The Exodus & Other Movements of the Ancient Hebrew Peoples

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  • 0:02 Constantly on the Move
  • 1:24 Exile
  • 2:06 Preparing for the Worst
  • 3:08 Judaism in the Diaspora
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

From its earliest days, Judaism was a religion on the move. Find out what allowed Jewish culture to survive in the face of numerous conquests over thousands of years.

Constantly on the Move

Unlike many other world religions, the people who would become the Jews had an identity as a cultural nation before they had an identity of a geographic nature. While God may have first spoken to the ancestors of the Jews through Abraham and other prophets of the very earliest days of history, it was through Moses that God worked to establish the Jews as a Chosen People. When God began this dialog, the Jews were far from having their own state, but instead were strangers in a foreign land that was getting more and more oppressive.

Obviously, understanding the historical basis for the Exodus, or movement of the Jews out of Egypt, is difficult, as we only have the Hebrew description of things to go off of, as the Egyptians tended not to record their failures. However, whether or not the Exodus happened word for word as it is detailed in the Hebrew Bible, it did leave a mark on the Jewish people as a whole. Far from placing their trust in walls and armies to guard their ideals, they would rely instead on the preservation and transmission of those very ideals. In fact, the Torah, also known as the Jewish Written Law, was revealed to the Jews while they were nomads in the desert. From the earliest days, Judaism was to be a religion on the move.


The young states of Israel and Judah, the two countries founded by the Jews, would get their first chance at testing these ideas of putting faith in ideas rather than just in walls when their religion was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Removed from their land, the Jews moved to Mesopotamia as slaves in what is known as the Babylonian Captivity. For several decades, they worked here until they were freed by another invading army, this time under Cyrus the Great of Persia. Once again, the Jews were free to return to Israel and Judah. In fact, Cyrus even paid to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem.

Preparing for the Worst

While other ancient cultures may have simply shrugged their shoulders and moved on, the Jews had long since expected to be conquered by one of the great powers of the region. Wedged between the Egyptians, Babylonians and Hittites, it was only a matter of time, even if the armies of kings, like David and Solomon, managed to dissuade many of those invaders. However, the Babylonian Captivity served as a real reminder of what could happen to the people of Israel. As such, even more institutions were made portable. In Babylon, the Jews had been lucky enough to have been kept together, meaning that the teachings of the Oral Torah, or Mishnah, were able to be transmitted as they had been for hundreds of years. But what if the next time the Jews were separated or themselves saw that their only way to survive as a people was to paradoxically spread out, making it harder to oppress all of them? As such, the teachings of the Mishnah were written down, in essence making Judaism portable.

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