only one who can claim to be God; and it is in the end only the logical dogmatic formulation of the faces in the case when we are told in Deuteronomy, "Yahweh he is God; there is none else besides him" (4:35,39; 6:4; compare Ps 18:32). This does not exclude the fact that also in later times, when monotheism had been intelligently accepted, mention is still made of the gods of the heathen as of real powers (compare, e.g. Jer 49:1). This was rather the empirical method of expression, which found its objective basis in the fact that the heathen world was still in possession of some real spiritual power. Most of all, the popular faith or the superstition of the people could often regard the gods of the other nations as ruling in the same way as Yahweh did in Israel (compare, e.g. 2Ch 28:23). But the idea that the faithful worshippers of Yahweh after the days of Moses ever recognized as equal and of the same rank with their own God the gods of the heathen must be most emphatically denied, as also the claim that these Israelites assigned to Yahweh only restricted powers over a small territory. This surely would have been in flat contradiction to the well-known history of the Mosaic period, in which Yahweh had demonstrated His superiority over the famous gods of Egypt in so glorious a manner. Compare on this point James Robertson, Early Religion, 4th edition, 297 ff (against Stade).

(4) Impossibility of Representing Yahweh by an Image.

The 2nd principle which the Mosaic Decalogue establishes is that Yahweh cannot be represented by any image. In this doctrine, too, there is a conscious contrast to the nations round about Israel (in addition to Ex 20:4, compare De 5:8; also Ex 24:17). That in the last-mentioned passage only molten images are forbidden, while those hewn of stone or made of wood might be permitted, is an arbitrary claim, which is already refuted by the fact that the Mosaic sanctuary did not contain any image of Yahweh. The Ark of the Covenant was indeed a visible symbol of the presence of God, but it is a kind of throne of Him who sits enthroned invisibly above the cherubim, as has been shown above, and accordingly does not admit of any representation of God by means of an image. This continued to be the case in connection with the central sanctuary, with the exception of such aberrations as are already found in Ex 32 and which are regarded as a violation of the Covenant, also at the time when the sanctuary was stationed at Shiloh. The fact that at certain local cults Yahweh-images were worshipped is to be attributed to the influence of heathen surroundings (compare on this point J. Robertson, loc. cit., 215 ff).

(5) Ethical Character of the God of Moses.

A further attribute of the God of Moses, which exalts Him far above the ethnic divinities of the surrounding peoples, is His ethical character. This appears in the fact that His principles inculcate fundamental ethical duties and His agents are chiefly occupied with the administration of legal justice. Moses himself became the lawgiver of Israel. The spirit of this legislation is deeply ethical. Only we must not forget that Moses cannot have originated these ordinances and laws and created them as something absolutely new, but that he was compelled to build on the basis of the accepted legal customs of the people. But he purified these legal usages, which he found in use among the people, through the spirit of his knowledge of God, protected as much as possible the poor, the weak, the enslaved, and elevated the female sex, as is shown by a comparison with related Babylonian laws (Code of Hammurabi). Then, too, we must not forget that the people were comparatively uneducated, and especially that a number of crude classes had joined themselves to the people at that time, who had to be stringently handled if their corrupt customs were not to infect the whole nation. The humane and philanthropic spirit of the Mosaic legislation appears particularly pronounced in Deuteronomy, which, however, represents a later reproduction of the Mosaic system, but is entirely the outcome of Mosaic principles. Most embarrassing for our Christian feeling is the hardness of the Mosaic ordinances in reference to the heathen Canaanites, who were mercilessly to be rooted out (De 7:2; 20:16 f). Here there prevails a conception of God, which is found also among the Moabites, whose King Mesha, on his famous monument, boasts that he had slain all the inhabitants of the city of Kiriath-jearim as "a spectacle to Chemosh, the god of Moab." According to De 7:2 ff, the explanation of this hardness is to be found in the fact that such a treatment was regarded as a Divine judgment upon the worshippers of idols, and served at the same time as a preventive against the infection of idolatry.

(6) The Theocracy.

The vital principle of the organization which Moses gave to his people, Josephus (Apion, II, 16) has aptly called a theocracy, because the lawgiver has subordinated all relations of life to the government of his God. It is entirely incorrect when Wellhausen denies that there is a difference between theocracy and hierarchy. Not the priesthood, but Yahweh alone, is to rule all things in Israel, and Yahweh had many other organs or agents besides the priests, especially the prophets, who not rarely, as the representatives of the sovereign God, sharply opposed themselves to the priests. The theocratical principle, however, finds its expression in this, that public and private life, civil and criminal law, military and political matters were all controlled by religious principles.

