The Hebrew Bible
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The Hebrew Bible

A Contemporary Introduction to the Christian Old Testament and the Jewish Tanakh

David M. Carr

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eBook - ePub

The Hebrew Bible

A Contemporary Introduction to the Christian Old Testament and the Jewish Tanakh

David M. Carr

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Über dieses Buch

Discover the historical and social context of one of the most influential works ever written with this authoritative new resource

The newly revised second edition of The Hebrew Bible: A Contemporary Introduction to the Christian Old Testament and Jewish Tanakh delivers a brief and up-to-date introduction to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in the broader context of world history. Its treatment of the formation of the Bible amidst different historical periods allows readers to understand the biblical texts in context. It also introduces readers to scholarly methods used to explore the formation of the Hebrew Bible and its later interpretation by Jews and Christians.

Written by a leading scholar in the field, this new edition incorporates the most recent research on the archaeology and history of early Israel, the formation of the Pentateuch, and the development of the historical and poetic books. Students will benefit from the inclusion of study questions in each chapter, focus texts from the Bible that illustrate major points, timelines, illustrations, photographs and a glossary to help them retain knowledge.

The book also includes:

  • A deepened and up-to-date focus on recent methods of biblical study, including trauma studies, African American, womanist, and ecocritical approaches to the Bible
  • An orientation to multiple bibles, translations and digital resources for study of the Bible
  • An exploration of the emergence of ancient Israel, its first oral traditions and its earliest writings
  • Discussions of how major features of the Bible reflect communal experiences of trauma and resilience as Israel survived under successive empires of the Ancient Near East.
  • Fuller treatment of the final formation of biblical books in early Judaism, including coverage of diverse early Jewish texts (e.g. Ben Sira, Enoch, Judith) that were revered as scripture before there were more clearly defined Jewish and Christian Bibles

Designed for students of seminary courses and undergraduate students taking an introduction to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, this second edition of The Hebrew Bible also will interest general readers with interest in the formation of the Bible.

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Studying the Bible in its Ancient Context(s)

  1. Chapter Overview
  2. Academic Study of the Bible
  3. The Geography and Major Characters of the Biblical Drama
  4. Major Periods in the Biblical Drama
  5. Multiple Contexts, Multiple Methods
  6. Conclusion
  7. Chapter One Review
  8. Resources for Further Study
  9. Appendix: Israel’s History and Empires


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?” We will briefly compare the general outline of the biblical story with the history of Israel that will structure this textbook. Next you gain a bird’s‐eye view of the major regions of the land of Israel, the periods of Israel’s history, and some 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 the appendix to this chapter).


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?

Academic Study of the Bible

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.
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 reading the King James Translation (1611), with its beautiful, but often obscure, seventeenth‐century cadences and words. Moreover, the Hebrew texts that are the basis of all translations are thousands of years old, dating to a span of centuries from 1000 BCE to around 164 BCE. These texts reflect ancient origins, in many ways, and this can make them 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 a world history class. Furthermore, certain types of writing mean little or nothing to contemporary readers, for example the long genealogies of Genesis or the detailed instructions for sacrificing animals in Leviticus. As a result of all this unfamiliarity, 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.
The goal of this book is to give you keys to understand the Bible, including its more obscure parts. 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.
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 when they were written. 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. Overall, as we move through Israelite history, we will see how biblical texts reflect the influences of successive world empires: the Mesopotamian empires of Assyria and Babylonia, and then the Persian and Hellenistic (Greek) 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

Steps in the Bible’s own story This textbook’s discussion of biblical texts and traditions in the order they were created
Creation, flood, and other materials about the origins of the world (Genesis 1–11)
Stories of Israel’s patriarchs and matriarchs (e.g. Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Joseph; Genesis 12–50)
The growth of the people of Israel and their exodus from Egypt (Exodus 1–15)
40 years in the wilderness, gift of law at Sinai (Exodus 16–40; Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)
Israel’s conquest of Canaan (Joshua)
Tribal life under various leaders (Judges)

The establishment of Saul and then David’s monarchy (1–2 Samuel)

The kings of Jerusalem and Israel (1–2 Kings 17 also 1 Chronicles 10–2 Chronicles 2...