An Introduction to the Old Testament
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An Introduction to the Old Testament

Sacred Texts and Imperial Contexts of the Hebrew Bible

David M. Carr

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eBook - ePub

An Introduction to the Old Testament

Sacred Texts and Imperial Contexts of the Hebrew Bible

David M. Carr

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Über dieses Buch

This comprehensive, introductory textbook is unique in exploring the emergence of the Hebrew Bible in the broader context of world history. It particularly focuses on the influence of pre-Roman empires, empowering students with a richer understanding of Old Testament historiography.

  • Provides a historical context for students learning about the development and changing interpretations of biblical texts
  • Examines how these early stories were variously shaped by interaction with the Mesopotamian and Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, and Hellenistic empires
  • Incorporates recent research on the formation of the Pentateuch
  • Reveals how key biblical texts came to be interpreted by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths
  • Includes numerous student-friendly features, such as study questions, review sections, bibliographies, timelines, and illustrations and photos

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Information

Jahr
2011
ISBN
9781444356236
CHAPTER 1
STUDYING THE BIBLE IN ITS ANCIENT CONTEXT(S)
Chapter Outline
Chapter Overview
The Geography and Major Characters of the Biblical Drama
Major Periods in the Biblical Drama
Multiple Contexts, Multiple Methods
Conclusion
Chapter One Review
Resources for Further Study
Appendix: Israel’s History and Empires
CHAPTER OVERVIEW
This chapter introduces the basic orientation of the textbook and sets the stage for what follows with three overviews: geographical, historical, and methodological. The beginning of the chapter answers the questions “What makes academic study of the Bible different from typical ‘Bible study’?” and “Why is such academic study important?” Next you gain a bird’s-eye view of the major regions of the land of Israel, the major periods of Israel’s history, and the major methods used by scholars to analyze the Bible. Your future study will be helped in particular by learning the location of the two major regions of ancient Israel – the heartland of tribal Israel to the north and the area of David’s clan, Judah, to the south (with the famous city of Jerusalem between these two areas) – and by memorizing the dates of the major periods in the history of Israel (see also the appendix to this chapter).
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READING
Exodus 14–15. Scholars see two accounts of deliverance in Exodus 14: can you?
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EXERCISE
Write a half-page to one-page statement or mini-autobiography of your past encounters with the Bible. Which parts of it have been most central in such encounters? Have you studied the Bible in an academic context before? Have you had unusually positive or negative experiences with the Bible or people citing it?
At first glance, the Bible is one of the most familiar of books. Most families own a copy. Every weekend, Jews and Christians read from it at worship. There are echoes of the Bible in all kinds of music, from Handel’s Messiah to reggae and hip hop. Popular expressions, such as “Thou shalt not” or “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” come from the Bible. Movies are often filled with biblical allusions. And you still can find a copy of the Bible, or at least the New Testament and Psalms, in many hotels.
AD, BC, BCE, and CE
The older expressions for dates, BC and AD, are explicitly Christian in orientation. bc comes from “Before Christ,” and AD comes from the Latin anno Domini, which means “in the year of the Lord.”
Over the last decades scholarly works have tended to use the more neutral terms BCE and CE, which refer to “Before the Common Era” and “Common Era” respectively. The year references are the same, but the labels are not specifically Christian.
This Introduction uses the standard scholarly BCE and CE abbreviations.
At second glance, the Bible is one of the most foreign of books. Its language, even in English translation, is often difficult to understand, especially if you are using the King James Translation (1611), with its beautiful, but often obscure, seventeenth-century cadences and words. The biblical texts that are translated in the King James and other versions are still older. The New Testament was written in Greek, and its texts date from about two thousand years ago (50–200 CE). The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and some of its parts date as far back as three thousand years (1000–164 BCE). Both testaments reflect their ancient origins in many ways. They use ancient literary forms and images that are not common now. They come out of religious contexts much different from contemporary Judaism or Christianity. And they are addressed to historical struggles and circumstances that most readers of the Bible do not know.
Bible Abbreviations, Verses, and Chapters
When books and articles cite biblical passages by chapter and verse, they usually follow this order: abbreviation for the biblical book, followed by the chapter number, followed by the verse. An example is Isa 44:28 (chapter 44, verse 28). If more than one verse is cited, dashes and commas can be used: Isa 44:20, 28 or Isa 44:10–13, 28. When scholars want to refer to the bulk of a passage without detailing specific verses left out, they will add an asterisk to indicate that some verses are not meant to be included in the reference, e.g. Genesis 28*.
Here are standard abbreviations for biblical books shared by Jewish and Christian Bibles (given in the Old Testament order):
