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A History of The Bible

Dr. William S. Sadler

6. The Old Testament as Literature

  • 1.When the Israelites entered Palestine they found an old and high level of culture. Their culture--aside from religion--was not much above the barbaric level.
  • 2. Remember: Palestine lay athwart the high roads of ancient world travel and the armies of empire marched back and forth over its hills and valleys.
  • 3. Nearby peoples--Egypt and Babylonia--had temples, palaces, and wealth--refinement.
  • 4. The Hebrews were concerned with a national obsession--RELIGION. What is man?
  • 5. The Canaanites were enjoying a high civilization. They had unusual ability. Their cities were well built.
  • 6. They originated three systems of writing--two with alphabets. One of these supplanted the writing of Egypt and Babylonia.
  • 7. One of these--Phoenician--became the written language of the entire Western world.
  • 8. These Canaanite people had laws, wisdom literature, and a vast religious ritual, as shown by the Ras Shararah discoveries (1929) on the northern coast of Syria.
  • 9. The Hebrews were quick to adopt this culture--and even some of their religion.
  • 10. Also remember: The Hebrews did not destroy all these Canaanites as intimated in the old Testament records.
  • 1. Early Hebrew literature was largely poetry. Early fragments were:
    • Song of the Well
    • Taunt of Heshbon
    • Boundaries of Moab (Nume 21)
    • Song of Miriam
    • Balaam's Oracles (Num. 23 and 24)
  • 2. Stories about the patriarchs were among the early oral literature of the Jews. They were folk traditions.
  • 3. Poetic tales of conquest--victories over the Philistines. The Song of Deborah. (Judg. 5)
  • 4. Samson's exploits. (Judg. 14 and 15) Stories in the lost Book of Jashar and the "wars of the Lord."
  • 5. Jotham's Fable. (Judg. 9:8-15)
  • 6. Many of the Psalms show the influence of Canaanite religious philosophy.
  • 7. Ezra's reform was an attempt to get rid of many Canaanite infiltrations of the Hebrew religion.
  • 8. Many shrines to Yahweh were established to combat Canaanite religions, such as at Shiloh, Gilgal, Gibeon, Bethel, and Beer-sheba.
  • 9. Many rules and regulations were taken over from the Canaanite laws.
  • 1. Israel's first book of prose was a history--by an unknown historian. See II Sam. 9-20. A pattern for all historians.
  • 2. During the time of Solomon there appeared wisdom literature and many songs. (I King 4:32) 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs.
  • 3. Isaiah the First carried on during these times. Some of the best of Hebrew literature appeared during these times.
  • 4. The foundation of the books of Kings appeared. Israel was becoming pen-conscious.
  • 5. The first book of Psalms was assembled.
  • 1. Amos and the Second Isaiah were among the first. Deutero-Isaiah represents the apex of prophetic literature.
  • 2. Ranking high is the Second Zechariah--Zechariah 9-14. Most of the prophets were poets.
  • 3. High in this list are to be found Joel and Habakkuk.
  • 4. Both Jeremiah and Isaiah the Second saw to it that their spoken sermons were reduced to writing during their lifetime.
  • 5. The book of Deuteronomy -was rediscovered in the temple in 621 B.C. (II Kings 22) It is a strange blend of prophetic and legal literature. It expounds and explains.
  • 6. Deuteronomy is Israel's first homiletic literature--a book of sermons and laws, characterized by both eloquence and dignity.
  • 7. Deuteronomy is the most polished and artistic of all Hebrew literature.
  • 1.The acme of all Hebrew literature--the Second Isaiah--belongs to this period. The basis of three great religions.
  • 2. This is the epoch of great editorial activity--the rewriting of all of the Hebrew sacred literature.
  • 3. Next appears the memoirs of Nehemiah. Still later the books of I and II Chronicles.
  • 4. Psalms is enlarged. Job and the wisdom literature appear.
  • 5. Hebrew books now constitute the greatest literature of all the East.
  • 6. Hebrew writers were masters of the art of gaining and holding human attention. Examples:
    • The tragedy of Queen Jezebel. II Kings 9:30-35
    • Abraham's servant going to Mesopotamia for Isaac's wife. Gen. 24
    • Joseph's story in Egypt. Gen. 39-41
  • 7. Not only did the Hebrews create the greatest literature of the ancient East, but at the same time it was the greatest religious literature of all time--up to the appearance of the New Testament.