(7) The Mosaic Cult.

As a matter of course, Moses also arranged the cult. He created a holy shrine, the tabernacle, which contained the Ark of the Covenant, and in its general arrangements became the model of the sanctuary or temple built in later times. He appointed sacred seasons, in doing which he connected these with previously customary festival days, but he gave sharper directions concerning the Sabbath and gave to the old festival of spring a new historical significance as the Passover. Moses further appointed for this sanctuary a priestly family, and at the same time ordained that the tribe to which this family belonged should assume the guardianship of the sanctuary. The lines separating the rights of the priests and of the Levites have often been changed since his time, but the fundamental distinctions in this respect go back to Moses. In the same way Moses has also, as a matter of course, put the sacred rites, the celebrations of the sacrifices, the religious institutions and ceremonies, into forms suitable to that God whom he proclaimed. This does not mean that all the priestly laws, as they are now found recorded in the Pentateuch, were word for word dictated by him. The priests were empowered to pronounce Torah, i.e. Divine instruction, on this subject, and did this in accordance with the directions received through Moses. Most of these instructions were at first handed down orally, until they were put into written form in a large collection. But in the priestly ordinances, too, there is no lack of traces to show that these date from the period of Moses and must at an early time have been put into written form.

3. The Religion of Israel before the 8th Century BC:

(1) Decay of Religion in Canaan.

Upon the intense religious feeling produced by the exodus from Egypt and the events at Mt. Sinai, there followed a relapse, in connection with which it appears that in this Mosaic generation the cruder tendencies were still too pronounced to endure the great trial of faith demanded by the conquest of the land of Canaan. In the same way, the heroic struggles of Joshua, carried on under the directions of Yahweh and resulting in the conquest of the country, were followed by a reaction. The zeal for battle weakened; the work of conquest was left unfinished; the people arranged to make themselves at home in the land before it had really been won; peace was concluded with the inhabitants. This decay of theocratic zeal and the occupation of the land by the side of and among the Canaanites had a direful influence on the Yahweh-religion as it had been taught the people by Moses. The people adopted the sanctuaries of the country as their own, instead of rooting them out entirely. They took part in the festivals of their neighbors and adopted their customs of worship, including those that were baneful. The local Baals, in whose honor harvest and autumn festivals were celebrated as thanksgiving for their having given the products of the earth, were in many places worshipped by the Israelites. The possibility of interpreting the name Baal in both a good and bad sense favored the excuse that in doing this the people were honoring Yahweh, whom in olden times they also unhesitatingly called their Baal, as their Lord and the master of the land and of the people. By the side of the Yahweh-altars they placed the Asherah, the sacred tree, really as a symbol of the goddess of this name; and the stone pillars (chammanim), which the original inhabitants had erected near their sanctuaries, were also held in honor, while the heathen ideas associated with them thereby found their way into the religious consciousness of the people. Sorcery, necromancy, and similar superstitions crept in. And since, even as it was, a good deal of superstition had continued to survive among the people, there came into existence, in the period of the Judges, a type of popular religion that was tinged by a pronounced heathenism and had but little in common with theocratical principles of Moses, although the people had no intention of discarding the God of Moses. Characteristic of this religious syncretism during the time of the Judges was the rise of the worship of images dedicated to Yahweh in Da (Jud 17; 18) and probably also at Ophrah (Jud 8:27), as also human sacrifices (Jud 11).

(2) The Theocratic Kingdom.

But during this period pronounced reactions to the true worship of Yahweh were not lacking. The heroes who appeared on the arena as liberators from the yoke of the oppressors recalled the people to Yahweh, as was done likewise by the prophets and prophetesses. Samuel, the greatest among this class, was at the same time a prophet and reformer. He again brought the people together and tried to free them from the contamination of heathenism, in accordance with the

Mosaic ordinances, and at the same time prepared for a new future by the establishment of colonies of prophets and by the establishment of the kingdom. This latter innovation seemed to be at variance with the principles of a strict theocracy. It is the merit of Samuel that he created theocratic kingdom, by which the anointed of Yahweh himself was to become an important agent of the supreme rule of Yahweh. It is indeed true that the first king, Saul, did not realize this ideal, but his successor, David, appreciated it all the more. And even if David was far from realizing the ideal of a theocratic king, he nevertheless continued to be the model which prophecy tried to attain, namely, a king who was personally and most intimately connected with Yahweh, and who, as the servant of Yahweh, was to realize entirely in his own person the mission of the people to become the servants of Yahweh, and was thus to furnish the guaranty for the harmony between Israel and their God, and bring rich and unalloyed blessings upon the land.

