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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

The Books of the Old Testament

3.1. The Law (Torah)

The growth of the Old Testament is a process which took centuries, from the end of the eighth century till the second century BCE or, more precisely, about 100 CE, when the Hebrew canon in all its parts was almost completely fixed (4 Esdras 14; Josephus, Ap. 4. 1: 37–41; b. Baba Bathra 14b–15a). The choice and division of the three parts of the canon indicate the end of the history of the development of the literature which, as far as we know, extended well into the Hellenistic period and continued after that into the literature of Jewish and Christian tradition.

The earliest collection which received recognizable authoritative value was the part known as the Torah. It includes the five books of Moses, the so-called Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). The ‘Torah of Moses’ or ‘the Torah of YHWH (God)’ is already introduced into the biblical books as a reference point, although it is not always certain whether one is to understand by it the whole Pentateuch. On the basis of external witnesses (Septuagint, Samaritan Pentateuch, Sirach, the letter of Aristeas, the Qumran writing 4QMMT, Apocrypha, and Pseudepigrapha), it is possible to conclude that this was the case from the Hellenistic period and that the separation of the Pentateuch as Torah thus must have taken place in the late Persian period.

The division is artificial. As we have seen, the narrative threads of salvation history go from the creation of the world in Genesis 1 to the end of the kingdom of Judah in 2 Kings 25. This constitutes the so-called Enneateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings). It came into being through the combination of the two older literary works of the Hexateuch (the primal history and the patriarchal narrative in Genesis as well as the story of the exodus in Exodus–Joshua) and the Deuteronomistic History (1 Samuel–2 Kings), which were linked together by the book of Judges and expanded in Genesis–Numbers by the addition of the Priestly Writing. The genetic series is thus Hexateuch—Enneateuch—Pentateuch.

As opposed to the usual view of the growth of the Pentateuch, we have not so far mentioned the well-known documentary hypothesis, according to which the Pentateuch was put together from four sources: the three parallel narrative works of the Yahwist (J), the Elohist (E), and the Priestly narrative (P) in Genesis–Numbers, and Deuteronomy (D). More recent research on the Pentateuch indicates that only for the Priestly Writing and Deuteronomy can one suggest a sure textual basis that is capable of gaining a consensus. Everything else, the non-Priestly text in Genesis–Numbers, which is usually designated as J, E, and JE, is open to further investigation. In them we find a composition that has been put together from a redactional narrative story (theme) and additions of all kinds, individual traditions as well as pre- and post-Deuteronomistic and pre- and post-Priestly additions.

As one can learn from the history of interpretation, it is not possible to apply the source hypothesis to the non-Priestly textual tradition, and to separate the two sources J and E and their redaction together (JE) cleanly. Neither are the arguments convincing which maintain that this textual remainder is a literary unity which can, as a whole, be ascribed to a late or post-Priestly ‘Yahwistic’ redactor. It is preferable, in dealing with the non-Priestly text of Genesis–Numbers, to distinguish between old individual traditions, their first redactional shaping into one narrative theme, and later supplements. In addition, it seems doubtful that the redaction which is responsible for the composition of the primal history and the patriarchal history in Genesis is identical with the redaction of the story of the exodus. The exodus tradition is not confined to the books of Exodus and Numbers, as has often been supposed since the work of Martin Noth, but includes the occupation of the land in the book of Joshua, which is the natural end of the story, as was assumed before the work of Noth and also by Julius Wellhausen and others.

It is the most recent literary additions that comprehend the whole context from Genesis, Exodus–Joshua, Judges, and Samuel–Kings, that is, the Enneateuch. But they are also responsible for separating the books. As a rule, the books gained at the end of the productive phase of textual production a framework that marked the beginning and ending, yet also gave indications beyond the book to the larger narrative context (cf. Gen. 50/Exod. 1; Num. 36: 13/Deut. 1–3; Deut. 31–4/Josh. 1; Josh. 24/Judg. 1–2; Judg. 17–21, especially 21: 25/1 Sam. 1–3; 2 Sam. 21–4/Kings). From there on it was possible to transmit the individual books on separate scrolls without the connection being lost.