Gen = Genesis
Exod = Exodus
Lev = Leviticus
Num = Numbers
Deut = Deuteronomy
Josh = Joshua
Judg = Judges
Ruth = Ruth
Sam = Samuel
Kgs = Kings
Chr = Chronicles
Ezra = Ezra
Neh = Nehemiah
Esther = Esther
Job = Job
Ps or Pss = Psalms
Prov = Proverbs
Eccl = Ecclesiastes Song = Song of Songs
(also known as Canticles, and Song of Solomon)
Isa = Isaiah
Jer = Jeremiah
Lam = Lamentations
Ezek = Ezekiel
Dan = Daniel
Hos = Hosea
Joel = Joel
Amos = Amos
Ob = Obadiah
Jon = Jonah
Micah = Micah
Nah = Nahum
Hab = Habakkuk
Zeph = Zephaniah
Hag = Haggai
Zech = Zechariah
The ancient aspects of the Bible are part of what give it its holy aura, but they also make biblical texts difficult to understand. If someone sees a reference to “Cyrus” in Isa 44:28 and 45:1, that person likely will have few associations with who “Cyrus” was and what he meant to the writer of this text. Most readers have even fewer associations with places and empires mentioned in the Bible, such as “Ephraim” or “Assyria.” Usually, their only acquaintance with “Egypt” or “Babylonia” is a brief discussion in some kind of world history class. Furthermore, other aspects of biblical texts are often hard for readers to get much out of now – such as the genealogies of Genesis or the harsh words about enemies in the psalms. This means that large portions of the Bible mean little or nothing to many readers. Few people who try to read the Bible from beginning to end actually get very far, and those who do often fail to make much sense out of what they have read.
This book will give you keys to understand the often obscure parts of the Bible. Names (e.g. Cyrus), events (e.g. the liberation from Babylonian captivity), and general perspectives in the Bible that previously you might have skipped past or not noticed should come into focus and make sense. For many, the experience of reading the Bible in historical context is much like finally getting to see a movie in color that beforehand had only been available in black and white. It is not at all that the meaning of the Bible can or should be limited to the settings in which it was originally composed. On the contrary: along the way we will see how the Bible is an important document now thanks to the fact that it has been radically reinterpreted over centuries, first by successive communities of ancient Israelites and later by Jewish and Christian communities who cherished the Bible. Still, learning to see scriptures in relation to ancient history and culture can make previously bland or puzzling biblical texts come alive.
The Origins of Verses and Chapters
The earliest Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible lack any chapter or verse markings or numberings. The Hebrew Bible/Old Testament was divided into sections for reading in the synagogue, and the Greek New Testament was divided into sections as well, but there were no numbers in these early manuscripts.
Verses were first added into the Hebrew Bible (without numbers) by the Masoretes, a group of Jewish scholars who worked in the seventh to tenth centuries ce and produced the standard edition of the Hebrew Bible now used in Judaism. The chapter divisions we now have were developed in 1205 by Stephen Langton, a professor in Paris and eventually an archbishop of the Church of England.
The first Old Testament and New Testament Bible with verses was produced in 1555 by a Parisian book seller, Robert Estienne (also known as Stephanus). He is reported to have divided a copy of his New Testament into the present 7,959 verses while riding horseback from Paris to Lyon. He also numbered the chapters and verses of both the Old and New Testament.
To pursue this historical approach, we will not read the Bible from beginning to end. Instead, we will look at biblical texts in relationship to the different historical contexts that they addressed. This means that rather than starting with the creation stories of Genesis 1–3, this book starts with remnants of Israel’s earliest oral traditions. These are songs and sagas from the time when Israel had no cities and was still a purely tribal people. Our next stop will be texts from the rise of Israel’s first monarchies, particularly certain “royal” psalms that celebrate God’s choice of Jerusalem and anointing of kings there. As we move on through Israelite history, we will see how biblical texts reflect the very different influences of major world empires: the Mesopotamian empires of Assyria and Babylonia, and then the Persian, Hellenistic (Greek), and Roman empires. The common thread will be historical, and this will mean starting most chapters with some discussion of the historical and cultural context of the biblical texts to be discussed there.
Overview: Order of Main Discussions of Biblical Books
Period of the Judges: Chapter 2. Oral traditions in Genesis 12–35, Exodus, and Judges 5.
Early monarchy/David and Solomon: Chapters 3 and 4. 1–2 Samuel, texts attributed to David and Solomon (Psalms [especially royal and Zion psalms], Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs), and Genesis 2–4 and parts of 6–11 (an early primeval history).
Later northern and southern monarchies: Chapters 5 and 6. Amos, Hosea, Micah and early parts of Isaiah (along with possible northern traditions in Exodus, Genesis 25–35, etc.).
Twilight of the Monarchy in Jerusalem: Chapters 7 and 8. Deuteronomy through 2 Kings, Jeremiah, Nahum, and Zephaniah.
Exile of Judeans to Babylon: Chapters 9 and 10. Lamentations, Ezekiel, Isaiah 40–55, and major parts of Genesis through Numbers (especially the Abraham story in Genesis 12–25 and the book of Leviticus).
Return of exiles and rebuilding: Chapters 11 and 12. Haggai, Zechariah, Isaiah 56–66, Jonah, Ruth, Job and the book of Psalms (along with parts of Ezra–Nehemiah and Genesis through Numbers).
The Hellenistic empires and crisis: Chapter...

Inhaltsverzeichnis