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Bible Literature

성서문학

V. Old Testament literature

 

1. THE TORAH (LAW, PENTATEUCH, OR FIVE BOOKS OF MOSES)

 

1) Composition and authorship.

i) The documentary hypothesis.

ii) Other Pentateuchal theories.

2) Genesis.

i) The primeval history.

ii) The patriarchal narratives.

3) Exodus.

i) Redemption and revelation.

ii) Legislation.

iii) Instructions on the Tabernacle.

4) Leviticus.

i) Offerings, sacrifices, and priestly worship.

ii) Purification laws.

iii) The Holiness Code.

iv) Commutation of vows and tithes.

5) Numbers, Chapters 1--19.

i) The conclusion of the Sinai sojourn.

ii) Wanderings in the desert of Paran.

6) Numbers, Chapters 20--36.

i) Events in Edom and Moab.

7) Deuteronomy: Introductory discourse.

i) Special nature and problems.

ii) First introductory discourse of Moses.

iii) Second introductory discourse.

8) Deuteronomy: the lawbook and the conclusion.

i) The lawbook.

ii) Concluding exhortation and traditions about the last days of Moses.

 

2. THE NEVI`IM (THE PROPHETS)

 

1) The canon of the Prophets.

2) Hebrew prophecy.

3) Joshua.

i) The conquest of Canaan.

ii) Division of the land and renewal of the Covenant.

4) Judges: background and purpose.

i) The Deuteronomic "theology of history."

ii) Canaanite culture and religion.

5) Judges: importance and role.

i) The role of the judges.

ii) The role of certain lesser judges.

iii) The roles of Deborah, Gideon, and Jephthah.

iv) The role of Samson.

6) Samuel: Israel under Samuel and Saul.

i) Theological and political biases.

ii) The role of Samuel.

iii) The rise and fall of Saul.

7) Samuel: the rise and significance of David.

i) Early reign of David.

ii) The expansion of the Davidic Empire.

8) Kings: background and Solomon's reign.

i) The succession of Solomon to the throne.

ii) The reign of Solomon.

9) Kings: Solomon's successors.

i) The divided monarchy.

ii) The significance of Elijah.

10) Kings: the second book.

i) The significance of Elisha.

ii) The fall of Israel.

iii) The fall of Judah.

11) Isaiah.

i) The prophecies of First Isaiah.

ii) The prophecies of Deutero-Isaiah.

iii) The oracles of Trito-Isaiah.

12) Jeremiah.

13) Ezekiel.

i) Ezekiel--the man and his message.

ii) Prophetic themes and actions.

iii) Oracles of hope.

14) The first six minor prophets.

i) Hosea.

ii) Joel.

iii) Amos.

iv) Obadiah.

v) Jonah.

vi) Micah.

15) The last six minor prophets.

i) Nahum.

ii) Habakkuk.

iii) Zephaniah.

iv) Haggai.

v) Zechariah.

vi) Malachi.

 

3. THE KETUVIM

 

1) Overview.

2) Psalms.

3) Proverbs.

4) Job.

5) The Megillot (the Scrolls).

i) Song of Solomon.

ii) Ruth.

iii) Lamentations of Jeremiah.

iv) Ecclesiastes.

v) Book of Esther.

6) Daniel.

7) Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles.

 

V. Old Testament literature

 

 

1. THE TORAH (LAW, PENTATEUCH, OR FIVE BOOKS OF MOSES)

 

1) Composition and authorship.

The Torah, or Pentateuch (Five Scrolls), traditionally the most revered portion of the Hebrew canon, comprises a series of narratives, interspersed with law codes, providing an account of events from the beginning of the world to the death of Moses. Modern critical scholarship tends to hold that there were originally four books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers) resulting from the division into manageable scrolls--a so-called Tetrateuch--to which later was added a fifth scroll, or book, Deuteronomy. A theory, once widely held, that the Book of Joshua was originally integral with the first five books to form a Hexateuch (Six Scrolls) is now generally regarded as dubious.

The traditional Jewish and Christian view has been that Moses was the author of the five books, that "of Moses" means "by Moses," citing in support passages in the Pentateuch itself that claim Mosaic authorship. Since these claims, however, are written in the third person, the question still arises as to the authorship of the passages; e.g., in Deuteronomy, chapter 31, verse 9: "And Moses wrote this law, and gave it to the priests . . . and to all the elders of Israel." The last eight verses of Deuteronomy (and of the Pentateuch), describing Moses' death, were a problem even to the rabbis of the 2nd century CE, who held that "this law" in the verse quoted refers to the whole Torah preceding it. There are also other passages that seem to be written from the viewpoint of a much later period than the events they narrate.

 

i) The documentary hypothesis.

Beyond these obvious discrepancies, modern literary analysis and criticism of the texts has pointed up significant differences in style, vocabulary, and content, apparently indicating a variety of original sources for the first four books, as well as an independent origin for Deuteronomy. According to this view, the Tetrateuch is a redaction primarily of three documents: the Yahwist, or J (after the German spelling of Yahweh); the Elohist, or E; and the Priestly code, or P. They refer, respectively, to passages in which the Hebrew personal name for God, YHWH (commonly transcribed "Yahweh"), is predominantly used, those in which the Hebrew generic term for God, Elohim, is predominantly used, and those (also Elohist) in which the priestly style or interest is predominant. According to this hypothesis, these documents--along with Deuteronomy (labelled D)--constituted the original sources of the Pentateuch. On the basis of internal evidence, it has been inferred that J and E are the oldest sources (perhaps going as far back as the 10th century BCE), probably in that order, and D and P the more recent ones (to about the 5th century BCE). Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers are considered compilations of J, E, and P, with Leviticus assigned to P and Deuteronomy to D.

The Yahwist, or J, is the master of narrative in biblical literature, who sketches people by means of stories. He takes his materials wherever he finds them, and if some are crude he does not care, as long as they make a good story. The book of Genesis, for example, contains the story of Abraham's passing off his wife as his sister, so if the king took her as a concubine he would honour her supposed brother instead of having her husband killed, a story told by J without any moralistic homily. Not given to subtle theological speculations, J nearly always refers to the Deity as YHWH, by his specifically Israelite personal name (usually rendered "the Lord" in English translations), though he is not hidebound and also employs the term Elohim ("God"), especially when non-Hebrews are speaking or being addressed. He presents God as one who acts and speaks like human persons, a being with whom they have direct intercourse. The Yahwist, however, has one very definite theological (or theo-political) preoccupation: to establish Israel's divinely bestowed right to the land of Canaan.

More reflective and theological in the apologetic sense is the Elohist, or E. No fragment of E on the primeval history (presented in the first 11 chapters of Genesis) has been preserved, and it is probable that none ever existed but that the Elohist began his account with the patriarchs (presented in the remainder of Genesis, in which the J and E strands are combined). The first passage that can be assigned to E with reasonable certainty is chapter 20 of Genesis, which parallels the two J variants of the "She is my sister" story noted above. Unlike these, it tries to mitigate the offensiveness of the subterfuge: though the patriarch did endanger the honour of his wife to save his life, his statement was not untrue but merely (deliberately) misleading. The Elohist is also distinct from the Yahwist in generally avoiding the presentation of God as being like a human person and treating him instead as a more remote, less directly accessible being. Significantly, E avoids using the term YHWH throughout Genesis (with one apparent exception), and it is only after telling how God revealed his proper name to Moses, in chapter 3 of Exodus, that he refers to God as YHWH regularly, though not exclusively. This account (paralleled in the P strand in chapter 6 of Exodus) is apparently based on a historical recollection of Moses' paramount role in establishing the religion of YHWH among the Israelites (the former Hebrew slaves). Also noteworthy is E's choice of the term prophet for Abraham and his characterization of a prophet as one who is an effective intercessor with God on behalf of others. This is in line with his speculations on the unique character of Moses as the great intercessor as compared with other prophets (and also with Joshua as Moses' attendant).

It is inferred from certain internal evidence that E was produced in the northern kingdom (Israel) in the 8th century BCE and was later combined with J. Because it is not always possible or important to separate J from E, the two together are commonly referred to as JE.

The third major document of the Tetrateuch, the Priestly code, or P, is very different from the other two. Its narrative is frequently interrupted by detailed ritual instructions, by bodies of standing laws of a ritual character, and by dry and exhaustive genealogical lists of the generations. According to one theory, the main author of P seems to have worked in the 7th century and to have been the editor who combined the J and E narratives; for his own part, he is content to add some brief, drab records--with frequent dates--of births, marriages, and migrations. The P material is to be found not merely in Leviticus but throughout the Tetrateuch, including the early chapters of Genesis and one of the creation accounts and ranging from the primeval history (Adam to Noah) to the Mosaic era. Like the Elohist, P uses the term Elohim for God until the self-naming of God to Moses (Exodus, chapter 3, in the P strand) and shows a non-anthropomorphic transcendent stress.

The Deuteronomist, or D, has a distinctive hortatory style and vocabulary, calling for Israel's conformity with YHWH's covenant laws and stressing his election of Israel as his special people (for a detailed consideration of D, see below Deuteronomy: Introductory discourse ). To the Deuteronomist or the Deuteronomic school is also attributed the authorship of the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings), which scholars call the "Deuteronomic history."

 

ii) Other Pentateuchal theories.

This documentary theory of the composition of the Pentateuch has been challenged by eminent 20th-century scholars who have offered alternative or additional methods of analysis and interpretation. Form criticism, for example, has stressed particular literary forms and the historical setting out of which they arose: the sagas, laws, legends, and other forms and the particular tribal or cultic context that gives them meaning. Tradition criticism centres on the pre-literary sources; i.e., on the oral traditions and the circles out of which they originated as accounting for the variety of the materials in the Pentateuch. Archaeological criticism has tended to substantiate the reliability of the typical historical details of even the oldest periods and to discount the theory that the Pentateuchal accounts are merely the reflection of a much later period. The new methods of criticism have served to direct attention to the life, experience, and religion out of which the Pentateuchal writings arose and to take a less static and literal view of the constituent documentary sources; yet most scholars still accept the documentary theory, in its basic lines, as the most adequate and comprehensive ordering of the variegated Pentateuchal materials. The following presentation rests mainly on an analysis and interpretation of the literary sources. (See below The critical study of biblical literature: exegesis and hermeneutics .)

In any case, the five books that have come down in various texts and versions have been seen as a unit in the religious communities that preserved them. Their basic content may be divided thus: (1) beginnings of the world and man--the primeval history; (2) patriarchal narratives--from Abraham to Joseph; (3) Egyptian slavery and the Exodus; (4) the revelation and Covenant at Sinai; (5) wanderings and guidance in the wilderness (divisible into two separate sub-blocks, before and after Sinai); (6) various legal materials--the Decalogue, Covenant Code, and passages of cultic and Deuteronomic laws--interspersed in the narrative, which take up the greater portion of the Pentateuch.

 

2) Genesis.

This book is called Bereshit in the Hebrew original, after its first word (and the first word of the Bible), meaning "In the beginning." It tells of the beginnings of the world and man and of those acclaimed as ancestors of the Hebrew people--all under the shaping action and purpose of God. The book falls into two main parts: chapters 1-11, dealing with the primeval history, and chapters 12-50, dealing with the patriarchal narratives; the latter section is again divisible into the story of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (chapters 12-36) and the story of Joseph (chapters 37-50), which may be treated as a unit of its own.

 

i) The primeval history.

The Bible begins with the creation of the universe. It tells the story with images borrowed from Babylonian mythology, transformed to express its own distinctive view of God and man. Out of primary chaos, darkness, void, depths, and waters God creates the heaven and the earth and all that dwell therein--a coherent order of things--by his will and word alone. He says, "Let there be . . ." and there is. Actually, there are two creation accounts: the first (1-2:4), ascribed to P, simply gives a terse day-by-day account including the culminating creation of man, in the divine "image and likeness," followed by the primordial sabbath on the seventh day. The other (2:4-25), ascribed to J, starts with an arid wasteland and the creation of man (Adam), described specifically as being formed by God out of dust and made into a living thing by God blowing the breath of life into him. He and the woman (Eve) created for him out of his rib are put into a paradisal garden (Eden), especially created for them to till and to tend and to sustain life. The two are forbidden only to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil on pain of death (there is also a tree of life in the middle of the garden). The cosmic setting and concern of the P account is thus followed by the human setting and concern of the J account. Creation is followed by temptation, disobedience, and fall and all that follows from that for the history of mankind. At the instigation of the serpent, the shrewdest of the beasts, who holds out the possibility of attaining godlike knowledge, the woman eats of the fruit of the tree of knowledge and gives some to her husband to eat also. Their distinction from beasts and children manifests itself immediately by a sense of modesty about exposing their bodies, and loincloths become the first products of the higher knowledge. The primal human couple are punished by God for their disobedience by being driven out of the idyllic garden into the world of pain, toil, and death. (see also Index: creation myth, Adam and Eve)

The reason given by YHWH to the divine beings is: "Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever." These words apparently point back to the polytheistic mythology (the existence of divine, magical powers; the gods' jealousy of mankind; the tree of eternal life; etc.) from which the Yahwist drew his images and symbols explaining man's suffering, frustration, and limitation. In the biblical framework and rendering (and subsequent interpretation), the archaic stories and images acquire a different meaning, suitable to the idea of a transcendent deity and an imperfect mankind.

With the exile from the garden, human history and culture begins. In the story of Adam's sons, Cain and Abel, man has already become a herdsman and farmer, and also a murderer: again probably a reflection of older mythical material and, again, one that puts an emphasis on human sin and estrangement from God. In the story of the Flood that follows there are evident borrowings from the Mesopotamian stories of a flood sent by the gods to destroy mankind, but in the biblical account it is emphasized that man's extreme wickedness is the cause and that Noah is saved along with his family by God's deliberate choice because he is a righteous man. (In the flood story in the Babylonian Gilgamesh epic, by contrast, there is no apparent moral reason why the gods resolved to destroy mankind, and the only reason why the hero of the Flood and his kin are saved is that he is favoured by one of the gods, who tricks the others, including the chief god.) After the Flood, God blesses Noah and bestows on man the earth and the things on it for sustenance and makes a covenant with Noah and all creatures that he will never again unleash a world-destroying flood. The permanent order of the world is assured, and God's blessing and covenant make their first explicit appearance in the Bible. (see also Index: flood myth)

In the story of the Tower of Babel, the final story in the primeval history, a primal unity of mankind in which there is only one language is shattered when, in their pride, men decide to build a city and a tower that will reach up to the heavens. YHWH again takes steps to check dangerous collaboration: He says (to the celestial council), "Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech," and scatters them over the earth. Again, the Yahwist has apparently used ancient mythological motifs to explain the diversity of mankind; the story may be regarded as simply a direct borrowing from the older traditions, without any monotheistic adaptation; in its textual setting, however, it may also be taken as another instance of the ruin of primal harmony by human willfulness and pride.

 

ii) The patriarchal narratives.

The universal primal history of man in the first 11 chapters of Genesis is followed by an account of the fathers of the Hebrew people; i.e., of the origins of a particular group. From a literary point of view, this portion may be divided into the sagas of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the story of Joseph. Although these narratives are not historical in the ordinary sense, they have an evident historical setting and refer to various particulars that fit in with what is generally known of the time and area. They apparently rest on the traditions of particular families, clans, or tribes and were probably passed down orally before they took written form. Theologically, they are an account of a divine promise and Covenant and of man's faith and unfaith in response, with Abraham as the model man of faith.

The Elohist, as well as J and P, tells the remarkable story of how God singled out Abraham (Abram) to migrate from Mesopotamia and sojourn in Canaan, promised him that he would make him the ancestor of great nations and that his posterity would inherit the land of his sojournings, and singled out as the heirs to the latter promise first Isaac, Abraham's son by his chief wife, Sarah, and then Jacob, the younger of Isaac's two sons; how Jacob acquired the additional name of Israel and how the wives, children, and children's children who, in Jacob-Israel's own lifetime, came to constitute a family of 70 souls, became the nucleus of the Israelite people; and how it came about that this ethnic group, prior to becoming, as promised, the masters of the land of their sojournings, first vacated it to sojourn for a time in Egypt. Apart from the low-keyed P strand, it is mostly splendid narrative, including the Elohist's account of the (aborted) sacrifice of Isaac by his father in response to God's command, a terse story packed with meaning, and the Joseph story about the son of Jacob who is sold into slavery by his brothers, rises to a high post in the Egyptian court, and ultimately helps his family to settle in Egypt. The 12 sons of Jacob-Israel are eponymous ancestors of Israelite tribes (ancestors after whom the tribes are named); the actions and fortunes of the eponymous ancestors, including certain blessings and other pronouncements of Jacob-Israel, account for the future positions and fortunes of the particular tribes. Though there is less history and more legend, much of the atmosphere of an older age is preserved, with the patriarchs represented as seminomadic, essentially peaceful and pastoral tent dwellers--alien residents--among the settled Canaanites and as observing customs otherwise only attested in Mesopotamia. Anachronistic features, however, insinuate themselves from time to time.

The God of the patriarchs is presented as Yahweh--explicitly by the Yahwist and implicitly by E and P--i.e., as the same God who would later speak to Moses. God apparently was originally the personal, tutelary deity of each of the patriarchs, called by a variety of names and later unified into the one God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There are various cult legends in this portion of Genesis, etiological accounts of the origins of various cult sites and practices; though probably of Canaanite origin, these all indicate the places and customs held holy by the Israelites and perhaps also by their claimed Hebrew ancestors. There are direct appearances of God to some of the main figures in the narratives, intimate personal communication between men and God. God's particular blessing upon and Covenant with Abraham is the paradigmatic high point, to be referred back to continually in later biblical and post-biblical traditions.

 

3) Exodus.

The title (in the Greek, Latin, and English versions) means "a going out," referring to the seminal event of the liberation of Israel from Egyptian bondage through the wondrous acts and power of God. The book celebrates and memorializes this great saving event in song and story and also the awesome revelation and covenant at Mt. Sinai. The contents of the book may be summarized thus: (1) Israel in Egypt, (2) the Exodus and wanderings, (3) the Covenant at Sinai, (4) the apostasy of the people and renewal of the Covenant, and (5) the instructions on building the Tabernacle and their execution. (see also Index: Egypt, ancient)

 

i) Redemption and revelation.

Significant in the early chapters is God's special concern for the Hebrew slaves, his reference to them as "my people," and his revelation to Moses, the rebel courtier whom he has picked to be their leader, that he is YHWH, the God of their fathers, an abiding presence that will rescue them from their misery and bring them into Canaan, the land of promise. This assurance is repeated at the critical moments that follow (e.g., "And I will take you for my people, and I will be your God"). In the series of frustrations, obstacles, and redeeming events that are narrated, God's special causal power and presence are represented as being at work. God hardens the Pharaoh's heart, sends plagues that afflict the Egyptians but spare the Hebrews, causes the waters to recede in the Sea of Reeds (or Papyrus Marsh) to permit passage to the fleeing Israelites and then to engulf the pursuing Egyptians ("the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea"), and gives the people guidance in their wandering in the wilderness. The cryptic "name" that God gives to himself in his revelation to Moses (`ehye `asher `ehye), often translated "I am that I am" or "I will be what I will be," may also be rendered "I will cause to be that which I will cause to be." In either case, it is a play on, and an implied interpretation of, the name YHWH.

The constancy of God's directive power and concern is displayed notably in the period (40 years) of wilderness wandering (on the eastern and southern borders of Canaan), when Israel is tested and tempered not only by hardship but also by rebellious despair that looks back longingly to Egyptian bondage (see also below Numbers). God sends the people bread from heaven (manna) and quail for their sustenance (J and P strands) and, through Moses, brings forth hidden sources of water (JE strand). When the Amalekites (a nomadic desert tribe) attack, Moses, stationed on a nearby hill, controls the tide of battle by holding high the rod of God (a symbol of divine power), and when the enemy is routed he builds an altar called "The Lord is my banner" (E strand). Also inserted here is the account (E) of the visit of Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, a priest of another people (Midianite) who, impressed by YHWH's marvellous deliverance of Israel, blesses, extols, and sacrifices to him--under the name Elohim, but in the context the same God is clearly meant.

God's power and presence manifest themselves impressively in the culminating account of the Covenant at Mt. Sinai (or Horeb). The people, forewarned by God through Moses, agree beforehand to carry out the terms of the Covenant that is to be revealed, because God has liberated them from Egypt and promises to make them his special holy people; they purify themselves for the ensuing Covenant ceremony, according to God's instructions. Yahweh appears in fire and smoke, attended by the blare of a ram's horn at the top of the mountain, where he reveals to Moses the terms of the Covenant, which Moses then passes on to the people below. Here follow in the text the Ten Commandments and the so-called Covenant Code (or Book of the Covenant) of lesser, specific ordinances, moral precepts, and cultic regulations, accompanied by a promise to help the people conquer their enemies if they will serve no other gods. After this comes the Covenant ceremony with burnt offerings and the sacrifice of oxen, with the blood of the animals thrown both on the altar and on the people to sacramentally seal the Covenant, followed by a sacral meal of Moses and the elders at the mountaintop, during which they see God. Many modern scholars hold that this is presented as the initial form of a Covenant renewal ceremony that was repeated either annually or every seven years in ancient Israel. (see also Index: Sinai covenant)

There are certain problems and apparent discrepancies in this account that are explained by critical scholarship as deriving from the combination of different sources, mainly J and E, traditions, or emphases. In the opening portion (chapter 19) the people are gathered at the foot of the mountain so as to hear and meet God, and Moses himself brings down to them God's words. In a later portion (24:12-18, also 32:15-20), after the sacral meal, Moses goes up on the mountain to receive "the tables of stone, with the law and commandments," inscribed by God himself, and returns with two stone tablets written on both sides by the hand of God--which he breaks in anger at the people's worship of the molten calf that has developed in his absence. Later (chapter 34), at God's command, Moses cuts two new stone tablets, upon which after hearing God's various promises and exhortations, he writes "the words of the covenant, the ten commandments"; finally, he brings the new tablets down to the people and tells them what YHWH has commanded. There seem to be two parallel accounts of the same event, woven together by the skillful redactor into a continuing story. There also seem to be two distinct strands in the account of the sealing of the Covenant in the first 11 verses of chapter 24. According to one, the elders are to worship from afar, and only Moses is to come near YHWH; in the other strand, as noted, the elders eat the sacred meal on the mountaintop in the direct presence of God.

 

ii) Legislation.

The book of Exodus includes not only the narrative and celebration of God's redemptive action in the Exodus and wanderings and his revealing presence at Mt. Sinai but also a corpus of legislation, both civil and religious, that is ascribed to God and this revelation event. The Covenant Code, or Book of the Covenant, presented in chapters 20-23, immediately following the Decalogue (Ten Commandments), opens with a short passage on ritual ordinances, followed by social and civil law applying to specific situations (case law), including the treatment of slaves, capital crimes, compensation for personal injuries and property damage, moneylending and interest, precepts on the administration of justice, and further ritual ordinances. Scholars generally date this code in the later agricultural period of the settlement in Canaan, but some hold that it is analogous to more ancient Near Eastern law codes and may go back to Moses or to his time. In any case, it seems to be a compilation from various sources, inserted into and breaking the flow of the narrative.

 

iii) Instructions on the Tabernacle.

Also interspersed in the story (chapters 25-31) are God's detailed instructions to Moses for building and furnishing the Tabernacle, the clothing and ordination of priests, and other liturgical matters. According to this segment (evidently P in inspiration), an elaborate structure is to be set up in the desert, in the centre of the camp, taken apart, transported, and assembled again, like the simple "Tent of Meeting" outside the camp, where Moses received oracular revelations from God. Indeed, the two concepts seem to have fused and the Tabernacle is also called the Tent of Meeting. Its prime function is to serve as a sanctuary in which sacrifices and incense are offered on altars and bread presented on a table; it is also equipped with various other vessels and furnishings, including a wooden ark, or cabinet, to contain the two tablets of the Covenant--the famous ark of the Covenant. It is, moreover, to be the place of God's occasional dwelling and meeting with the people. Scholars believe that the elaborate details and materials described stem from a later, Canaanite, period but that the essential concept of a tent of meeting goes back to an earlier desert time. An account of the execution of the instructions for the building of the Tabernacle is presented in chapters 35-40 (following the apostasy, tablet breaking, and Covenant-renewal episodes), which duplicates to the letter the instructions in chapters 25-31. After the Tabernacle is completed and consecrated, it is occupied by the "glory," or presence, of YHWH, symbolized by a cloud resting upon it. It is on this note that the book of Exodus ends.

 

4) Leviticus.

The cultic and priestly laws presented in Exodus are expanded to take up virtually the whole of Leviticus, the Latin Vulgate title for the third of the Five Books of Moses, which may be translated the Book (or Manual) of Priests. With one exception (chapters 8-10), the narrative portions are brief connective or introductory devices to give an ostensibly narrative framework for the detailed lists of precepts that provide the book's content. The source of Leviticus, both for the legal and narrative passages, is definitely identified as P; it is the only book in the so-called Tetrateuch to which a single source is attributed. Apparently the book consists of materials from various periods, some of them going back to the time of Moses, which were put together at a later date, possibly during or after the Babylonian Exile. Recent scholarship tends to emphasize the ancient origin of much of the material, as opposed to the previous tendency to ascribe a late, even post-exilic date. Despite its content and its dry, repetitive style, many interpreters caution against taking Leviticus as merely a dull, spiritless manual of priestly ritual, holding that it is strictly inseparable from the ethical emphasis and spiritual fervour of the religion of ancient Israel. It is in Leviticus that the so-called law of love, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself," first appears. The rituals set forth drily here probably presuppose an inward state in offering to God, as well as humanitarian and compassionate ethics.

The book may be divided thus: chapters 1-7, offerings and sacrifices; chapters 8-10, inauguration of priestly worship; chapters 11-16, purification laws; chapters 17-26, holiness code; chapter 27, commutation of vows and tithes.

 

i) Offerings, sacrifices, and priestly worship.

The first verse attributes these regulations to YHWH, who speaks to Moses from the Tent of Meeting, beginning with the rules for offerings by the individual layman. These include burnt, cereal, peace, sin, and guilt offerings, all described in precise details. The prescription for priestly offerings is about the same, with some slight differences in the order of actions, and is presented much more briefly. In chapters 8-10 the narrative that was interrupted at the end of Exodus is resumed, and the ordination of Aaron and his sons by Moses, before the people assembled at the door of the Tent of Meeting is described, as are various animal sacrifices by Aaron and his sons under Moses' direction and the subsequent appearance of God's "glory" to the people. Aaron's two older sons are burned to death by fire issuing forth from God because they have offered "unholy fire." This story apparently emphasizes the importance of adherence to the precise cultic details, as does also the account (at the end of the chapter) of Moses' anger at Aaron's two remaining sons for not eating the sin offering. These stories were apparently used by the priestly authors to buttress the authority of the Aaronic priesthood.

 

ii) Purification laws.

With chapter 11 begin the regulations on ritual cleanness and uncleanness, starting with animals and other living things fit and unfit to eat--the basis of the famous Jewish dietary laws. Then come the uncleanness and required purification of women after childbirth, skin diseases, healed lepers, infected houses, and genital discharges. Chapter 16, which belongs in the narrative flow immediately after chapter 10, describes the priestly actions on the Day of Atonement, the culmination of ritual cleansing in Israel. It is a chapter rich in details on Israelite ritual and bound up with the salient religious theme of atonement. (see also Index: purification rite)

 

iii) The Holiness Code.

