I've recently read this BBC article which makes the claim that Judaism originated some time around 2000 B.C, if not earlier. I've seen a number of sources which make similar claims (1, 2). Perhaps I'm mistaken, but don't all surviving Jewish texts date back to the Hellenistic period (~330 – 100 BCE)?

After my preliminary search, I stumbled on The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives, which seems to reduce the credibility of claims that many notable figures of the Old Testament even existed. It claims these figures were products of the Iron Age, which would make these stories around 700-1000 years younger.

Is the only primary source which places the origins of Judaism at around 2000 B.C or earlier the Old Testament? And if so, is the Old Testament a sufficient source for the history of early Judaism? If not, then how old is Judaism?

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    It depends what we're defining as Judaism: after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, post-exilic Judaism, exilic Judaism, Ancient Hebrew religion, etc. May 4, 2016 at 15:41
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    If you mean the completed Torah, then you are by definition limiting the dating of Judaism to 571–486 BCE. May 4, 2016 at 15:51
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    The earliest written text discovered in or around Jerusalem is 3,000 years old. Is it representative of Judaism? Since no one can read it, who knows? jpost.com/Jewish-World/Jewish-Features/… But the silver scrolls of Ketef Hinnom "preserve the earliest known citations of texts also found in the Hebrew Bible and ... the earliest examples of confessional statements concerning Yahweh." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ketef_Hinnom
    – TARKUS
    May 5, 2016 at 1:02
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    "the actual history is fuzzy" - that ends up being true of virtually ALL history once you start digging :)
    – user5341
    May 6, 2016 at 12:57
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    I don't think that this is an answerable question. The term "judaism" is way to vague, the historical data is too scarce, and things in general are complex than the question seem to assume. Read eg goo.gl/HHPNNq and goo.gl/O4dkct
    – leonbloy
    May 16, 2016 at 21:24

3 Answers 3


The comments on this question have correctly pointed out that it is possibly unanswerable because of the variety of meanings attributed to the word "Judaism." The question, as well as the encyclopedia sources it cites, seems to equate Judaism with the monotheistic worship of the Jewish people. When the Jews became monotheistic believers in "Judaism" is up for debate, even if you believe in the literal truth of the Bible. (Remember the golden calf?)

The ancient Jews seem to have worshiped several different gods. They were certainly united in a kingdom at several points, and still considered themselves a nation even after their kingdom was captured by the Babylonians, the Persians, and the Romans; however, the meaning of "nation" differed strongly between Jewish communities, as we learn from non-Biblical sources. Eventually all gods were excluded other than Yahweh, who received the sacrifices at the Second Temple. (source: review article) The history of the Jewish people spans thousands of years, going back to Bible narratives like Exodus that take place centuries before what archaeology can confirm, and the quasi-theological question of when "real" monotheism began can't be answered scientifically.

But to most people, in common parlance, Judaism means Rabbinic Judaism, which arose after the destruction of the Second Temple. Even scholars agree that this is the best way to define the term. Philip R. Davies, in his article "Beyond 'Biblical Archaeology'" (in Hjelm and Thompson, eds., Biblical Interpretation Beyond Historicity: Changing Perspectives, vol. 7, Routledge, 2016), gives a summary that justifies this definition through significant methodological background:

Reinhard Kratz has recently pointed out [in Historisches und biblisches Israel (Mohr Siebeck, 2013)] that Wellhausen's distinction between the religion of "ancient Israel" and the religion of Judaism remains a fundamentally important insight. . . . the biblical Israels are a product of various Judahite/Judean communities and not the other way around. . . .

The religion of Judaism – which can intelligibly be dated only to the second century CE at the earliest – is much more a product of the scriptures and the "Israels" , depicted in those scriptures, than it is the outcome of any events that occurred in the Iron Age.

Davies does acknowledge that Abraham and Moses lie at the "beginning" of Jewish religion, but the religion itself is much better defined, at least for outsider scholarly purposes, by the image of them in Scripture centuries later than by whatever was going on in Iron Age Israel. There is no such thing as a search for the "historical Abraham" by modern scholars, because it's no longer considered relevant who Abraham might have been outside of Scripture.

