History of Judaism
Judaism is among the smaller religions in the world, with only 14 million followers as of 2012. It is the second-oldest religion which is still practiced widely. It is not known exactly what single person founded Judaism, as the religion started around 1500 BC, when written records were sparse.
Judaism is possibly the oldest monotheistic religion, or a religion which believes there is only one god. The founding lore of Judaism states that God made a covenant, or pact, with Abraham, a nomad leader, that he would be the father of a great nation if he followed God's will. The Jewish holy book, the Torah, tells about this, and about several other foundational events, such as the Jewish peoples' slavery in Egypt, and how Moses, acting under God's direction, led them out of slavery to the promised land.
Jewish history begins in the Levant, in what is today Israel. The Hebrew people were at first nomadic herders. They were then enslaved by the Egyptians for 400 years according to Jewish religious texts. After gaining their freedom from Egypt, they wandered in the desert for several years.
Around 1000 BC, the Jews settled down, formed a monarchy, moved their capital to the city of Jerusalem, and had a brief period of peace. After the death of King Solomon, famous for his wealth and wisdom, the Jewish people faced a series of cataclysms which resulted in many being exiled from their homeland. This has come to be known as the diaspora.
The Hebrews were conquered by the Assyrians, then by the Babylonians, and were exiled from Jerusalem. The Babylonians were then conquered by the Persians, who were in turn conquered by the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great. This all took place over the course of 500 years, and the Jews were forced to adapt to each new set ruler. The final conquerors were the Romans, who ruled the Levant for the next 300 years.
Around the year zero, a Jew named Jesus Christ, who claimed to be the son of God, raised controversy in the region. He was put to death for blasphemy, but created the religion of Christianity.
After the fall of Rome, the Jewish people spread all over the world. Some remained in Babylon, where they established centers of learning. Some went to Europe, where they faced varying degrees of friendliness depending on the country. Jews were often the money-lenders in medieval society, and were unpopular as a result. Many countries, like France or England, persecuted Jews, but a few, like Muslim Spain in the years 700-1000, were particularly friendly. In the early modern period, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was also very tolerant of Jews. Unfortunately, this led to one of the greatest atrocities in human history, which was centered around Jews-the Holocaust.
In the 1930s, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party rose to power in Germany. He needed a scapegoat to blame for all his country's problems, and he chose the Jews.
When World War II began, Hitler invaded Poland, where millions of Jews were living due to the historical tolerance they had in the country. Hitler, who wanted to exterminate the Jews completely, set up death camps all over the Polish countryside, where he would bring Jews and murder them in huge numbers. This is known as the Holocaust. Over six million Jews died as a result.
After WWII, many Jews began to return to Israel, which was a colony of Great Britain at the time. Britain granted independence to Israel in 1948. The Jewish nation fought a series of wars against its Muslim neighbors for the next sixty years, and continues to be a turbulent place.
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