Next (chapters 17-26) comes what has been designated the "Holiness Code," or "Law of Holiness," which scholars regard as a separate, distinctive unit within the P material (designated H). It calls upon the people to be holy as God is holy by carrying out his laws, both ritual and moral, and by avoiding the polluting practices of neighbouring peoples; and it proceeds to lay down laws, interspersed with exhortations, to attain this special holiness. Although many scholars tend to date its compilation in the exilic period, some see evidence that it was compiled in pre-exilic times; in any case, the consensus is that the laws themselves come from a much earlier time.

These--a most miscellaneous collection--begin with injunctions on the proper (kosher) slaughtering of animals for meat; go on to a list of precepts against outlawed sexual relations (incest, homosexuality) and an injunction against defiling the (holy) land; proceed to a list of ethical injunctions, including the law of love and kindness to resident aliens, all interspersed with agronomic instructions and warnings against witchcraft; and then, after an injunction against sacrificing children, return to the listing of illicit sexual relations and the warning that the land will spew the people out if they do not obey the divine norms and laws. There follow special requirements for preserving the special holiness of priests and assuring that only unblemished animals will be used in sacrifices; instructions on the observance of the holy days--the sabbath, feasts, and festivals; commands on the proper making of oil for the holy lamp in the Tent of Meeting and of the sacred shewbread, to which are appended the penalties for blasphemy and other crimes; and finally, rules for observance of the sabbatical (seventh) and jubilee (50th) years, in which the land is to lie fallow, followed by rules on the redemption of land and the treatment of poor debtors and Hebrew slaves.

This miscellany, presented in chapters 17-25, is followed by a final exhortation, in chapter 26, promising the people that if they follow these laws and precepts all will go well with them but warning that if they fail to do so all kinds of evil will befall them, including exile and the desolation of the Promised Land. Yet, if they confess their iniquity and atone for it, God will not destroy them utterly but will remember his Covenant with their forebears. Such a passage points to a later time but not necessarily to the exilic period, as some commentators have assumed. The chapter concludes: "These are the statutes and ordinances and laws which the Lord made between him and the people of Israel on Mt. Sinai by Moses," connecting these precepts with the primal revelation in Exodus.

 

iv) Commutation of vows and tithes.

In the final chapter of Leviticus (27), the P material is resumed with a presentation of the rules for the commutation of votive gifts and tithes. It provides for the release from vows (of offerings of persons, animals, or lands to God) through specified money payments. Some commentators understand the vow to offer persons to refer originally to human sacrifice, others as pledging their liturgical employment in the sanctuary. Special provisions are made for the poor to relieve them from the stipulated payments. Only grain and fruit tithes, not animal tithes, are redeemable. This chapter and the book of Leviticus end, like chapter 26, with the verse, "These are the commandments which the Lord commanded Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai."

 

5) Numbers, Chapters 1--19.

In the Hebrew Bible this book is entitled Bemidbar (In the Wilderness) after one of its opening words, while in English versions it is called Numbers, a translation of the Greek Septuagint title Arithmoi. Each of the titles gives an indication of the content of the book: (1) the narrative of "40 Years" of wanderings in the wilderness, or desert, between Sinai and Canaan; and (2) the census of the people and other numerical and statistical matters, preceding and interspersing that account. It is a composite of various sources (J, E, and predominantly P) and traditions, which as a whole continue the story of God's special care and testing of his people in the events of the archaic period that formed them. Numbers continues the account of what many modern scholars call the "salvation history" of Israel, which apprehends and narrates events (or the image and impact of events) as involving divine action and direction.

conclusion of the Sinai sojourn (1:1-10:10), covering 20 days; (2) the wanderings in the desert of Paran (10:11-20:13), covering 38-40 years; and (3) the events in Edom and Moab (20:14-36:13), covering five months.

 

i) The conclusion of the Sinai sojourn.

The book opens with a command from God to Moses, early in the second year after the Exodus, to take a census of the arms-bearing men over 20 in each of the clans of Israel. Moses and Aaron, aided by the clan chiefs, take the count, clan by clan, and reach a total of 603,550 men--according to critical scholars, an unbelievably large total for the time and conditions. The Levites, to whom is entrusted the care of the Tabernacle and its equipment, are exempted from this secular census and are counted in a later census, of males one month and over, along with a census of firstborn males from other tribes. The Lord had required that the latter be consecrated to him when he slew all the firstborn of the Egyptians but spared those of the Israelites; now the bulk of them were released by the Levites being taken in their stead to minister to the priests, while for the excess of firstborn over Levites "redemption" payments were collected. A further census of men 30-50 years old is taken among the Levite clans, so as to assign them their various duties, which are here stipulated. Also specified are the positions of the tribes (separated into four divisions of three tribes each) in the camp and on the march, with an assignment of specific portions of the Tabernacle and its equipment to be carried by the Levite clans. YHWH is to give the signal to break camp by lifting the cloud by day or the fire by night from above the Tabernacle and then to advance it in the direction the people are to march. YHWH's signal is to be followed by a blast by the priests (Aaron's sons) on two specially made silver trumpets.

The above directions are set forth in chapters 1-4 and 9-10 (through verse 10). There are intervening chapters containing various materials: expelling leprous or other unclean persons from the camp, the ordeal for a woman suspected of adultery, regulations for Nazirites (those who take special ascetic vows), the offerings brought at the dedication of the Tabernacle, and the purification of the Levites preparatory to taking up their special sacred functions. The priestly emphasis of the materials in chapters 1-10 is evident, and it is also clear that there are various strands of priestly interpretation involved.

 

ii) Wanderings in the desert of Paran.

This section apparently combines various traditions of how the Israelites came into Palestine, and J, E (or JE), and P sources have been discerned in these chapters. The traditional "40 years" in the wilderness (38 or 39, according to critical calculations) were spent mostly in the wilderness of Paran, with a short stay in the oasis of Kadesh, according to P; while, according to J, they spent most of their time in Kadesh; and chapter 13, verse 26, puts Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran, thus encapsulating both traditions. The discrepancy may stem from two separate traditions of how the tribes entered Canaan: from the south or from the north through Transjordan.

The P narrative begins (chapter 10, verse 11) with the lifting of the cloud from the Tabernacle and the setting out of the Israelites for the Promised Land, with their holy Tabernacle and ark, in the order prescribed in chapter 2. According to the P account (verses 11-28), the cloud settles down over the wilderness of Paran, the signal to make camp; whereas in the JE account (verses 29-36) it is the ark of the Covenant that goes ahead to seek out a stopping place, and where it stops the Israelites rest, the cloud simply accompanying them overhead (perhaps to shield them from the blazing desert sun). Chapters 11-12 (JE) deal with the complaints of the people about their hardships and the rebellion of Miriam and Aaron against their brother Moses. When the people express their longing for the good food they had in Egypt and their disgust with the unvarying manna, God sends them a storm of quail, which remain uneaten because he also sends them a plague. This is a somewhat different account from that in Exodus, but the point is the same: the mighty, infinite power of God (chapter 11, verse 23). (Also inserted here is the story of God visiting his spirit on 70 selected elders so that they may share Moses' burdens.) When Miriam and Aaron question God's speaking only through Moses, God proclaims his unique relation with Moses, who alone receives direct revelations from God, not indirectly through dreams and visions, like the prophets.

Chapters 13-14 tell of the despatch of spies from Paran to reconnoiter Canaan and of the despair, rebellion, and unsuccessful foray of the people in response to the spies' reports. Scholars discern two separate accounts of the spying incident artfully woven together. According to the JE account, the spies go only as far as Hebron in the south and return with a glowing report of a fertile land, which is, however, they warn, too strongly defended to be taken from that quarter: only one spy, Caleb, advocates attacking it. In the P account the spies reconnoiter the whole country and give a pessimistic report of it as a land that "devours its inhabitants," who are, moreover, giants compared to the Israelites. The people cry out in despair at this report and want to go back to Egypt, while Caleb and Joshua (added by P) plead with them to trust in God and go forward to take the land. God, disgusted with the people, condemns them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years and decrees that only their children, along with Caleb and Joshua, shall enter into the land of promise. Ruefully, the people now decide to attack and go forth, against Moses' warning, to a resounding defeat.

Chapter 15 is a P document or addition, setting forth various ritual regulations. Chapters 16-18 deal with the comparative rights and duties of priests and Levites. Chapter 16 is a composite document dealing with revolts against Moses and Aaron by certain Levites who question their special authority in a community where all are holy, as also by certain Reubenites who resent Moses' leadership. The dispute is settled when 250 revolting Levites attempt to offer incense (a priestly Aaronic function) and are consumed by fire sent by God, while the leaders of the revolt are swallowed up in the earth. Yet the stubborn people continue their complaint against Moses and Aaron, bringing forth the Lord's anger and a plague, from which they are saved by Aaron's (proper and effective) offering of incense. This latter incident occurs in chapter 17 in the Hebrew text and Jewish translations but concludes chapter 16 in some Christian versions. Chapter 17 in both arrangements, with its story of Aaron's rod, associates Levitical with Aaronic authority; Aaron's name is inscribed on the staff of Levi, which alone among the staffs of the chiefs of the tribes of Israel blossoms and bears fruit, thus authenticating Aaron's, and thereby the Levites', special claims. The relative functions and payments (tithes) of priests and Levites are prescribed in chapter 18. Chapter 19, inserted here, has to do with purification from uncleanness incurred through touching the dead, accomplished through washing in water mixed with the ashes of a red heifer.

 

6) Numbers, Chapters 20--36.

 

i) Events in Edom and Moab.

Chapter 20, verse 14, resumes the narrative of Israel's onward march, starting with their arrival in the wilderness of Zin and stay at Kadesh, marked by Miriam's death and God's exclusion of Moses and Aaron from entering the Promised Land because of their ascribed lack of confidence in God when Moses drew forth water from a rock in response to still more Israelite complaints, but did so in anger and impatience, striking the rock twice with his rod, instead of telling it to give forth water, as the Lord had instructed (the incident of the waters of Meribah). Refused permission by the King of Edom to pass through that land, over the much-used King's Highway, they proceed from Kadesh to Mt. Hor, where Aaron dies and is succeeded by his son Eleazar, and from which they proceed (chapter 21) to bypass Edom in an attempt to approach Canaan from the east. Arrived at the border of what was geographically part of Moab but politically the Amorite kingdom of Sihon, they are refused passage and proceed to defeat the Amorites and take possession of their land. This is from the JE strand of the composite narrative; the P strand does not recognize the existence of settled and politically organized populations between Kadesh and the plains of Moab. (see also Index: Moab Plateau)

At this point, in chapters 22-24, apparently a very mixed composite of various J and E strands, is presented the fascinating story (or collection of stories) of the non-Israelite seer, or prophet, Balaam, from the region of the Middle Euphrates. Alarmed at the Israelite host encamped at his border, the King of Moab commissions the seer Balaam to put a curse on them, but Balaam refuses, at the order of YHWH, who is also the God of Balaam. On three occasions at the King's request Balaam seeks an oracle from God against Israel, but each time, to the King's rage, he is told by the Lord that Israel is graced with the divine blessing and cannot be cursed. The seer, who is ordered back to his own country, without payment by the disgruntled King, offers a final, unsolicited oracle prophesying the destruction of Moab and other nations by Israel's might: "I will let you know what this people will do to your people in the latter days."

Chapter 25 (combining JE and P strands) provides a lurid interlude in which the Israelites go whoring after Moabite women and offer sacrifices and worship to their god, Baal of Peor. Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, is so incensed at the sight of an Israelite consorting with a Midianite woman that he kills them both, thus ending a plague that has broken out and earning God's special favour: a covenant of perpetual priesthood with him and his descendants (a forward reference to the Zadokite priesthood of post-exilic times). This account is connected by the last two verses with God's call for Israel to harass and smite the Midianites (see below). After the plague ends, in the account (P) in chapter 26, a second census of arms-bearing men and of the Levites is taken, and again a fantastically large total, 601,730, is given, perhaps referring to a much later time. It is noted at the end that all of the previous 603,730 had died in the wilderness, as prophesied, except for Caleb and Joshua, who have been especially picked out by God. This census, coming at the end of the 40-year period of wilderness wanderings, is for the purpose of allotting lands to the various tribes and families. Hence the logical positioning of the passage (P) in the first 11 verses of chapter 27 assuring that a family may inherit through a daughter when there is no son and through a brother when there are no children and through the closest relative when there are neither.

At this point (chapter 27, verse 12) comes the impressive and poignant passage (also P) in which Moses ascends the heights, at God's bidding, to look over the Promised Land, which he is not to enter, and calls on God to appoint a leader to succeed him. At God's command, Moses selects Joshua, and before the priest Eleazar and the whole community he lays his hands on him and commissions him to lead Israel. It is noteworthy that Joshua is invested only with some of Moses' authority and is to learn God's will through Eleazar and the sacred lot (Urim), not directly, as did Moses.

Again, the narrative is interrupted by three chapters (P) dealing with various religious regulations. Chapters 28-29 stipulate the sacrifices to be made by the whole community daily, on the sabbath, at the new moon, and on these holidays: the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover), the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), The Feast of Trumpets, i.e., New Year (Rosh Hashana), the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). The last two verses of chapter 29 specify that these public offerings are in addition to individual offerings, such as those specified in chapter 15. Critical scholars hold that these elaborate regulations stem from a much later (post-exilic) period, though they may go back to very ancient practices. Some see them as a liturgical commentary on chapter 23 of Leviticus, which presents the cycle of feasts and festivals (see above Leviticus). Chapter 30 gives women special exemption from keeping vows (presumably of offerings or abstinence) when countermanded by a father or husband; only widows or divorcees are bound, like men, unconditionally to keep their vows.

Chapter 31, likewise from P, deals with the annihilation of the Midianites following God's command at the end of chapter 25. The Israelites, a thousand from each tribe, go forth to battle led by the priest Eleazar, who carries the sacred vessels and the trumpets. They kill every man and seize all the movable property but spare the women and children. Moses, however, orders every male child and all nonvirgin women killed. There follow instructions for purification for the stain caused by killing a person or touching a dead body and for the distribution of the booty, which includes sheep, cattle, asses, and 32,000 virgins. The rules are that half of the spoils go to the fighting men, half to the rest of the people; in addition, the Lord's share is allotted thus: one five-hundredth of the fighting men's portion goes to the priest, and one-fiftieth of the people's portion goes to the Levites. Scholars are inclined to treat this chapter as a piece of fiction intended really to set forth the rules for purification and dividing the spoils through an invented story. The seer-diviner Balaam is here (verse 16) blamed for the whoring and apostasy incidents in chapter 25; but texts providing his connection with these events are lacking.

Chapter 32, dealing with the settlement east of the Jordan, concludes the narrative portion of Numbers and thus of the Tetrateuch (a story that is continued in chapter 34 of Deuteronomy and in the Book of Joshua). This very composite account (JEP) tells how the tribes of Reuben and Gad, after an initial angry remonstrance from Moses, are granted permission to settle in the rich pasturelands east of the Jordan on the assurance that after they erect sheepfolds and fortified towns for their flocks and families, they will provide the shock troops spearheading the advance of the Israelites into Canaan, and will not return to their homes until their brethren hold the land. Thereupon Moses allots the various conquered kingdoms and towns east of Jordan to the Gadites and Reubenites. The various Gadite, Reubenite, and Manassite towns are listed.

The rest of the book of Numbers (P in its final form) consists of an itemized summary of the route from Egypt to the plains of Moab outside Canaan (chapter 33) and various additional materials (chapters 34-36). Verses 50-56 of chapter 33 present the divine command to dispossess the people of Canaan, destroy their idols and cultic places, and apportion the land to each clan by lot. In chapter 34 the Lord specifies the boundaries of the whole land of Canaan that is to be Israel's inheritance and names the tribal leaders who, along with Eleazar and Joshua, are to oversee the division of the land by lot. In chapter 35, the Lord orders 48 towns with extensive pasturelands to be set aside for the Levites; six of these are to be cities of refuge for manslayers whose guilt of intentional murder has not yet been determined and who are provided sanctuary from the traditional blood vengeance. Although these settlements do not constitute an independent tribal territory but are scattered through the territories of the other tribes, the contradiction with chapter 18, verse 24, of Leviticus, commanding that the Levites are to have no share of the land but are to subsist solely on tithes, is obvious and raises critical questions. Finally, chapter 36 concludes the book of Numbers with a supplement to the law of inheritance through daughters laid down in chapter 27, enjoining daughters from marrying outside the tribe, so that the tribe will hold its portion of the land, which was given from God, in perpetuity. As before, the general injunction is laid down in a story dealing with a particular case (the daughter of Zelophehad).

 

7) Deuteronomy: Introductory discourse.

 

i) Special nature and problems.

The English title of this work, meaning "second law," is derived from a faulty Greek translation of chapter 17, verse 18, referring to "a copy of this law": the implication being that the book is a second law or an expanded version of the original law for the new generation of Israelites about to enter Canaan. Hebrew texts take the opening words of the book as title, Ele ha-Devarim (These Are The Words), or simply Devarim (Words). As noted in Composition and authorship , above, the book is in a class by itself in the Pentateuch, so much so that modern scholars tend to consider it apart from the other four books, and some see it in style, content, and concerns more closely related to the succeeding books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, constituting a "Deuteronomic history." In spite of its homogeneous style and tone--it is assigned for the most part to a single source, D--the content indicates to critical scholars very composite traditions, ages, and situations behind the finished form. This book has elicited a library of scholarship going back to the early 19th century, not only because of the complicated critical and historical problems calling for solution but also because of its spiritual and theological message, which gives it a special place among Old Testament writings.

In form, the book is ostensibly a discourse by Moses "to all Israel" in the final month in Moab before they go over the Jordan into Canaan. Actually it comprises three separate discourses, a set of laws, two poems, and various other matters, all ascribed to Moses directly--here it is Moses who sets forth the laws, not God through him. These materials are centred on the presentation of the rules of life and worship for the coming stay in the Promised Land, along with exhortations and explanations pointing to YHWH, the marvellous liberator from Egypt and guide in the wilderness, as the divine source and reason for the commands. The traditional view was that, with the possible exception of the account of Moses' death, the whole book was written by Moses, based on the phrase "And Moses wrote this song" in chapter 31, verse 22.

Some early Church Fathers identified the book with "the book of the law" (II Kings, chapter 22, verse 8), found in the 18th year of King Josiah's reign (c. 621 BCE), and made the basis of his great religious reform the following year. Wilhelm M.L. de Wette, a German biblical scholar, in 1805 established the predominant modern view that Deuteronomy (or its nucleus, or main portion) was found in Josiah's time and was a distinctive book, separate from the Tetrateuch. He also held that it was composed shortly before its discovery; other, more recent, scholars would put it as much as a century earlier and connect it with earlier reforms, while some associate it with the writings and teachings of the 8th-century-BCE prophet Hosea and with the E source. Furthermore, the references to localities near Shechem as cultic places, taken with certain passages in Joshua, indicate a northern provenance for the book and not the southern source connected with a cultic centre at Jerusalem, as had been previously supposed from the associated material in II Kings. Some scholars see the form and occasion of Deuteronomy as a Covenant renewal ceremony in which the whole law is read, as in Joshua, chapter 8, verses 30-35, and thus view it as a liturgical document, as well as a lawbook. In any case, the tendency is to see various layers of materials and lines of transmission, perhaps going back to quite early preliterary sources, before its final formation in the 8th or 7th century BCE.

The book may be divided as follows: (1) introductory discourse to the whole book (chapter 1 to chapter 4, verse 43); (2) introductory discourse to the lawbook (chapter 4, verse 44, through chapter 11); (3) the lawbook (chapters 12-28); (4) concluding exhortation and traditions about the last days and death of Moses (chapters 29-34).

 

ii) First introductory discourse of Moses.

The first introductory discourse, spoken by Moses, traces the journey of the Israelites from Mt. Horeb to Moab, with some noticeable differences in detail from the account in Exodus and Numbers and an emphasis on Moses being banned from entrance into the Promised Land because the Lord was angry at the Israelites. To this historical retrospect is appended an exhortation to the people to obey God's laws and norms, recalling the imageless God of the revelation and Covenant at Horeb as a warning against making images and serving man-made gods. The uniqueness and soleness of the God of the Exodus and Covenant, his power and presence in his marvellous acts of redemption and revelation, and his gracious selection of Israel are proclaimed in rhetorical questions; moreover, it is emphasized that the God of Israel ("YHWH your God") "is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other." The injunctions against idolatry appear to come from later experience and religious crisis in Canaan. The fact that other nations have their own gods and objects of worship is recognized elsewhere in Deuteronomy.

 

iii) Second introductory discourse.

The second discourse, also ascribed to Moses, again refers to the Covenant at Horeb and sets forth the Ten Commandments, which the people are admonished to obey rigorously, emphasizing the mediating function of Moses at Horeb between the awesome divine presence and the awestruck people. Israel is further admonished to obey the law through wholehearted love of God, expressed in what became the central liturgical expression of Israel's faith, beginning, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord Alone. You must love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." If they obey God's laws, avoid other gods, and do what is right and good, they will possess the land promised by God--him who rescued them from Egypt and has brought them thus far. They are to avoid marriage and all other intercourse with the peoples of the land, utterly destroying them and their idolatrous altars and cultic places, for they are a special, holy people chosen by God out of all the peoples because of his love, not because of their greatness or power. This marvellous love will continue to be exercised, and the people will be blessed with all good things--prosperity, fertility, health, and success in battle--if they obey God's ordinances. They are urged to remember the 40-year period of wilderness wandering, in which they were tested (disciplined) by God through hardship and hunger (to find out whether or not they would keep his commands) and saved by him: man does not live by bread alone but, rather, by whatever God provides (e.g., manna from heaven). Another time of testing will come when they live in the rich, fertile land of Canaan and eat their fill and perhaps forget the Lord and his laws, ascribing their wealth to their own power and might and even venturing into idolatrous worship of the gods of the land. If they do so they shall perish, just as the idolatrous nations of the land shall. (see also Index: Sinai covenant)

A long list of the apostasies of Israel is presented in chapter 9 to demonstrate the point that Israel is going in to possess the land of Canaan not through any virtue of their own but because of God's promise to the patriarchs. This is followed in chapter 10 by a moving declaration of what God requires of Israel--fear (reverence), walking in his ways, love, wholehearted service, and keeping his commandments--and an extolling of the wondrous, unique, powerful God who liberated them from Egypt. Chapter 11 extols the richness of the land of Canaan and describes how it will bloom for them if they are observant of God's commandments and promises that they will hold the territory from the wilderness to Lebanon and from the Euphrates to the western sea (Mediterranean). It closes with the choice set before them by Moses of "a blessing and a curse"--the former if they obey the commandments, the latter if they do not. This choice is posed to them immediately before the presentation of the laws and norms beginning in chapter 12.

 

8) Deuteronomy: the lawbook and the conclusion.

 

i) The lawbook.

The laws are the central core and purport of the book of Deuteronomy. They are couched in a hortatory, sermonic style that has led to their being categorized as preached law. Emphatic statements of what must or must not be done are connected with exhortations to fulfill these injunctions, pointing to the motivations and spirit in which they should be carried out. There is a wide variety of laws here--ritual, criminal, social--but they are all set within this preaching context and aimed at the service of God. This is no dry legal code but, rather, a book written in fluent and moving prose. Scholars have seen duplications and parallels between the laws presented here and those in the Covenant Code in chapters 21-23 of Exodus; but to this a common source may be ascribed, and Deuteronomy may be considered a work in its own right and not a mere expansion of the Covenant Code.

The lawbook comprises chapters 12-26, supplemented by chapters 27-28. After an initial order to destroy the pagan cultic places and idols, the lawbook goes to its basic injunction: to set up a single central sanctuary in Canaan, where all Israel is to make their offerings, as distinct from the present unregulated practice, "every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes." The spot is designated only "the place which the Lord your God will choose," which some interpreters, following King Josiah, have understood to be Jerusalem and which others understand to be Shechem. (The blessing and curse passage immediately preceding in chapter 11 specifies Mts. Gerizim and Ebal, on either side of Shechem, as the places of blessing and curse, respectively; and an even more elaborate ritual is prescribed for the same locality in chapter 27.) Instructions are given for the proper killing of animals for food, previously connected with the sacrificial cult, and the people are admonished when they settle in Canaan not to inquire about how other nations serve their gods, possibly to follow their abominable practices. Inserted at this point is the striking exhortation, "Everything that I command you you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to it or take from it."

Chapter 13 warns the people to beware of the temptations to apostasy arising from the urging or example of prophet-diviners, kinfolk or friends, or a whole town; they are to kill the tempters and destroy the towns. Chapter 14 is devoted mainly to a list of living things that may or may not be eaten, the "clean" and "unclean," similar to the list in Leviticus, chapter 11; and to laws for tithes and first fruits to be brought annually to the central sanctuary and triennially to the Levites in the towns, who are specified as having no "portion" of their own (two years to the centre, the third year to the town Levites). Chapter 15 deals mainly with the releases to be granted every seventh year to debtors of their debts and Hebrew slaves of their bondage; lenders are exhorted and commanded not to refuse loans to the poor in the sabbatical year of release, and God's redemption of Israel from Egypt is given as the reason for freeing one's Hebrew slaves in the sabbatical release. The first section of chapter 16, verses 1-17, gives the rules for celebrating the three main festivals of the religious year: Unleavened Bread, Weeks, and Booths, which are to be observed at the central sanctuary (hence later called the three pilgrim festivals).

Beginning with verse 18 of chapter 16 there is a discussion of the appointment and character of judges, and of judicial procedures and punishments for apostasy, homicide, and other crimes; similarly, beginning with verse 14 of chapter 17 there are rules on the selection of a king and for his conduct, and the injunction that he read from "a copy of this law," so that he may be edified and chastened. The first portion of chapter 18 deals with the office and support of priests, referred to here as "the Levitical priests . . . all the tribe of Levi," not distinguishing the Aaronic priests from the lesser Levites. This is followed--after a passage inveighing against abominable cultic and divinatory practices of the nations of the land--by a promise that God will raise up prophets among the people and instructions on how to tell true from false prophets. Thus the offices of judge, king, priest, and prophet are considered in chapters 16-18. (see also Index: priesthood)

Chapter 19 deals again with crime and punishment. It distinguishes between unintentional manslaughter and murder, setting up cities of refuge for the manslayer and ordering the murderer to be killed by the blood avengers. It also lays down the rules for witnesses and the punishment for perjury. It closes with the famous lex talionis: "Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot," which in context may spell out what is to happen to the false witness and even could be interpreted as a moderating, rather than an inhumane, precept (no more than an eye for an eye, etc.). Chapter 20 gives the rules for holy war, listing the situations that exempt men from military service (e.g., a newly married man) and distinguishing the treatment of non-Canaanite and Canaanite cities; the latter are to be utterly destroyed, yet it is forbidden to destroy fruit-bearing trees. There are also rules on holy war in 21:10-14; 23:9-14; 24:5; and 25:17-19. Chapters 20-25 contain a great variety of laws; the just treatment of women captives, sexual offenses, exclusions from the religious community, public hygiene in campgrounds, and many other things.

The last of the laws are set forth in chapter 26, dealing with the first fruits offering and tithes. At the annual offering (or soon after entering Canaan), in the central sanctuary, the worshipper is to recite a piece beginning, "A wandering Aramaean was my father," affirming his link with the patriarchs and extolling God's wondrous deeds on behalf of Israel. And every third year he is to set aside his tithe "to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow" and make an affirmation "before the Lord" that he has complied and avoided any ritual stain. (see also Index: sacrifice)

The final passage in chapter 26 proclaims that "this day" God has proclaimed his law, Israel has affirmed its commitment to God and his law, and God has affirmed his choice of Israel as his special, holy people, to be set up high above all the nations. This is the hortatory conclusion to chapters 12-26 and to the "second law," or Covenant, contained therein.

