Judaism: Origins & Significance

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  • 0:01 Egypt and the Desert
  • 1:13 Laws
  • 2:30 Benefits of Portable Culture
  • 3:42 Influence on Later Religions
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

Judaism is one of the world's oldest religions, largely due to its ability to travel, but it has had an even greater influence on two other world religions, Christianity and Islam.

A Community in Egypt and the Desert

No other culture has had a history like that of the Jews, and much of that is because it is practically impossible to pin them down. Indeed, an overwhelming theme of Judaism has been its emphasis on mobility, and therefore, it is little surprise that the story of the Jews begins far away from Jerusalem or any other center of Jewish culture. The community that would become the Jewish people began as the Israelites, a group of people who had been invited to live in Egypt because of the good work of Joseph in the Pharaoh's court. However, as the Israelite population grew in proportion to that of the Egyptians, it became clear that the new Pharaoh was no fan of so many foreigners in his land. As a result, he began discriminating against them.

Ultimately, it was an Israelite who grew up in the Pharaoh's own household, named Moses, who would first talk to the God of the Jews through a burning bush and be able to challenge the Pharaoh's authority. Through plagues and military threat, the Israelites were finally able to escape the Pharaoh, but then were consigned to wander through the Sinai Desert for 40 years, all while Moses received guidance from a god that few of them really could comprehend even existed.


Few could comprehend God existed, that is until Moses brought down a set of laws from God that the Israelites would have to follow. In exchange for being held to a higher moral standard as God's chosen people, the Jews would receive the protection of the one true God, as well as the right to settle in the Promised Land, an area set aside by God solely for them. The Israelites thought that a land described as full of milk and honey beat living in dusty tents any day and took the deal, even though the road to the Promised Land would be long and problematic.

Indeed, whereas practically every other culture in history, especially ancient history, is best defined by what they built or where they lived, the Jews are best described by their laws. This is important because this time of wandering through the desert would not be the only time in history that the Jews would live a nomadic lifestyle. However, it would be the reason that they survived not only having their temple in Jerusalem, a shrine built to forever honor their relationship with God, destroyed not once but twice, but also hundreds of years of living without daily contact with other large Jewish societies, also called the diaspora.

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