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As beforehand as the 10th century BCE, Israelite and also Judean religion started to arise within the wider West Semitic culture, otherwise recognized as Canaanite culture. In between the 10th century and also 7th centuries BCE, ancient Israelite and Judean faith was polytheistic. The polytheism, though, was counterbalanced by devotion to one or two major deities, a practice well-known as henotheism (van der Toorn, 2047). Henotheism is recognition and also worship of numerous deities; however, the main worship revolves roughly a single deity. Within Judean and also Israelite communities, major devotion to be oftentimes towards Yahweh. As both Judah and Israel were arising states, Yahweh to be the national deity, an idea which finds its origins in religious practices indigenous the bronze Age.

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Map the the Levant circa 830 BCE
Richardprins (GNU FDL)

In regards to practice, holy place worship and also sacrificial rituals choose Yom Kippur, brand-new Moon festivals, Pesach, and also other festivals play a central role. Practices such as divination and prophecy were additionally common creates of spiritual devotion. In terms of actions, ethical actions played an important role in how ancient Israelite and Judeans expressed religious devotion.

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In the following paragraphs, we will check out the aforementioned aspects of old Israelite and Judean faith in an ext detail. Focused between the 10th and 7th century BCE, we will take into consideration the more comprehensive West Semitic social framework, household religion, henotheism, ritual, and ethical behavior.

The broader West Semitic Context

The divine being being worshiped, commonly Yahweh, was interpreted to be physically existing in the temple, have a body, & be a an individual god with emotions & willpower.

Between the 10th and also 7th centuries BCE, ancient Israelite and also Judean faith took location in cultic and temple contexts. Although the plenty of Jewish and also Christians traditions suggest that Yahweh to be the main and also only divine being through all Israelite and Judean spiritual history, archaeology, inscriptions, and the Hebrew scriptures itself suggest otherwise. Also so, the deity being worshiped, typically Yahweh, was understood to be physically present in the temple, have actually a body, and be a an individual god v emotions and also willpower.

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Furthermore, old Israelite and also Judean religion shared the typical idea the the divine being was a divine essence. This divine essence was frequently expressed through the notion of holiness. So, the worshippers were forced to keep the temple"s holiness so that the deity would be able to live in the temple, i beg your pardon was taken into consideration his or she house. To execute this, sacrifices, offerings, and liturgy were offered to the deities. Broadly speaking, these form a an easy framework because that how ancient Israelites and Judeans expressed spiritual devotion to their deity.

Before Saul & David

Before a centralized authority or state started to take it formation about the 10th century BCE, world within Syria-Palestine practiced a kind of family religion. Literature dating ago to the 12th century BCE (1200 BCE; Amarna letters) and various inscriptions throughout Syria-Palestine demonstrate this. The data, though, is fragmentary. In various other words, the is as if we have 400 piece to a 2,000-piece puzzle. Yet, once we affix the puzzle with other historic sources from history, that becomes clear that family religion was the norm together Israel and Judah started forming a national identity. Thus, that is feasible that "families honoured their ancestors by linguistic rites and also the presentation that offerings, and also focused their spiritual devotion top top the "god that the father" or the "god that the house". In therefore doing, they anchored their cumulative identity in their lineage and also their ar of origin" (van der Toorn, 1996: 177).

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This to be the atmosphere, or context, in which ancient Israelite and also Judean religion began to emerge. What to speak to the people before the formation of Israelite and also Judean nationwide identities, though, is hotly debated. For simplicity"s sake, then, we will refer to them together proto-Israelite. Suspect the Hebrew holy bible reflects proto-Israelite religion, part scholars doubt that lock performed rituals in honor of the deceased. Drawing on an instance in 1 Samuel 20, valve der Toorn explains:

What we discover from the passage is the there to be a communal meal at i beg your pardon meat was eaten…; the the "entire clan"… had actually to be present; that it was commemorated in Bethlehem, the house town that David, presumably due to the fact that this to be the location where the case had its inherited floor in which the ancestors lay buried… ~ above the communication of this data, it has been said that the … clan sacrifice was in truth "the chance on which genealogical accounts were employed to invoke the name of dead ancestors." (214)

In other words, that is likely that proto-Israelites exercised some type of clan or household ritual. As old Israelite and also Judean religion relocated closer and closer to monotheism in between the 10th and 6th centuries BCE, the concept of a household religion came to be incorporated into old Judah. The idea of the house of Israel or the house of Judah is rooted in the idea of family members religion. V the introduction of a bigger network of political partnerships under the titles Israel and also Judah, though, the family divine being became the divine being of the state.