This answer may be confusing, but hopefully it can shed a bit of light on why the Dead Sea Scrolls are so important for Biblical scholars. The Jewish people were still in the process of defining their beliefs over the period of 400 BCE-300 CE when the Dead Sea Scrolls were written, and they had not yet consolidated around the styles of transmission, interpretation, authority, reading, and practice that developed into modern Judaism. Yet there is plenty in the Scrolls that seems almost monotheistic and quite familiar.

Short answer: The Jewish people have existed for thousands of years, but the term "Judaism" before the rabbinical era (meaning the late Roman Empire) is basically not useful.

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    +1 though arguably Rabbinic Judaism became what it is with the production of the Talmud about 1600 years ago.
    – Henry
    May 26, 2016 at 7:33
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    Current Jewish practice dates to around the destruction of the second Jewish temple, saying Judaism originated then is like saying Christianity dates to the First Council of Nicaea. The facts are all true here, but do not are not relevant to answer the original question.
    – Ofir
    May 26, 2016 at 8:44
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    @Ofir I didn't say that "Jewish practice" dates to then, I said that the "religion of Judaism" dates to then and quoted an up-to-date academic source as evidence. It's a rather nitpicky distinction in terms of basic Jewish identity, but the question being asked is "how old is Judaism," so I've tried to answer in those terms.
    – Avery
    May 26, 2016 at 8:56
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    @Ofir Christ-followers pre-Nicaea are very different from Christians post-Nicaea. The problem with calling anything pre-Nicaea Christianity is similar to the problem of calling anything before 70 CE Judaism. Even if you take the New Testament's account, Acts gives ample evidence that the early church had still not settled what the conditions for membership were. The problem with Judaism is even worse because it is older and less well attested. The early church at least left behind some of their original dialog. Jewish tradition before 7th century BC is all legend. May 26, 2016 at 14:23
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    A couple suggestions: The religious perspective is not that the bible was written 2500 BCE, it's closer to 1500 BCE. Or, by the calendar and perspective of Orthodox Jews, Mt. Sinai and the religion's start is 1313 BCE. Second, I would dispute what you say about Judaism only being from the Roman period. Although Judaism as we know it had a big change there, it is generally considered, and I think especially for the perspective of the question, that the start was more around when they became monotheistic, vaguely around 600 BCE.
    – A L
    Jun 15, 2016 at 4:30

One of the leading biblical scholars in the United States, Michael D. Coogan, dates the archeological evidence for the events described in the Old Testament at ca. 3300-1200 BCE.1

The first five books of the bible contain texts that are dated, at the outer bounds, to 922-722 BCE, this according to Richard Elliott Friedman, another prominent scholar of the old testament.2

Although these dates do not give us a definitive date for the founding of Judaism (and we can argue about what Judaism means), they provide reasonably accurate empirical evidence for ancient worship practices that constitute Judaism in its contemporary sense.3

1. See Chronology in the The Old Testament by Michael Coogan, pp. 550-7.

2. See "Introduction" in Friedman, Richard Elliott. The Bible with Sources Revealed. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2005.

3. Answer edited to reflect the suggestions in the discussion.

  • It is a direct quote from his chronology. Your dating is correct though, now that I checked other sources. Removed the mention of Egypt since it was not essential to a concise answer.
    – denten
    Dec 8, 2016 at 21:06
  • Thanks, I don't disagree with that date range for anything of historical value in Genesis or Exodus. Dec 8, 2016 at 21:49

According to 3 million direct witnesses that can be scientifically independently verified through millions of people from the nation of yisroel right at the moment, the torah was given in the year 2448 from creation, which was approximetely 3332.5 years ago (current year being 5781 years from creation, according to scientifically verifiable witnesses)


not able to add comments on my browser, but someone asked for a "source"

what kind of source would he accept, is the question. Every family tree of every Jew in the world can be independently verified to trace back to the 3 million witnesses at mt sinai, which has been documented in a number of reports along the way, but the main thing is the witnesses

The proof is that millions of people now believe in an event that claimed to have been witnesses by millions of their own descendants. IF it was alse, then how could milions of people ever have been convinced that millions of their own descendants witnessed it. There is no other group or belief that traces back from mlillions of ppl, to millions of ppl, everything else either goes from millions o people to a few people, or claiming to have been witnessed by millions of people, but only a few (to none) of their direct descendents actually exist now.

