Books Of Poetry, Wisdom, Short
Fiction, Apocalyptic Visions, and
Sacred History (Chapter 7 or 8)
Textbook, Chapter 7 or 8, “The Writings (Kethuvim): Books
of Poetry, Wisdom, Short Fiction, Apocalyptic Visions, and
Sacred History,” pp. 232-283/208-261.
See Textbook, Box 1.1, p. 3, and Table 1.1, pp. 4-5, for a list
of the books in this third segment of the Hebrew Bible.
After the Exile: A reinterpretation of Judah's religious
mission (see Table 3.1, “Some Major Events….,” pp.
42-44/40-42; and Table 8.1/7.1, “Neo-Babylonian and
Persian Empries”, p. 233/209);
• A completely new situation for the covenant
• the exiles returned;
• however, David's royal dynasty was not restored;
• Judah, except for a brief interval (142-63 B.C.E), was
not to enjoy political independence (see p. 43/42);
• Persia’s policy of promoting local religions (Ezra 1;
see also 2 Chron 36.22-23).
Persepolis: Reconstructed area.
Persepolis: Reconstructed area.
The Post-Exilic Covenant Community:
• A small scrap of land still belonged to the
• The Diaspora;
• The Writings (Kethuvim) reflect:
• the difficult readjustment of post-exilic
conditions; and
• the way in which the community reevaluated
and reinterpreted its religious heritage and
During the Period of Persian Domination (539332 B.C.E.):
The Bible writers struggled:
• to understand the ethical meaning of the disasters;
• to redefine Judah’s role as a worshipping
The Political Situation for the Restored
Community under the Persians:
• no restoration of the Davidic Dynasty;
• the Persians encouraged Judah’s religious
function (Ezra 1; see also 2 Chron 36.22-23 and
Ezra 6.2-5);
Cyrus Cylinder (see Textbook, Fig.
7.86.8, p. 219/197.
The Persians and Judah:
The Persians mandated a definite edition of the Mosaic
traditions (Ezra 7);
They partially subsidized reconstruction of the Temple (Ezra
1; 3.1-6.22) (515 B.C.);
Judah became a “theocracy.”
Order of Books in the Writings (Kethuvim):
• Biblical editors placed the Book of Psalms at the
head of the collection;
• This done in conjunction with efforts to focus on
Yahweh’s Jerusalem cult;
• The editors place 2 Chronicles, which reinterprets
the role of Davidic kings, last;
• Thus, the Writings and the Hebrew Bible end with
the words of Cyrus, the Persian Emperor (2 Chron
• (The order in your edition of the Bible?; see Table
1.1, pp. 4-5.)
Order of Books in the Writings (contd.):
• Between Psalms and Chronicles:
• a diverse anthology of sacred literature, much
of which is concerned with the liturgy;
• five short books, the Megillot (Ruth, Song of
Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and
Esther), are grouped together as a sub-unit:
• one of the five was read aloud for each of
the five festivals of the Jewish religious
calendar (See Textbook, Table 8.2/7.2, p.
Order of Books in the Writings (contd.):
• between Psalms and Chronicles (contd.):
• Ezra and Nehemiah (a single book in the
Hebrew Bible): emphasize the reorganization
of the post-exilic community of faith;
• the Book of Daniel: an apocalyptic work;
• the Wisdom literature:
• The Book of Proverbs;
• The Book of Job;
The Writings (Kethuvim):
• the last section of the TANAK to be accepted as
• this collection presents a wide range of viewpoints;
• the Writings represent the struggle of the covenant
community under foreign domination;
• they belong primarily to the post-exilic period (ca.
the 5th to the 2nd centuries B.C.E.);
• they are diverse in literary form and content.
Hebrew Poetry:
• a variety of poetic styles and subjects:
• similes (Song of Songs 4.1-5);
• metaphor (Lam 1.9);
• allegory (Eccles 12.3-4).
Hebrew Poetry:
• in the Book of Job;
• in the Book of Psalms;
• in Proverbs;
• Etc.
• An anthology of Hebrew devotional poetry;
• 150 Psalms:
• Traditionally divided into five separate books;
• A variety of literary genres;
Common classification:
• Hymns/Songs of praise, e.g., Ps 8.5-6;
• Thanksgiving psalms, e.g., Ps 30.3; Psalms 18, 30;
• Laments - individual and collective, e.g., Psalm 55,
Ps 74.1, 3-4, 6-7;
• Royal psalms, e.g., Psalm 45, Psalms 2, 72;
• Common classification (contd.):
• Enthronement Psalms, e.g., Psalms 93, 95-99;
• Psalms of blessing or cursing, e.g., Psalms 109 and
• Psalms of wisdom, instruction, or meditation, e.g.,
Psalms 33-37, 49, 52, 73, 90, etc..
