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The Old Testament


BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT, continued

DANIEL

OVERVIEW

The book of Daniel consists of two main sections. The first part (chapters 1-6) tells a series of stories about a character named Daniel who is supposed to have lived in Babylon during the time of exile. The second part (chapters 7-12) recounts, in the first person, four revelations to this selfsame Daniel. Both the rabbinical and the early Christian commentators accepted the stories as historically true and regarded the prophecies as having been written in Babylon in the middle of the sixth century B.C. This view was challenged as early as the third century A.D. by a pagan philosopher, later quoted by Saint Jerome:

[The Book of Daniel] was composed by someone who lived in Judea in the reign of Antiochus who was surnamed Epiphanes, and he did not predict coming events but narrated past ones. Consequently, what he relates down to Antiochus embodies true history, but if he added any surmises about the future, he just invented them, for he did not know the future.

NOTE: Modern scholars agree that the second part of Daniel does indeed date from the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.), the oppressive king whose attempt to wipe out Judaism sparked the Maccabean rebellion. Even so, the first section may have been written up to 140 years earlier. The portrait of Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Daniel is regarded by experts in Mesopotamian culture as wholly legendary and without historical value.

Most of Daniel is written either in Aramaic or in Hebrew obviously translated from Aramaic. A chronological listing of the books of the Old Testament that are considered canonical by all faiths would place Daniel last.

THE STORIES

You may already be familiar with several of the stories in Daniel. In chapters 1 and 2, Daniel and his companions Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are brought from Judah to Babylon, educated for the king's service, given Babylonian names (Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, respectively), and, because of Daniel's skill at dream interpretation, promoted to positions of influence in the royal household. (Can you recall another biblical figure who, taken against his will to an alien land, becomes an important royal administrator? If, like the Pharaoh in Exodus 1:8, you "knew not Joseph," you should review Genesis 40:1-41:44.)

Chapter 3 recounts the well-known tale of how Nebuchadnezzar sets up a golden idol and orders all his officials to bow down to it. When the king hears that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego have not followed his order, he has them cast into a "burning fiery furnace." Miraculously, a fourth figure who looks like "the son of God" (a phrase rendered in a modern Jewish translation as "a divine being") appears in the midst of the flames, and the three Jews step out of the blazing fire with not a hair singed or a thread of clothing blackened.

In chapter 5 we meet Nebuchadnezzar's successor, Belshazzar, who gives a great feast at which a mysterious hand writes a puzzling message on the walls of the palace. The king's wise men are stumped, but Daniel correctly interprets the punning message to mean that Belshazzar will soon be overthrown.

In chapter 6 we are once again in familiar territory. Daniel has become prominent in the government of Darius the Mede. Daniel's rivals, knowing he prays daily to Yahweh, plot to trap Daniel by having Darius issue a decree forbidding anyone for a thirty-day period to address any request to any man or god except Darius himself. Daniel, observed in prayer in violation of the decree, is brought to the king, who is reluctant to punish him but is pressured to do so by the jealous courtiers. Cast into a lions' den, Daniel is saved by God. Not so fortunate are his accusers, who (along with their wives and children) are condemned by Darius and torn apart by the same lions they hoped would make a meal of Daniel.

THE REVELATIONS

The last six chapters of Daniel are far more complex than the first six. Through a series of visions, dreams, and revelations, Daniel surveys the history of Israel from Darius to Antiochus and looks ahead to a "time of trouble" (12:1) when the dead will be resurrected, a final judgment will be made, and the mysteries of heaven and earth will be unsealed. This kind of writing is called apocalyptic, from a Greek word meaning "to uncover" or "to disclose." The Book of Daniel is the only full-blown example of apocalyptic writing to be found in the Old Testament, but the seeds of this view of the world to come can be found in the idea of the "Day of the Lord," or "Day of Yahweh." This is the day of judgment on which God is to reward the just and punish the wicked.

Originally, the "Day of the Lord" referred to a judgment that took place annually, coinciding with the celebration of the autumnal New Year. Over time, however, the concept was applied to Yahweh's final judgment, a day of terror out of which righteousness would triumph. The Day of the Lord is mentioned prominently by Isaiah, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Zephaniah, and Malachi, as well as Ezekiel and Zechariah. The idea of the coming Day of the Lord gradually evolved into the apocalyptic belief, evident in Daniel and the Dead Sea Scrolls, that a great struggle was under way between the forces of good (light) and the forces of evil (darkness), and that the forces of good would not triumph until Judgment Day.

