The ancient Israelites seem to have distinguished themselves from other religious groups by their belief in a god called Yahweh who had shown special compassion towards their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants, intervening in history on their behalf in many spectacular ways and establishing a special relationship with them known as the "covenant". He rescued them under the leadership of Moses from slavery and oppression in Egypt, and led them through the wilderness of Sinai to a land he promised would be their own. They practised animal sacrifice under the supervision of a hereditary priesthood, and observed a unique set of religious and moral instructions revealed to them at Sinai. The core of these is the "Ten Commandments" (or "Decalogue"), which prohibit the worship of other gods, the use of images, and all kinds of work on the Sabbath (every seventh day), as well as murder, adultery, stealing, lying and coveting.

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