The proof, in other words, is in the claim itself, in the wide acceptance of the claim throughout millions of people over thousands of years, its impossible to get millions of people to agree that their own ancestors saw something that didn't really happen, there's no other example of this being applied in any other group at all ever in any way whatsoever


can't add comments, but someone replied

""The proof is that millions of people now believe". The problem is that many more millions of people do not believe that. – hdhondt"

the point is not just that millions of peolpe believe 'something', millions of people could believe anything, that itself doesn't make it true, the point is that millions of people have been actively supporting a claim which itself includes millions of witnesses in the beginning, there is no other system of belief that supports a single claim of millions of people in origin, who have a direct connection to the millions of people claiming it themselves

All other beliefs either go back from millions of people, to a few people, or claiming to involve millions of people who have no connection to the real world, but there is no other system of belief or claim at all anywhere that claims that 3 million people, of the same ancestry of the people making the claim are the ones who directly witnessed the event, because its impossible to convince someone, and all the more so, millions of people, that one's own ancestors saw something they really didn't, it just oesn't make sense

Imagine someone went around the city trying to convince people on the street that their own grandparents saw a giant magical pony flying in the sky, its only that no one in that person's family ever mentioned it, and only the guy on the street someone knew it . How is that even possible to convince anyone of that?

so too even if it were to occur over a period of time gradually, there has to at some point be the time when millions of people were convinced "Your own grandfather saw this huge thunder and lightning and miraculous voice emanating from the mountain as well as other miracles involved in the conquer of the land of Canaan", if it never happened, to those people's own grandparents, how could they have every been convinced? Its impossible to truly convince someone, let alone a large group of people that their own ancestors witnessed something they didn't, and the biggest proof for that is there is no other belief system anywhere that makes any kind of similar claim whatsoever at all in any way


OK someone else made a similar statement

"This is circular logic. "3 million people believe the Earth is 5,000 years old. It's true because 3 million people believe it." – F1Krazy 3 mins ago"

oK its not about 3 million people "believing the earth is 5000 years old" its about 3 million people directly testifying to an event that substantiates other claims, including a claim of the world being 5781 years old

Its not about a claim of 3 million people originally "believing" something, its about a claim involving the direct testimony of 3 million people claiming they themselves directly saw thunder, lightning, the miraculous blast of the shofar, and a miraculous booming voice emanating from a mountain in the desert saying "Moshe., Moshe" and the first of the 2 ten statements "I am Hashem who took you out of the land of egypt, don't have any other powers before me", thereby validating the prophecy of Moshe, thereby substantiating later claims written by Moshe as being authoritative to have been give from that same source that the 3 million witnesses themselves heard, when it said "Moshe, Moshe"

it's not about a claim tracing back to just millions of people "believing" something, its a claim tracing back to 3 million people's direct testimony of the event(s) that substantiates later claims

Even in a secular courtroom direct testimoney is enough evidence to prosecute someone, in general its accepted that the more witnesses there are to a partciular event, who all give a pretty much consistent account, is enough evidence to determine its truth

For example how many people witnesses the signing of the declaration of independence? A few hundred? A few thousand? in fact, according to historians, it was only 56 people, yet it is considered an absolute fact in american law that the declaration of independence was signed in the general way its taught in schools, you don't hear people saying that that declaration of independence was really written over time by 4 anonymous sources in north korea or iraq in some kind of elaborate conspiracy theory, even 56 witnesses is enough to determine something to be true to the extent of binding law, all the more so should 3 million direct witnesses, who bequethed a direct chain of descent (meaning all the generations of the descent have been documented and accounted for as recorded in the introduction to mishenh Torah and substantiated by the same millions of Jews around right now, who can be independetly, scientifically verified to have their lineage trace back to substantiate those generations recorded)

EDIT again

got a notice

"Want to improve this post? Add citations from reputable sources by editing the post. Posts with unsourced content may be edited or deleted."

