Introduction to the Bible

Introduction to the Bible

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
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    Introduction to the Bible
    Book Description:

    This book examines the small library of 24 books common to all Jewish and Christian Bibles-books that preserve the efforts of diverse writers over a span of many centuries to make sense of their personal experiences and those of their people, the ancient Israelites. Professor Christine Hayes guides her readers through the complexities of this polyphonous literature that has served as a foundational pillar of Western civilization, underscoring the variety and even disparities among the voices that speak in the biblical texts.

    Biblical authors wrote in many contexts and responded to a sweeping range of crises and questions concerning issues that were political, economic, historical, cultural, philosophical, religious, and moral. In probing chapters devoted to each of the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, Hayes reconstructs the meanings and messages of each book and encourages a deeper appreciation of the historical and cultural settings of ancient biblical literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18827-1
    Subjects: Religion, History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Chronology of Significant Events in the History of Ancient Israel
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER 1 The Legacy of Ancient Israel
    (pp. 1-14)

    In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, archaeologists unearthed the great civilizations of the ancient Near East: ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the area we refer to as the Fertile Crescent, including Canaan. Scholars have been stunned by the ruins and records of these remarkable cultures and civilizations—massive, complex empires in some cases, many of which had completely disappeared from human memory. Their newly uncovered languages had been long forgotten; their rich literary and legal texts were indecipherable (though that soon changed). Thanks to these discoveries, scholars were soon in a position to appreciate the monumental achievements of these early civilizations....

  6. CHAPTER 2 Understanding Biblical Monotheism
    (pp. 15-28)

    As noted in Chapter 1, this volume will examine the biblical corpus from a variety of different viewpoints, adopting a variety of approaches—historical, literary, religious, and cultural. In this chapter, we begin our appraisal of the first division of the Bible (the Torah or Pentateuch) as the product of a religious and cultural revolution.

    The Bible is the product of minds that were exposed to, influenced by, and reacting to the ambient ideas and cultures of their day. Thus, comparative study of the literature of the ancient Near East and the Hebrew Bible reveals a shared cultural and literary...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Genesis 1–3: The Biblical Creation Stories
    (pp. 29-42)

    This chapter examines the opening chapters of Genesis. Our goal is to illustrate the way in which biblical writers (later we will be more precise about who these writers probably were and when they may have lived) drew upon the cultural and religious legacy of the ancient Near East (its stories, imagery, motifs) even as they transformed what they borrowed so as to align it with a new vision of a nonmythological god. The scholar who has written extensively and eloquently on the adaptation of ancient Near Eastern material by the composers of the book of Genesis is Nahum Sarna....

  8. CHAPTER 4 Doublets and Contradictions
    (pp. 43-57)

    Genesis 1–3 presents two distinct creation myths side by side differing in general character and in small detail,¹ and in this chapter we will examine the second creation myth in isolation from the first account and in the light of an important ancient Near Eastern parallel: theEpic of Gilgamesh. Here again, the work of Nahum Sarna (Genesis) and other scholars (especially Michael Coogan,The Old Testament) who have devoted themselves to the study of these textual parallels will be of central importance.

    TheEpic of Gilgameshis a magnificent Mesopotamian epic relating the exploits of the Sumerian king...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Modern Critical Study of the Bible
    (pp. 58-75)

    With the rise of rationalism in the modern period, traditional notions of the divine and Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch were called into question. The modern critical study of the Bible is often said to have begun with the seventeenth-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza, who first suggested that the Bible should be studied and examined like any other book, without presuppositions as to its divine origin or deference to any other dogmatic claim. But it was a Catholic priest, Richard Simon, who first argued that Moses did not write the Torah and that it contained many anachronisms and errors.

