It is surprising how a culture that co-existed with powerful empires such as the Babylonians, Hittites, Assyrians or Egyptians, could be remembered so much and could end up influencing our current culture like the Hebrew did.
The empires mentioned just now were civilisations that believed in many gods. They were polytheists and believed that Gods were part of nature. Egyptians believed that Re, the Sun God or the creator, would bring life on earth. The Babylonians believed in Ma, or Earth God, from whom life was flourishing. The Babylonians believed that Marduk, God of Magic, was the main God of the pantheon. This pantheon was like a family tree made by many Gods, each of them having a function in nature and the underworld.
Looking at the Egyptians, Horus was the living God, whom was reincarnated on the Pharaoh. Osiris was the dead God, whom was Horus’s father. Re was the Sun God, giving life on earth, and also father of Horus. Gods could become part of other gods, could fuse and have conditions of other Gods at times. The Assyrians believed on Adad, the thunder God, whom was key on the survival of human life on earth. There was also Anu, the sky-God, lord of the constellations and also king of Gods.
All these Gods were represented in nature by the Earth, the Thunder, the Sun, the Sea, etc. This is where Hebrews were original. Yahweh is a transcendent God. He is unique, and reigns the earth. He is the creator of all life. He is above nature.
The Hebrews inhabited the region at the same time that all these civilisations. Each of them were having several Gods. Sometimes, Gods were main deities of the region, or of a certain town that had become enough powerful to bring up their God and make it the leading God.
In the middle of the second millennium, in the area of Palestine, cohabited different kingdoms. They were Ephraim, Judah, Philistine, Moab or Edom for example. They were all independent kingdoms, living mainly from agriculture, the sea and trade. As they were little kingdoms, they depended on each other for their survival. The location was a conflictive area, as they were in between huge and powerful empires, with whom they were forced to trade. At times, those empires would invade them, taking everything. At times, those empires took their people and forced them into slavery.
Under these conditions, it seems really difficult to create a culture that lasts. But they did achieve that. How did they manage to constitute a culture which would be maintained for centuries?
As I said before, the Hebrews were the first civilisation that believed in monotheism. It is though not exactly true this as Akhenaten, Egyptian Pharaoh that reigned for a short period in Ancient Egypt, brought up the Sun God as the only God of Egypt. At the time, there were many Gods in Egypt, but under Akhenaten reign, all disappeared from the temples, the palaces, and the Sun God became the only deity. However, as I said this was for a short period, not continuing after Akhenaten death. Most important, Akhenaten God was part of nature. It was the Sun God.
The Hebrews believed that Yahweh was the only God. But he was a transcendent God, above nature. A God that could not be seen, that could not be imagined. Previous deities were represented by sculptures, not Yahweh. So within this family tree we have Yahweh, and below him and under his creation is everything else. Nature is under him.
Under this new order and for the first time, Humans appear to be closer to the God and above other beasts. This is an original idea of the time. The Egyptians and Mesopotamians believed that humans were interconnected with nature and at the same level that other living creatures. With the Hebrews the idea of a Human that is closer to the Gods, a figure that is on a especial relation with God flourished.
But this is not all about the wonderful intellectual thought of the Hebrews. The area where Israel was located was near the desert. The desert was inhabited by groups of nomads. They were inhabiting really isolated and difficult areas . Obviously, they were use to live on really difficult conditions. They relied on group work and sharing, to be able to survive the extreme conditions. This was very different from farmers, whom were more individualistic. All these nomads settled down in the areas of Palestine and Israel, influencing the way they thought. The religious belief that evolved and transformed the minds of the people that lived there was a consequence of this also. Yahweh was the creator God. God accepted everyone. People living in other kingdoms that were not Israel, such as Judea or Moab, could be sons of Yahweh. The Assyrians could be sons of Yahweh. The only condition to become son of Yahweh, was that they had to believe in the only God. Israel opened the doors of their religion to anyone willing to enter. Anyone willing to be Hebrew just needed to accept Yahweh as the only God.
With this comes the idea that the religion was opened to everyone. This is obviously contrasting with the actual Hebrew religion. Most probably, lots of different people from different races, regions or areas, turned into Hebrew religion. As I said, Hebrew could become anyone willing to accept Yahweh. Hebrews would become a mixture of races and nations.
The impact of this new and original view of God influenced not just Israel but the areas around Israel. For the first time, a religion appears to accept anyone. The idea that everyone is the same in front of God.
Another concept inherited from the Hebrews, was that God treated everyone the same, regardless of the position that this person had in society. Poor and rich were the same in front of God eyes. For the first time, the poor felt identified with a God that treated them the same way as the novelty, or the king. By following the message of God, anyone could reach the eternal life. What an advanced way of thought the Hebrews had, which influenced important documents such as the English Magna Carta for example.
But how is possible that the message of Yahweh could be transferred to humans if humans could not see him, could not imagine him. God could not be seen, conceived or represented, but he had messengers that could interpret and transfer the message to mankind. These were intellectuals that studied the Torah. These messengers or prophets could spread the message of God to all. The prophets could unite humans around God. For the first time, intellectuals obtain the favour of God, relegating kings into a lower role. From now on, God is the only king and the prophets are servers of God that spread his message amongst humans.
All of these reasons are provably some of the causes why their culture remained until nowadays. The result of that is that the Hebrews and their ingenious minds are one of the pillars and foundations of our culture.