The Biography of the Bible, by Ernest Sutherland Bates, , at sacred-texts.com
THE BIBLE is a unique literary product. Literature normally springs from and reflects national glory in other fields of human endeavor that to a degree at least would be significant in themselves without the literature. The silent Medes still march their armies across the pages of history, and from voiceless Carthage the triremes still row out to battle; had the Greeks and Romans written no word of their own imperial conquests these would nevertheless have molded the ancient world. With the Hebrews, it was quite otherwise. Had there been no Jewish literature, the Jewish nation would have been long since forgotten. Their literature was not so much expression as a molding force which, Antaeuslike, grew stronger with every outward defeat.
The external facts in no wise justified the Hebrews’ belief in their own importance. Sober history first knows them as only one of the many nomadic groups that came out of the Arabian Desert in the centuries before 1000 B.C., vainly striving to
obtain possession of the richer coastland of Palestine then held by the Canaanites, a nation of Phoenician stock, and by those colonizing Cretans who appear in the Bible as the Philistines. Of the invaders, the Hebrews were, it is true, the most nearly successful, as at last, under their warrior king, David (about 990 B.C.), they did establish themselves in the hill country on the edge of the coastland. David's son, Solomon, contracted an advantageous alliance with Hiram, king of Tyre, and was even deemed worthy to wed with a daughter of the reigning Pharaoh of Egypt. But that was the high point of Hebrew political history. In the reign of Solomon's successor there came the disastrous division of his realm into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah (the former with ten tribes, the latter with but two), both of which thenceforth existed precariously by favor of alliances with one or another of the more powerful neighboring nations. Such slight importance as was possessed by their tiny territory—the two kingdoms together measured only about one hundred miles in length by thirty or forty in breadth—resided solely in their lying across the trade routes from Egypt to the great empires of the East. In that position, they were exposed to constant attacks
and had enough ado merely to maintain their independence as long as possible. The kingdom of Israel was finally destroyed by Assyria in 722 B.C., that of Judah by Babylon in 586 B.C. Thereafter, the Hebrews ceased to exist as a political entity.
Had this been all their story, history today would reckon them among the most insignificant of ancient nations. They were important only because in their own minds they were important: precisely, indeed, because they refused to be refuted by the evidence of outward fact. Something within them told them they were a great nation in spite of everything. And they proved it, though not in the way that they intended, by their literature.
Behind history lies tradition, which may be called a kind of tribal memory, transmitted orally and growing by accretion from generation to generation. The Hebrews were not content with a nameless origin in the Arabian Desert: they claimed to have won their freedom from an earlier Egyptian bondage (which sober history, thus far, has neither been able to affirm conclusively nor to deny); and their legends went still further back to a period when they had inhabited the very land of Palestine they now desired to conquer—and even beyond that to a time when their ancestors had first come
into Palestine from far-distant Chaldaea. Back and still back, bringing mythology to the aid of legend, they traced their origin at last to Adam, first born of men.
The raw material of history was thus already at hand when the prosperous reigns of David and Solomon quickened the interest of the Jews in their own past. The times called for historians, and these appeared.
Probably the earliest large portion of the Bible to be written down in anything like its present form was the part of the Second Book of Samuel now included in chapters ix—xx. This is sometimes called by scholars "The Court History of David" because the internal evidence makes not unplausible a pleasant theory that it was the work of some gifted contemporary personally familiar with the events recorded, a contemporary whose general sympathy with the king did not blind his critical judgment to the errors of his monarch.
