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Archive for September, 2019

Here is material, some of which I’ve posted elsewhere on this blog as well as other sites: my amateur and informal summary of the whole Bible, including all the apocryphal/deuterocanonical books, and a summary of the Jewish Talmud.

Torah

The Torah has five books.

Genesis takes us from the Creation to the death of Joseph. Along the way, we read the familiar stories of the first generations of humans, the call and covenant of Abraham, the stories of his descendants, and the emigration of Jacob’s family to Egypt.

Exodus explains the Israelite slavery, the call and ministry of Moses, the Passover and Exodus, the entry into the wilderness, the Sinai covenant, and the creation of the Tabernacle.

Leviticus contains numerous laws: laws of sacrifice, the consecration of priests, laws of holiness, kashrut (kosher), purification, holy days, and atonement, among others.

Numbers continues the Israelites’ travels in the wilderness. The people travel from Sinai to Moab but fail to believe the counsel of Joshua and Caleb concerning the inhabitants of the Land. God punishes their rebellion by forbidding that generation from entering the Land. Thirty-eight years passes between chapters 19 and 20, and Moses himself is forbidden from entering the Land as well.

Deuteronomy concludes the Torah’s long story in the fortieth wilderness year as Moses addresses the people in two discourses (1:6-4:40 and 5:1-26:19). Moses reiterates the law (the name of the book means “second law”) and reminds the people of the necessity of faithfulness to God. After speaking his parting words, Moses dies and is buried.

We tend to disconnect portions of the Bible from other sections. For instance, we tend to isolate Genesis 1-2 when we think about God’s creation. But the stories of creation connect with the beginning and spread of human sin and God’s plan of salvation. Genesis 1 connects with the Jewish Sabbath, which, as I considered in chapter 5, is a sign of God’s covenant with Israel (Ex. 32:12-17). In turn, Genesis 1-11 can’t be set apart as separate stories, for those chapters are necessary for understand how the story of humankind has a “twist” that alters everything else: God’s great call to Abraham.

The stories of Abraham and Sarah and their descendants always seem like small gospels, in the sense of the “good news” of God’s favor and blessing to people who, though deeply flawed, respond in faith to God’s unmerited grace. But I can’t isolate the book from Exodus 1-15, for everything is necessary for understanding who the people of Israel are and why they are in Egypt. So in Exodus we find more stories of God’s history of his people: the reasons for Israelite slavery, the story of Moses, the liberation of the people, their deliverance across the Red Sea, and the beginning of Moses’ long leadership of the people in the wilderness as they approach the Promised Land. So, the basic story forms a long “arc” from creation to God’s great work in the exodus and the parting of the sea.

But the Exodus isn’t just the climax of a drama. It’s a beginning that marks a turning point, the great event by which God creates his people. Interestingly, the prophets do not evoke Abraham and his covenant but instead evoke the Exodus as the great event by which God established his covenant people (e.g., as Bernhard W. Anderson and Brevard S. Childs respectively point out, Amos 2:10, 9:7, Hosea 2:15, 11:1, 13:4, Isa. 43:16-21, 51:9-11, Ez. 2:5-6, 20:33-44, and also Deut. 5:6, 6:20ff, 26:5ff, Psalm 78, 81, 95, 105, 106, as well as the allusion in Joshua 3:1ff, and later in Neh. 9:6ff, Daniel 9:15, 2 Chr. 7:22, and also references to the plagues and rebellions in Psalm 78, 95, 105, 106, and in Wisdom of Sol. 16 and Sirach 45:1ff). (Bernhard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament [third edition, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1975] 9-10; Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1993] 131.

This connection of the exodus and subsequent history is possible because the exodus and the covenant of Sinai are connected, as in Ex. 19:3-6. As Anderson puts it, “…Yahweh’s initiative evoked a response from the people. It placed them in a situation of decision, summoned them to a task within the divine purpose. What Moses had experience earlier at Sinai … was experienced by all the people at the same sacred mountain, and with far-reaching implications for the future.”(Anderson, 82-83) In Exodus 24, which binds two traditions (verses 1-2 and 9-11, and 3-8), the covenant is ratified between God and the people.

But the covenant, too, can be tied back to creation. Scholars note that the building of the sanctuary parallels the six days of creation (Ex. 24:15-18), alerting us that God’s work, after resting on the seventh day, continued in the creation of God’s special people. Not only that, but the covenant and law comprise a new “Eden” in which the people can live.

If you read this material closely, you notice certain “story arcs.” Exodus 29, which concerns priestly ordination, connects to Leviticus 8-9. The covenant of the Sabbath, Exodus 31:12-17, connects back to Genesis 1: the God who created all things has created a beloved people whose very lives reflect God’s pattern of creation. The laws of Leviticus connect back to the events of Mount Sinai in Exodus 19-24.(16) The stories of the spies and the rebellion of Israel in Numbers 12-14 connect us forward to the book of Joshua and set the stage for the long sojourn in the wilderness (which is not recorded but which happens between the end of the story at Numbers 17:13 and the beginning of Numbers 20. The story of Numbers 20 connects us back to Exodus 17, two similar rebellions of Israel.

In Deuteronomy, Moses gives a long farewell message, instructing the people again about the importance of following God’s will and commandments. With the death of Moses at the end, we conclude this most part of the Scriptures that faithful Jews hold most precious.  But the death of Moses is not the end, for Deuteronomy looks to the future. In chapters 29-30 Moses reiterates the covenant to the people and promises that God’s word is not remote in time and space but always very near (Deut. 30:11-14). The reminder and promise of the covenant takes us back to the beginning of the covenant (Ex. 19-24).

Deuteronomy circles back even further, toward the beginning. “A wandering Aramean was my father,” says Deut. 26:5, meaning Jacob, and the passage 5-10 remembers Egyptian bondage, God’s salvation, and circles back again to the promise of the land, which the Israelites are about to enter.

The conclusion of Numbers circles back even further, for as commentators note, the passage describing the land of Canaan and its settlement (chapters 34-36) belongs to the “priestly source” which was the source of Genesis 1. Thus the promise of land for God’s people reflects God’s love of all creation and God’s desire for new human relationships. (Thomas B. Dozeman, “The Book of Numbers,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, volume II [Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1998] 267-268.)

We Christians should remember a few things about the Torah. The first is that much of material was not originally meant to be applicable for us Gentiles (Acts 15, Gal. 3:3-5). These are laws for Jews to do God’s will and to set them apart as God’s people. The distinction you often hear—the moral laws are applicable for Christians but the ceremonial laws are not—is not a biblical distinction at all, because in the Torah, all of life—worship, legal translations, daily behavior, diet, and so on—are of a whole piece. In his love, God has given the Hebrews a precious expression of his will. God shares this religious heritage with us Gentiles because of his love and this material is part of our religious heritage because of God’s favor (Rom. 11:17-24).(18)

Israel has made no distinction between the moral, civil, and ceremonial laws: all are of a piece, although today, many of the ceremonial laws are obsolete because there is no temple or priesthood in Judaism. Judaism has not historically viewed the law as a means of self-justification and self-salvation; the law has been God’s wonderful gift to follow. Paul, however, was adamant that the laws were unnecessary for Gentile converts to Christianity; even more than the moral law, he stressed the law of the guidance of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-26). Now, we see the law through Christ, who fulfilled all righteousness and took the consequences of our law breaking onto himself (2 Cor. 5:21). But Paul upholds the law (Rom. 3:31), to show how Christ’s perfect (law-keeping) life is now a gift of life to us; thanks to Christ, the Torah is precious to us Gentiles, too.

Arguing thus, Paul stayed within the Torah and went back before Moses to Abraham to show how God’s favor touches people through their faith apart from the law (Rom. 4). (Jesus did a similar thing, going prior to Moses to God’s first intentions: Matt. 10:2-9). The question remains for Christians: how does the law still apply? A classic solution is to view the law in three ways: as a restraint to the wicked (the political use), as the law that brings us to Christ’s salvation (Gal. 3:24, the theological use), and then the “third use of the law,” which is to give content to the love of Christ which we display as we’re transformed by the Spirit (Gal. 6:2).

The Torah is foundational for Christians in other ways so obvious that we take them for granted.  A Bible explorer will discover interesting “arcs” and connections between the Torah and the New Testament. One is the idea of the covenant, for now God has extended his covenant to include non-Jews (Rom. 3:29-30). Another is the idea of blood for atonement forgiveness of sins (Rom. 3:25). Christ’s blood was shed and now there is no longer need for sacrifice (Heb. 9:11-14).

Still another idea is the faithfulness and righteousness of God, a Torah theme strongly defended in Romans 3 in Paul’s preaching of Christ.

Here are a few additional connections between the Torah and the New Testament:

  • The Creation and New Creation (2 Cor. 5:17, Rev. 21:1)
  • Adam and the Second Adam (Rom. 5:12-21)
  • The faith of Abraham, in some important ways the key to the whole Bible (Gen. 12:1-3, Rom. 4, Heb. 11:8-22)
  • Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 22, Rom. 8:32)
  • The manna in the wilderness and the Eucharistic bread (Ex. 16:1-21, John 6:25-40).
  • The covenant, the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and the Eucharist (Ex. 24:3-8; Lev. 7:12, 22:29, Ps. 107:22, 116:17, Amos 4:5, Mark 14:22-25 and parallels, 1 Cor. 11:25)
  • The healing serpent and the healing of Christ (Num. 21:8-9; John 3:14-15)
  • The condemnation in Deuteronomy of a condemned criminal “hanging on a tree” (Deut. 21:22-23; John 19:31, Gal. 3:13)
  • The salvation of Noah’s ark (Gen. 6:9-9:29; Luke 17:22-32; 1 Peter 3:20-21)
  • The role of Moses (Heb. 3:1-6, 11:23-28, et al.)
  • Moses’ shining face (Ex. 34:29-35, 1 Cor. 3:12-18)
  • The drink offering (Ex. 29:38-41, Lev. 23:12, 13, 18, Phil. 2:12-18, 2 Tim. 4:6-8)
  • The priesthood of Aaron (Ex. 29:1-9, Lev. 16, Heb. 7:11-14, 9:1-10:18)
  • Sacrifices (Lev. 1, 3, 4, Rom. 3:21-26, Heb. 7:26-28, 9:11-28)
  • The “rest” of the Promised Land (Heb. 3:7-4:13)
  • The Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11, 31:12-17, Deut. 5:12-15, Matt. 12:-18)
  • The Pascal Lamb (Ex. 12:11; 1 Cor. 5:7)
  • The two great commandments (Deut. 6:4-5, Lev. 19:18, Mark 12:28-34, Gal. 5:14).
  • The tabernacle as God’s dwelling place (Exodus 25:1-31:17; John 1:14; also the curtain of the tabernacle and later the temple, Matt. 27:51, Heb. 10:19-20)
  • The bread of the presence (Ex. 25:30, Lev. 24:8-9, Heb. 9:1-2)

More on the Torah laws

The 613 laws of the Torah are set forth and discussed in Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Biblical Literacy: The Most Important People, Events, and Ideas of the Hebrew Bible (New York: William Morrow, 1997), 513-592 and passim; and William J. Doorly, The Laws of Yahweh: A Handbook of Biblical Law (New York: Paulist Press, 2002.

Doorly describes the four pre-canonical law collections that were incorporated into the Torah text after the exile: the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 21-23), the Deuteronomic Law Code (Deuteronomy 12-26), the Holiness Code (Leviticus 17-26), and the Priestly Code (spread through Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers). Doorly calls attention to the reform of Judahite religion during the reign of Josiah (640-609 BC), when the book of the law was discovered in the temple and then the keeping of the law was enjoined (2 Kings 22-23). After Josiah’s tragic death, soon followed by the fall of Jerusalem, the work of preserving and editing the laws continued during the exile.  Scholars believe that the law discovered in the temple comprised at least part of the Deuteronomic Law Code.

Doorly notes that the Levitical priests, connected historically to the Shechem/Shiloh area in the northern kingdom of Israel (which fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC), are associated with “the Deuteronomic circle,” but meanwhile the Aaronic (or Zadokite) priests associated with the temple also compiled laws (p. 4-5). During and after the exile, laws were preserved by both groups and eventually edited into what we now know as the Torah or Pentateuch.

The Book of the Covenant contains cultic laws about altars and images, 22 secular laws about restitution, bodily injury, and property, 20 cultic and social laws (including God’s demand for justice) and finally 6 more cultic laws, including three festivals. While not the oldest laws, they may be associated with the reform work of Hezekiah and then were preserved by the Aaronic priests during the exile from the Jahwist and Elohist sources (J and E).

The Deuteronomic Code, much longer than the Book of the Covenant, includes laws about the destruction of Canaanite holy places (ch. 12), apostasy (p. 13), food and tithes (ch. 14), sabbatical year (ch. 15), annual pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Pentecost, and Shavuot, ch. 16), and many other laws about Levites, cities of refuge, rules of warfare, murder, livestock, and so on (29-30). While some laws (especially Deut. 13) seem cruel (and were not known to have been carried out), many laws reflect justice issues protecting people’s rights and encouraging social interdependence (32-33).

