2017 Spring: RELI 4003/6003: Israelite Religion

Prof. Baruch Halpern

Prerequisite can be waived

Western world religions profess monotheism.  It is a defining feature, along with Scripture.  Afterlife in Christianity and Islam depends on what you believe; traditional religions condition celestial reward on behavior.

Biblical Israel underwent the shift from traditional religion to monotheistic theology.

More important, what changes did Israel undergo in the path to monotheism?  Where did Israel start, and what happened along the way to producing the Bible’s God?


We look first at ancient Israel as the Bible and archaeology permit us access to it, both from a much later time.  We will try to understand – that is, reconstruct – the culture with empathy.  We will then try to follow the social and intellectual forces that led toward monotheism as a creed, as the basis of a worldview and the early consequences of its adoption.


Along the way, we will encounter issues, from the nature of cultural change to the very distinction between monotheism and polytheism, on which contemporary thinkers sometimes draw.  We should not let their approaches to issues cloud the main aim of understanding the history of thinking in Biblical times.

Other Disciplines:

You should be interested if you want to know more about History, Anthropology or Philosophy, as well as literature, rhetoric and political science.  Or, if you enjoy entering the wonderland of brilliant minds that is the Bible.