After this magnificent beginning, subsequent historians worked backwards from the known to the unknown. Brief biographies of the earlier legendary heroes, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, began to be written. References in the Bible to the now lost "Book of Jashar" and "Book of the Wars of Jehovah"
indicate the existence of what were probably collections of folk poetry that were made at about this time. Fragments of this poetry were incorporated in the historical narratives, sometimes only a couplet or a refrain, sometimes whole poems. Such are the "Song of Lamech" in Genesis, the "Song of Moses" in Exodus, the "Song of the Well" and the "Prophecy of Balaam" in Numbers, the "Apostrophe to the Sun" in Joshua, the "Song of Deborah"—possibly as early as 1100 B.C. and the "Fable of Jotham" in Judges, and finally, the "Song of the Bow" in Second Samuel. Even though it owed much to Babylonian example, this poetry of the Hebrew dawn already had a distinctive character. While of only ballad length it was far more closely knit than any ballad; possessing an epic sweep and power, it was still essentially lyrical but in its volume and amplitude suggested a nation singing, a nation marching in the confidence that it was led by God. As, for example, in the triumphant "Song of Moses":
Often, the narrative element is more stressed, as in the "Song of Deborah":
Blessed above women shall Jael be,
The wife of Heber the Kenite,
Blessed shall she be above women in the tent.
He asked water, and she gave him milk;
She brought forth butter in a lordly dish.
She put her hand to the nail,
And her right hand to the workmen's hammer;
And with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head,
When she had pierced and stricken through his temples.
At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down:
At her feet he bowed, he fell:
Where he bowed, there he fell down dead.
The mother of Sisera looked out at a window,
And cried through the lattice, p. 17
'Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why tarry the wheels of his chariots?
Her wise ladies answered her,
Yea, she returned answer to herself,
'Have they not sped? have they not divided the prey;
To every man a damsel or two;
To Sisera a prey of divers colours,
A prey of divers colours of needlework,
Of divers colours of needlework on both sides, meet for the necks of them that take the spoil?'
So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord:
But let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might."
In the "Song of Deborah," as in the medieval ballad of "Chevy Chase," a mere local skirmish acquired a lien on immortality, but how different the spirit of the two poems! The earlier—by nearly three thousand years—is also, in its literary artistry and emotional subtlety, much the more mature. The Hebrew minstrel is less interested in the events themselves than in their significance, and his admiration is given, not to physical courage but to an act of personal treachery redeemed, in his eyes, by loyalty to the nation. The triumph of the Hebrews is enhanced by the dramatic contrast between the overthrow of Sisera and the self-deceived hopes of his
mother—in much the same way that Aeschylus in The Persians chose to celebrate the Athenian victory at Marathon through the psychology of the defeated instead of through that of the conquerors.
The same mingling of lyrical and epic quality, with a still stronger stressing of the personal note, is found in the "Song of the Bow," attributed by Jewish tradition to King David:
When the Prophets should come, they would have but to alter the martial spirit of this early poetry into a still loftier zeal for righteousness and they would find its peculiar rhapsodic form the appropriate medium for their own mature expression.
Truly, the Hebrews seem to have been born old. Their own legends of their great antiquity as a people are countenanced, if not by the known facts of history, at least by the richness of experience embodied in their literature at its first appearance. It is as if they had indeed been the first to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and had assimilated that bitter fruit long before other nations tasted it. It is as if like Adam and Eve they had never known childhood or youth, their gaiety and inconsequence, that lighthearted spirit of play which lurks beneath the gravest meditations of Plato but is found nowhere in the whole of the Old Testament. Jehovah was a jealous deity; he gave his worshipers the strength to survive, he gave them sublimity and tenderness and an exquisite sense of beauty, but all on condition that they should forget that they had ever been children and should devote themselves manfully, seriously, and dutifully to his
service. And when at last he had settled them in the Promised Land, what service could be more suitable than to expand that fragmentary thanksgiving poetry of Moses and Deborah into a continuous narrative of God's relations with his people?