The emphasis on the laws given on "this day" is continued in the supplementary chapters 27-28, which deal with Covenant ratification and renewal ceremonies, apparently a reference to an original ceremony in Moab, one in Canaan on the first day in the land, and subsequent, possibly annual, renewal ceremonies. Blessings and curses are to be pronounced from Mts. Gerizim and Ebal for respectively fulfilling or disobeying the Covenant: all good things or all bad things will befall the people, as they keep or fail to keep the Covenant. Some of the curse consequences in chapter 28, referring to siege, subjugation, and exile, are believed by some scholars to reflect late pre-exilic or exilic situations. The curse consequences fill up the bulk of these chapters and are recounted in powerful, moving language, ending with a threat to return the people to Egypt.

 

ii) Concluding exhortation and traditions about the last days of Moses.

Chapters 29-31 comprise the third and last address of Moses to the people of Israel. They are preceded by an introductory verse referring to "these words" as a covenant made in Moab, in addition to the one made at Horeb (Sinai). After reminding them of all that God has done for them, Moses calls on the whole people to enter into the sworn Covenant made this day that they may be his people and he may be their God, warning the secret apostate of the calamities that will befall him. Yet the possibility of a return to God and the land is held out to those who will suffer exile and persecution as punishment for their apostasy, again presumably a reflection of the exilic situation (chapter 30 verses 1-10 seems clearly to be an interpolation inspired by the actual experience of exile). This law, it is emphasized, is no recondite, remote thing up in the sky but is, rather, very close to men, "in your mouth and in your heart"; what is revealed is made plain, it is not the secret things of God. Moses sets before them the classic Deuteronomic choice: "life and good" over "death and evil." The people are given that choice and told the consequences of loving the Lord and keeping the Covenant or of going the other way.

The final chapters are concerned with the last words and acts of Moses: directing Joshua to lead Israel after his death, writing down "this law," calling for a sabbatical renewal ceremony of it on the Feast of Booths, ordering that it be put beside the ark of the Covenant, and uttering two poems. The first, "The Song of Moses" (chapter 32), praises the faithfulness and power of the Lord, decries the faithlessness and wickedness of Israel, and predicts the consequent divine punishment; it adds, however, that in the end the Lord will relent and will vindicate his people. The second poem, "The Blessing of Moses" (chapter 33), blesses each of the tribes of Israel, one by one, and the blessings are associated with God's love, the law commanded by Moses, and the kingship of God over his people. There are indications in both poems of a considerably later date (after Joshua's time, perhaps in the period of the Judges); Moses is spoken of in the third person in "The Blessing" poem.

The narrative of Deuteronomy, and thus of the Pentateuch, ends with Moses' ascent to the top of Mt. Pisgah, his being shown the Promised Land by God, and his death there in the land of Moab, buried by God in an unknown grave. It is emphasized in the closing words that Moses was a unique prophet "whom the Lord knew face to face" and through whom the Lord wrought unique "signs and wonders" and "great and terrible deeds." Thus end the Five Books of Moses. (S.C.)

 

2. THE NEVI`IM (THE PROPHETS)

 

1) The canon of the Prophets.

The Hebrew canon of the section of the Old Testament known as the Nevi'im, or the Prophets, is divided into two sections: the Former Prophets and the Latter Prophets. The Former Prophets contains four historical books--Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings; the Latter Prophets includes four prophetic works--the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve (Minor) Prophets. The Twelve Prophets, formerly written on a single scroll, include the books of Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Thus, in the Hebrew canon of the Prophets there are, in effect, eight books. (see also Index: Hebrew Bible)

The Christian canon of the Prophets does not include the Former Prophets section in its division of the Prophets; instead, it calls the books in this section Historical Books. In addition to Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, the Christian canon of the Prophets includes two works from the division of the Hebrew canon known as the Ketuvim (the Writings): the Lamentations of Jeremiah and the Book of Daniel. The Twelve (Minor) Prophets are separated into individual books. The number of works in the Christian canon, however, varies. The Protestant canon contains all the books of the Latter Prophets and the two books from the Ketuvim, thus listing 17 works among the prophetic writings. The Roman Catholic canon accepts one other book as a canonical prophetic work, namely, Baruch (including the Letter of Jeremiah); the number of prophetic writings in the Roman Catholic canon is, therefore, 18. The Greek Orthodox Synod of Jerusalem in 1672 did not accept Baruch as canonical.

As far as the Former Prophets is concerned, the Protestant canon, following the Septuagint, separates Samuel and Kings into two sections each: I and II Samuel, and I and II Kings. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches in the past divided these two works into I, II, III, and IV Kings, but most Roman Catholic translations now follow the listing as it is in the Septuagint. (see also Index: Protestantism)

 

2) Hebrew prophecy.

Hebrew prophecy was rooted in the prophetic activities of various individuals and groups from the nations and peoples of the ancient Near East. Though prophecy among ancient Egyptians, Mesopotamians, and Canaanites--as well as among the peoples of the Aegean civilization--generally was connected with "foretelling" (or predicting) the future, the Hebrew view of prophecy centred on "forthtelling" (or proclaiming), though it included predictive aspects. Thus, in Hebrew prophecy the phrase "Thus says the Lord" is repeated constantly to emphasize the "forthtelling" motif. The Hebrew prophets were very conscious of the absolute holiness (separateness) of God and his purpose for his chosen people, Israel. Because of this consciousness, they developed an acute awareness of sin and its effects on man and society and, from such an awareness, a radical ethical outlook that applied to both the individual and the community. (see also Index: Judaism)

The Hebrew term for prophet (navi`) is probably related etymologically to the Akkadian verb nabu, meaning "to call" or "to name." The Hebrew prophet may thus be viewed as a "caller," or spokesman, for God. Other designations for prophet in the Old Testament are ro`e, or "seer," and hoze, or "visionary," the two latter terms indicating that the predictive element was operative in Hebrew prophecy. The distinctive element of Hebrew prophecy, however, was the relationship of the prophet to God, the Lord of the Covenant, and to Israel, the covenant people. He spoke for the sovereign Lord to remind, cajole, castigate, reprove, comfort, and give hope to the people of the covenant, constantly reminding them that they were chosen to witness to the nations of the love, mercy, and goodness of God.

Some of the Hebrew prophets, from the 11th to the 8th century BCE, belonged to bands or guilds of ecstatic prophets. Such prophets were spokesmen for God whose uncontrollable actions and words caused them to be feared and, sometimes, held in contempt. In II Kings, chapter 9, verse 11, a prophet--who came to Jehu, the 9th-century-BCE army commander who became king of Israel, in order to anoint him--was called a "madman" (meshugga'). Other Hebrew prophets were more independent, such as Nathan and Elijah, though they continued to maintain the quality of being uncontrollable--at least as far as the political authorities were concerned. Both of these early nonwriting prophets spoke out against the oppression of the weak by the strong, a theme that came to be expressed constantly in Judaism. The activities of such early prophets, including also Micaiah and Elisha in the 9th century BCE, are described in the Former Prophets.

In the 8th century BCE, the writing prophets--i.e., the Latter Prophets--began their activities. Though all the books that bear their names probably have been edited by schools of a prophet or by individuals or groups that were influenced by their ideas, the editors or disciples of the prophets preserved as well as was possible the words, activities, and idiosyncratic themes of the prophetic personalities. Some of the Latter Prophets may have been connected with the priestly class, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; most of the Latter Prophets, however, were independent of priestly connections. All of the Latter Prophets stood out in contrast to the court prophets who, in the tradition of court prophets of most ancient Near Eastern peoples, seldom contradicted what they believed was expected of them by their sovereigns or the people.

 

3) Joshua.

The Book of Joshua takes its name from the man who succeeded Moses as the leader of the Hebrew tribes--Joshua, the son of Nun, a member of the tribe of Ephraim. In post-biblical times Joshua himself was credited with being the author of the book, though internal evidence gives no such indication. According to the views of the German biblical scholar Martin Noth, which have been accepted by many contemporary biblical critics, the Book of Joshua was the second of a series of five books (Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) written by a Judaean oriented historian after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. This writer (called the Deuteronomist and designated D) constructed the history of Israel from the death of Moses to the beginning of the Babylonian Exile (586-538 BCE). The Deuteronomist, according to this view, used sources, both oral and written, from various periods to produce the history of Israel in these five books. The Book of Joshua probably contains elements from the J and E documents, as well as local and tribal traditions, all of which were modified by additions and editing until the book assumed its present form. The main theme of the Deuteronomist historian was that under the guidance of and in obedience to Yahweh, Israel would persevere and conquer its many enemies.

This theme is especially and dramatically presented in Joshua. Under the guidance of Yahweh, the people of Israel entered and conquered Canaan in fulfillment of the promise of God to Abraham and his descendants in Genesis, chapter 12. Joshua is interpreted as a second Moses--e.g., he sent out spies, led the people in crossing the Jordan River on dry land as Moses had crossed the Sea of Reeds, and ordered the males to be circumcised with flint knives as Zipporah, Moses' wife, had earlier circumcised the son of Moses (and probably Moses himself). He was obedient to the will of Yahweh, and because of this obedience he was able to lead the Israelite tribes in their battles against the Canaanites. As long as they were faithful to their covenant promise, the land would be theirs as a trust.

The book may be divided into three parts: the story of the conquest of Canaan (chapters 1-12); the division of the land among the tribes of Israel (chapters 13-22); and Joshua's farewell address, the renewal of the Covenant, and Joshua's death (chapters 23-24).

 

i) The conquest of Canaan.

As told by the Deuteronomist, the conquest of Canaan by Joshua and the Israelite tribes was swift and decisive. No conquest of central Canaan (in the region of Shechem), however, is mentioned in the book; and some scholars interpret this to mean that the central hill country was already occupied either by ancestors of the later Israelite tribes prior to the time of Moses or by portions of Hebrew tribes that had not gone to Egypt. Because these people made peace with the tribes under Joshua, a conquest of the area apparently was not necessary. Archaeological evidence supports portions of Joshua in describing some of the cities (e.g., Iachish, Debir, and Hazor) as destroyed or conquered in the late 13th century BCE, the approximate time of the circumstances documented in Joshua. Some of the cities so reported, however, apparently were devastated at some time prior to or later than the 13th century. Jericho, for example, was razed at the end of the Middle Bronze Age (c. 1550 BCE) and most likely had not been rebuilt as a strongly fortified town by the time of Joshua, though the site may well have been inhabited during this period. The city of Ai was destroyed about 600 years before; but it may have been a garrison site for the city of Bethel, which was destroyed later by the "house of Joseph." Though many of the cities of Canaan were conquered by the Israelites under Joshua, historical and archaeological evidence indicates that the process of conquering the land was lengthy and not completed until David conquered the Jebusite stronghold of Jerusalem in the early 10th century BCE. At any rate, the 13th century was an ideal time for a conquest of the area because of the international turmoil involving the great powers of the time: Egypt and Babylonia. A political vacuum existed in the area, permitting small powers to strengthen or to expand their holdings.

The introductory section of Joshua (chapters 1 and 2), in dealing with the Deuteronomist's view of the ideal man of faith--one who is full of courage and faithful to the law that was given to Moses--relates the story of spies sent to Jericho, where they were sheltered by Rahab, a harlot, whose house was spared by the Israelites when they later destroyed the city. In the Gospel According to Matthew, in the New Testament, Rahab is listed as the grandmother of Jesse, the father of David (the architect of the Israelite empire), which may be the reason why this story was included in Joshua. Also in the New Testament, in the Letter to the Hebrews, Rahab is depicted as an example of a person of faith. After the return of the spies, who reported that the people of Canaan were "fainthearted" in the face of the Israelite threat, Joshua launched the invasion of Canaan; the Israelite tribes crossed the Jordan River and encamped at Gilgal, where the males were circumcised after a pile of stones had been erected to commemorate the crossing of the river. They then attacked Jericho and, after the priests marched around it for seven days, utterly destroyed it in a herem; i.e., a holy war in which everything is devoted to destruction. Prior to the Israelites' further conquests it was discovered that Achan, a member of the tribe of Judah, had broken the herem by not devoting everything taken from Jericho to Yahweh. Because he had thus sinned in keeping some of the booty, Achan, his family, and all of his household goods were destroyed and a mound of stones was heaped upon them. The Israelite tribes next conquered Ai, made agreements with the people of the region of Gibeon, and then campaigned against cities to the south, capturing several of them, such as Lachish and Debir, but not Jerusalem or the cities of Philistia on the seacoast. Joshua moved north, first conquering the city of Hazor--a city of political importance--and then defeating a large number (31) of the kings of Canaan, though the conquests of their cities did not necessarily follow.

 

ii) Division of the land and renewal of the Covenant.

The division of the land among the tribes is recounted in chapters 13-22. Two sources were apparently used by the Deuteronomist in dealing with the division of the land: a boundary list from the pre-monarchical period (i.e., before the late 11th century BCE) and a list of cities occupied by several tribes from the 10th to the 7th century BCE. The tribes who occupied territories were: Reuben, Gad, Manasseh, Caleb, Judah, the Joseph tribes (Ephraim and Manasseh), Benjamin, Simeon, Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan. Certain cities (e.g., Hebron, Shechem, and Ramoth) were designated Levitical cities. Though the Levites probably did not control the cities politically, as the priestly class they were of cultic significance--and therefore feared and respected--in cities that were the sites of sanctuaries.

As Moses had before him, Joshua gave a farewell address (chapter 23) to his people, admonishing them to be loyal to the Lord of the Covenant; and in the closing chapter (24), the Israelites reaffirmed their loyalty to Yahweh at Shechem: first having heard the story of God's salvatory deeds in the past, they were asked to swear allegiance to Yahweh and to repudiate all other gods, after which they participated in the Covenant renewal ceremony. After the people were dismissed, Joshua died and was buried in the hill country of Ephraim; the embalmed body of Joseph that had been carried with the Hebrews when they left Egypt more than a generation earlier was buried on purchased land; and Eleazar, the priestly successor to Aaron (Moses' brother), was buried at Gibeah.

Besides the obvious emphases on the conquest of Canaan and the division of the land, the Deuteronomist gave special attention to the ceremony of Covenant reaffirmation. By means of a regularly repeated Covenant renewal the Israelites were able to eschew Canaanite religious beliefs and practices that had been absorbed or added to the religion of the Lord of the Covenant, especially the fertility motifs that were quite attractive to the Hebrew tribes as they settled down to pursue agriculture, after more than a generation of the nomadic way of life.

 

4) Judges: background and purpose.

The Book of Judges, the third of the series of five books that reflect the theological viewpoint of the Deuteronomic historian, covers the history of the Israelite tribes from the death of Joshua to the rise of the monarchy, a period comprising nearly 200 years (c. 1200-c. 1020 BCE). Though the internal chronology of Judges points to a period of about 400 years, the editor may have arbitrarily used the formula of 40 years for a generation of rule by a judge; and he may have compiled the list in the form of a series of successive leaders who actually may have led only a particular tribe or a group of tribes during the same generation as another judge. In other words, the reign of two or more judges may well have overlapped.

 

i) The Deuteronomic "theology of history."

The Deuteronomic "theology of history" shows through very clearly in Judges: unless the people of the Covenant remain faithful and obedient to Yahweh, they will suffer the due consequences of disobedience, whether it be an overtly willful act or an unthinking negligence in keeping the Covenant promise. The Deuteronomist worked out a formula for his theology of history that was based in a very dramatic way on the historical events of the period: (1) obedience to Yahweh brings peace and well-being; (2) a period of well-being often involves a slackening of resolve to keep the commandments of Yahweh or outright disobedience; (3) disobedience leads to a weakness of the faith that had bound the community together and thus leaves the community open to repression and attacks from external enemies; and (4) external repression forces the community to reassess its position and ask the cause of the calamities, thus leading to repentance and eventual strength to resist all enemies.

 

ii) Canaanite culture and religion.

The Israelite tribes during the period of the guidance and leadership of Moses and Joshua mainly had to contend with nomadic tribes; in their contacts with such groups, they absorbed some of the attitudes and motifs of the nomadic way of life, such as independence, a love of freedom to move about, and fear of or disdain for the way of life of settled, agricultural, and urban peoples.

The Canaanites, with whom the Israelites came into contact during the conquest by Joshua and the period of the Judges, were a sophisticated agricultural and urban people. The name Canaan means "Land of Purple" (a purple dye was extracted from a murex shellfish found near the shores of Palestine). The Canaanites, a people who absorbed and assimilated the features of many cultures of the ancient Near East for at least 500 years before the Israelites entered their area of control, were the people who, as far as is known, invented the form of writing that became the alphabet, which, through the Greeks and Romans, was passed on to many cultures influenced by their successors--namely, the nations and peoples of Western civilization.

The religion of the Canaanites was an agricultural religion, with pronounced fertility motifs. Their main gods were called the Baalim (Lords), and their consorts the Baalot (Ladies), or Asherah (singular), usually known by the personal plural name Ashtoret. The god of the city of Shechem, which city the Israelites had absorbed peacefully under Joshua, was called Baal-berith (Lord of the Covenant) or El-berith (God of the Covenant). Shechem became the first cultic centre of the religious tribal confederacy (called an amphictyony by the Greeks) of the Israelites during the period of the judges. When Shechem was excavated in the early 1960s, the temple of Baal-berith was partially reconstructed; the sacred pillar (generally a phallic symbol or, often, a representation of the ashera, the female fertility symbol) was placed in its original position before the entrance of the temple.

The Baalim and the Baalot, gods and goddesses of the Earth, were believed to be the revitalizers of the forces of nature upon which agriculture depended. The revitalization process involved a sacred marriage (hieros gamos), replete with sexual symbolic and actual activities between men, representing the Baalim, and the sacred temple prostitutes (qedeshot), representing the Baalot. Cultic ceremonies involving sexual acts between male members of the agricultural communities and sacred prostitutes dedicated to the Baalim were focussed on the Canaanite concept of sympathetic magic. As the Baalim (through the actions of selected men) both symbolically and actually impregnated the sacred prostitutes in order to reproduce in kind, so also, it was believed, the Baalim (as gods of the weather and the Earth) would send the rains (often identified with semen) to the Earth so that it might yield abundant harvests of grains and fruits. Canaanite myths incorporating such fertility myths are represented in the mythological texts of the ancient city of Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra) in northern Syria; though the high god El and his consort are important as the first pair of the pantheon, Baal and his sexually passionate sister-consort are significant in the creation of the world and the renewal of nature.

The religion of the Canaanite agriculturalists proved to be a strong attraction to the less sophisticated and nomadic-oriented Israelite tribes. Many Israelites succumbed to the allurements of the fertility-laden rituals and practices of the Canaanite religion, partly because it was new and different from the Yahwistic religion and, possibly, because of a tendency of a rigorous faith and ethic to weaken under the influence of sexual attractions. As the Canaanites and the Israelites began to live in closer contact with each other, the faith of Israel tended to absorb some of the concepts and practices of the Canaanite religion. Some Israelites began to name their children after the Baalim; even one of the judges, Gideon, was also known by the name Jerubbaal ("Let Baal Contend").

As the syncretistic tendencies became further entrenched in the Israelite faith, the people began to lose the concept of their exclusiveness and their mission to be a witness to the nations, thus becoming weakened in resolve internally and liable to the oppression of other peoples.

 

5) Judges: importance and role.

 

i) The role of the judges.

Under these conditions, the successors to Joshua--the judges--arose. The Hebrew term shofet, which is translated into English as "judge," is closer in meaning to "ruler," a kind of military leader or deliverer from potential or actual defeat. In a passage from the so-called Ras Shamra tablets (discovered in 1929), the concept of the judge as a ruler is well illustrated:

Our king is Triumphant Baal,

Our judge, above whom there is no one!

The magistrates of the Phoenician-Canaanite city of Carthage, which competed with Rome for supremacy of the Mediterranean world in the 3rd century BCE, were called suffetes, thus pointing toward the political authority of the judges.

The office of judgeship in the tribal confederacy of the Israelites, which was centred at a covenant shrine, was not hereditary. The judges arose as Yahweh saw fit, in order to lead an erring and repentant people to a restoration of a right relationship with him and to victory over their enemies. The quality that enabled a person selected by Yahweh to be a judge was charisma, a spiritual power that enabled the judge to influence, lead, and control the people caught between the allurements of the sophisticated Canaanite culture and the memory of the nomadic way of life with its rugged freedom and disdain for "civilization." Though many such leaders are mentioned, the Book of Judges focusses attention upon only a few that are singled out as especially significant: Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Abimelech, Jephthah, and Samson. In spite of the Israelites' repeated apostasy, such leaders, under the guidance and spiritual powers granted to them by Yahweh, were able to lead their tribes in successfully defeating or driving back their opponents.

The Book of Judges may be divided into four parts: (1) the conquests of several tribes (chapter 1), (2) a general background for the subsequent events according to the interpretation of the Deuteronomic historian--"And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals"--(chapter 2 through chapter 3, verse 6), (3) the exploits of the judges of Israel (chapter 3, verse 7, through chapter 16), and (4) an appendix (chapters 17 through 21).

Judges, chapter 1, shows that the conquest of Canaan, in contradistinction to the view presented in Joshua, was incomplete, inconclusive, and lengthy. Though conquests of some of the tribes (Judah, Simeon, Caleb, and the "house of Joseph") are noted, the main emphasis is on the cities and areas that the tribes had not conquered--e.g., "And Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who dwelt in Gezer, but the Canaanites dwelt in Gezer among them" (chapter 1, verse 29). (see also Index: Syrian and Palestinian religion)

The second section gives the Deuteronomic interpretation of the consequences of such a policy:

they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were round about them; and they provoked the Lord to anger. They forsook the Lord, and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. (chapter 2, verses 12-13)

In chapter 3 an explanation is given as to why the Canaanites had not been annihilated and were allowed to remain with the Israelites: they enabled the Israelites to be tested in the techniques of warfare; the Philistines, for example, had a monopoly on the smelting of iron in the area--and the iron used in their weapons was far superior to the bronze used by the Israelites for their swords, shields, and armaments--until the secret had been wrested from them by the first king of Israel, Saul, in the latter part of the 11th century BCE. The Canaanites also served to test the faith of the Israelites in the one, true God, Yahweh.

 

ii) The role of certain lesser judges.

The third section relates the exploits of the various judges. Othniel, a member of the tribe of Caleb, delivered the erring Israelites from eight years of oppression by Cushan-rishathaim, king of Mesopotamia. The king, however, was most likely an area ruler, rather than a king of the Mesopotamian Empire. Another judge, Ehud, a left-handed Benjamite, delivered Israel from the oppression of the Moabites. Ehud, a fat man who had hidden a sword under his garments on his right side so that when a search of his person was made it would be overlooked, brought tribute to Eglon, the Moabite king. Upon Ehud's claiming to have a secret message for the king, Eglon dismissed the other people carrying tribute. Ehud then said to the King, "I have a message from God to you," assassinated him, locked the doors to the chamber, and escaped. Rallying the Israelites around him, Ehud led an attack upon the Moabites that was decisive in favour of the Israelites. Shamgar, the third judge, is merely noted as a deliverer who killed 600 Philistines.

 

iii) The roles of Deborah, Gideon, and Jephthah.

The first notably important judge of the tribal confederacy was Deborah, who was primarily a seer, poet, and interpreter of dreams but still a person endowed with the kind of charisma that identified her as a judge sent from Yahweh. The story of the victory of the Israelites under the charismatic leadership of Deborah and the military leadership of Barak, her commander, is related in prose (chapter 4) and repeated in poetry (chapter 5, which is known as the "Song of Deborah"). The Canaanites, under the leadership of Jabin, king of a reestablished Hazor, and his general Sisera, had oppressed an apostate Israel. Deborah sent word to all the tribes to unite against the Canaanites, but only about half the tribes responded. The Canaanites had asserted control over the Valley of Jezreel, which was an important commercial thoroughfare and was commanded by the city of Megiddo. In this valley dominated by the hill of Megiddo (Armageddon)--a site of many later crucial military battles and which later became the symbolic name for the final battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil in apocalyptic literature--the Israelites met the Canaanites near the river Kishon in open battle. A cloudburst occurred, causing the river to flood, thus limiting the manoeuvrability of the Canaanite chariots. The Canaanite general Sisera, seeing defeat for his forces, fled, seeking refuge in the tent of a Kenite woman, Jael. A supporter of the cause of Israel, Jael gave Sisera a drink of milk (fermented?) and he fell asleep "from weariness." Jael pounded a tent peg through his temple, thus ending decisively the threat of the Canaanites of Hazor. The victory song of Deborah in chapter 5 is one of the oldest literary sections of the Old Testament. It is a hymn that incorporates the literary forms of a confession of faith, a praise of Yahweh's theophany (manifestation), an epic, a curse, a blessing, and a hymn of victory.

Another important judge, perhaps the most important other than Samuel, was Gideon, whose exploits are related in chapters 6-8. The oppressors of Israel during the time of Gideon were the camel-borne raiders from Midian, roving bands that pillaged the farms and unfortified villages for seven years. A prophet appeared among the Israelites and denounced them for their apostasy, after which, according to the account, an angel of Yahweh visited and then commissioned Gideon, a member of the tribe of Manasseh, to lead the Israelites against the enemies from the Transjordan. After sacrificing to Yahweh, building an altar to the Lord (which he named Yahweh Shalom, or "Yahweh is peace"), and destroying an altar of Baal and an ashera (most likely a wooden pole symbolizing the goddess) beside it, he sent out messengers to gather together the tribes in order to meet an armed force of the Midianites and Amalekites that had crossed the Jordan River and were encamped in the Valley of Jezreel. He went to a threshing floor (a common place to seek divinatory advice) and sought a sign from Yahweh--dew on a fleece of wool placed overnight on the threshing floor, with the rest of the area remaining dry. After receiving the positive divinatory sign, Gideon assembled a large force, reduced it to 300 men, and infiltrated the outposts of the Midianite camp with his servant--overhearing a Midianite telling another of his dream about a barley cake rolling into the camp of the Midianites and striking a tent so that it fell down and was flattened (which Gideon interpreted as a sign of victory for the forces under him). He encircled the camp of the Midianites about midnight. On signal, the men broke jars, shouted, waved torches, blew rams' horns, and attacked the encampment. The Midianites, in the confusion, were routed and harassed in their flight. In their pursuit of the fleeing Midianites, Gideon and his forces were refused aid by the cities of Succoth and Penuel, which was a violation of the tribal confederacy agreements. The Midianites, however, were again the objects of a surprise attack and their two kings (Zebah and Zalmunna) were captured and later executed by Gideon because they had killed his brother. The leaders of Succoth were punished and the men of Penuel were killed in retaliation for their refusal to aid the forces of Gideon.

After the victory, the people, recognizing their need for centralized leadership of the confederacy, petitioned to Gideon that he establish a hereditary monarchy, with himself as the first king. Gideon refused, however, on the basis that "the Lord will rule over you."

After Gideon died, the people returned to worshipping the gods of the Canaanites, especially Baal-berith. Abimelech, one of the 70 sons of the wives and concubines of Gideon, went to Shechem to solicit support for his attempt to establish a monarchy. After receiving financial support from those who controlled the treasury of the shrine of Baal-berith, he hired a band of assassins--who killed all of his brothers except Jotham, the youngest of Gideon's sons. Abimelech was declared king by the Shechemites. The surviving Jotham told a parable about trees that sought a king--after all the larger trees refused the kingship, the bramblebush, which was highly inflammable, accepted the offer. The point of the parable was that as the bramblebush is highly inflammable, so also would the reign of Abimelech be the source of fires of rebellion and revolution. Revolution did occur, and after being wounded at Thebez by a millstone dropped by a woman from a tower, Abimelech asked his armour bearer to kill him. The attempt of Abimelech and the Shechemites to establish a monarchy thus proved to be abortive and premature.

