Books of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)
Poetry and wisdom
"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.
There are 5 books in this section
||Job: 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.
CT 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.
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.
||Psalms: 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.
CT 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.
LT 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.
||Proverbs: 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.
CT 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.
LT 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".
|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.
CT 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.
LT 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
||Song 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
CT 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.
LT 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.
Raymond P. Scheindlin, "The Book of Job," W.W. Norton, (1998). You can order
the book from Amazon.com
Copyright © 1997 to 2013, by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Latest update: 2013-SEP-06
Author: B.A. Robinson