chapter
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Introduction: The Epochs Explored

WithDaniel J. Elazar

The first two epochs, which are by far the most obscure, reflect the biblical traditions of the Patriarchs and the Egyptian bondage. The first (roughly the nineteenth-sixteenth centuries b.c.e.) begins with the covenant with Abraham which marks the first emergence of the Jews as a distinctive entity and culminates with the descent of Jacob’s family into Egypt. Under this original covenant, it might be said that the family which later became the Jewish people first began to function as Jews. The operative elements of the constitution were probably an unwritten set of tribal traditions rather than a written code. This does not lessen its importance as a fundamental organic law which could be, and was, applied and developed as the basis of Jewish life until the time of Moses and the Exodus. The second (roughly the sixteenth-thirteenth centuries b.c.e.) embraces the generations of slavery in Egypt where the descendants of Jacob retained their identity and traditional tribal organization.