(3) Religious Ideals of the Psalms from the Time of David.

In this way the covenant-relation became a personal one through "the anointed one of Yahweh." In general, religion in Israel became more personal in character in the days of the earlier kings. Before this time the collective relation to God prevailed. Only as a member of the tribe or of the nation was the individual connected with Yahweh, which fact does not exclude the idea that this God, for the very reason that He rules according to ethical principles, also regards the individual and grants him His special protection and requites to him good or evil according to his deeds. The Hebrew hymns or "psalms," which David originated, give evidence of a more intimate association of the individual with his God.

The very oldest of these psalms, a number of which point to David as their author, are not liturgical congregational hymns, but were originally individual prayer-songs, which emanated from personal experiences, but were, in later times, employed for congregational use. The prejudice, that only in later times such expressions of personal piety could be expected, is refuted by analogous cases among other nations, especially by the much more ancient penitential and petitionary prayers of the Babylonians, in which, as a rule, the wants of the individual and not those of the nation constitute the contents. These Babylonian penitential prayers show that among this people, too, the feeling of guilt as the cause of misfortune was very vivid, and that they regarded repentance and confession as necessary in order to secure the forgiveness of the gods. However, the more exalted character of the Israelite conception of God appears in a most pronounced way in this comparison, since the Babylonian feels his way in an uncertain manner in order to discover what god or goddess he may have offended, and not rarely tries to draw out the sympathy of the one divinity over against the wrath of another. But much more can this difference be seen in this, that the heathen singer is concerned only to get rid of the evil or the misfortune that oppresses him. The communion with his god whose favor he seeks to regain is in itself of no value for him. In David’s case the matter is altogether different, as he knows that he is bound to Yahweh by a covenant of love (Ps 18:2), and his heart delights in this communion, more than it does in all earthly possessions (Ps 4:8); and this is even more so in the case of the author of Ps 73:25-26. Such words would, for good reasons, be unthinkable in the case of a Babylonian psalmist.

In the times of those earliest kings of Israel, which, externally, constituted the most flourishing period in their history, unless tradition is entirely at fault, the spiritual world of thought also was enriched by the Wisdom literature of the Proverbs, the earliest examples of which date back to Solomon.

(4) Wisdom Literature from the Time of Solomon. This chokhmah, or Wisdom literature, is marked by the peculiarity that it ignores the special providential guidance of Israel and their extraordinary relation to their God, and confines itself more to the general revelation of God in Nature and in the history of mankind, but in doing this regards the fear of God as the beginning of wisdom, and at all times has the practical purpose of exhorting to a moral and God-pleasing life. The idea that this cosmopolitan tendency is to be attributed to Greek influences, and accordingly betrays a later period as the time of its origin, is to be rejected, as far as Proverbs and Job are concerned. The many passages in Pr that speak of conduct over against the king show a pre-exilic origin. The universalistic character of this literature must be explained on other grounds. It resulted from this, that this proverb-wisdom is not the sole, exclusive property of Israel and was not first cultivated among them, but was derived from abroad. The Edomites were especially conspicuous in this respect, as the nodetitle shows, in which the Israelite author introduces as speakers masters of this art from this tribe and others adjoining it. We can also compare the superscriptions in Pr 30:1; 31:1, in which groups of proverbs from Arabian principalities are introduced. Accordingly, this wisdom was regarded as a common possession of Israel and of their neighbors. This is probably the reason why the authors of this class of literature refrain from national reference and reminiscences. That the liberal-minded Solomon was the one to introduce this proverb-wisdom, or at any rate cultivated it with special favor, is in itself probable, and is confirmed by the fact that the Queen of Sheba (South Arabia) came to Jerusalem in order to listen to his wisdom. But this also presupposes that in her country a similar class of wisdom was cultivated. This was also the case in Egypt in very early antiquity, and in Egyptian literature we have collections of proverbs that remind us of the proverbs of Solomon (compare Transactions of the Third International Congress of the History of Religions, Oxford, 1908, I, 284 ff; see Wisdom).

(5) The Sanctuary on Mt. Zion.

The kingdom of David and of Solomon not only externally marks the highest development of the history of Israel, but intellectually, too, prepared the soil out of which henceforth the religious life of the nation drew its sustenance. It was especially under David a significant matter, that at this time the higher spiritual powers were in harmony with the political. This found its expression in the Divine election of David and his seed, which was confirmed by prophetical testament (2Sa 7). Hand in hand with this went the selection of Mt. Zion as the dwelling-place of Yahweh. David, from the beginning, was desirous of establishing here theocratical center of the people, as he had shown by transferring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. In the same way Solomon, by the erection of the Temple, sought to strengthen and suitably equip this central seat. As a matter of course, the sacred shrines throughout the land did not thereby at once lose their significance. But the erection of the sanctuary in Jerusalem was not at all intended to establish a "royal chapel" for the king, as Wellhausen has termed this structure, but it claimed the inheritance of the tabernacle in Shiloh, and the prophets sanctioned this claim.

