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Books of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)

Poetry and wisdom

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Author's note:

"CT" refers to the beliefs of most conservative Jewish and Christian theologians.

"LT" refers to the interpretations of most religious liberals.

You will note that religious conservatives and liberals differ greatly on the authorship, date of writing, and interpretation of these books. Please do not send us critical Emails condemning what is written here. We are advocating neither position; we are merely reporting reality.

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There are 5 books in this section

bulletJob: Tennyson called the Job "the greatest poem of ancient or modern times." It is rather surprising that the book was accepted into the Hebrew Scriptures, because its message conflicts with a main theme of the Old Testament. Numerous passages in the Old Testament promise that if a person leads an honorable, righteous life, that they will be rewarded while on earth. Job "satirizes [the] claim that we live in a world governed by justice and meaning." (1)

Satan is described as a servant of God; he is a type of prosecuting attorney in heaven. He was chatting with God one day about Job. Satan expressed the belief that Job was a very holy man only because of his earthly successes. They conspire to test this theory by suddenly destroying all of Job's possessions and killing all of his children. Later, with God's approval, Satan sends a sickness to Job, bringing him near death. Job refuses to curse God for his misfortunes. Most of the book deals with discussions by three "friends" of Job about his problems; they conclude that his punishment apparently results from some secret sin that Job has committed. God appears on the scene and rebukes Job's friends. However, he did not justify his treatment of Job. Because Job remained faithful, God cured his illnesses, restored his wealth to twice its original value and gave him 10 new sons. However, Job's original children remained dead.
bulletCT Job probably lived some time after the Flood and before Moses. The book was written perhaps at the time of Solomon, by an unknown author.
bullet LT The book is one of a series of similar ancient texts written in Egypt, Babylon, Sumeria and other Middle East countries. Judging from the setting described in the book, it may have been written by a Edomite. Edom was the land to the south-east of Israel. Alternatively, it might have been authored by a well-traveled and educated Jew. Some theologians date the book on the basis its conception of Satan at the 5th or 6th century BCE. This was a time when Persian/Zoroastrian beliefs were infiltrating Hebrew religious thought. Others place it as late as the 3rd century BCE. Most scholars believe that the words of Elihu in Chapters 32 to 37 were a later addition.

bulletPsalms: This book contains 150 psalms which form the hymnal of Israel. The word "psalm" means "praise", which is a common theme through most chapters. They address all aspects of the human condition.
bulletCT At least 73 were written by David, 12 by Asaph (a musician in David's court), 10 by the "Sons of Korah;" 2 by Solomon; 1 each by Ethan, Heman and Moses. Most were written in the hundred years following 1030 BCE.
bulletLT The form of the psalms and their use in worship services originated with Pagan nations surrounding Israel: Assyria, Babylon, Canaan and Egypt. The Jewish psalms were written during the various monarchies, prior to the exile of 586 BCE. The unknown persons who edited the Psalms tended to attribute to David all psalms which were written during the era of the Monarchy, regardless of their actual authorship. A few of the psalms can be dated because they with specific historical events. Actual authorship is mostly unknown.

bulletProverbs: These are short, wise statements intended to be used to guide one's life. Wisdom is personified in many of the proverbs as a form of Goddess; she was believed to have been present with God at the creation of the universe. Most proverbs promote the concept that reward for good behavior and punishment for bad behavior do not result from God's direct intervention. Rather they are a natural consequence of an impersonal law of nature. The book addresses all aspects of the human condition. A few proverbs are used by some contemporary Christians as justification for corporal punishment of children and for strict behavioral rules concerning sexual activities outside of marriage. The book believed to have been used extensively in ancient times in the education of young people.
bulletCT Most were written by Solomon, as stated in Proverbs 1:1, 10:1, and 25:1, circa 950 BCE. Proverb 30 was written by Agur and 31 authored by King Lemuel. Nothing is known about these two latter individuals; they were presumably not from Israel.
bulletLT They were written by many generations of "wisdom teachers" or "wise men", starting during the reign of Solomon. The book was assembled in the post-exilic era, perhaps as late as the 4th century BCE. Many sections were derived from a number of Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Phoenician "wisdom texts". Proverbs 22:17 to 23:11, with one exception, were copied with few changes from an earlier Egyptian document, "The Instruction of Amen-em-Opet".

bullet Ecclesiastes: This is a sermon by an old man who was successful by material standards, yet severely disillusioned by the emptiness of his life. He preaches that humans are too limited to grasp the meaning of life. He recommends that we accept life's ambiguities, to seek enjoyment in the midst of aimless order, and not try to assign reasons to individual events. This is a dark and controversial book which almost did not make it into the Hebrew scriptures.
bulletCT Since the author identifies himself in Ecclesiastes 1:1 as "son of David, king in Jerusalem" (NIV) the book was obviously written by King Solomon. It seems to have been written shortly before his death in 931 BCE.
bulletLT It was probably originally written in the 3rd century BCE by an unknown writer. Two epilogs (Ecclesiastes 12:9-11 and 12:12-14) were subsequently added by disciples of the original author. It was written as a protest against the religious teachings of the day in which even minor occurrences in people's lives were interpreted as rewards or punishments from God. It stands in conflict with much of the rest of the Hebrew scriptures.

bulletSong of Solomon: Interpreted at face value, the songs describe the joys of love and sexual activity. Some ancient Jewish theologians concluded that God would not have allowed a book into scriptures with such an overwhelming sexual content unless there was a deeper, symbolic meaning to the passages. They assigned an allegorical meaning to the book, claiming that it is unrelated to human sexual expression, but rather shows the love of God for Israel. Subsequently, Christian theologians stated that it symbolizes the love of Christ for the Christian church. Today, it is generally accepted as describing sexual, not spiritual, love.
bulletCT The book was written by King Solomon, as stated in its first verse. It commemorates the inter-racial relationship between Solomon and one of his 1000 sexual partners. (He had 700 wives and 300 concubines). He probably composed it early in his reign, circa 960 BCE.
bulletLT Because of the variety of forms used in the writing, the book seems to have been written by many authors. Internal indicators suggest that various parts of the book were written during many eras in the history of Israel. No definitive range of dates can be assigned. Some theologians now believe that the book had its origins in a liturgy from an unknown Pagan fertility-cult which celebrated the sexual union of a God and a Goddess (perhaps Tammuz and Ishtar). Others believe that the book is simply a collection of erotic songs on the joys human sexual love.

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Reference:

  1. Raymond P. Scheindlin, "The Book of Job," W.W. Norton, (1998). You can order the book from Amazon.com

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Copyright © 1997 to 2013, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2013-SEP-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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