The Holiness Code contains laws about the slaughter of animals, sexual taboos, priests, several annual festivals, sabbatical years and jubilee years, and others.  Doorly believes that this code was a pre-exilic stroll intended for education of Judahites, separate from the Priestly Code.

The Priestly Code is found in Ex. 12-13, 25-30, Lev. 1-7, 10-15, 27, Num 5-6, 9-10, 18, 27-30, and 35-36. This code includes laws about Passover (Ex. 12-13), the tabernacle (Ex. 25-30), offerings and sacrifices (Lev. 1-7), priests (Lev. 10), dietary laws (Lev. 11), diseases and discharges (Lev. 12-15), vows, tithes and offerings (Lev. 27), uncleanness (Num. 5-6), Passover (Num. 9-10), priestly laws (Num. 18), inheritance laws, festivals, and vows (Num. 27-30), and Levitical towns, more inheritance laws, and laws concerning murder (Num. 35-36).This code was probably laws intended for the Jerusalem temple priests. While some scholars believe the Aaronic priests preserved these laws in order to assert their superiority to the Levitical priests, Doorly points out that both the Aaronic and Levitical schools sought to preserve laws in light of their creative rewriting of Israel’s history, with the Levites beginning with the events of Deuteronomy, and the Aaronids beginning with the time of the Exodus.

 Brevard Childs discusses the distinction of Aaronic and Levitical priests. Childs notes that in Ex. 28-29 and Lev. 8-10—where we find much information about the biblical priests—Aaron and his sons are consecrated to an eternal priesthood. The Aaronic priests performed cultic rites while Levites were responsible for maintenance of the tabernacle (e.g. Num. 1:47ff). But, Childs notes, we don’t find that distinction in Deuteronomy, which describe “Levitical priests” who have cultic responsibilities. We also find no Aaronite clergy in Judges and Samuel; Eli is the chief priest but he is from the Ephraim rather than the Levi tribe. When we get to Chronicles, we return to the separation of priest and Levites that we saw in Exodus and Leviticus.  Scholars like Julius Wellhausen explains the discrepancies in terms of the time period of the material: Ex. 25-40, Leviticus, and Numbers are post-exilic, while Deuteronomy is pre-exilic (i.e., late monarchy, from the time of Josiah), but Childs sees the historical development of the priesthood as largely irretrievable background history for the canonical text, in which the post-exilic form of priesthood has become normative (Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992], 145-150, 152-153).

History

In these historical books, two main historical periods are represented, the fulfillment of God’s promise of land to the Israelites, from Joshua to Solomon, and then the period of national sin and decline (and the rise of the prophets) from Solomon to the exile.

Joshua concerns the conquest of the land following the death of Moses.  The first twelve chapters concern the conquest of the land, and chapters 13 through 21 record the partition of the land.

Judges is an account of a succession of leaders (“judges,” or shofetim) with the Israelites’ history degenerating into civil war.

Ruth is a lovely, familiar story of two women, a Hebrew and a Moabite, devoted to one another in a terrible circumstance.

1 and 2 Samuel concern the beginning of the Israelite monarchy with a focus upon the rise and rulership of the greatest king, David.

1 and 2 Kings takes us through another long history, that of David’s successors. The stories of Solomon and the construction of the magnificent Temple provide a positive beginning to the history. But the Hebrews suffer a succession of unfaithful kings, the division of the kingdom, the fall of the northern kingdom in about 722 BC, the fall of the southern kingdom in 586 BC, the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, and the beginning of the Babylonian exile (586-536).

These books are called “the former prophets” in the Hebrew Bible and are listed along with the prophets Isaiah through Malachi. The Hebrew Bible places other historical books—Ruth, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Esther—in the final section called the Writings. The Christian Old Testament includes these books among the “former prophets,” so that, for instance, the story of Ruth—a Gentile ancestor of David and Jesus—provides a glimpse of hope amid the warfare and desolation of Judges and the stories of Samuel and the monarchy.

The material in 1 Chronicles through Esther is (as the Harper Bible Commentary puts it) the great “secondary history” of the Bible. Like the “primary history” of Genesis-2 Kings, it begins at the beginning and arrives at the Exile—but the secondary history continues to the post-exilic period of Ezra-Nehemiah and Esther.

Though beginning with Adam himself in long genealogies, 1 and 2 Chronicles cover similar ground as the books of Samuel and Kings, but “the Chronicler” reinterprets the history. Notice the difference between David’s farewell speech in 1 Kings (2:2-9) and in 1 Chronicles (28:1-29:20). During a seminary class, I wrote in my old Bible: Unlike Samuel and Kings, the Chronicler assigned each generation with complete intimacy to God, losing the unity of Israel’s history.

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah record the period after the Hebrews return to the land following the Babylonian exile. The Temple is rebuilt, Jerusalem is rebuilt and repaired, and the covenant is reestablished. These books show how God’s people made the first transitions from their former existence as a kingdom to a new existence as a worshiping community.

Esther is a story of a Hebrew woman who becomes the Persian queen and, with her adoptive father Mordecai, saves the Hebrew people. The book gives another side of the post-exilic history: Jews who did not return to the land but remained among Gentiles.

The history of God’s people obviously does not end there. We have more of their story reflected in the book of Daniel (probably from the 100s BC), in apocryphal books like Maccabees, in the Mishnah and Talmud, and in all the history and witness of the Jews during the subsequent two millennia, as Second- and Post-Temple Judaism transformed into Rabbinic Judaism. The New Testament provides scriptural history of the messianic subgroup of Jews known as Christians, a faith that, of course, became prominently Gentile.

How do the Torah and these historical books fit together? Following the Torah’s verse after verse of laws, statutes, and material for Hebrew worship, you’d expect to find historical accounts of these laws and cultic practices carried out. We do get some: Joshua refers to the law of Moses, 1:7ff, 8:30ff; the stories of David, Uriah, and Bathsheba also reflect concerns for cleansing rituals; and the sins of Solomon are also connected to the laws (Deut. 17:1-17 and 1 Kings 9:26-11:40). (Solomon’s sins vis-à-vis the Law are discussed in Marc Zvi Brettler, How to Read the Jewish Bible [New York: Oxford University Press, 2007] 122-123).

Then, in Ezra and Nehemiah, we see the emergence of a more obviously religious community. This apparent omission of cultic practices within the historical accounts alerts us to a topic debated in scholarly circles: the development of the law and practices before and after the Exile, the impact of the rediscovery of at least part of the law during Josiah’s reign (2 Kings 22:8 and following) and the uplifting of the law as a community standard during the post-exilic period (Ezra 3:2, Neh. 13) (Childs, Biblical Theology137).

Scholars hypothesize a “Deuteronomistic history” that now forms the basis of the material from the beginning of Deuteronomy to the end of 2 Kings. (The first of several books on this subject is Martin Noth, The Deuteronomistic History[Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002; originally published in 1943]). Among the themes of this history is the keeping of the covenant: God will reward faithfulness and will eventually punish wickedness and apostasy. So, the connection of the historical books and the Torah is, at one level, the failure of the Israelites to keep their part of the covenant faithfully; thus God’s judgment in the form of the Babylonian conquest and exile at the end of 2 Kings. But throughout these centuries, God has remained faithful.

Fatefully for Jewish-Christian relationships, this theology of Israelite failure is reflected in the New Testament documents, as Jesus-believing Jews contrast themselves with other Jews.

The historical books have several major themes.  One is the experience of the Land (ha-aretz)—the land promised to Israel since Abram in Genesis 12. As we saw in the Torah, God guides his people, establishes his covenant with them, gives them his law, and leads them to the Land under the leadership of Moses and then Joshua. Holding and keeping the Land, though, remains a challenge across the centuries: the campaigns and conquests of Joshua are far the end of the story. (See Walter Brueggemann’s book, The Land).

Connected to the Land is the history of the monarchy. Commentators like Anderson note that while the tribal confederacy of the Judges period had problems with faithfulness and idolatry, those problems were different from other nations in that they were defined by their covenant to the Lord. But once Israel had a king, an additional temptation was added: becoming a nation like any other nation. Certainly God’s power was operative, for instance, in the selection of Saul and David and the ongoing life of the people, especially in light of the Philistine threat. But, as Anderson notes, “the religious faith of the Confederacy [the Judges] survived its collapse and found new expression in Israel’s prophetic movement. Israel was not allowed to identify a human kingdom with the Kingdom of God, for Yahweh alone was king” (Anderson 162-163).

Unfortunately, that meant that Israel had eventually to collapse, too, in order that they become truly faithful to the covenant.

As you explore the stories of David and his successors, you see difficulties building. Although Israel became a renowned kingdom (occasioning the famous Queen of Sheba’s visit in 1 Kings 10:1-10), we also hear of the horror of the hanging of Saul’s seven sons (and the tragic figure of the concubine Rizpah: 2 Sam. 21:1-14), continued conflict with the Philistines (2 Sam. 21:15-22), terrible results of David’s census (2 Sam. 24), the rebellions and difficulties within David’s own family (2 Sam. 9-20 and 1 Kings 1-2), and eventually the division of the kingdom following Solomon’s death.

On the other hand, the possibilities of monarchy gave rise to the hope for a future king who would reunite the people and regain and surpass the possibilities of peace and prosperity, as we read in the famous messianic passages that we specially embrace during Advent and Christmas: Isaiah 7:10-17, 9:2-7, and 11:1-9.

Within these stories, David emerges as a kind of “typology” for God’s rule. The two mountains, Sinai and Zion, stand for the two covenants of God, and Nathan’s prophecy (2 Samuel 7) links David’s descendants to God’s Sinai covenant. Earlier ambivalence about a monarchy changes to a confidence in God’s rulership through David’s line. Since David is identified with Jerusalem (Zion) in his selection of that place as capital, Zion became identified with God’s own city (Ps. 46, 48, 76, and others) (Childs, Biblical Theology154-55).

Of course, the line of David, also celebrated in the psalms (2, 20, 31, 45, and others) connects to the later messianic hope that grows in Israel’s history and, for Christians, finds fulfillment in Jesus.

Another theme of these biblical books is the Jerusalem temple. The Temple, promised to David and constructed during Solomon’s reign, is connected to the history of the Tabernacle before it (Ex. 35-40) and, of course, to the Land itself. David’s hope for a great, permanent house in the Land for God is not fulfilled, but his son Solomon constructs the facility (2 Sam. 7, 1 Kings 5-8). Like the monarchy, the Temple did not survive the collapse of Judah and Jerusalem in 586 (1 Kings 25:8, 9, 13-17), but the Temple serves in Israelite memory through the exile in, for instance, the dynamic vision of a restored Temple in Ezekiel 40-48. Following the exile, the high priest Jeshua and the governor Zerubbabel, helped by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, supervise the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 3-6). After the Old Testament period, Herod the Great began work on a restored temple in 20-19 BC, a building effort still going on during Jesus’ time and beyond. Herod’s temple was finally completed, ironically, just a few years before the Romans destroyed it in 70 AD.

The fall of Jerusalem in about 586 BC and the subsequent exile of the people in Babylon in 586-536 BC  (2 Kings 24:18-25:30 and Jer. 52:1-34) are key events for the entire Bible.(29) Even if you’re a regular Bible reader you may miss the tremendous significance of the exile; the whole Bible radiates before and after that catastrophe (Childs, Biblical Theology154-55; Ralph W. Klein, “Exile,” The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007] 367-370; Peter R. Ackroyd, Exile and Restoration: A Study of Hebrew Thought in the Sixth Century B.C. [Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1968]).

We know little about the forty years in the wilderness (passed over in silence between Numbers 17:13 and 20:1), and we have comparatively little history in the Bible about the exile itself, besides 2 Kings 25, Jeremiah 52, Lamentations, Psalms 79 and 137 and some other scriptures.

But the whole biblical history beginning with God’s promises to Abraham comes to a catastrophic turning point at the exile; much of the prophetic writings in the Bible reflect issues before, during, and after the exile; and the promises of God to David for a future Davidic monarchy become a great hope of Israel following the exile. As I said above, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah record the post-exilic efforts to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple and to reestablish the people on the Land. That post-exilic hope is understood in the New Testament as being fulfilled in Christ.

We find numerous connections within the historical books themselves.

  • The connection of Noah’s curse of Canaan (Gen. 9:25-26) with the Canaanites.
  • The ongoing theme of the Amalekites (Ex. 17:8-16, Num. 13-14, Deut. 25:17, 19, Judges 3:13, 1 Sam. 15, et al.), connecting Joshua with Saul and later Hezekiah (1 Chr. 4:41-43).
  • The ongoing theme of Bethel (Josh. 18:21-22, Judges 1:22-26, 20:18, 26-28, 1 Sam. 7:16, 1 Kings 12:26-32, 2 Kings 17:27-28, 2 Kings 23:15-23, Ezra 2:28, Neh. 7:32, 11:31).
  • The connection of the places Gilgal (Josh. 4:19-5:12, 1 Sam. 11:15, 13:1-10) and Gibeon (Josh. 9:3-27, 2 Sam. 2:12-3:1. As one commentator puts it, “The story [of Gibeonites] signals radical Davidic centralization by highlighting Joshua’s fulfillment of Yahweh’s command.” But also, these Joshua stories connect to the law of herem (Deut. 7:1-6, 20:16-18), wherein God requires the annihilation of the people and prohibits the taking of spoils.