The problem is what is considered "reputable sources" anything that I cite would just be shurgged off as a "religious text" unless it fits exactly with what other people want to hear

But because they asked for it, here is the best, non-biased, scientific sources I could find, if someone has a better, non biased, completely scientific sources that they feel is better, then let me know:

The first one is a letter witten by a scientists who studied engineering extensively as well as other scientific fields:

He continued studying mechanics and electrical engineering at the ESTP, a Grande école in the Montparnasse district and graduated in July 1937 with a degree. In November 1937, he audited classes at the Sorbonne, studying mathematics until World War II broke out in 1939.[56]

Here is the scientific letter

The main point from it is:

How do these millions of Jews know, and how did they know in the past that the Torah is true?

Simply because they have it on the evidence of their fathers, millions of Jews that preceded them, and these in turn from their fathers, and so on, uninterruptedly back to the millions of Jews (if we include women and children and those above and below the age range of the 600,000 male adults), who witnessed the Divine Revelation at Sinai. Throughout all these generations the very same content has been traditionally handed down, not by a single group, but by a people of many millions, of different mentalities, walks of life, interests, under the most varying circumstances, places and times, etc., etc. Such evidence cannot be disputed.

The second is a scientific article written by a computer programmer who used to develop games and other software:

Prior to his writing career, Freeman taught Game Design and Documentation at the DigiPen Institute of Technology School of Computer Gaming in Vancouver,[8] and conceived and designed the A to Zap! educational video game for Sunburst Communications.[9][10][11].

He wrote


Some of the main points from the article include the internal contradictions in the conspiracy theory of saying that the Jews made up the Torah later:

History is not laboratory science — you can't test it and make observations. But you can still check a theory for inconsistencies. A few bumps here and there are excusable, but with the Jewish conspiracy theory we have some blatant contradictions. For instance:

(a) According to this theory, the Jews are by far the most ingenious people ever. Out of all the peoples of the ancient world, this nation of shepherds and fig-growers came up with the classic work of all time. The work that changed all of history, brought us the concepts of creation ex-nihilo, history, purpose, monotheism, providence, human rights, gave rise to both Christianity and Islam and triggered the Reformation and modernization of western civilization when those gentiles started actually reading it. A supremacy dogma if I ever heard one!

(b) According to this theory, the Jews are by far the stupidest and most gullible people in the world. They fell for a story that restricts their diet, their domination over their slaves, their weekly work habits and their sex-life beyond what any other nation would tolerate. They bought into a lose-lose situation for everybody all 'round: The King's power is restricted, the priestly class cannot own land, and the commoners can't sell it.

They abandon their fields and towns three times a year to the mercy of the hostile nations surrounding them, let those fields lie fallow once in seven years, let their slaves go free after six years, don't charge interest — and just trust year after year that everything will be okay. After all, G‑d promises that when you're planning to leave your land fallow in the seventh, He'll give you a bumper crop in the sixth. So tell me, what happens when one year this just doesn't work out? Do you leave that in the books you're writing?

Furthermore, this theory has the Jewish people making up fables about their blunders in full detail. They declare that they descend from slaves! They tell nasty stories about the forefather of their priestly class, Levi — even though the Levites were supposed to have written the book. The original high priest gets his hands dirty in the biggest scandal of their history. Who is this fable serving, anyway? Why on earth would anyone want to make up such a story? And what sort of crazy people would want to preserve it?

Second contradiction:

(a) According to this theory, Jews are capable of agreeing on a single version of history. Obviously, to conspire together for so many years in delivering this grand hoax to the entire world, they must be highly cooperative, submissive to authority and like-minded. They must fit well into Eric Fromm's description of the True Believer.