• Favourite Psalms?
• Psalm 23: a Psalm of David;
Psalms (contd.):
• In the Torah and the Prophets, Yahweh speaks to humans
through Moses or the Prophets;
• In the Psalms, the covenant people speak to God;
• The Psalmists insist on an ongoing dialogue with God;
• They affirm the redemptive value of the divine-human bond.
Psalms (contd.):
• Composed over a span of perhaps six centuries;
• Express the full range of Israel's religious experience;
• They explore Israel's special relationship with Yahweh;
• The lyrics were accompanied by pipes, flutes, harps, and
other musical instruments as part of Yahweh's worship
(Psalm 150).
• In ancient Israel, three professions could speak with
• the Priest;
• the Prophet; and
• the Sage.
• According to Jer. 18.18:
• The Priest’s business was to instruct in covenant law
(the Torah);
• The Prophet’s function was to convey Yahweh’s word;
• The Sage’s office was to provide wise advice (see Ezek
• The wise commonly served as counselors to kings (2
Sam 14.21; 16.23; 20.14-22)
• Wisdom Literature existed long before Israel in such
countries as Egypt, Mesopotamia, Edom, etc. (see 1 Kings
• In Israel, “the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom”
(Prov 1.7);
• Wisdom was regarded as much a divine gift as the
Prophetic word;
• King Solomon stood at the head of Israel's wisdom tradition
(1 Kings 3.1-28; 4.29-34).
• Wisdom expressed in various literary forms:
• Riddles (Judg 14.10-14);
• Fables (Judg 9.8-15);
• Proverbs (1 Kings 4.32).
• The greatest Wisdom Literature is based on profound
reflections on the significance of ordinary life, its
unequal distribution of good and evil fortune, its
unexpected calamities, and the ambiguities of life.
• The book deals with the plight of an innocent man whose
tragic suffering moves him to question the ethical nature of
God who permits evil and the unmerited pain of creatures;
• The individual, after whom the book is named, is persistent
in his claim that he has suffered undeservedly;
• The principal theological issue of the book: Will mortals be
religious (“fear God”) apart from rewards and punishments?
• The problem of evil, with its conflict between the concept
of a good God and the fact of unmerited human pain, is a
perplexing theme in the ancient world.
William Blake, Illustrations for the Book
of Job.
Job and his “Friends” – William Blake,
Illustrations for the Book of Job.
Job (Contd.):
• Outline:
• Prose Prologue - setting: Yahweh's heavenly court:
Yahweh, the heavenly beings, among them Satan
(Chapters 1 and 2);
• Poetic Central Section - suffering and complaints and
the central debate: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar (all are
Non-Israelites apparently from Northwest Arabia); and
Job’s replies to his friends (Chapters 3-31);
• Job (Contd.):
• Elihu’s interpolated discourses - four - a late addition?
(Chapters 32-37);
• Yahweh’s two speeches (Chapters 38-41):
• The first speech (38.1-40.2): cosmic grandeur
before Job’s dazzled eyes;
• Second speech (40.6-41.34): Job challenged;
Job (Contd.):
• Job’s reply (42.1-6);
• Prose epilogue (42.7-17): the style, language, and situation
tie in with 1.1-2.13:
• Job’s restoration: 42.9-16.
Reinterpreting Israel’s History for the Postexilic World:
- many Judean leaders remained in Babylon after 538 B.C.E.;
- another group, after the catastrophe of 586, fled to Egypt;
- the group most responsible for the creation of the Hebrew
Bible were a relatively small contingent of priest, scribes, and
other influential leaders who returned to Judah after 538;
- this group did not discover paradise but a meager subsistence
in a land that the Babylonians had devastated;
- however, Haggai and Zechariah motivated them to rebuild the
temple (2 Kings 25.8-17; Haggai 2.7);
- the hope for the restoration of the Davidic monarchy was not
Reinterpreting Israel’s History for the Postexilic World:
- thus, the returnees entered a new stage of history;
- they would henceforth be led by anointed priests;
- the covenant people of Judah would now prosper without
Davidic leadership – no monarchy - or even national
- they reaffirmed the Mosaic Law as their eternal heritage;
- Judean priests resolved to maintain their people’s identity as a
Torah-keeping group;
- the covenant people would become a theocratic “nation of
Reinterpreting Israel’s History for the Postexilic World:
- post-exilic scribes undertook the necessary task of
reinterpreting the nation’s past;
- the first edition of the Deuteronomistic History (DH) had
seen Israel’s story culminating in Josiah’s splendid reforms;
- the second edition of the DH, revised during the Babylonian
exile, had presented it as culmination in Yahweh’s destruction
of the nation;
- now, the Chronicler, writing more than a century after the
exiles’ return, surveyed Israel’s past and this time discovered
national fulfillment in the restoration of Yahweh’s worship at
the rebuilt Jerusalem Temple (2 Chron 36.23);
- in the Chronicler’s view, Israel’s destiny was to promote
Yahweh’s cult with ethical and ritual purity.