After a brief account of the rule of two judges, Tola of the tribe of Issachar and Jair from Gilead, the Deuteronomist describes the apostasy of the Israelites and the consequent oppression of the tribes by the Philistines from the seacoast and the Ammonites from the Transjordan. The Israelites looked for a leader and found Jephthah, the son of a harlot, who had been rejected by the sons of his father and who had gathered about him a band who made their living by raiding others. Jephthah made several attempts to negotiate with the Ammonites and Moabites; when the Ammonites did not cooperate, Jephthah moved against them. Seized by the Spirit of the Lord--i.e., ecstatically inspired--he began his campaign with a vow to sacrifice the first person he saw upon his return home as a burnt offering to Yahweh. He was victorious over the Ammonites, but the first person he saw on return home was his only child, a daughter. Upon learning of her destined fate, she requested a two-month period to be with her friends to bewail her virginity and approaching death. The story is reminiscent of the fertility myths of the ancient Near East. After she was sacrificed, Jephthah subdued a contingent of the Ephraimites in the Transjordan to bring peace to the area. A password was used to separate the Ephraimites from the men under Jephthah: "shibboleth." Because the Ephraimites could not pronounce the word correctly, in that their dialect was different from the others, they were thus identified and killed.

In chapter 12, three judges are given cursory treatment: Izban of Bethlehem, Elon the Zebulunite, and Abdon the Ephraimite.

 

iv) The role of Samson.

The exploits of the great Israelite strongman judge, Samson (a member of the tribe of Dan), are related in chapters 13-16. Dedicated from birth by his mother to Yahweh, Samson became a member of the Nazirites, an anti-Canaanite reform movement. As a Nazirite, he was required never to cut his hair, drink wine, or eat ritually unclean food. He married a Philistine woman whom he then left when she helped her fellow Philistines avoid payment to Samson in a riddle contest by giving them the answer. Returning later to find her given to another man, he burned the grainfields of the Philistines. They sought revenge by killing Samson's wife and her father. The exploits of Samson against the Philistines from then on are numerous. After he met the temptress Delilah, who wrested from him the secret of his great strength (i.e., his long uncut hair because of his vow), Samson was captured by the Philistines after his hair had been cut short. After imprisonment, blinding, and humiliation, Samson finally avenged his loss of self-respect by pulling down the main pillars of the temple of the Philistine god Dagon, after which the temple was destroyed, along with numerous Philistines. Though Samson was more a folk hero than a judge, he was probably included in the list of judges because his ventures against the Philistines slowed their movements inland against the Israelite towns and villages. The Philistines were a group of "sea peoples" united in a confederacy of five city-states: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron. To the area they gave their name, which has endured to the 20th century: Palestine.

The final section of the Book of Judges is an appendix divided into two parts: (1) the story of Micah, the repentant Ephraimite, a Levite priest who deserted him to be priest of the tribe of Dan, and the establishment of a shrine at the conquered city of Laish (renamed Dan) with the cult object taken from the house of Micah and (2) the story of the Benjamites who were defeated in a holy war after they had killed a concubine of a Levite. The book ends with a critique of the period: "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes" (chapter 21, verse 25).

 

6) Samuel: Israel under Samuel and Saul.

The book of Samuel covers the period from Samuel, the last of the judges, through the reigns of the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David (except for David's death). The division of Samuel and its succeeding book, Kings (Melakhim), into four separate books first appeared in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament from the 3rd to 2nd centuries BCE.

 

i) Theological and political biases.

Containing two primary sources, the book of Samuel is the result of the editorial skill of the Deuteronomic historians of the post-exilic period. The early source, which is pro-monarchical and may have been written by a single author, is found in I Samuel, chapter 9, verse 1, through chapter 10, verse 16, as well as chapter 11 and most of II Samuel. The chapters just noted were probably written by a chronicler during the reign of Solomon; possible authors of these chapters were Abiathar, a priest of the line of Eli (who was Samuel's predecessor at the shrine of Shiloh), or Ahimaaz, a son of Zadok (who originally may have been a priest of the Jebusite city of Jerusalem that David made his capital). The chapters in I Samuel are sometimes called the "Saul" source because it is in them that Saul's charismatic leadership is legitimized in the form of kingship. The chapters of II Samuel, also displaying a pro-monarchical bias--as far as content is concerned--are the "book of David." In the early source, Samuel, a seer, prophetic figure, and priest of the shrine at Shiloh, is viewed mainly as the religious leader who anointed Saul to be king. The later source, which displays a somewhat anti-monarchical bias and shows the marks of disillusionment on the part of the Deuteronomic historians of the post-exilic period, is found in I Samuel, chapter 7, verse 3, to chapter 8, verse 22, chapter 10, verses 17-27, and chapter 12. Sometimes called the Samuel source, the later source interprets the role of Samuel differently; he is viewed as the last and most important judge of the whole nation, whose influence extended to the shrines at Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah. The two sources illustrate the two opposing tendencies that lasted for centuries after the conquest of Canaan.

During the period of Samuel, Saul, and David (the 11th-10th century BCE), the Israelites were still threatened by various local enemies. The great nations--Egypt, Assyria, and the Hittite Empire--were either involved in domestic crises or concerned with areas other than Palestine in their expansionist policies. Of the various peoples pressing to break up the Israelite confederacy, the Philistines (the "sea peoples") of the Mediterranean coast proved to be the most dangerous. Expanding eastward with their iron-weapon equipped armies, the Philistines threatened the commercial routes running north and south through Israelite territory. If they captured and controlled such areas as the Valley of Jezreel, they would eventually strangle the economic life of the Israelite confederacy.

To meet this threat, the tribal confederacy had four options open to it. First, the tribes could continue as before, loosely held together by charismatic leaders who served only as temporary leaders. Second, they could create a hereditary hierocracy (rule by priests), which the priest of the shrine at Shiloh, Eli, apparently attempted to inaugurate. A third possible course of action was to establish a hereditary judgeship, which was the aspiration of the judge Samuel. But, in either of these two possibilities, the sons of Eli and Samuel were not of the same stature as their fathers; and the apparent hopes of their fathers could not be realized. The fourth alternative was a hereditary monarchy. The book of Samuel is an account of the eventual success of those who supported the monarchical position, along with the Deuteronomic interpretation that pointed out the weaknesses of the monarchy whenever it departed from the concept of Israel as a covenant people and became merely one kingdom among other similar kingdoms.

The book of Samuel may be divided into four sections: (1) the stories of Samuel, the fall of the family of Eli, and the rise of Saul (I Samuel, chapters 1-15), (2) the accounts of the fall of the family of Saul and the rise of David (I Samuel, chapter 16, to II Samuel, chapter 5), (3) the chronicles of David's monarchy (II Samuel, chapter 6, to chapter 20, verse 22), and (4) an appendix of miscellaneous materials containing a copy of Psalm 18, the "last words of David," which is a psalm of praise, a list of heroes and their exploits, an account of David's census, and other miscellaneous materials.

 

ii) The role of Samuel.

The first section (chapters 1-15) begins with the story of Samuel's birth, after his mother Hannah (one of the two wives of the Ephraimite Elkanah) had prayed at the shrine at Shiloh, the centre of the tribal confederacy, for a son. She vowed that, if she bore a son, he would be dedicated to Yahweh for lifetime service as a Nazirite, as indicated by the words "and no razor shall touch his head."

Three years after she had borne a son, whom she named Samuel--which is interpreted "Asked of God," a phrase that fits the meaning of Saul's name but may actually mean "El Has Heard"--Hannah took the boy to the shrine at Shiloh. Hannah's song of exultation (chapter 2, verses 1-10) probably became the basis of the form and content of the Magnificat, the song that Mary, the mother of Jesus, sang in Luke, chapter 1, verses 46-55, in the New Testament. Eli, the priest at Shiloh (who had heard Hannah's vow), trained the boy to serve Yahweh at the shrine, which Samuel's mother and father visited annually. The sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, are depicted as corrupt, misusing their positions as servants of the shrine to take offerings the people gave to Yahweh for their own gratification, in contrast to Samuel, who "continued to grow in stature and favour with the Lord and with men." Because the sons of Eli failed to heed the admonition of their father, the house of Eli was condemned by a "man of God," who told Eli that his family was to lose its position of trust and power. This condemnation, an interruption of the later source, is the Deuteronomic historian's answer as to why Abiathar, a priest of the family of Eli at the time of David, was excluded from the priesthood at Jerusalem, which became the central shrine of the monarchy.

While a youth (about 12 years old), Samuel experienced a revelation from Yahweh in the shrine at night. First going to Eli three times after hearing his name called, Samuel responded to Yahweh at Eli's suggestion. What was revealed to him was the fall of the house of Eli, a message that Samuel hesitatingly related to Eli. After this religious experience, Samuel's reputation as a prophet of Yahweh increased.

In chapter 4 is an account of the fall of Shiloh and the loss of the ark of the Covenant to the Philistines. Leaving the ark, the symbol of Yahweh's presence, at Shiloh, the Israelites go out to battle against the Philistines near the Mediterranean coast but are defeated. The Israelites return to Shiloh for the ark; but even though they carry it back to the battleground, they are again defeated at great cost--the sons of Eli are killed, and the ark is captured by the enemy. When Eli, old and blind, hears the news of the disaster, he falls over backward in the chair on which he is sitting, breaks his neck, and dies. The wife of his son Phinehas gives birth to a son at this time; and, upon hearing of what had happened to Israel and her family, names the boy Ichabod, meaning "where is the glory?"--because, as she says, "The glory has departed from Israel."

Though the Philistines had captured the ark, they eventually discovered that it did not bring them good fortune. Their god Dagon, an agricultural fertility deity probably meaning "grain," fell to the ground whenever the ark was placed in close proximity to it; and, even more calamitous to them, the Philistines suffered from "tumours," probably the bubonic plague, wherever they carried the ark. After experiencing such disasters for seven months, the Philistines returned the ark to Beth-shemesh in Israelite territory, along with a guilt offering of five golden tumours and five golden mice carried in a cart drawn by two cows. Because many Israelite men in Beth-shemesh also died--"because they looked into the ark of the Lord"--the ark was taken to Kiriath-jearim (the "forest of martyrs" in modern Israel), where it was placed in the house of Abinadab, whose son Eleazar was consecrated to care for it. The ark was not returned to Shiloh, probably because that shrine centre had been destroyed, along with other Israelite towns, by the Philistines.

In chapter 7, verse 3, to chapter 12, verse 25, the Deuteronomic historian depicts the way in which Samuel assumed leadership as judge and Covenant mediator of Israel. The Philistines continued to oppress Israel, though under Samuel's leadership the Israelites were able to reconquer territory lost to their western enemies. When Samuel grew old, his sons were trained to take his place; but they--like the sons of Eli--were corrupt ("they took bribes and perverted justice"), so that the Israelites demanded another form of government--a monarchy. Samuel attempted to dissuade them, pointing out that if they had a highly centralized form of government (i.e., a monarchy), they would have to give up much of their freedom and would be heavily taxed in goods and services. Samuel obeyed both the elders of the people, who demanded a king, and Yahweh, who said, "make them a king."

 

iii) The rise and fall of Saul.

The man selected to become the first monarchical ruler of Israel was Saul, son of Kish, a wealthy Benjamite landowner. Because Kish had lost some donkeys, Saul was sent in search of them. Unsuccessful in his search, he went to the seer-prophet Samuel at Ramah. In the early source, from which this narrative comes, he did not know Samuel's name. The day before Saul went to Ramah, Samuel the seer (ro'e), who was depicted by the Deuteronomic historian as a prophet (navi' ), received notice from Yahweh that Saul was the man chosen to reign over Israel. At the sacrificial meal, Saul, a tall young man, was given the seat of honour, and the next day Samuel anointed him prince (nagid ) of Israel in a secret ceremony. Before returning home, Saul joined a band of roving ecstatic prophets and prophesied under the influence of the spirit of Yahweh. In chapter 10, verses 17-27, generally accepted as part of the later source, the Deuteronomic historian's views are depicted--Saul was chosen by lot at Mizpah. The early source picks up the story of Saul in chapter 11, which illustrates Saul's military leadership abilities and describes his acclamation as king at Gilgal. Samuel's farewell address, a Deuteronomic reworking of the later source, recapitulates the history of the Israelite tribes from the time of the patriarch Jacob through the period of the judges and forcefully presents the conservative view that the request for a monarchy will bring about adversity to Israel.

The early reign of Saul and his confrontations with Samuel until the last judge's death is the subject of chapters 13-15. Saul's early acts as king centred about battles with the Philistines. Because his son Jonathan had defeated one of their garrisons at Geba, the Philistines mustered an army to counterattack near Beth-aven (probably another name for Bethel). Saul issued a request for volunteers, who gathered together for battle but awaited the performance of the sacrifice before the battle by Samuel. Because Samuel did not come for seven days, Saul, acting on his own, presided at the sacrifice. Immediately after the burnt offering had been completed, Samuel appeared (perhaps waiting for such an opportunity to reassert his leading position) and castigated Saul for overstepping the boundaries of his princely prerogatives--even though Saul had been more than patient. Samuel warned him that this type of act (which Saul, in the early source, and later David and Solomon also often performed) would cost Saul his kingdom. In spite of Samuel's apparent animosity, Saul continued to defend the interests of the newly formed kingdom.

The tragedy of Saul was that he was a transitional figure who had to bear the burden of being the man who was of an old order and at the same time of a new way of life among a people composed of disparate elements and leading figures. Both Samuel, the last judge of Israel, and David, the future builder of the small Israelite empire, opposed him. Saul was more a judge--a charismatic leader--than a monarch. Unlike most kings of his time and area, he levied no taxes, depended on a volunteer army, and had no harem. He did not construct a court bureaucracy but relied rather on the trust of the people in his charismatic leadership and thus did not alter the political boundaries or structure of the tribal confederacy.

The issue between Saul and Samuel came to a head in the events described in chapter 15 (a section from the later source). Samuel requested Saul to avenge the attacks by the Amalekites on the Israelite tribes during their wanderings in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt about 200 years earlier. Saul defeated the Amalekites in a holy war but did not devote everything to destruction as was required by the ban (herem). Because Saul had not killed Agag, the Amalekite king, and had saved sheep and cattle for a sacrifice, Samuel informed Saul that he had disobeyed Yahweh and was thus rejected by God, for "to obey is better than to sacrifice." Samuel then asked that Agag be brought to him, and he hacked the Amalekite king to pieces. After that, Saul and Samuel saw each other no more.

 

7) Samuel: the rise and significance of David.

The next section contains the account of Saul's fall from power and David's rise to the position of king over all Israel. Samuel, still a charismatic and political power of great consequence, received from Yahweh the message that he was to go to Bethlehem to anoint a new ruler. Because he feared reprisal from Saul, Samuel went to Bethlehem (whose elders had the same fears) under the pretense of presiding at a sacrifice. There he anointed David, son of Jesse, to be future king. David then went to the court of Saul to be the king's armour bearer and court singer.

In a battle with the Philistines David is reported to have killed the 10-foot-tall Philistine champion Goliath of Gath. In II Samuel, chapter 21, verse 19, however, Goliath is killed in a later period by one of David's warriors, Elhanan. According to some biblical scholars, the name of Goliath may have been inserted for an unnamed philistine warrior killed by David apparently while he was armour bearer to Saul and was unrecognized by Saul, thus indicating the reworking of more than one source by the Deuteronomic historian.

Chapters 18 through 26 depict the rise of David in the court of Saul, his friendship with Jonathan, the beginning of Saul's jealousy of David, the young David's winning of Saul's daughter Michal in marriage for killing a large number of Philistines, Saul's attempt on David's life, David's escape and formation of an outlaw band in the Judaean hills, his acceptance by the priests of the house of Eli at Nob (all of whom were killed by Saul except Abiathar, who became David's priest), Samuel's death, and other incidents.

Because he feared for his life, David, along with 600 of his men, fled to the Philistine city of Gath, where he became a supposed leader of one of their military contingents against the Israelites. The last four chapters of I Samuel depict the final futile effort of Saul to retain control of his throne and thwart the Philistines: Saul attempted to receive advice from the spirit of the dead Samuel through the necromancer (sometimes called the witch or medium) of Endor, even though he had earlier banned such practices in his realm. Through her mediumship, Samuel foretold the death of Saul and his sons by the Philistines. The armies of the Philistines poured into the Valley of Jezreel. Some of the Philistine leaders distrusted David, who was sent back to his garrison town of Ziklag, which the Amalekites had overrun and in which they had taken many prisoners. Thus, David did not witness the defeat of the Israelites under Saul, who was mortally wounded by the Philistines and whose sons were killed. In an act of heroism so that he, the king of Israel, would not be captured, Saul committed suicide by falling on his own sword. Thus ended the career of the tragic hero who tried to serve Yahweh and Israel but was caught between the old, conservative ways (led by Samuel) and the new, liberal views (championed by David).

 

i) Early reign of David.

The Second Book of Samuel, as noted earlier, relates the exploits of David and the events of his monarchy. After mourning the death of Saul and executing an Amalekite who claimed to have killed the former king, David began to consolidate his position as the successor to Saul. He was anointed king of Judah at Hebron while Ishbosheth ("man of shame," originally Ishbaal, or "man of Baal"), Saul's son, reigned in the rest of Israel under the guidance of Abner, Saul's general. After seven years, the army of Israel, under Abner, and the army of Judah, under Joab, David's general and nephew, met at Gibeon--each chose 12 champions to fight each other, and all were killed. After the minor battle, a major engagement ensued, with the forces of Judah emerging victorious. A long war of attrition developed between the house of Saul and the house of David. Abner attempted to deliver Israel to David but was killed by Joab to avenge his brother Asahel's death at Abner's hand in the first engagement between the two reigning houses. With Abner dead, Ishbosheth's position became exceedingly insecure, and he was beheaded by two of his own captains, whom David, in turn, executed for murdering the last ruler of the house of Saul.

Because of the course of events, the Israelites asked David to become king over all of Israel, and David made a covenant with the elders of northern Israel. He next engaged in a war with the Jebusite (Canaanite) stronghold of Jerusalem, which he captured. He selected this city as his new capital because it was a neutral site and neither the northerners nor the southerners would be adverse to the selection. From the very beginning of his reign, David showed the political astuteness and acumen that made for him a reputation that has continued for 3,000 years. He built at his new capital a palace, fortified the defenses, and established a harem. The Philistines, concerned about the man whom they had considered a former vassal, decided to move against David, which proved to be their undoing. David effectively contained them in a small area of the Mediterranean coast.

 

ii) The expansion of the Davidic Empire.

The third section of Samuel (II Samuel, chapter 6 through chapter 20, verse 22) contains the account of the reign of David from Jerusalem, ruling over a minor empire that stretched from Egypt in the south to Lebanon in the north and from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Arabian Desert in the east. He thus controlled the crossroads of the great empires of the ancient Near East. His second act of political astuteness was to bring the ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem; but because of pressures from conservative elements who wanted to retain the tent that housed the ark (which had symbolic value from the days of the Exodus), David was not able to build a temple. Because the ark was now in Jerusalem, however, the city became both the political and the religious cult centre of his kingdom. In chapter 8 is a summary account of David's extension of his kingdom by military means and of the military, administrative, and priestly leaders of Israel.

II Samuel, chapters 9 through 20, verse 22--together with I Kings, chapters 1 and 2, the so-called Succession History, or the Family History of David, which, according to many scholars, forms the oldest section of historiography in Scripture--contains accounts of the domestic problems of David's reign. Though he showed generosity to Mephibosheth, the sole surviving son of the house of Saul, he showed his weakness for the charms of Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of his generals. After ensuring Uriah's death by sending him into the front lines in a battle with the Ammonites, David married Bathsheba, who had become pregnant by the King. When the prophet Nathan came to David and told him of a rich man's unjust actions toward a poor man, David's response was one of anger and a demand for justice, whereupon Nathan said, "You are the man," and that Yahweh would exact retribution by not allowing the child to live. David then repented. He later went to Bathsheba and she conceived and bore another child, Solomon, who was to be the future king of Israel.

Though David was viewed as a master in the art of governing a nation, he was depicted as an unsuccessful father of his family. One son, Amnon (half-brother to Absalom and his sister Tamar), raped Tamar, for which act Absalom later exacted revenge by having Amnon assassinated at a feast. Absalom then fled to Geshur, stayed there three years, was taken back to Jerusalem by Joab, and two years later was reconciled to his father. Absalom's ambition to succeed his father as king caused him to initiate a revolt so that David had to flee from Jerusalem. Absalom was crowned king at Hebron, went to the concubines of David's harem in the palace, and decided to raise a massive army to defeat David. If he had then heeded the advice of Ahithophel, one of David's former counsellors, and attacked David's forces while they were disorganized, he probably would have been successful in retaining the throne. The forces of David under Joab, however, defeated Absalom's army "in the forest of Ephraim." While in flight on a mule, Absalom caught his head in an oak tree, and when Joab heard of his predicament he killed the hanging son of David. When David heard of the death of his rebellious son, he uttered one of the most poignant laments in literature: "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!" David then returned to Jerusalem and settled some of the quarrels that had erupted in his absence. A revolt led by the conservative Benjaminite Sheba, under the old rallying cry "every man to his tents, O Israel," was thwarted by Joab, who had to kill David's newly appointed commander Amasa to accomplish this end.

The appendix (chapter 20, verse 23, through chapter 24) has been noted earlier in this section.

 

8) Kings: background and Solomon's reign.

The fourth book of the Former Prophets (I and II Kings in the Septuagint) continues the history of the nation Israel from the death of David, the reign of Solomon, and the divided monarchy through the collapse of both Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom). Whereas Samuel was composed primarily of the early and the later sources with some editing on the part of the Deuteronomic historians, the Deuteronomic editors of Kings, in addition to these two sources, used other sources--such as the book of the acts of Solomon, the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel, the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah, temple archives, and traditions centring on certain major kings and prophets. The Deuteronomic historians wrote from the vantage points of the reign of King Josiah of Judah, who died in 609 BCE and was the ruler who accepted the Deuteronomic reform that began in 621 BCE, and of the Babylonian Exile, which traditionally lasted 70 years, though it began in 597 BCE, the temple was destroyed in 587/586, some exiles returned in 538, and the temple was restored in 516. The Deuteronomic view that national apostasy was the cause of the covenant people's predicament pervades this work. (see also Index: Kings, books of)

(The history of the 10th through the early 6th century BCE is covered in the article JUDAISM, and therefore this article will concentrate only on the reigns of important monarchs and their relationships to the rising power of the prophetic movement in Israel.)

The Book of Kings may be divided into four sections: (1) the last years of David and Solomon's succession to the throne (I Kings, chapter 1, to chapter 2, verse 11); (2) the reign of Solomon (I Kings, chapter 2, verse 12, to chapter 11, verse 43); (3) the beginning of the divided monarchy to the fall of Israel (I Kings, chapter 12, to II Kings, chapter 17); and (4) the last years of Judah (II Kings, chapters 18-25).

 

i) The succession of Solomon to the throne.

I Kings (chapters 1 and 2) continues the story of David and the struggle for the succession of his throne. The sides were drawn between Adonijah, David's eldest living son, and Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba. Supporting Adonijah were the "old guard"--the general Joab and the priest Abiathar--and supporting Solomon were the priest Zadok, the prophet Nathan, and the captain of David's bodyguard, Benaiah. With David close to death, Adonijah prepared to seize control of the kingdom; Nathan, however, requested Bathsheba to go to David and persuade David to proclaim Solomon the next monarch. Following the advice of Nathan, David then appointed Solomon the heir to his throne; and Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed the son of Bathsheba king in Gihon.

After David died, however, Adonijah attempted to regain some semblance of prestige by asking Solomon to give him Abishag, a young Shunammite woman who had been given to David in his old age, as his wife. To this request Solomon answered by ordering Adonijah's execution, which Benaiah carried out. Solomon also ordered the execution of the old general Joab for having killed Abner and Amasa years earlier as a loyal supporter of David, an execution again carried out by Benaiah, who also executed Shimei, a man who had cursed David a long time earlier. Prior to these executions, which David--before he had died--had requested of Solomon, the new king banished the priest Abiathar of the house of Eli to Anathoth, an act that confirmed the position of Zadok as the principal priest of Jerusalem.

 

ii) The reign of Solomon.

David had reigned from about 1000 to 962 BCE, a period in which he consolidated a federation of tribes that had been united under the charismatic leadership of Saul, who had reigned for about two decades before David began to construct his minor empire. Solomon, who inherited a strong monarchy, reigned for 40 years. His reputation as a monarch centred about his great wisdom (chapter 3), his reorganization of the administrative bureaucracy (chapter 4), and his building of the magnificent Temple (chapters 3-8). Though two sons of the prophet Nathan served Solomon, one as a court official and another as a priest, the prophetic movement apparently was little encouraged by the united monarchy's third king. Solomon is perhaps one of the most overrated figures in the Old Testament, in spite of his achievements in wisdom, construction, and commerce; he is recorded as having 1,000 wives and concubines--some of them merely guarantees of commercial treaties, to be sure--and as building a fleet of ships for a nearly landlocked Israel. To accommodate his desire for a seaport, he built the port of Ezion-geber at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba of the Red Sea. A son of the harem, Solomon had had little contact with the people of his realm, and he used many of them in labour battalions in his vast building programs to the economic disadvantage of Israel. By fostering social discontent in such ventures, Solomon prepared the way for the disintegration of the united kingdom and the resurgence of the prophetic movement that reflected the indigenous covenant concept peculiar to Israel.

Whereas David secured Israel's borders and property by military means, Solomon sought to extend Israel's influence through commercial treaties. To secure diplomatic and commercial treaties, Solomon contracted marriage with various princesses--who brought with them their native deities. This defection from the Covenant obligations to Yahweh is viewed by the Deuteronomic historian as a continuance of Israel's constant flirting with apostasy, which had occurred under the judges, and the beginning of a long process of internal religious and political disintegration under the monarchical system. Solomon's oppressive taxation and commercial expansion also brought about retaliation and rebellion.

 

9) Kings: Solomon's successors.

 

i) The divided monarchy.

After Solomon died (922 BCE), he was succeeded by Rehoboam, who proved to be unfit for the task of reigning. Prior to Solomon's death, Jeroboam the Ephraimite, a young overseer of the forced labour battalions of the "house of Joseph" in the north, had encountered Ahijah, a prophet from the old shrine of the confederacy at Shiloh, and Ahijah had torn a new garment into 12 pieces, prophesying that 10 pieces (tribes) would be given to Jeroboam and only two pieces (tribal political units) would be retained by the house of David. The dismemberment of the united monarchy was to be brought about by Yahweh because Solomon had "not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my ordinances, as David his father did." Though Solomon had worshipped the Sidonian goddess Ashtoreth, the Moabite god Chemosh, and the Ammonite god Milcom, his reign over Israel continued. Jeroboam's initial rebellion proved to be abortive, and he sought political asylum in Egypt under the protection of the pharaoh Sheshonk I (Shishak).

Rehoboam, having been crowned king of the united monarchy in Jerusalem, went north to Shechem, a shrine centre of the 10 northern tribes of the old confederacy, to have his position ratified by the northern units of the kingdom. Using this gathering as an opportune time to present their grievances against Solomon's oppressive domestic policies, the northerners, under the leadership of the returned political fugitive Jeroboam, asked the king from Jerusalem to lighten their load. Requesting three days to take their grievances under advisement, Rehoboam sought counsel from his advisers. The older counsellors advised moderation, the younger, retaliation. Assenting to the latter, Rehoboam returned to the people with an answer that was to lead to the disintegration of the united monarchy that had lasted for only about a century under three kings: "My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions." The response of the northerners was the ancient battle cry, "To your tents, O Israel." Rehoboam, ruling from the cities, sent Adoram, the leader of the forced labour battalions, to Israel (the name to be used henceforth for the northern area); but he was stoned to death. The uncrowned king of the north, unable to quell the rebellion, returned to Jerusalem in rapid flight. Heeding the advice of the prophet Shemaiah, Rehoboam allowed the situation to remain that of a stalemate, thus inaugurating the period of the divided monarchy that lasted in Israel in the north from 922-721 BCE and in Judah in the south until 586 BCE.

