Friday, September 12, 2014

BOOK OF BOOKS by Linden Malki

The Bible is not "a book."  It is an anthology, a collection of writings that grew over a thousand years before the time of Jesus, and later, another hundred to compile His story. It is unique, I believe, among foundational literatures of spiritual communities, in not being a reflection of only one or two leaders and not more than one or two generations. Its chief derivative and rival in today's world is the Koran (or Quran), which is based on the story and teaching of one man and was compiled in its final form less than 30 years after his death.  Most other major religions are also the legacies of single individuals, such as Buddha, Confucius, and Zoroaster.

The Bible is also not a single continuous story. The Old Testament begins at the Beginning--Creation--and ends with the last of the recognized prophets who wrote around 400BC.  However, it consists of three major types of writings, which are arranged in what I see as five chronologies (with some overlaps). 
            First, of course, is the record of God's calling and dealings with a specific group of people.  The first five books, in Jewish tradition called the Torah, are the basic stories of the covenants of God with Adam, Noah, Abraham (c2000BC), and Moses (c1500).  Next we have the history of Israel--the descendants of Jacob--from Joshua to the united Kingdom of Saul, David (c1000BC) and Solomon, then the separate Kingdoms of Judah in the South and Israel in the North, the Assyrian invasion (726-712BC) and conquest by the Babylonians (596BC) at the end of 2 Kings. 
            The second chronological section overlaps the first: 1 and 2 Chronicles retell the history of the Israelites, focusing more on the southern Kingdom of Judah, followed by Ezra and Nehemiah with the return from Babylon (539-445BC), the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple; and Esther, in the exile community in Persia.
            The middle section is often referred to as "Wisdom Literature" or "Writings"--Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes. These are poetic writings, of which Job is very ancient, and the others are collections, mostly attributed to David and Solomon, in fairly chronological order.
            The last two sections are the Prophets: "Major Prophets", the longest prophetic writings: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations (a short collection of poems attributed to Jeremiah), Ezekiel, and Daniel, from the time of the Assyrian invasion to the exile in Babylon and Persia.
            The "Minor Prophets" are a dozen short writings. Hosea is one of the earlier prophets, from the period of the two parallel kingdoms, and Malachi the latest, after the return from Babylon, but the others are otherwise not necessarily in historical order.

These were assembled into one collection by about 200-150BC, and translated into Greek in Alexandria (Egypt). Most of the OT quotations in the New Testament are from the Greek version, known as the Septuagint, from the tradition that it was done by a team of 72 Jewish scholars. In the last century, a number of copies and fragments of these writings have been found, dated from the first and second centuries BC, and which are virtually identical with the versions we have today.

 Next week we’ll look at the New Testament.

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