<Standard 7.20 ...............................................................................................................Standard 7.22>

Describe the monotheistic religion of the Israelites.

Angel with the Sixth Commandment: "Thou shall not kill"
Angel with the Sixth Commandment: "Thou shall not kill"

Topics on the page
A. the belief that there is one God
B. the Ten Commandments
  • The Ten Commandments Movie in Hollywood
C. the emphasis on individual worth and personal responsibility
D. the belief that all people must adhere to the same moral obligations, whether ruler or ruled
E. the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) as part of the history of early Israel.
  • William Tyndale's Translation of the Bible (1525)




World_map_pol_2005_v02.svg.pngFor more see AP World History Key Concept 2.1

primary_sources.PNGPrimary Source Materials: Ancient and Classical Sources, Baylor University Institute for Church-State Studies

Focus Question: What was the monotheistic religion of the Israelites?


For an overview, see Basic Beliefs of Judaism, a website maintained by Tracey Rich, an independent researcher.

Click here or here for a brief history of Judaism.

Click here for an overview Ancient Israel.

Click here for a video showing the differences between monotheism and polytheism and how both affected the ancient Israelites.

a. The belief that there is one God

god-by-monty-python.jpg
"Thou shalt not have other Gods before Me." -The First Commandment


Abraham Sends Hagar and Ishmael Away
Abraham Sends Hagar and Ishmael Away

The Israelites based their faith upon the belief that there is only one God, a belief commonly referred to as "monotheism."

According to the Hebrew Bible (or as Christians call it the Old Testament) the Prophet Abraham was the first of the Hebrews to believe in the existence of a single God.

This belief would later serve as the basic spiritual foundation for Judaism, as well as Christianity and Islam.

Click here for a youtube clip that discusses each type of religion.

Go here for more information on the beliefs of modern Judaism.


Rotating_globe-small.gifRit Nosotro's essay examines the evolution of monotheism from polytheism across cultures.

primary_sources.PNG Internet Jewish History Sourcebook contains a wealth of primary source material on the Israelites.


b. The Ten Commandments
Moses Mosaic
Moses Mosaic

The Ten Commandments served as the basic guidelines for Ancient Hebrew law and were later incorporated as an integral force in Christianity as well.

The Ancient Israelites believed that the Prophet Moses was given the Ten Commandments by God on top of Mount Sinai.

The idea that absolute moral guidelines are needed for a civilized society would later influence Western European legal thinking.

The image to the left is a Medieval European Christian depiction of the Prophet Moses.

external image Red_apple.jpgClick here for a primary source analysis activity comparing the Ten Commandments and Hammurabi's Code

The Ten Commandments Movie in Hollywood
Moses played by Charlton Heston in the 1950's brings the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament to life. See clip from YouTube

Movie Review of the Ten Commandments, New York Times (December 9, 1956)


c. The emphasis on individual worth and personal responsibility

  • This idea is closely tied with the teachings of the Ten Commandments.
  • Each person is responsible for understanding the importance of others and what they can offer to the community.
  • Along with this, people must understand the worth that they bring as individuals.
  • Full understanding of these two ideas brings people together since respect is gained both for oneself and for one's community.


d. The belief that all people must adhere to the same moral obligations, whether ruler or ruled.

  • The Israelites believed that since a large majority of its followers were peasants, rulers must not withhold certain rights from their less fortunate counterparts.
  • Elites and rulers were not morally allowed to withhold property from the poor.
  • Unlike the future Catholic Church, the Israelites did not sanctify practices such as selling indulgences, which would suggest that the rich had a higher moral and spiritual status than the poor.
  • The stories of the Hebrew Bible showed that the Israelites believed that all people, including kings, had a individual moral obligation to serve God and help their community.


Ancient Israel is a site where students and teachers can explore the cultural and societal history of Ancient Israel including daily life, food, maps, & family roles. This site also provides links to additional resources.


e. The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) as part of the history of early Israel.


2nd Century Hebrew Decalogue
2nd Century Hebrew Decalogue


The Hebrew Bible remains a crucial window into the past for historians.

Very little other ancient written sources about the Israelites survives to this day. Therefore the Hebrew Bible is critical to understanding the ancient culture and religious beliefs of the Ancient Jews. The modern Hebrew Bible is divided into three sections, the Torah (law), the
Nevi'im (prophets) and the Ketuvim (writings). The Torah is the oldest section of the Hebrew Bible. It was the ancient Israelite secular and religious book of law.

