The word ‘Judaism’ occurs for the first time at about 100 B.C., in the Graeco-Jewish literature. In the second book of the Maccabees (ii. 21, viii. 1), ‘Judaism’ signifies the religion of the Jews as contrasted with
Hellenism, the religion of the Greeks. In the New Testament (Gal. i. 13) the same word seems to denote the Pharisaic system as an antithesis to the Gentile Christianity. In Hebrew the corresponding noun never occurs in the Bible, and it is rare even in the Rabbinic books. When it does meet us, _Jahaduth_ implies the monotheism of the Jews as opposed to the polytheism of the heathen.
Thus the term ‘Judaism’ did not pass through quite the same transitions as did the name ‘Jew.’ Judaism appears from the first as a religion transcending tribal bounds. The ‘Jew,’ on the other hand, was originally a Judaean, a member of the Southern Confederacy called in the Bible Judah, and by the Greeks and Romans Judaea. Soon, however, ‘Jew’ came to include what had earlier been the Northern Confederacy of Israel as well, so that in the post-exilic period _Jehudi_ or ‘Jew’ means an adherent of Judaism without regard to local nationality.
Judaism, then, is here taken to represent that later development of the Religion of Israel which began with the reorganisation after the Babylonian Exile (444 B.C.), and was crystallised by the Roman Exile (during the first centuries of the Christian Era). The exact period which will be here seized as a starting-point is the moment when the people of Israel were losing, never so far to regain, their territorial association with Palestine, and were becoming (what they have ever since been) a community as distinct from a nation. They remained, it is true, distinct race, and this is still in a sense true. Yet at various periods a number of proselytes have been admitted, and in other ways the purity of the race has been affected. At all events territorial nationality ceased from a date which may be roughly fixed at 135 A.D., when the last desperate revolt under Bar-Cochba failed, and Hadrian drew his Roman plough over the city of Jerusalem and the Temple area. A new city with a new name arose on the ruins. The ruins afterwards reasserted themselves, and Aelia Capitolina as a designation of Jerusalem is familiar only to archaeologists.
But though the name of Hadrian’s new city has faded, the effect of its foundation remained. Aelia Capitolina, with its market-places and theatre, replaced the olden narrow-streeted town; a House of Venus reared ts stately form in the north, and a Sanctuary to Jupiter covered, in the east, the site of the former Temple. Heathen colonists were introduced, and the Jew, who was to become in future centuries an alien everywhere, was made by Hadrian an alien in his fatherland. For the Roman Emperor denied to Jews the right of entry into Jerusalem. Thus Hadrian completed the work of Titus, and Judaism was divorced from its local habitation.
More unreservedly than during the Babylonian Exile, Judaism in the Roman Exile perforce became the religion of a community and not of a state; and Israel for the first time constituted a Church. But it was a Church with no visible home. Christianity for several centuries was to have a centre at Rome, Islam at Mecca. But Judaism had and has no centre at all.
But this much must be premised. If the Religion of Israel passed through the stages of totemism, animism, and polydemonism; if it was indebted to Canaanite, Kenite, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and other foreign influences; if it experienced a stage of monolatry or henotheism (in which Israel recognised one God, but did not think of that God as the only God of all men) before ethical monotheism of the universalistic type was reached; if, further, all these stages and the moral and religious ideas connected with each left a more or less clear mark in the sacred literature of Israel; then the legacy which Judaism received from its past was a syncretism of the whole of the religious experiences of Israel as interpreted in the light of Israel’s latest, highest, most approved standards. Like the Bourbon, the Jew forgets nothing; but unlike the Bourbon, the Jew is always learning. The domestic stories of the Patriarchs were not rejected as unprofitable when Israel became deeply impregnated with the monogamous teachings of writers like the author of the last chapter of Proverbs; the character of David was idealized by the spiritual associations of the Psalter, parts of which tradition ascribed to him; the earthly life was etherialised and much of the sacred literature reinterpreted in the light of an added belief in immortality; God, in the early literature a tribal non-moral deity, was in the later literature a righteous ruler who with Amos and Hosea loved and demanded righteousness in man. Judaism took over as one indivisible body of sacred teachings both the early and the later literature in which these varying conceptions of God were enshrined; the Law was accepted as the guiding rule of life, the ritual of ceremony and sacrifice was treasured as a holy memory, and as a memory not contradictory of the prophetic exaltation of inward religion but as consistent with that exaltation, as interpreting it, as but another aspect of Micah’s enunciation of the demands of God: ‘What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?’
