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The Biography of the Bible

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Author Topic: The Biography of the Bible  (Read 868 times)
Azrael
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« Reply #15 on: July 18, 2009, 09:40:15 pm »

into Palestine from far-distant Chaldaea. Back and still back, bringing mythology to the aid of legend, they traced their origin at last to Adam, first born of men.

The raw material of history was thus already at hand when the prosperous reigns of David and Solomon quickened the interest of the Jews in their own past. The times called for historians, and these appeared.

Probably the earliest large portion of the Bible to be written down in anything like its present form was the part of the Second Book of Samuel now included in chapters ix—xx. This is sometimes called by scholars "The Court History of David" because the internal evidence makes not unplausible a pleasant theory that it was the work of some gifted contemporary personally familiar with the events recorded, a contemporary whose general sympathy with the king did not blind his critical judgment to the errors of his monarch.

After this magnificent beginning, subsequent historians worked backwards from the known to the unknown. Brief biographies of the earlier legendary heroes, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, began to be written. References in the Bible to the now lost "Book of Jashar" and "Book of the Wars of Jehovah"

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Azrael
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« Reply #16 on: July 18, 2009, 09:40:39 pm »

indicate the existence of what were probably collections of folk poetry that were made at about this time. Fragments of this poetry were incorporated in the historical narratives, sometimes only a couplet or a refrain, sometimes whole poems. Such are the "Song of Lamech" in Genesis, the "Song of Moses" in Exodus, the "Song of the Well" and the "Prophecy of Balaam" in Numbers, the "Apostrophe to the Sun" in Joshua, the "Song of Deborah"—possibly as early as 1100 B.C. and the "Fable of Jotham" in Judges, and finally, the "Song of the Bow" in Second Samuel. Even though it owed much to Babylonian example, this poetry of the Hebrew dawn already had a distinctive character. While of only ballad length it was far more closely knit than any ballad; possessing an epic sweep and power, it was still essentially lyrical but in its volume and amplitude suggested a nation singing, a nation marching in the confidence that it was led by God. As, for example, in the triumphant "Song of Moses":

"I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously:
The horses and his rider hath he thrown into the sea . . .
The Lord is a man of war:
The Lord is his name.
Pharaoh's chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: p. 16
His chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea.
The depths have covered them:
They sank into the bottom as a stone."

Often, the narrative element is more stressed, as in the "Song of Deborah":

"The kings came and fought,
Then fought the kings of Canaan
In Taanach by the waters of Megiddo;
They took no gain of money . . .
The stars in their courses fought against Sisera.
The river of Kishon swept them away,
That ancient river, the river Kishon . . .

Blessed above women shall Jael be,
The wife of Heber the Kenite,
Blessed shall she be above women in the tent.
He asked water, and she gave him milk;
She brought forth butter in a lordly dish.
She put her hand to the nail,
And her right hand to the workmen's hammer;
And with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head,
When she had pierced and stricken through his temples.
At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down:
At her feet he bowed, he fell:
Where he bowed, there he fell down dead.

The mother of Sisera looked out at a window,
And cried through the lattice, p. 17
'Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why tarry the wheels of his chariots?
Her wise ladies answered her,
Yea, she returned answer to herself,
'Have they not sped? have they not divided the prey;
To every man a damsel or two;
To Sisera a prey of divers colours,
A prey of divers colours of needlework,
Of divers colours of needlework on both sides, meet for the necks of them that take the spoil?'

So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord:
But let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might."

In the "Song of Deborah," as in the medieval ballad of "Chevy Chase," a mere local skirmish acquired a lien on immortality, but how different the spirit of the two poems! The earlier—by nearly three thousand years—is also, in its literary artistry and emotional subtlety, much the more mature. The Hebrew minstrel is less interested in the events themselves than in their significance, and his admiration is given, not to physical courage but to an act of personal treachery redeemed, in his eyes, by loyalty to the nation. The triumph of the Hebrews is enhanced by the dramatic contrast between the overthrow of Sisera and the self-deceived hopes of his

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Azrael
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« Reply #17 on: July 18, 2009, 09:40:55 pm »

mother—in much the same way that Aeschylus in The Persians chose to celebrate the Athenian victory at Marathon through the psychology of the defeated instead of through that of the conquerors.

