The God of History
The outstanding feature of the Hebrew Bible is the role of God as directly intervening in history to guide the Israelites out of bondage and into their role as a nation of priests and a “holy people.” The Hebrews may have conceived God as absolute, omnipotent, and omnipresent, but He was also extremely personal, capable of forming a direct relationship with selected individuals to change the course of history.
The earliest passages of the creation scenario in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, make clear that God approved of the physical or material world. After each act of creation beginning with the separation of the waters and the dry land into Earth and Seas on the third of the six days of creation, the passage appears: “And God saw that it was good.” Unlike Eastern concepts of Maya, which view the phenomenal world as a manifestation that veils Absolute Reality, the Hebrews accepted the essential goodness of material things, and saw a holy life as indivisible from a life of enjoyment of God’s bounty, as long as certain inviolable moral laws were obeyed. But unlike the Goddess-and-nature-worshiping cultures of the Mesopotamian and Egyptian lands surrounding them, the Israelites believed that God exists apart from the material world, and has the power to affect and change it through His interactions with humanity. The Israelite sense of enjoying the world was predicated on following God’s explicit law, rather than appeasing arbitrary gods connected with unpredictable forces of nature.
The Jewish religion is, then, closely tied to history. Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish people, who migrated to the Holy Land from the Mesopotamian city of Ur, can be placed near the beginning of the second millennium before the Christian era. The Pharaoh from whom the Jews escaped under the leadership of Moses can almost certainly be identified as Rameses II (1304-1237 BCE).Comparisons of the king-lists in the early books of the Bible with non-Biblical Egyptian and Assyrian lists even make it possible to date within a few years the deaths of the earliest kings of the Israelites, including Saul, David, and Solomon, near the beginning of the first millennium BCE. The fall of Jerusalem can be placed exactly at March 16, 597 BCE, its destruction in 586.