We also find interconnections with the New Testament, some mentioned already.

  • The great theme of Yahweh’s salvation.  The name “Joshua” is in Hebrew the same name as “Jesus,” meaning “Yahweh saves.”
  • The theme of the Land. The Land is not spiritualized in the Old Testament the way that it tends to be in the New. In the Old, we speak of the actual land and its possession. Deutero-Isaiah begins to move in a more spiritual direction (Isa. 44:24ff, 49:14ff), and in the New Testament, Jesus himself becomes the “place” where God dwells (John 1:14).
  • The theme of the Kingdom of God.  The phrase is not used in the Old Testament, but the kingdom of God is the principle theme of Jesus’ preaching and connects with God’s sovereignty through Israel’s history.
  • The theme of a new kind of monarchy under David’s descendant, Jesus.  In his person and work, Jesus brings themes like the Lamb of God, the sufferings of David, and the suffering servant of Isaiah into the theme of the king of Israel: thus, when Jesus is killed, the charge against him is “king of the Jews.” But in his suffering and death is victory over sin and death, and the ambiguities of the Israelite monarchy are understood to be resolved.
  • The theme of the Temple. The New Testament never explicitly mentions the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, an odd omission. Jesus quotes Jeremiah concerning the Temple, and he himself is understood to be the new temple (John 2:20-22). Paul, in turn, calls each of us “temples of the Holy Spirit” in that God’s presence dwells within us (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
  • The realities of post-exilic Judaism provide a more subtle connection. Groups like the Pharisees and Sadducees , as well as the Essenes and Zealots, formed in response to the needs of the people during the post-exilic time, as did institutions like synagogues, Sabbath requirements, and festivals to which Jews—many living in different parts of the world after the exile—came to Jerusalem (e.g., John 11:55 and also Acts 2:5-11).
  • Not only is the exile a decisive turning point for the whole Bible—a climax of a long drama but also a new beginning for Jews and later for Christians—scholars hypothesize that the compilations and editing of law codes and historical materials happened as during and after the exile, as Doorly discusses. Thus, the exile and the restoration necessitated the composition of the Bible itself!
  • Of course, the Jews who became the first Christians were post-exilic Jews who, like other Jews, looked to an even greater restoration of Israel’s fortunes. The Christians saw that restoration and monarchical fulfillment in the Jew Jesus, and they based that hope upon exilic texts like Isaiah 40-66.
  • It is worth noting that exilic language flavors many Christian hymns, especially those that refer to our heavenly home to which we live in hope. In childhood Vacation Bible School, I learned that peppy song “Do Lord” with its evocation of “Glory Land.” I also learned “Bringing in the Sheaves,” based on the post-exilic Psalm 136 and the struggle of returning exiles to reestablish agriculture.
  • Although Israel’s hope is understood to be fulfilled in Christ, themes of the exile still shape the Bible. As Peter-Ben Smith points out, a key biblical theme, beginning with Eden, is that we are all in exile and long to be redeemed from exile. He points out that the Christian liturgical traditions are filled with the language of exile, and also the exile functions in theologies of liberation (the struggle for freedom amid oppression) and other contemporary theologies.  The biblical language about Jesus’ death and resurrection connects to Passover, which of course concerns the earlier exile of Egyptian slavery. (The link is dead, but the original reference is Peter-Ben Smith, “Ecumenism in Exile,” World Council of Churches’ website http://www.oikoumene.org/en/programmes/the-wcc-and-the-ecumenical-movement-in-the-21st-century/relationships-with-member-churches/60th-anniversary/contest/essay-ecumenism-in-exile.htmlAccessed 2012).

More on the Kingdom:

Brevard S. Childs notes that the Old Testament has a presumed “pro-monarchial” source in 1 Sam. 8-12, specifically 9:1-10:16 and 11:1-5, compared with anti-monarchical sources (1 Sam. 8:1-22, 10:17-27, 12:1-25) that view a human king as an act of disobedience to God, the true monarch. Childs looks at the texts’ canonical shape and concludes that, although some of the biblical traditions were hostile to a monarchy, the final form of the text affirms God’s involvement in the monarchy, even though a monarchy was not part of God’s original plan (Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1986] 115).

Furthermore, he continues, the career of the greatest monarch, David, becomes deeply significant for Israel’s ongoing hope in God’s redemption (Isa. 9:6-7, Jer. 23:5ff, Ps. 45, 72, 110, and the way David’s speech in 2 Sam. 22 echoes Hanna’s song in 1 Sam. 2). In his Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), Childs sees a similar tension regarding the book of Judges. The book itself connects the moral decline of the period to the lack of a king (18:1, 21:25), but in the anti-monarchical passages of 1 Samuel (e.g. 12:12ff), the office of judges rather than a monarch was God’s intention for Israel. Yet the future hope of Israel lay not in a judge but a Davidic king (150-151).

Under the kingship of Solomon’s son Rehoboam (1 Kings 12) the kingdom divides between the northern (Israel) and the southern (Judah). A succession of kings rules Israel for the subsequent two hundred years until the Assyrians conquer that land in about 722 BC (2 Kings 12).  The later Babylonians did not compel the resettlement of conquered areas but the Assyrians did.

Consequently, the deportation of the tribes in the northern kingdom resulted not only in “the lost tribes of Israel” but also the beginning of the Samaritan (2 Kings 17:1-6, 24-41, 18:9, 1 Chr. 5:26). Later, those from the southern kingdom who returned from Babylonian exile came into conflict with Samaritans in the years following (Hag. 2:10ff, Ezra 10:2ff, Neh. 4:1ff). See Childs, Biblical Theology162; Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament 184.

Prayers and Wisdom

Between the historical books and the prophets, we have several books that, in the Jewish Bible, appear in the final “writings” section (which also includes Ruth, Lamentations, Daniel, and 1 and 2 Chronicles).

Job is the well-known story (a long poem framed by short narrative sections) of a righteous man who suffered terribly.  He and his friends try to plumb the mysteries of God’s providence.

The Psalms are 150 songs of praise, complaint, lamentation, penitence, and supplication. They were used in the rebuilt Temple and, eventually, in synagogues and churches.

Proverbs is a collection of sayings, many attributed to Solomon, on topics like morality, knowledge, justice, and other issues of right living.

Ecclesiastes is a deeply moving reflection upon the seasons of life (including the famous 3:1-8), the difficulties of gaining wisdom, and the ultimate vanity of human striving.

The Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs) is an emotional poem of love and longing between two people.

Some of this material is connected to Jewish festivals.  Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther are known as the Five Scrolls (Hamesh Megillot) and are read in synagogues on Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost), Tisha be-Av (anniversary of the destruction of Jerusalem), Sukkah (feast of tabernacles), and Purim, respectively. What enrichment these books bring to the Bible! In Ruth, we find not only a story of family love and loyalty, but also a warm illustration of how God can work through faithful people, including Gentiles like the Moabite Ruth. Esther is a counterpart to Ruth: in Ruth, a Gentile survives within a Jewish majority, while in Esther, a Jew must survive (with more ominous stakes) in a Gentile world.

Esther also is a reminder that God’s people the Jews have and will endure as God’s special witnesses.

Ecclesiastes and Job provide a check against any theology that takes a flippantly “sunny” approach to life: as if our walk with God was a victory-to-victory process. Although you wouldn’t want this material to “have the last word,” we need material in the Word of God that, paradoxically, raise the issue of the difficulties of knowing God—and the difficulties of managing the tragedies and pain of life.

Song of Songs can be interpreted as an allegory and as such is beloved by many as a religious paean. Its interpretations have been many. Anyone who’s been in love can be happy that God so blesses mutual human love, including physical attraction. (In fact, the prophets depicted the relationship between God and Israel in often startlingly conjugal terms.)

The term “wisdom literature” refers to different biblical material, not only to Proverbs but also Ecclesiastes, Job, the Song of Songs, and such Psalms as 1, 19, 37, 49, 73, and others. Wise men and women are mentioned elsewhere in the Bible (Gen. 39:1-6, 41:8-32, 2 Sam. 14:1-20, 16:23, 20:14-22), and King Solomon, of course, the designated author of many of the proverbs, earned a reputation as the wisest man of all (1 Kings 4:29-33). But wisdom literature has a different “flavor” than some of the material we’ve seen.

In wisdom writings (as Bernhard Anderson puts it), “The prophetic themes that dominate the Pentateuch and the prophetic writings—Israel’s election, the Day of Yahweh, the covenant and the Law, the priesthood and the Temple, prophecy and the messianic hope—are dealt with hardly at all.” In fact, wisdom seemed to be criticized in prophetic passages like Jeremiah 8:9 and Isaiah 29:4 (Anderson 531-532, quote on page 531).

Wisdom authors did not address legal and religious obligations (as did the priests of Israel), and usually they did not explicitly communicate God’s own oracles, like the prophets.  Only in the Apocrypha’s wisdom books, like Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) and Baruch, do we find more linkage of wisdom with law and covenant (Childs, Biblical Theology189-190).

Wisdom literature, instead, aims to uncover some of the lessons a wise person would have learned about “life.” Life experiences, rather than the law per se, guide to moral behavior and correct judgments.  Remember, for instance, that Job seeks answers to the problem of his suffering in a series of conversations with his friends, since his religious and moral uprightness implies that his suffering is undeserved. Ecclesiastes reflects on life’s meaning after long reflection on the problems of suffering, human pride, and God’s providence.  The Song of Songs, a much happier and more confident book, also reflects the meaning of life as discovered through the experience of God’s creation and human love.

Proverbs, too, is a confident book. A person’s growth in wisdom and knowledge (compared to the fool who is lazy and unconcerned) is not only recommended, but also ordained by God. As an author in The Interpreter’s Bible puts it, “The highest type of family life is extolled; monogamy is taken for granted; the respect for mother and wife is emphasized throughout; chastity and marital fidelity are enjoined for all.  The glutton, drunkard, and sluggard, the robber and oppressor of the poor are all roundly condemned.  Those who live in accordance with wisdom’s laws are prosperous and happy.  A belief in the one true and living God who rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked permeates the book from cover to cover” (Charles T. Fritsch, “Introduction to the Book of Proverbs,” The Interpreter’s Bible, volume 4 [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1955] 777).

In the Psalms and Proverbs, we wisdom for living that seems far from the storm and stress of the historical books or the (for us Gentiles) uncertain applications of some of the Torah laws.

Childs notes that, “the psalms function to guide Israel, both as individuals and as a community, in the proper response to God’s previous acts of grace in establishing a bond. The psalmist can praise God, complain of his sufferings, plea for a sign of vindication, but through it all and undergirding his response, lies the confession that life is obtained as a gift from God. His conduct is not seen as a striving after an ideal or toward fixed ethical norms, but a struggle to respond faithfully to what God has first done on Israel’s behalf. The response of the psalmist is so intense and directed so personally to God because the possession or loss of life is measured in terms of his relation to God who both ‘kills and makes alive’. Although the terminology of the Old Testament psalms often differs strikingly from Paul’s the theological understanding of man’s relationship to God as one of sheer grace shares much in common” (Childs, Old Testament Theology209-210).

Connections of these writings to the New Testament are many.

  • As pointed out in TheInterpreter’s Bible, Proverbs is often quoted or alluded to in the New Testament. In fact, some of the New Testament’s most well-known passages allude to (and sometimes directly quote) particular Proverbs.  Jesus’ words about the wise man and the foolish man who built their homes on rock and sand echo Proverbs 10:25 and 12:7. Jesus also echoes Proverbs 3:28, 11:4, 11:17, 11:28, 16:19, and 30:8-9 during his Sermon on the Mount.  Proverbs 25:21-22 admonishes the wise to take care of one’s enemy rather than retaliate, and the Apostle Paul makes use of the saying in Romans 12:20. Jesus’ maturity (Luke 2:52) echoes Proverbs 3:4   Jesus also alludes to Proverbs 16:1, 18:21, 24:12, 25:6-7, 27:1, 28:24, 29:23 in the course of his teaching (see Matt. 10:19-20, 12:36-37, 16:27, Luke 14:7-11, Luke 12:16-21, Matt. 15:4, 6, Luke 14:11 and 18:14b, respectively). (Fritsch 777-778).
  • he Psalms are also frequently referenced in the New Testament: 2, 22, 34, 69, 78, 89, 110, and 118 especially, but also 33, 35, 39, 50, 102, 105, 106, 107, 116, 119, 135, 145, and 147. Several psalm passages are understood to be fulfilled in or connected to Jesus (Matt. 13:35 and Ps. 78:3, John 19:24 and Ps. 22:18, John 19:36 and Ps. 34:20, Acts 2:25-35 and Ps. 16:8-11, 132:11, and 110:1). Psalm 110:1 is a particularly important image for New Testament Christology, as is Psalm 110:4 for the author of Hebrews regarding the priesthood of Melchizedek.
  • We also find connections in Acts 4:11 and Psalm 118:22, Acts 4:25-26 and Psalm 2:1, Hebrews 1:8 and Psalm 45:6-7, Hebrews 1:10 and Psalm 102:25, and notably Hebrews 1:13 and Psalm 110:1.
  • The blamelessness and suffering of Job and of Christ’s. Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, without specifically referencing or alluding to Job, is in harmony with Job’s values and also promises grace to those who suffer.
  • The traditional, allegorical interpretation of the Song of Songs with Christ and his church.