The same mingling of lyrical and epic quality, with a still stronger stressing of the personal note, is found in the "Song of the Bow," attributed by Jewish tradition to King David:

"The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places:
How are the mighty fallen!
Tell it not in Gath,
Publish it not in the streets of Askelon;
Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph . . .
Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives,
And in their death they were not divided:
They were swifter than eagles,
They were stronger than lions.
Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
Who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights,
Who put ornaments of gold upon your apparel.
How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!
O Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places.
I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan:
Very pleasant hast thou been unto me:
Thy love to me was wonderful,
Passing the love of women. p. 19
How are the mighty fallen,
And the weapons of war perished!"

When the Prophets should come, they would have but to alter the martial spirit of this early poetry into a still loftier zeal for righteousness and they would find its peculiar rhapsodic form the appropriate medium for their own mature expression.

Truly, the Hebrews seem to have been born old. Their own legends of their great antiquity as a people are countenanced, if not by the known facts of history, at least by the richness of experience embodied in their literature at its first appearance. It is as if they had indeed been the first to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and had assimilated that bitter fruit long before other nations tasted it. It is as if like Adam and Eve they had never known childhood or youth, their gaiety and inconsequence, that lighthearted spirit of play which lurks beneath the gravest meditations of Plato but is found nowhere in the whole of the Old Testament. Jehovah was a jealous deity; he gave his worshipers the strength to survive, he gave them sublimity and tenderness and an exquisite sense of beauty, but all on condition that they should forget that they had ever been children and should devote themselves manfully, seriously, and dutifully to his

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Azrael
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« Reply #18 on: July 18, 2009, 09:41:09 pm »

service. And when at last he had settled them in the Promised Land, what service could be more suitable than to expand that fragmentary thanksgiving poetry of Moses and Deborah into a continuous narrative of God's relations with his people?

So it came about that five hundred years before Herodotus the Jews had already begun to write history. Not, of course, history in the modern sense, nor yet exactly in the sense of Herodotus. The Jewish writers were anything but objective-minded: the meaning of all history to them lay in the career of the Chosen People who in their view occupied the center of the stage. They were uninterested in aught that resembled a scientific approach; the direct moral and religious implications of history were all that mattered, and these appeared most clearly in the deeds of individuals. The historical books of the Old Testament resolve themselves into a series of dramatic biographies. From Abraham through Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, on down the long impressive line of judges, kings, and prophets, the series runs, to end at last in the four biographies of Jesus at the beginning of the New Testament.

All this mighty work was essentially a collective enterprise. In order not to go astray in our interpretation at the very outset it is necessary to dismiss

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Azrael
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« Reply #19 on: July 18, 2009, 09:41:30 pm »

our exacerbated modern sense of private property even in works of literature. Copyrights, and the ideas that accompany them, are of recent origin. Such glorification of professional authors as we find among the Greeks, with their cherished prizes for the successful dramatists at the Dionysiac festivals, had no counterpart among the Hebrews. Properly speaking, there was no such thing as a class of professional authors among them. Their writers, whether historians, prophets, or poets, wrote for glory, not for gain, and even the glory was that of their nation, not their own. In these circumstances, questions of forgery or plagiarism simply did not exist. The historical writers laboriously collected their materials but afterwards freely annotated and revised them; quite shamelessly, and to the great benefit of literature, they put their own words into the mouths of men long dead; some, more scrupulous toward older records, would retain contradictory accounts of the same events; others, more interested in some larger truth, would rewrite the earlier accounts in order to harmonize them: but always, like the builders of the medieval cathedrals, they were concerned with their achievement, not with themselves. Anonymity, not personality, affords the clew to Biblical authorship.

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Azrael
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« Reply #20 on: July 18, 2009, 09:41:50 pm »

Nothing could have been further from the minds of these Jewish authors than any faintest suspicion that the deeds they recorded were intrinsically of less importance than their own recording of them. The historical Ahab and Jezebel were very different from the biased and impassioned portraits of those characters in the Book of the Kings; but the portraits were more valuable than the characters they misrepresented. The portrait painters themselves, however, did not think in such terms. Ahab and Jezebel were to them simply hateful figures who must be shown as such. Conversely, with the good and great—to let them speak as they would, or should, have spoken was no treachery to truth. So it was quite natural, in the absence of early records, to ascribe whatever laws were found to the traditional legislator Moses, just as it was equally natural after the Scriptures were written for the Psalms to be ascribed to King David, traditionally a poet, and for the Proverbs to be ascribed to King Solomon, traditionally the wisest of men.

