Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Ancient Israel was an ethnic and faith community that appeared in the Southern Levant (the area corresponding to the modern political entities of Israel, Jordan, and Palestine) as early as the thirteenth century bce. The earliest datable reference to Israel is the monument erected by Egyptian King Merneptah (c. 1224–1214 bce), who claims to have annihilated Israel. In general, “Ancient Israel” is regarded as merging into “Judaism” in the sixth or fifth century bce. HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT Many ancient Israelite religious leaders held that the Israelites were bound from birth to worship only one deity. This deity is referred to by the name YHWH, which modern scholars believe should be pronounced Yahweh, and which means “He will bring into being.” However, many biblical texts indicate that at various times many Israelites preferred to combine the worship of Yahweh with the worship of other deities or to abandon the worship of Yahweh altogether. James Breasted argued that Moses adopted the belief in a single deity in Egypt, where a similar idea had been advocated in the fourteenth century bce by King Akhenaten. The biblical narrative assumes that reverencing only one God, who often bears the proper name Yahweh, is what distinguishes Israel from other peoples of the ancient Middle East. Biblical narrative likewise assumes that at various times many Israelites combined the worship of Yahweh with the worship of other deities. The Book of Judges declares repeatedly that the Israelites are punished for worshipping other deities and rewarded for returning to the exclusive worship of Yahweh.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Ancient Mediterranean Religions
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781139047784
ISBN (Print)9780521113960
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


Dive into the research topics of 'Israel'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this