(6) The Religion of the Kingdom of Ephraim.

The division of the kingdom after the death of Solomon which, as it was, had not been too large, proved politically disastrous. It also entailed a retrogression in religious matters. The centralizing tendencies of the preceding reigns were thwarted. Jeroboam erected other sacred shrines; especially did he make Bethel a "king’s sanctuary" (Am 7:13). At the same time he encouraged religious syncretism. It is true that the gold-covered images of heifers (by the prophets, in derision, called "calves") were intended only to represent the Covenant-God Yahweh. However, this representation in the form of images, an idea which the king no doubt had brought back with him from his sojourn in Egypt, was a concession to the corrupt religious instincts in the nation, and gave to the Ephraimitic worship an inferior character in comparison with the service in the Temple in Jerusalem, where no images were to be found. But in other respects, too, the arbitrary conduct of the king in the arrangement of the cults proved to be a potent factor in the Northern Kingdom from the beginning. The opposition of independent prophets was suppressed with all power. Nevertheless, the prophetic agitation continued to be a potent spiritual factor, which the kings themselves could not afford to ignore.

This proved to be the case particularly when the dynasty of Omri, who established a new capital city, Samaria, openly favored the introduction of Phoenician idolatry. Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, even succeeded in having a magnificent temple erected in the new capital to her native Baal, and in crushing the opposition of the prophets who were faithful to Yahweh. It now became a question of life and death, so far as the religion of Yahweh was concerned. The struggle involved not only certain old heathen customs in the religion of the masses, dating back to the occupation of Canaan, but it was the case of an invasion of a foreign and heathen god, with a clearly defined purpose. His voluptuous worship was not at all in harmony with the serious character of the Mosaic religion, and it seriously menaced, in a people naturally inclined to sensuality, the rule of the stringent and holy God of Mt. Sinai. The tricky and energetic queen was already certain that she had attained her purpose, when an opponent arose in the person of Elijah, who put all her efforts to naught.

(7) Elijah and Elisha.

In his struggle with the priests of Baal, who deported themselves after the manner of modern dervishes, we notice particularly the exalted and dignified conception of God in 1Ki 18. When in this chapter Yahweh and Baal are contrasted, the idea of Elijah is by no means that these gods have in their own territory the same rights as Yahweh in Canaan and Israel. Elijah mocks this Baal because he is no God at all (18:21), and the whole worship of the priests convinces him that they are not serving a real and true God, but only the product of their imagination (18:27). This is monotheism, and certainly not of a kind that has only recently been acquired and been first set up by Elijah, but one that came down from the days of Moses. Elijah proves himself to be a witness and an advocate of the God of Sinai, who has been betrayed in a treacherous manner. The fact that he inflicts a dire and fateful punishment on the idolatrous priests of Baal is also in perfect agreement with the old, stringent, Mosaic, legal code. Only such severity could atone for the fearful crime against the God of the country and of the covenant, and could save the people from apostasy. However, theophany at Mt. Sinai (1Ki 19:11 ) shows clearly that not His external and fearful power, but His calm and deep character was felt by Elijah to be the distinguishing mark of his God. His successor, Elisha, after the storm had cleared the religious atmosphere in the country, in the performance of his prophetic duties was able again to show forth more emphatically the fatherly care and the helpful, healing love of his God.

In general, the political retrogression of the nation and the opposition of those in power, which the prophets and the faithful worshippers of Yahweh in later times were compelled to experience often enough, served greatly to intensify and to spiritualize their religion. The unfortunate situation of the present, and the weaknesses and failures in the actual state of theocracy, directed their eyes to the future. The people began to study the wonderful ways of God in dealing with His people, and they began to look to the end of these dealings. A proof of this is found in the comprehensive accounts contained in the old history of the covenant-people as recorded in the Pentateuchal documents E and J, which were composed during this period. Whether these extend beyond and later than the period of Joshua or not, can remain an open question. In any case, there existed written accounts also concerning the times of the Judges, and concerning the history of Samuel, David and Solomon, which in part were written down soon after the events they record, and which, because of their phenomenal impartiality, point to an exceptionally high prophetic watchtower from which the ways of God with His people were observed.

4. Development of the Religion of Israel from the 8th Century BC to the Exile:

(1) The Writing Prophets.