NOTE: Of enormous importance in the formulation of Christian theology are the references in both Daniel and Ezekiel to the "son of man," most especially in this messianic passage (Daniel 7:13-14):

I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought Him near before Him.

And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.

[The Old Testament Contents]


THE TWELVE MINOR PROPHETS

Editions of the Old Testament often group twelve of the prophetic books- Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. In commentaries on the Masoretic text they are usually called "The Twelve" or the "Minor Prophets." They are called minor prophets not because their teachings are unimportant or unfamiliar (you probably already know some of the Jonah story), but because all twelve books are quite short. For example, the whole Book of Obadiah takes only a page or two.

The canon of the Minor Prophets was established sometime between the fourth and second centuries B.C. A combination of factors determined the order of books. The Book of Hosea was placed first because of the phrase "The beginning of the word of the Lord" (translated in a modern version as "When the Lord first spoke") in Hosea 1:2. In general, however, the prophets are given in chronological order as the editors of that time understood it.

HOSEA

Hosea prophesied in the Northern Kingdom during the eighth century, before the Assyrian onslaught; he lived at about the same time as Amos, who also prophesied in the north, and Isaiah and Micah, who prophesied to Judah. The text of Hosea has many difficult passages, and scholars believe that some verses dealing with Judah were added by a later scribe.

The book opens with a denunciation by Hosea of his faithless wife Gomer. Whether the account of her faithlessness should be taken literally is almost beside the point. The importance of the story is the parallel Hosea draws between a loving husband and an adulterous wife, on the one hand, and a loving God and an errant people, on the other. Using vivid language rich in similes and metaphors, Hosea, speaking for Yahweh, tells the Israelites that if they continue whoring after false gods, Yahweh will punish them for it. If anyone close to you has gone through a bitter divorce, you should be able to feel in Hosea's words the anguish of Yahweh's having to choose between continued love for His people and the desire to cut Himself off from them completely.

NOTE: Hosea repeatedly calls Israel by the name "Ephraim." Ephraim, the younger of Joseph's two sons, was the ancestor of the Ephraimites, one of the most powerful of the original twelve tribes of Israel. (Joshua and Samuel were both Ephraimites.) The tribe of Ephraim led the revolt that split off the Northern Kingdom of Israel from the Kingdom of Judah.

JOEL

The only thing known for certain about the prophet Joel is his name, which in Hebrew means "Yahweh is God." The date of the book cannot be determined; some critics believe the text was written before the Babylonian Exile (586 B.C.) and then rewritten after. The Book of Joel begins with a graphic description of a plague of locusts brought by the Lord as a punishment for the sins of Israel. As is usual in the prophetic literature, the prophet follows with a promise of plenty if the people repent. The book concludes with a more general prophecy of the coming Day of the Lord, on which all the enemies of Israel shall be vanquished (3:19-20):

Egypt shall be a desolation, and Edom shall be a desolate wilderness, for the violence against the children of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land.
But Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation.

The Book of Joel gives you a good chance to see how one prophet comments on another and how the New Testament makes use of the Old. Notice, for example, the way Acts 2 makes use of the apocalyptic verses that begin at Joel 2:28:

And it shall come to pass... that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:...

Consider also the passage (3:10) in which Joel, describing the coming war for the Lord, completely reverses the prophecy of peace at Isaiah 2:4. Now look at Jesus' instruction to his disciples at Matthew 10:34. To which prophet do the words of Jesus seem closer in spirit? How do you reconcile the apparent differences between the messages of the two prophets?

AMOS

Do you know someone who wears all the right clothes, belongs to all the right clubs, seems always to say the right thing at the right time- but who is only out for his own gain, and turns his back on the sufferings of others? If so, you know the kind of person the prophet Amos means when, speaking for God, he says (5:12):

For I know your manifold transgressions, and your mighty sins: then, afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right.

