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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

Other Traditions of Biblical Religion

The Liturgical Tradition

As noted above, the Deuteronomic tradition exalts prayer (though mainly in the deuteronomistic historical books of Former Prophets), while the Priestly tradition seems to all but ignore it (the high priest's confession on the Day of Atonement is a notable exception). Prose prayer plays a prominent role in the historical works edited by the Deuteronomic school, as well as in the later book of Chronicles. Poetic prayer is mainly found in the book of Psalms, the history and development of which is very complex and poorly understood. Chronicles states that liturgical pieces, such as hymns and petitions, were composed by Levitical guilds in Second Temple times (1 Chron. chs 15–16 ). This may also have been true in earlier periods as well, but the only liturgical situation that can definitely be reconstructed for Israelite‐Judean religion is the one associated with the large genre of the “petitions of the individual.” A worshipper in distress vowed to make a sacrifice of thanksgiving (todah) if rescued by God, and to declare God's praise to those assembled for the communal sacrificial meal. There is evidence that in some cases the prayer and praise would be written down, sometimes on a stele. This form of prayer is also attested elsewhere in the ancient Near East, but is most highly developed in the book of Psalms. Doubtless the cult of Israelite‐Judean religion included hymns to the deity, of which old psalms like Pss. 29 and 68 may be examples. Prayers were also offered at the Jerusalem Temple on behalf of the king, of which the small number of “royal psalms” are probable survivors (Pss. 20, 21, 45, 72, 89 ).

The canonical book of Psalms reflects biblical religion and was collected in the postexilic period of the 5th and 4th centuries. Many psalms are assigned pseudepigraphically to David, others to Levitical figures such as Asaph, Ethan, and Korah. Many are unascribed. The work is divided into five “books,” likely on the model of the Torah. Theold traditions of Israelite‐Judean prayer have been reinterpreted and reworked to supply models of approved monotheistic piety. Prayers are addressed only to YHVH; there is no mention of the mediating angelic figures that seem to have played a role in “popular” religion (Job 33.23; Ps. 91.11 ). Numerous genres are represented: petitions of the individual (the largest group), communal petitions and complaints, historical hymns, nature hymns, “enthronement psalms” (describing God as king), “royal psalms” (praise and petition for the Davidic king), “Zion psalms” (hymns about Jerusalem and the Temple mountain), “songs of ascent” (for pilgrimages), wisdom and Torah psalms. There is a scholarly debate about the extent to which the canonical psalms represent actual liturgical pieces written for and used in the cult. Opinions range from the view that practically all of the psalms, except for wisdom and Torah, were used in the cult, to the view that almost all psalms have been freed from their cultic roots and have become “spiritualized” literary expressions of a dominantly individual, Temple‐focused piety. There is little doubt the “royal psalms” are intended by the editors to be taken eschatologically, as referring to the future messianic (not, as they originally did, the current Davidic) king. It is likely that the other genres had many functions; as is often the case with liturgical texts, actual usage and inner meaning are not always apparent from the bare text, because the same words can be applied to many, and ever‐changing, circumstances. This fact, though inconvenient for scholarship, no doubt partially accounts for the great popularity of the book of Psalms to this day.

Prophetic Tradition in Biblical Religion

The role of prophets in Israelite‐Judean religion was sketched above, as well as the prophetic background to the development of biblical religion, specifically, the Deu‐ teronomic‐covenantal tradition. Strangely enough, however, biblical religion has a di‐vided attitude toward the phenomenon of prophecy. On the one hand, prophecy was exalted in the figure of Moses, and revelation, by origin a purely prophetic phenomenon and limited to individuals, was made a constitutive national experience at Horeb/Sinai, albeit limited to that one occurence. On the other hand, prophecy as a living phenomenon was discouraged. Future prophets had to prove they were “true” and not “false” by producing prophecies that came true before their messages would be heeded (Deut. 18.21 ), a tautologous condition that effectively abolished prophecy as a living institution after the 5th century BCE, at least in “official” religion. No future revelation could compete with Moses or amend what he had said.