    In the...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Biblical Narrative: The Stories of the Patriarchs (Genesis 12–36)
    (pp. 76-93)

    The first eleven chapters of Genesis provide a cosmic and universal introduction to the story of Israel. According to these chapters, the creator god has been spurned and all but forgotten by the humans he created. Repeatedly, humans have turned their moral freedom to evil use. In Gen 12, Yahweh narrows his focus, singling out one family—indeed one individual—to whom he issues a command and makes a promise. The story of Terah’s son Abram (later Abraham) and his family, prefaced by a genealogical table in Gen 11, is marked by this dual theme of divine command and divine...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Israel in Egypt: Moses and the Beginning of Yahwism
    (pp. 94-110)

    The rest of Genesis (Gen 37–50) relates the story of Joseph and his brothers (the twelve sons of Jacob) and contains one of the most magnificent psychological dramas in the Bible. The story is intensely human, focusing on familial relationships and jealousies with little reference to a divine perspective. Scholars divide over the authenticity of the Egyptian elements in the story—some point to the presence of Egyptian names, customs, religious beliefs, and laws as a sign of historical memory; others point to anachronisms and a general lack of specificity as a sign of relatively late composition. The art...

  12. CHAPTER 8 From Egypt to Sinai
    (pp. 111-126)

    Following the theophany at the burning bush, Moses returns to Egypt to free Yahweh’s people from slavery, but Pharaoh refuses to let the Israelites go, initiating what will become a battle of wills between Yahweh and Pharaoh. The story has high drama and some folkloric elements, including the contest between Moses and Aaron on the one hand and the magicians of Egypt on the other. Moses announces ten plagues against the Egyptians: a bloody pollution of the Nile, swarms of frogs, lice, insects, affliction of livestock, boils on humans and animals, lightning and hail, locusts, total darkness—all climaxing in...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Biblical Law
    (pp. 127-147)

    The covenant ceremony at Sinai included Yahweh’s announcement of and Israel’s agreement to certain covenantal stipulations. Exodus 24:3–4 describes this agreement as follows:

    Moses went and repeated to the people all the commands of Yahweh and all the rules, and all the people answered with one voice, saying “All the things that Yahweh has commanded we will do!” Moses then wrote down all the commands of Yahweh.

    The covenant concluded at Sinai is the climactic moment in the Pentateuchal narrative. The conclusion of biblical scholarship is that a number of separate bodies of law have gravitated to the story...

  14. CHAPTER 10 The Priestly Legacy: Cult and Sacrifice, Purity and Holiness
    (pp. 148-164)

    Leviticus is the primary exemplar of the Priestly source (P) dealing with matters that were of special concern to, and under the jurisdiction of, priests: the sanctuary, its cultic rituals, the system of sacrifices, and the distinction between the pure and the impure, the holy and the profane. The priestly materials, which are found in a block in Leviticus, in parts of Numbers, and scattered throughout Genesis and Exodus, emerged over a period of centuries. Although they reached their final form in the exilic and postexilic periods, they preserve older cultic and priestly traditions as well.

    The book of Leviticus...

  15. CHAPTER 11 On the Steps of Moab: Deuteronomy and the Figure of Moses
    (pp. 165-184)

    Postbiblical tradition hails Moses as ancient Israel’s first and greatest law-giver. Certainly, the biblical narrative depicts Moses as receiving the Torah from Yahweh and conveying it to the Israelites. Yet clearly, Moses is not the compiler of these laws. As noted in Chapter 9, some of the individual laws have roots in older ancient Near Eastern legal tradition, while each of the collections as a whole dates to a later period and is retrojected back to the period in Israel’s history in which Moses is said to have lived.

    Nevertheless, Moses is the central character in the narrative that extends...

  16. CHAPTER 12 The Deuteronomistic History I: Joshua
    (pp. 185-197)

    The second major division of the Tanakh is referred to as Nevi’im (Prophets). The first part, the Former Prophets, encompasses Joshua through 2 Kings and reads as a historical narrative. This theologically oriented account of Israel’s history runs from the conquest of Canaan to the destruction of the state by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. This material is crucial background for the books of the Latter Prophets, each of which bears the name of the individual to whom the prophecies are attributed.¹ These prophets delivered their messages at critical junctures in the nation’s history, and their words are best understood...