So it came about that five hundred years before Herodotus the Jews had already begun to write history. Not, of course, history in the modern sense, nor yet exactly in the sense of Herodotus. The Jewish writers were anything but objective-minded: the meaning of all history to them lay in the career of the Chosen People who in their view occupied the center of the stage. They were uninterested in aught that resembled a scientific approach; the direct moral and religious implications of history were all that mattered, and these appeared most clearly in the deeds of individuals. The historical books of the Old Testament resolve themselves into a series of dramatic biographies. From Abraham through Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, on down the long impressive line of judges, kings, and prophets, the series runs, to end at last in the four biographies of Jesus at the beginning of the New Testament.
All this mighty work was essentially a collective enterprise. In order not to go astray in our interpretation at the very outset it is necessary to dismiss
our exacerbated modern sense of private property even in works of literature. Copyrights, and the ideas that accompany them, are of recent origin. Such glorification of professional authors as we find among the Greeks, with their cherished prizes for the successful dramatists at the Dionysiac festivals, had no counterpart among the Hebrews. Properly speaking, there was no such thing as a class of professional authors among them. Their writers, whether historians, prophets, or poets, wrote for glory, not for gain, and even the glory was that of their nation, not their own. In these circumstances, questions of forgery or plagiarism simply did not exist. The historical writers laboriously collected their materials but afterwards freely annotated and revised them; quite shamelessly, and to the great benefit of literature, they put their own words into the mouths of men long dead; some, more scrupulous toward older records, would retain contradictory accounts of the same events; others, more interested in some larger truth, would rewrite the earlier accounts in order to harmonize them: but always, like the builders of the medieval cathedrals, they were concerned with their achievement, not with themselves. Anonymity, not personality, affords the clew to Biblical authorship.
Nothing could have been further from the minds of these Jewish authors than any faintest suspicion that the deeds they recorded were intrinsically of less importance than their own recording of them. The historical Ahab and Jezebel were very different from the biased and impassioned portraits of those characters in the Book of the Kings; but the portraits were more valuable than the characters they misrepresented. The portrait painters themselves, however, did not think in such terms. Ahab and Jezebel were to them simply hateful figures who must be shown as such. Conversely, with the good and great—to let them speak as they would, or should, have spoken was no treachery to truth. So it was quite natural, in the absence of early records, to ascribe whatever laws were found to the traditional legislator Moses, just as it was equally natural after the Scriptures were written for the Psalms to be ascribed to King David, traditionally a poet, and for the Proverbs to be ascribed to King Solomon, traditionally the wisest of men.
A real understanding of Old Testament literature first became possible through the discovery of nineteenth-century scholarship that the early historical books are in the main a compilation of four separate documents, all of which may be approximately
dated. This discovery, when all its implications were developed, necessitated a resetting of the entire Old Testament in new terms of chronology, authorship, and meaning.
Any careful reader can perceive that there are two radically different stories of creation presented in the opening chapters of Genesis, but actually between the naïve, primitive account in the second chapter and the highly philosophical version of the first chapter no less than five centuries intervened. So long was the span of time which elapsed during the writing of even Genesis.
The earliest document, known as J from its use of the name Jahveh, or Jehovah, for the deity, was put together in the ninth century B.C. in the Southern Kingdom. It constituted a connected narrative of Hebrew history from the creation through the reign of Saul. A century later, in the Northern Kingdom, was compiled the second or E Document, so called because in it the deity appears under the name Elohim. It begins a little later than J but comes down to the same period. After the downfall of the Northern Kingdom, both documents came into the possession of Southern Kingdom writers who combined them into a single narrative in the seventh century B.C.
J and E dealt with the same general material of myth and legend but in somewhat different fashion. There is considerable divergence in vocabulary and style and great divergence in moral and religious sentiment. In the earlier narrative, as one might expect, the customs of the people are more savage and the conception of the deity is more frankly anthropomorphic. From J comes the insistence on Jehovah as primarily a god of war. To E we are indebted for the story of Joseph; the treatment of character is subtler than in J, and the god of E's theology, while still a tribal deity, is less vindictive. The two documents furthermore reveal diametrically opposite attitudes toward the institution of monarchy; where J accepts it as of divine origin, E—written when the apostasy of the Northern kings, Omri and Ahab, was in men's minds—regards the inauguration of the monarchy as a decline from the earlier semidemocratic form of government in the period of the judges.
