Episode 1 By the Rivers of Babylon – In 586 B.C., the Babylonians lead almost all that remains of the tribe of Judah – the Israelites – to exile in Babylon. Only a few generations earlier, the northern tribes of the Israelites were taken into exile and vanished forever. Now the Judeans, too, seem destined to disappear. They fight back, however, by writing a book. Using Judean stories from the past to explain present disastrous situations, the book becomes the earliest edition of the most influential work in history the Bible. This episode introduces the early and profoundly influential figures of Judaism Abraham, who is the first to recognize the concept of one God, Moses, who receives the Ten Commandments from God, and David, whose sins teach the Israelites that no one is above the law of God.
Episode 2 The Book & the Sword – In 458 B.C., a scribe named Ezra arrives in Jerusalem from Babylon. He gathers the mostly illiterate Judeans together in a square and reads the Bible to them. In the years that follow, the study of the Bible not only becomes an essential part of Jewish life, it prepares the Jews to face a mortal threat to their survival. In 330 B.C., Alexander the Great sweeps into the Middle East. In his wake comes Greek culture, the allure of which convinces many to abandon their ancestral ways. But when the Greek king Antiochus the Madman forbids the practice of Judaism, Judah the Maccabee leads the Jews in an epic fight to defend their religious freedom. In 160 B.C, the Maccabees succeed in driving out the Greeks and establish what would prove to be the last independent Jewish kingdom.
Episode 3 The End of Days – In 63 B.C., the Roman General Pompeii leads his legions into the land of Judea. It is the beginning of a clash of cultures between Rome and the Jews that would grow into one of the most brutal conflicts in history. It also pits Jew against Jew, as many of the different factions of Judaism, such as the Zealots and the Essenes, clash over the interpretation of the true will of God as revealed in the Bible. Terrorism, political assassination, starvation, and crucifixion dominate the landscape. The period ends with the Roman sack of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. Out of the ashes will rise two new religions rabbinical Judaism and Christianity.
Episode 4 The Gifts of the Jews – With the destruction of the Temple, the Romans have destroyed the only place on earth, according to Biblical Law, where Jews can worship God. The Judaism of priests and sacrifices is lost forever, and rabbis struggle to reinvent the religion of Moses and David. They are forced to work during a period of incredible bloodshed and turmoil. In 132 A.D. Jewish zealots rise against Rome’s legions in the Bar Kochba rebellion, forcing them to withdraw from the region. The Romans return with a vast army and slaughter nearly 600,000 Jews. They change the name of the region from Judea to Palestine and ban all Jews from Jerusalem. Desperate to start new lives, many Jews flee to distant lands, only to face another challenge a breakaway form of Judaism called Christianity. As it rises to political power, Christianity becomes deeply anti-Semitic. But Judaism survives and in doing so, preserves for all its unique gifts, including the rights of the individual and the rule of law, gifts that will change the Western world forever.