Reinterpreting Israel’s History for the Postexilic World:
- because of their consistent priestly orientation, the four
books of 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah (actually
two books in the Hebrew Scriptures) are commonly assigned
to the same redactor or editor;
- others, however, attribute Ezra and Nehemiah to an author
other than the writer responsible for 1 and 2 Chronicles;
- the same priestly scribe could have provided the final
editing of the four volumes;
- 1 and 2 Chronicles are largely rewrites of Samuel (1 and 2)
and Kings (1 and 2).
The rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple took place
in three or four stages:
1) The initial returnees; led by Sheshbazzar in 538
B.C.; they began to rebuild the Temple;
2) A further group of exiles under the leadership of
Zerubbabel and Jeshua; during the reign of Darius I
(522-486 B.C.); completed the Temple in 515 B.C.;
3) A group led by Ezra in 458 B.C. during the reign of
Artaxerxes I (465-424 B.C.); reestablished the Torah;
4) A group led by Nehemiah beginning in 445 B.C.;
restored Jerusalem’s walls and repopulated the city.
(This chronology is not certain!).
Reinterpreting Israel’s History for the Postexilic World:
- Ezra-Nehemiah form a single book in the Hebrew Bible;
- they begin where Chronicles ends, i.e., with an account of the
return in 538 BC, with the permission of the Persian king
Cyrus, from exile;
- the lengthy process of rebuilding the Temple, the community,
and Jerusalem begins;
- Israel reconstitutes itself as the “people of the Book”;
- the Torah becomes authoritative for communal and personal
- while the Temple and its clergy gain powers, so does the
community, as new criteria for identity and membership
- a Babylonian scribe well versed in the Mosaic law (Ezra 7.6);
- Ezra comes to Jerusalem to supervise the Temple, to evaluate
conditions in the Judean province of the Persian Empire
according to Mosaic standards, and to appoint judges to
administer civil and moral order for the entire Judean
population (7.11-26);
- Ezra is distressed at the fact that Judean returnees from exile
are marrying foreign women (Ezra 9);
- he calls upon God to forgive these people and he calls on the
people to reject these mixed alliances;
- Judean men agree to divorce their non-Judean wives (10.3);
- the Book of Ezra is positive towards the Persian overlords;
- Ezra is a key figure in the further development of Judaism;
- he was a zealous promoter of Mosaic traditions.
- an appointed governor of postexilic Judah by the Persian
emperor (Neh 5.14; 8.9);
- Nehemiah was a zealous reformer (see, e.g., Nehemiah 13);
- he enforced Sabbath observance; he kept the ban on foreign
marriages (13.15-22 and 13.23-27);
- see especially chapters 10-13 on support of the Temple
service, rejection of marriage to foreign women, and strict
observance of the Sabbath;
- Nehemiah, like Ezra, was a proponent of Judean
exclusivity, tolerating neither Gentile customs nor nonJudean women in the holy city;
- these requirements deemed necessary;
- without such separation, both national and religious identity
might have been lost.
1. What was the religious and political situation in Judah
after the return from exile in Babylon?
2. What is the religious situation that is reflected in the
Writings (Kethuvim)?
3. Describe the order of the books in the Writings
(Kethuvim). Why did the editors of the Hebrew Scriptures
choose such an order? What is the position of Cyrus, the
Persian Emperor, in this order?
4. Describe the role of the Megillot in modern-day,
Orthodox Judaism.
5. Hebrew Poetry in the Bible displays a variety of poetic
styles. Relative to this, explain, with examples, what are
similes, metaphors, and allegories.
6. Describe the books of Psalms under the headings: a)
traditional division; b) common classification; c) the
spokespersons; d) the main affirmation; e) their functions; f)
date of composition; and g) accompaniment.
7. What were the three professions that could speak with
authority in ancient Israel? What was the role of each
profession? Who stood at the head of Israel’s wisdom
tradition? Upon what does the greatest Wisdom Literature
8. Discuss the Book of Job under the headings: a) its theme;
b) outline; and c) the main characters.
9. What was the role of the Chronicler in interpreting Israel’s
history for the post-exilic world?
10. Explain clearly the contents of both Chronicles and EzraNehemiah. What are the relationships, if any, among
these books?
11. Who was Ezra? What was his role in post-exilic Judah?
12. Who was Nehemiah? What was his role in post-exilic