Though the Davidic monarchy continued in Judah until the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, the monarchial situation in Israel was one of constant turmoil and confusion, except for the periods of a few dynasties. Jeroboam I of Israel (reigned 922-901 BCE) attempted to bring about religious and political reforms. Establishing his capital at Shechem, he set aside two pilgrimage sites (Dan in the north and Bethel in the south) as shrine centres. Though the Deuteronomic historian--with an anti-north prejudice--interpreted Jeroboam's use of golden bulls in the high place sanctuaries as a sin against Yahweh, Jeroboam's actions may have merely been an incorporation of religious symbols similar to the cherubim (winged animals) that guarded the empty throne of Yahweh in the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. Jeroboam would not have been so politically and religiously naïve as to introduce polytheistic practices among the conservative-minded tribes of northern Israel. Thus, the golden bulls may have been meant to serve as pedestals for the invisible Yahweh just as the ark (throne) may have been the seat of the invisible Yahweh in the Holy of Holies (inner sanctuary) of the Temple in Jerusalem. Gods (such as the storm god Hadad) of other Syrian and Palestinian religions also were represented as standing on the backs of bulls.

Jeroboam remained true to Yahwistic religion, however, in that the God of the Israelites was not represented iconographically. The first king of the northern kingdom also inaugurated other religious reforms or reinstituted ancient practices that were interpreted as decadent by the Deuteronomic historian of the southern kingdom of Judah. He instituted a harvest thanksgiving festival on the 15th day of the eighth month, a change in the religious calendar that would preclude the journey of many northern Israelites to a similar festival in Jerusalem; he reformed the priesthood by installing non-Levites (the traditional shrine functionaries) to serve Yahweh at the shrines, an action that had been carried out in Jerusalem by David but without the opprobrium inferred by the Deuteronomic historian on a similar action by Jeroboam.

The dynasties of the northern kingdom were shortlived. Jeroboam was succeeded by his son Nadab, who reigned for two years before he was overthrown by Baasha, who decimated the house of Jeroboam. Reigning for 24 years, Baasha (who "did what was evil in the sight of the Lord" like all of the northern kings, according to the interpretation of the Deuteronomists) had to concern himself not only with charismatic leaders who were traditionally powerful in the north but also with the rising power of anti-monarchical prophets, such as Jehu--who prophesied the end of the house of Baasha (chapter 16). Elah, Baasha's son, ruled only two years before he was assassinated while in a drunken state by Zimri, a chariot commander, who exterminated all of the members of the house of Baasha. Reigning for the brief period of seven days, Zimri was besieged in the citadel at Tirzah by Omri, commander of the army. Zimri burned to death in the king's house. Much of this political turmoil and confusion in the north occurred during the reign of Asa, king of Judah from c. 913 to 873 BCE, who inaugurated religious reforms, such as banning male cult prostitutes and the worship of the Canaanite goddess Asherah that had been sponsored by his mother, Maachah, the queen regent.

 

ii) The significance of Elijah.

With the dynasty of Omri (c. 876-842), the prophetic movement begins to assume a position of tremendous importance in Israel and Judah. Omri (reigned c. 876-869) reestablished Israel's economic and military significance among the Syrian and Palestinian minor kingdoms, so much so that years after his death the Assyrians referred to the northern kingdom as "the land of Omri." He is mentioned in the Moabite Stone of King Mesha (9th century BCE) as a king who "humbled Moab many years." To strengthen an alliance with the Phoenicians, Omri contracted a marriage between Jezebel, princess of Sidon, and his son Ahab. The marriage proved to be fateful for Israel and was a catalyst that brought the prophetic movement into a course of action and a form that became Israel's contribution to Near Eastern prophecy.

The reign of Omri's son Ahab coincided with the activities of the prophet Elijah, as recorded in I Kings, chapter 16, verse 29, to chapter 22, verse 40. Ahab, under the influence of his queen Jezebel, allowed her to foster the worship of the fertility god Baal in Samaria--the capital that Omri had built--and in all Israel, even though he himself remained a worshipper of Yahweh. A temple was built for Baal in Samaria; Jericho was rebuilt (even though the ban against its existence still remained) by Hiel of Bethel, who sacrificed two of his own sons and placed them in the foundation and the gates of the walls of the city. During these apostate activities the great prophet Elijah the Tishbite appeared. A man of erratic behaviour, wearing a garment of hair with a leather belt around his waist, using uncouth language, and preferring the wilderness areas to the towns, Elijah bore many of the outward signs of social rebels. At odds with the court authorities, he began his prophetic career just prior to a retreat in the wilderness during a drought, which he had announced to Ahab, thus pointing out that Yahweh, rather than Baal, is the Lord of nature. In the desert he performed two miracles: he ensured a widow and her son of continuous food for her act of generosity to him and cured her son, apparently dead, who had stopped breathing, by stretching himself on top of the boy three times. Elijah then went to the court of Ahab at Samaria, after having met one of the leading prophets (Obadiah) who had escaped Jezebel's attempt to destroy the leaders of the cult of Yahweh, and stood before Ahab, accusing the king of being the "troubler of Israel" for having followed the cult of Baal. Elijah hurled a challenge to the Baalists, supported by Jezebel, to meet him in a contest on Mt. Carmel.

The contest between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal was dramatic. Elijah first taunted the spectators, "How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." Elijah then laid the ground rules: two bulls were to be sacrificed, one each on an altar, on which firewood was to be laid, but no one was to light the fire--only the God "who answers by fire." The prophets of Baal had the first opportunity, and they prayed to Baal loudly for a full half day, until noon. During this time, Elijah, in coarse language, taunted them. Eliminating the euphemisms in most English versions of the Bible, Elijah mocked the Baalists by saying that Baal might not be responding because he was out urinating ("gone aside"), on a trip, or sleeping. The Baalists then attempted to use sympathetic magic. By cutting themselves they hoped that as their life blood flowed on the ground Baal would send rain, the life blood of the Earth.

When the Baalists had failed, Elijah rebuilt an old altar of Yahweh, poured water on the wood three times (perhaps a remnant of an ancient rainmaking ceremony?), and prayed to Yahweh to answer his servant; "the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench." Though some authorities explain the action by suggesting that Elijah poured naphtha on the wood, this does not explain the ignition of the wood at that particular time and that particular place even if by a bolt of lightning. The Deuteronomic historian emphasized the miracle wrought by Yahweh. The people, upon witnessing the miracle, cried out, "Yahweh, he is God," and proceeded to annihilate the prophets of Baal.

Elijah told Ahab to complete the festivities while he went to the top of Mt. Carmel to perform another rainmaking ceremony. When the rains came in a cloudburst, Ahab was riding in his chariot in the Valley of Jezreel. Elijah, in fear of retaliation from Jezebel, fled to the southern wilderness. At Mt. Horeb (Sinai) after a storm, wind, and an earthquake, Yahweh spoke to Elijah through silence and then revealed that he should anoint Hazael to be king of Syria, Jehu to be king of Israel, and Elisha to be his successor as prophet. I Kings, chapter 20, records a war between Ben-hadad, king of Syria, and Ahab. Though Ahab was victorious, he did not kill Ben-hadad according to the provisions of the herem (ban); and a prophet then informed Ahab that he would suffer for his inaction.

Upon Ahab's return to Samaria Jezebel attempted to coerce the king into confiscating the vineyards of Naboth of Jezreel, which was a Canaanite centre. Naboth asserted that as an Israelite the land was not his own but was a trust from Yahweh and that he could not sell it. Taken to court on trumped-up charges of blasphemy, Naboth was convicted and stoned to death. Ahab, following Jezebel's advice, then went to Naboth's vineyard and took possession of it. Upon hearing of Ahab's unjust act as king, Elijah proclaimed to him, "In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood." The prophet also announced, "The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the bounds of Jezreel."

In I Kings, chapter 22, another prophet, Micaiah, prophesied to Ahab and to King Jehoshaphat of Judah who were preparing for battle against the Syrians that in a vision he saw "all Israel scattered upon the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd." Micaiah was put in prison to test the validity of his vision. It turned out to be true--Ahab, even though he disguised himself, was mortally wounded by an arrow shot by a Syrian archer. In 850 he was succeeded by his son Ahaziah, who reigned for only two years.

 

10) Kings: the second book.

The Second Book of Kings continues the history of the monarchies of Israel and Judah and of the prophetic movement. Ahaziah fell from an upper chamber of his palace in Samaria and sought help from Baalzebub, the god of Ekron. Elijah met the messengers to castigate them for not seeking aid from Yahweh, the God of Israel, and told a third delegation that had been sent out to return to tell Ahaziah that because of his apostasy he would die. After the death of Ahaziah, Elijah conferred his mantle, the symbol of his prophetic authority, on Elisha, and "Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven."

 

i) The significance of Elisha.

The stories of Elijah and his successor, Elisha, are of a different literary genre from the historical accounts of the political developments of the 9th century. The historical accounts are based on the viewpoints and biases of the monarchy, nobility, and military leaders. The stories of Elijah and Elisha are legendary, popular accounts, probably having arisen among the common people. They demonstrate the predilection of the common people to accent what appears to them as the miraculous and the supernatural, much as has been the case among many Roman Catholics and Eastern Christians in stories of their saints. Elijah was depicted, in several instances, as a second Moses--e.g., he fled to the wilderness to escape the retaliation of a ruler, and he encountered a theophany (manifestation of a deity) of Yahweh on Mt. Horeb. As Moses appointed Joshua as his successor, so also Elijah passed on his prophetic mantle to Elisha. Elisha is depicted in typical folk story embellishments and legendary motifs. The original beginning and ending of the Elijah story apparently was lost, but the Deuteronomic historian incorporated the popular accounts of Elijah and Elisha into the court history that gives scholars significant insights into the religious movements of the 9th century.

During the reigns of King Jehoshaphat of Judah (c. 873-849 BCE) and King Jehoram (Joram) of Israel (c. 849-842), Elisha began his prophetic career. Elisha was unlike his mentor Elijah in many ways: he did not use uncouth language, he did not shun towns, he wore more fashionable clothing, and he used music to bring about the prophetic spirit--much as Saul had done earlier. A cycle of miracle stories arose around Elisha; he was said to have made bitter water sweet, revived the son of a Shunammite woman from death by breathing into his mouth and lying on top of him, helped a woman to avoid giving up her two sons to a creditor who would make them slaves, informed the Syrian captain Naaman how to be cured from his skin disease, and many other similar actions. In addition to being a miracle worker, Elisha was a political power. He prophesied the defeat of the Moabites as a result of a huge rainfall and advised Joram how to defeat Ben-hadad, king of Syria. By performing this last act Elisha instigated a revolt in Syria; Hazael murdered the sick and dying Ben-hadad.

Elisha sent "one of the sons of the prophets" to anoint Jehu, an army commander, to be the future king of Israel. Rushing in his chariot to Jezreel, Jehu exterminated Jehoram, the last king of the Omri dynasty, his nephew Ahaziah (king of Judah), who was visiting him, and the queen mother Jezebel, who "had painted her eyes, and adorned her head" before she was thrown out of the window and so mangled by the trampling of horses that "they found no more of her than the skull and the feet and the palms of her hands." Jezebel's end had come about in a manner similar to the way in which Elijah had prophesied.

The revolution of Jehu was not only politically inspired. A driving force behind him was the arch conservative Rechabite faction, led by Jehonadab. Despising the Canaanites and their agricultural way of life, the Rechabites--descendants of the ancient Kenites of Midian where Moses had experienced the theophany of the burning bush--lived in tents, refused to drink wine, and attempted to retain as many of the accoutrements of the "good old life" of ancient nomadism as possible. With excessive revolutionary zeal they helped Jehu to annihilate the worshippers of Baal, who were tricked into coming to their temple and there murdered. To further emphasize their revolutionary intent, the followers of Jehu, in addition to the holocaust, made the site of the temple of Baal a latrine.

Because the king of Judah (Ahaziah) had been killed in the revolution--along with the remaining northern members of the house of Omri--the southern kingdom was ruled over by the queen mother, Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. In her zeal to propagate the faith of her mother, Athaliah seized the opportunity to destroy the line of David that tended to be loyal to Yahweh. Liquidating all the male heirs to the throne of David--except the infant Joash (Jehoash) who received asylum in "the house of the Lord"--Athaliah ruled for six years. With support from the priests led by Jehoiada, the army and "the people of the land" revolted, killing Athaliah and her high priest of Baal, Mattan, and destroying the temple of Baal.

In the north, Jehu was succeeded by his son Jehoahaz (reigned c. 815-c. 801), who, in turn, was followed by his son Joash, or Jehoash. During the latter king's reign, the prophet Elisha died. Though the Deuteronomic historian says little about Israel's next king, Jeroboam II, he was a major monarch, reestablishing the northern kingdom's ancient boundaries and fostering a period of economic prosperity. During the reign of Jeroboam II (c. 786-c. 746 BCE), a time of both economic advances and social injustice, Amos, the great prophet of social justice, arose. During Jeroboam's last years another great prophet, Hosea, whose message centred on Covenant love, arose to call an apostate people back to their Covenant responsibilities.

 

ii) The fall of Israel.

After the death of Jeroboam II, however, Israel faced a period of continuous disaster; and no prophetic figure was able to arrest the steady internal decay. From 746-721, when Samaria finally fell to the Assyrians, there were six kings, the last being Hoshea, a conspirator who had assassinated the previous king. The Assyrian king Sargon II deported the leading citizens of Samaria to Persia and imported colonists from other lands to fill their places.

 

iii) The fall of Judah.

The southern kingdom of Judah, under the Davidic monarchy, was able to last about 135 years longer, often only as a weak vassal state. Hezekiah (reigned c. 715-c. 687), with the advice of the prophet Isaiah, managed to avoid conflict with or outlast a siege of the Assyrians. Hezekiah was succeeded by his son Manasseh, an apostate king who stilled any prophetic outcries, reintroduced Canaanite religious practices, and even offered his son as a human sacrificial victim. Soothsaying, augury, sorcery, and necromancy were also reintroduced. The Deuteronomic historian also notes that many innocent persons were killed during his reign. Manasseh was succeeded by his son Amon, who was assassinated in a palace revolution after a reign of only two years. His son Josiah, who succeeded him, reigned from 640 to 609 BCE, when he was killed in a battle with the pharaoh Necho II of Egypt. During his reign, one of the most significant events in the history of the Israelite people occurred--the Deuteronomic reform of 621 BCE. Occasioned by the discovery of a book of the Law in the Temple during its rebuilding and supported not only by Hilkiah, a high priest, and Huldah, a prophetess, but also by the young prophet Jeremiah, the Deuteronomic Code--or Covenant--as it has been called, became the basis for a far-reaching reform of the social and religious life of Judah. Though the reform was short-lived, because of the pressure of international turmoil, it left an indelible impression on the religious consciousness of the people of the Covenant, Israel, whether they were from the north or the south.

From 609 to 586 Judah felt the coming oppression of Babylon under King Nebuchadrezzar. After the death of Josiah, four kings ruled in Jerusalem, the last being Zedekiah, who failed to heed the advice of the prophet Jeremiah--who had attempted to persuade the king not to trust the Egyptians in a rebellion against Babylon because there would be only one loser, the House of David. Jehoiachin, the predecessor of the puppet king Zedekiah, had been carried off into exile to Babylon in 598; but about 560 he was released from prison, thus leaving a hope that the Davidic line had not become extinct. Despite this small element of hope, the year 586 BCE marked the beginning of a tragic period for the people of Judah--the Babylonian Exile. During this period of rethinking Covenant faith, the prophet Ezekiel preached, both in Jerusalem and Babylon, offering the people hope for a restoration of the symbols and cultic acts of their covenant religion.

 

11) Isaiah.

The Book of Isaiah, comprising 66 chapters, is one of the most profound theological and literarily expressive works in the Bible. Compiled over a period of about two centuries (the latter half of the 8th to the latter half of the 6th century BCE), the Book of Isaiah is generally divided by scholars into two (sometimes three) major sections, which are called First Isaiah (chapters 1-39), Deutero-Isaiah (chapters 40-55 or 40-66), and--if the second section is subdivided--Trito-Isaiah (chapters 56-66).

 

i) The prophecies of First Isaiah.

First Isaiah contains the words and prophecies of Isaiah, a most important 8th-century BCE prophet of Judah, written either by himself or his contemporary followers in Jerusalem (from c. 740 to 700 BCE), along with some later additions, such as chapters 24-27 and 33-39. The first of these two additions was probably written by a later disciple or disciples of Isaiah about 500 BCE; the second addition is divided into two sections--chapters 33-35, written during or after the exile to Babylon in 586 BCE, and chapters 36-39, which drew from the source used by the Deuteronomic historian in II Kings, chapters 18-19. The second major section of Isaiah, which may be designated Second Isaiah even though it has been divided because of chronology into Deutero-Isaiah and Trito-Isaiah, was written by members of the "school" of Isaiah in Babylon: chapters 40-55 were written prior to and after the conquest of Babylon in 539 by the Persian king Cyrus II the Great, and chapters 56-66 were composed after the return from the Babylonian Exile in 538. The canonical Book of Isaiah, after editorial redaction, probably assumed its present form during the 4th century BCE. Because of its messianic (salvatory figure) themes, Isaiah became extremely significant among the early Christians who wrote the New Testament and the sectarians at Qumran near the Dead Sea, who awaited the imminent messianic age, a time that would inaugurate the period of the Last Judgment and the Kingdom of God.

Isaiah, a prophet, priest, and statesman, lived during the last years of the northern kingdom and during the reigns of four kings of Judah: Uzziah (Azariah), Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. He was also a contemporary of the prophets of social justice: Amos, Hosea, and Micah. Influenced by their prophetic outcries against social injustice, Isaiah added themes peculiar to his prophetic mission. To kings, political and economic leaders, and to the people of the land, he issued a message that harked back nearly five centuries to the period of the judges: the holiness of Yahweh, the coming Messiah of Yahweh, the judgment of Yahweh, and the necessity of placing one's own and the nation's trust in Yahweh rather than in the might of ephemeral movements and nations. From about 742 BCE, when he first experienced his call to become a prophet, to about 687, Isaiah influenced the course of Judah's history by his oracles of destruction, judgment, and hope as well as his messages containing both threats and promises.

Intimately acquainted with worship on Mt. Zion because of his priest-prophet position, with the Temple and its rich imagery and ritualistic practices, and possessed of a deep understanding of the meaning of kingship in Judah theologically and politically, Isaiah was able to interpret and advise both leaders and the common people of the Covenant promises of Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts. Because they were imbued with the following beliefs--God dwelt on Mt. Zion, in the Temple in the city of Jerusalem, and in the person of the King--the messianic phrase "God is with us" (Immanuel) Isaiah used was not a pallid abstraction of a theological concept but a concrete living reality that found its expression in the Temple theology and message of the great prophet.

In chapters 1-6 are recorded the oracles of Isaiah's early ministry. His call, a visionary experience in the temple in Jerusalem, is described in some of the most influential symbolic language in Old Testament literature. In the year of King Uzziah's death (742 BCE), Isaiah had a vision of the Lord enthroned in a celestial temple, surrounded by the seraphim--hybrid human-animal-bird figures who attended the deity in his sanctuary. Probably experiencing this majestic imagery that was enhanced by the actual setting and the ceremonial and ritualistic objects of the Jerusalem Temple, Isaiah was mystically transported from the earthly temple to the heavenly temple, from the microcosm to the macrocosm, from sacred space in profane time to sacred space in sacred time.

Yahweh, in the mystical, ecstatic experience of Isaiah, is too sublime to be described in other than the imagery of the winged seraphim, which hide his glory and call to each other:

"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;

The whole earth is full of his glory."

With smoke rising from the burning incense, Isaiah was consumed by his feelings of unworthiness ("Woe is me! for I am lost"); but one of the seraphim touched Isaiah's lips with a burning coal from the altar and the prophet heard the words, "Your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven." Isaiah then heard the voice of Yahweh ask the heavenly council, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" The prophet, caught up as a participant in the mystical dialogue, responded, "Here am I! Send me." The message to be delivered to the Covenant people from the heavenly council, he is informed, is one that will be unheeded.

The oracles of Isaiah to the people of Jerusalem from about 740 to 732 BCE castigate the nation of Judah for its many sins. The religious, social, and economic sins of Judah roll from the prophet's utterances in staccato-like sequence: (1) "Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and the calling of assemblies--I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly," against religious superficiality; (2) "cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow," against social injustice; and (3) "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow," a call for obedience to the Covenant. The prophet also cried out for peace: "and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore." The sins of Judah, however, are numerous: the rich oppress the poor, the nation squanders its economic resources on military spending, idolatry runs rampant in the land, everyone tries to cheat his fellowman, women flaunt their sexual charms in the streets, and there are many who cannot wait for a strong drink in the morning to get them through the day. One of Isaiah's castigations warns: "Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!"

During the Syro-Ephraimitic war (734-732 BCE), Isaiah began to challenge the policies of King Ahaz of Judah. Syria and Israel had joined forces against Judah. Isaiah's advice to the young King of Judah was to place his trust in Yahweh. Apparently Isaiah believed that Assyria would take care of the northern threat. Ahaz, in timidity, did not want to request a sign from Yahweh. In exasperation Isaiah told the King that Yahweh would give him a sign anyway: "Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Thus, by the time this child is able to know how to choose good and refuse evil, the two minor kings of the north who were threatening Judah will be made ineffective by the Assyrians. The name Immanuel, "God is with us," would be meaningful in this situation because God on Mt. Zion and represented in the person of the king would be faithful to his Covenant people. Ahaz, however, placed his trust in an alliance with Assyria under the great conqueror Tiglath-pileser III. In order to give hope to the people, who were beginning to experience the Assyrian encroachments on Judaean lands in 738 BCE, Isaiah uttered an oracle to "the people who walked in darkness": "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah trusted that Yahweh would bring about a kingdom of peace under a Davidic ruler.

From 732 to 731 BCE, the year the northern kingdom fell, Isaiah continued to prophesy in Judah but probably not in any vociferous manner until the Assyrians conquered Samaria. The king of the Assyrians is described as the rod of God's anger, but Assyria also will experience the judgment of God for its atrocities in time of war. During one of the periods of Assyrian expansion towards Judah, Isaiah uttered his famous Davidic messianic (salvatory figure) oracle in which he prophesies the coming of a "shoot from the stump of Jesse," upon which the Spirit of the Lord will rest and who will establish the "peaceable kingdom" in which "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb." A hymn of praise concludes this first section of First Isaiah.

Chapters 13-23 include a list of oracles against various nations--Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Syria, Egypt, and other oppressors of Judah. These probably came from the time when Hezekiah began his reign (c. 715). In 705 BCE, Sargon of Assyria died, however, and Hezekiah, a generally astute and reform-minded king, began to be caught up in the power struggle between Babylon, Egypt, and Assyria. Isaiah urged Hezekiah to remain neutral during the revolutionary turmoil. Though Sennacherib of Assyria moved south to crush the rebellion of the Palestinian vassal states, Isaiah--contrary to his previous advocacy of neutrality--urged his king to resist the Assyrians because the Lord, rather than the so-called Egyptian allies, who "are men, and not God," will protect Jerusalem. He then prophesied a coming age of justice and of the Spirit who will bring about a renewed creation.

Second Isaiah (chapters 40-66), which comes from the school of Isaiah's disciples, can be divided into two periods: chapters 40-55, generally called Deutero-Isaiah, were written about 538 BCE after the experience of the Exile; and chapters 56-66, sometimes called Trito-Isaiah (or III Isaiah), were written after the return of the exiles to Jerusalem after 538 BCE.

 

ii) The prophecies of Deutero-Isaiah.

Second Isaiah contains the very expressive so-called Servant Songs--chapter 42, verses 1-4; chapter 49, verses 1-6; chapter 50, verses 4-9; chapter 52, verse 13; and chapter 53, verse 12. Writing from Babylon, the author begins with a message of comfort and hope and faith in Yahweh. The people are to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem, which has paid "double for all her sins." As creator and Lord of history, God will redeem Israel, his chosen servant. Through the Servant of the Lord all the nations will be blessed: "I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations." The Suffering Servant, whether the nation Israel or an individual agent of Yahweh, will help to bring about the deliverance of the nation. Though Second Isaiah may have been referring to a hoped-for rise of a prophetic figure, many scholars now hold that the Suffering Servant is Israel in a collective sense. Christians have interpreted the Servant Songs, especially the fourth, as a prophecy referring to Jesus of Nazareth--"He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief . . . ," but this interpretation is theologically oriented and thus open to question, according to many scholars.

 

iii) The oracles of Trito-Isaiah.

Chapters 56-66 are a collection of oracles from the restoration period (after 538 BCE). Emphasis is placed upon cultic acts, attacks against idolatry, and a right motivation in the worship of Yahweh. Repentance and social justice are themes that have been retained from the earlier Isaiah traditions, and the ever-present element of hope in the creative goodness of Yahweh that pervaded II Isaiah remains a dominant theme in the last chapters of the Book of Isaiah.

 

12) Jeremiah.

The prophet Jeremiah began to prophesy about 626 BCE during the reign of the Judaean king Josiah. From the town of Anathoth and probably from the priestly family of Eli, this prophet, who may have been instrumental in the Deuteronomic reform, dictated his oracles to his secretary Baruch. Only a youth in his late teens when he experienced the call by Yahweh to be a "prophet to the nations," Jeremiah was a hesitant reforming prophet, experiencing deep spiritual struggles regarding his adequacy from the very beginning of his call and throughout his prophetic ministry. After the death of Josiah in 609 BCE, however, he became an outspoken prophet against the national policy of Judah, a policy that he knew would lead to the disaster that came to be called the Babylonian Exile. Because of his prophecies, which were unpopular with the military and the revolutionists against the Babylonians, Jeremiah was kidnapped by conspirators after 586 and taken to Egypt, where he disappeared.

The Book of Jeremiah is a collection of oracles, biographical accounts, and narratives that are not arranged in any consistent chronological or thematic order. One 20th-century German biblical scholar, Wilhelm Rudolph, has attempted to arrange the chapters of the book according to certain chronological details. He has divided the work into five sections: (1) prophecies against Judah and Jerusalem, chapters 1-25, during the reigns of kings Josiah (640-609) and Jehoiachim (609-598), and the period after Jehoiachim (597-586); (2) prophecies against foreign nations, chapters 25 and 66-61; (3) prophecies of hope for Israel, chapters 26-35 (probably after the death of Josiah in 609); (4) narratives of Jeremiah's sufferings, chapters 36-45 (from a post-586 period), and (5) an appendix, chapter 52. Jeremiah's own prophetic oracles are found particularly in chapters 1-36 and 46-52. Baruch's writings about Jeremiah are found primarily in chapters 37-45, 26-29, and 33-36.

During the reign of Josiah, after his call, Jeremiah preached to the people of Jerusalem and warned them against the sin of apostasy. Recalling the prophecies of the 8th-century Israelite prophet Hosea, Jeremiah reproached the Judaeans for playing harlot with other gods and urged them to repent. He prophesied that enemies from the north would be the instruments of Yahweh's judgment on the apostate land and Jerusalem would suffer the fate of a rejected prostitute. The idolatry and immorality of the Judaeans would inevitably lead to their destruction. Because of the impending threat from the north, Jeremiah warned the people to flee from the wrath that was to come.