  17. CHAPTER 13 The Deuteronomistic History II: Of Judges, Prophets, and Kings
    (pp. 198-215)

    The book of Judges is set in the transitional period between the death of Joshua and the establishment of the monarchy (1200–1020 B.C.E.) and is an imaginative and embellished reconstruction of that transition (see Map 3). The stories depict local tribal skirmishes rather than confrontations between nations. This depiction probably reflects the reality of the two centuries when the land of Canaan was evolving from the city-states of the Bronze Age to the emerging nations of Israel, Philistia, and Aram. Like Joshua, the book of Judges consists of various sources incorporated into a Deuteronomistic framework. It is in fact...

  18. CHAPTER 14 The Kingdoms of Judah and Israel
    (pp. 216-235)

    First and second Kings contain the history of Israel from the death of King David to the fall of Judah and the Babylonian exile in 586. These books appear to be based on older sources, some of which are explicitly identified, such as the subsequently lost “Book of the Acts of Solomon” (1 Kings 11:41) and the “Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel” (see, e.g., 1 Kgs 14:19) and the “Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah” (see, e.g., 1 Kgs 14:29). Annals, or chronicles, were always maintained at royal courts in Egypt and Mesopotamia,...

  19. CHAPTER 15 Israelite Prophecy
    (pp. 236-247)

    In the historical books of the Former Prophets (i.e., Joshua–Kings, but especially Samuel and Kings), several prophetic characters appear and play an important role in the national drama. The prophets of the tenth and ninth centuries B.C.E. were associated with religious shrines and with the royal court. Beginning in the eighth century, there were prophets whose words were eventually set down in books that would bear their names. These books are found in the section of the Bible known as the Latter Prophets. These prophets are also referred to as the literary or classical prophets in contrast to the...

  20. CHAPTER 16 The Prophetic Response to the Events of History: Amos as Paradigm
    (pp. 248-262)

    The individual books of the literary prophets appear to be arranged according to two simultaneous principles: size and chronology. The first three prophetic books are extremely large and appear in chronological order (Isaiah, an eighth-century Judean prophet at the time of the Assyrian crisis; Jeremiah, a seventh-to sixth-century Judean prophet at the time of the Babylonian crisis; and Ezekiel, another Judean prophet at the time of the Babylonian crisis and exile). These three major books are followed by twelve smaller books known as the minor prophets. The minor prophets are arranged in roughly chronological order, though book size also plays...

  21. CHAPTER 17 Prophets of the Assyrian Crisis: Hosea and First Isaiah
    (pp. 263-279)

    The prophet Hosea is said to be a native of the northern kingdom who prophesied in the time of Jeroboam II (who reigned until 747 B.C.E.) and continued into the reign of Israel’s last king, also named Hosea. The prophet appears not to have seen the fall of Israel in 722. Hosea is one of the most difficult prophetic books—the text is quite corrupt, and at times the Hebrew is simply unintelligible. Chapters 1 to 3 tell of the prophet’s marriage to a promiscuous woman as a metaphor for Yahweh’s relationship with Israel. Chapters 4 to 14 contain an...

  22. CHAPTER 18 Judean Prophets: Micah, Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Jeremiah
    (pp. 280-297)

    The second southern prophet to prophesy during the Assyrian crisis was Micah. From the small town of Moreshet twenty-five miles southwest of Jerusalem, Micah was the last of the eighth-century prophets. Unlike the city-bred Isaiah, Micah was a rural prophet who spoke for the poor farmer. Prophesying between 740 and 700 B.C.E., he attacked the Israelites for their idolatries. He follows earlier prophets in also condemning the people for moral failings. Greedy landowners and dishonest merchants (the aristocracy) are the target of his denunciations, as are Judah’s priests, judges, royalty, and false prophets.

    The starkest contrast between Micah and his...

  23. CHAPTER 19 Responses to the Destruction: Ezekiel and 2–3 Isaiah
    (pp. 298-314)

    Sixth-century prophetic literature confronts the issues raised by the final destruction. What was the meaning of this event? How could it be reconciled with the concept of Israel as Yahweh’s elect? How could such tremendous evil and suffering be reconciled with the nature of Yahweh himself? In classical terms, if Yahweh is god, he is not good, and if Yahweh is good, then he is not an all-powerful god, since he failed to prevent this evil.