In this way the separation of the Pentateuch as Torah also occurred. Deut. 34: 10–12 takes the death of Moses as the reason to declare him and his story as unique. The reference to the promises to the Patriarchs (Deut. 34: 4) also indicates that the whole Pentateuch, with the inclusion of Genesis, is in view. It thus gains its own particular value, even when the appointment of Joshua (Deut. 31: 1 ff.; 34: 9) points to the continuation of the history of Israel beyond the Torah. Moses becomes the epitome of an epoch that stretches from the creation to the borders of the promised land. It is only logical that he should be regarded as the author of the primal history and the stories of the Patriarchs in the book of Jubilees, which is a rewriting of Genesis 1–Exodus 15. In this ‘Mosaic’ epoch everything which will be valid for the whole of the future is instituted by YHWH. This shows itself in the continuation of the history of Israel up to and with the destruction of Judah, in which Israel founders on the claims of the Torah. But at the same time it is meant for all times, by which the ‘Mosaic’ epoch in the Pentateuch becomes the basis of Judaism and the further history in Joshua–Kings, the Former as well as the Latter Prophets, and the other Writings.

3.2. The Prophets (Nebiim)

The separation of the Pentateuch as Torah consequently isolated the books of Joshua–Kings. In the Hebrew canon they appear as the Former Prophets, after which follow, as the so-called Latter Prophets, the prophetic books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Book of the Twelve. This arrangement presupposes the theory of the Chronicler, which is also shared by Josephus (Ap. I. 37–41), that each epoch had its prophets, and that the prophets were the chroniclers of their time. Thus the history writers were declared to be prophets, and the prophets to be history writers. In the so-called Praise of the Fathers in Sirach (Sir. 44–51) which comes from the early second century BCE, there is evidence for the part of the canon known as the prophets as a history of saints. The prologue of the Greek translation of Sirach, the didactic writing 4QMMT, and the New Testament, name it explicitly.

Since the work of Martin Noth, the Former Prophets have been seen as part of the so-called Deuteronomistic History that is contained in the books Deuteronomy–2 Kings and which, according to more recent research, was subject to various stages of growth, consisting of the putting together of blocks of material or horizontal additions, or both at once. The hypothesis assumes that there were originally two accounts of the occupation of the land, with one of which the sources of the Tetrateuch (Genesis–Numbers) came to an end, and to the other of which the Deuteronomistic History in Deuteronomy–Joshua began, before the two literary wholes were brought together, whereby the story of the occupation of the land was lost to the Tetrateuch without a trace. The matter looks quite different if the dogma of the documentary hypothesis is disregarded, and the tradition as we have it is looked at more carefully. It will be possible to recognize the redactional connection of Num. 25: 1a and Josh. 2: 1 ff.; 31 ff., which is bridged by the simple notice of the death of Moses after the fashion of Deut. 34: 5 f.* and becomes the framework for the oldest account of the exodus. If one takes further into account that the oldest Deuteronomistic redaction, the one orientated on Deuteronomy and the standard of cult centralization, is apparent only in the books of Samuel–Kings, it becomes self-evident that it is necessary to distinguish between the traditions of the Hexateuch and the Deuteronomistic basic tradition in Samuel–Kings (which is dependent on Deuteronomy), which linked the book of Judges and the secondary Deuteronomistic editing into the Enneateuch.

After the artificial separation of the Torah, the books Joshua–Kings were united by the literary links in Josh. 1: 7 f. and Mal. 3: 22 with the prophetic books in that part of the canon called the Prophets, and under this new sign were again connected with the Torah of Moses. Former and Latter Prophets are considered no longer as prophetic, inspired writers of the sacred history, but are also understood as teachers of the law, who summoned the people of Israel to obedience to God and his commandments, the Torah of Moses, and warned about the consequences of disobedience.