During the eighth and seventh centuries came the prophetic movement which determined the whole later course of Jewish religion and literature. It not only directly inspired what was for the Hebrews in their creative middle period the most
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Codex Vaticanus—The oldest complete manuscript of the New Testament (fourth century)
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Codex Sinaiticus (fourth-century manuscript)
valuable part of the Pentateuch, namely, the book of Deuteronomy; indirectly, it inspired nearly all the rest of the Old Testament in the form in which we have it and even the far distant New Testament as well. The heart of the Bible lies in the prophetic literature rather than in the so-called Mosaic law, the latter itself owing far more to the Prophets than to Moses.
The prophetic movement was without true analogues elsewhere in history. The origin of the Prophets was shabby enough; in the beginning they seem to have been mere soothsayers, foretellers of the future, miraclemongers. Their early representative, Balaam, in the book of Numbers, is little more impressive than Calchas, the mantis kakaios of the Iliad. In Greece, the influence of the soothsayers was replaced by that of the Delphic oracle; in Rome, the soothsayers remained mere soothsayers to the end; in Arabia they became the mad dancing dervishes, and in India degenerated into the self-lacerating fakirs. Among the Hebrews alone they grew into a moral force, ultimately the most profound in the community. Doubtless, some aura of the occult long hung about them, as can be seen from the marvels attributed to Elijah and Elisha, but by the
time of the eighth century they had come to abjure signs and wonders in favor of a purely spiritual message.
The Prophets stood apart from the regular priesthood, and were often hostile to it. Their credentials were those of their own genius. They were a kind of inspired moral rhapsodist who trusted to inner inspiration and illumination. "The word of the Lord that came unto" Hosea, or Micah, or Zephaniah—so runs the formula. Having no faith in rites or ceremonies, they preached a religion of inner rectitude. They were much concerned about the sufferings of the poor and the exactions of the rich. They were as one in demanding a loftier worship of Jehovah as the God of righteousness, the only God. Through them the Jewish religion was changed from a form of henotheism, a worship of one god as greatest of many gods, to a definite monotheism. Jehovah ceased to dwell upon Mount Sinai: his dwelling became the universe; he ceased to be a god of war and became a god of justice.
In politics, the Prophets were intense nationalists, isolationists. When Amos, the first of the literary Prophets appeared as early as 750 B.C., the desperate situation of Israel and Judah was already evident. In fact, it was the national peril that
brought the Prophets upon the scene. One and all, they strove to strengthen the morale of their people by bidding them abstain from the idolatries of the surrounding nations, by pleading with them to search their own hearts, by exhorting them to faith in Jehovah. The essence of their political message was that the Hebrews must look to themselves for salvation rather than to their ever-shifting alliances with this or that neighboring monarch.
The moral revival initiated by Amos, who came from the South to preach in the North, and carried on a decade later by his Northern follower, Hosea, did not avail to stay the fall of Israel. But neither did that terrifying event halt the prophetic movement. Rather, it gave new impetus to it in the Southern Kingdom, where the sense of national peril bred men of a caliber to meet it.
Greatest of them was Isaiah of Jerusalem, probably the most influential of all Old Testament writers. The first city dweller among the Prophets, an aristocrat at home in the court, he was a statesman whose wise advice was sought and taken by King Hezekiah, and after the defeat of Sennacherib, which he foretold, his prestige redounded to the benefit of the whole prophetic movement. Preaching both before and after the fall of Israel, he foresaw
inevitable disasters for the Southern Kingdom also, but placed his hope in the formation of a morally disciplined "saving remnant" who should be strong enough to survive and, under some future leader, restore the glory of the nation. From him first sprang the Messianic hope which was to grow stronger instead of weaker as century after century, postponing the realization, would make the need the greater.