    Ezekiel was a priest and a prophet deported in the first deportation of 597 B.C.E. with King Jehoiachin. He was in Babylon during the...

  24. CHAPTER 20 Responses to the Destruction: Lamentations and Wisdom
    (pp. 315-337)

    When Nebuchadrezzar burned the Temple and destroyed Jerusalem, the initial reaction of the nation was one of overpowering grief and sadness, reflected in the book of Lamentations. This short book of dirges lamenting the loss of Jerusalem as the death of a beloved person is traditionally attributed to Jeremiah, but the biblical text does not itself make this claim. The attribution may have arisen because, of all the prophets, Jeremiah reveals the most about his personal suffering and grief and because he was present at the destruction as an eyewitness. Likewise, the traditional attribution of the book of Psalms to...

  25. CHAPTER 21 Canonical Criticism: Ecclesiastes, Psalms, and the Song of Songs
    (pp. 338-359)

    Chapter 5 introduced source criticism (or historical criticism), form criticism, and tradition criticism as modern methods of analyzing the biblical text. These are not the only methods employed by contemporary biblical scholars. One method that can be useful when considering works of uncertain provenance is thecanonical approach.The canonical approach is a method that grew out of a dissatisfaction with the scholarly focus on original, historical meanings to the exclusion of the function and meaning of biblical texts for believing communities in various times and places. The historical-critical method was always primarily interested in what wasreallysaid and...

  26. CHAPTER 22 The Restoration: Ezra-Nehemiah and Ruth
    (pp. 360-378)

    In 539 B.C.E., the Babylonian Empire was defeated by the Persians under the leadership of Cyrus. Cyrus established the largest empire yet seen in the ancient Near East, stretching from Egypt to Asia Minor and eastern Iran. Unlike other ancient masters, the Persians held to a policy of cultural and religious independence for their conquered subjects.

    The famous Cyrus Cylinder (see Figure 10) discovered by archaeologists is a nine-inch fired clay cylinder covered in cuneiform writing that tells of Cyrus’s conquest of Babylon at the command of Babylon’s god Marduk and his policy of allowing captives to return to their...

  27. CHAPTER 23 Postexilic Prophets and the Rise of Apocalyptic
    (pp. 379-390)

    Israel’s literary prophets had spoken of a remnant of Israel that would be restored gloriously in its land. But the returned exiles faced a life of great hardship. Th e reality of poverty, the difficulties in rebuilding the Temple, the hostility of the Judeans who had remained behind as well as that of the surrounding peoples, and the absence of any real political independence under a Davidic king—all this fell far short of the earlier prophets’ glorious descriptions of the restored kingdom. In the postexilic period, new prophets arose to address the community’s disappointment.

    The short book of Haggai...

  28. CHAPTER 24 Israel and the Nations: Esther and Jonah
    (pp. 391-399)

    The book of Esther is an interesting counterpoint to the apocalyptic reliance on Yahweh’s cataclysmic consummation of history in order to dole out justice to righteous Israel and the wicked nations. This short novella is set in fifth-century B.C.E. Persia during the reign of Ahashverosh (Xerxes, 486–465), although it was probably written in the fourth century B.C.E. Like Daniel, Esther is another work of heroic fiction featuring a Jew in the court of a Gentile king. The Jews of Persia are threatened with genocide and are saved not by divine intervention, but through their own efforts. Indeed, the book...

  29. Epilogue
    (pp. 400-402)

    The literature of the Hebrew Bible relates the odyssey of Israel from its earliest beginnings in the stories of individual patriarchs worshipping a local deity to its maturity as a nation forced by history to look beyond its own horizons and concerns. The Israelites were lifted up to become something greater than they could ever have planned. They came to see themselves as Yahweh’s servants to the world at the same time that they struggled and argued with their god and criticized themselves for their very human weaknesses and failings.

    From another vantage point, the Bible can also be seen...

  30. Notes
    (pp. 403-416)
  31. Index
    (pp. 417-430)