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Judaism: One Religion Or Many Small Religions?

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Is Judaism composed of many 'small religions' or one underlying religion? Judaism or Judaisms? It has been argued that Judaism can be seen not only as a single religion, but as a group of similar religions. It has also been pointed-out that through all the trials and tribulations that Judaism has suffered through, that there have been common themes that have proven omni-pervasive. Any institution with roots as ancient and varied as the religion of the Jews is bound to have a few variations, especially when most of its history takes place in the political and theological hot spot of the Middle East. In this discussion, many facets of Judaism will be examined, primarily in the three temporal subdivisions labeled the Tribal / Pre-Monarchy Period, the Divided Monarchy, and the Hasmonean / Maccabean and Roman Era.
Among all the time periods where the religion has been split, these three seem to be the most representative of the forces responsible. As for a common thread seen throughout all Judiasms, the area of focus here is the place associated with the religion : Jerusalem. This topic will be covered in detail first, and then the multiple Judaism arguments will be presented. In this way, it is possible to keep a common focus in mind when reading about all the other situations in which the religion has found itself. A brief conclusion follows the discussion. A Place to Call Home No other religion has ever been so attached to its birthplace as Judaism. Perhaps this is because Jews have been exiled and restricted from this place for most of their history. Jerusalem is not only home to Judaism, but to the Muslim and Christian religions as well. Historically this has made it quite a busy place for the various groups. Jerusalem is where the temple of the Jews once stood; the only place on the whole Earth where one could leave the confines of day to day life and get closer to God. In 586 BCE when the temple was destroyed, no Jew would have denied Jerusalem as being the geographic center of the religion. From that point on, the Jewish people have migrated around the world, but not one of them forgets the fact that Jerusalem is where it all began. It is truly a sacred place, and helps to define what Judaism means to many people; a common thread to run through all the various splinters of the religion and help hold them together. Even today, as the Jewish people have their precious Jerusalem back (through the help of other nations and their politics) there is great conflict and emotion surrounding it. Other nations and people in the area feel that they should be in control of the renowned city, and the Jews deny fervently any attempt to wrestle it from their occupation. It is true that there is no temple in Jeruslaem today, nor are all the Jews in the world rushing to get back there. But it is apparent that the city represents more to the religion of Judaism than a mere place to live and work. The city of Jerusalem is a spiritual epicenter, and throughout Judaism's long and varied history, this single fact has never changed. Tribal / Pre-Monarchy Judaism's roots lie far back in the beginnings of recorded history. The religion did not spring into existence exactly as it is known today, rather it was pushed and prodded by various environmental factors along the way.
One of the first major influences on the religion was the Canaanite nation. Various theories exist as to how and when the people that would later be called Jews entered into this civilization. But regardless of how they ultimately got there, these pioneers of the new faith were subjected to many of the ideas and prejudices of the time. Any new society that finds itself in an existing social situation, can do no more than to try and integrate into that framework. And this is exactly what the Jews did. Early Judaism worshipped multiple gods. One of these gods was known as Ba'al, and was generally thought-of as a 'statue god' with certain limitations on his power. The other primary deity was called YHWH (or Yahweh) and enjoyed a much more mysterious and illusive reputation. He was very numinous, and one was to have great respect, but great fear for him at the same time. Ba'al was not ever really feared, as his cycles (metaphorically seen as the seasons) were fairly well known, and not at all fear-inducing. The fact that the early Jews and Canaanites had these two radically different representations of a deity active in their culture, basically assured that there would be splits in the faith. One group inevitably would focus on one of the gods, and another would focus on another. In this way, the single religion could support multiple types of worship, leading to multiple philosophies and patterns of behavior, which could then focus more and more on their respective niche, widening the gap into a clear cut distinction between religious groups. This early time period was generally quite temporary and non-centralized, stemming from the fact that technology was at a very low level, and people's lifespan was fairly short. These conditions led to a rapid rate of turnover in religious thought, and left many factions of people to their own devices. Widespread geographic distribution coupled with poor communication certainly did not help in holding the many faiths together.
The Tribal Period in Jewish history is one of the more splintered eras in the religion, but since these people were all living in the area near Jerusalem, the common thread can be seen clearly through the other less-defined elements of the religion. Divided Monarchy By its very name, it is apparent that this period of history is host to a great deal of divergence in the Jewish religion. As Solomon was king, people began to grow more and more restless. Some objected to worshiping a human king, while others balked at the oppression of the poor that was going on. Political unrest in this period led to a decisive split in geographic territory, and thus a split in religious views. A group of people left the area of Judah and traveled North to found Israel, where they could be free to practice their own political flavors, and their own religious flavors as well. This sort of behavior has come to be seen ...

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