Did Judaism exist as a religion prior to Ezra, circa 440 BCE?

[As of May 9th 2014, this is only a very rough draft. It draws upon widely available sources to construct an introduction to more technical books of Biblical criticism.]

[From the time of the Gospels to 140 CE, numerous persons believed in Jesus but rejected Jewish religion. Eventually this caused enough tension for the Church to denounce it as heresy, but it continued to recur.]


Although the earliest forms of writing in the region do not go back much further than c. 3500 BC, modern historians have suggested that Sumer was first permanently settled between c. 5500 and 4000 BC by a non-Semitic people who may or may not have spoken the Sumerian language (pointing to the names of cities, rivers, basic occupations, etc. as evidence).


[Editor’s Note: Uruk was probably founded some time around 4000 BCE. Later, around 2700 BCE, it seems to have had an actual king named Gilgamesh. Untangling the threads of archaeology and legend is work for a team of professionals; whether Gilgamesh was a legend or a factual person, a lot of people believe he physically existed, perhaps 1600 years before Homer existed. Comparison of Near Eastern, Egyptian, and Hellenistic civilizations is important; Lang and many other classicists have argued that ancient Greece had civilizations vastly more ancient and more advanced than the kingdom of Israel.]

Gilgamesh’s supposed historical reign is believed to have been approximately 2700 BCE,[2] shortly before the earliest known written stories. The discovery of artifacts associated with Aga and Enmebaragesi of Kish, two other kings named in the stories, has lent credibilit
The earliest Sumerian Gilgamesh poems date from as early as the Third dynasty of Ur (2100–2000 BC).[4] One of these poems mentions Gilgamesh’s journey to meet the flood hero, as well as a short version of the flood story.y to the historical existence of Gilgamesh.[3]


for date comparisons with Homer’s mythologizing, allegedly in 1188 BCE, see


for Hellenists who make unflattering comments about the lack of Israelite or Hebrew civilization, see Lang:



[Egypt arose in] 3150 BC (according to conventional Egyptian chronology) with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh.


During the 3rd millennium BC, there developed a very intimate cultural symbiosis between the Sumerians and the Semitic Akkadians, which included widespread bilingualism.[5] Akkadian gradually replaced Sumerian as a spoken language somewhere around the turn of the 3rd and the 2nd millennia BC (the exact dating being a matter of debate).[6]


Zoroaster’s birth and death dates are uncertain.
He wrote in a language that probably existed around 2000 BCE.
Many scholars argue for later dates such as 1400 BCE.

Zoroastrianism underpins many Western religions. It is much more ancient than Judaism, and it is probably more ancient than Akhenaten’s religion, Atenism.

Babylon –

Originally a minor administrative center, it only became an independent city-state in 1894 BC in the hands of a migrant Amorite dynasty not native to ancient Mesopotamia.


[Akhenaten] ruled for 17 years and died perhaps in 1336 BC or 1334 BC.


[Editor’s Note: Theologians have debated, and will continue to debate whether Akhenaten was a henotheist, a monolater, or a monotheist. As far as I can tell, it seems that Akhenaten was the first proponent of Western monotheism; it may be that some Vedics in India had already propounded monotheistic versions of Vedanta, but it is very difficult to assign a date to that. I find no evidence whatsoever that any kind of Jewish monotheism, monolatry, or henotheism predated Akhenaten. I find very little evidence that proto-Jewish polytheists predated Akhenaten. The Amarna Letters, mentioned below, are sometimes advanced as tenuous evidence that a Hebrew tribe of some kind predated Akhenaten.]

Letters from the Babylonian king, Kadashman-Enlil I, anchor the timeframe of Akhenaten’s reign to the mid-14th century BC. Here was also found the first mention of a Near Eastern group known as the Habiru, whose possible connection with the Hebrews — due to the similarity of the words and their geographic location — remains debated.


The name Israel first appears c. 1209 BCE, in an inscription of the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah. The inscription is very brief and says simply: “Israel is laid waste and his seed is not”.


