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Beginnings of Judaism

Discover how Judaism developed from its biblical roots to the highly developed system we know today.
Beginnings of Judaism is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 128.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really enjoyng this series of lectures Professor Gafni's lietime of experience and commitment really shows in these lectures, which are loosely scripted and well organized but are delivered enthusiastically and spontaneously. As a Presbyterian, there was no exposure to the Bible as history and little dscussion of the role of Jews in it, so this is a fascinatng subject for me and I am learning a lot in a farly entrtaining way. I'm impressed. (Lost Christianities course, not so much)
Date published: 2024-03-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A classic in every sense of the word I'm really enjoying this course. The professor speaks clearly and summarizes each lecture succinctly. For me, he brings ancient history alive and shines a new light on the development of the Jewish religion. And he doesn't inject any religious bias into the story, either. It's all about the history. Highly recommended for anyone who's interested in the subject.
Date published: 2023-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazingly good lectures! What a fantastic series by a well-prepared, great scholar and expert lecturer. I am Jewish and knew something about our history, but I never knew the vibrant, complex, nuanced version as explained here, especially with all its heart-wrenching twists, turns, ironies, and multiple near-death experiences faced by the Jewish people along its 4,000 year history. Thank you.
Date published: 2023-07-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Texas learns of his roots My Grandfather was a Sphardic Jewish man who moved to Texas a little before 1900 and worked for the Texas & Pacific railroad. We were not raised Jewish. Professor Gafin brought to life my family's past. He did a surpurb job of helping me understand Judisim's four legged stool of: Faith, Law, Land, & Family. I am fasinated at how deep the roots of this "Faith" run and how a person such as myself who does not practice Judisim can feel that it is an important part of their life. The value of this course, to me, is worth much more than what I paid.
Date published: 2023-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Gafni's knowledge and enthusiasm The history of Judaism is a long, complex history of conquests, revolts, schisms, and tantalizing, fragmented archeological findings. Professor Gafni steps into this loveable mishmosh and helps to make some sense of it. He does at key times help to identify the general trends that have shaped the character of modern Judaism, which makes the course more than a recitation of which foreign emperors conquered the land of Israel and when. Ultimately, Professor Gafni's knowledge and enthusiasm carry the day.
Date published: 2023-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Point on! This verybsble lecturer does exactly what the title indicates. Itscemphssis onmJewry was appreciated. I've studied similar courses involving wider integration.
Date published: 2023-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Essential for study of religion Judaism is the foundation for both Christianity and Islam though adherents of those religions might be reluctant to acknowledge such. As someone with an anthropological background I would have liked to see exploration into more ancient roots. I can't fault the professor who is apparently Jewish himself for the coverage he provides. I applaud his effort and my understanding is enhanced.
Date published: 2023-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive overview of Judaism Although I knew a good bit about Judaism from friends while growing up and from attending a Lutheran seminary, I wanted to learn from the perspective of a Jewish scholar. I was not disappointed. Several things were cleared up for me, and I received a new perspective on others. Dr. Gafni is a gifted and animated lecturer.
Date published: 2023-03-27
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The roots of Judaism reach back to the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament by Christians. For thousands of years, Jews have looked to these scriptures for their origins, and have located in them the tenets of their faith. However, much of what is recognized today as Judaism does not appear in the Bible. How did Judaism develop from its biblical roots to the highly developed system we know today? What has changed-and what has remained constant?


Isaiah M. Gafni

I've taught students about ancient Judaism for more than 40 years at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.


Hebrew University, Jerusalem

Dr. Isaiah M. Gafni is the Sol Rosenbloom Professor of Jewish History at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he earned his Ph.D. and has taught for more than 40 years. He was formerly the Director of the Mandel Center of Jewish Studies at the university and also previously served as Director of Graduate Studies at the university's Rothberg International School. He has been a visiting professor at numerous American universities, including Harvard, Yale, and Brown. Professor Gafni has written extensively on a broad range of topics relating to the social, religious, and cultural history of the Jews in late antiquity, including more than 100 entries in the Encyclopaedia Judaica. Professor Gafni was honored as the Louis Jacobs Fellow in Rabbinic Thought at Oxford University in 1994 and received Hebrew University's Michael Milken Prize for exceptional teaching. Professor Gafni has written or edited more than 15 books on aspects of Jewish history, including Land, Center and Diaspora: Jewish Constructs in Late Antiquity. His book The Jews of Talmudic Babylonia: A Social and Cultural History was honored with the 1992 Holon Prize in Jewish Studies.

