Unlike many ancient societies in which the ruler was seen as a god, Jews saw their leaders as fully human and bound to obey God's law.
Scholars have been able to learn more about ancient Israelite culture and ethics as a result of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Scrolls are fragments of early Jewish religious documents. These documents have shed light on the way the Bible and Torah were transmitted to us and have illuminated the religious backgrounds of both Judaism and Christianity.
The spiritual ideas of the ancient Israelites later influenced Western culture, morality, ethics, and conduct. Judaism influenced both Christianity and Islam, two other monotheistic faiths that also arose in the Middle East. Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike honor Abraham, Moses, and the prophets, and they all teach the ethical worldview developed by the Israelites. Today, in the West, this shared heritage of Jews and Christians is known as the Judeo-Christian tradition.
For a 500-year period that began with the Babylonian Captivity, many Jews left Judah and moved to different parts of the world. This spreading out of the Jewish people was called the Diaspora (dy AS pur uh). Some Jews were exiled, others moved to farther reaches of the empires that controlled their land, and yet others moved because of discontent with political rulers. Wherever Jews settled, many maintained their identity as a people by living in close-knit communities and obeying their religious laws and traditions. These traditions helped them survive centuries of persecution, or unfair treatment inflicted on a particular group of people, which you will read about in later chapters.
Today, Judaism is numbered among the world's major religions for its contributions to religious thought as well as its strong influence on two later religions, Christianity and Islam. All three of these monotheistic faiths emerged in the Middle East and spread to other parts of the world. Although their beliefs differ in many ways, Jews, Christians, and Muslims all honor Abraham, Moses, and the Hebrew prophets. All three teach the ethical worldview developed by the Israelites.
The Jewish Diaspora began with the Babylonian Captivity in 6th century B.C. and has continued throughout history. How did the Diaspora contribute to the spread of Judaism?
Some people have suggested that Judeo-Christian traditions had an even more far-reaching impact on world history. They trace today's democratic-republican forms of government to the teachings of these religions, such as ideas about the worth of the individual, the importance of social responsibility, and the concept that all believers were equal before God. They look to Judeo-Christian legal traditions for the origins of such rights and concepts as trial by jury and innocent until proven guilty.