The books of the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the Twelve), which purport to be a record of the great literary prophets of the past, were composed and edited in such a way that the viewpoint of developed biblical religion was dominant. The ecstatic aspect of the prophetic experience was downplayed, and visions were usually reported in some detail only for the inaugural of the prophet. Otherwise, the visual aspect, while definitely present, is secondary to the auditory. This produces the impression that the prophets were motivated by some vague kind of “inspiration” akin to that experienced by artists or writers, and that they were mainly preachers of morality, rather than the strange, antisocial, conflicted, and—if we can judge from the “Confessions” of Jeremiah—doubt‐tortured individuals they often were. Jeremiah rails against his prophetic mission, but feels an irresistible inner compulsion (“a burning fire imprisoned within my bones, which I struggle to contain but cannot”) to deliver God's words (Jer. 20.9 ). Biblical religion has flattened the prophets (a process continued by later tradition) but could not obliterate all evidence of their powerful personalities.

The Latter Prophets were also edited with much interpolation of latter tradition, so that it is often difficult to tell in a book like Isaiah is often difficult to tell in a book like Isaiah which speeches go back to the prophet himself (chs 24–27, 40–66 are definitely non‐Isaianic).Many of the later additions are eschatological and messianic. Eschatology, “the doctrine of the end,” is the prophetic tradition that expresses hopes for the coming of an era of perfect peace, often brought about by a messianic ruler. The ancient Near Eastern background seems to have been in a type of oracle that predicted the coming of such a ruler after a time of troubles and disorder. The royal tradition of Judah (and perhaps even of Northern Israel) may already have contained such visions of a future king, but the attestations of messianism are in the literary prophets, especially Isaiah of Jerusalem, who seems to have been the first to introduce eschatology in a major way. The oracles in Isaiah from chs 7–11 predict the birth of several royal or royal‐like children. The paradigmatic oracle is Isa. ch 11 , which describes the reign of the future king in terms of a return to paradise. Peace will reign over the whole earth; even predatory animals will lose their urge to harm. Edenic themes dominate the developing messianic tradition in the later prophets, so that messianic oracles have been said to express an underlying belief in the cyclical, or at least circular nature of history, reflected in the dictum that “the end of time will be like the beginning of time” (Hermann Gunkel, the great German biblical scholar active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries). The messianic age will witness the submission of the nations to Israel, its king and its God, the cessation of war, the exaltation of the Temple on Mount Zion, and so on. The eschatological tradition became the focus of the hopes of an exiled and subjected people. This accounts for its popularity after the exile, and the fact that the prophetic books were edited with many eschatological additions. Contemporary prophecy after the 5th century may have been viewed as dangerous, but the prophets of the past, now made into canonical texts, could be studied for their glowing predictions, actual or interpolated, of the reversal of Israel's lowly state among the nations. Some scholars have tried to find a social milieu for the development of messianism, and posited an opposition in the postexilic period between conservative and privileged Priestly circles, who eschewed messianic enthusiasm, and oppressed circles of “visionaries,” who cultivated it as a form of protest. In fact, messianism is entirely absent from the Torah, the central document of postexilic official religion; but it is uncertain that one is justified in positing a societal opposition of the type just described to explain the cultivation of messianic themes. Even the rich can long for the coming of the messiah.

By the 3rd to 2nd centuries BCE eschatology had developed into apocalyptic (a Greek term meaning “to uncover”), a form of literature combining many strands of tradition. The only representative of apocalyptic in the Bible is Dan. chs 7–12 , but it was the subject of a vast literature from the 3rd century BCE to the 3rd century CE, eventually becoming a Christian genre. The Dead Sea community is held by most scholars to have been the Essenes, an apocalyptic sect; and Christianity grew from apocalyptic roots as well. Apocalyptic differs from earlier prophetic eschatology in being deterministic, hermetic, and systematic; it typically also uses an intermediary angelic figure as a conduit for its revelations. The pattern of history was fixed by God at creation; free will is therefore an illusion. A great crisis, in the form of the persecution of the righteous, viewed as a small group of the faithful who are “in the know” and who can interpret the meaning of the strange and wild imagery that fills apocalyptic texts, will trigger divine intervention and the final cosmic battle between good and evil, waged on an earthly and angelic plane. The holy war traditions of the ancient world find their apotheosis in Armageddon. Apocalyptic literature has a definite concept of an afterlife, linked to reward and punishment, unlike biblical religion: The dead will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment, some for eternal punishment, others for eternal bliss in paradise. The apocalyptic concept of resurrection and judgment was accepted by the Rabbis and by Christians as a dogma.