Amos prophesied in the Northern Kingdom during the eighth century B.C. The first chapter and part of the second foretell God's vengeance against the enemies of Israel. The major portion of the book, however, warns how God will punish Israel for its immoral behavior, which Amos colorfully characterizes as selling "the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes" (2:6). Chapter 7 narrates Amos's quarrel with the priest Amaziah, who intrigues against the prophet by telling King Jeroboam that Amos is plotting against the throne. Chapter 9 concludes with the comforting prophecy that, after a period of captivity and destruction, the people of Israel will be returned to their land and to God's grace. (This chapter is thought by many scholars to be a later addition, perhaps by a compiler who wished to soften the harshness of Amos's earlier words.) Also mentioned in the book are a series of extraordinary natural events- an earthquake, a famine, a locust plague, a solar eclipse- which are taken as signs of divine displeasure.

The Book of Amos is much more important than its size would indicate. Remember that Amos was preaching to the worshipers of Yahweh, people who were convinced that their covenant with God guaranteed their safety. They reacted to Amos's prophecies with hostility or disbelief. And yet, within a few decades, in 721 B.C., the Northern Kingdom was swallowed up by the empire of Assyria, and all its ten tribes vanished from the pages of history. As you read, ask yourself how you would react if a new Amos, preaching a similar message, suddenly appeared in the streets of your town or city. How seriously would you take his warnings? What changes in your own behavior would you make?

NOTE: Nowhere in the Bible is the theme that God values justice and righteousness more than empty sacrifices stated more powerfully than at Amos 5:21-24. After the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in A.D. 70, lines such as these would encourage the Jews in their attempt to reconstruct their religion on the basis of rabbis, prayers, and synagogues rather then priests, sacrifices, and Temple altars.

OBADIAH

The Book of Obadiah is the shortest in the Old Testament, and its origins are among the most obscure. "Obadiah" means "servant of the Lord," suggesting a pseudonym, but it might well have been a proper name. Early Jewish commentators placed Obadiah in the reign of Ahab, who ruled the Northern Kingdom during the ninth century B.C. Later commentators have focused on verses 11-14 as a sign that the book was written after the Babylonian conquest of 586 B.C.

Most of this brief book pronounces judgment on the Edomites, traditional enemies of Israel who seem to have helped the Babylonians sack Jerusalem. The concluding verses dwell on a common prophetic theme: the coming Day of the Lord, when Israel shall be upraised, its enemies cast down, and "the kingdom shall be the Lord's."

JONAH

Probably you remember from your childhood the wonderful story of Jonah and the whale. If you still think that Jonah is a tall tale about a man who lives three days in the belly of a big fish, stop right here and read the Old Testament Book of Jonah- all of it, including chapters 3 and 4.

Now let's review the story- the whole story. The Lord calls upon Jonah to go to Nineveh and warn the Ninevites that Yahweh knows of their wickedness. Instead, Jonah tries to shirk his mission and books passage on a ship to Tarshish. Then the Lord sends a great storm, endangering the vessel. All the sailors come out on deck to pray to their deities, but Jonah, still trying to run away from God, hides down below. The shipmaster rouses Jonah from his slumber, and it soon becomes clear that Jonah is the source of the evil that has befallen them. Reluctantly, the sailors take Jonah's advice and throw him into the sea. The storm subsides, and the sailors offer thanks to God for their safety.

If Jonah's secret hope is to fall to the bottom of the sea and forever vanish from God's presence, he is once again mistaken. The Lord sends a great fish who swallows Jonah, holds him in his belly for three days and three nights, and then (after Jonah prays for deliverance) spits him up on dry land. God again insists that Jonah go to Nineveh, and this time Jonah does as he is told. At Nineveh, Jonah preaches that the kingdom will be destroyed within forty days. Hearing this, the king of Nineveh orders the whole kingdom to repent, so that the Lord may change His mind. And that, much to Jonah's dismay, is exactly what happens. Why, demands Jonah, did he have to go to all this trouble if God was going to forgive Nineveh anyway? The sulking Jonah then moves to the outskirts of the city, where the Lord provides a shady vine to protect him from the broiling sunshine. The cooling shade improves Jonah's mood temporarily, but then God withers the vine until, faint from the heat, Jonah wishes for death. The parable concludes with God telling Jonah that just as the withering of the vine was a bitter loss to the prophet, so to Him the deaths of thousands of Ninevites would have been terribly painful. That is why He was so willing to accept their repentance and spare the city.