The Prophets

The sixteen prophetic books below (except for Daniel) are grouped in the Hebrew Bible with the historical books (the Former Prophets: Joshua through Kings) as the Later Prophets, because the prophets figure strongly during the historical period covered by those books. These are not the only prophets in Israel’s history: for instance, Moses himself, Miriam, Deborah, Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, and several others.

Isaiah: The first 39 chapters contain words of judgment about the Northern Kingdom, as well as other nations, and also words of promise. Chapters 40 and following seem to be another prophet, or possibly two, writing during 500s BC, as God, acting through the Persian king, restored the people. In its canonical form, we have a kind of prophetic history of Israel and Judah from the 700s into the exilic period, with both warnings and wonderful poetry of assurance concerning God’s redemption.

Jeremiah: The prophet preaches judgment upon the Southern Kingdom, and also promises of a renewed covenant in the future. We find tremendous pathos in Jeremiah, as also reflected in the following book.

Lamentations is a short, poetic book, attributed to Jeremiah and written in sorrowful response to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Babylonians.

Ezekiel: A prophet (also a priest) of the time before and during the exile. Ezekiel has weird visions and prophet actions bordering on, and sometimes crossing over to, the perverse. But the book also has lofty more theology concerning problems such as human accountability.

Daniel: The book focuses on events in Daniel’s life and also apocalyptic visions of God’s kingdom, the “Son of Man,” and the last days, though many of the visions deal with the time of Antiochus IV, the evil Greek ruler who persecuted Jews. This book is included in the last section of the Jewish canon rather than among the prophets.

The “minor prophets” of the Bible are “minor” in the sense that they’re short, compared to the major prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. In the Jewish Bible (Tanakh), they are one book, Trei Asar or the Twelve, and as such, the Twelve are the last book of the Neviim, or prophets, which in turn is the middle section of the Tanakh.

In the Christian Old Testament, these prophets are separated into twelve separate books and are the last books of the testament.  Altogether, the Twelve have 67 chapters, which is only one chapter longer than Isaiah.

The Twelve form a prophetic “collection” concerned with the events of the Israelite kingdoms following the division (after Solomon’s death) into the northern kingdom Israel and the southern kingdom Judah. Israel is conquered by the Assyrians in 722-721 BCE, and Judah is conquered by the Babylonians in 587-586 BCE, who also destroy Jerusalem and take the people into exile. After the Persians conquer the Babylonians, many of the people are able to return to the land and rebuilt Jerusalem and the Temple (as recounted in Ezra and Nehemiah).

Hosea: A Northern Kingdom prophet of the 700s, Hosea used his own family crises to describe the unfaithfulness of Israel and, in addition to words of judgment, the heartache and tenderness of God.

Joel: Joel has aspects of both prophecy and apocalyptic, because he speaks of the Lord’s judgment against sin (in whatever time period he’s writing) as well as the last days. We get the wonderful prophecy of the coming of the Holy Spirit here (2:28-29).

Amos: A Southern prophet who spoke to the sins of the North; he speaks judgment against the kingdom of Israel: their apostasy, wealth, and oppression of the poor. His classic call for justice and righteousness is well known (5:21-24).

Obadiah:  A short little book, by a prophet about whom we know little. The Edomites were descendants of Esau who were enemies of Judah, and Obadiah’s prophecies are directed at them.

Jonah: Unlike other prophetic books, this one is a story, almost like a parable. The fish is not the point of the story, but rather God’s patience and forgiveness as well as Jonah’s reluctant prophetic work, which was surprisingly and highly successful.

Micah: A contemporary of Isaiah and Hosea. His two themes are doom and promise, and his statement about Bethlehem (5:2), his lovely depiction of God’s kingdom where swords will become plows (4:1-4), and his requirements of anyone who loves the Lord (6:8) are also well known

Nahum: A counterpart to Jonah; Nahum pronounces doom upon Nineveh.

Habakkuk: An interesting book in that the prophet “dialogues” with God about the classic question: why do wrongdoers prevail? God may use an evil nation like the Chaldeans to accomplish his purposes, but they, too, will suffer the consequences.  Habakkuk 2:4 is a classic text; Paul quotes it in Romans 1:17 as a beginning of his argument about the primacy of faith.

Zephaniah: The last minor prophet prior to the exile, Zephaniah preaches judgment and wrath, but also hope for the future.

Haggai: His topic is the rebuilding of the Temple following the end of the exile. Not a lofty writer, he straightforwardly urges the Temple’s completion. Interestingly, he praises the great king by name, Zerubbabel, who eventually disappears from the record.

Zechariah: He also discusses the rebuilding of the Temple, but he writes with visions, symbols, and images of the coming messianic age.

Malachi: The last Old Testament prophet, from the 400s, who (with his interesting question-answer format) also posed Habakkuk’s question, why do the wicked prosper and the good suffer?  Malachi’s innovation: his announcement that a messenger will herald the last days.

One of the basic literary units of the prophets is the proclamation: God announces judgment or salvation. These proclamations are addressed to God’s people but sometimes also to neighboring nations. The proclamations in turn made use of different kinds of discourse: indictment and verdict, hymns and songs, collections of sayings, and others. Later prophets also use longer kinds of writing like sermons and narratives. The prophets also record visions, and some include descriptions of their own call.

The prophets can be difficult reading, with their seemingly random collections of proclamations, oracles, stories, sermons, and sometimes, enacted prophetic signs. Layers of traditions are often challenging to discern. The prophets use metaphors, allusions, and shifts of narration, which makes good commentaries essential for the modern Bible explorer.  The prophets are also difficult in their tone and themes. The prophets express God’s anger at the Israelites, who have broken the covenant; in chapter after chapter, we find descriptions of wrongs, promises and descriptions of dreadful punishment, but also tender words and promises for the future.

Because the prophets preached during the time of the historical books that I discussed above, we find familiar themes in the prophets: the land and the covenant, the threatened loss of the land, the failures of the monarchy, the role of the Temple (and, in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, its loss), and others.  The prophets connect back to God’s promises in Abraham and also the exodus, and also to the promise of David and of Jerusalem as they (the prophets) preached about God’s kingship and covenant.

The relationship of the prophets and the law is complex and is debated by scholars. We Christians are liable to read prophetic passages like Jeremiah 7, think of Jesus’ criticisms of the religious leaders of his time, and dismiss “Jewish legalism”. The prophets, however, do not deny the law but sharply warn that religious ritual must go hand in hand with justice, mercy, righteousness, and the repudiation of idols.  Even passages that seem very “anti-law” (like Ez. 20:25, Jer. 7:21-26, and Jer. 8:8) do not abrogate the law and the covenant but call for a deeper faithfulness. Within Judaism, the view has prevailed that “the primary role of the prophet was to serve as a vital link in the transmission of the law from Moses down to the present.”

For instance, Deuteronomy defines the role of prophets (13:1-5, 18:15-22) and upholds Moses himself as the greatest of the prophets (34:10); many scholars consider the “Deuteronomic Code” (Deut. 12-26) as a product of the 600s BCE and deeply influenced by Jeremiah’s preaching (Harper’s Bible Commentary 540).

We find many, many connections of the prophets and the New Testament.  Prophetic scriptures became crucial for understanding who Jesus is and how his coming fits within and fulfills God’s plans of salvation. A Bible explorer can spend months and years tracing and delving into the prophetic roots of the New Testament.

Here are just a few.

  • John the Baptist (Isa. 40:3-5, Mal. 4:5-6, Mark 9:1, Luke 1:17)
  • Jesus’ birth (Isa. 7:14, 9:6-7, 11:1-5, Mic. 5:2, Matt. 2:6, Luke 1:30-33.
  • Jesus’ authority and teaching (Isa. 6:9-12, 9:1-2, Matt. 4:14-16, 13:14-15)
  • Jesus the good shepherd (Ez. 34:11-16, Psalm 23, John 10:7-11)
  • Jesus’ ministry (Isa. 32:3-4, 35:5-6, 33:22, 42:1-4, 61:1-2, Matt. 9:32-35, 12:17-21, Luke 4:17-21)
  • Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Zech. 9:9, Gen. 49:10-11, Matt. 21:4-5)
  • Jesus the bridegroom (Isa. 54:5-8, Eph. 55:22-23)
  • Jesus’ sufferings, betrayal, and death (Isa. 52:13-53:12, Zech. 11:12-13, 12:10, 13:7, in addition to Ps. 22, 69, and others)
  • Jesus’ resurrection (Ez. 37:1-14, Jonah 1:17, Matt. 12:40, and among the psalms Ps. 16:10 and Ps. 110:1)
  • The New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34, Matt. 26:26-29, Rom. 11:26-36, Heb. 8:8-12)
  • The Temple in relationship to Jesus (Isa. 56:7, Jer. 7:1, Mark 11:15-18, John 2:13-23, Acts 7:47-51)
  • “The righteous shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17)
  • Living Water (Isa. 12:3, Zech. 14:8, John 4:1-42, and John 7:37-39 at the feast of the tabernacles)
  • The Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2:16-21)
  • The redemption of all nations (Isa. 2:1-4, 1 Peter 2:10)
  • Related to the redemption of the nations: the metaphor of marriage between God and his people (e.g., Hos. 1-3, Rom. 9:25-26, 1 Pet. 2:10, Eph. 5:25, 32, Rev. 19:7, 21:2, 9)
  • The end times (Daniel 7:1-12:13, much of the book of Zechariah, Ez. 38-39). In fact, in a previous chapter I noted several Old Testament references in Revelation and noted that no other New Testament book quotes or alludes to the Old Testament as often.
  • The issue of the covenant becomes a key for Paul as he preaches about Jesus and the law. For Jews today, the prophetic criticism of faithlessness remains a call for contemporary faithfulness, as I said above; the prophet’s stress upon justice and suitable worship are as timely a Word of God today as in the ancient world. Paul understands faithless as a more basic flaw in both human nature and the law; we cannot keep the law faithfully, and thus we need Christ (Rom. 3:21-26). A passage such as Jeremiah 7:21-26 points to the need for new beginnings (Jer. 31:31-34).
  • The prophet’s concerns for the poor and for justice are not as apparently strong in the New Testament but are certainly there.  In both the Torah and the prophets, God is a God of justice. (The Greek word dikaiosunê, corresponding to tzedakah, means “righteousness” and “justice.”) God takes the side of the poor, downtrodden, and powerless. Luke’s gospel and Matthew 25:31-46 very much echo God’s care for the needy.  You could also think this way: in the Old Testament, God demands justice for the poor, outcast, and powerless. In the New Testament, God also takes the side of those who are spiritually impoverished, the Gentiles, bringing them into the circle of blessing.
  • Although Christians are quick to stress that Jesus is “more than a prophet,” he was frequently understood to be a prophet (Matt. 21:11, Mark 6:15, 8:28, Luke 7:16, 24:19, John 4:19, 6:14, et al.) and possessed the Spirit in a way that people considered prophetic (Matt. 12:28, Mark 3:28-29, Luke 4:18-20, et al).

Gospels and Acts

Over 90% of Mark’s gospel is also found in Matthew and Luke, and that the latter two gospels have material in common that is not found in Mark: the so-called “Q” material. Matthew and Luke also have material unique to their own gospels, implying other sources that they used

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” begins Mark’s account. Hasty, simply written, the gospel contains a key verse, 10:45: “the Son of man …came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Who is this Jesus, though?  As the gospel proceeds, Jesus’ friends don’t seem to “get” him. He confuses those closest to him. One of the saddest verses is 14:50, And they all forsook him, and fled. (I’ve written in my old Bible, now they understand!)  Meanwhile, the people on the “outside” identify Jesus right away: the demons, outcasts, and Gentiles.  The first post-crucifixion person to “preach” Jesus is a Roman soldier who participated in his execution (15:39). And yet, for all its darker qualities, the gospel seems written to those already Christian for their guidance and comfort, as I’ve jotted in the margin. Mark’s gospel omits birth stories, devoting chapters 1 through 13 to Jesus’ ministry (chapters 1-9 in Galilee, chapter 10 on the way to Jerusalem, and 12-13 in Jerusalem), and then chapters 14 through 16 for Jesus’ passion.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus addresses his mission to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (15:24). Matthew has a strongly anti-Jewish “feel” (e.g., Jesus’ bitter diatribe in Matthew 23), but remembering that Matthew is a Jew reflecting on Judaism, we see how he presents Jesus as the fulfillment of the Hebrew scriptures. Jesus by no means repudiates the Torah but interprets it by his own authority. At the same time, Jesus provides hope for Gentiles, too (12:18, 15:28, 24:14, etc.), and among the gospels only Matthew uses the word “church” (ekklēsia).   Matthew retains Mark’s basic geographical framework (the Galilean ministry, chapters 4-18; the journey to Jerusalem, 19-20; and the week in Jerusalem, 21-28:15), but unlike Mark, Matthew includes a birth narrative (including the stories of the Wise Men, the flight into Egypt, and the slaughter of the innocents).  The gospel presents Jesus’ teachings in five discourses (chapters 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25), and uniquely gives us teachings such as the wicked slave (18:21-35), the landowner (20:1-18), the ten virgins (25:1-13), the talents (25:14-30), and the narrative of the last judgment (25:1-46).

