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The Biography of the Bible

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Author Topic: The Biography of the Bible  (Read 875 times)
Azrael
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« Reply #30 on: July 18, 2009, 09:45:36 pm »

the great Babylonian legislator of about 2250 B.C., and where the influence of Hammurabi has been detected that of the much later Moses may be assumed, even though today it be impossible to assign any single law to his certain authorship. Jewish legislation, like every other, was a gradual growth, but all of it which endured was traditionally ascribed to Moses. The Deuteronomists, though innovators, were deeply imbued with a sense of the past greatness of their nation; they felt that they wrought in the spirit of Moses; in giving their work the literary form of a series of discourses delivered by Moses in the land of Moab beyond Jordan just before the Children of Israel entered the Promised Land, they chose the most suitable time and place, as well as author, to lend it the utmost authority.

The motivating principle of the Deuteronomic legislation was the conception of the oneness and perfection of God. Symbolizing this oneness, they sought to centralize worship in the Temple at Jerusalem (an attempt that would have been hopeless before the fall of the Northern Kingdom and utterly meaningless in the actual time of Moses). As God's care extended to all his people, the Deuteronomists tried to create a parallel to the divine beneficence

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Azrael
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« Reply #31 on: July 18, 2009, 09:45:57 pm »

through legislation for all. Particular aid was given to the poor and lowly who most needed it: every seventh year there was to be a general remission of debts and a freeing of all Hebrew slaves; fugitive slaves were not to be returned to their masters; after fields and vineyards had been once gleaned the residue must be left for the wayfarer; laborers must be paid their wages daily; the taking of interest among Jews was forbidden; the divorce laws were liberalized to the advantage of women. And all this humanitarian legislation was persuasively enforced by the reminder, "Thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt."

During their period of favor at court the Deuteronomists were extraordinarily active. After the revision of the law, they turned to the production of revisionist history. They rewrote the Hexateuch (the Pentateuch plus the Book of Joshua) and threw the scattered narratives of the Book of Judges into connected form; drawing upon "The Court History of David" and other sources now lost—"The Book of the Acts of Solomon," "The Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel," and "The Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah"—they composed the Book of Samuel and the Book of the Kings (each

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Azrael
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« Reply #32 on: July 18, 2009, 09:46:22 pm »

first divided into two in the Septuagint translation), with the exception of the final chapters of the latter added during the Exile. Thus, when they had finished, they left behind them a consecutive history of the Jews from the creation down to their own period, a history which was also a grandiose philosophy of history into which the book of Deuteronomy was neatly fitted in its assumed chronological position.

Well it was that the Deuteronomists wrought so feverishly, for their time was short. The eighty-odd Deuteronomic laws established a series of ideals most of which are ideal still today, but they did not long remain in force as actual laws. The death of King Josiah at the battle of Megiddo in 608 B.C. was followed by another melancholy period of reaction, during which the reforms were successively abandoned. The weak and vacillating Jewish monarchs drifted from one unwise political intrigue to another, and their veering course ended in the total destruction of their kingdom by Nebuchadnezzar (more properly, Nebuchadrezzar) of Babylon in the year 586 B.C.

During this period of gloom Judah never lacked a Prophet. Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah turned their eyes abroad or to the distant future,

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Azrael
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« Reply #33 on: July 18, 2009, 09:46:34 pm »

but Jeremiah struggled vainly with the desperate present. Denounced as unpatriotic by monarchy and priesthood because he opposed the suicidal war with Babylon, he was a conscientious objector familiar with the stocks, imprisonment, and exile. Although in manner a preacher rather than a poet, his nature was essentially poetic, introspective, tender, and sensitive, shrinking from the conflicts that his conscience nevertheless forced upon him. This first of many Hamlets was not even permitted to share the captivity of his people by the waters of Babylon but unwillingly was carried off to Egypt by a group who desired the prestige of a Prophet in their midst. There, the loneliest of men, he died.

The anonymous book of Lamentations came to be ascribed, in the time of the Septuagint, to Jeremiah, for no better reasons, apparently, than that it deals with the fall of Jerusalem and shows the influence of the prophetic point of view. Although it contains enough of the latter to make it probable that it was written by some follower of Jeremiah, the literary style of the poem is utterly different from that of any of the Prophets. It is a work of highly self-conscious art, a kind of choral dirge, composed in the difficult form of an elaborate

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Azrael
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« Reply #34 on: July 18, 2009, 09:46:49 pm »

acrostic, each line beginning with a different letter of the alphabet, yet with such a complete mastery of its artificial technique that this is kept wholly subordinate to the cadences of deep mournful emotion that rise and fall in a psychological rhythm not unlike the movement of the choral odes in Greek classical tragedy.

