The Bible and History - Materials and Methods - Texts - Hebrew Bible

Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew Bible is not a single book but rather a collection of texts, most of them anonymous, and most of them the product of more or less extensive editing prior to reaching their modern form. These texts are in many different genres, but three distinct blocks approximating modern narrative history can be made out.

Torah: Genesis to Deuteronomy

God creates the world; the world God creates is good, but it becomes thoroughly corrupted by man's decision to sin. God destroys all but the eight remaining righteous people in a deluge and shortens man's lifespan significantly. God selects Abraham to inherit the land of Canaan. The children of Israel, Abraham's grandson, go into Egypt, where their descendants are enslaved. The Israelites are led out of Egypt by Moses (Exodus) and receive the laws of God, who renews the promise of the land of Canaan.

Deuteronomic history: Joshua to 2 Kings

The Israelites conquer the land of Canaan under Joshua, successor to Moses. Under the Judges they live in a state of constant conflict and insecurity, until the prophet Samuel anoints Saul as king over them. Saul proves unworthy, and God selects David as his successor. Under David the Israelites are united and conquer their enemies, and under Solomon his son they live in peace and prosperity. But the kingdom is divided under Solomon's successors, Israel in the north and Judah in the south, and the kings of Israel fall away from God and eventually the people of the north are taken into captivity by outsiders. Judah, unlike Israel, has some kings who follow God, but many do not, and eventually it too is taken into captivity, and the Temple of God built by Solomon is destroyed.

Chronicler's history: Chronicles and Ezra/Nehemiah

(Chronicles begins by reprising the history of the Torah and the Deuteronomistic history, with some differences over details. It introduces new material following its account of the fall of Jerusalem, the event which concludes the Deuteronomic history). The Babylonians, who had destroyed the Temple and taken the people into captivity, are themselves defeated by the Persians under their king Cyrus. Cyrus permits the exiles to return to Jerusalem. The Temple is rebuilt, and the Laws of Moses are read to the people.


(Several other books of the Hebrew Bible are set in a historical context or otherwise give information which can be regarded as historical, although these books do not present themselves as histories).

The prophets Amos and Hosea write of events during the 8th century kingdom of Israel; the prophet Jeremiah writes of events preceding and following the fall of Judah; Ezekiel writes of events during and preceding the exile in Babylon; and other prophets similarly touch on various periods, usually those in which they write.

Several books are included in some canons but not in others. Among these, Maccabees is a purely historical work that treats of the events of the 2nd century BCE. Others are not historical in orientation but are set in historical contexts or reprise earlier histories, such as Enoch, an apocalyptic work of the 2nd century BCE.

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