The Torah also served as a means to unite the various pastoral peoples of Canaan into a unified Israelite kingdom. Leadership, as mentioned above, was entwined with spirituality. Religious law, and the stories of the Torah, formed the backbone of ancient Israel's daily legal code.

The Ancient Israelites were eventually conquered by the Persian Empire who followed a religion known as Zoroastrianism. Some of the more mystical and spiritual doctrines of Judaism- and later Christianity- can be traced back to Zoroastrian beliefs in angelic beings, final judgement and the afterlife.
Check out this video for more information about Zoroastrianism.

In addition, the Hebrew Bible served as the textual foundation of both Islam and Christianity. As a result Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are all considered "Abrahamic" religions, since all three trace their spiritual lineage to the Covenant between God and Abraham as discussed in the Torah.

external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline2_rus.svg.png Multimedia.png The Bible's Buried Secrets is an archaeological detective story the traces the origins of the Bible from NOVA.


The Rise of Judaism is an interview that covers the importance of Monotheism and Abraham in the Jewish faith. It also provides examples explaining how Judaism developed in ancient Israel and how modern Judaism differs from the ancient faith.
external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline2_rus.svg.pngWalking the Bible Timeline gives an excellent chronology of events in the Bible.



primary_sources.PNGClick here for a link to Codex Sinaiticus , a 1600 year--old manuscript that contains the Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament.

external image Tyndale_Bible_John_5.jpg

The image to the right shows the beginning verses of the Gospel of John, from a facsimile edition of Tyndale's 1525 English translation. Image by Kevin Rawlings


William Tyndale translated the Bible into English in 1525.
  • He was imprisoned and executed for heresy.
  • His translation was banned in England.
  • Served as the foundation for the King James Bible published in 1611 (80 percent of which is unaltered from Tyndale's translation).

Click here for the text of William Tyndale's Translation

Other Interesting Aspects of the Ancient Israelites

Monotheism is the main component of the Jewish religion, but what about polygamy? Did believing in one God create the union between only to two people?
http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/558598/jewish/Does-Jewish-Law-Forbid-Polygamy.ht



Works Cited:

The History of Monotheism. Retrieved April 5, 2007, from Chabad.org Web site: http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article.asp?AID=2612
The Ten Commandments. Retrieved April 5, 2007, from Topmarks Web site: http://www.topmarks.co.uk/judaism/commandments/tencomms.htm
The History of the World From a Biblical Perspective. Retrieved April 5, 2007, from Bible World History Web site: http://www.bibleworldhistory.com/


New Sources:

The Israelites. Retrieved 31 July 2011: http://bookbuilder.cast.org/view_print.php?book=22791.
Internet Jewish History Sourcebook (2007). Retrieved 31 July 2011 from Fordham University's site: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/jewish/jewishsbook.asp.
Walking the Bible Timeline (2005). Retrieved 31 July 2011 from PBS's site: http://www.pbs.org/walkingthebible/timeline.html.
The Bible's Buried Secrets (2008). Retrieved 31 July 2011 from WGBH Educational Foundation's site: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/bible/.
The Bible's Buried Secrets Video (2008). Retrieved 31 July 2011 from WGBH Educational Foundation's site: http://video.pbs.org/video/1051895565.
Ancient Israel in Context. Retrieved 31 July 2011: http://www.stolaf.edu/courses/ws399/ws399_04/Projects/Naylor_Research/israel.html.
Ancient Israel. Retrieved 31 July 2011: http://www.opschools.org/middleschool.cfm?subpage=700.
Zoroastrianism's connection to Judaism. Retrieved 10 February 2013: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/15283-zoroastrianism
The Rise of Judaism. Retrieved 13 January 2015 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/rise-judaism.html
Jewish Beliefs. Retrieved 14 September 2009 http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism/beliefs/beliefs_1.shtml
New images obtained from Wikimedia Commons.
Does Jewish Law Forbid Polygamy? Retrieved 29 January 2018 http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/558598/jewish/Does-Jewish-Law-Forbid-Polygamy.htm
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtVycdtjy_E
Women in the Bible Retrieved 29 January 2018
http://www.womeninthebible.net/women-bible-old-new-testaments/rachel/rachels-world/