Contemporary with Isaiah was Micah the Morasthite, the "Prophet of the poor." A plebeian and a countryman, he was yet a twin brother of the spirit with the urban aristocrat of Jerusalem. The two were equally unsparing in their censure of the exactions of the rich; the extortionate landlords and the venal judges, who existed then as now equally in city and countryside, were excoriated by them in ringing tones. Both sensed the connection between economics and war; and both looked forward beyond the trying present to an eventual period of social justice and universal peace:
All of these Prophets were poets, Isaiah the greatest. Amos' verse was a bugle call to battle for righteousness—he dealt almost solely in denunciation; the more pastoral Hosea preferred the method of entreaty and the note of flutes; Micah's verse had the richness of organ tones; but Isaiah's was a mastery of every instrument. It is not surprising that the reputation of Isaiah grew so great that the poems of numerous unidentified later Prophets (one of them his equal in loftiness if not in range) came to be added to his own in the collection under his name in the Old Testament (chapters XL to LXVI).
Shelley's conception that poets are the natural lawgivers of society was now literally fulfilled for perhaps the only time in history. The book of Deuteronomy, composed directly under prophetic influence, was nothing less than a revision and expansion of the Mosaic law designed to harmonize it with the poetic insight, the high moral principles, and the monotheistic theology of the Prophets. The authors of the book are not known, nor has its date been certainly established. But it was probably written during the reign of Hezekiah or in the early part of that of his son, Manasseh, who became king
at the age of twelve, fell under pagan influence, turned idolater, and endeavored to exterminate the Prophets. According to Jewish tradition, Isaiah himself suffered martyrdom by being sawn asunder. Yet the prophetic movement was not killed. As usual in such cases, it was merely driven underground. At some time during the persecution, the book of Deuteronomy was hidden for safekeeping in the Temple where it was not discovered until 621 B.C. when the priest Hilkiah carried it to the friendly King Josiah, an idealistic youth of eighteen, who at once made it the basis of extensive legal reforms, as is related in the twenty-third chapter of the Second Book of the Kings.
The Deuteronomic legislation was accepted as of Mosaic origin. The Deuteronomists themselves could scarcely have been aware how little of their work actually stemmed from such an august source. It was based upon what is known as "The Book of the Covenant" (Exodus xx. 22–xxiii. 19), then universally ascribed to Moses, but actually no later in most of its legislation than the beginning of the monarchy. Even the Ten Commandments (Exodus xx. 1–17) are now generally considered to have been of eighth century rather than of Mosaic origin. Yet parallels have been found to the Code of Hammurabi,
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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-
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.
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.
[paragraph continues] 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
[paragraph continues] 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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Codex Alexandrinus (fifth-century manuscript), sent by Cyril Lucar, Patriarch of Alexandria, to King Charles I of England
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Fourteenth-century manuscript of the Wyclif Bible
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
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
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.
Misinterpreted in antiquity as a symbolic poem depicting
the love of Jehovah for his people, this secular work crept into the Jewish sacred canon and from it was transferred to the Christian canon with the further misinterpretation that it symbolized the wedding of Christ and his Church. Conceived in this light, it was the favorite reading of the German medieval mystics, Eckhart, Tauler, and Suso, as well as that of both the antagonistic religious leaders of New England, John Winthrop and Roger Williams.