(b) According to this theory, Jews have purposely painted a picture of themselves as recalcitrant, argumentative, scorning of authority and primed to kvetch at the drop of a hat. Not the sort of comrades you would want involved in your classic conspiracy. A personality described by Myers-Briggs Passive-Aggressive Disorder. Of course, this purposeful self-incrimination may be part of the plot. You may decide empirically which description suits best

All in all, the conspiracy theory stinks. It doesn't explain anything. There's absolutely no evidence that it's true. And its about as elegant as a walrus in a tutu.

So what does it really stand on? On the very definite assumption that Sinai could not have happened.

Think for a minute: Did those 19th century German historians who introduced us to J, E, P and D (the supposed authors of the Pentateuch) ever examine the evidence and demonstrate scientifically that Sinai could not have happened? Of course not. They didn't need to. They just knew it couldn't happen. Why? Because G‑d, if there is one, doesn't speak to Man. Especially lots of men. Period. No discussion.

As well as give the original sources for the claim itself regarding the mass revelations, and how that can't be made up later, because how can millions of people be convinced to accept something their own ancestors saw if they really wouldn't have:

And this is the traditional history stated clearly in the Torah: That an entire nation witnessed G‑d speaking to Moses the Ten Commandments:

G‑d said to Moses, Behold! I come to you in the thickness of the cloud, so that the people will hear as I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever! (Exodus 19:9)

G‑d spoke to you from the midst of the fire, you were hearing the sound of words, but you were not seeing a form, only a sound. He told you of His covenant, instructing you to keep the Ten Commandments, and He inscribed them on two stone tablets. (Deut.4:9-13)

Once the people had witnessed this, they believed Moses. As Maimonides writes:

Israel did not believe in Moses, our teacher, because of the miracles he performed. When you base your faith on miracles, you're still in doubt. Maybe these miracles were done through magic and witchcraft...

So why did we believe him? The revelation on Sinai which we saw with our own eyes, and heard with our own ears, not having to depend on the testimony of others... (Mishne Torah - Foundations of Torah 8:1)

Here we have it. A simple and elegant solution to why, of all nations, this nation ended up with the most counter-intuitive set of rules and customs that have by now overthrown the hierarchy of power and world-concept of most of human society. It was a mass revelation from Above. G‑d said it, they had to do it.

explained a bit later in the article:

We're not talking about a couple of broken shards, or an excavated building for archaeologists to argue over. We're not talking about the account of a single individual, or of a handful of ready-made believers. We're talking a mass eyewitness account of a wide spectrum of observers, passed down in an unbroken chain through multiple paths without distortion. We have the consensus of an entire nation for over 3000 years on a single version of that event (Jewish people actually agreeing on something!).

Contrary to popular misconception, Jews don't believe the Torah is Divine because they are gullible, or because it sounds cool and resonates with their inner soul. We know the Torah is Divine because we empirically experienced that to be so. And ever since, we trust the testimony of our teachers and parents who all agree on the same, single version of that empirical event. If you can't trust them, who can you trust?

the conspiracy theory would have to be based on the assumption that millions of parents lied to their own children, independently, on purpose. Why would millions of parents from all different background independently lie to their children about what they themselves saw (or heard from their own parents what they saw)?

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    OP claims that they can't post comments, so moved to chat.
    – Oddthinking
    Nov 24, 2020 at 0:54
  • "Why would millions of parents ... lie to their children" They don't have to lie, it suffices if they just not contradict the stories of their culture. As to "why", maybe because they believe it or because they do not want to create a awkward situation for their children or they simply don't think truth matters if the story is good. In my country we have a daily news bulletin following Saint Nicolaas and his helpers for 3 weeks until they deliver presents to all children on the 5th of December. Children who know it is all a lie are asked to stay silent, by schools.
    – Ivana
    Dec 11, 2020 at 14:25
  • Ever play the game of "telephone"? Oral information is notoriously corrupted over repetitions. Dec 11, 2020 at 20:53

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