A real understanding of Old Testament literature first became possible through the discovery of nineteenth-century scholarship that the early historical books are in the main a compilation of four separate documents, all of which may be approximately

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Azrael
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« Reply #21 on: July 18, 2009, 09:42:02 pm »

dated. This discovery, when all its implications were developed, necessitated a resetting of the entire Old Testament in new terms of chronology, authorship, and meaning.

Any careful reader can perceive that there are two radically different stories of creation presented in the opening chapters of Genesis, but actually between the naïve, primitive account in the second chapter and the highly philosophical version of the first chapter no less than five centuries intervened. So long was the span of time which elapsed during the writing of even Genesis.

The earliest document, known as J from its use of the name Jahveh, or Jehovah, for the deity, was put together in the ninth century B.C. in the Southern Kingdom. It constituted a connected narrative of Hebrew history from the creation through the reign of Saul. A century later, in the Northern Kingdom, was compiled the second or E Document, so called because in it the deity appears under the name Elohim. It begins a little later than J but comes down to the same period. After the downfall of the Northern Kingdom, both documents came into the possession of Southern Kingdom writers who combined them into a single narrative in the seventh century B.C.

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Azrael
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« Reply #22 on: July 18, 2009, 09:42:18 pm »

J and E dealt with the same general material of myth and legend but in somewhat different fashion. There is considerable divergence in vocabulary and style and great divergence in moral and religious sentiment. In the earlier narrative, as one might expect, the customs of the people are more savage and the conception of the deity is more frankly anthropomorphic. From J comes the insistence on Jehovah as primarily a god of war. To E we are indebted for the story of Joseph; the treatment of character is subtler than in J, and the god of E's theology, while still a tribal deity, is less vindictive. The two documents furthermore reveal diametrically opposite attitudes toward the institution of monarchy; where J accepts it as of divine origin, E—written when the apostasy of the Northern kings, Omri and Ahab, was in men's minds—regards the inauguration of the monarchy as a decline from the earlier semidemocratic form of government in the period of the judges.

During the eighth and seventh centuries came the prophetic movement which determined the whole later course of Jewish religion and literature. It not only directly inspired what was for the Hebrews in their creative middle period the most
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Azrael
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« Reply #23 on: July 18, 2009, 09:43:02 pm »



Codex Vaticanus—The oldest complete manuscript of the New Testament (fourth century)

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Azrael
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« Reply #24 on: July 18, 2009, 09:43:43 pm »



Codex Sinaiticus (fourth-century manuscript)
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Azrael
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« Reply #25 on: July 18, 2009, 09:43:59 pm »

valuable part of the Pentateuch, namely, the book of Deuteronomy; indirectly, it inspired nearly all the rest of the Old Testament in the form in which we have it and even the far distant New Testament as well. The heart of the Bible lies in the prophetic literature rather than in the so-called Mosaic law, the latter itself owing far more to the Prophets than to Moses.

The prophetic movement was without true analogues elsewhere in history. The origin of the Prophets was shabby enough; in the beginning they seem to have been mere soothsayers, foretellers of the future, miraclemongers. Their early representative, Balaam, in the book of Numbers, is little more impressive than Calchas, the mantis kakaios of the Iliad. In Greece, the influence of the soothsayers was replaced by that of the Delphic oracle; in Rome, the soothsayers remained mere soothsayers to the end; in Arabia they became the mad dancing dervishes, and in India degenerated into the self-lacerating fakirs. Among the Hebrews alone they grew into a moral force, ultimately the most profound in the community. Doubtless, some aura of the occult long hung about them, as can be seen from the marvels attributed to Elijah and Elisha, but by the

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Azrael
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« Reply #26 on: July 18, 2009, 09:44:14 pm »

time of the eighth century they had come to abjure signs and wonders in favor of a purely spiritual message.

The Prophets stood apart from the regular priesthood, and were often hostile to it. Their credentials were those of their own genius. They were a kind of inspired moral rhapsodist who trusted to inner inspiration and illumination. "The word of the Lord that came unto" Hosea, or Micah, or Zephaniah—so runs the formula. Having no faith in rites or ceremonies, they preached a religion of inner rectitude. They were much concerned about the sufferings of the poor and the exactions of the rich. They were as one in demanding a loftier worship of Jehovah as the God of righteousness, the only God. Through them the Jewish religion was changed from a form of henotheism, a worship of one god as greatest of many gods, to a definite monotheism. Jehovah ceased to dwell upon Mount Sinai: his dwelling became the universe; he ceased to be a god of war and became a god of justice.

