Two fundamental beliefs shaped the attitude of Judaism toward nature and toward the systematic study of nature (that is to say, science):
- that God is the creator of the universe
- that God revealed God’s will in the form of Law—the Torah (literally “instruction”)—to the chosen people, Israel.
Biblical accounts and archaeological findings are roughly in agreement: there were once two adjoining kingdoms, Judah in the south and Israel to the north, sharing the same monotheistic belief. Whether, as the Bible asserts, Judah fell on account of tolerance of other gods is unidentified: modern thinking is that it was a vassal state of Assyria. As a result, Babylon’s king Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Judah’s capital, Jerusalem (and its temple) around 600 BCE, with a fraction of its inhabitants taken into captivity. This separation motivated the formalization of the Tanakh, Jewish scriptures: much had already been written, but the canon was set at this period and shows signs of Babylonian cultural domination.
Much of the populace, though, had been left in Israel, causing dispute when Persian conqueror Cyrus the Great took Babylon and allowed the exiles to return to the Levant and rebuild their temple. Subsequently, Israel and Yehud (past Judah) would become more and more self-reliant, gaining independence again in the second century BCE under the Maccabees (the Selucid empire, who had succeeded the Babylonians, were failing). After the celebrated general Pompey invaded in 63 BCE, the area became Roman.
Following a great Jewish revolt, the second temple was destroyed in the Roman sack of Jerusalem in 70 CE, but Jewish opposition to the Roman empire continued sporadically until 136 BCE, when the Bar Koziba rebellion against the aggressively antisemitic Emperor Hadrian led to the disbanding of Israel and the Diaspora (pan-European migration of Jews). Others had moved eastwards in Roman times, becoming convenient contacts for the Abbasid caliphate and Convivencia-era Spain, and later Venice and the Ottoman empire.
Talmudic observations and rabbinical lore would become vital foundations of a faith without a homeland. Christianity, for the meantime, was regarded as an derivative of Judaism until Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea in CE 325.
As Europe adopted Christianity, emigrant Jews became opportune all-purpose hate-figures; the Black Death was blamed on them and Tsarist pogroms forced many from east Europe and Russia to America and east London in the late 19th century. This movement, culminating in the Holocaust, led to the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948.