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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

The Development of Biblical Religion: From Prophecy to Text

Whether biblical religion marks a radical break with older Israelite‐Judean religion, or only a new, heightened phase, its formative stimulus seems to have been in the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 9th century BCE. The attempt of Jezebel to import the worship of Tyrian Baal, along with its rites and coterie of prophets, into Israel stirred the violent opposition of the prophets of the native deity YHVH. The leaders of the “YHVHℐonly‐ party, as Morton Smith called it, Elijah and his disciple Elisha, inspired a military coup against the northern monarchs, the Omrides. Elijah was filled with exclusive “zeal” (kinʾah) for God, an intolerance of other deities, that remained one of the hallmarks of biblical religion. The struggle with Baalism in the North continued into the 8th century, as evidenced by the activity of Hosea, who seems to have introduced a number of other key ideas, suchas the use of pungent sexual terminology to describe apostasy (“whoring after foreign gods”). Biblical religion was thus Northern in origin, which explains why, as a religious reference (as opposed to political and cultural), the name of the community that accepted biblical religion was to remain “Israel” long after the late 8th‐century demise of the historical kingdom of Israel.

After the fall of the Northern Kingdom in the 8th century, this prophetically rooted, exclusive faith migrated south to Judah, perhaps already at the end of the 8th century, when it may have inspired the reforming efforts of King Hezekiah. By the late 7th century biblical religion had become consolidated into the Deuteronomic “movement,” probably a loose confederation of priests, prophets and their disciples, and royal officials. King Josiah was induced, by the “finding” of a “Book of the Instruction” (sefer hatorah—probably a form of Deuteronomy) in the Temple, and by political motives (the weakening of Assyria) to undertake the great revolutionary “reform” of 621 BCE. The traditional high places were proscribed, worship was centralized in Jerusalem; images, stelae (matzevot), wooden poles (ʾasherot), and the other paraphernalia of “idolatry” were destroyed (2 Kings chs 22–23 ); and the worship of the “Queen of Heaven” (Astarte) was forbidden (Jer. 44.18 ).

The reform, or revolution, lapsed after Josiah's ignominious death in battle, which could hardly have been interpreted by most contemporaries other than as divine judgment on his impiety in uprooting so many traditional forms of worship (see Jer. 44.15–19 ). But the ruling classes of Judah were soon exiled to Babylonia. The exile community of the 6th century BCE, centered near Nippur in southern Babylonia, was a crucible of religious activity: prophetic (Ezekiel, Second Isaiah) and historical (the work of the Deuteronomistic Historian, editor of the first edition of the Former Prophets, the historical books from Joshua to Kings). The basic theological ideas of the Deuteronomic and Priestly tradition began to take their classic written forms, as did the first editions of some of the prophetic writings.

The most active period in the establishment of biblical religion thus took place in the exile, and it was this religion that was transplanted back into the tiny Judean community of returned exiles in the late 6th and mid‐5th centuries BCE. The first attempts at return were feeble and indecisive. The final reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah (after 450 BCE) imposed the standards of developed biblical religion on the community, with the Torah, probably in more or less its present form, as the constitution. The development of biblical religion was therefore gradual, stretching from at least the late 9th or 8th to the 5th centuries. In its final form it marks an attempt to restore pre‐exilic Judah, reinterpreted as a religious community of Israel, by restructuring old institutions and formulating new theological ideas projected back into a Mosaic age that was now viewed as uniquely authoritative. Contemporary prophecy was demoted and all but abolished in favor of the written documents that contained past revelation, so that biblical religion became a completely textual religion, requiring a body of approved interpreters, the scribes. Interpretation of the old revelation displaced the new revelations of contemporary prophets. The final form of biblical religion was supported by the Persian state, which may have stimulated the formation of the Torah, a compromise document of the two major ongoing traditions of biblical religion, the Deuteronomic‐covenantal and the Priestly‐cultic, both of which will now be briefly described.

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