In politics, the Prophets were intense nationalists, isolationists. When Amos, the first of the literary Prophets appeared as early as 750 B.C., the desperate situation of Israel and Judah was already evident. In fact, it was the national peril that

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Azrael
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« Reply #27 on: July 18, 2009, 09:44:51 pm »

brought the Prophets upon the scene. One and all, they strove to strengthen the morale of their people by bidding them abstain from the idolatries of the surrounding nations, by pleading with them to search their own hearts, by exhorting them to faith in Jehovah. The essence of their political message was that the Hebrews must look to themselves for salvation rather than to their ever-shifting alliances with this or that neighboring monarch.

The moral revival initiated by Amos, who came from the South to preach in the North, and carried on a decade later by his Northern follower, Hosea, did not avail to stay the fall of Israel. But neither did that terrifying event halt the prophetic movement. Rather, it gave new impetus to it in the Southern Kingdom, where the sense of national peril bred men of a caliber to meet it.

Greatest of them was Isaiah of Jerusalem, probably the most influential of all Old Testament writers. The first city dweller among the Prophets, an aristocrat at home in the court, he was a statesman whose wise advice was sought and taken by King Hezekiah, and after the defeat of Sennacherib, which he foretold, his prestige redounded to the benefit of the whole prophetic movement. Preaching both before and after the fall of Israel, he foresaw

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« Reply #28 on: July 18, 2009, 09:45:09 pm »

inevitable disasters for the Southern Kingdom also, but placed his hope in the formation of a morally disciplined "saving remnant" who should be strong enough to survive and, under some future leader, restore the glory of the nation. From him first sprang the Messianic hope which was to grow stronger instead of weaker as century after century, postponing the realization, would make the need the greater.

Contemporary with Isaiah was Micah the Morasthite, the "Prophet of the poor." A plebeian and a countryman, he was yet a twin brother of the spirit with the urban aristocrat of Jerusalem. The two were equally unsparing in their censure of the exactions of the rich; the extortionate landlords and the venal judges, who existed then as now equally in city and countryside, were excoriated by them in ringing tones. Both sensed the connection between economics and war; and both looked forward beyond the trying present to an eventual period of social justice and universal peace:

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruninghooks:
Nation shall not lift up a sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war any more.
But they shall sit every man under his vine p. 29
And under his fig tree;
And none shall make them afraid.

All of these Prophets were poets, Isaiah the greatest. Amos' verse was a bugle call to battle for righteousness—he dealt almost solely in denunciation; the more pastoral Hosea preferred the method of entreaty and the note of flutes; Micah's verse had the richness of organ tones; but Isaiah's was a mastery of every instrument. It is not surprising that the reputation of Isaiah grew so great that the poems of numerous unidentified later Prophets (one of them his equal in loftiness if not in range) came to be added to his own in the collection under his name in the Old Testament (chapters XL to LXVI).

Shelley's conception that poets are the natural lawgivers of society was now literally fulfilled for perhaps the only time in history. The book of Deuteronomy, composed directly under prophetic influence, was nothing less than a revision and expansion of the Mosaic law designed to harmonize it with the poetic insight, the high moral principles, and the monotheistic theology of the Prophets. The authors of the book are not known, nor has its date been certainly established. But it was probably written during the reign of Hezekiah or in the early part of that of his son, Manasseh, who became king

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Azrael
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« Reply #29 on: July 18, 2009, 09:45:21 pm »

at the age of twelve, fell under pagan influence, turned idolater, and endeavored to exterminate the Prophets. According to Jewish tradition, Isaiah himself suffered martyrdom by being sawn asunder. Yet the prophetic movement was not killed. As usual in such cases, it was merely driven underground. At some time during the persecution, the book of Deuteronomy was hidden for safekeeping in the Temple where it was not discovered until 621 B.C. when the priest Hilkiah carried it to the friendly King Josiah, an idealistic youth of eighteen, who at once made it the basis of extensive legal reforms, as is related in the twenty-third chapter of the Second Book of the Kings.

The Deuteronomic legislation was accepted as of Mosaic origin. The Deuteronomists themselves could scarcely have been aware how little of their work actually stemmed from such an august source. It was based upon what is known as "The Book of the Covenant" (Exodus xx. 22–xxiii. 19), then universally ascribed to Moses, but actually no later in most of its legislation than the beginning of the monarchy. Even the Ten Commandments (Exodus xx. 1–17) are now generally considered to have been of eighth century rather than of Mosaic origin. Yet parallels have been found to the Code of Hammurabi,

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