Dealing with a minor theme connected with the overthrow of Jerusalem, the short and relatively unimportant poem of the Prophet Obadiah lashed out in furious invective against the neighboring nation of the Edomites who had joined the Babylonians during the war in an unnatural alliance which seemed to the Prophet an act of treason both to kindred and to God.

The period of the Exile lasted for fifty years. The Hebrew people had definitively lost all political power; their nation was divided between the larger portion resettled in Babylonian captivity and the small discouraged remnant left to haunt the hills of Jerusalem where palace and temple were destroyed and foreign overlords held sway: it might have been expected that the two Southern tribes would disappear from history as the ten Northern tribes had done. But when the Northern Kingdom fell, Israel had no sacred literature other

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Azrael
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« Reply #35 on: July 18, 2009, 09:47:02 pm »

than the recently compiled E Document and the heretical prophecies of Hosea. The tribes of Judah and little Benjamin, on the other hand, went into captivity bearing with them the complete Deuteronomic account of Jewish history from Genesis through Kings, the Book of Deuteronomy itself, and the prophetical writings of Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Jeremiah. On them, their nation was based more firmly than it could have been on any political organization.

Of all this mass of literature, the work of the Deuteronomists was the most important. Their conciliation of Prophet and priest inured at first to both. Ezekiel, the last of the three major Prophets, was himself a priest who shared the exile of his people. Of all the Prophets, he was the most constructive. Essentially a mystic, subject to trances and visions, he united prophetic fervor with an intense love of ritual; in a strange apocalyptic style which carried to excess the symbolic manner to which the Prophets were addicted, he unrolled a cosmic panorama before the eyes of his hearers and made them feel not only that they were its center but that their actions could take on a mystical significance when performed through a ritual suffused

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Azrael
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« Reply #36 on: July 18, 2009, 09:47:15 pm »

with inner meaning. He thus unwittingly prepared the way for the later formalism of the priests, but at the moment the effect of his work was to preserve the morale of the Hebrews under captivity by giving definition to their religious practices and by encouraging their hope of return to Jerusalem, the sacred city. The enduring influence of his style is seen not only in the books of Daniel and Revelation, written directly under his influence, but also in the "Paradiso" of Dante, the Paradise Lost of Milton, and the Prophetical Books of William Blake.

Ezekiel wrote in prose, but the Exile was not to end without the appearance of another mighty poet, of unknown name, whose work, fully equal in value to that of Isaiah, was collected under the latter's name and now forms the bulk of chapters XI to LXVI in the Book of Isaiah of our Old Testament. This great poet, who is sometimes called the Second Isaiah or Deutero-Isaiah, had an original intuition of Jewish destiny which gave him unprecedented hope and confidence. Hitherto, the misfortunes of the Hebrews had been explained as a chastisement for their sins, and the Unknown Prophet occasionally reverted to this view, but when his insight was deepest it seemed to him that the very function of the good was to suffer on ac-

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Azrael
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« Reply #37 on: July 18, 2009, 09:47:30 pm »

count of and for the sake of the wicked so that both might at last be saved. The sufferings of the Hebrews could thus be interpreted as part of a world mission. Personifying his people in the figure of God's Servant, the Unknown Prophet drew into it the lives of the tortured Isaiah and Jeremiah and, for the first time in history, glorified the career of sacrifice and martyrdom.

Remember these, O Jacob and Israel;
For thou art my servant:
I have formed thee;
Thou art my servant:
O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me. . . .

Behold, my servant shall deal prudently,
He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.
As many were astonished at thee;
His visage was so marred more than any man,
And his form more than the sons of men:
So shall he sprinkle many nations;
The kings shall shut their mouths at him:
For that which had not been told them shall they see;
And that which they had not heard shall they consider. . . .

Surely he hath borne our griefs,
And carried our sorrows:
Yet we did esteem him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted. p. 39
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities:
The chastisement of our peace was upon him;
And with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned everyone to his own way;
And the Lord hath laid on him
The iniquity of us all.
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Azrael
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« Reply #38 on: July 18, 2009, 09:47:48 pm »

 It is not surprising that the Christians should have later found in this incipient doctrine of vicarious atonement a clear foretelling of the coming of Jesus of Nazareth.

After the Second Isaiah, prophecy dwindled. With the return of the Hebrews from captivity, attention was concentrated on the institution of the church, which now must be both church and state for them. The Prophets Haggai and Zechariah did indeed find in the delayed rebuilding of the Temple a worthy theme which inspired them to a momentary eloquence, but Joel merely aped the grand manner on the insufficient occasion of a locust plague, while the anonymous Book of Malachi (Malachi meaning messenger or messiah) was written in the rationalistic style of the rabbis.

