Jonathan Salem Baskin

Original Crowd

Today, an original crowd told a story.

Sometime around 14th century BCE, a smattering of nomads set up shop on the hardscrabble hilltops and plains between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River. To us, they’re archaeologically identical to the their neighbors, except that there are no pig bones in their garbage piles. It seems as though they loosely organized into twelve “kingdoms” that were really familial-based tribes, each accounting for a territory about the size of your nearest suburb. They spent their time either serving or getting slaughtered by the powerful empires of Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt. Around the 6th century BCE, they wrote down their oral traditions into what is called the Torah or Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, in which the story of Exodus gave them a founding myth elevating them from irrelevant peasants, to the Chosen People of God.

The wealthy nations around them had their religious institutions and rituals, of course. Elusive, unapproachable priests would tend to sacred shrines and conduct services in which common folk could sense, but not view directly, the greatness of whatever gods they were supposed to worship. Judaism had its Ark of the Covenant which was hidden from everyone behind temple walls and thick curtains. But the story of Exodus was unique in that it was intended to be retold at home, annually, by families with no real limits on how they could customize and personalize it. So, while the formal structures of Judaism were put to Roman flame in the first century CE (and the mysteries of the pagan world disappeared), the ritual of Passover survived, adding and subtracting practices and themes as successive generations and wide-ranging communities made it their own. The seder isn’t exactly the same in any two households, and it happens on different dates last month or this, thanks to the dictates of the lunar calendar.

So does that make Judaism the first religion to crowdsource some of its content?

Here’s the link to Today in the Histories of Social Media, and this is the latest edition of Histories of Social Media