Luke’s gospel is the first of two writings addressed to a person named “Theophilus,” which means “God-lover,” Amadeus. In the gospel, Jesus addresses his concerns for the poor and disadvantaged; Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah 61:1-2 (Luke 4:18-19) doesn’t spiritualize the blind, oppressed, and imprisoned, but he proclaims liberty and release to them. “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20)—not “poor in spirit” which you and I might be able to claim. Unique to Luke’s gospel are the story of the good Samaritan (10:25-27), the story of Mary and Martha (10:38-42), the parables of the lost coin and the prodigal son (15:8-32), the story of the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31), not to mention the stories at the Gospel’s beginning: the birth of John the Baptist, the Magnificat, the Benedictus, the song of Simeon, the shepherds in the field, the story of young Jesus in the Temple.

How is John’s gospel related to the other gospels? Is it a different historical tradition or does it assume the traditions of Mark?  This is a debated subject; the basic outline and facts of Jesus’ life are there, but the stories are different: the water into wine, the Samaritan woman, the raising of Lazarus. John focuses on seven “sign” miracles, five of which are not found in the other Gospels. John’s is a “high” view of Jesus, a view that helps us understand him theologically. We don’t find parables and pericopes here but rather long reflections and dialogues. While Jesus’ Synoptic parables do not deal directly with Jesus’ identity, John’s gospel contains numerous “I am” sayings. While the other gospels announce the Kingdom of God, in John, Jesus’ announces the Spirit that will guide Jesus’ followers.

Acts provides stories of the first (approximately) thirty-five years of the early church. Peter dominates the first portion of Acts, Paul the second half.  Notice that Luke frames the stories of Acts with affirmations about God’s kingdom (1:3, 28:1); Jesus had preached the kingdom, and after his ascension, the life-power of Jesus is given to people through the Holy Spirit, and so for Luke, the kingdom of God exists wherever people accept that ever-available life-power. Thus, the disciples are instructed not to fret about the signs and portents of Jesus’ second coming, they have what they need for the present time, the Spirit promised in Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:17-21).

In spite of its connection to Luke, I tended to think of Acts as a stand-alone historical account between the gospels and the epistles. But eventually I realized that Acts is as important as the gospels because the book provides the way that we know Jesus today. We’ll never know Jesus in the flesh—and judging from Jesus’ own words, we shouldn’t even long to have known him in the flesh (John 16:5-15). Now, Jesus is now fully present to us through the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ story continues, if not in a scriptural way, in the innumerable book-length stories of us, his disciples (cf. John 21:25).

Letters

The Bible has many different kinds of literary genres. We find very few letters in the Old Testament, but letters form the largest body material in the New Testament. The canon includes letters of James, John, Peter, Jude, the author of Hebrews, and Paul. Paul’s several letters are arranged in order of length, although 1 and 2 Thessalonians were probably the earliest letters, and Philippians and 1 and 2 Timothy seem valedictory.  All these letters were written to individuals or churches in order to address particular issues, to deal with needs and problems, to convey information and greetings, and to communicate feelings. Although not intentionally written in an epigrammatic way, we can lift epigrams, slogans, and promises from the letters for our own needs, for within these letters are treasures of biblical proclamation and pearls of wisdom.

The letters have different purposes and viewpoints.

Romans is Paul’s self-introduction to a church he wished to visit soon. He argues that God accounts us righteous by faith rather than works of the law. The righteousness of God is revealed in God’s justification of sinners through the atonement of Christ.

1 and 2 Corinthians consist largely of Paul’s words of teaching, advice, and reprimand to a congregation swayed by impressive teachers, who are confident in their own wisdom, and yet they lack love and spiritual maturity.

Galatians is Paul’s frustrated letter to a Gentile church. Paul points out that the Galatians already evidence of God’s power and acceptance in their lives through the gifts of the Spirit.  They must not add anything on to God’s work, especially rites like circumcision.

Ephesians and Colossians are similar letters, written (if Paul did write them) while he was imprisoned. He shows the sufficiency of Christ and God’s free salvation. In Christ we are built up as a church; Christ has removed barriers between God and us.

Philippians, another “prison letter,” is a joyful letter, warm and affirming for a congregation Paul clearly feels gratitude.

1 and 2 Thessalonians concern the second coming of Christ and the need to be watchful, though the first letter is warm and the second letter, though also warm, contains more admonishment.

1 and 2 Timothy concern the qualities of church leaders and provides advice and encouragement to Paul’s young colleague. Titus also deals with church leaders and the need to deal with false teaching.

Philemon concerns a runaway slave, Onesimus, whom Paul has helped convert, and so Paul writes Onesimus’ master about the matter, hinting strongly that Onesimus should be freed.

Hebrews is an epistolary sermon by an unknown author to an unknown group of people. The title, which is a latter addition, is based on the fair assumption that the original audience consisted of converts from Judaism, who, more than a Gentile group, would have grasped all the many references to the Hebrew scriptures and traditions. The sermon is beautiful, intricate, and argues the sufficiency of Christ compared with the angels, the prophets, and the temple.

James stresses the validity of one’s faith through the good works of one’s personal growth and one’s relationships with others. The book mentions Jesus only twice and is similar in style to Old Testament wisdom literature.

1 and 2 Peter concern the steadfastness of one’s faith in times of persecution and also in regard to false teachers.

1, 2, and 3 John all provide glimpses into the lives of the early church. 1 John, especially, teaches the need to demonstrate one’s faith through love.

Tiny little Jude, which quotes a non-canonical writing (1 Enoch 1:9), is closely related textually to 2 Peter and is concerned false teachers and apostasy.

After these brief epistles, we come to the final book, Revelation, which concerns the final times. It’s actually a letter, too (1:4), to seven Asian churches. John must be a different man than the apostle, for the book’s style is quite dissimilar from the gospel and the letters, and this author does not identify himself as an apostle. The book chronicles the many signs of the end times and is written in symbolic language that harkens back to Old Testament prophecies.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the Book of Revelation contains more references to the Old Testament than nearly any other New Testament book: nearly 200 references, allusions, and images. It thus contains an implicit summary of many Old Testament themes and images while pointing the faithful toward the future.

Here is a very incomplete list of references to Old Testament passages that one finds in Revelation. (For the purpose of having a handy list of references, I found these at the StudyJesus.com site, which gives a number of others.)

  • The image of “the son of man” in Daniel 7:13-14 connects to Rev. 1:7.
  • The image of “the kingdom of priests” in Exodus 19:6 an Isaiah 61:6 connects to Rev. 1:6.
  • Ezekiel’s vision of four living creatures and four wheels in chapter 1, and also Isaiah 6:1-4, connect with Revelation chapter 4, wherein the living creatures give God honor and glory.
  • The dwelling of God in the new heaven and earth in Isaiah 65:17ff connects to Rev 21:1-2. Also, Michael the archangel (Dan. 12:1) connects to Rev. 12:7-12.
  • The condemnation of Deuteronomy 29:19-20, with the image of being blotted out of the book of life, connects to Rev. 21:19. In fact, that article indicates: “Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15, 21:27 are based on Exodus 32:32-33; Psalm 69:28; Daniel 12:1,” and also Ps. 56:8 and Malachi 3:16. All these have to do with the theme of God writing a book containing the names of the faithful.
  • The differently colored horses of Zechariah 1:7-17 and 6:1-8 connect to Revelation 6:1-8.
  • The eating of the scroll in Ezekiel 2:8-3:33 and Jeremiah 15:16 connect to Rev. 10:8-11.
  • Much of Joel 1-2, with its descriptions of plagues, droughts, and the coming day of the Lord, connects to the various events in Revelation: e.g., the locusts in Rev. 9.
  • Some of Ezekiel’s images of the restored temple in chapters 40-48, as well as Zechariah chapter 4, connect to Rev. 11:1-6 et al. Also, the restored Jerusalem in Ezekiel 48:30-35 connect to Rev. 21:12-14.
  • Genesis 49 lists the twelve tribes of Israel, in the context of Jacob’s death: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, Dan, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin. Jacob adopted Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and thus they became heads of tribes. Rev. 7:1-8 describes how angels sealed the number of God’s servants out of “every tribe of the people of Israel,” and then lists the twelve tribes. Instead of the tribe of Dan we have the tribe of Manasseh, and the tribe of Joseph rather than that of Ephraim is mentioned.
  • The cities of refuge are described in Numbers 35:9-34. They were places where a person who had accidentally killed someone could flee and when the high priest died they could return home without fear of being killed out of revenge. The cities were Kedesh, Golan, Ramoth Shechem, Bezer, and Hebron. Although Rev. 12:6 doesn’t mention “cities of refuge” per se, the concept of a safe place prepared by God is there: for instance, the woman with child (representing God’s people) flees to a safe place in the wilderness where she will be nourished for 1260 days.
  • Daniel has a vision of four beasts in Dan. 7:1-8, which connects to Rev. 13:1-7, where beasts emerge from the sea. As that article indicates, the fourth beast represents Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the terrible Greek ruler of the Maccabean period.
  • Ezekiel 38-39 describes the prince Gog of the land of Magog. In Rev. 20:7-10, Gog and Magog become nations who are enemies of God’s people.
  • The famous story of Balaam and his donkey (Balaam’s ass, as we Sunday school kids laughed about) is found in Numbers 25:1-9, as well as 31:16. This story is echoed in Rev. 2: 14 where God scolds the church at Pergamum.
  • 14:14-20 tells of the angel reaping a grape harvest with a sickle and putting the harvest into the winepress of God’s wrath, producing copious blood. Of course, this is the reference for a line in “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as well as the title of the novel, The Grapes of Wrath. We find the earlier image in Joel 3:13 and Isaiah 63:1-6.
  • Isaiah 65:17, 66:22, refer to the blessings of God upon the exiles who return from captivity in Babylon. These promises connect to a passage near the conclusion of Revelations, 21:1.

The letters, like the gospels, aren’t just “about” Jesus but also witness to his living reality. “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer,” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:16. This verse used to bother me; aren’t Jesus’ life and teachings important? They are, but Jesus’ life and teachings can’t be disconnected with his death and resurrection, and his earthly life cannot be disconnected with the eternal life that he now shares with us, And so it is not inappropriate that much of the New Testament deals not with specifics about Jesus’ life and teachings (the letters scarcely quote Jesus’ teachings explicitly, as I mentioned in chapter 1) but the grand fact of his salvation and gifts of the Spirit. Now, as readers of this material, we too receive the first-century preaching of the Gospel of Jesus, and our lives, too, become guided and maintained by the Spirit.

Although the Bible isn’t exactly “about” the Exile, the Bible is about the history of God’s people on the land in the centuries before the Exile, and then their post-exilic hope in God’s redemption. The exilic experience pervades the Bible in many unappreciated ways. (The psalms, for instance, which so many of us esteem for our daily faith, deeply reflect the post-exilic hope of God’s people.) For Christians, the New Testament describes the fulfillment of that post-exilic hope, and the Book of Revelation brings together stands of biblical history and theology to show the final consummation of centuries of divine promises.

The Tanakh ends with books that, in the Christian Old Testament, are positioned earlier: Ezra-Nehemiah, which provides history of the return from exile and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple; and 1 and 2 Chronicles, which recapitulate Israelite history and emphasizes the Jewish worship and temple. In this way, the Tanakh opens to the future of Jewish life and worship. The Christian Old Testament ends with Malachi and the prophecy of Elijah’s arrival prior to the Messiah. And so, moving from Old to New, we proceed immediately to Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, which connects Jesus to Hebrew history.