The Wisdom Tradition

The wisdom tradition is found in many places in the Bible, but it especially dominates the Writings, not only “proper” wisdom books like Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, but also some psalms (1, 19, 37, 119, etc.) and other texts. Wisdom (πokhmah) is the term used to describe the intellectual and educational tradition of the ancient Near East, the province of scribal schools, teachers and students, but also elders, wise fathers and mothers. Wisdom was a determinedly international and humanistic tradition. The wise of all nations communicated with each other; genres, themes, and even language crossed boundaries freely. Parts of the book of Proverbs are virtually translations of an Egyptian work of wisdom; and biblical wisdom texts are replete with themes and language drawn from foreign wise men. The themes of traditional wisdom were the training of the young, expressed in maxims for correct living that would produce prosperity and esteem, so called “practical wisdom.” But there also was so‐called “speculative wisdom,” which dealt with philosophical and religious issues, above all the problem of suffering and theodicy, the justifying of the ways of God: Why do the righteous often suffer and the wicked prosper? There are Babylonian and Egyptian “Jobs” as well as the biblical figure; and even the latter, in consonance with the international focus of wisdom, is portrayed not as an Israelite but as an Aramean from Uz. Wisdom was also a tradition interested in creation, in the workings of nature. Natural imagery abounds in wisdom texts, like proverbs and fables; and Solomon is said to have delivered parables about plants, animals, fish, and trees (1 Kings 5.13 ).

Many scholars hold that there was a kind of incipient natural philosophy in the ancient world shared also by Israel. The world was created by wisdom, and reflects an underlying unity of natural and moral orders, called ma’at, “truth,” in Egypt, mesharum, “right,” in Mesopotamia, and by various terms in Israel, among them ’emet, “stability, truth,” and tzedek, “righteousness, order.” In Israel, it was believed that the world was created by God with the help of wisdom (Job ch 28, Prov. ch 8 ), so that His plan is manifested in the order of the cosmos.

Up to the 7th century the wisdom tradition seems to have shown little interest in the particular religious traditions of Israel‐Judah (though the prophets make increasing use of wisdom themes, especially Jeremiah, Second Isaiah, and Ezekiel); this explains the absence of references to cultic worship and to covenant in wisdom books. The development of full biblical religion, in the form of the Deuteronomic‐covenantal complex, created a crisis of the wise. Deuteronomy rejects wisdom that does not concern itself with revelation and covenantal law. In the exile and afterwards, some of the wise began to accommodate their views to biblical religion, in varying degrees. Some refused all but superficial adherence to the new order. Although it is a very late book, Ecclesiastes remains almost wholly on the level of traditional old wisdom, except for the last verses (probably added by an editor). The book shows no concern for covenant religion and in its gentle cynicism is close to the ancient Near Eastern wisdom tradition (especially in regard to its carpe diem philosophy) and also to contemporary Epicurean philosophy.

But much of wisdom compromised with biblical religion by combining themes of traditional wisdom with the new faith. A strange deterministic theology of retribution developed that dominates much of Proverbs, some Psalms (especially 37) and, most strikingly, the speeches of Job's “friends”: The righteous are always rewarded, the wicked always punished. Combined with this belief in strict reward and punishment was a doctrine of absolute cause and effect, derived from the nature interest of old wisdom, but now distorted into this new deterministic theology. Since only the wicked suffer, Job's friends say, Job must have committed some crime since he is clearly suffering. This doctrine is really ahybrid wisdom‐covenantal faith, though it avoids explicit mention of covenant and presents itself as a form of natural law.

The greatest rebel against this deterministic and pitiless pseudo‐piety was the author of Job, who rejects the arguments of the friends. Job is a radical rebel, who refuses to admit he is being punished for sin. With astounding hubris he demands that God appear to justify His ways. Job forces the deity to intervene to save His reputation. In a set of great speeches (Job chs 38–41 ), some of the most magnificent poetry of the Bible, God challenges Job to explain the works of creation. The problem with the divine “answer” is that God does not seem to address Job's challenge that He must explain why He is making Job suffer. Interpretations of the meaning of the book are numerous. Some maintain that God is simply overwhelming Job by confronting him with his human ignorance of the ways of God. Who are you to challenge the deity? A more modern reading holds that God is confirming the lack of congruence between natural and moral realms, a total rejection of traditional wisdom philosophy. A more positive interpretation is that God, even as He reminds Job of his human weakness, rouses him to awe and wonder at the greatness of nature, so that human suffering, even Job's, sinks into relative insignificance, at least temporarily. Probably the meaning of the book, like the meaning of Hamlet or any great work of literature, will always remain a riddle. Eventually wisdom's focus on nature gave way entirely to a focus on covenant, with results we see in the “Torah psalms,” of which Ps. 119 is the longest, if not the most stirring, example.

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