Like the Former Prophets, the Latter Prophets also had their own history before they became the second part of the Hebrew canon together with the historical books. The prophetic books were initially transmitted individually. However, literary cross-connections between the individual books enable us to conclude that they originated in proximity to each other, and that with time they were brought into line with each other. Literary composition took place first in the book of Isaiah, which was put together from two books, that of the First Isaiah in chapters 1–39, and the Second Isaiah in chapters 40–66 and in the Book of the Twelve Prophets which, for its part, came together from partial collections, as for example the series Hosea, Amos, Micah or Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. The prophetic books Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel and the Book of the Twelve together build up the corpus propheticum.

The number of prophetic books is hardly an accident, and would not be higher than what is found today in the Old Testament. Not without reason the corpus propheticum consists of three large and twelve small Prophets which makes one think immediately of the three Patriarchs and the twelve tribes of Israel. In addition, the books of the corpus propheticum are connected to each other by means of a clearly devised system of headings. Twice, once in the three great and once in the twelve minor prophets, the time of King Uzziah in the eighth century BCE to the time of the Second Temple at the end of the sixth century BCE is referred to: Isa. 1: 1/Hos. 1: 1; Amos 1: 1, and Mic. 1: 1 (from Uzziah to Hezekiah; Jer. 1: 1–3//Zeph. 1: 1) (from Josiah to Zedekiah); Ezekiel//Haggai and Zechariah (Exile and Second Temple).

Read by itself, the corpus propheticum thus covers the most important epochs of the history of Israel, from the Assyrian period to the Persian period, with glances back to earlier epochs from the creation to the time of the prophets, and forward looks to the end of the world. In many parts the whole is always in view: the totality of Israel, the people of God, as well as the totality of the peoples of the world. Of both it is said what God has to do with them and what he desires from them. The unity of God guarantees the unity of his diverse and sometimes contradictory action both for the unity of the changeable history which he guides, and its completion of the aim which he purposes.

The system of headings and the prophetic view of history which is bound up with it makes the corpus propheticum a proper complement to the historical books of Joshua–Kings, while the epochs partly intersect, so that there are textual correspondences in the Former and Latter Prophets (2 Kgs. 18–20//Isa. 36–9; 2 Kgs. 24 f.//Jer. 52). Through the literary link of Josh. 1: 7 f./Mal. 3: 22 f. and references to the ‘Torah’ in the books of the prophets, the corpus propheticum, in the context of that part of the canon called the ‘Prophets’, is brought into the realm of the law.

3.3. The Writings (Ketubim)

The third part of the canon, the Writings, does not have any clear order, but is a collection of books which, in accordance with the Jewish theory of canon, were chosen from the mass of writings from the Hellenistic-Roman period. It consists of books which, either according to their own claims or corresponding traditions, originated in the time between Moses and the Persian king Artaxerxes (Ezra/Nehemiah; Josephus, Ap. I. 40). The prologue of the Greek translation of Sirach speaks already at the end of the second century BCE of ‘other books’ alongside the Torah and the Prophets, and thus indicates a third group of ‘canonical’ books. However, it was not until the first century CE that there was any kind of unanimity about its content. The heart of the third part of the canon is the Psalter, which is ascribed in many titles to David, and in 4 QMMT and in the New Testament (Luke 24: 44) is mentioned along with the Law and the Prophets. Like the part of the canon ‘the Prophets’, the Psalter is connected to the Torah through Psalm 1 and the quotation from Josh. 1: 7 f. in Ps. 1: 2 f. After the prophets as the teachers of the law, there follows in the third part of the canon the teaching of the law for a life which is in accordance with Torah.