Supposed dates for the authorship of the Book of Jonah range from the eighth to the third century B.C. Equally varied are the theories of what the book is really about. You can see in Jonah the figure of the reluctant prophet, unsuccessfully trying (like Moses and Jeremiah) to avoid the terrible responsibility with which God has burdened him. Or you can see the story as a parable about the futility of trying to deny or hide from Yahweh, whom even the storms and sea obey. (Consider what happens in Genesis when Adam and Eve and, later, Cain try to avoid God's judgment.) A very positive approach to the Jonah story is to see it as an attempt to demonstrate God's willingness to show mercy to those who mend their ways. What makes this approach especially poignant is that Jonah, a Hebrew, is rebuked by Yahweh- the God of the Hebrews- for wanting to deny thousands of non-Jews the chance to be saved. The Book of Jonah can thus be seen as a major step in the universalizing of Yahweh as a God of all peoples and in defining the mission of Judaism as concern for all humanity and not merely for one sect or tribe. Considered as a plea for toleration, the Book of Jonah bears comparison with another short biblical tale, the Book of Ruth. For a brief discussion of some of the literary techniques in the Book of Jonah, see the section "Literary Forms, Styles, and Techniques" in The Old Testament Background.

NOTE: In the New Testament, at Matthew 12:40, Jesus foretells His own death and resurrection by saying:

For as Jonas [Jonah] was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Christian interpreters have thus seen Jonah as a Christ-figure, risen from the dead and sent by God to bring salvation to the Gentiles.

MICAH

Micah is often linked with Isaiah, and for good reason. Like Isaiah, Micah lived in the eighth century B.C., but he was probably a few decades younger. Both men prophesied in Judah, and both saw the fall of the Northern Kingdom to Assyria as a warning that God's judgment on the south would soon be at hand. There are numerous parallels between the books of Isaiah and Micah; compare, for example, Micah 4:1- 3 with Isaiah 2:2-4. This might imply direct influence, or it might mean (taking the critical point of view) that the same sentiments were attributed by an editor at a later date to both prophets.

The Book of Micah opens with a pronouncement of judgment against the northern and southern kingdoms, in part because of the oppression of the poor by the rich. (This theme Micah shares with Amos.) The book closes with a poem of praise to God, who, having punished the guilty, will remember His covenant with the patriarchs and have mercy on those who remain. Between these visions of condemnation and consolation come two remarkable passages. The first is the messianic prophecy that out of Bethlehem "shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel" (5:2)- a passage that has direct bearing on the assertions in the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. (That town was likewise the home of the family of David.) The second (6:7-8) is a magnificent restatement of the ethical message earlier delivered by Amos:

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

NAHUM

Little is known of Nahum, whose name stems from the Hebrew for "Yahweh has comforted." Like the Book of Jonah, the Book of Nahum involves Nineveh, the Assyrian capital. This great city was sacked by the Babylonians and Medes in 612 B.C.; most modern critics assume that Nahum lived around this time.

Chapter 1 consists of a poem in praise of Yahweh. Many scholars regard this poem as a later (and corrupt) addition. The original poem in Hebrew was probably in the form of an acrostic, with each line beginning with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Chapters 2 and 3 retell the fall of Nineveh in stirring martial verse. The prevailing attitude is not, as in Jonah, that all life is precious; instead, Nahum glories in Nineveh's misfortune as Yahweh's judgment on the enemies of Israel. In Jonah, the prophet is rebuked for his lack of sympathy; in Nahum, on the other hand, the prophet feels no mercy, nor does God show any.

NOTE: If, as some commentators believe, Nahum was alive in the year 612 B.C. and was reporting about events he knew firsthand, why is he regarded as a prophet rather than a chronicler? If this question puzzles you, remember that a prophet in the Old Testament sense is not necessarily one who foretells the future but one who speaks for God. There's no doubt from the very first line that Nahum meets this biblical definition. You should know, however, that some commentators have questioned whether Nahum belongs in the exalted company of the other prophets, or even in the canon of the Old Testament. They feel that although the book's poetry is powerful, its outlook is vengeful and mean- spirited.

HABAKKUK

In its three short chapters, the Book of Habakkuk meditates on the same question raised by Jeremiah (12:1): "Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?" In all likelihood, Habakkuk lived at about the same time as Jeremiah, when Judah trembled at the expansion of Chaldean (that is, Babylonian) power. A prophet such as Nahum might see the hand of Yahweh behind Babylonia's sack of Nineveh, but how could the Babylonian threat to- and later destruction of- Jerusalem be explained? The usual prophetic answer is that God is using Babylon as an instrument to punish the people of Judah for their wickedness. But why, asks Habakkuk, has God chosen as his instrument a people far worse than the Israelites had ever been (1:13)?

Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?

With Job-like persistence, Habakkuk refuses to relent until Yahweh answers his challenge (2:1):

I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what He will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved.

God's answer, conveyed to and through Habakkuk, is that Chaldea- greedy, covetous, cruel, and idolatrous- will ultimately receive its judgment. Until then, all the prophet can do is strive to maintain his faith as the world collapses around him (3:17-18):

Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

ZEPHANIAH

The first verse of the first chapter of the Book of Zephaniah places him in the reign of King Josiah (640-609 B.C.) and identifies the prophet as a descendant of Hezekiah- perhaps the same Hezekiah who was king of Judah around the beginning of the seventh century B.C. Josiah's reign is portrayed in 2 Kings 22-23 as a time of religious revival, and the abuses denounced by Zephaniah are similar to those Josiah sought to stamp out. Those that "worship the host of heaven upon the housetops" (Zephaniah 1:5) are practicing star worship, or astrology; those who "are clothed with strange apparel" (1:8) have slavishly adopted foreign clothes and customs.

Zephaniah- the name means "Yahweh has hidden" or "Yahweh has treasured"- embroiders on themes familiar from other prophets. In a famous passage at 1:14-17, Zephaniah heralds the coming Day of the Lord, already trumpeted by Isaiah and Amos; echoes of Zephaniah's words are found in the medieval hymn Dies irae ("Day of Wrath"), which often forms part of the Roman Catholic mass for the dead. The second chapter condemns Judah's neighbors and rivals, and the third opens with a wrathful judgment on Jerusalem as well. The Book of Zephaniah concludes, however, with a joyous hymn praising the power of God and promising the ultimate deliverance of the children of Israel.

HAGGAI AND ZECHARIAH

The two books of Haggai and Zechariah are generally paired for historical reasons. The two prophets make their appearance in the postexilic period, at a time when Jews have been allowed by the Persians to return to Jerusalem, but the Temple has not yet been rebuilt.

NOTE: For more on this period, see 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 and the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, as well as the appropriate sections of this Barron's Book Notes volume.

HAGGAI

The Book of Haggai (the name means "born on a festival") opens with a portrait of the Jerusalem community in the second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia- that is, in 520 B.C. Those Jews who accepted the Persians' offer to return to Jerusalem have not fared well. The prophet speaks of a scarcity of food, drink, and clothing, which can all be taken as signs of a deeper spiritual unease and of God's displeasure with their enterprise. To the argument that the community is not secure enough to rebuild the Temple, Haggai answers that the community cannot prosper until the house of God is fully restored. Responding to his plea, the community, under the leadership of the governor Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua, resumes work on the Temple, and within five years the great task is completed (see Ezra 6:15).

ZECHARIAH

Like Haggai, Zechariah- whose name means "whom Yahweh hath remembered"- comes to spur on the people to complete the Temple. But the Book of Zechariah is much longer than that of Haggai, and the message is broader and more compelling. Chapters 1-6 embody a series of eight poetic visions which have as their theme the forthcoming restoration of the Temple and priesthood and, ultimately, the dawning of a messianic age. In chapters 7-8, Zechariah responds to the question of whether the returning exiles should continue to observe the days of fasting connected with the fall of Jerusalem seven decades earlier. His answer is a by now familiar prophetic insistence on righteousness, mercy, and justice rather than ritual.

Most scholars assume that the messianic prophecies in Zechariah 9-14 were uttered by someone else. Opinion is divided as to whether the passages should be traced to the period following the completion of the Second Temple or of the First; most modern writers argue for the later date, after the conquests of Alexander the Great. Zechariah's mingling of messianism with a sense of impending political and religious upheaval was extremely influential at the beginning of the Christian era. In Matthew 21:1-11, Jesus explicitly reenacts the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

MALACHI

Malachi is the last of the Twelve Minor Prophets, and the Book of Malachi marks the conclusion of the Nevi'im in the Masoretic text and of the entire Old Testament according to the Roman Catholic and Protestant canons. Malachi, meaning "My messenger," is probably not a personal name; some early Jewish and Christian commentators held that the true author was Ezra the scribe, but the consensus of modern opinion is that the book is effectively anonymous. (The Hebrew word malachi actually appears in 3:1, "Behold, I will send my messenger.") The book probably dates from the fifth century B.C., following the return from Babylon but preceding the reforms of Nehemiah.