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Outside of the Hebrew Bible, among the finest examples of old Israelite and Judean religion originates from an historical site dubbed Kuntillet "Ajrud, possibly dating as beforehand as the 10th century BCE. One inscription from this site reads, "to YHWH the Samaria and to Asherata." one more inscription reads, "To YHWH of Teman and to Asherata" (Na"aman, 305). Both of these inscriptions demonstrate that some old Israelites and also Judeans were not monotheistic in exactly how they exercised religion; rather, they were henotheistic. YHWH, which may be review as Yahweh, was the major tribal deity. The is finest known indigenous the Hebrew Bible. Asherata, additionally known together Asherah, to be a divine being within the Ugaritic pantheon. She is additionally a common figure in the Hebrew Bible. Therefore, we can confidently to speak that amongst the spectrums that how world in ancient Israel and also Judah exercised religion, Asherah and also Yahweh were both honored in cults. Priority, though, often tended to be provided to Yahweh.

An inscription from one more archaeological site (Khirbet el-Qom, 8 hours century BCE) states the following: "Blessed is Uriahu by YHWH for v Asherata He saved him from his enemy." Here, us see solid evidence that Asherata, a deity, stood for a human named Uriahu before Yahweh. In Ugaritic literature, we see a comparable understanding that the deities. The Ugaritic goddess Athirat to be a mediator for El, the chief god of the Ugaritic pantheon. The parallel in how people understood deities (Yahweh is come Asherata together El is to Athirat) demonstrates how old Israel and also Judah shared a social and religious framework v the more comprehensive West Semitic culture; yet, castle were additionally unique in the feeling that lock worshiped a particular divine being who uniquely represented their defect system(s). Notably, though, this translate is still disputed in present scholarly discussion (See blacksmith 2002, 125; blacksmith 2001, 72-73).


City gate of Khirbet Qeiyafa
Ricardo Tulio Gandelman (CC BY)

Other instances come indigenous the Hebrew bible itself. In Psalm 82, for example, Yahweh stands in the council of El, the high deity in West Semitic mythology. Yahweh accuses the other divine beings in the council of no helping poor and also needy. In other words, the other deities failed to perform their work as deities. As a result, El takes away the divine status the the deities and commands Yahweh to rule over the nations. In this item of city from Judah and Israel, we have an example of a tradition in which other divine beings are within the pantheon; however, Yahweh bring away the central role.

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Narrative in the Hebrew holy bible tells a comparable story. Because that example, in 1 monarchs 16:33, King Ahab provides a shrine because that Asherah. 2 queens 17:16 even references human being who worship Asherah and also Baal. Likewise, Baal praise occurs repeatedly throughout the narrative, saying that that "played a huge part in the belief of the Israelite population" throughout the Iron period (DDD 1999, 137).

Additionally, among the faster translations the the Hebrew scriptures into one more language in the 3rd century BCE attests to the henotheism of ancient Israel. In the Septuigant (LXX), a Greek translate in of the Hebrew Bible, Deuteronomy 32:8 reads: "When the many High to be apportioning nations, together he scattered Adam"s sons, that fixed borders of countries according come the variety of divine sons" (Pietersma and also Wright, 2007). Many High is a referral to El. In this verse, El is claimed to entrust nations and people teams to his magnificent sons, namely deities. In this verse, Yahweh is assigned come Israel, and also other deities to other peoples. Thus, the Hebrew bible itself mirrors the henotheism of ancient Israel and also the region more broadly.