At the beginning of Jehoiachim's reign, Jeremiah preached in the temple that because of Judah's apostasy "death shall be preferred to life by all the remnant that remains of this evil family in all the places where I have driven them, says the Lord of hosts." Because he spoke words that were unpopular, his own townsmen of Anathoth plotted against his life. To symbolize the fate of Judah, Jeremiah adopted some rather bizarre techniques. He buried a waist cloth and wore it when it was spoiled to illustrate the fate of Jerusalem, which had worshipped other gods than Yahweh.

Throughout his career Jeremiah had moments of deep depression, times when he lamented that he had become a prophet. Because of the uncertainty of the times, Jeremiah did not marry.

A master of symbolic actions and the use of symbolic devices, Jeremiah used a potter's wheel to show that Yahweh was shaping an evil future for Judah; and he bought a flask, after which he broke it on the ground to illustrate again the fate of Judah. Because of such words and actions, Jeremiah often found himself in trouble. Pashur, a priest, had Jeremiah beaten and placed in stocks. When released, Jeremiah told Pashur he would go into captivity and die. Despite the plots against him, Jeremiah continued to rely on the grace of Yahweh. He was brought to trial for prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem, but his defense attorneys--"certain of the elders"--pointed out that King Hezekiah had not punished the prophet Micah of Moresheth in the 8th century for similar statements.

Continuing to prophesy against the moral and religious corruption of Jerusalem during the reign of Zedekiah (597-586), Jeremiah became even more unpopular for his advocacy to surrender to Babylon.

In spite of his apparent failure to win over the people to his cause, Jeremiah inaugurated a reform that had lasting effects. He helped to bring about a change in religion from the view that primarily accepted corporate responsibility to one that held that religion is more individualistic in terms of responsibility. His words in chapter 31, verse 33, are a summation of his reform: "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."

 

13) Ezekiel.

The Book of Ezekiel, written by the prophetpriest Ezekiel, who lived both in Jerusalem prior to the Babylonian Exile (586 BCE) and in Babylon after the Exile, and also by an editor (or editors), who belongs to a "school" of the prophet similar to that of the prophet Isaiah, has captured the attention of readers for centuries because of its vivid imagery and symbolism. The book has also attracted the attention of biblical scholars who have noticed that, although Ezekiel appears to be a singularly homogeneous composition displaying a unity unusual for such a large prophetic work, it also displays, upon careful analysis, the problem of repetitions, certain inconsistencies and contradictions, and questions raised by terminological differences. Though the book itself indicates that the prophecies of Ezekiel occurred from about 593-571 BCE, some scholars--who are in a minority--have argued that the book was written during widely divergent periods, such as in the 7th century and even as late as the 2nd century BCE. Most scholars, however, accept that the main body of the book came from the 6th century BCE, with the inclusion of some later glosses by redactors who remained loyal to the theological traditions of their master-teacher.

Containing several literary genres, such as oracles, mythological themes, allegory, proverbs, historical narratives, folk tales, threats and promises, and lamentations, the Book of Ezekiel may be divided into three main sections: (1) prophecies against Judah and Jerusalem (chapters 1-24); (2) prophecies against foreign countries (chapters 25-32); and (3) prophecies about Israel's future.

 

i) Ezekiel--the man and his message.

The man who wrote this book--at least the main body of the work--was undoubtedly one of the leaders of Jerusalem because he was among the first group of exiles to go into captivity--those who were forced to leave their homeland about 597 BCE in a deportation to Babylon on the orders of the conquering king Nebuchadrezzar. Belonging to the priestly class, perhaps of the line of Zadok, Ezekiel was a spiritual leader of his fellow exiles at Tel-abib, which was located near the river Chebar, a canal that was part of the Euphrates River irrigation system. According to his own account, Ezekiel, the priest without a temple, received the call to become a prophet during a vision "In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day"--perhaps July 31, 593 BCE, if the dating is based on the lunar calendar, though the exact meaning of "thirtieth year" remains obscure. A married man who was often consulted by elders among the exiles, Ezekiel carried out his priestly and prophetic career during two distinct periods: (1) from 593-586 BCE, a date that was doubly depressing for the prophet because it was the period when his wife died and his native city was destroyed; and (2) from 586-571 BCE, the date of his last oracle (chapter 29, verse 17).

The personality of the prophet shows through his oracles, visions, and narrations. Frustrated because the people would not heed his messages from Yahweh, Ezekiel often exhibited erratic behaviour. This need not mean that he was psychologically abnormal. Like many great spiritual leaders, he displayed qualities and actions that did not fall within the range of moderation, and to perform an ex post facto psychological postmortem examination on any great historical figure in the face of a paucity of necessary details may be an interesting game but is hardly scientifically respectable or accurate. To be sure, Ezekiel did engage in erratic behaviour: he ate a scroll on one occasion, lost his power of speech for a period of time, and lay down on the ground "playing war" to emphasize a point, an action that would certainly draw attention to him, which was his purpose. In spite of these peculiarities, Ezekiel was a master preacher who drew large crowds and a good administrator of his religious community of exiles. He held out hope for a temple in a new age in order to inspire a people in captivity. He also initiated a form of imagery and literature that was to have profound effects on both Judaism and Christianity all the way to the 20th century: apocalypticism (the view that God would intervene in history to save the believing remnant and that this intervention would be accompanied by dramatic, cataclysmic events).

 

ii) Prophetic themes and actions.

The first section of the book (chapters 1-24) contains prophecies against Judah and Jerusalem. Ezekiel's call is recorded in chapter 1 to chapter 3, verse 15. It came in a vision of four heavenly cherubim, who appeared in a wind from the north, a cloud, and flashing fire (lightning?)--traditional symbolic elements of a theophany (manifestation of a god) in ancient Near Eastern religions. These winged hybrid throne bearers--with the faces of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle (which became iconographic symbols of the four Gospel writers of the New Testament)--bore the throne chariot of Yahweh. The cherubim, symbolizing intelligence, strength, and--especially--mobility, had beside them four gleaming wheels, or "a wheel within a wheel" (i.e., set at right angles to each other), which further emphasized the omnimobility of the throne chariot. This vision harks back to Isaiah's mystical experience (Isaiah, chapter 6) in which that prophet envisioned the throne of the ark, which symbolized the omnipresence of the invisible Yahweh. High above the cherubim was a firmament, or crystal platform, above which was the throne of Yahweh, who--in a "likeness as if it were of a human form"--spoke to Ezekiel. The Spirit of Yahweh entered him, and he was commissioned to preach to the people of Israel a message of doom to an apostate people. The significance of this vision is that it occurred not to a priest in the holy Temple at Jerusalem but to an exiled prophet-priest in a foreign land. The God of Israel was the God of the nations. The impact of his visionary experience so overwhelmed Ezekiel that he simply sat at Tel-abib for seven days.

Commissioned by Yahweh to be "a watchman for the house of Israel," Ezekiel performed a series of symbolic acts to illustrate the impending fate of the city from which he had been banished: he placed a brick on the ground to symbolize Jerusalem's future siege, lay down on the ground, bound himself to indicate capture, ate food first cooked on fuel composed of human feces and then animal excrement, and then cut his hair and beard. Though these acts were performed in Babylon, news of them was most likely communicated to the people of Jerusalem. Just as Jeremiah had tried to repress the false hopes that the residents of Jerusalem harboured concerning the downfall of Babylon, which had been predicted by the popular nationalistic prophet Hananiah (Jeremiah, chapter 28, verses 5-17), Ezekiel attempted to quash the ill-founded aspirations of the exiles for an immediate return to Jerusalem.

In chapters 6 and 7 Ezekiel prophesies that Jerusalem's "altars shall become desolate," its people will be "scattered through the countries," and "because the land is full of bloody crimes and the city full of violence," Yahweh "will put an end to their proud might and their holy places shall be profane." In chapter 8 he attacked the people of Jerusalem for their idolatry, as manifest by the women sitting before the entrance to the north gate of the Temple of Yahweh weeping in cultic despair for the Mesopotamian fertility deity Tammuz's "annual death."

After prophesying the fall of Jerusalem in chapters 9-11 because "the guilt of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great," Ezekiel performed other symbolic acts such as packing baggage for an emergency exile, digging a hole in his house to illustrate the fact that some will try to escape, and eating and drinking with trembling actions to show the future fear that the Jerusalemites will experience; he also attacked prophets who gave the people false hopes. "Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing. Your prophets have been like foxes among ruins, O Israel." He tried to underline his message of urgency by relating the problem of apostasy to similar situations in Israel's past history.

About the time that Nebuchadrezzar besieged Jerusalem, Ezekiel's wife became ill. Though Ezekiel could mourn her impending death "but not aloud" (i.e., only by himself so that the people would notice his unusual reaction and thus receive the full impact of his prophetic message), he was not to mourn her death publicly. When he did not eat the "bread of mourners" the people asked him for an explanation. He told them, and it was a shattering exposure: Jerusalem would be destroyed "and your sons and daughters whom you left behind shall fall by the sword"; when this happens--in spite of their pining and groaning--they will know the meaning of Ezekiel's actions.

In order to show that Yahweh was the Lord of the whole creation and of all nations, Ezekiel issued prophecies of impending disasters that would be experienced by many neighbouring Near Eastern countries. Nations that exulted in Judah's defeat--i.e., Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, and Phoenicia--would all suffer the same fate, as well as Egypt, the formerly great empire that had manoeuvred Judah into its disastrous foreign policy of opposing Babylon.

 

iii) Oracles of hope.

In the third section, chapters 33-48, Ezekiel proclaimed, in oracles that have become imprinted in theological discourse and folk songs, the hope that lies in the faith that God cares for his people and will restore them to a state of wholeness. As the good shepherd, God will feed his flock and will "seek the lost," "bring back the strayed," "bind up the crippled," and "strengthen the weak." He will also "set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them." This Davidic ruler will be a nasi (prince), the term used for a leader of the tribal confederacy before the inauguration of the monarchy. In chapter 37, Ezekiel had a now-famous vision of the valley of dry bones, which refers not to resurrection from the dead but rather to the restoration of a scattered Covenant people into a single unity. To further emphasize the restoration of the scattered people of Yahweh, Ezekiel uttered the oracle of the two sticks joined together into one, which prophesied the re-unification of Israel and Judah as one nation. Chapters 38 and 39 contain a cryptic apocalyptic oracle about the invasion of an unidentified Gog of Magog. Who this Gog is has long been a matter of speculation; whoever he is, his chief characteristic is that he is the demonic person who leads the forces of evil in the final battle against the people of God. Gog and Magog have thus earned a position in apocalyptic literature over the centuries. Chapters 40-48 are a closing section in which Ezekiel has a vision of a restored Temple in Jerusalem with its form of worship reestablished and a restored Israel, with each of the ancient tribes receiving appropriate allotments. Ezekiel's prophecies while in exile in Babylon were to have a significant influence on the religion of Judaism as it emerged from a time of reassessment of its religious beliefs and cultic acts during the Babylonian Exile (586-538 BCE).

 

14) The first six minor prophets.

 

i) Hosea.

The Book of Hosea, the first of the canonical Twelve (Minor) Prophets, was written by Hosea (whose name means "salvation," or "deliverance"), a prophet who lived during the last years of the age of Jeroboam II in Israel and the period of decline and ruin that followed the brief period of economic prosperity. The Assyrians were threatening the land of Israel and the people of the Covenant acted as though they were oblivious to the stipulations of their peculiar relation to Yahweh. The Book of Hosea is a collection of oracles composed and arranged by Hosea and his disciples. Like his contemporary Amos, the great prophet of social justice, Hosea was a prophet of doom; but he held out a hope to the people that the Day of Yahweh contained not just retribution but also the possibility of renewal. His message against Israel's "spirit of harlotry" was dramatically and symbolically acted out in his personal life.

The Book of Hosea may be divided into two sections: (1) Hosea's marriage and its symbolic meaning (chapters 1-3); and (2) judgments against an apostate Israel and hope of forgiveness and restoration (chapters 4-14).

In the first section, Hosea is commanded by Yahweh to marry a prostitute by the name of Gomer as a symbol of Israel's playing the part of a whore searching for gods other than the one true God. He is to have children by her. Three children are born in this marriage. The first, a son, is named Jezreel, to symbolize that the house of Jehu will suffer for the bloody atrocities committed in the Valley of Jezreel by the founder of the dynasty when he annihilated the house of Omri. The second, a daughter, is named Lo Ruhama (Not pitied), to indicate that Yahweh was no longer to be patient with Israel, the northern kingdom. The third child, a son, is named Lo 'Ammi (Not my people), signifying that Yahweh was no longer to be the God of a people who had refused to keep the Covenant. In chapter 2, Hosea voiced what probably was a divorce formula--"she is not my wife, and I am not her husband"--to indicate that he had divorced his faithless wife Gomer, who kept "going after other lovers." The deeper symbolism is that Israel had abandoned Yahweh for the cult of Baal, celebrating the "feast days of Baal." Just as Yahweh will renew his Covenant with Israel, however, Hosea buys a woman for a wife--probably Gomer. The woman may have been a sacred prostitute in a Baal shrine, a concubine, or perhaps even a slave. He confines her for a period of time so that she will not engage in any attempt to search for other paramours and thus commit further adulteries.

The second section, chapters 4-14, does not refer to the marriage motif; but the imagery and symbolism of marriage constantly recur. The Israelites, in "a spirit of harlotry," have gone astray and have left their God. Their infidelity emphasized their lack of trustworthiness and real knowledge of love, a love that could not be camouflaged by superficial worship ceremonies. Thus, Hosea emphasized two very significant theological terms: hesed, or "Covenant love," and "knowledge of God." In attacking the superficiality of much of Israel's worship, Yahweh, through Hosea, proclaimed: "For I desire steadfast (Covenant) love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings." Because they have broken Yahweh's Covenant and transgressed his law, however, the Lord's anger "burns against them." For "they sow the wind and they shall reap the whirlwind." Israel will be punished for its rebellion and iniquities, but Hosea's message holds out the hope that the holiness of Yahweh's love--including both judgment and mercy--will effect a triumphant return of Israel to her true husband, Yahweh.

 

ii) Joel.

The Book of Joel, the second of the Twelve (Minor) Prophets, is a short work of only three chapters. The dates of Joel (whose name means "Yahweh is God") are difficult to ascertain. Some scholars believe that the work comes from the Persian period (539-331 BCE); others hold that it was written soon after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. His references to a locust plague may refer to an actual calamity that occurred; the prophet used the situation to call the people to repentance and lamentation, perhaps in connection with the festival of the New Year, the "Day of Yahweh." " 'Yet even now,' says the Lord, 'return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.' " Some scholars, however, believe that the plague of locusts refers to the armies of a foreign power (Babylonia?). In the remaining section of the book (chapter 2, verse 30 to chapter 3, verse 21), Joel, in apocalyptic imagery, predicts the judgment of the nations--especially Philistia and Phoenicia--and the restoration of Judah and Jerusalem.

 

iii) Amos.

The Book of Amos, the third of the Twelve (Minor) Prophets, has been one of the most significant and influential books of the Bible from the time it was written (8th century BCE) down to the 20th century. Comprising only nine chapters of oracles, it was composed during the age of Jeroboam II, king of Israel from 786 to 746 BCE. His reign was marked by great economic prosperity, but the rich were getting richer and the poor poorer. Social injustice ran rampant in the land. The economically weak could find no redress in the courts and no one to champion their cause--until the coming of Amos, a shepherd from Tekoa in Judah, who also said that he was "a dresser of sycamore trees." Amos, thus, was no professional prophet nor a member of a prophetic guild.

The book may be divided into three sections: (1) oracles against foreign nations and Israel (chapters 1-2); (2) oracles of indictment against Israel for her sins and injustices (chapters 3-6); and (3) visions and words of judgment (chapters 7-9). Amos was the first of the writing prophets, but his work may be composed of oracles issued both by himself and by disciples who followed his theological views.

His prophetic oracles begin with a resounding phrase: "The Lord roars from Zion." He then goes on to indict various nations--Syria, Philistia, Tyre, Ammon, and Moab--for the crimes and atrocities they have committed in times of peace: "Because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes--they . . . trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and turn aside the way of the afflicted" (chapter 2, verses 6-7).

The second section (chapters 3-6) contains some of the most vehement and cogent invectives against the social injustices perpetrated in Israel. Though the Israelites have prided themselves on being the elect of God, they have misinterpreted this election as privilege instead of responsibility. In chapter 4, Amos, in language that was sure to raise the ire of the privileged classes, attacked unnecessary indulgence and luxury. To the wealthy women of Samaria he said: "Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are in the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, 'Bring, that we may drink!' " (chapter 4, verse 1). After a series of warnings of punishment, Amos proclaimed the coming of the day of Yahweh, which is "darkness, and not light." His attacks against superficial pretenses to worship have become proverbial: "I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies" (chapter 5, verse 21). Another verse from Amos has become a rallying cry for those searching for social justice: "But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (chapter 5, verse 24).

The third section (chapters 7-9) contains visions of locusts as a sign of punishment, a summer drought as a sign of God's wrath, and a plumb line as a sign to test the faithfulness of Israel. The priest of the shrine at Bethel, Amaziah, resented Amos' incursion on his territory and told him to go back to his home in the south. In reply to Amaziah, Amos prophesied the bitter end of Amaziah's family. Another vision in chapter 8, that of a basket of ripe fruit, pointed to the fact that Israel's end was near. A fifth vision, depicting the collapse of the Temple in Samaria, symbolized the collapse of even the religious life of the northern kingdom. He ended his work with a prophecy that the Davidic monarchy would be restored.

 

iv) Obadiah.

The Book of Obadiah, the fourth book of the Twelve (Minor) Prophets, contains only 21 verses. Nothing is known about the prophet as a person or about his times. It may have been written before the Exile, though many scholars believe that it was composed either some time after 586 BCE or in the mid-5th century, when the Jews returned to the area around Jerusalem. The prophet concentrates on the judgment of God against Edom and other nations, with the final verses referring to the restoration of the Jews in their native land.

 

v) Jonah.

The Book of Jonah, containing the well-known story of Jonah in the stomach of a fish for three days, is actually a narrative about a reluctant prophet. This fifth book of the Twelve (Minor) Prophets contains no oracles and is thus unique among prophetic books. In II Kings, chapter 14, verses 25-27, there is a reference to a prophet Jonah who lived during the early part of the reign of Jeroboam II (8th century BCE).

The story, however, probably comes from a time after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. Probably living during the Exile, the author used the memory of the hated Assyrians to proclaim the mission of Israel--to teach all nations about the mercy and forgiveness of God. In the short book of four chapters, Jonah, Amittai's son, is commissioned by Yahweh to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, to preach repentance. Attempting to avoid the command of Yahweh, Jonah boarded a ship, which soon was caught up in a storm. The frightened sailors drew lots to discover who was the cause of their unfortunate and calamitous condition. Jonah drew the unlucky lot and was thrown overboard, after which he was swallowed by a fish and stayed in that uncomfortable place for three days and nights. After he cried to the Lord to let him out, the fish vomited Jonah out onto dry land. Jonah, though still reluctant, went to Nineveh to preach repentance. His efforts were successful, which did not please him--because of his hatred for the Assyrians. In the end, however, Jonah realized that God was a universal God, and not the sole property of Israel.

Probably written sometime between 500 and 350 BCE (or perhaps 250 BCE), the message of Jonah protested the exclusiveness of a post-exilic Judaism, with its policy of a pure blood race of Jews that the reformers Ezra and Nehemiah had implemented in the 5th century.

 

vi) Micah.

The Book of Micah, the sixth book of the Twelve (Minor) Prophets, was written by the prophet Micah in the 8th century BCE. Composed of seven chapters, the book is similar in many ways to the Book of Amos. Micah attacked the corruption of those in high places and social injustice, and the book is divided into two sections: (1) judgments against Judah and Jerusalem (chapters 1-3); and (2) promises of restoration for Judah and judgments against other nations (chapters 4-7).

In the first section, Micah of Moresheth utters oracles against the corrupt religious and political leaders of Israel and Judah. He also attacks the prophets who attempted to give the people false hopes: "Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who cry 'Peace' when they have something to eat, but declare war against him who puts nothing into their mouths . . . the seers shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame" (chapter 3, verses 5-7). In the second section, Israel's future is predicted as being glorious, and it is told that out of Bethlehem will come a ruler of the line of David who will bring peace to the earth. Though he issues an indictment against Judah for its idolatries, Micah proclaims what is necessary to renew the Covenant relationship between God and Israel; "and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (chapter 6, verse 8). In this verse, Micah has given a brief summation of the messages of Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah.

 

15) The last six minor prophets.

 

i) Nahum.

The Book of Nahum, seventh of the Twelve (Minor) Prophets, contains three chapters directed against the mighty nation of Assyria. Probably written between 626-612 BCE (the date of the destruction of Nineveh, the Assyrian capital), the book celebrates in oracles, hymns, and laments the fact that Yahweh has saved Judah from potential devastation by the Assyrians.

He begins with the words "The Lord is a jealous God and avenging . . . is slow to anger and of great might, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty" (chapter 1, verses 2-3). From that beginning he predicts the overthrow of Assyria and the devastating manner in which Nineveh will be destroyed.

 

ii) Habakkuk.

The Book of Habakkuk, the eighth book of the Twelve (Minor) Prophets, was written by a prophet difficult to identify. He may have been a professional prophet of the Temple from the 7th century BCE (probably between 605-597 BCE). Containing three chapters, Habakkuk combines lamentation and oracle. In the first chapter, he cries out for Yahweh to help his people: "O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and thou wilt not hear?" (chapter 1, verse 2). Though Yahweh will send mighty nations (e.g., the neo-Babylonians will be the executors of his judgment), Habakkuk wonders who will then stop these instruments of God's justice, who use great force. The answer comes in a brief, almost cryptic verse, "but the righteous shall live by his faith." The rest of chapter 2 pronounces a series of woes against those who commit social injustices and engage in debauchery. The last chapter is a hymn anticipating the deliverance to be wrought by Yahweh.

 

iii) Zephaniah.

The Book of Zephaniah, the ninth book of the Twelve (Minor) Prophets, is written in three chapters. Composed by the prophet Zephaniah in the latter part of the 7th century BCE, the book is an attack against corruption of worship in Judah, probably before the great Deuteronomic reform took place. Zephaniah attacked the religious syncretism that had become established, especially the worship of Baal and astral deities, and predicted the coming catastrophe of the "Day of the Lord." He denounced both foreign nations and Judah, but issued a promise of the restoration of Israel: "Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem" (chapter 3, verse 14). The reason for exultation is that Yahweh will deliver his people.

 

iv) Haggai.

The Book of Haggai, the 10th book of the Twelve (Minor) Prophets, is a brief work of only two chapters. Written about 520 BCE by the prophet Haggai, the book contains four oracles. The first oracle calls for Zerubbabel, the governor of Judaea, and Joshua, the high priest, to rebuild the Temple (chapter 1, verses 1-11). A drought and poor harvests, according to Haggai, had been caused because the returnees from the Exile had neglected or failed to rebuild the Temple. The second oracle, addressed to the political and religious leaders and the people, sought to encourage them in their rebuilding efforts (chapter 2, verses 1-9). Apparently they were disappointed that the new Temple was not as splendid as the former one, so Haggai reassured them: "My Spirit abides among you, fear not." The third oracle was issued against the people for not acting in a holy manner (chapter 2, verses 10-19), and the fourth proclaimed that Zerubbabel would be established as the Davidic ruler (chapter 2, verses 20-23). His promise, however, remained unfulfilled. (see also Index: Jerusalem, Temple of)

 

v) Zechariah.

The Book of Zechariah, the 11th book of the Twelve (Minor) Prophets, dates from the same period as that of Haggai--about 520 BCE. Though the book contains 14 chapters, only the first eight are oracles of the prophet; the remaining six probably came from a school of his disciples and contain various elaborations of Zechariah's eschatological themes.

Though little is known about Zechariah's life, he probably was one of the exiles who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. After an initial call to repentance (chapter 1, verses 1-6), Zechariah had a series of eight visions (chapter 1, verse 7 to chapter 6, verse 15). The first is of four horsemen who have patrolled the Earth to make sure that it is at rest. The second vision is of four horns (i.e., nations that have conquered Israel and Judah), which will be destroyed. The third vision is of a man with a measuring line, but Jerusalem will be beyond measurement. The fourth vision shows Joshua the high priest in the heavenly court being prosecuted by Satan (the celestial adversary) and the high priest's eventual acquittal and return to his high position. The fifth vision is of a golden lampstand and an olive tree to emphasize the important positions of Joshua and Zerubbabel, which these two figures symbolize. The sixth and seventh visions--of a flying scroll and a woman of wickedness--symbolize the removal of Judah's previous sins. The eighth vision of four chariots probably refers to the anticipated messianic reign of Zerubbabel, a hope that was thwarted. Chapters 7 and 8 concern fasting and the restoration of Jerusalem.

The remaining chapters--9-14--are additions that contain messianic overtones. Chapter 9, verses 9-10, with its reference to a king riding on the foal of an ass and to a vast kingdom of peace, was used by New Testament Gospel writers in reference to Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem prior to his crucifixion. The book closes on the note of the suffering Good Shepherd, the final battle between Jerusalem and the nations and eventual victory under God, and the universal reign of Yahweh, "king over all the earth."

 

vi) Malachi.

The Book of Malachi, the last of the Twelve (Minor) Prophets, was written by an anonymous writer called Malachi, or "my messenger." Perhaps written from about 500-450 BCE, the book is concerned with spiritual degradation, religious perversions, social injustices, and unfaithfulness to the Covenant. Priests are condemned for failing to instruct the people on their Covenant responsibilities, idolatry is attacked, and men are castigated for deliberately forgetting their marriage vows when their wives become older.

In chapter 3, the message is that Yahweh will send a messenger of the Covenant to prepare for, and announce, the day of judgment. If the people turn from their evil ways, God will bless them, and those who "feared the Lord" will be spared. The book ends with a call to remember the Covenant and with a promise to send Elijah, the 9th-century prophet who ascended into heaven in a whirlwind on a chariot, "before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes." (L.F.)

 

3. THE KETUVIM

 

1) Overview.

The Ketuvim (the Writings or the Hagiographa), the third division of the Hebrew Bible, comprises a miscellaneous collection of sacred writings that were not classified in either the Torah or the Prophets. The collection is not a unified whole: it includes liturgical poetry (Psalms and Lamentations of Jeremiah), secular love poetry (Song of Solomon), wisdom literature (Proverbs, Book of Job, and Ecclesiastes), historical works (I and II Chronicles, Book of Ezra, and Book of Nehemiah), apocalyptic, or vision, literature (Book of Daniel), a short story (Book of Ruth), and a romantic tale (Book of Esther); it ranges in content from the most entirely profane book in the Bible (Song of Solomon) to perhaps the most deeply theological (Job); it varies in mood from a pessimistic view of life (Job and Ecclesiastes) to an optimistic view (Proverbs). Psalms, Proverbs, and Job constitute the principal poetic literature of the Hebrew Bible and, in many respects, represent the high point of the Hebrew Bible as literature; in fact, Job must be considered one of the great literary products of man's creative spirit.