The rehabilitation of the Jews in Palestine was a long and weary process. After the conquest of

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Azrael
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« Reply #39 on: July 18, 2009, 09:48:03 pm »

 Babylonia by Cyrus the Persian, they were given permission to return in 538 B.C., but they did not do so all at once. They came back in small bands year after year, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem was proportionately slow. Not until 444 B.C. were the walls re-erected through the enthusiasm of Nehemiah as related in his autobiographical account, and not until 397 B.C. did the late-returned priest Ezra promulgate the code of laws that was henceforth to regulate the worship of Jehovah.

Ezra's code is now considered to have consisted of the Book of Leviticus probably composed as early as 500 B.C. under the influence of Ezekiel. Its exilic origin is evident in its emphasis upon the Sabbath, an institution that received additional stress when the captives found it important to have one day out of the week specially devoted to the religious services that preserved their national memory. The priestly origin of the work is evident in its institutional character throughout.

Like the Deuteronomists, the priests supplemented their codification of the laws by a revision of Jewish history such as to give the authority of tradition to their work. Their special contribution, now known as the P or Priestly Document, constituted the last of the four great strands of separate
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Azrael
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« Reply #40 on: July 18, 2009, 09:48:45 pm »



Codex Alexandrinus (fifth-century manuscript), sent by Cyril Lucar, Patriarch of Alexandria, to King Charles I of England
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Azrael
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« Reply #41 on: July 18, 2009, 09:49:41 pm »




Fourteenth-century manuscript of the Wyclif Bible
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Azrael
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« Reply #42 on: July 18, 2009, 09:50:04 pm »

narrative to be woven into the single account in the completed Old Testament. Of priestly origin that first chapter of Genesis wherein the creation itself is turned into a stupendous glorification of the institution of the Sabbath, of priestly origin the many accounts which sought an ancient basis for the Temple ritual and such ceremonials as circumcision and the keeping of the Passover. Capable at their best of loftiness and even sublimity, the priests were likewise capable of infinite pedantry. Anything connected with the Temple worship seemed to them of world importance. To stress the role of the priestly class in earlier history they compiled the two books of the Chronicles, an arid retelling of Kings given liveliness at the end by the addition, though in the wrong order, of the memoirs of Nehemiah and Ezra. They were the codifiers, the Alexandrians, of the Old Testament. They ended by turning the inner religion of the Prophets into a matter of outer rites and ceremonies, the very thing against which the Prophets had rebelled. They preserved the religion of Jehovah at the cost of formalizing it.

But though the priests came to control Jewish life, they did not control later Jewish literature. The Prophets were dead, but humanists arose in

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Azrael
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« Reply #43 on: July 18, 2009, 09:50:22 pm »

their place, quite free from the prevailing ecclesiasticism. Less impassioned than the men of old but more philosophical, they brought into literature a new tone of urbanity.

The Books of Ruth and Jonah were direct protests against the narrow nationalism of the priestly legislators. During the period of the Exile, the Hebrews left in Jerusalem had intermarried freely with the surrounding peoples; the stern new lawgiver Ezra annulled these marriages and disinherited their offspring. Hence the social significance of the Book of Ruth with its pastoral tale of a foreign woman taken in marriage by the Hebrew Boaz and becoming an ancestress of David himself. A work of propaganda—but never before or since was propaganda presented in so sweet and winning a manner. Similarly humanistic was the Book of Jonah, whose intolerant prophetic hero was shown to be rebuked by God himself. In the same emotional key, though less definite in its meaning, was the delightfully fantastic tale of Tobit, one of the earliest of those included in the Apocrypha.

Of uncertain date but certainly postexilic is the most perplexing work in the Old Testament, the Song of Songs. Manifestly a collection of secular love lyrics recited at some wedding ceremony, the

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Azrael
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« Reply #44 on: July 18, 2009, 09:50:41 pm »

whole is sufficiently dramatized to suggest a connected narrative, but seems in too fragmentary a condition to make this narrative at all clear. Tantalized modern critics have been tempted to make all manner of fanciful reconstructions of the poem, usually interpreting it as a dramatized story of the unsuccessful rivalry of King Solomon with a rural swain for the love of a Shulamite shepherdess. This romantic conception is much less plausible than that which sees in the poem a fragmentary masque adapted for a marriage ceremony in which bride and groom took the conventional characters, now of king and queen and now of shepherd and shepherdess. Fortunately, the sensuous beauty and lyric rapture of the Song remain the same in any case.

A garden shut up is my sister, my bride;
A spring shut up, a fountain sealed.
Thy shoots are an orchard of pomegranates, with precious fruits;
Henna with spikenard plants,
Spikenard and saffron,
Calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense;
Myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices.
Thou art a fountain of gardens,
A well of living waters,
And flowing streams from Lebanon.

Misinterpreted in antiquity as a symbolic poem depicting

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