The spiritual development of the deeper Israelite religion was the business of the prophets. At the latest, from the 8th century BC, and probably from the middle of the 9th, we have in written form their utterances and discourses. Larger collections of such prophecies were certainly left by Amos and Hosea. These prophets stood entirely on the basis of the revelations which by Moses had been made the foundation of Israel’s religion. But in contrast to the superficial and mistaken idea of the covenant of Yahweh entertained by their contemporaries, these prophets make clear the true intentions of this covenant, and at the same time, through their new inspiration, advance the religious knowledge of the people.

(2) Their Opposition to the Cult.

(3) Their Preaching of the Judgment.

The conception of God and Divine things on the part of the prophets was the logical development of the revelations in the days of Moses, and after that time, concerning the nature and the activity of God. The God of the prophets is entirely a personal and living God, i.e. He enters into the life of man. His holiness is exaltation above Nature and the most pronounced antagonism to all things unclean, to sin. Sin is severely dealt with by God, especially, as has already been mentioned, the sin of showing no love and no mercy to one’s neighbor. Because they are saturated with this conviction of the absolute holiness of God, the preexilic prophets proclaim to their people more than anything else the judgment which shall bring with it the dissolution of both kingdoms and the destruction of Samaria and of Jerusalem, together with its temple. First, its destruction is proclaimed to the Northern Kingdom; later on to the Southern. In doing this, these inspired men testify that Yahweh is not inseparably bound to His people. Rather He Himself calls the destroyer to come, since all the nations of the world are at His command.

(4) Their Messianic Promises.

However, the prophets never conclude purely negatively, but they always see on the horizon some rays of hope, which promise to a "remnant" of the people better times. A "day of Yahweh" is coming, when He will make His final settlement with the nations, after they have carried out His judgment on His people. Then, after the destruction of the Gentileworld, He will establish His rule over the world. This fundamental thought, which appears again and again with constantly increasing clearness, often takes the form that a future king out of the house of David, in whom the idea of the "anointed of Yahweh" has been perfectly realized, will first establish in Judah-Israel a pure rule of God, and then also gain the supremacy of the world. Some critics have claimed that all of these Messianic and eschatological predictions date from the postexilic period. In recent years a reaction against this view has set in, based on the belief that in Egypt and Babylonia also similar expectations are found at an early period. These promises, when they are more clearly examined, are found to be so intimately connected with the other prophecies of Isaiah, Hosea, and others, that to separate them would be an act of violence. In their most magnificent character, these pictures of the future are found in Isaiah, while in Jeremiah their realization and spiritualization have progressed farther.

(5) Reformations.

While the prophets are characterized by higher religious ideas and ideals, the religion of the masses was still strongly honeycombed with cruder and even heathen elements. Yet there were not totally wanting among the common people those who listened to these prophetic teachers. And especially in Judea there were times when, favored by pious kings, this stricter and purer party obtained the upper hand. This was particularly the case under the kings Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah. During the reigns of these kings the cult was reformed. Hezekiah and Josiah attacked particularly the local sanctuaries and their heathen worship (called bamoth), and concentrated the sacrificial cult in Jerusalem. In doing this they were guided by the faithful priests and prophets and by the ancient Mosaic directions. Josiah, who, more thoroughly than others, fought against the disintegration of the Yahweh-cultus, found his best help in the newly-discovered Book of the Law (Deuteronomy). That the sacrifices should be made at one place had been, as we saw, an old Mosaic arrangement. However, Moses had foreseen that local altars would be erected at places where special revelations had been received from Yahweh (Ex 20:24-25). In this way the numerous altars at Bethel, on Carmel, and elsewhere could claim a certain justification, only they were not entitled to the same rank as the central sanctuary, where the Ark of the Covenant stood and where the sons of Aaron performed their priestly functions. Deuteronomy demands more stringently that all real sacrificial acts shall be transferred to this central point. This rule Josiah carried out strictly. The suppression of the current sacrifices on high places by the fall of the Northern Kingdom aided in effecting the collapse of such shrines, while the sanctuary in Jerusalem, because it was delivered from the attack of the Assyrians, won a still greater recognition.

(6) Destruction of Jerusalem.

However, immediately after the death of Josiah, the apostasy from Yahweh again set in. The people thought that they had been deserted by Him, and they now more than before sought refuge in an appeal to a mixture of gods derived from Babylonia, Egypt, Persia and elsewhere. Eze 8 and 9 describe this syncretism which made itself felt even in the temple-house in Jerusalem. The people were incapable of being made better and were ripe for destruction. The temple, too, which it was thought by many could not be taken, was doomed to be destroyed from its very foundations.