By This Professor

The Beginnings of Judaism-Biblical Roots

01: The Beginnings of Judaism-Biblical Roots

Much of today's Judaism developed after the completion of the Hebrew Bible, which Jews have nevertheless traditionally referred to as the source of their history, beliefs, and practices. In examining Judaism's biblical roots, we discover how the Jewish religion reconciles this seeming contradiction.

33 min
New Challenges in the Late Biblical Period

02: New Challenges in the Late Biblical Period

We encounter the historical contexts in which post-Biblical Judaism developed. The Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman empires, as well as the short-lived Jewish kingdom founded by the Hasmoneans, all made unique contributions to Judaism's development, both in the land of Israel as well as in the Diaspora.

30 min
Jews under Persian Rule-The Return to Zion

03: Jews under Persian Rule-The Return to Zion

Persian rule over Israel lasted for more than 200 years. Beginning with the return to Judea of the descendants of the Jewish captives who had been forcibly removed by the Babylonians, we follow the rebuilding of Jewish communal life in their homeland.

31 min
The Challenge of Hellenism

04: The Challenge of Hellenism

Alexander the Great's incorporation of Palestine into the greater Hellenistic world, and the broad-based acculturation—or even threatened assimilation—that followed posed a challenge to Jewish identity that would be a constant factor in the lives of Jews for centuries to come.

29 min
The Maccabees-From Rebels to Kings

05: The Maccabees-From Rebels to Kings

The revolt of the Hasmoneans—a family of Jewish priests led by Judah the Maccabee—against the Seleucids, who ruled over Judea in the early 2nd century B.C.E., ultimately led to the establishment of an independent Jewish state that would survive until the Roman conquest of Judea in 63 B.C.E.

32 min
The Canonization of the Hebrew Bible

06: The Canonization of the Hebrew Bible

After the gradual emergence of a tripartite canon of sacred texts—Torah, Prophets, and Writings—during the Second Temple period, Jewish authors embarked on the study, interpretation, translation, imitation, and retelling of these extant sacred scriptures.

30 min
Translating the Bible-The Septuagint

07: Translating the Bible-The Septuagint

If the Hebrew Bible was to be made accessible to all Jews, a Greek translation was required. The version that emerged, in stages, is known as the Septuagint (Latin for "seventy"), because of the number of scholars said to have produced it.

29 min
Adding to the Bible-The Apocrypha

08: Adding to the Bible-The Apocrypha

In its final form, the Septuagint includes not only the earliest complete translation of the Hebrew Bible, but also 14 or 15 texts not found in the Old Testament. We look at these texts, commonly referred to as the Apocrypha, Latin for "hidden."

30 min
Tobit-A New Path of Righteousness

09: Tobit-A New Path of Righteousness

We take a closer look at the Apocrypha's book of Tobit, a delightful novel on the merits of righteousness, which in many ways points to a new or reinforced set of religious and ethical values that would become particularly relevant for Jews in the Second Temple period.

30 min
Retelling the Bible-The Book of Jubilees

10: Retelling the Bible-The Book of Jubilees

The canonization of the Bible opened the way for new retellings of biblical stories, with new interpretations read into ancient characters and situations. One of the most impressive is the revised rendition of Genesis and Exodus supplied by the book of Jubilees in the 2nd century B.C.E.

32 min
Revealing the Unknown

11: Revealing the Unknown

By the late Persian or early Hellenistic period, Jews believed that ongoing prophecy in its biblical form had been discontinued. But mankind's thirst for knowledge of the innermost secrets of the world was not quenched, and this information was now supplied by a new literary genre known as Apocalypse.

