The Origins of Monotheism


Social Studies Middle School The Origins of Monotheism
Students are introduced to the Biblical figure of Abraham, considered the father of monotheism. They read a passage from the Hebrew Bible and learn about the relationship between God and Abraham. Then, they create a concept map of the key features of monotheism. Next, they outline the structure of the Hebrew Bible and illustrate one of the Ten Commandments. Finally, they describe life in ancient Israel based on a Biblical passage about Abraham.

This learning experience is designed for device-enabled classrooms. The teacher guides the lesson, and students use embedded resources, social media skills, and critical thinking skills to actively participate. To get access to a free version of the complete lesson, sign up for an exploros account.

1:1 Devices
Teacher Pack

The Pack contains associated resources for the learning experience, typically in the form of articles and videos. There is a teacher Pack (with only teacher information) and a student Pack (which contains only student information). As a teacher, you can toggle between both to see everything.

Here are the teacher pack items for The Origins of Monotheism:

Preview - Scene 1
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Overview

In this experience, students are introduced to the Biblical figure of Abraham, considered the father of monotheism. They read a passage from the Hebrew Bible and learn about the relationship between God and Abraham. Then, they create a concept map of the key features of monotheism. Next, they outline the structure of the Hebrew Bible and illustrate one of the Ten Commandments. Finally, they describe life in ancient Israel based on a Biblical passage about Abraham.

Students will work in small groups for scene 1. Divide students into their small groups prior to beginning the experience.

Objective

  • Describe the origins and significance of Judaism as the first monotheistic religion.


The peoples of the ancient world worshipped many gods and their religions were called polytheism, which means belief in many gods. Many ancient religions believed the gods were in control of all natural events, such as rainfall, harvests, and fertility. They would offer sacrifices to their gods to win favors. The god shown below is Baal, who was worshipped throughout the ancient Near East as the god of rain and the harvest. When did the idea of a single, all-powerful god arise? You will learn about the origins of monotheism in this experience.

Objective

  • Describe the origins and significance of Judaism as the first monotheistic religion.




Baal, a Pagan God, c. 1400-1200 B.C.E.,
Found in Ugarit (Northern Syria in Modern Times)


The following story is from a genre called midrash, a type of rabbinic interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. A midrash is often a story that is told to fill in gaps in the Biblical narrative or to explain apparent contradictions in the original Biblical text.

The following story about Abraham smashing his father’s idols is an interpretation of how and why Abraham left his father’s home and helped found the first monotheistic religion. The Student Pack contains an animated video of this midrash, Young Abraham Smashing Idols, which runs seven minutes long. If time permits, have your students watch it.


The following story was told by the Jewish rabbis in order to fill in gaps in the Biblical story of Abraham. With your small group members, read the story and discuss what message Abraham was trying to send to his father and the people who entered the shop.


Terah [Abraham’s father] worshipped clay statue gods called idols. He had a store where he sold these idols. One day he had to travel and he left young Abraham in charge of the store. A man came in to buy an idol.

Abraham asked him: “How old are you?”

The man answered: “Sixty years old.”

Abraham said: “Woe to him who is sixty years old and worships something that was made today.”

The man was embarrassed, and he left without buying an idol.

A woman entered carrying a dish of dough.

She said to Abraham: “This is an offering for the idols.”

Abraham took a hammer in his hands and broke all the idols except the biggest one. Then he placed the hammer in the hands of that idol. When Terah returned, he was surprised to see all the idols smashed into pieces.

Terah asked: “Who did this?”

Abraham replied: “I can't hide it from you. A woman came carrying a dish of dough and told me to offer it before the gods. I did, and one of them said ‘I will eat it first,’ and another said ‘I will eat it first.’ The biggest one rose, took a hammer, and smashed the rest of them.”

Terah said: “What, do you think you can trick me? They are made of clay. They can’t think, move, or act!”

Abraham said: “Do your ears hear what your mouth is saying?”

- Genesis Rabbah 38:13


What do you think that Abraham is trying to tell his father? Choose a group note taker to record your answer.

Post your answer

Discuss the story and student answers. Ensure that students see that the story depicts young Abraham as challenging the power of the idols and the belief that they are supreme beings. This story sets the stage for the emergence of monotheism.

Students may ask if the story really happened. If appropriate for your classroom setting, you may explain that we don’t know if there was a real person named Abraham. However, all three major monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—have stories about Abraham. 


Students should complete the remaining scenes individually. You may choose to have them remain in their small groups for discussion of the material, but they should post their answers individually.

When everyone is ready to continue, unlock the next scene.

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The Complete List of Learning Experiences in Ancient Israelites Unit.
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