Interpreting the Past

Ancient Egypt and the Near East Unit: Origins of Judaism - The History of the Ancient Israelites

Assignments to hand in: Interpretation Organizer [Printable Version] | Religions' History Organizer [Printable Version] | Which History? Organizer [Printable Version] | Your Response [Printable Version] | Another option: Notes on the Ancient Israelites Handout (Original Version)

Essential Questions, shared learning target & introduction:

Essential Question 2: Why do people live the way they do?
Essential Question 5: How does conflict and cooperation affect human history?

What will I be able to do?: You will be able to summarize, compare, and analyze the history (including the differing interpretations) of the ancient Israelites.
What idea, topic, or subject is important for you to learn and understand so that I can do this?: You will learn about the ancient history of the Israelites, from Abraham to Joshua and different interpretations of those events.
What I will do to show that you know this?: You will show what you know by completing an organizer on different ways to interpret religious text, then comparing and analyzing the difference and similarities between religious text and historians, and finally analyzing the impact these historical events have on Jewish culture today.

Understanding Checks


Ancient Egypt, Canaan, and Mesopotamia Map

The ancient Israelites were nomadic people who migrated from Mesopotamia to Canaan (present-day Israel and Lebanon) during the second millennium B.C.E. These people traveled around Egypt and the Near East, where they also settled for various periods of time. Another name for the Israelites is Hebrews, and they are often referred to by this term in ancient writings.
The Israelites were the founders of Judaism, one of the first religions in the world to be based on monotheism (the belief in one God). In contrast, other peoples from that same time period practiced polytheistic religions (the belief in many Gods). The ancient Israelites believed their God was all-powerful and had created the world. Monotheism is the basis of several other religions, including Christianity and Islam. There are an estimated 14 million followers of the Jewish religion around the world today.
Almost everything we know about the Israelites is based on the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible is also known as the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible are known as the Torah, which is comprised of stories about the ancient Israelites and descriptions of Hebrew law. While many people believe the stories of the Torah to be factually true, scholars attempting to verify the historical accuracy of events described in the Torah have found little archeological evidence from which to work. However, some archeological evidence of the ancient Israelites does exist. For example, by examining written records and tomb paintings from the reign of Ramesses II in Egypt, scholars have been able to verify the Egyptians' enslavement/forced labor of the Israelites and the time period in which it may have occurred.

Step One: Different Ways to Interpret Religious Text

Different Ways to Interpret Religious Text

Step Two: Religions' History - A Leap of Faith

Directions: Read the text on Abraham from the Biblical perspective then read the interview with Dr. William Devers (Archeologist) - Linked below. Use evidence from these texts to complete the organizer.

Handout: Religions' History Organizer [Printable Version]

God's Covenant with AbrahamEvent A: God's Covenant with Abraham

Step Three: Which History? Biblical vs. Historians

Directions: Read the text that is written from the Biblical perspective for each event (B-F), then watch the first video clip that is also from the Biblical perspective. Finally, watch the Battles B.C. video clip for some historians' perspective of each historical event. Use analysis words to connect each perspective to the evidence from the sources provided.

Analysis Words:
Is evidence of

Handout: Which History? Organizer [Printable Version]

Modified Handout: Which History? Organizer [Printable Version]

Enslavement of the IsraelitesEvent B: The Enslavement of the Israelites 

Exodus from EgyptEvent C: The Exodus from Egypt

Moses receiving the ten commandmentsEvent D: Moses Receiving the Ten Commandments

Joshua's Conquest of Jericho Event E: Joshua's Conquest of Jericho

Conclusion: Why do people live the way they do? - Jewish Culture

Directions: Watch the brief video clip on the history of Passover, focusing on how Jewish history has influenced Jews today. Then refer to the research you’ve done on the various events of the history of the Israelites to answer the prompt below. Use evidence from the resources of this lesson in your answer.

Prompt: How might (or has) the history of the Israelites shape Jewish culture today?

Handout: Your Response [Printable Version]

Video Clip: History of Passover (History Channel)

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(Source: History Channel)

Another Version of this assignment: Research Notes on the Ancient Israelites [Original Version]

Directions: Complete Notes on the Ancient Israelites handout by reading each Event below. Fill in the missing part of the drawing and record notes on important information around the illustration.

Handout: Notes on the Ancient Israelites [Original Version]

#1 - The Evolution of Interpretation of Religious Text