The whole Bible witnesses truly to our relationship with God, we should not read the Bible with the idea that each verse carries equal weight and value. For instance, Brevard Childs writes, “certain chords were sounded by Jeremiah and Deutero-Isaiah which resonated strongly in the New Testament (new covenant, vicarious suffering, new creation, suffering servant), while  other notes grew in intensity on which rabbinic Judaism sought to construct its faith (temple, cult, priesthood, law).”(65)

We should be humbled by the way the Bible witnesses to the imperfection of human efforts, including (perhaps especially) religious efforts. The Israelites, in their centuries of life with God, provide example after example of doubt, complaint, loss of faith, idolatry, wrongdoing, and judgment. Because the New Testament reflects a much shorter time period than the Old Testament (fewer than a hundred years, depending on the conjectural dating of some of the epistles, compared to 1600 years between Abraham and Nehemiah), we don’t see the same kind of patterns of sin-judgment-repentance in the New compared to the Old. But in the New Testament, the early Christian congregations also struggled with problems: divergence from sound teachings (2 Tim. 4:1-5), the threat of apostasy (Heb, 6:1-8), factions (1 Cor. 1:10-17), unchastity (1 Cor. 6:12-20, 1 Thess. 4:1-8), incest (1 Cor. 5:1-5), lawsuits (1 Cor. 6:1-7), disrespect of the Eucharist (1 Cor. 11:17-22), and others. All seven of the churches of Revelation received a scold or a warning or both. The sad history of Christian smugness and persecution toward Jews is one of the worst examples of our failure to forget that Christians are as reliant upon God’s providential care and mercy as God’s people Israel (Rom. 11:21-24).

 

The Talmud

I wrote about the Jews’ return to the land, the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple during the post-exilic years 539-432 BCE (Ezra and Nehemiah), the reaffirmation of the covenant during those years, the survival of exiled Jews in Persia (Esther), and the victory of Jews over the Seleucids who tried to establish Greek worship at the Second Temple during the 2nd century BCE (1 and 2 Maccabees). While I’m in this time period, so to speak, I also want to learn more about ways that Judaism continued to survive and remain faithful to the Lord during the subsequent decades and centuries, often amid Christian persecution of Jews. The following is a brief explanation of the Talmud, the writings which have been central for Rabbinic Judaism, the mainstream form of Judaism since the 500s CE. Tragically, Talmud and its study have been the focus of anti-Semitic attacks over the centuries, with material taken out of context or completely fabricated.

As Judaism developed during the post-exilic period, the canonization of the Scriptures was one crucial development. The writing and editing of the Jewish Tanakh likely began just prior to and then during and after the exile, while canonization was a process that happened between the Hasmonean period and the 200s CE. (Canonization of the Christian Old Testament was a much longer process; in addition to the weighing-in of other councils, the councils of Carthage [397] and Trent [1546] established the Roman Catholic canon, as did Eastern authorities concerning the Orthodox Christian canon; but Martin Luther [1534] removed deuterocanonical OT books to an appendix, useful for reading but non-scriptural.)

By the first century CE, the term rabbi (“my master”) became common to refer to a learned Jewish teacher. Also by that time, competing factions existed in Judaism: the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Zealots. An ascetic group, the Essenes, also lived during this time, said to be successors of the Zadokite priests that began in the times of David and Solomon. Here is an explanation of differences among these groups: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/pharisees-sadducees-and-essenes Early Christianity emerged during this time as well.

After the First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 CE) and the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Jews found themselves in a traumatic situation that rivaled the disaster of 586 BCE. How would the faith survive without a temple? Without a priesthood? How would Jewish traditions survive? The Zealots all died at Masada in 73; the Sadducees faded from history; and the the Essenes also disappeared. The Christian sect became a predominantly Gentile religion, retaining Jewish scripture and reconfiguring aspects of Jewish theology. Jewish vitality remained with the Pharisees, who saw Jewish law as the focus of Jewish life, and they helped shift the focus from temple offerings to tzedakah, study, and synagogues.

In this situation, a tradition called the Oral Torah had to be compiled and written down. The Written Torah was the scriptural five books of Moses, but an oral tradition attributed to Moses’ teachings had been passed down over the centuries; Orthodox Jews believe that this tradition was safeguarded through the Judges and Prophets and Second Temple-era sages. After the unsuccessful revolt of Simon Bar Kochba (132-136 CE), Romans forbade Jews from returning to Jerusalem—further exiling Jews, and further necessitating a way to preserve Jewish faith and traditions. By about 200 CE, Pharisaic Judaism had segued into Rabbinic Judaism as a rabbi named Judah ha Nasi (Rabbi Judah the Patriarch) began to edit these oral traditions and discussions about Jewish law into a readable form during the early 200s CE.

The first compilation and written/edited form of the Oral Torah is called the Mishnah. Rather than a law code, it is a study book (or rather, several books) containing the varieties of discussions and opinions of the sages. Rabbi Judah drew from many sources in his compilation and recorded discussions in a way to help with memorization. These are by no means uniform opinions. If the sages differed on when morning prayers should begin, what defines a Jewish marriage, and many other topics, the differences are recorded. Here are some sample passages: https://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/TalmudMidrash/MishnahSamples.html

The Mishnah has six orders (sedarim): agriculture (Seder Zeraim), sacred times (Seder Moed), women and personal status (Seder Nashim), damages (Seder Nezikin), holy things (Seder Nodashim), and purity laws (Seder Tohorot). Each order is divided into tractates, and each tractate has chapters, and each chapter contains halakhot (laws) of the Tannaim, who were the sages from the era of the Mishnah (like Rabbis Akiva, Hillel, Shammai, and many others: see this site).

The word Tosefta means “addition,” and the Tosefta is a body of material that further explains Torah laws, details about laws, and provides extra material to the Mishnah. The Tosefta is three times as large as the Mishnah, although it is also structured with six orders. There are different theories as to whether the Tosefta is older than the Mishnah and was originally and independent body of opinion, or whether it was compiled and written later in order to broaden the material of the Mishnah, which does not include rabbinic discussions preserved in the Tosefta. Editions of the Babylonian Talmud provide the Tosefta at the end of each tractate.

What is the Talmud? Talmud is the comprehensive collection of the Oral Law that encompasses the Mishnah (200s CE) and the Gemara (500s CE). Talmud is discussion of the Mishnah but also the Mishnah itself.

The word Gemara (from the word gamar study) refers to the rabbinic commentary discussions about the Mishnah. You could say that the Talmud is the Mishnah plus Gemara, with material from the Tosefta as well. The sages of the Gemara (the period 200-500 CE) are referred to with the term Amoraim (see this site); the Amoraim expounded on and explained the Oral Law transmitted by the earlier Tannaim.

The site “My Jewish Learning” has this: “Although it is organized in accordance with the structure of the six orders of the Mishnah, mishnaic teaches are, for the Gemara, the launch pad for diverse topics: prayer, holy days, agriculture, sexual habits, contemporary medical knowledge, superstitutions, crumble and civil law. The Germara contains both Halakhah (legal material) and Aggadah (narrative material). [My emphasis] Aggadah includes historical material, biblical commentaries, philosophy, theology, and wisdom liberature. Stories reveal information about life in ancient ties, among Jews and between Jews and their neighbors, and folk customs. All of these genres are blended together with the halakhic material, in what is sometimes described as a stream-of-conscious fashion filled with meaningful tangents and digressions… [T]he Gemara … explains unclear words or phrasing [in the Mishnah]… provides precedents or examples to assist in application of the law and offers alternative opinions from sages of the Mishnah and their contemporaries [Tannaim]. Whereas the Mishnah barely cites biblical verses, the Gemara for every law discussed introduces these connections between the biblical text and the practices and legal opinions of its time. It also extends and restricts applications of various laws, and even adds laws on issues left out of the Mishnah entirely…. Multiple opinions of sages are weighed against one another, often without presenting a conclusion.” myjewishlearning.com/article/gemara-the-essence-of-the-talmud

There are two versions of the Talmud; the second and later one is the more comprehensive. Scholars of the Land of Israel (especially the Galilean cities of Tiberias and Caesarea) published what is now called the Talmud Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud) during the period 350-400 CE. Unfortunately, Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor, persecuted Jews and the Jerusalem Talmud remained incomplete. Meanwhile, scholars at Jewish academies in Sura, Pumbedita, and Mata Mehasia published their own discussions in about 500 CE: this material is called the Talmud Bavli, or the Babylonian Talmud. Usually, the words Gemara and Talmud refer to the Babylonian Talmud. The language of the both Talmuds are dialects of Hebrew and Aramaic.

Long after the Amoraim, rabbinic commentators continued to discuss the law and the opinions of the sages, and so the Talmud was never a “finished” body of work. Not surprisingly, it is a vast work, running several volumes, and has been translated into English. Here is a site that provides the Bavli in Hebrew and English translation: https://www.sefaria.org/texts/Talmud Notice how it’s organized according to the Mishnah sedarim that I listed above: agriculture (Zeraim), sacred times (Moed), women and personal status (Nashim), damages (Nezikin), holy things (Kodashim), and purity laws (Tohorot).

Different bodies within Judaism today view the Talmud differently. To generalize: Orthodox Jews consider the Oral Torah as inspired and authoritative, of Mosaic origin; Conservative Jews also honor the sanctity of Oral Torah and view Talmud as complementary to Torah study; Reform Jews retain Talmud studies in rabbinical seminaries but do not consider the Talmud as binding today.

Another, smaller body of material is the Pirkei Avot (“Ethics of Our Fathers”), a text which is often published separately and found in many prayer books, and which has inspired its own commentaries. Technically, the Pirkei Avot is part of the Mishnah, specifically the ninth tractate (with six chapters) in the Seder Nezikin, which in turn is the fourth order of the Mishnah. The Pirkei Avot is popular because it provides ethical principles of the rabbis and give us a sense of who they were and their devotion to Torah. “The worldview espoused by the rabbis quoted here emphasizes learning, service of God, discipleship, ethical behavior, humility, and fair judgment… A rabbi is introduced, often, but not always, as a disciple or son of the preceding rabbi, and the text then offers one or more teachings by this rabbi” (myjewishlearning.com/article/pirkei-avot-ethics-of-our-fathers/ )

For all of this material, I relied upon the helpful articles at the site My Jewish Learning (myjewishlearning.com). Subsequently I made a donation to the site. More detailed articles on the Mishnah and Talmud can be found at jewishencyclopedia.com and jewishvirtuallibrary.org/mishnah. My grateful thanks goes out to an esteemed Jewish friend and colleague who read and commented on the essay; any remaining errors are mine.

It’s a depressing coincidence, that King Louis IX of France (St. Louis) was a persecutor of Jews who ordered Talmud scrolls confiscated, while the German ship the MS St. Louis (named for the city) carried Jewish refugees from Germany in 1939 but was turned away from the U.S., Canada, and Cuba, and many of those Jews perished in the Holocaust. On the other hand, St. Louis City and County has a strong and diverse Jewish community today.

 

The Apocrypha, Anagignoskomena, and Deuterocanonical books

The Apocrypha are books that Protestant Old Testaments omit, because these books are not found in the Jewish Bible (that is, the Masoretic text, the Hebrew and Aramaic text of the Tanakh as accepted in Rabbinic Judaism). The Apocrypha is Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch (including the Letter of Jeremiah), and 1 and 2 Maccabees, plus extra material in Esther and Daniel. (The additions to Daniel include the story of Susanna, the Prayer of Azariah, and the Song of the Three Holy Children.) Roman Catholics include these books as deuterocanonical, “second canon.”

The Eastern Orthodox Old Testament includes these books plus 1 Esdras, the Prayer of Manasseh, and 3 Maccabees. Orthodox Christians use the word Anagignoskomena (“worthy to be read”) for the deuterocanonical books–and, like the Catholics (and unlike the Protestants) integrate the books among the canonical books rather than placing them in a separate section. One or two Orthodox traditions include 4 Maccabees, the Book of Odes, and Psalm 151.

There is no mystery or intrigue about it, no “suppressing” of bombshell texts, but the history is long and involves several councils of the church and rabbinical decisions within Judaism. As my Harper Bible Commentary describes them, the Apocrypha includes historiography (1 and 2 Maccabees), historical fiction (Tobit, Judith, and 3 Maccabees), an apocalypse (2 Esdras), sapiential works (Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon), exhortations (4 Maccabees and the Letter of Jeremiah), and prayers (Prayer of Manasseh and Prayer of Azariah) (p. 760). The Book of Odes is a collection of songs and prayers from both Testaments, and Psalm 151 is an Eastern Orthodox canonical work found in the Septuagint but not the Masoretic text.

The book of Tobit follows Nehemiah.

As the story begins, Tobit is one of the Jews deported by the Assyrians to Ninevah, during Shalmaneser’s reign in about 721 BCE. He was of the tribe of Naphtali, married Anna, and they had a son Tobias. He was devout in his faith even in the foreign situation. For instance, he buried his kinsman who had died because of the king. Burial of the dead made one spiritually unclean because of contact with the corpse, but it was also a great act of love and righteousness, providing care and dignity to someone who obviously cannot thank you. When Sennacherib died, the new king appointed Tobit’s nephew as chief minster, and so Tobit—with Tobias’ help—continued to do good. Unforunately, as Tobit slept outdoors one night, he was blinded by sparrow droppings that fell into his eyes.

Meanwhile, as Tobit prayed for the restoration of his sight, a widowed woman named Sarah prayed for a husband. All her new husbands had been killed by the demon Asmodmus. Scholars note the similarity of Tobit’s story with folktales like “the Grateful Dead” and “the Deadly Bride.” In this case, the angel Raphael comes to the rescue as God hears the prayers of Sarah and Tobit in their separate situations.

