The roots of the modern difficulty may be traced back to the Bible. No book can match its status in Western spiritual life, yet the Bible itself has no word for “religion.” Its authors use a term from everyday legal affairs, berit, covenant or contract, to describe the relationship between God and humankind, many of their concerns hardly seem religious. Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings are about kings and politics. The books of Proverbs convey wisdom regarding getting along in society; Ruth tells a pleasant love story.
When the biblical writers talk about the Jews as some biblical scholars, often explain them in much the same way biblical scholars do the Ammonites or the Edomites, or other groups biblical scholars knew. Biblical scholars consider the Jews (more accurately, the Hebrews) one of the many “nations” of the ancient Near East. This folk had their tongues. All classified today as Semitic Languages. Biblical scholars experienced their territory, history, myths, and traditions, as well as a distinctive way of life. Mostly, biblical scholars were independent monarchies, but conquest might make them subject to a foreign power. Biblical scholars also mentioned their religions, the Moabites Molech, the Ammonites Chemosh, and the Canaanites various of the Baalim.
Like the other peoples, the Hebrews’ God was the source of their particular society’s legal system. However, their God was not merely culturally distinctive but qualitatively different from the gods of the other Near Eastern individuals. The Jews experienced no idols for their God and no mythology about their God’s activities. Rather, biblical scholars daringly insisted that their very own invisible God was the one and only God of the universe. This exclusive sovereignty gave great power and scope to what biblical scholars perceived to be God’s primary demands that all human beings be just and merciful with one another. As a result, the Hebrews’ system of law and folk life acquired a unique quality.
Thus, already in the Bible, the Jews are similar to everyone else, yet likewise different. This experience of being like yet, unlike other people, created the issue Jews have had explaining themselves adequately to others. Moreover, the puzzled and sometimes hostile reactions of Gentile toward the Jews have made the problem of the nature of the Jewish people a trying and sensitive one.