Here is a Quick Summary of Archaeological History to place these source documents into real world historical sociological perspective, before embracing the Sources:
Judaism has gone through four distinct stages or shifts over the last three and a half thousand years. Three of the four are nationalistic stages, and one of them is the stage of world religion status. These four distinct stages can be summarized as the following – the nationalistic Polytheistic Judaism era, the nationalistic Pre-Monotheistic Judaism era, the Monotheistic Judaism era and, most presently, the ‘as a world religion’ Theistic Denominational and Non-Theistic Humanistic Judaisms era. The following is a taste of the real world history that our Polytheistic and Pre-Monotheistic Jewish ancestors lived in, while they wrote their parts of what we now collectively call Torah in.
To understand and appreciate what you are about to read, the original source documents for the later redacted document (meaning, compiled together by editors) known as the “Bible” or Torah,” we first must understand the actual historical history of the Jews who created this book of origin myths and law codes. The Semitic tribes that entered and established themselves into lands of Judea and Israel, next to the lands of the Semitic Canaanites were a poor and undeveloped people for most of their early history. The loosely confederated nations of Judah in the South and Israel in the North were constant rivals towards each other, much different from the legendary history presented in their much later in historical time written myths about their origins and relationship to one another, and their relationship to Canaan. The historical reality of the Jews in relation to their more affluent Hebrew neighbors of Israel and in relation their prosperous sea-dwelling neighbor Canaan, which they despised immensely and often tried raid without much success, and with their southern Egyptian neighbors, who had military control over Canaan, can be summarized succinctly in the following way.
All of them – Egypt, Canaan, Israel, and Judah – were polytheistic peoples/nations at the times of their formation and during much of their BCE history. The Egyptians had their own unique pantheon that justified their existence, were primarily vegetarian based in diet, were developers of expansive city territories, considered hairless-ness to be a symbol of divinity, and hated the hairy carnivorous oriented Semitic tribes that came in and momentarily conquered parts of their world, before being driven away towards the north. The Canaanites paid no real attention to the poor in land resources Bedouin-like Semitic tribes of Israel and Judah, and their main invasion issues were the military control that southern Egypt had applied to their lands, an occupation that excised levies but did not eradicate the normal culture of this prosperous sea coast connected city-civilization. The only focus that Canaan gave towards Israel and Judah, were a disgust for their primitiveness and a need to put down their raiding efforts.
The Jews of Judah and the Hebrews of Israel are a special bunch, but not so special at all in comparison to their neighbors of Canaan and Egypt. Both the Jews and Israel were devoutly polytheistic in religious beliefs, and had their pantheon of gods and goddesses common to all Semitic people of the area. The Jewish pantheon included the storm god Yahweh and the fertility goddess Asherah, who was his wife, and seventy children gods/goddesses (note, not immortals as we understand it today, these gods and goddesses could kill each other and, in their myths, definitely did – for very human reasons). Eventually, about 700 years after their formation as an ethnic nation in the land, with the rise of the Levitical cult of religious/political power, the Jewish people would abandon their goddess, relegating her to just the wife of their neighbor’s Baal, and elevate their god Yahweh to the status of the supreme god El. They were not friends with their Hebrew neighbors of Israel to the north, but rather regularly fought with them for control of the lands the two lived upon. That is, until late in their first kingdom history they formed an uneasy alliance together that did not last, to protect themselves against their neighbors. Israel’s pantheon included the supreme god Elohim and his wife Asherah, and they were a slow to develop nation, eventually obtaining a degree of prosperity and national power for a brief span of their history, until their utter destruction and removal from world history as a people-state by the unrelenting Assyrians.
Eventually, some 700 years or so after the formations of Judah and Israel, Judah fell as a nation-state to the Babylonians, who expelled many of them from the land of Judah. During their exile, before being allowed to return to the lands of Judah and Israel and establish a second kingdom of now Jewish Israel, the religious scribes of the Jews wrote and compiled into a Torah their origin myths and law codes of differing sources. One source used was the early first kingdom Judean origin myths of the creation of their land and the pre-Jewish ancestors that would eventually become the Jews of Judah (the family patriarchs, from Adam through Abraham’s lines), detailing the highly glorified and historically inaccurate legends of these ancestors that were their fore- fathers and mothers, and providing a summarization of their early kingdom law codes. Some historical inaccuracies, implied for the sake of a mythologized history, were events such as they invaded Canaan and overtook them, were slaves in Egypt, and so forth – but, these myths, like the myths of creation and the flood, are just legendary myths, and were not meant to be taken as literal history facts – as far back as probably even in their time! These origin myths were, of course, cleaned up, by the Levitical priests, who’d immigrated from Egypt to Judea/Israel, to avoid positive mentioning of the goddess Asherah and her role as the mother god and to emphasize the local family-nation god as the supreme god. Another source was the early first kingdom Israeli myths of the patriarchs and a summarization of their early kingdom law codes.
These first sources were then augmented throughout by yet another source, written near the end of the first kingdom, the Levitical priestly re-write account of the Judean/Israeli origin myths and myths of the patriarchs and an extensive summarized set of law codes and genealogical histories. The priestly version heavily re-wrote the origins and family/nation history accounts in such a way to ensure that they, the priestly cast, were the people of religious and political power within the Jewish Israel nation, reducing as much as possible the role of women as prophets and leaders, the role kings and prophets in their authority over the people, and the role of the supreme god of the pantheon – as now being an unknowable, formless, and unreachable high god that can only be properly ‘worshiped’ and ‘known’ through the priests and their cultic rituals. They still recognized the existence of the other lower gods and goddesses, though, even during this time. Then, lastly, moving to the redacted Torah (the compliling of these source documents in one master volume) which we read today, utilized a fourth source, the second kingdom source – which validated and authoritatively established the second kingdom of Jewish Israel as a recognized nation power in these lands. This fourth source is a, yet again, adapted set of origin myths of the patriarchs and the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, with a current and clearly established summarized national law-code for the nation of Jewish Israel, officially ordained as the history and laws of the second kingdom of now Jewish Israel.
So, in even a greater summary of this historical summarization we have: The first two kingdoms of Judah/Israel, 1000 BCE to 70 CE, that gave rise to Polytheistic Judaism, with a battle for the establishment of Pre-Monotheistic Torah Judaism occurring through Priestly influence. After the fall of the second kingdom of Israel at the start of the Common Era, which we are a part, and the successful rise of rabbinic Talmudic Judaism, we now became a dispersed nation of Jews without national land borders, living in Israel and throughout the Diaspora, that is preserving the ancient ways of our ancestors through a Monotheistic Halakhah based civil-religious way of life. Then, with the most recent rise of the Enlightenment Era in Western societal history, where Jewish people could now be citizens of a host nation and just a religious member of their Jewish nation, we have the developments of Theistic Denomination Judaism and Non-Theistic ethnic culture-based Secular Judaism. In reading the individual source documents on these pages, we are about to experience the Polytheistic/Pre-Monotheistic origin myths and legends and law-codes of our ancient Jewish ancestors.
… With this understanding now being presented, it is time to read each of these various source documents, and get a deep appreciation for what each was expressing on its own terms and view of the ancient world. Enjoy!
Joseph T Farkasdi