Judaism, in short, included for the Jew all that had gone before. But for St. Paul’s attitude of hostility to the Law, but for the deep-seated conviction that the Pauline Christianity was a denial of the Jewish monotheism, the Jew might have accepted much of the teaching of Jesus as an integral part of Judaism. In the realm of ideas which he conceived as belonging to his tradition the Jew was not logical; he did not pick and choose; he absorbed the whole. In the Jewish theology of all ages we find the most obvious contradictions. There was no attempt at reconciliation of such contradictions; they were juxtaposed in a mechanical mixture, there was no chemical compound. The Jew was always a man of moods, and his religion responded to those varying phases of feeling and belief and action. Hence such varying judgments have been formed of him and his religion. If, after the mediaeval philosophy had attempted to systematise Judaism, the religion remained unsystematic, it is easy to understand that in the earlier centuries of the Christian Era contradictions between past and present, between different strata of religious thought, caused no trouble to the Jew so long as those contradictions could be fitted into his general scheme of life. Though he was the product of development, development was an idea foreign to his conception of the ways of God with man. And to this extent he was right. For though men’s ideas of God change, God Himself is changeless. The Jew transferred the changelessness of God to men’s changing ideas about him. With childlike naivete he accepted all, he adopted all, and he syncretised it all as best he could into the loose system on which Pharisaism grafted itself. The legacy of the past thus was the past.
One element in the legacy was negative. The Temple and the Sacrificial system were gone for ever. That this must have powerfully affected Judaism goes without saying. Synagogue replaced Temple , prayer assumed the function of sacrifice, penitence and not the blood of bulls supplied the ritual of atonement. Events had prepared the way for this change and had prevented it attaining the character of an upheaval. For synagogues had grown up all over the land soon after the fifth century B.C.; regular services of prayer with instruction in the Scriptures had been established long before the Christian Era; the inward atonement had been preferred to, or at least associated with, the outward rite before the outward rite was torn away. It may be that, as Professor Burkitt has suggested, the awful experiences of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple produced within Pharisaism a moral reformation which drove the Jew within and thus spiritualised Judaism. For undoubtedly the Pharisee of the Gospels is by no means the Pharisee as we meet him in the Jewish books.
There was always a latent power and tendency in Judaism towards inward religion; and it may be that this power was intensified, this tendency encouraged, by the loss of Temple and its Sacrificial rites.
But though the Temple had gone the Covenant remained. Not so much in name as in essence. We do not hear much of the Covenant in the Rabbinic books, but its spirit pervades Judaism. Of all the legacy of the past the Covenant was the most inspiring element. Beginning with Abraham, the Covenant established a special relation between God and Abraham’s seed. ‘I have known him, that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the Lord to do righteousness and judgment’ (Gen. xviii. 19). Of this Covenant, the outward sign was the rite of circumcision. Renewed with Moses, and followed in traditional opinion by the Ten Commandments, the Sinaitic Covenant was a further link in the bond between God and His people. Of this Mosaic Covenant the outward sign was the Sabbath. It is of no moment for our present argument whether Abraham and Moses were historical persons or figments of tradition. A Gamaliel would have as little doubted their reality as would a St. Paul. And whatever Criticism may be doing with Abraham, it is coming more and more to see that behind the eighth-century prophets there must have towered the figure of a, if not of the traditional, Moses; behind the prophets a, if not the, Law. Be that as it may, to the Jew of the Christian Era, Abraham and Moses were real and the Covenant unalterable. By the syncretism which has been already described Jeremiah’s New Covenant was not regarded as new. Nor was it new; it represented a change of stress, not of contents. When he said (Jer. xxxi. 33), ‘This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it,’ Jeremiah, it has been held, was making Christianity possible. But he was also making Judaism possible. Here and nowhere else is to be found the principle which enabled Judaism to survive the loss of Temple and nationality. And the New Covenant was in no sense inconsistent with the Old. For not only does Jeremiah proceed to add in the self-same verse, ‘I will be their God, and they will be my people,’ but the New Covenant is specifically made with the house of Judah and of Israel, and it is associated with the permanence of the seed of Israel as a separate people and with the Divine rebuilding of Jerusalem. The Jew had no thought of analysing these verses into the words of the true Jeremiah and those of his editors. The point is that over and above, in complementary explanation of, the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants with their external signs, over and above the Call of the Patriarch and the Theophany of Sinai, was the Jeremian Covenant written in Israel ‘s heart.
The Covenant conferred a distinction and imposed a duty. It was a bond between a gracious God and a grateful Israel. It dignified history, for it interpreted history in terms of providence and purpose; it transfigured virtue by making virtue service; it was the salt of life, for how could present degradation demoralise, seeing that God was in it, to fulfil His part of the bond, to hold Israel as His jewel, though Rome might despise? The Covenant made the Jew self-confident and arrogant, but these very faults were needed to save him. It was his only defence against the world’s corn. He forgot that the correlative of the Covenant was Isaiah’s ‘Covenant-People’–missionary to the Gentiles and the World. He relegated his world-mission (which Christianity and Islam in part gloriously fulfilled) to a dim Messianic future, and was content if in his own present he remained faithful to his mission to himself.
Above all, the legacy from the past came to Judaism hallowed and humanised by all the experience of redemption and suffering which had marked Israel ‘s course in ages past, and was to mark his course in ages to come. The Exodus, the Exile, the Maccabean heroism, the Roman catastrophe; Prophet, Wise Man, Priest and Scribe,–all had left their trace. Judaism was a religion based on a book and on a tradition; but it was also a religion based on a unique experience. The book might be misread, the tradition encumbered, but the experience was eternally clear and inspiring. It shone through the Roman Diaspora as it afterwards illuminated the Roman Ghetto, making the present tolerable by the memory of the past and the hope of the future.
By: Israel Abrahams- Judaism