Malachi forcefully denounces the abuses of the priests, including the sacrifice of blind, lame, and blemished animals; divorce, especially the divorce of a Jewish wife in order to marry a foreign woman; and nonpayment of taxes, or tithes, to support the worship of Yahweh. The characteristic feature of Malachi's style- the repeated use of questions- appears from the very first verses. The book ends with a prophecy of the Day of the Lord, to be heralded by the coming of the prophet Elijah.

[The Old Testament Contents]


APOCRYPHA AND PSEUDEPIGRAPHA

Only the briefest mention can be made of the individual books of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. For a full discussion of what these terms mean and what part they play in the structure of the Old Testament canon, see "The Development of the Canon" in The Old Testament Background.

Among the Protestant Apocrypha, the Book of TOBIT, classified as a historical book in the Roman Catholic canon, is set in Assyria in the eighth century B.C., although it was surely written much later. It tells the miraculous story of Tobit, a righteous Israelite exiled to Nineveh; of his kinswoman Sarah, destined to marry his son Tobias; and of the angel Raphael, through whose services as a guide for Tobias the blindness of Tobit is cured and Sarah is freed from a demon's curse. JUDITH, also classified among the historical books, recounts the tale of a beautiful young widow who saves her town from siege by charming and then killing the enemy general Holofernes. The book, which mistakenly identifies the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar as king of the Assyrians, was probably written around the second century B.C. Also products of the Maccabean period are, obviously, 1 and 2 MACCABEES, which chronicle the Israelite rebellion led by Judah Maccabee against the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes- a campaign whose success is celebrated in the Jewish holiday of Chanukah. Another historical book, 3 ESDRAS, a retelling of the Ezra-Nehemiah story, appears in the Protestant Apocrypha but is now accepted as canonical only by the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Placed among the wisdom literature in the Roman Catholic canon is, appropriately enough, WISDOM or WISDOM OF SOLOMON. This meditation on the meaning of true wisdom and righteousness, supposedly written by Solomon, reflects (in the opinion of most scholars) a fusion of Hellenistic and Jewish thought. The scholarly view is that the book was originally written in Greek, probably in the Egyptian city of Alexandria in the second century B.C. The idea of writing a new work (or making a new collection of sayings and poems) but ascribing it to some past worthy was common in the ancient world. Even today, some books still follow this practice: the Webster's dictionary on your bookshelf or in your local library has many words the real Noah Webster, who died in 1843, never dreamed of. Another wisdom book, SIRACH or ECCLESIASTICUS, is a collection of proverbs compiled early in the second century B.C. The basic purpose of the book was to defend the traditional Hebraic outlook against Greek influence. BARUCH, classified in Catholic Bibles as one of the prophetic books, is attributed to the secretary of the prophet Jeremiah but was probably written much later, in the two centuries preceding the Christian era.

Included in the Protestant Apocrypha are certain additions to other Old Testament books. As you might expect, these additions are incorporated into Catholic Bibles but excluded from Jewish ones. Among the best known of these additions are the passages in the Book of Daniel dealing with Susanna, a virtuous wife unjustly accused of adultery. In this early mystery story, Susanna is proved innocent, and her accusers are executed instead.

Among the many Pseudepigrapha, three books should be mentioned. The Book of ENOCH is a messianic work that embodies the idea of a preexistent Messiah-that is, a savior whose existence predates the creation of the world and who will preside over the Last Judgment. It is close in spirit to the writings of the Dead Sea Scrolls and marks an important transition from Judaism to Christianity. A second book, JUBILEES, a retelling of many biblical events, teaches the immortality of the soul and embraces the solar calendar (the traditional Hebrew calendar is based on the phases of the moon.) Finally, the TESTAMENTS OF THE TWELVE PATRIARCHS, containing the last words of the twelve sons of Jacob to their descendants, has come down to us as a Jewish work, originally written in Greek, with later Christian additions. Like the books of Enoch and Jubilees, the beliefs contained in the Twelve Patriarchs are similar to those held by the Dead Sea sect and may have helped shape the teachings of Jesus.

A STEP BEYOND

THE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT (Ezra - Ezekiel)


ECC [The Old Testament Contents] [PinkMonkey.com]

© Copyright 1986 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
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