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Judaism From Abraham to Moses

     There are relatively few Jews in the world, but most people in the world have heard about Jews. One of the references that mentions this fact is the book "Jews, God, and History." This book, however, has many errors in it. I will discuss some of these errors below. One of the reasons so many people have heard about the Jews is the fact that since ancient times, Jews have been important in government, science, or even entertainment. Examples are the physicist Albert Einstein, Joseph from the Bible, and the film director Steven Spielberg. Another reason is that the two most populous religions in the world, Christianity and Islam, mention Jews in their holy scriptures, but these references are negative. These people, however, do not really know the Jews. To really know the Jews, you must understand Jewish history. In this paper, I will discuss Jewish history, since that is what you must know to understand Judaism.

     About 4,000 years ago, the ideas that led to modern day Judaism were created. Back then, Judaism was much different. There were no kosher laws, synagogues, or Israel. The idea of monotheism was created by Abraham, the first Jew. That idea is still in use today. Soon Abraham had a son, named Isaac. According to the Bible, God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. But then, at the last moment, an angel stopped Abraham. This story is important to Jews because it tells Jews not to sacrifice humans, another law that is still around today.

     Soon Isaac had a son named Jacob (from a set of twins). Jacob later had twelve sons, and he favored one, whose name was Joseph. Joseph's brothers were jealous, and they sold him into slavery. He was brought into Egypt by the people who bought him as a slave. In Egypt, he got into trouble with his master, a government official named Potiphar. Joseph was imprisoned, and soon forgotten. However, one night, a cook and a wine servant joined Joseph in the jail. Each had a dream. Joseph interpreted the dreams as meaning the cook would die and the servant would be set free. Joseph's interpretations turned out to be correct.

     Two years later, the Pharaoh had two strange dreams. In one, seven fat cows were eaten by seven small cows. In the other, seven stalks of ripe corn were engulfed by seven stalks of of unripe, stunted corn. Pharaoh was told that Joseph could interpret dreams, and had him brought in.

     Joseph interpreted the dreams as meaning there would be seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. Since Joseph was the only one who could interpret Pharaoh's dreams, he was given a very high ranking position (one step below the Pharaoh himself). Joseph suggested and organized storing grain during the seven years of plenty, and during the famine, Egypt was the only country with food. People from other countries, including the Jews from Joseph's family, came to Egypt for food. The Jews stayed.

     There is little reason to doubt what the Bible says about this story so far. However, the next part has several different interpretations.

     The Bible says that the descendants of the Jews who came to Egypt to escape the famine were eventually enslaved by the Egyptians. But another interpretation is that Egypt was conquered by Hittites, who enslaved all the people in Egypt, including the Jews. After four hundred years of slavery a boy named Moses was born to the Levite tribe of Jewish slaves. Around that time, the Pharaoh of Egypt (possibly a Hittite) put out a decree that all male slave babies should be thrown into the Nile River and drowned. This was because he had heard rumors that the slaves were planning to revolt, and he wanted to prevent it from happening by doing this cruel thing. Moses' mother Yocheved saved his life by putting him in a basket that could float on the Nile, and the Pharaoh's daughter found him and adopted him. Moses grew up in the Pharaoh's palace, and was given a good education. One day, as a man, he saw a Jewish slave get beaten. In anger he killed the taskmaster who was beating the slave. Afraid for his life, he ran off into the desert. In the desert, Moses had an experience in which God told him to free the Jews from slavery. Moses tried, but Pharaoh refused. According to the Bible, ten plagues occurred, and finally Pharaoh let the Jews go. This story is important because the holiday of Passover sprang from it.

     After the Jews were freed, they were led into the Sinai Desert by Moses. The Jews could have been led to their destination, the land of Canaan, in a few weeks. But Moses led them on a course that took forty years. During these forty years, they learned how to become the Jewish people. According to the Bible, Moses received 613 commandments from God (including the famous Ten Commandments) which he taught to the escaped slaves so they would know what to do to be Jewish. This way when they reached Canaan they would be a people with a culture and laws. Among the laws that Moses gave the Jews were the kosher laws, and laws about charity, fairness, ways of settling arguments, and different crimes and punishments.

     The book "Jews, God, and History" is interesting, but has many errors in it. The most prominent of these mistakes is the statement, "Moses is as important to Jews as Jesus is to Christians." There are many differences between how Jews think of Moses and how Christians think of Jesus. Christians believe that Jesus was God and that God saves people from sinful behavior. Jews believe that Moses was a regular human who gave the Jews a set of laws. Not all Jews followed these laws, and many don't today. But a person who chooses to follow the laws feels he is doing the right thing, and feels Jewish. Christians believe that only getting saved by Jesus can make them righteous. Jews do not believe that God will correct any human being's actions, because God gave humans free will. Therefore, in Judaism, each person is responsible for his own actions, whether they are good or bad. Jews don't believe that anyone except yourself saves you from sinful behavior.

     Through many centuries of oppression, the Jewish way of life has continued because of the laws given to the Jews in the desert by Moses, the descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.


Benjamin Kreuter