And together the previous engravings demonstrate, praise of divine beings other 보다 Yahweh seems to have actually been a regular part of life for people. Transparent the Hebrew Bible, it argues that Yahweh has constantly been the divine being that human being should worship. Based upon these inscriptions, Psalms, Kings, Deuteronomy, and other unmentioned evidence, though, we understand this is no the case; rather, henotheism was most likely the norm for ancient Israelites and Judeans.

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One scholar says that "whatever the biblical authors may have actually tried to convey, may not have actually been… the primary type of belief or spiritual exercise" (Gilmour, 100). In other words, the Hebrew holy bible does no accurately stand for how civilization actually practiced religion in the ancient world. He insurance claims this since the Hebrew bible itself was likely edited and also compiled in between the 7th and 3rd centuries BCE. So, return the Hebrew bible preserves legacies going ago as much as the 11th century BCE, the theological and cultural positions in between the 7th and third centuries BCE were most likely read into the past and, among these, to be monotheism.

Practice & Ritual

Having readily available a straightforward idea the what and how some old Israelites and Judeans may have actually thought around their deities, we deserve to now look in ~ how old Judeans and Israelites practiced religion in ~ their product environment. In various other words, what type of points did they physically perform in bespeak to praise their main deity, Yahweh?

According to legacy in the book of Leviticus, there to be 5 main species of sacrifice: scorched offering, grain offering, wellbeing offering, sin offering, and guilt offering. Within each type of sacrifice, there were 3 levels of product objects which might be offered. The reason there were 3 levels was to allow the poor within the culture to sell sacrifice. Because that example, a person bringing a charred offering can offer a bull, lamb or goat, or turtledove or pigeon. In various other words, they might offer an high-quality offering, a medium-priced offering, or an inexpensive offering. The other varieties of sacrifices readily available the same chance for the poor. Some routine texts native a Syrian city called Emar include the very same levels the sacrifice, namely level which enabled the negative to do offerings.


Reconstructed Israelite House
Talmoryair (Public Domain)

One of the many important annual rituals may have actually been the work of Atonement (Yom Kippur). The function of the job of Atonement was to to wash the sanctuary; for sin was assumed to pollute the sanctuary. Without the ritual, Yahweh would, potentially, leaving the sanctuary. There is no Yahweh in the sanctuary, there was no longer any deity to advocate for the Judean population. As part of the assembly of El, the high god in Ugaritic mythology (cf. Ps. 29, 82), Yahweh to be "assigned" Israel in some biblical traditions.

In bespeak to settle this potential problem, a high monk would carry out the sacrificial ritual by sacrificing because that the sins of the people and also sprinkling blood ~ above the altar. He then placed his hand top top the head that a goat, transferred the impurities come the goat, and made one final burnt offering come atone for the civilization (Leviticus 16). Consequently, the world were atoned for. This national atonement likewise served come strengthen political bonds and also unity.

The day of Atonement is very similar to a ritual in Ugaritic messages (KTU 1.40), which date about the 13th century BCE. That does differ, though, in one major way. Whereas the Ugaritic ritual is carry out in multiple temples, the work of Atonement is, according to Leviticus, just performed in one temple, one sanctuary. Thus, ancient Israelite and also Judean religion shares a comparable ritual framework; however, the ritual is additionally distinct from various other West Semitic rituals in regards to the centrality about one sanctuary.

Of course, other rituals are additionally attested to transparent the Hebrew Bible, such as Passover (Pesach), new Moon festivals, and other festivals come celebrate seasonal changes. These rituals likely involved sacrifice to Yahweh, similar to the heritage of the work of Atonement.


Solomon"s Temple, Jerusalem
Unknown Artist (Public Domain)

Ritual was not the only kind of spiritual devotion, however. Return oftentimes thought about to it is in taboo, divination was critical part of old Israelite and Judean religion. Because that example, 1 Samuel 28 speak a rigid of King Saul visiting a necromancer (one who raises ghosts native the ground) at En-dor. King Saul needs to speak come Samuel the prophet"s ghost. In this passage, though, the witch is no condemned because that performing necromancy. Thus, this message demonstrates the divination did take place in ancient Israelite and also Judean practice and also ritual. Likewise, the was no necessarily frowned upon.