5. The Babylonian Exile:

(1) Spiritual Purification through the Exile.

A mighty change in the religion of Israel was occasioned by the deportation of the wealthier and better educated Jews to Babylon and their sojourn there for a period of about 50 years, and by the still longer stay of a large portion of the exiles in this country. The nation was thus cut off from the roots of the native heathendom in Palestine and also from the external organization of theocracy. This brought about a purification and a spiritualization, which proved to be a great benefit for later times, when the political manifestation of their religious life had ceased, and the personal element came more into the foreground. Jeremiah and Ezekiel emphasize, each in his own way, the value of this religion for the individual. A spiritual communion came into being during the Exile, which found its bond of union in the word of Yahweh, and which insisted on serving God without a temple and external sacrificial cult (which, however, was still found among the exiles in Egypt). Separated from their homes, they collected all the more diligently the sacred memories and traditions, to which Ezekiel’s plans for the temple belong. Their sacred literature, the Torah or Law, the prophetical books, the historical writings, the Psalms, and other literature were collected, and in this way preparations were made for the following period.

(2) Relations to the Gentile World.

The most earnest classes of Jews, at least, absolutely declined to have anything to do with the Babylonian religion and worship. They saw here the worship of images in its most repulsive and sensual form, and they also learned its absolute impotency when the haughty Chaldean empire was overthrown. Deutero-Isaiah (Isa 40:1-66:24) shows that the Israelites now become more conscious than ever of the great value of their own religion with its Creator of heaven and earth over against this variegated Pantheon of changeable gods in forms of wood and metal images. From this time on, the glory of the Creator of the universe and His revelation in the works of Nature were lauded and magnified with a new zeal and more emphatically than ever before. This same prophet, however, proclaims also the new fact of the mission-call of Israel among the nations of the world. This people, he declares, is to become the instrument of Yahweh to make the Gentiles His spiritual subjects. But as this people in its present condition is little fit for this great service, he sees with his prophetic eye a perfect "Servant of Yahweh," who carries out this mission, a personal, visible "Servant of Yahweh," who establishes the rule of God upon earth, by becoming, in the first place, for Israel a second Moses and Joshua, but who then, too, wins over the heathen nations by this message. He accordingly takes the place of the prophesied future Son of David. However, He is not a personal ruler, but carries out His work through mere spiritual power and in lowliness and weakness. Indeed, His suffering and death become the atonement to wipe out the guilt of His people (Isa 53). We can see in this further development of the deepening and spiritualization of the eschatological hopes how strongly the unaccustomed misfortunes and surroundings of the exiles had influenced them. Notwithstanding all their antagonism to the aberrations of the heathen world, the Israelites yet learned that among the Gentiles there was also some receptivity for the higher truths. The worshippers of Yahweh felt themselves more akin to the Persians than to the Babylonians, as the former served without images a god which was conceived as one and as an exalted divine being. Thoughts taken from Parsiism are also found in the later literature of Israel, although it is not the case that the idea of Satan was first taken from this source. The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead for the judgment also can be gained from Old Testament premises. However, the religion of the Babylonians was not without influence on that of the Jews. It is indeed out of the question that it was only during the Exile that the Jews took over the accounts of the Creation and the Deluge and others similar to the Babylonian, as these are found in Ge 1-11. But the development of the angelology shows the evidences of later Babylonian and Persian influences. And especially does demonology play a more important role in post-exilic times than ever before, particularly about the beginnings of the Christian era. Magic art, too, entered largely into the faith of later Judaism, and it can be shown that both of these came from Babylonian sources.

6. Religion of the Post-exilic Period:

(1) Life under the Law.