From the end of the fourth century came the collection of the half-secular, half-religious gnomic verse known as the book of Proverbs, really a collection of collections, including the proverbs originally attributed to Solomon, a later compilation of the time of Hezekiah, and others attributed to a mysterious "King Lemuel" and to "Agur, the son of Jakeh." The book of Proverbs is an example of what the Hebrews called "wisdom literature," a term of broad significance covering prudential folklore maxims such as are common to all nations and also highly philosophical discourses in which human reason was regarded as identical in nature with the divine "wisdom" revealed in the order of the universe. On the one hand, we find:
And, on the other:
Wisdom literature in its loftiest form is found in the Book of Job. Building upon the framework of an old pre-Deuteronomic folk tale, the unknown fourth-century author constructed a dramatic poem which took up again more poignantly that problem of evil which had embarrassed Habakkuk and Jeremiah—the question of how to reconcile God's justice with the suffering of the innocent. Though he probed deeply, he found no answer other than
that such suffering seemed a necessary part of a general scheme of things which in its grand totality he was fain to accept, but in his central figure he created, not the "patient Job" of popular tradition but a Promethean character, the most rebellious in the Bible, whose insistence upon personal integrity recalled the old prophetic strain here re-enunciated with an intensity unequaled elsewhere in the Old Testament.
A century or more later, the book of Ecclesiastes carried the questionings of Job still further to the point of doubting the objective basis of the entire system of human values.
"Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What profit hath man of all his labour wherein he laboureth under the sun? . . .
"I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also was a striving after wind. For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. . . . For of the wise man, even as of the fool, there is no remembrance for ever; seeing that in the days to come all will have been already forgotten. And how doth the wise man die even as the fool! . . . All is vanity and a striving after wind."
This profoundly pessimistic work, in which reason seemed to turn its subtlest weapons against itself, would hardly have been admitted into the Jewish sacred canon but for the additions of a pious redactor which served to blunt its point. Even with these conventional scholia attached, Ecclesiastes has remained the favorite Old Testament reading of philosophical skeptics.
Probably as late as the second century B.C. was made the world's most important collection of sacred poetry called the Book of Psalms. Many of these were of pre-exilic origin, some possibly even going as far back as the time of King David, but the
great majority were unquestionably postexilic. They make up the most varied book in the entire Bible: all the inner conflicts of the Hebrews are expressed in it—the struggles between sacerdotalism and the individual conscience, between nationalism and humanism, between vindictiveness and tolerance, between despair and the uttermost of faith. Because these conflicts were permanently human as well as Hebrew, because the positive tone of hope and thanksgiving usually emerged triumphant, and because of the tender yet exalted notes of highest poetry often present, the Psalms have always been the best-loved portion of the Bible. Divided by the Hebrews into five books, a division not usually retained in modern translations, they were sung in the synagogues to the accompaniment of musical instruments and early became the chief hymnbook of the Church.
In the centuries after the return from captivity, great events had happened in the outer world leaving the isolated community in Judea long untouched by them. The glory that was Athens had waxed and waned in the interval, Sparta and Thebes had risen and fallen, Alexander had overthrown the Persian Empire, and it was parceled out among his generals. All this meant nothing to the subject nation
of the Hebrews, who passed unmurmuring from subjection to the Persians to subjection to the Greeks. But when that unusually intolerant Greek, King Antiochus Epiphanes, attempted in the middle of the second century to root out the Jewish religion, the nation rose in arms under Simon Maccabeus and his son Judas. The literary fruits of their heroic and ultimately successful rebellion were the three works of patriotic fiction, the partially apocalyptic Book of Daniel, the Book of Esther, and the Book of Judith, together with the last of the Biblical narratives, the two Books of the Maccabees.
Judith, the two Books of the Maccabees, and the earlier mentioned Tobit belong in the collection known as the Apocrypha which also includes two notable works of wisdom literature, the book of Ecclesiasticus, written by Jesus, the son of Sirach, in the second century and translated from Aramaic into Greek by his grandson, and the later Wisdom of Solomon, the only book of the Old Testament to reflect the influence of Greek philosophy and the only one to breathe any strong hope of personal immortality; the charming tale of Susanna and the elders, added at the beginning of the Book of Daniel, and a less worthy addition at the end of the same work, the exaggeratedly fantastic "Destruction
of Bel and the Dragon"; also a poetic interpolation in the Book of Daniel, "The Song of the Three Children," which is included in the Prayer Book of the Church of England; an unauthentic "Prayer of Manassas King of Juda When He Was Holden Captive in Babylon"; seven rather stupid chapters added to Esther; a book attributed to Baruch, Jeremiah's secretary, followed by a letter of Jeremiah; and the two Books of Esdras consisting of a Greek expansion of the Hebrew Ezra.