30 min

12: "Judaism" or "Judaisms"?

As Second Temple Judaism evolved into a "religion of the book" and its central texts became more accessible, diversity of opinion and interpretation naturally increased. Religious disputes led to sectarianism, with each group convinced that it alone observed the Law properly.

31 min
Sectarianism-Pharisees and Sadducees

13: Sectarianism-Pharisees and Sadducees

At some stage of Hasmonean rule in Judea, three distinct schools of thought arose within the Jewish community. Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes embraced different opinions about God's relationship to this world, and were no less divided along political and social lines.

33 min
Out of the Caves-Discovery at Qumran

14: Out of the Caves-Discovery at Qumran

In the spring of 1947, a young Bedouin shepherd entered a cave south of Jericho and set into motion the most spectacular archaeological discovery of the 20th century, encompassing far more than what have come to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

30 min
The End of Days-Messianic Eschatology

15: The End of Days-Messianic Eschatology

The post-biblical period introduced some major changes into the entire range of eschatological contemplation. During the Second Temple period the focus shifted beyond God's administration of a just system of rewards and punishments in this world to also include each individual's "life after death."

30 min
Other Lands, Other Jews-The Diaspora

16: Other Lands, Other Jews-The Diaspora

One of the most significant departures of post-biblical Judaism from its earlier biblical days was the establishment of a widespread Jewish Diaspora, or dispersion. What the prophets had considered the ultimate punishment for sins had now become reality.

30 min
Judaism in the Hellenistic World

17: Judaism in the Hellenistic World

Jewish literary activity flourished in the Greek-speaking world, and especially in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, with Jews adopting almost every literary genre in their attempts to present Judaism to the Greek mind, as well as to a Jewish community that had adopted Greek as its primary language of discourse.

32 min
Changing God's Address-Temple to Synagogue

18: Changing God's Address-Temple to Synagogue

The Second Temple period represents a major turning point in Judaism's self-image. While the primary focus of religious expression remained the Temple of Jerusalem, an alternative institution—the synagogue—began to appear, leading to a major decentralization and democratization of Jewish religious behavior.

31 min
Rome Arrives in Jerusalem

19: Rome Arrives in Jerusalem

Jewish independence under the Hasmoneans came to an abrupt conclusion with the Roman conquest of Judea in 63 B.C.E. The Romans experimented with different approaches in attempting to establish control, but the ultimate result was anarchy, a violent uprising, and the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple.

33 min
Parting with the Temple

20: Parting with the Temple

Religious ideologies are not always limited to the spiritual world of contemplation, but frequently serve to motivate individuals or groups toward political involvement and even military action. We look at the impact of some of these ideologies on relations with Rome.

34 min
From Jerusalem to Yavne-Rabbinic Judaism

21: From Jerusalem to Yavne-Rabbinic Judaism

As Judaism evolved into a "book religion," teachers or interpreters of the sacred texts slowly assumed a position of prominence alongside the traditional priesthood. Removal of the Temple gave these teachers—rabbis—an unchallenged position of spiritual authority.

30 min
The Shaping of Rabbinic Judaism

22: The Shaping of Rabbinic Judaism

Six hundred years of Second Temple history, culminating with the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., witnessed the erosion of the biblical frameworks of the Temple and priesthood, monarchy, and prophets. We see how the values of Rabbinic Judaism, no less than the revised forms of religious expression, became the new standards of Judaism.

32 min
A Violent Epilogue-Bar Kokhba

23: A Violent Epilogue-Bar Kokhba

Not all Jews opted immediately for the Rabbinic alternative to Second Temple realities. Sixty-two years after the destruction of the Temple, the image of a militant messiah at war with Rome appeared once again.

30 min

24: From "Roots" to "Tree"

This closing lecture puts the lessons of the course into perspective, addressing key issues that include diversity in Judaism; Judaism's self-perception as either a nation, a religion, or a culture; the triumph of the Babylonian rabbinate; reconciliation with an ongoing dispersion; and the directions taken by Judaism during the past two millennia.

28 min