The people which returned from the Exile was a purified congregation of Yahweh, willing to serve Him. They aimed to re-establish theocracy. This latter had not, indeed, because of the loss of the political independence of the people, the same importance as formerly, but the religious cult and the religious life of the people were all the more stringently observed. The post-exilic period is characterized by religious legalism. The people were exceedingly zealous in observing the old ordinances, and tried to find righteousness in the correctness with which the Mosaic law was observed, as this was now demanded by the teachers of this law. The prophet of the Exile, Ezekiel, had taken the lead in this particular, and had laid great emphasis on the formal ordinances, although in connection with this he also insisted upon real moral earnestness. But it was an easy matter that in the course of time an external work-righteousness and petrifaction of true religion should arise. Yet the later prophets, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, even if they do ascribe a greater importance to external matters than the preexilic prophets did, show that they are the spiritual heirs of these earlier seers. They teach a healthy ethical and sanctifying type of practical religion and continue to proclaim the hopes for an expansion and spiritualization of the Kingdom of God. The leaders of these times, Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, show a pronouncedly antagonistic attitude toward the neighboring nations and also toward those inhabitants of the country who did not live under the law. However, their intolerance, especially toward the Samaritans, can be readily understood from the principle of the self-preservation of the people of Yahweh. The law came to be the subject of the most careful study, and the teachers of the law collected, even to the minutest details, the oral traditions with reference to its meaning and to the proper observance of the different demands, so that already before the time of Christ they were in possession of an extensive tradition, which was afterward put down in written form in the Mishna. The writing of history was also carefully cultivated. The Books of Chronicles show from what viewpoint they described the past; the temple and the cult were the center of interest. In the same way the psalm-poetry, especially the temple-song, flourished again. These later hymns are pretty and regular, but no longer show the bold spirit of the older psalms. In many cases, older songs are made use of in these later hymns in a new way. Of the proverb-literature of the later post-exilic times, the The Wisdom of Solomon of Jesus Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus, is an instructive example. Notwithstanding its great similarity to the old Proverbs, the prevailing and leading points of view have become different in character. The conception of Wisdom has assumed a specifically Jewish and theocratic character.

(2) Hellenism.

But the Jewish exclusiveness found a dangerous opponent, especially from the days of Alexander the Great, in the new Hellenism. Hellenistic language, culture, customs and world ideas overwhelmed Palestine also. While the Pious (chacidhim) all the more anxiously fortified themselves behind their ordinances, the worldly-minded gave themselves up fully to the influence that came from without. In the first half of the 2nd century BC there arose, as a consequence, a bloody struggle against the inroads of this heathendom, when Antiochus Epiphanes undertook to suppress the religion of the Jews, and when the Asmoneans began their holy war against him.

(3) Pharisees and Sadducees.

But within the people of Israel itself there were found two parties, one strict and the other lax in the observance of the law. The leaders of the former were the highly popular Pharisees, who, according to their name, were the "Separatists," separated from the common and lawless masses. They tried to surpass each other in their zeal for the traditional ordinances and pious observances. However, among them it was also possible to find real piety, although in the New Testament records, where they are described as taking a hostile attitude toward the higher and the highest form of Divine revelation, they appear at their worst. Their rivals, the Sadducees, were less fanatical in their observance of the demands of the law and more willing to compromise with the spirit of the times. To this party belonged many of the more prominent priests. But this party evinced less real religious life than did the Pharisees.

(4) Essenes.

Then, too, in the time of Jesus, there were not lacking indications of the influence of foreign religions, as is apparent in the case of the Essenes. This party advocated dualistic ideas, as these are later found among the Mandeans.

(5) Positive Connections between Judaism and Hellenism.

In Alexandria a friendly exchange of ideas between Hellenism and Judaism was brought about. Here the Old Testament was translated into the Greek. This translation, known as the Septuagint (Septuagint), shows as yet but few signs of the Greek spirit; rather, a pronounced influence of legal and ritualistic Judaism. On the other hand, apologetical opposition to Hellenism appears to a more marked degree, among others, in the apocryphal work known as "Wisdom of Solomon," in which we find a positive defense of wisdom as the principle of revelation over against the Epicurean world wisdom of Hellenism. In doing this, the book leans on Platonism and Stoicism. The chokhmah, or wisdom of the old Jewish literature, has been Hellenized. Philo goes still farther in adapting Judaism to Greek taste and to humanism. A more liberal conception of inspiration also appears in the reception of contemporaneous literary products into the Old Testament Canon, even of some books which had originally been written in the Greek language. The means observed in adapting national Hebraism to Hellenistic universalism was the allegorical method of interpretation, which Philo practiced extensively and which then passed over to the Christian church Fathers of the Alexandrian school. This school constitutes the opposite extreme to the rabbinical, which clung most tenaciously to the letter of the sacred texts.

(6) Apocalyptic Literature.

A unique phenomenon at the close of the Biblical and in the earliest post-Biblical period is, finally, the APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE (which see). Since the days of the Maccabees we find the custom in certain Jewish circles, by using the old prophecies and adapting them to the events of the times, of drawing up a systematic picture of the future. The authorship of these writings was usually ascribed to one of the ancient saints, e.g. to Enoch, or Abraham, or Moses, or Elijah, or Solomon, or Baruch, or Ezra, or others. The model of these Apocalypses is the Book of Dnl, which, on the basis of older visions, in the times of the oppression by Antiochus Epiphanes, pictures, in grand simplicity, the development of the history of the world down to the final triumph of the Kingdom of God over the kingdoms of the world.