Although portions of some of the books of the Ketuvim (e.g., Psalms and Proverbs) were composed before the Babylonian Exile (586-538 BCE), the final form was post-exilic, and Daniel was not written until almost the middle of the 2nd century BCE. The books were not included in the prophetic collection because they did not fit the content or the historical-philosophical framework of that collection, because they were originally seen as purely human and not divine writings, or simply because they were written too late for inclusion. Although some of the books individually were accepted as canonical quite early, the collection of the Ketuvim as a whole, as well as some individual books within it, was not accepted as completed and canonical until well into the 2nd century CE. As noted above, there are several indications that the lapse of time between the canonization of the Prophets and of the Ketuvim was considerable; e.g., the practice of entitling the entire Scriptures "the Torah and the Prophets" and the absence of a fixed name.

The needs of the Hellenistic Jews in Alexandria and elsewhere in the Greek-speaking Diaspora led to the translation of the Bible into Greek. The process began with the Torah about the middle of the 3rd century BCE and continued for several centuries. In the Greek canon, as it finally emerged, the Ketuvim was eliminated as a corpus, and the books were redistributed, together with those of the prophetic collection, according to categories of literature, giving rise to a canon with four divisions: Torah, historical writings, poetic and didactic writings, and prophetic writings. Also, the order of the books was changed, and books not included in the Hebrew Bible were added. The early Christians of both the East and West generally cited and accepted as canonical the Scriptures according to the Greek version. When Protestants produced translations based upon the Hebrew original text and excluded or separated (as Apocrypha) the books not found in the Hebrew Bible, they retained the order and the divisions of the Greek Bible. Thus the Ketuvim is not to be found as a distinct collection in the Christian Old Testament. (see also Index: Septuagint)

An ancient tradition, preserved in the Babylonian Talmud, prescribed the following order for the Ketuvim: Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, Daniel, Esther, Ezra (which included Nehemiah), and I and II Chronicles. This sequence was chronological according to rabbinic notions of the authorship of the books. Ruth relates to the age of the judges and concludes with a genealogy of David; the Psalms were attributed, for the most part, to David; Job was assigned to the time of the Queen of Sheba, although the rabbis differed among themselves about the date of the hero; Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon were all attributed to Solomon; Lamentations, which was ascribed to Jeremiah, refers to the destruction of Jerusalem and the beginning of the Babylonian Exile; the heroes of Daniel were active until early in the reign of Cyrus II, the king of Persia who ended the exile; Esther pertains to the reign of Xerxes I, later than that of Cyrus but earlier than that of Artaxerxes I, the patron of Ezra, reputed also to have written I and II Chronicles.

Despite this tradition, however, it would appear that the sequence of the Ketuvim was not completely fixed, and there is a great variety in ordering found in manuscripts and early printed editions. The three larger books--Psalms, Job, and Proverbs--have always constituted a group, with Psalms first and the other two interchanging. The order of the five Megillot, or Scrolls (Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther), has shown the greatest variations. The order that has crystallized has a liturgical origin; the books are read on certain festival days in Jewish places of worship and are printed in the calendar order of those occasions. Chronicles always appears at either the beginning or the end of the corpus. Its final position is remarkable because the narrative of Ezra and Nehemiah follows that of Chronicles. The final position may have resulted from an attempt to place the books of the Hebrew Bible in a framework (Genesis and Chronicles both begin with the origin and development of the human race, and both conclude with the theme of the return to the land of Israel), but it was more probably the result of the late acceptance of Chronicles into the canon.

 

2) Psalms.

The Psalms (from Greek psalmas, "song") are poems and hymns, dating from various periods in the history of Israel, that were assembled for use at public worship and that have continued to play a central role in the liturgy and prayer life of both Jews and Christians. Known in Hebrew as Tehillim (Songs of Praise), the Psalter (the traditional English term for the Psalms, from the Greek psalterion, a stringed instrument used to accompany these songs) consists of 150 poems representing expressions of faith from many generations and diverse kinds of people. These unsystematic poems epitomize the theology of the entire Hebrew Bible.

Hebrew poetry has much in common with the poetry of most of the ancient Near East, particularly the Canaanite poetic literature discovered at Ras Shamra. Its main features are rhythm and parallelism. The rhythm, which is difficult to determine precisely because the proper pronunciation of ancient Hebrew is unknown, is based upon a system of stressed syllables that follows the thought structure of the poetic line. The line, or stich, is the basic verse unit, and each line of verse is normally a complete thought unit. The most common Hebrew line consists of two parts with three stresses to each part (3/3); thus:

Have-mercy-on-me,/O-God, in-your-goodness;

in-your-great-tenderness/wipe-away-my-faults.

(Ps.51:1)

Lines with three or four parts and parts with two, four, or five stresses also occur.

The lines present various kinds of parallelism of members, whereby the idea expressed in one part of a line is balanced by the idea in the other parts. The classical study on Hebrew parallelism was done by Robert Lowth, an 18th-century Anglican bishop, who distinguished three types: synonymous, antithetic, and synthetic. Synonymous parallelism involves the repetition in the second part of what has already been expressed in the first, while simply varying the words.

Yahweh, do not punish me in your rage,

or reprove me in the heat of anger.

(Ps. 38:1)

In antithetic parallelism the second part presents the same idea as the first by way of contrast or negation.

For Yahweh takes care of the way the virtuous go,

but the way of the wicked is doomed.

(Ps. 1:6)

Synthetic parallelism involves the completion or expansion of the idea of the first part in the second part.

As a doe longs for running streams,

so longs my soul for you, my God.

(Ps. 42:1)

Synthetic parallelism is a broad category that allows for many variations, one of which has the picturesque name "staircase" parallelism and consists of a series of parts or lines that build up to a conclusion.

Pay tribute to Yahweh, you sons of God,

tribute to Yahweh of glory and power,

tribute to Yahweh of the glory of his name,

worship Yahweh in his sacred court.

(Ps. 29:1-2)

Although it is evident that Hebrew poetry groups lines into larger units, the extent of this grouping and the principles on which it is based are uncertain. The acrostic poems are a notable exception to this general uncertainty.

The numeration of the Psalms found in the Hebrew Bible and those versions derived from it differs from that in the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the versions derived from them. The latter two join Psalms 9 and 10 and 114 and 115 but divide both 116 and 147 into two. The following scheme shows the differences:

Hebrew Septuagint-Vulgate

1-8 1-8

9-10 9

11-113 10-112

114-115 113

116 114-115

Hebrew Septuagint-Vulgate

117-146 116-145

147 146-147

148-150 148-150

Although Roman Catholic versions in the past have used the Septuagint-Vulgate way of numbering, recent translations have followed the Hebrew tradition.

The present form of the Psalter is the result of a lengthy literary history. It is divided into five books (Psalms 1-41; 42-72; 73-89; 90-106; and 107-150), probably in imitation of the five books of the Pentateuch. Psalm 1 serves as an introduction to the whole Psalter, while Psalm 150 is a final doxology (an expression of praise to God); the books are divided from each other by short doxologies that form the conclusions of the last psalm of each of the first four books. This division, however, appears to be artificial. There are indications, cutting across the present divisions, that the book was a compilation of existing collections. That there were several collections existing side by side is seen in the way that certain psalms (e.g., Psalms 14 and 53) duplicate each other almost word for word. At some phase of the Psalter's development there must have been an Elohistic collection (Psalms 42-83) distinguished by the use of the divine name Elohim in place of Yahweh, which is far more common in the rest of the psalms. There appear to be two distinct collections of psalms ascribed to David, one Yahwistic (Psalms 3-41) and the other Elohistic (Psalms 51-72). Further evidence of the book's gradual growth may be seen in the editorial gloss following Psalm 72; it purports to conclude the "prayers of David," although there are more Davidic psalms.

The superscriptions found on most of the psalms are obscure but point to the existence of earlier collections. Psalms are attributed to David, Asaph, and the sons of Korah, among others. It is generally held that Asaph and the sons of Korah indicate collections belonging to guilds of temple singers. Other possible collections include the Songs of Ascents, probably pilgrim songs in origin, the Hallelujah Psalms, and a group of 55 psalms with a title normally taken to mean "the choirmaster."

It is evident that the process whereby these various collections were formed and then combined was extremely complex. The investigation of the process is made difficult because individual psalms and whole collections underwent constant development and adaptation. Thus, for example, private prayers became liturgical, songs of local sanctuaries were adapted to use in the Temple, and psalms that became anachronistic by reason of the fall of the monarchy or the destruction of the Temple were reworked to fit a contemporary situation. Such problems complicate the determination of the date and original occasion of the psalm.

For centuries both Jews and Christians ascribed the whole Psalter to David, just as they ascribed the Pentateuch to Moses and much of the wisdom literature to Solomon. This was thought to be supported by the tradition that David was a musician, a poet, and an organizer of the liturgical cult and also by the attribution of 73 psalms to David in the superscriptions found in the Hebrew Bible. These superscriptions, however, need not refer to authorship. Moreover, it is clear that David could not have written all the psalms attributed to him because some of them presuppose the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem, which was not constructed until later. Contrary to the long-established Davidic authorship tradition, at the end of the 19th century most biblical critics spoke of a Persian date (539-333 BCE) and even of the Maccabean era (mid-2nd century BCE) for the majority of the psalms. In the 20th century the Psalter has been considered to be a collection of poems that reflect all periods of Israel's history from before the monarchy to the post-exilic restoration, and it is thought that David played a central role in the formation of the religious poetry of the Jewish people. Scholars, however, are reluctant to assign precise dates.

The most important contribution to modern scholarship on the Psalter has been the work of Hermann Gunkel, a German biblical scholar, who applied form criticism to the psalms. Form criticism is the English name for the study of the literature of the Bible that seeks to separate its literary units and classify them into types or categories (Gattungen) according to form and content, to trace their history, and to reconstruct the particular situation in life or setting (Sitz im Leben) that gave rise to the various types. This approach does not ignore the personal role of individual composers and their dates, but it recognizes that Hebrew religion, conservative in faith and practice, was more concerned with the typical than with the individual and that it expressed this concern in formal, conventional categories. The study is aided by viewing them in the context of similar literary works in the earlier or contemporary cultures of the ancient Near East.

Gunkel identified five major types of psalms, each cultic in origin. The first type, the Hymn, is a song of praise, consisting of an invitation to praise Yahweh, an enumeration of the reasons for praise (e.g., his work of creation, his steadfast love), and a conclusion which frequently repeats the invitation. The life setting of the hymns was generally an occasion of common worship. Two subgroups within this type are the Songs of Zion, which glorify Yahweh's presence in the city of Jerusalem, and the Enthronement Songs, which--though their number, setting, and interpretation have been the subject of much debate--acclaim Yahweh's kingship over the whole world.

The second type is the Communal Lament. Its setting was some situation of national calamity, when a period of prayer, fasting, and penitence would be observed. In such psalms Yahweh is invoked, the crisis is described, Yahweh's help is sought, and confidence that the prayer has been heard is expressed.

The Royal Psalms are grouped on the basis not of literary characteristics but of content. They all have as their life setting some event in the life of the pre-exilic Israelite kings; e.g., accession to the throne, marriage, departure for battle. Gunkel pointed out that in ancient Israel the king was thought to have a special relationship to Yahweh and thus played an important role in Israelite worship. With the fall of the monarchy, these psalms were adapted to different cultic purposes.

In the Individual Lament an individual worshipper cries out to Yahweh in time of need. The structure of these psalms includes: an invocation of Yahweh, the complaint, the request for help, an expression of certainty that Yahweh will hear and answer the prayer, and in many cases a vow to offer a thanksgiving sacrifice. Three aspects have been the subject of extensive study: the identity of the "enemies" who are often the reason for the complaint; the meaning of the term poor, which is frequently used to describe the worshipper; and the sudden transition in mood to certainty that the prayer has been heard. Psalms of this type form the largest group in the Psalter.

The final major type is the Individual Song of Thanksgiving, which presumably had its setting in the thanksgiving sacrifice offered after a saving experience. These psalms begin and conclude with an exclamation of praise to Yahweh. The body of the psalm contains two elements: the story of the one who has been saved and the recognition that Yahweh was the rescuer.

Gunkel also distinguished several minor types of psalms, including Wisdom Poems, Liturgies, Songs of Pilgrimage, and Communal Songs of Thanksgiving.

For Gunkel, although the types of the psalms were originally cultic, the majority of the poems in the existing Psalter were composed privately in imitation of the cultic poems and were intended for a more personal, "spiritualized" worship. Most biblical scholars since Gunkel have accepted his classifications, with perhaps some modifications, but have focussed increased attention on the setting, the Sitz im Leben, in which the psalms were sung. Sigmund Mowinckel, a Norwegian scholar, explained the psalms as wholly cultic both in origin and in intention. He attempted to relate more than 40 psalms to a hypothetical autumnal New Year festival at which the enthronement of Yahweh as the universal king was commemorated; the festival was associated with a similar Babylonian celebration. Artur Weiser, a German scholar, sought the cultic milieu of the Hebrew psalms especially in an annual feast of covenant renewal, which was uniquely Israelite.

Psalms is a source book for the beliefs contained in the entire Hebrew Bible. Yet, doctrines are not expounded, for this is a book of the songs of Israel that describe the way Yahweh was experienced and worshipped. Yahweh is creator and saviour; Israel is his elected people to whom he remains faithful. The enemies of this people are the enemies of Yahweh. In these songs are found the entire range of basic human feelings and attitudes before God--praise, fear, trust, thanksgiving, faith, lament, joy. The book of Psalms has thus endured as the basic prayerbook for Jews and Christians alike.

 

3) Proverbs.

Proverbs is probably the oldest extant document of the Hebrew wisdom movement, of which King Solomon was the founder and patron. Wisdom literature flourished throughout the ancient Near East, with Egyptian examples dating back to before the middle of the 3rd millennium BCE. It revolved around the professional sages, or wise men, and scribes in the service of the court, and consisted primarily in maxims about the practical, intelligent way to conduct one's life and in speculations about the very worth and meaning of human life. The most common form of these wise sayings, which were intended for oral instruction especially in the schools run by the sages for the young men at the court, was the mashal (Hebrew: "comparison" or "parable," although frequently translated "proverb"). Typically a pithy, easily memorized aphoristic saying based on experience and universal in application, the mashal in its simplest and oldest form was a couplet in which a definition was given in two parallel lines related to each other either antithetically or synthetically. Verse 5 of the 15th chapter of Proverbs is an example of a simple antithetic saying:

He who spurns his father's discipline is a fool,

he who accepts correction is discreet.

Other forms of the mashal, such as parables, riddles, allegories, and ultimately full-scale compositions developed later. The word mashal was derived from a root that meant "to rule," and thus a proverb was conceived as an authoritative word.

The two principal types of wisdom--one practical and utilitarian, the other speculative and frequently pessimistic--arose both within and outside Israel. Practical wisdom consisted chiefly of wise sayings that appealed to experience and offered prudential guidelines for a successful and happy life. Such wisdom is found in a collection of sayings bearing the name of Ptahhotep, a vizier to the Egyptian pharaoh about 2450 BCE, in which the sage counsels his son that the path to material success is by way of proper etiquette, strict discipline, and hard work. Although such instructions were largely materialistic and political, they were moral in character and contributed to a well-ordered society.

Speculative wisdom went beyond maxims of conduct and reflected upon the deeper problems of the value of life and of good and evil. Examples are found in ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian texts -- particularly Ludlul bel nemeqi, often called the "Babylonian Job"--in which sensitive poets pessimistically addressed such questions as the success of the wicked, the suffering of the innocent, and, in short, the justice of human life.

Hebrew wisdom, which owed much to that of its neighbours, appeared with the establishment of the monarchy and a royal court and found a patron in Solomon. Through the following centuries the wise men were at times the object of rebuke by the prophets, who disliked their pragmatic realism. The exile, however, brought a change in Hebrew wisdom; it became deeply religious. The wise men were convinced that religion alone possessed the key to life's highest values. It was this mood that dominated the final shaping of the Hebrew wisdom literature. Though dependent on older materials and incorporating documents from before the exile, the wisdom books in their present form were produced after the exile. In the Hebrew Bible the book of Proverbs offers the best example of practical wisdom, while Job and Ecclesiastes give expression to speculative wisdom. Some of the psalms and a few other brief passages are also representative of this type of literature. Among the Apocrypha, the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus are wisdom books.

The book of Proverbs is a collection of units originally independent, some of which can be traced back to the era of Solomon. The present form of the book was the result of a long process of growth that was not completed until post-exilic times. It consists of two principal collections of early origin called "the proverbs of Solomon" and "proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied." Appendixes were added to each of the collections. The whole book was preceded by a long introduction and concludes with a poem praising the ideal wife. In addition to sectional titles, changes in literary form and in subject matter help to mark off the limits of the various units, which can be ordered into nine sections.

The introduction (chapters 1-9) constitutes the youngest unit in the book. It consists of a series of poems or discourses in which a father exhorts his son to acquire wisdom and in which wisdom personified intervenes. These chapters have a more speculative quality than the remainder of the book. They do not treat wisdom simply as a human quality and achievement or as a cultural legacy imparted by teachers and parents; they present it as a universal and abiding reality, transcending the human scene. Wisdom is the first of God's works and participated with him in the creation of the world. A constantly debated aspect of this section concerns the identity of "the loose [strange] woman" who is set over against Wisdom.

The "proverbs of Solomon" (10:1-22:16) consist entirely of parallelistic couplets--the mashal in its primitive form. There are 375 aphorisms each complete in itself and arranged in no apparent order. The motivation of this section, in contrast to the preceding, is strongly practical: wisdom is a human achievement by means of which man's life can be fulfilled. The wise are contrasted with fools, and the just with the wicked. It is difficult, however, to establish the nature of the difference, if any, between the wicked and the fool or between the just and the wise.

The "sayings of the wise" (22:17-24:22) consist of longer units or sayings introduced by a preface. The most distinctive feature of this section is its close relationship to a piece of Egyptian writing, "The Instruction of Amenemope," which has been dated within the broad limits of 1000-600 BCE. The Hebrew author apparently used this work as a model--the Egyptian work comprises 30 chapters, and the Hebrew text refers to its "thirty sayings"--and as one of the sources in compiling his own anthology. An additional collection of four wise sayings (24:23-34) forms a supplement to the "sayings of the wise."

The second collection of "proverbs of Solomon" (chapters 25-29) consists of 128 sayings that closely resemble the earlier collection, although quatrains as well as couplets are included. The scribes of Hezekiah's court (c. 700 BCE) are credited with assembling this collection.

The book concludes with four independent units or collections. The "words of Agur" (30:1-14) differs sharply in spirit and substance from the rest of Proverbs; it has much closer affinities with the book of Job, stressing the inaccessibility of wisdom for man. There is no internal evidence, such as a continuous theme, to show that these 14 verses are a single unit; but in the Septuagint they stand together between the "sayings of the wise" and its supplement. The "numerical sayings" (30:15-33) contain elements of riddle and show a special interest in the wonders of nature and the habits of animals. The "instruction of Lemuel" (31:1-9) is an example of the importance of maternal advice to a ruler in the ancient Near East. Lemuel seems to have been a tribal chieftain of northwest Arabia, in the region of Edom. The final section (31:10-31) is an alphabetical poem in praise of the "perfect wife," who is celebrated for her domestic virtues.

The wisdom movement constituted a special aspect of the religious and cultural development of ancient Israel. As the primary document of the movement, Proverbs bears a clear impress of this distinctive character, so that in many respects it presents a sharp contrast to the outlook and emphases of Israel's faith as attested in the Hebrew Scriptures generally. This contrast also marks Job and Ecclesiastes, however greatly they may differ from Proverbs in other respects.

Proverbs never refers to Israel's history. In the Hebrew Bible as a whole, this history is constantly recalled not so much for social or political reasons as to declare the faith of Israel that God has acted in its history to redeem his people and make known to them the character of his rule. The great themes of the promise to the patriarchs, the deliverance from slavery, the making of the Covenant at Mt. Sinai, the wilderness wandering, and the inheritance of Canaan were celebrated in Israel's worship to tell the story of God's revelation of himself and of his choice of Israel. None of this is alluded to in Proverbs. The implication seems to be that for Proverbs God's revelation of himself is given in the universal laws and patterns characteristic of nature, especially human nature, rather than in a special series of historical events; that is, the revelation of God is in the order of creation rather than in the order of redemption. Moreover, the meaning of this revelation is not immediately self-evident but must be discovered by men. This discovery is an educational discipline that trusts human reason and employs research, classifying and interpreting the results and bequeathing them as a legacy to future generations. The wise are those who systematically dedicate themselves to this discovery of the "way" of God.

Unlike Job and Ecclesiastes, Proverbs (with the exception of the "words of Agur") is optimistic in that it assumes that wisdom is attainable by those who seek and follow it; that is, man can discover enough about God and his law to ensure the fulfillment of his personal life. This character of God is conceived almost entirely in terms of ethical laws, and the rewards for their observance are defined in terms of human values; e.g., health, long life, respect, possessions, security, and self-control.

Because God is apprehended in static terms, rather than dynamic as elsewhere in the Bible, the viewpoint of Proverbs is anthropocentric. Man's destiny depends upon his responsible action. There is no appeal to divine mercy, intervention, or forgiveness; and the divine judgment is simply the inexorable operation of the orders of life as God has established them. Implicit in the book is an aristocratic bias. The wise constitute an elite nurtured by inheritance, training, and self-discipline; fools are those who can never catch up, because of either the determinism of birth or the wasted years of neglect. In its social and cultural attitudes, the book is probably the most conservative in the Bible: wealth and status are most important; obedience to the king and all authorities is inculcated; industry and diligence are fostered, for hunger, poverty, and slavery are the fate of the lazy; and age and accepted conventions are accorded great respect.

 

4) Job.

The Book of Job is not only the finest expression of the Hebrew poetic genius; it must also be accorded a place among the greatest masterpieces of world literature. The work is grouped with Proverbs and Ecclesiastes as a product of the wisdom movement, even though it contains what might be called an anti-wisdom strain in that the hero protests vehemently against the rationalistic ethics of the sages. Yet it is the supreme example among ancient texts of speculative wisdom in which a man attempts to understand and respond to the human situation in which he exists. (see also Index: Job, The Book of)

The Book of Job consists of two separate portions. The bulk of the work is an extended dialogue between the hero and his friends and eventually Yahweh himself in poetic form. The poem is set within the framework of a short narrative in prose form. The book falls into five sections: a prologue (chapters 1 and 2); the dialogue between Job and his friends (3-31); the speeches of Elihu (32-37); the speeches of Yahweh and Job's reply (38-42:6); and an epilogue (42:7-17).

The prologue and epilogue are the prose narrative. This is probably an old folktale recounting the story of Job, an Edomite of such outstanding piety that he is mentioned by the prophet Ezekiel in conjunction with Noah and Daniel. The name Job was common in antiquity, being found in texts ranging from the 19th to the 14th century BCE. Whether the folktale is preserved in its original oral form or whether it has been retold by the poet of the dialogue is not known. The fact that an Edomite sheikh is commended by the Hebrew God, however, suggests a date before the 6th century BCE, for Jewish distrust of Edomites became intense during the exile, and the archaic language makes a date in the 8th century probable.

Job is pictured as an ideal patriarch who has been rewarded for his piety with material prosperity and happiness. The Satan (Accuser), a member of the heavenly council of Yahweh, acts with Yahweh's permission as an agent provocateur to test whether or not Job's piety is rooted in self-interest. Faced with the appalling loss of his worldly possessions, his children, and finally his own health, Job refuses to curse Yahweh. His capacity for trusting Yahweh's goodness has made him an unsurpassed model of patience. Three of Job's friends, whose names identify them also as Edomites, now arrive to comfort him. At this point the poetic dialogue begins. The conclusion of the tale, as given in the epilogue, describes the restoration of Job, who receives double his original possessions and lives to a ripe old age.

The picture of Job that is presented in the poetic portion is radically different. Instead of the patient and loyal servant of Yahweh, he is an anguished and indignant sufferer, who violently protests the way Yahweh is treating him and displays a variety of moods ranging from utter despair, in which he cries out accusingly against Yahweh, to bold confidence, in which he calls for a hearing before Yahweh. Most scholars have dated this section to the 4th century BCE, but there is a growing tendency to regard it as two centuries earlier, during the period of the exile. This precise dating is based on the fact that the dialogue shows clear literary dependence on Jeremiah, whereas equally obvious connections with Deutero-Isaiah suggest the dependence of the latter on Job.

The poem opens with a heartrending soliloquy by Job in which the sufferer curses the day of his birth. The shocked friends are roused from their silence, and there follow three cycles of speeches (chapters 4-14, 15-21, and 22-27) in which the friends speak in turn. To each such speech Job makes a reply. The personalities of the friends are skillfully delineated, Eliphaz appearing as a mystic in the prophetic tradition, Bildad as a sage who looks to the authority of tradition, and Zophar as an impatient dogmatist who glibly expounds what he regards as the incomprehensible ways of God.

Eliphaz begins the first cycle by recounting a mystical vision that revealed to him the transcendence of God and the fact that all men are by nature morally frail. He suggests that suffering may be disciplinary, although this is irrelevant to Job's plight. Finally, he urges contrite submission to Yahweh. Job chides his friends for failing him in his hour of need and charges God with being his tormentor.

Bildad suggests that the fault may have lain in Job's children and reiterates Eliphaz' call to humble submission. Job then retorts that the doctrine of Yahweh's omnipotence is no answer but a serious problem, because Yahweh appears to be merely omnipotent caprice. He is convinced that if he could only meet Yahweh in open debate he would be vindicated, but he recognizes the need for an impartial third party who could intervene and protect him from Yahweh's overpowering might.

Zophar re-echoes his predecessors' views on Yahweh but goes the full length of accusing Job himself of sin and once more urges Job to a contrition that for him could only be hypocritical. Job continues to insist that Yahweh is capricious and defiantly challenges him but is bewildered when no reply is forthcoming. His longing for death as a welcome release leads him to ask whether man might not hope for a revival after death, but this daring hope is immediately rejected.

The second cycle opens with Eliphaz accusing Job of blasphemy and almost exultantly describing the fate of the wicked. In his reply Job returns to the idea of a third party to the debate. Now, however, this umpire or judge has become an advocate, a counsel for the defense. After Bildad has again elaborated on the fate of the wicked, Job states that a Vindicator, or Redeemer (Go`el), will establish his innocence. The Vindicator of this crucial but sadly corrupted passage (19:25-27) has long been identified with God himself, so that according to some scholars Job "appeals away from the God of orthodox theology to God as He must be." A few scholars, however, recognize the Vindicator as the third party (the "umpire" or "witness") of earlier chapters. It is also unclear whether this vindication will take place before or after Job's death. Then Zophar, though freely admitting that the wicked may indeed enjoy some prosperity, describes how they fall victim to inevitable nemesis. Job maintains that the wicked do not end thus but live on to an old age.

Eliphaz begins the third cycle by accusing Job at last of specific sins and again counsels Job to humble himself before Yahweh. But Job cannot find this God, who seems to be completely indifferent to him. The conclusion of the dialogue is in serious disorder, with speeches placed in Job's mouth that could only have been uttered by the friends. The final speech of Zophar, which is omitted, seems to be represented by a fragment preserved within the third reply of Job.

Chapter 28 is regarded as a later addition by most scholars, because it is hardly in place at this juncture in the dialogue, especially in the mouth of Job. It is a magnificent hymn in praise of wisdom. Chapters 29-31 contain a monologue by Job; in them occurs an adumbration of the highest moral ideal to be found in the Hebrew Bible.

Although a few scholars have maintained that the speeches of Elihu formed part of the original work, most reject this section as a later insertion. The speeches merely reiterate the dogmas of the friends and unduly delay the appearance of Yahweh. Although the section is in poetic form, its style is different from that of the dialogue. Significantly, there is no mention of Elihu in the dialogue or anywhere else in the book, yet the Elihu speeches are familiar with the dialogue, frequently quoting verbatim from it. Chapter 32 is of interest, because it appears to contain the writer's notes and comments on the dialogue, often citing passages from it. Worthy of notice is the writer's emphasis on the disciplinary value of suffering.