In this sense there were taken into the canon after the Psalter the Wisdom writings, Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, as well as the books of Ruth, Esther, and Daniel. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes recommended themselves in addition through their Solomonic authorship, which was also responsible for the inclusion of the Song of Songs. The choice of Ruth was assisted by the genealogy of David in 4: 17–22. With the book of Lamentations, which the tradition attributes to the prophet Jeremiah, and the books of Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles, the history of the first and second temples of Jerusalem were dealt with, which [i.e. the history] as in the second part of the canon, the ‘prophets’, followed the norms of the Torah. Between those books which teach the way of life (Psalms and the Wisdom writings, Job, and Proverbs) and the historical books (Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles), the remaining books constitute the group of the so-called Megillot, five scrolls which are related to particular festivals on which they were ordered to be read: Ruth (eighth day of Passover), Song of Songs (third day of the Feast of Weeks), Ecclesiastes (third day of the Festival of Tabernacles), Lamentations (ninth day of Av in memory of the destruction of the temple), and Esther (Purim).

3.4. Apocrypha and Pseudipigrapha

Up to now this chapter has confined itself to the Hebrew canon of the Old Testament and its origin. The Old Testament is, however, transmitted also in a Greek version, the so-called Septuagint (LXX). Its history began with the translation of the Torah, which, according to the legend of the Letter of Aristeas, was undertaken at the request of the king Ptolemy II Philadelphos (286–246 BCE), and through the mediation of the high official Aristeas, by a delegation of seventy-two priests from Jerusalem, six from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, the translation being completed in seventy-two days for the library in Alexandria.

Whatever one may think about the historical value of the legend, it must contain an element of truth. The spread of Greek language and culture in Egypt as well as in Syria and Palestine made a translation of the Holy Scriptures of the Jews into Greek necessary. And by these Holy Scriptures one understood first and only the Torah. Its translation was, and remained, an example for the translation of the remaining books, which followed by and by in a long process which extended into the first century CE. The oldest manuscript witnesses, Greek fragments of the books of the Pentateuch and the roll of the Twelve Prophets, come from Qumran and its surroundings. In the second century CE the Septuagint became the Bible of Christians, and from that point is also known from Christian manuscripts.

The Septuagint is distinguished through a different order and enlarged content of the biblical books. The three parts of the Hebrew canon are reversed and the books are divided anew: in the first part, all the historical books consisting of the Torah and the Former Prophets and the Writings are put together (Genesis–Joshua, Ruth, Samuel–Kings = 1 to 4 Kingdoms, Chron = Paralipomena, Ezra-Nehemiah = 2 Esdras, and Esther). In second place stand the poetic Writings (Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Job); at the end come the prophetic books (the Latter Prophets, Lamentations, and Daniel). In addition there come in the first part the books of 1 Esdras (3 Ezra), Judith, Tobit, 1 and 2 Maccabees (and in some manuscripts also 3 and 4 Maccabees) as well as the prayers and other additions to the book of Esther. In the second part come the Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), in some manuscripts also the Odes of Solomon and the Psalms of Solomon. In the third part comes the book of Baruch, the Letter of Jeremiah (Baruch 6), as well as the additions to the book of Daniel (Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, and the two prayers in Daniel 3).

The additional writings and textual supplements either go back to an Aramaic or Hebrew original, or were originally written in Greek and dependent on the writings of the Hebrew canon. They are rewritings or imitations of biblical books or additions to them which accorded with the demands and the taste of the Hellenistic period. They indicate the variety of Jewish literature in the Hellenistic-Roman period, to which, in addition to those books that were included in the Septuagint and the many other apocryphal and pseudepigraphic books, are also to be reckoned the Jewish-Hellenistic authors as well as the writings from Qumran.

The Hebrew Bible also belongs in this broad stream of Jewish literature. If, originally, this stream of tradition was quite small and limited to a minority, it found in the Hellenistic period much greater circulation and inspired further literary production. As the many copies found at Qumran, and the literary references particularly to the Torah and the Prophets but also to the Psalms show, these established themselves very soon as the basic content for an authoritative Jewish tradition. Only in the case of the ‘other Writings’ was a selection made which could vary and which, in some cases were for a long time in dispute, both in rabbinic and Christian discussion. The third part of the Hebrew canon, the writings, and the enlarged content of the Septuagint, represent two divergent ways in which the growth of the Hebrew Bible or of the Old Testament came to an end.

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