III. Conclusion: Characteristic Features of the Religion of Israel.

When we consider this whole development, it cannot be denied that the religion of Israel passed through many changes. It grew and purified and spiritualized itself out of its own inherent strength; but it also suffered many relapses, when hindering and corrupting influence gained the upper hand. But it received from without not only degenerating influences, but also much that inspired and developed its growth. Its original and native strength also shows itself in this, that without losing its real character it was able to appropriate to itself elements of truth from without and assimilate these.

1. The Living God:

If we ask what the specific and unique character of this religion was, by which it was distinguished from all other religions of antiquity, and by reason of which it alone was capable of producing from itself the highest revelation in Christ, it must be answered that its uniqueness lies, most of all, in its conception of God and of Divine things, and of God’s relation to the world. The term "monotheism" but inadequately expresses this peculiarity; for monotheistic tendencies are found also in other nations, and in Israel monotheism often shows itself in a strongly corrupted form. The advantage of Israel lies in its close contact with the living God. From the beginning of Israel’s history a strictly personal God gave testimony of Himself to different personalities with a decision which demanded absolute submission; and, in addition, this was a holy God, who elevated mankind above Nature and above themselves, a God who stood in the most absolute contrast to all that was impure or sinful, but at the same time was wonderful in His grace and His mercy to the sinner. This direct revelation of God to specially chosen bearers of the Divine truth goes through the entire history of Israel. Through this factor this religion was being constantly purified and unfolded further. The Israelites learned to conceive God in a more spiritual, correct, and universal manner, the more they advanced in experience and culture. But this God did not thereby become a mere abstract being, separated from mankind, as was the case with so many nations. He always continued to be a living God who takes an active part in the lives of men. We need notice only those prophets who describe the greatness of God in the grandest way, such as Hosea, Isaiah, Deutero-Isaiah, who depict also the personal life of God in the boldest way through anthropomorphisms.

2. The Relation of Man to This God:

In agreement with this, too, we find that this religion demands the personal subjection of men to God. As was the case with all the religions of antiquity, that of the Old Testament, of Man to too, was originally rather a tribal and a national religion than one of the individual. This brought with it the demand for the external observance of the tribal customs in the name of religion. However, the traditional customs and legal ordinances had already been sifted and purified by Moses. And, as a matter of necessity, in a religion of such a pronounced personal nature, the personal relation of the individual to God must become more and more a matter of importance. This idea became deeper and more spiritual in the course of time and developed into a pure love for God. It did not prevent this religion from becoming petrified, even during the Exile, when the doctrines and the cult were most correctly observed. But the vital kernels found embedded in the revelation of God constantly proved their power of rejuvenation. And at that very time when the petrified legalism of Pharisaism attained its most pronounced development, the most perfect fruit of this religion came forth from the old stem of the history of Israel, namely Christ, who unfolded Judaism and converted it into the religion of salvation for the entire world.


Of the literature on the religion of Israel we may yet make particular mention of the following: The textbooks on Old Testament Theology by Oehler, 1891 (also the English translation), of Dillmann, 1895. The Kuenen-Wellhausen school is represented by Kuenen, De Godsdienst van Israel, 1869 (also the English translation); Stade, Biblische Theologie des A T, 1905; Marti, Theologie des A T, 1903; Smend, Lehrbuch der A T Religionsgeschichte, 1899; compare also the works of Robertson Smith, especially his lectures on The Religion of the Semites. Against this radical school, see, in addition to the work of Dillmann, James Robertson, Early Religion of Israel, 1893. On the subject of Semitism in general, S.I. Curtiss, Ursemitische Religion im Volksleben des heutigen Orients, 1903 (also the English translation); Baethgen, Beltrage zur semitischen Religionsgeschichte, 1880; M.J. Lagrange, Etudes sur les religions semitiques, 1905. The relation of Israel to the Assyrian and Babylonian religions is discussed by Hugo Winckler in several works; compare also Fritz Hommel, Alttestamentliche Ueberlieferungen, 1897 (also the English translation); Sayce, The Higher Criticism and the Verdict of the Monuments, 1895; Alfred Jerermias, Das A Tim Lichte des alten Orients, 1906; a good brief summary is found in Sellin, Die A T Religion im Rahmen der andern Altorientalischen, 1908. Full details are given in Kautzsch, "Religion of Israel," in HDB, extra vol, 1904. For the last centuries before Christ see particularly, Schurer, Geschichte des judischen Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi, 1907 (also English Translation). The modern Jewish standpoint is represented by Montefiore, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the History of the Ancient Hebrews, 1892.

C. von Orelli