The climax of the poem is reached in the speeches of Yahweh, who appears in a majestic theophany--a whirlwind--and reveals himself to Job in three speeches interspersed with two short speeches by Job. Biblical scholars have often questioned whether this section--especially the descriptions of Behemoth (the hippopotamus) and Leviathan (the crocodile) in the second Yahweh speech--is a genuine part of the original poem, but there is no doubt that their presence at this point in the book is a dramatic triumph. Throughout these speeches Yahweh does not offer rational answers to Job's questions and accusations; he raises the discussion to a new perspective. With heavy irony Yahweh puts to Job a series of unanswerable questions about the mysteries of the universe; if, the writer is asking, Job is unable to answer the simple questions about the divine activity in the marvels of nature, how can Yahweh explain to him the deeper mystery of his dealings with men. Job's personal problem is ignored, yet he finds his answer in this direct encounter with Yahweh:

I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear,

but now my eye sees thee;

therefore I despise myself,

and repent in dust and ashes.

Job stands in a new relationship to Yahweh, one no longer based on hearsay but the result of an act of personal faith expressed in repentance.

A few scholars, beginning in the mid-18th century, have attempted to demonstrate the influence of Greek tragedy upon the form of the book. This has not met with acceptance by most critics; its long monologues are not truly dramatic in nature. Neither is it a philosophical discussion in the style of the Platonic dialogues. It is a deeply religious poem with dramatic possibilities. It skillfully blends many genres: folktale, hymn, individual lament, prophetic oracle, and didactic poem.

The author remains quite unknown except for a few hints provided by the book itself. That he was a Jew is assumed because of his familiarity with much of the Hebrew literature. Nevertheless, the book does not have a Hebrew setting, it is pervaded with foreign elements, and it shows a special knowledge of Egypt, thus leading many to believe that he was well travelled or lived outside the Holy Land. He was a keen observer of the natural world, and his feeling for the agony of the sufferer is a compelling argument that he had known anguish.

The book touches on many subjects, such as disinterested obedience to God under testing, innocent suffering, social oppression, religious experience and pious suffering, a man's relation to God, and the nature of God. Scholars have attempted to discover the basic message of the author. Because of the greater difficulty in understanding the Job of the poetic portion, the traditional interpretation looked to the narrative and saw the message as the need for patient bearing and faith despite tribulation. When certain poetic passages were thought to point to a belief in the resurrection of the body, Job became not only a patient sufferer but also a prophet of the resurrection. This view, however, does not account for the Job of the poetic portion. Thus, in the 19th century, with the advancement of biblical criticism, scholars began to claim that the author was dealing with the problem of unmerited suffering. The book presents a deep view of suffering, and Job's experience teaches that man must rest in faith and resign himself to the incomprehensible ways of God.

It would seem, however, that the question raised by Job is both deeper and broader than the question of how to account for the infliction of physical adversity on the innocent. Job's physical suffering is the outward symbol of his intense inward agony, the agony of a man who feels himself lost in a meaningless universe and abandoned even by God. What torments Job--and the author--is the question of the justice of God and the justice and honour of man before God. His passionate pleading of his own righteousness and his calling upon God for a hearing lead him to an encounter with God. This encounter does not answer the question of why the innocent suffer, but it is the only answer to the plea of a man seeking to find his God and to justify himself to him. The complacent believer who has been shattered by suffering, doubt, and despair is confirmed in faith and repents.

 

5) The Megillot (the Scrolls).

The five books known as the Megillot or Scrolls are grouped together as a unit in modern Hebrew Bibles according to the order of the annual religious festivals on which they are read in the synagogues of the Ashkenazim (central and eastern European Jews and their descendants). They did not originally form a unit and were found scattered in the Bible in their supposed historical position. In the so-called Leningrad Codex of the year 1008 CE, on which the third and subsequent editions of Biblica Hebraica edited by Rudolf Kittel are based, the five are grouped together but in a historical order. Nevertheless, their appearance usually follows the order of the liturgical calendar:

The five books have little in common apart from their roles in the liturgy. Although the Song of Solomon and Lamentations are poetic in form and Ruth and Esther are stories of heroines, the contrast in the moods and purposes of both pairs sharply distinguishes the books. Ecclesiastes is a product of the Hebrew wisdom movement and exhibits the most pessimistic tone of any book in the Hebrew Bible.

 

i) Song of Solomon.

The Song of Solomon (also called Song of Songs and Canticle of Canticles) consists of a series of love poems in which lovers describe the physical beauty and excellence of their beloved and their sexual enjoyment of each other. The Hebrew title of the book mentions Solomon as its author, but this seems improbable, primarily because of the late vocabulary of the work. Although the poems may date from an earlier period, the present form of the book is late, perhaps as late as the 3rd century BCE, and its author remains unknown.

The Song of Solomon has been interpreted in different ways, four of which are noteworthy. The allegorical interpretation takes the book as an allegory of God's love for Israel or of Christ's love for the church. Such a view seems gratuitous and incompatible with the sensuous character of the poems. The dramatic interpretation is based on the dialogue form of much of the book and attempts to find a plot involving either a maiden in Solomon's court and the King or the maiden, the King, and a shepherd lover. The absence of drama in Semitic literatures and the episodic character of the book make this theory highly improbable. The cultic-mythological interpretation connects the book with the fertility cults of the ancient Near Eastern world. The condemnation in the Hebrew Bible of such rituals makes it difficult to accept this view, unless it is assumed that the original meaning of the poems was forgotten. The literal interpretation considers it to be a collection of secular love poems, without any religious implications, that may have been sung at wedding festivities. According to this commonly accepted view, the poems were received into the biblical canon despite their secular nature and their lack of mention of God because they were attributed to Solomon and because they were understood as wedding songs and marriage was ordained by God.

The reasons for the Song of Solomon being read at Passover, which celebrates the Exodus from Egypt, are not entirely clear. Possibly, they include the fact that spring is referred to in the book and that according to the allegorical interpretation the book could refer to God's love for Israel, which is so well evidenced by the events of the Exodus and especially the Covenant at Mt. Sinai.

 

ii) Ruth.

The Book of Ruth is a beautiful short story about a number of good people, particularly the Moabite great-grandmother of David. Though events are set in the time of the judges, linguistic and other features suggest that the present form dates from post-exilic times. But it gives the impression of being based on an ancient tradition, perhaps on written source. It was certainly grounded on a solid core of fact, for no one would have invented a Moabite ancestress for Israel's greatest king.

The book describes how, during a time of famine, Elimelech, a Bethlehemite, travelled to Moab with his wife, Naomi, and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. After his death, the sons married Moabite women, and then they too died, leaving no children. There was thus no one to keep the family line alive and no one to provide for Naomi. Ruth, the widow of Mahlon, dedicated herself to the care of Naomi and insisted on returning with her to her native land and adopting her God. They arrived in Bethlehem during the harvest, and Ruth went out to work for the two women in the field of Boaz, a wealthy landowner. Naomi urged Ruth to seek marriage with Boaz because he was a kinsman of her late husband, and the firstborn son of such a marriage would count as a son of the deceased. (This resembles the levirate marriage that obliged a man to marry the widow of his deceased brother if the brother died without male issue.) Ruth crept under Boaz' cloak while he slept, and he accepted the implied proposal of marriage. After a nearer kinsman forfeited his claim to Ruth, Boaz married her and a son was born. Thus, loyal Ruth was provided with an excellent husband, the dead Mahlon with a son to keep his name alive, and Naomi with a grandson to support her in her old age.

Many purposes have been assigned to the book: to entertain, to delineate the ancestry of David, to uphold levirate marriage as a means of perpetuating a family name, to commend loyalty in family relationships, to protest the narrowness of Ezra and Nehemiah, the leaders of the post-exilic restoration in relation to marriages with non-Jews, to inculcate kindness toward converts to Judaism, to teach that a person who becomes a worshipper of Yahweh will be blessed by him, and to illustrate the providence of God in human affairs. The book may have served all these "purposes," but the author's objective cannot be determined with certainty.

 

iii) Lamentations of Jeremiah.

The Lamentations of Jeremiah consists of five poems (chapters) in the form of laments for Judah and Jerusalem when they were invaded and devastated by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, for the sufferings of the population, and for the poet himself during and after the catastrophe. These grief-stricken laments are intermingled with abject confessions of sin and prayers for divine compassion. The first four poems are alphabetic acrostics; the fifth is not, although like the others it has 22 stanzas, which is the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The formal structure served as a mnemonic device and perhaps was meant to convey the note of wholeness, of Israel's total grief, penitence, and hope. The moving quality of these elegies has suited them for liturgical use. Besides their place in the Jewish liturgy commemorating the anniversary of the destruction of Jerusalem, the laments are employed by the Christian Church to pour out its grief over the Passion and death of Jesus Christ.

Most critics place the composition of the book before the return of the Jews from exile in 537/536 BCE. Certain passages appear to be word pictures by an eyewitness and would, therefore, have been written shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem. Until the 18th century, the work was universally ascribed to the prophet Jeremiah, and this was supported by a prologue found in the Septuagint and in some manuscripts of the Vulgate. Since that time, however, many scholars have rejected the attribution to Jeremiah chiefly because the ideas and sentiments expressed in Lamentations are unlike those in Jeremiah. Moreover, it is unlikely that the spontaneity and naturalness so characteristic of Jeremiah's utterances could be accommodated to a poetic form as complicated and artificial as that in Lamentations. It is probable that the laments were the product of more than one poet.

 

iv) Ecclesiastes.

The book of Ecclesiastes is a work of the Hebrew wisdom movement, associated by its title and by tradition with King Solomon. It is evident, however, that the book is of much later composition; the author may have identified himself with the famous king and wise man of the past to give greater authority to his work. The language of the book, including the relatively large number of Aramaic forms, and its content point to a date in the early Greek period (later 4th or early 3rd century BCE). That the book was written prior to the 2nd century BCE, however, is shown by its influence on Ecclesiasticus, which was written early in that century, and its appearance among the manuscripts discovered at Khirbat Qumran, on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, where a Jewish community existed in the mid-2nd century.

The name Ecclesiastes is a transliteration of the Greek word used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew Qohelet, a word connected with the noun qahal ("assembly"). Qohelet seems to mean the one who gathers or teaches an assembly; the author used the word as a pseudonym. He appears to be a wisdom teacher writing late in life expressing skeptical personal reflections in a collection of popular maxims of the day and longer compositions of his own. The book has been described as a sage's notebook of random observations about life. Some interpreters have questioned the unity of authorship, but, given the notebook character of the work, there seems to be little need for questioning its basic integrity.

Although the phrase "vanity of vanities! all is vanity" stressed at both the beginning and the end of the book sums up its theme, it does not convey the variety of tests that the skeptical Qohelet applies to life. He examines everything--material things, wisdom, toil, wealth--and finds them unable to give meaning to life. He repeatedly returns to life's uncertainties, to the hidden and incomprehensible ways of God, and to the stark and final fact of death. The only conclusion to this human condition is to accept gratefully the small day-to-day pleasures that God gives to man.

Qohelet stands in sharp contrast to the conventional wisdom schools. He recognizes the relative value of wisdom as against foolishness, but he rejects the oversimplified and optimistic view of wisdom as security for life. He offers a religious skepticism that rejects all facile answers to life's mysteries and God's ways.

 

v) Book of Esther.

The Book of Esther is a romantic and patriotic tale, perhaps with some historical basis but with so little religious purpose that God, in fact, is not mentioned in it. The book may have been included in the Hebrew canon only for the sake of sanctioning the celebrations of the festival Purim, the Feast of Lots. There is considerable evidence that the stories related in Esther actually originated among Gentiles (Persian and Babylonian) rather than among the Jews. There is also reason to believe that the version given in the Septuagint goes back to older sources than the version given in the Hebrew Bible.

Laying the scene at Susa, a residential city of the Persian kings, the book narrates that Haman, the vizier and favourite of King Ahasuerus (Xerxes I; reigned 486-465 BCE), determined by lot that the 13th of Adar was the day on which the Jews living in the Persian Empire were to be slain. Esther, a beautiful Jewish woman whom the King had chosen as queen after repudiating Queen Vashti, and her cousin and foster father Mordecai were able to frustrate Haman's plans. Haman then schemed to have Mordecai hanged; instead, he was sent to the gallows erected for Mordecai, and Jews throughout the empire were given permission to defend themselves on the day set for their extermination. The governors of the provinces learned in time that Mordecai, who had saved the King from being assassinated by two discontented courtiers, had succeeded to Haman's position as vizier; thus, they supported the Jews in the fight against their enemies.

In the provinces, the Jews celebrated their victory on the following day, but at Susa, where, at Esther's request, the King permitted them to continue to fight on the 14th of Adar, they rested and celebrated their success a day later. Therefore, Esther and Mordecai issued a decree obligating the Jews henceforth to commemorate these events on both the 14th and 15th of Adar.

Theme and language characterize Esther as one of the latest books of the Hebrew Bible, probably dating from the 2nd century BCE. Nothing is known of its author. According to the postbiblical sources, its inclusion in the canon, as well as the observance of the feast of the 14th and 15th of Adar, still met with strong opposition on the part of the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem as late as the 3rd century CE; yet, despite its lack of specific religious content, the story has become in popular Jewish understanding a magnificent message that the providence of God will preserve his people from annihilation.

 

6) Daniel.

The Book of Daniel presents a collection of popular stories about Daniel, a loyal Jew, and the record of visions granted to him, with the Babylonian Exile of the 6th century BCE as their background. The book, however, was written in a later time of national crisis--when the Jews were suffering severe persecution under Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164/163 BCE), the second Seleucid ruler of Palestine.

The exiled Jews had been permitted to return to their homeland by Cyrus II the Great, master of the Medes and Persians, who captured Babylon in 539 BCE from its last king, Nabonidus, and his son Belshazzar. The ancient Near East was then ruled by the Persians until Alexander the Great brought it under his control in 331. After Alexander's death in 323, his empire was divided among his generals, with Palestine coming under the dominion of the Ptolemies until 198, when the Seleucids won control. Under the Persian and Ptolemaic rulers the Jews seem to have enjoyed some political autonomy and complete religious liberty. But under Antiochus IV Jewish fortunes changed dramatically. In his effort to Hellenize the Jews of Palestine, Antiochus attempted to force them to abandon their religion and practice the common pagan worship of his realm. Increasingly sterner restrictions were imposed upon the Jews, the city of Jerusalem was pillaged, and, finally, in December 167 the Temple was desecrated. The outcome of this persecution was the open rebellion among the Jews, as described in the books of Maccabees. This period of Hellenistic Judaism is treated more fully in JUDAISM: Hellenistic Judaism (4th century BCE-2nd century CE) . (see also Index: Jerusalem, Temple of)

The conflict between the religion of the Jews and the paganism of their foreign rulers is also the basic theme of the Book of Daniel. In Daniel, however, it is regarded as foreseen and permitted by God to show the superiority of Hebrew wisdom over pagan wisdom and to demonstrate that the God of Israel will triumph over all earthly kings and will rescue his faithful ones from their persecutors. To develop this theme the author makes use of a literary and theological form known as apocalypse (from the Greek apokalypsis, "revelation" or "unveiling"), which was widely diffused in Judaism and then in Christianity from 200 BCE to 200 CE. Apocalyptic literature professes to be a revelation of future events, particularly the time and manner of the coming of the final age when the powers of evil will be routed in bloody combat and God's kingdom will be established. This revelation usually occurs as a vision expressed in complicated, often bizarre symbolism. The literature is generally pseudonymous, proposed under the name of some authoritative figure of the distant past, such as Daniel, Moses, Enoch, or Ezra. This allows the author to present events that are past history to him as prophecies of future happenings.

The Book of Daniel, the first of the apocalyptic writings, did not represent an entirely new type of literature. Apocalypse had its beginnings in passages in the works of the prophets. In fact, it has been said that the apocalyptic was really an attempt to rationalize and systematize the predictive side of prophecy. There were significant differences, however. The prophet, for the most part, declared his message by word of mouth, which might subsequently be recorded in writing. The apocalyptist, on the other hand, remained completely hidden behind his message, which he wrote down for the faithful to read. The prophets normally spoke in their own name a message for their own day. The apocalyptists normally wrote in the name of some notable man of the past a message for the time of the age to come.

Like the prophets before them, the apocalyptists saw in the working out of history, which they divided into well-defined periods, a purpose and a goal. The evil in the world might lead men to despair, but God's predetermined purpose could not be frustrated. A future age of righteousness would replace the present age of ungodliness, fulfilling God's purpose. This literature, then, is a mixture of pessimism--times would become worse and worse, and God would destroy this present evil world--and of optimism--out of turmoil and confusion God would bring in his kingdom, the goal of history.

For many centuries the apocalyptic character of the Book of Daniel was overlooked, and it was generally considered to be true history, containing genuine prophecy. In fact, the book was included among the prophetic books in the Greek canon. It is now recognized, however, that the writer's knowledge of the exilic times was sketchy and inaccurate. His date for the fall of Jerusalem, for example, is wrong; Belshazzar is represented as the son of Nebuchadrezzar and the last king of Babylon, whereas he was actually the son of Nabonidus and, though a powerful figure, was never king; Darius the Mede, a fictitious character perhaps confused with Darius I of Persia, is made the successor of Belshazzar instead of Cyrus. By contrast, the book is a not inconsiderable historical source for the Greek period. It refers to the desecration of the Temple in 167 and possibly to the beginning of the Maccabean revolt. Only when the narrative reaches the latter part of the reign of Antiochus do notable inaccuracies appear--an indication of a transition from history to prediction. The book is thus dated between 167 and 164 BCE.

Other considerations that point to this 2nd-century date are the omission of the book from the prophetic portion of the Hebrew canon, the absence of Daniel's name in the list of Israel's great men in Ecclesiasticus, the book's linguistic characteristics, and its religious thought, especially the belief in the resurrection of the dead with consequent rewards and punishments.

The name Daniel would appear to refer to a legendary hero who was used in different ways at different times and who became particularly popular in the storytelling of the Persian and Greek Diaspora as a personification of the practical and theological problems faced by the Jews in that environment. Whether there is any connection between the Daniel of this book and the one mentioned as a wise man without equal in the Book of Ezekiel and as a righteous man in the tale of Aqhat, a Ugaritic text dated from about the middle of the 14th century, is uncertain.

The book is written in two languages: the beginning (1:1-2:4a) and the final chapters (8-12) in Hebrew and the rest in Aramaic. This offers no proof of multiple authorship, however, because the linguistic divisions do not correspond to the division by literary form: chapters 1-6 are stories of Daniel and his friends in exile, and chapters 7-12 are Daniel's apocalyptic visions. Furthermore, there is a singleness of religious outlook, spirit, and purpose throughout. Nevertheless, the problem of the languages has never been satisfactorily answered.

The stories of the first six chapters, which probably existed in oral tradition before the author set them down, begin with the account of how Daniel and his three companions (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who were given the names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego by the Babylonians) came to be living at the Babylonian court and how they remained faithful to the laws of their religion. This is followed by five dramatic episodes calculated to demonstrate the wisdom and might of Israel's God and the unconquerable steadfastness of his loyal people. Thus, through God's gift of wisdom, Daniel excels the professional sages of the pagan court by revealing and interpreting Nebuchadrezzar's dream of a great image, made of four metals, which was shattered by a stone cut without human hand, and then the King's further dream of a tree reduced to a stump, which presaged the punishment of his arrogance by madness, and, finally, the writing on the wall, which spelled Belshazzar's doom at his sacrilegious feast. By trust in God, Daniel's companions, who refused to worship Nebuchadrezzar's golden idol, are miraculously delivered from a fiery furnace, and Daniel himself, thrown into a den of lions for holding fast to his tradition of prayer, is divinely protected.

The last six chapters of the book are apocalyptic. In chapter 7 Daniel is granted a vision of four beasts from the abyss, which are brought under divine judgment, and of "one like a son of man," who is brought before God to be invested with his universal and everlasting sovereignty. The mythological beasts are interpreted as four empires (the Babylonian Empire, the kingdom of the Medes, the Persian Empire, and the empire of Alexander) and the manlike figure as Israel. The vision of a battle between the ram (Medes and Persians) and the goat (the Greek Empire) in chapter 8 introduces the iniquities of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and is an assurance to the stricken Jews that the end of their tribulation is near. In chapter 9 the author reinterprets the prophecy of Jeremiah that Jerusalem's desolation would end after 70 years. By making these 70 years mean 70 "weeks of years" (i.e., 490 years), the author is again able to focus attention on the period of Antiochus' persecution in the 2nd century and on the imminence of his determined doom. A precise understanding of the author's scheme is not possible, however, because 490 years calculated from the beginning of the exile extends far beyond the time of Antiochus. The remaining chapters provide the fourth commentary on the crisis provoked by the Seleucid tyrant. The greater part of this vision is a sketch of the events that affected the Jews from the Persian period to the time of Antiochus and prepared for his reign of terror. After chapter 11, verse 39, the account of Antiochus' life ceases to correspond with historical fact; an inaccurate prediction of his end is the prelude to the announcement of the end of Israel's tribulation and the inauguration of God's kingdom.

The purpose of the whole book, stories and visions alike, is to encourage Israel to endure under the threat of annihilation and to strengthen its faith that "the Most High rules the kingdom of men" and will in the end give victory to his people and establish his kingdom.

 

7) Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles.

The final books of the Hebrew Bible are the books of Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah, which once formed a unitary history of Israel from Adam to the 4th century BCE, written by an anonymous Chronicler. That these books constituted a single work--referred to as the Chronicler's history, in distinction to the Deuteronomic history and the elements of history from the priestly code of the Torah--appears evident because the same language, style, and fundamental ideas are found throughout and because the concluding verses of II Chronicles are repeated at the beginning of Ezra. The purpose of this history seems to have been to trace the origin of the Temple and to show the antiquity and authenticity of its cult and of the formal, legalistic type of religion that dominated later Judaism. (see also Index: Ezra, Book of)

The history that these books record has already been treated in the historical section of this article and is found in greater detail in JUDAISM . The concern in this section will be chiefly with the literary and theological aspects of the books, but their contents can be summarized. In I and II Chronicles the author repeats much of the material from earlier historical books, concentrating upon the history of the kingdom of Judah. The First Book of the Chronicles begins with an extensive genealogy of Israel from Adam to the restoration but is primarily a biography of David that adds further facts to the story as given in Samuel. The Second Book of the Chronicles begins with Solomon and goes through the division of the kingdom to the reign of Zedekiah; once again the Chronicler had access to materials that supplemented the account in I and II Kings. In the Book of Ezra he describes the return of the Jews from the Babylonian Exile and the reconstruction of the Temple. He includes lists of the families who returned and the texts of the decrees under which they returned. In the Book of Nehemiah the reconstruction of the city walls of Jerusalem becomes the basis for a meditation upon the relation between God and his people. This book, too, contains lists of those who participated in the reconstruction, but much of it concentrates upon the description of Nehemiah and his persistence in performing his assignment.

The fourfold division of the books derives from the Greek and Latin versions; the more basic twofold division into Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah is more complex. This original division apparently resulted from the inclusion of the material known as Ezra-Nehemiah in the Hebrew canon before that known as Chronicles because it contained fresh information not found in any other canonical book. When Chronicles was later admitted to the canon, it was placed in order after Ezra-Nehemiah; although the book has retained this position in the Hebrew Bible, the Greek version restored it to its proper sequence. That Chronicles was thus "left aside" may account for the choice of Paraleipomena ("Things Omitted") as the Greek title of the book, but the usual and perhaps correct explanation is that Chronicles contains stories, speeches, and observations that were omitted from the parallel accounts in earlier books.

Jewish tradition has identified Ezra as the author of these books, and some modern scholars concur. According to many critics, however, the Chronicler was a Levite cantor in Jerusalem. This position is supported by the author's concern with the Levites and cultic musicians. The date of the work is more difficult to pinpoint. In its final form it has to be later than Ezra, who came to Judah about 400 BCE. An indication of the latest date at which the entire work could have been completed is its silence about the Hellenizing of Judaism that took place after Alexander the Great. This, together with language considerations that point to the late Persian period, has led the majority of commentators to postulate a 4th-century date. Some scholars, however, claim that a time before 300 BCE would be too short to account for the genealogy at the beginning of I Chronicles, which is carried down to the eighth generation after Zerubbabel, one of the leaders of the band that returned from Babylon. Thus, they push the final date to about 200 BCE or even slightly later. It is possible that the 4th-century work of the Chronicler went through a series of minor additions and adaptations until sometime early in the 2nd century, when it reached its final form.

The Chronicler had numerous historical sources--both biblical and extrabiblical--at his disposal. He was closely dependent on the books of Samuel and Kings for all of Chronicles except the first nine chapters. Sometimes he even repeated the actual words of his model, though slight textual variations suggest to some that the Hebrew copy he had before him differed a little from that of the canon and corresponded to that which lay behind the Septuagint. But he was also able to consult the final version of the Torah and the whole of the Deuteronomic history. His use of the personal memoirs of Nehemiah is undisputed; the nature of his Ezra source is less clear, but some have regarded a portion of narrative written in the first person as an autobiographical source. He included many lists, genealogies, census reports, and other official documents that may have been preserved as Temple records. The text refers by name to certain documents representing royal histories and prophetic writings about which, as they have not survived, only speculation is possible.

The Chronicler used all these sources, but was not shackled by them. Although his work has won increasing respect as a historical document, especially as an indispensable source for the restoration period, his purpose was chiefly theological. He was convinced of the definitiveness of the divine covenant with David. The holy community that was brought into existence by this covenant, maintained by God through the vicissitudes of history and having its worship centred on the Temple in Jerusalem, is the true kingdom of God. It is the true Israel and is the Chronicler's only concern. Thus, he mentions the northern kingdom and the kings of Israel only to the extent that they figure in the events of Judah. Loyalty to the Davidic line of succession, to Jerusalem, and to the Temple worship were the central elements in the life of God's people according to this writer. All success and failure were the result of such loyalty or disloyalty. Thus, if a king's reign was long and successful, the Chronicler saw it as the reward of God for a life led in obedience to his will; conversely, a king suffered misfortune only if he had sinned. Significantly, the Chronicler devotes much attention to David's part in the development of the liturgy, especially the organization and functions of the Levites, and omits important but uncomplimentary stories about the King that are found in the Deuteronomic history.

In short, the Chronicler traced the reformed liturgy of his day back to David and laid a solid foundation for the acceptance and conservation of the religious community that he envisioned--a devout community that worshipped joyfully in the Temple with sacrifice and praise and obeyed the Law of Moses. He knew well that the realization of that community in his day was not perfect and that the future had something better in store, but he seems to have been content to accept the existing Davidic leaders in order not to abandon the dynastic hope because of their shortcomings. These books thus provided an apologia for orthodox Judaism (perhaps in the face of opposition from the Samaritans, the inhabitants of the former northern kingdom), and they offer to the modern reader some insight into the post-exilic community in Jerusalem, withdrawn into itself and trying to justify, explain, and preserve its existence and its spirituality. 

 



 ] 위로 ] 성서 개관 ] 신약성서 개관 ] 구약성서 개관 ] 성서 문학 ] I. 문학 서론 ] II.영향과 중요성 ] III. 구약 정경/본문/판 ] IV. 구약 역사 ] [ V. 구약 문학 ] VI. 구/신약 중간 문학 ] VII. 신약 정경/본문/판 ] VIII. 신약 역사 ] IX. 신약 문학 ] X. 신약 외경 ] XI. 예배식 ] XII. 해석과 해석학 ] XIII. 참고 문헌 ]


 
 

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