Disheartened and thinking that death is near, Tobit sent Tobias to retrieve some money left in the care of a man named Gabael who lived off in Media. Tobias goes, accompanied by companion Raphael, whom Tobias doesn’t realize is an angel. At one point, Tobias washes in the Tigris river and a fish bites his foot. Raphael tells him to gut the fish and save its heart, liver, and gall.

Tobias and Raphael stay at the house of kinsman Raguel—who happens to be the father of widowed Sarah. Tobias asks to marry her but is warned about her husbands who had died. But Raphael instructs Tobias to use the fish’s heart and liver with incense, that that drives the demon away, saving Tobias from death.

Following the wedding celebration, Tobias receives the money from Gabael and, with Sarah, returns to Tobit and Anna. Again with Raphael’s instruction, Tobias places the fish’s gall on Tobit’s eyes, and he regains his sight.

Tobit offers Raphael some of the money in gratitude, but Raphael reveals his true identity as an angel. Tobit prays to God in thankfulness for God’s mercies.

In his later years, Tobit blesses his son and dies, ages 158 years. Tobias eventually dies, too, aged 127.

The book of Judith, which follows Tobit in the Deuterocanonical/Anagignoskomena order, purports to tell of events in the Assyrian era of Israel’s history but is likely from the era of the Maccabees. We are alerted that this is a fictional story, because King Nebuchadnezzar is said to be the Assyrian king—but he was actually the Babylonian ruler.

In part 1 of the book of Judith (chapters 1-7), Holofernes is the commander of Assyrian armies that attack Israel. The king ordered the attacks—not only against Israel but other nations—in response to their refusal to join his campaign against the Medes. Holofernes lay siege to the Israelite town of Bethulia, through which he could advance to Jerusalem. He is advised that the Israelites cannot be conquered unless they first sin against God—but after a month’s siege, the Bethulians are about to surrender. Fortunately, a local header named Uzziah is able to affect a five-day postponement.

Judith appears in Part 2. She was a widow, and strongly objected to the five-day compromise. Honoring God with a prayer for help, she basically asks God to help her lie effectively. She goes to the enemy camp, lies her way in to see Holofernes, and deceives him as well. Smitten with her, and eager to seduce her, he invites her to a banquet. But before he can make any moves, so to speak, he becomes very drunk and passes out. Judith takes his sword, beheads him with two blows, and she and her maid leave the camp with his head in a bag. Returning to Bethulia, Judith showed everyone the severed head, praised God for his help and protection, and urged the men to attack the Assyrians the next day. They do so, successful.

Judith is a hero and sings praises to God. Never remarrying, she lives to the age of 105.

Perhaps because of her feminine sexuality combined with her bold, male-shaming heroism, Judith has been depicted by many artists: Donatello, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Titian, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Caravaggio, Gentileschi, Klimt, Stuck, and numerous others. Beth and I saw the Klimt at the Belvedere in Vienna a few years ago.

The Jewish Women’s Archive Encyclopedia, https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/judith-apocrypha , has a good summary of the book of Judith. You can certainly see the connection of Judith with the judge Deborah, also a fearless champion of her people, and with David, too, in the way she decapitates a dangerous enemy. The author notes that several women of the Bible told lies that had positive consequences—which is an interesting aspect of the Bible narratives! Besides Judith the women are Rebekah, Tamar, the midwives Shiphrah and Puah, Rahab, and Jael.

My Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible notes, that Judith “is a joyous and triumphant book. It revels in the unexpected way the People of God is delivered.” Judith’s fidelity to God along with her confident use of her own femininity–as her ability to deceive believably–makes it a wonderfully compelling story (p. 1472).

Continuing with these texts:

1 Maccabees 
is a deuterocanonical book in the Roman Catholic (the term for Easter Orthodox Bibles is Anagignoskomena). 1 Maccabees is found in the Greek Septuagint but not in the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible, nor in Protestant Old Testaments. Canonical or not, it is an important account of this period of Second Temple Judaism, the decades of Judean independence prior to the Roman occupation, and is the source for the minor Jewish festival Hanukkah. (Here is a good Catholic site about the book. Some Catholic Bibles place 1 and 2 Maccabees after Esther, while other Catholic Bibles place the books at the end, after Malachi.)

1 Maccabees covers about forty years, 174 to 134 BCE. Remember that the Prophets, date from the end of the Northern Kingdom in the 700s BCE (Isaiah) down to the 400s BCE of the Persian period (Malachi), while parts of Daniel probably date from the Maccabean period. So the Jewish Bible and Protestant Old Testament end historically with the 400s of the Persian period, with apocalyptic writings in Daniel dating from the Maccabean era, while the churches with deuterocanonical books carry the Old Testament history solidly into the 100s BCE.

Back to 1 Maccabees: At the time, Judah (by now called Judea) is ruled by the Seleucid Empire, the Greek domination that followed Alexander the Great’s empire. Greek culture was influential for Judaism, including the translation of the Bible into Greek; but Greek disrespect for Jewish practices lead to the Jew’s revolt against the Greeks, which is the subject of the book. 1 Macc. 1:1-9:22 concerns the rule of Mattathias, aka Judah the Maccabee (the word means “hammer”), aka Judas Maccabeus. 1 Maccabees 9:23-12:53 focuses on the rule of Judah’s successor Jonathan, and chapters 13-16 concern the rule of Simon.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes, one of the villains of Jewish history, was the Seleucid emperor who launched a bloody attack on Jerusalem, taxes the people, forbids Jewish practices, and then desecrates the Jewish temple by establishing pagan rituals there, including the slaughter of non-kosher animals.

Judas leads the people in ultimately successful campaigns against the Greeks, though at a high cost in casualties. When the temple is retaken and re-consecrated, Judas and his brothers and the whole assembly established a festival of the 25th day of Chislev (Hanukkah) to commemorate the dedication (1 Macc. 4:59).

(Here are good source concerning Hanukkah: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/hannukah and http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday7.htm. I was surprised to learn that the famous story of the lamp–which burned for eight days with only one day of oil–is from the Talmud [Shabbat 21b] rather than Maccabees: http://cojs.org/babylonian_talmud_shabbat_21b-_the_significance_of_hanukkah/ )

Judas’ brother Jonathan becomes high priest and succeeds him. He gains an alliance with Sparta and seeks positive relations with Rome. Later, Simon succeeds him, both as high priest and priest of Judah. He has a successful period of rule until he is murdered by the Greek governor of the region. Simon’s son John Hyrcanus succeeds Simon. This “Hasmonian dynasty” was not a Davidic dynasty but did bring about independence for Jews in the land—encompassing much of the earlier territories—for about a hundred years, first in semi-autonomous relations with the Seleucids and then fully independent until conquered by the Romans in 63 BCE.

2 Maccabees does not, as you might think, continue the history. It begins with letters written by Palestinian Jews to Egyptian Jews, and then becomes an abridgment of a now-lost history by Jason of Cyrene about the Maccabean revolt under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus. The book also includes the stories of Jewish martyres Eleazar, seven brothers, and their mother, under Antiochus’ reign. As this site indicates, it is a very laudatory book toward Judas and Jewish heroism; it includes information not found in 1 Maccabees, and it references Esther. 2 Maccabees is also part of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox canon.

In the online Jewish encyclopedia (http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10237-maccabees-books-of ), that author writes: “One important fact to be noted is the writer’s belief in the bodily resurrection of the dead (see vii. 9, 11, 14, 36; xiv. 16; and especially xii. 43-45). This, together with his attitude toward the priesthood as shown in his lifting the veil which I Maccabees had drawn over Jason and Menelaus, led [scholars] Bertholdt and Geiger to regard the author as a Pharisee and the work as a Pharisaic party document. This much, at least, is true—the writer’s sympathies were with the Pharisees.” Because of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, 2 Maccabees also provides an important theological bridge to the New Testament period.

In fact, 2 Maccabees may be alluded to in the New Testament, especially Hebrews 11:35, “Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection” (NRSV). This does not fit any Old Testament story but does fit the story of the seven brothers in 2 Maccabees 7.

3 Maccabees is found in the Eastern Orthodox canon but not in the Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic canons. 3 Maccabees is not set during the Maccabean age at all but shares with those books the wonderful intervention of God on behalf of God’s people. In this book, Egyptian Jews are persecuted by another Seleucid ruler, Ptolemy IV Philopator, who reigned in 221-203 BCE). Again, Jews are hated because they don’t worship foreign gods, in this case Dionysus, but the story includes a different kind of Gentile persecution: letting inebriated elephants trample imprisoned Jews to death! Ptolemy’s inconsistency, however, and also the intervention of two angels, allow the Jews to be spared.

4 Maccabees is not canonical in any Jewish tradition, nor in any Christian canon except the Georgian Orthodox Church. Another important text for understanding the Second Temple period, the book is a homily to encourage Hellenistic Jews to stay devoted to Torah (18:1) and to hold courageously to “devout reason” that is “sovereign over the emotions” (e.g., 16:1). A sizable portion of the book describes (in gruesome detail) story of 2 Maccabees 6:18-7:42: the martrydom of Eleazer, and the seven brothers and their mother. Stories of martyrs are important in many religions, to help build courage to believers in times of trial. In Judaism, martyrdom is one example of Kiddush HaShem, “sanctification of the name” (of God) through holiness and witness.

Interestingly, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s Bible contains three books–1, 2, and 3 Meqabyan–not found in any other Christian canon, which are different in content from the Maccabees books. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meqabyan

The Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), are Roman Catholic deuterocanonical books, and are also included among the Anagignoskomenon of the Eastern Orthodox Church. They follow Song of Songs and precede Isaiah. They are not found in the Jewish Bible, nor the Protestant Old Testament.

According to scholarly consensus, the Book of Wisdom, or the Wisdom of Solomon, was written in Greek by a Jew of Alexandria, somewhere between 100 BCE and the middle of the first century CE. (New Interpreter’s Study Bible, p. 1419). Using a common writing technique of the time, the author writes under the guise of a well-known person, in this case Solomon. Thus, it is a pseudepigraphical work.

The Book of Wisdom has two parts. Chapters 1 through 9 reflect on wisdom from a speculative viewpoint, connecting wisdom to human destiny and the life of the righteous. The author particularly urges monarchs to search for wisdom. The first section can be read as having two parts; chapters 1-5 connects wisdom with immortality and the afterlife, while chapter 6-9 becomes more like the Book of Proverbs and epigrammatically teaches the value of wisdom and the search or wisdom.

In chapters 10-19, the author looks at wisdom through the lens of scriptural history, beginning with Adam and progressing through the times of Moses and the Exodus. The author writes about how Wisdom guided biblical figures from Adam to Moses (10:1-14), and then he writes about Moses and the people in their experience in Egypt and the Wilderness (10:15-19:22).

A Roman Catholic site, http://www.usccb.org/bible/wisdom/0, explains more about the book: “The primary purpose of the author was the edification of his co-religionists in a time when they had experienced suffering and oppression, in part at least at the hands of apostate fellow Jews. To convey his message he made use of the most popular religious themes of his time, namely the splendor and worth of divine wisdom (6:22–11:1), the glorious events of the exodus (11:2–16; 12:23–27; 15:18–19:22), God’s mercy (11:17–12:22), the folly of idolatry (13:1–15:17), and the manner in which God’s justice operates in rewarding or punishing the individual (1:1–6:21). The first ten chapters in particular provide background for the teaching of Jesus and for some New Testament theology about Jesus. Many passages from this section of the book, notably 3:1–8, are used by the church in the liturgy. …”

Ecclesiasticus, or Sirach, or the Wisdom of Jesus, the Son of Sirach, all refer to the same book. As I wrote above, Sirach is accepted as part of the Christian Old Testament by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, but not by Protestants, although a few Protestant churches honor it as worthy of reading if not of doctrine. It is not found in the Jewish Bible, probably because of its late authorship, but the book was influential in Talmudic discussions.

Interestingly, Sirach 28:2 reads, “Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.” Did Jesus quote that verse in the Lord’s Prayer?

Jesus ben Sira (“son of Sirach”) was a Jewish scribe of Jerusalem who wrote during the approximate period 200-175 BCE. Although originally written in Hebrew, the book was finally not included in Jewish scripture, though some early rabbis treasured its contents (New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1452).

Similar to Proverbs, though a little longer, it is a widely ranging compilation of wisdom teaching that, consequently, warns about ungodly living. “[Author Ben Sira] joined individual sayings by means of common words or citing themes. This way he developed a topic and explained its implications for his own day. He preferred the longer instructional form that is sometimes found in Proverbs rather than the simple proverbial sense. Like Proverbs, Sirach begins with a hymn to Woman Wisdom.. and ends with an acrostic or alphabetic poem…” (ibid, p. 1452).

Also similar to Proverbs, it is not really arranged thematically, but it does have themes. Wikipedia cites the New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha to point out six poems about the search for wisdom—-1:1-10, 4:11-19; 6:18-37; 14:20-15:10; 24:1-33; and 38:24-39:11—and the major themes include:

The Creation (16:24-17:24, 18:1-14; 33:7-15; 39:12-35; and 42:15-43:33).