At the same time, some traditions clearly ban divination. In Deuteronomy 18:10-11, the push against divination is explicit: "Let no one be found among you who consigns his kid or daughter to the fire, or that is one augur, a soothsayer, a diviner, a sorcerer, one that casts spells, or one who consults ghosts or acquainted spirits, or one who inquires the the dead." There would certainly be no reason for a law such as this, though, if divination was no practiced. Therefore, old Israelite and Judean religion consists of divination in some traditions; however, various other traditions, such together Deut. 18:10-11, stand in opposition come the practice of divination.


In the old world, ethical behavior played critical role in religion. The an initial five books of the Hebrew Bible, for example, emphasize the prestige of moral behavior. The honest behavior, though, is no a distinct group from religion in the old world; rather, ethical actions impacts even if it is or no the deity, namely Yahweh, stays in the sanctuary or temple. Consequently, ethical behavior was interpreted to be associated with even if it is or no Yahweh ongoing protecting the ancient Judeans and Israelites native other people groups. This sort of correlation is evident throughout the Hebrew Bible.

The ethical behavior of the Judean individuals was an important aspect that religion due to the fact that it ensured the enduring visibility of the divine being in the temple.

For example, a team on mountain Samaria is referenced together "the ones who oppress the poor and crush the needy" (Amos 4:1). In response, Yahweh cases that even though he removed their food, sent out no rain, and also caused famine, the world did not return. In various other words, they walk not adjust their behavior. This does not indicate that Yahweh just cared around ethics and did not care around his cult; rather, it indicates that ethics influenced whether or not Yahweh would provide sustenance for the people. Another example is in 1 Samuel 4. In this narrative, the glory the Yahweh, namely the representation of his physical presence, pipeline the temple as a an effect for the ethical corruption that the boy of Eli. Finally, Leviticus 18-22 offers a collection of moral and also ethical standards. The consequence of not complying with the standards is being "cut off from the people." Importantly, though, this consequence is not the punishment for negative behavior; rather, the repercussion is essential in order to maintain sanctity and holiness in ~ the community and also of the temple. For, if the residence of Yahweh ended up being too polluted, that would need to leave.

Thus, the ethical actions of the Judean peoples was vital aspect the religion because it ensured the enduring existence of the deity in the temple. Consequently, the deity was may be to carry out blessings, life, and sustenance native the temple.

History in the Hebrew Bible, Judaism, & present State that Scholarship

People familiar with the Hebrew Bible/Old testament may have noticed that there was no discussion about the religious importance of elements like the Law, Moses, and also the Davidic Dynasty. The reason such religious aspects were not consisted of was that these reflect spiritual ideas occurred between the 7th and 4th centuries BCE. If the line of Judah and also figures like David existed, castle were no necessarily main to ancient Israelite and also Judean religious practice. For, "the presentation the Israel"s past in the biblical narrative indigenous Genesis come 2 majesties is an ideological build by intellectuals" ~ the 7th century BCE "who, nevertheless, transmitted part memories dating from the tenth to the sixth centuries BCE" (Knauf and Guillaume, 53). Thus, to a particular extent, the Hebrew bible reflects fine the previous in ancient Judah and Israel; however, as a compilation the Judean traditions, it periodically misrepresents or altogether ignores what taken place in the past.

Additionally, attentive reader may an alert that there to be no discussion of Judaism. Normally speaking, the scholarly agreement is the the religious beliefs of Judaism was distinct from ancient Israelite and also Judean religion. The aspects which specify Judaism, though, are beyond the scope of this article.

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Finally, it is important to be aware of the existing state that scholarship about ancient Israelite history. Together a field of study, it is one of the most daunting fields since scholars have a limited amount of primary sources they can work with. Likewise, old Israelite history, particularly the religious history, is difficult to work-related with because one should sift with the Hebrew bible in stimulate to decide what may reflect the past most accurately. So, there might be others who sell vastly various explanations and descriptions of how old Israelites and also Judeans practiced religion. This is a natural consequence of the sparse amount the data and serves come exemplify just how much an ext research needs to be excellent in old Israelite history in stimulate for united state to be able to appreciate just how this ancient people group interpreted their duty in the world.