[Editor’s Note: The name “Israel” was probably applied to a tribe or a patriarch with no relationship to Babylon, whereas Abraham was said to have come from “Ur of the Chaldees.” In fact the association between Babylonian migrants and a Canaanite tribe of “Israel” is probably fictitious. Note that various mystics can claim to be connected to various ancient tribes; Guido von Liszt might claim to be connected to the ancient Aryans who invaded India, but that does not constitute evidence. It might be that the Jahwist and Elowist Jews who claimed to be descended from legendary heroes who fought against Egypt were simply inventing mythical connections to long-dead foreign heroes. However, it is also possible that both of those groups had some actual genetic connection to the patriarch called “Israel.” The Jahwist and Eloist texts might have originated before the 1209 BCE Egyptian text, but it is more likely that they originated closer to 440 BCE.

If I wanted to make the strongest possible case for the existence of ancient Judaism, I would try to argue that Judaism dated back to about 1350 BCE, and that the “Habiru” mentioned in the Amarna Letters were the Hebrews. However, I doubt that the actual evidence can support that as anything other than speculation. I suspect that, some time before 890 BCE, the proto-Jewish collection of polytheistic tribes coalesced into a recognizably Jewish collection of henotheistic tribes with priesthoods that could at least tolerate each other.]

Additional archaeological finds may indicate the existence of organized tribes
with a sense of Jewish identity.


Professor Gershon Galil … has deciphered an inscription dating from the 10th century BCE (the period of King David’s reign), and has shown that this is a Hebrew inscription. The discovery makes this the earliest known Hebrew writing. …
Prof. Gershon Galil [said]: “It indicates that the Kingdom of Israel already existed in the 10th century BCE …”

[end quote]


…Finkelstein and Silberman do accept that David and Solomon were real kings of Judah about the 10th century BCE, they cite that the earliest independent reference to the Kingdom of Israel is about 890 BCE, while for that of Judah is about 750 BCE.


[Editor’s Note: Let us assume that proto-Jews recognized themselves as a coherent set of tribes by 1000 BCE, led by kings such as David. It remains to be shown that David had any connection with the version of Judaism invented by Ezra in 440 BCE. The historical David might have been a sincere henotheist, even if he did write the psalms attributed to him.

Before the “Bible” existed as such, there were separate sources, including Jahwist and Eloist sources. The evidence suggests that these proto-Jews were usually polytheistic, and perhaps sometimes henotheistic. However, they seem to have had competing henotheistic priesthoods; it seems that the Jahwist and Eloist priesthoods did not recognize each other as anything but rivals serving different gods.]

In 1938 Gerhard von Rad placed J at the court of Solomon, c. 950 BCE, and argued that his purpose in writing was to provide a theological justification for the unified state created by Solomon’s father, David.[10] This was generally accepted until a crucial 1976 study by H.H. Schmid, called in English “The So-called Yahwist”, demonstrated that J knew the prophetic books of the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, while the prophets did not know the traditions of the Torah, meaning J could not be earlier than the 7th century.[11] A number of current theories place J even later, in the exilic and/or post-exilic period (6th–5th centuries BCE).


The Babylonian captivity (or Babylonian exile) is the period in Jewish history during which a number of Jews of the ancient Kingdom of Judah were captives in Babylonia. After the Battle of Carchemish in 605 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, resulting in tribute being paid by King Jehoiakim.[1] Jehoiakim refused to pay tribute in Nebuchadnezzar’s fourth year, which led to another siege in Nebuchadnezzar’s seventh year, culminating with the death of Jehoiakim, and the exile of King Jeconiah, his court and many others; Jeconiah’s successor Zedekiah and others were exiled in Nebuchadnezzar’s eighteenth year; a later deportation occurred in Nebuchadnezzar’s twenty-third year. These deportations are dated to 597 BCE, c. 587 BCE, and c. 582 BCE, respectively.

After the fall of Babylon to the Persian king Cyrus the Great in 538 BCE, exiled Jews began to return to the land of Judah.


[The book _Who Wrote the Bible?_ speculates that Ezra collected the Jahwist and Elowist texts into a new form after the Babylonian Exile.]

Ezra (/ˈɛzrə/; Hebrew: עזרא, Ezra;[1] fl. 480–440 BC), also called Ezra the Scribe (Hebrew: עזרא הסופר, Ezra ha-Sofer) and Ezra the Priest in the Book of Ezra.


1 Response to Did Judaism exist as a religion prior to Ezra, circa 440 BCE?

  1. Pingback: Two Vultures of Scriptual Criticism, featuring Andrew Jackson Davis | vulture of critique

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