The books mentioned in the preceding paragraph were excluded from the Hebrew canon of sacred literature, not because of literary inferiority, which characterizes most but not all of them, but because the canon reached its final formulation in the triple division of the Law, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa (or Writings) at the end of the second century B.C. before the Apocryphal works had become widely known and indeed before some of them had been composed. The Greek canon adopted later by the Jews of Alexandria included the Apocrypha, and it formed an integral part of the Septuagint and Vulgate translations. Although some question of their value always existed, the Roman Catholic Church officially placed the Apocryphal books on an equality with the other books
of the Bible by action of the Council of Trent (1545–63). The more skeptical Protestants admitted them usually with the qualification that they were to be read for "edification" but not for the "establishment of doctrine." They were included in the King James version and regularly appeared in editions of it until, beginning with 1827, they were arbitrarily omitted in the millions of copies circulated by the British and American Bible Societies. As a result, the great majority of British and American Protestants have long since come to regard as the true Bible one artificially limited, not by the official action of any of their churches but by the decision of semiprivate missionary agencies. Thus the British and American Societies, which should be given credit for the greater part of the popular knowledge of the Bible which now exists, must also be held responsible for the regrettable ignorance of the Apocrypha. From the literary and historical points of view, at least, a Bible without the Apocrypha is a truncated Bible.
From the same points of view it is regrettable that Jewish sacred writings of the first century B.C. such as the very influential Book of Enoch and Book of Jubilees were omitted, because of their late date, from both the Hebrew and the Greek canon. As
matters stand, there is a gap of over a century between the Old and the New Testaments, and it was precisely in the literature of that period, unrepresented in our Scriptures, that a number of the ideas taken for granted in the New Testament were first fully developed: the doctrine of personal immortality, the belief in the immediate coming of the Messiah, and the expectation of the imminent destruction of the world.
Thousands of books have been written and will continue to be written on the New Testament. For the purposes of the present volume, however, it may be treated much more briefly than the Old Testament, and this for several reasons. Its writing occupied little more than fifty years instead of a millennium. To all but orthodox Jews it is now much more familiar than the Old Testament. And it presents fewer purely historical problems.
The order of the books as they appear in the New Testament is, of course, as far from chronological as is that of the Old Testament. They are arranged, very roughly, according to importance, with little regard to the date of writing. A chronological rearrangement would place most of the Epistles first, then the Synoptic Gospels, then a
few late Epistles and the Book of Revelation, and finally the Gospel and Epistles of John.
The earliest Christian compositions were the Epistles of Paul, written in Greek, like the rest of the New Testament, during A.D. 50–61. It is hardly too much to say that the labors of the Apostle in those few years transformed Christianity from a local cult into a world religion. Certainly no other man ever achieved results of such magnitude in so short a space of time. His success arose as much from the direct influence of his powerful personality on his many missionary journeys as from the persuasiveness of his writings; yet the popularity of these with Christians of all ages is the best evidence of their enduring power. Much in them was highly legalistic, but whenever their author freed himself from the entanglements of rabbinical learning and the involvements of argument, his language became simple yet eloquent, moving with ease from moods of emotional tenderness to passionate invective. His influence was so great that other writers soon attempted to wield his pen. Of the Epistles attributed to him, the unquestionably genuine ones were, in the order of composition, First Thessalonians, Second Thessalonians, Galatians, First Corinthians, Second Corinthians, Romans,
Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. The authenticity of the excellent Epistle to the Ephesians is more doubtful; those to Timothy and Titus are now generally rejected; and the great Epistle to the Hebrews has long been recognized as not of Pauline authorship.
Little is known of the writers of the minor Epistles in the New Testament. Jude is only a name; the two ascribed to Peter were really anonymous, as were the three attributed to John, the author of the latter, however, being probably also the author of the Gospel according to John. The Epistle of James may just possibly have been the work of James, the brother of Jesus; at any rate, its spirit is close to that of the Synoptic Gospels in its protest against social injustice and in its emphasis upon salvation by works rather than upon salvation by faith.
If all we knew about the life of Jesus of Nazareth were derived from Paul and his followers, it would be next to nothing. Paul had ample opportunity to have familiarized himself with the details of Jesus’ life through his personal acquaintance with the original disciples, but he seems to have been little interested in the human Jesus; it was the resurrected Jesus who was valuable to him as a sign of God's
redemptive love for man, and in spite of the famous passage in First Corinthians—"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity"—Paul's emphasis was normally laid upon faith in the divine Christ rather than upon the moral teachings of the actual Jesus of Nazareth.
The first record of the latter is believed to have been a lost collection of the "Sayings of Jesus" made by Matthew, which is mentioned by the early Christian writer Papias (about A.D. 130). There was also, presumably, a lost Aramaic account of the life of Jesus. Most likely on this basis, John Mark, a missionary companion of both Peter and Paul, produced in about A. D. 70 his Gospel in Greek, a simple biographical account which included few of the parables or other teachings,—followed, perhaps a decade later by the Gospel according to Matthew which made much use of the lost "Sayings" together with some use of Mark and the lost Aramaic Gospel. Finally, after still another decade, Luke, the most accomplished literary artist among the Gospel writers, combined Mark and Matthew, together with fresh material gathered through his own researches, in a finished and complete biography. When, afterwards, Luke added his invaluable account of the early Christian
[paragraph continues] Church in the Acts of the Apostles, what may be called the historical portion of the New Testament was completed. The Fourth Gospel was written much later, probably in the first quarter of the second century A. D., and under the influence of Greek philosophy as expressed in the work of Philo Judaeus; though it contains some fresh material such as the incident of the woman taken in adultery, as a whole it seems to represent a conscious rearrangement of the Synoptic narratives in order to emphasize the divinity of Jesus.
Mark's Gospel was much the briefest of the four and can easily be read at a single sitting—as indeed it should be to obtain the full effect of its swift dramatic narrative. Matthew's, more massive and inclusive, was written primarily for the Jews, with many quotations from the Old Testament to buttress the new teachings; it is less vivid than Mark's and not well unified, but it has the inestimable value of containing the collection of parables. Only about a third of Luke's Gospel was original, but this section introduced sixteen fresh parables, several Christian hymns, and a number of characters, mainly women, who do not appear in the other Gospels; its shorter form of the Sermon on the Mount seems to represent an earlier version than
that in Matthew; it is the tenderest of the Gospels, foreshadowing the feminine element in Christianity to be developed centuries later in the Catholic worship of the Virgin and the saints; and although a compilation, it was so skillfully constructed that its parts blend beautifully into a consistent whole. The author of the Fourth Gospel was the mystic among the Gospel writers, interested chiefly in the symbolic meaning of the events recorded, this meaning being brought out in the conversations and long discourses with which the book abounds. Nearly all the great theological disputes of the next three centuries turned on the doctrines of this Gospel, which exercised a greater influence on the immediate future than the other three together.
Probably about the year A.D. 90 was written the book of Revelation, which now stands at the end of the New Testament. While it is chronologically misplaced and while ethically it represents a reversion to a pre-Christian way of thought, dramatically it is exactly where it should be. Picturing, in a series of apocalyptic visions almost blinding in their splendor, the destruction of the earth and the final conflict between the armed hosts of good and evil, this, the most Hebraic of the New Testament writings, breathing the spirit of the Prophets
and thunderous with shouts of battle and cries of victory, formed a fitting conclusion to a thousand years of literature that was born of suffering and heroic struggle.