Death (11:26-28; 22:11-12; 38:16-23; and 41:1-13).

Friendship (6:5-17; 9:10-16: 19:13-17; 22:19-26: 27:16-21; and 36:23-37:15).

Happiness (25:1-11; 30:14-25; and 40:1-30).

Honor and shame (4:20-6:4; 10:19-11:6; and 41:14-42:8).

Money matters (3:30-4:10; 11:7-28; 13:1-14:19; 29:1-28; and 31:1-11).

Sin (7:1-17; 15:11-20; 16:1-17:32; 18:30-19:3; 21:1-10; 22:27-23:27; and 26:28-28:7).

Social justice (4:1-10; 34:21-27; and 35:14-26).

Speech (5:6,9-15; 18:15-29; 19:4-17; 20:1-31; 23:7-15; 27:4-7; 27:11-15; and 28:8-26).

Women (9:1-9; 23:22-27; 25:13-26:27; 36:26-31; and 42:9-14).

See more about Sirach here: http://biblescripture.net/Sirach.html and here: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05263a.htm
Book of Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah.

In Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bibles (though not in the Jewish Bible and the Protestant Old Testament), the Book of Baruch (or 1 Baruch) follows Lamentations. The ascribed author is Jeremiah’s scribe Baruch ben Neriah, but the book was probably written during or after the Maccabean period. The five chapters concern the history of Israel and the crisis of exile.

Chapter 6 of Baruch is called the Letter (or Epistle) of Jeremiah and is addressed to exiles in Babylon. Orthodox Bibles has this letter as a stand-alone book that follows Baruch, while in Roman Catholic Bibles the letter is the last chapter/ appendix of Baruch

Septuagint additions to Daniel

The Septuagint translation of Daniel contains the following additional material.

The Prayer of Azariahand Song of the Three Jews(or the Three Holy Youths) appear after Daniel 3:23 as verses 24-90. This section provides more material on the incident of the fiery furnace.
Susanna is chapter 13 of Daniel: the virtuous Susanna is falsely accused of promiscuity and sentenced to death. But Daniel confronts her accusers, and when their stories do not match up, they are sentenced to death instead.
Bel and the Dragonis chapter 14 of Daniel in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles. First Daniel berates the priests of the idol Bel. Then Daniel kills a dragon (a living dragon!) that the Babylonians revered: Daniel concocts a poisonous recipe that causes the beast to burst open. For that, Daniel was again sentenced to die in the lions’ den, and again he survived through God’s great help.

Books of Esdras

As a biblical figure, Ezra is so significant, that other books carry his name. The apocalyptic book 2 Esdras is called 4 Esdras in the Roman Catholic apocrypha. Although this 2 Esdras/4 Esdras is an apocryphal book, some Roman Catholic Bibles refer to Ezra and Nehemiah as 1 and 2 Esdras. To make things more confusing, Eastern Orthodox Bibles name Ezra-Nehmiah as 2 Esdras, with 1 Esdras being an ancient Greek version that is nearly the same text as Ezra (which, as part of the Hebrew Bible, is originally Hebrew and Aramaic)—and this Greek 1 Esdras is called 3 Esdras in the Roman Catholic apocrypha.

Additions to Esther

The Septuagint text of Esther contains additional text concerning Esther herself: Esther 13:8–14:19; 15:1–16).

Book of Odes, found only in Eastern Orthodox Bibles following the Psalms, is a set of prayers attributed to several biblical figures.

The Prayer of Manasseh, another Septuagint text that follows the Odes in the Eastern Orthodox Bibles, is a prayer of repentance attributed to the most wicked king of Judah (2 Kings 21:1–182 Chronicles 33:1–9).

Psalm 151, another Septuagint text, is found in Eastern Orthodox as well as Armenian canons.

 

 

 

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Here is my list of connections among Bible passages, especially where people, places and ideas are linked theologically across the two testaments.

The connections between the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy) and the New Testament:
• The Creation and New Creation (2 Cor. 5:17, Rev. 21:1)
• Adam and the Second Adam (Rom. 5:12-21)
• The faith of Abraham, in some important ways the key to the whole Bible (Gen. 12:1-3, Rom. 4, Heb. 11:8-22)
• Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 22, Rom. 8:32)
• The manna in the wilderness and the Eucharistic bread (Ex. 16:1-21, John 6:25-40).
• The covenant, the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and the Eucharist (Ex. 24:3-8; Lev. 7:12, 22:29, Ps. 107:22, 116:17, Amos 4:5, Mark 14:22-25 and parallels, 1 Cor. 11:25)
• The healing serpent and the healing of Christ (Num. 21:8-9; John 3:14-15)
• The condemnation in Deuteronomy of a condemned criminal “hanging on a tree” (Deut. 21:22-23; John 19:31, Gal. 3:13)
• The salvation of Noah’s ark (Gen. 6:9-9:29; Luke 17:22-32; 1 Peter 3:20-21)
• The role of Moses (Heb. 3:1-6, 11:23-28, et al.)
• Moses’ shining face (Ex. 34:29-35, 1 Cor. 3:12-18)
• The drink offering (Ex. 29:38-41, Lev. 23:12, 13, 18, Phil. 2:12-18, 2 Tim. 4:6-8)
• The priesthood of Aaron (Ex. 29:1-9, Lev. 16, Heb. 7:11-14, 9:1-10:18)
• Sacrifices (Lev. 1, 3, 4, Rom. 3:21-26, Heb. 7:26-28, 9:11-28)
• The “rest” of the Promised Land (Heb. 3:7-4:13)
• The Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11, 31:12-17, Deut. 5:12-15, Matt. 12:-18)
• The Pascal Lamb (Ex. 12:11; 1 Cor. 5:7)
• The two great commandments (Deut. 6:4-5, Lev. 19:18, Mark 12:28-34, Gal. 5:14).
• The tabernacle as God’s dwelling place (Exodus 25:1-31:17; John 1:14; also the curtain of the tabernacle and later the temple, Matt. 27:51, Heb. 10:19-20)
• The bread of the presence (Ex. 25:30, Lev. 24:8-9, Heb. 9:1-2)

Connections between the historical books (Joshua through Esther) and the New Testament:
• The great theme of Yahweh’s salvation. The name “Joshua” is in Hebrew the same name as “Jesus,” meaning “Yahweh saves.”
• The theme of the Land. The Land is not spiritualized in the Old Testament the way that it tends to be in the New. In the Old, we speak of the actual land and its possession. Deutero-Isaiah begins to move in a more spiritual direction (Isa. 44:24ff, 49:14ff), and in the New Testament, Jesus himself becomes the “place” where God dwells (John 1:14).
• The theme of the Kingdom of God. The phrase is not used in the Old Testament, but the kingdom of God is the principle theme of Jesus’ preaching and connects with God’s sovereignty through Israel’s history.
• The theme of a new kind of monarchy under David’s descendant, Jesus. In his person and work, Jesus brings themes like the Lamb of God, the sufferings of David, and the suffering servant of Isaiah into the theme of the king of Israel: thus, when Jesus is killed, the charge against him is “king of the Jews.” But in his suffering and death is victory over sin and death, and the ambiguities of the Israelite monarchy are understood to be resolved.
• The theme of the Temple. The New Testament never explicitly mentions the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, an odd omission considering the conjectural dating of some of the New Testament books to after the year 70. Jesus quotes Jeremiah concerning the Temple, and he himself is understood to be the new temple (John 2:20-22). Paul, in turn, calls each of us “temples of the Holy Spirit” in that God’s presence dwells within us (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
• The realities of post-exilic Judaism provide a more subtle connection. Groups like the Pharisees and Sadducees , as well as the Essenes and Zealots, formed in response to the needs of the people during the post-exilic time, as did institutions like synagogues, Sabbath requirements, and festivals to which Jews—many living in different parts of the world after the exile—came to Jerusalem (e.g., John 11:55 and also Acts 2:5-11).
• Not only is the exile a decisive turning point for the whole Bible—a climax of a long drama but also a new beginning for Jews and later for Christians—scholars hypothesize that the compilations and editing of law codes and historical materials happened as during and after the exile. Thus, the exile and the restoration necessitated the composition of the Bible itself.
• Of course, the Jews who became the first Christians were post-exilic Jews who, like other Jews, looked to an even greater restoration of Israel’s fortunes. The Christians saw that restoration and monarchical fulfillment in the Jew Jesus, and they based that hope upon exilic texts like Isaiah 40-66.
• Exilic language flavors many Christian hymns, especially those that refer to our heavenly home to which we live in hope. In childhood Vacation Bible School, I learned that peppy song “Do Lord” with its evocation of “Glory Land.” I also learned “Bringing in the Sheaves,” based on the post-exilic Psalm 136 and the struggle of returning exiles to reestablish agriculture.
Connections between the writings (Job through Song of Songs) and the New Testament:
• Proverbs is often quoted or alluded to in the New Testament. Some of the New Testament’s most well known passages allude to (and sometimes directly quote) particular Proverbs. Jesus’ words about the wise man and the foolish man who built their homes on rock and sand echo Proverbs 10:25 and 12:7. Jesus also echoes Proverbs 3:28, 11:4, 11:17, 11:28, 16:19, and 30:8-9 during his Sermon on the Mount. Proverbs 25:21-22 admonishes the wise to take care of one’s enemy rather than retaliate, and the Apostle Paul makes use of the saying in Romans 12:20. Jesus’ maturity (Luke 2:52) echoes Proverbs 3:4 Jesus also alludes to Proverbs 16:1, 18:21, 24:12, 25:6-7, 27:1, 28:24, 29:23 in the course of his teaching (see Matt. 10:19-20, 12:36-37, 16:27, Luke 14:7-11, Luke 12:16-21, Matt. 15:4, 6, Luke 14:11 and 18:14b, respectively).
• The Psalms are also frequently referenced in the New Testament: 2, 22, 34, 69, 78, 89, 110, and 118 especially, but also 33, 35, 39, 50, 102, 105, 106, 107, 116, 119, 135, 145, and 147. Several psalm passages are understood to be fulfilled in or connected to Jesus (Matt. 13:35 and Ps. 78:3, John 19:24 and Ps. 22:18, John 19:36 and Ps. 34:20, Acts 2:25-35 and Ps. 16:8-11, 132:11, and 110:1). Psalm 110:1 is a particularly important image for New Testament Christology, as is Psalm 110:4 for the author of Hebrews regarding the priesthood of Melchizedek.
• We also find connections in Acts 4:11 and Psalm 118:22, Acts 4:25-26 and Psalm 2:1, Hebrews 1:8 and Psalm 45:6-7, Hebrews 1:10 and Psalm 102:25, and notably Hebrews 1:13 and Psalm 110:1.
• * The blamelessness and suffering of Job connects to those qualities of Christ. Also, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, without specifically referencing or alluding to Job, is in harmony with Job’s values and also promises grace to those who suffer.
• A traditional, allegorical interpretation of the Song of Songs is: the song is about God and Israel, and Christ and the church.

Connections between the Prophets (Isaiah-Malachi) and the New Testament

• John the Baptist (Isa. 40:3-5, Mal. 4:5-6, Mark 9:1, Luke 1:17)
• Jesus’ birth (Isa. 7:14, 9:6-7, 11:1-5, Mic. 5:2, Matt. 2:6, Luke 1:30-33.
• Jesus’ authority and teaching (Isa. 6:9-12, 9:1-2, Matt. 4:14-16, 13:14-15)
• Jesus the good shepherd (Ez. 34:11-16, Psalm 23, John 10:7-11)
• Jesus’ ministry (Isa. 32:3-4, 35:5-6, 33:22, 42:1-4, 61:1-2, Matt. 9:32-35, 12:17-21, Luke 4:17-21)
• Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Zech. 9:9, Gen. 49:10-11, Matt. 21:4-5)
• Jesus the bridegroom (Isa. 54:5-8, Eph. 55:22-23)
• Jesus’ sufferings, betrayal, and death (Isa. 52:13-53:12, Zech. 11:12-13, 12:10, 13:7, in addition to Ps. 22, 69, and others)
• Jesus’ resurrection (Ez. 37:1-14, Jonah 1:17, Matt. 12:40, and among the psalms Ps. 16:10 and Ps. 110:1)
• The New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34, Matt. 26:26-29, Rom. 11:26-36, Heb. 8:8-12)
• The Temple in relationship to Jesus (Isa. 56:7, Jer. 7:1, Mark 11:15-18, John 2:13-23, Acts 7:47-51)
• “The righteous shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17)
• Living Water (Isa. 12:3, Zech. 14:8, John 4:1-42, and John 7:37-39 at the feast of the tabernacles)
• The Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2:16-21)
• The redemption of all nations (Isa. 2:1-4, 1 Peter 2:10)
• Related to the redemption of the nations: the metaphor of marriage between God and his people (e.g., Hos. 1-3, Rom. 9:25-26, 1 Pet. 2:10, Eph. 5:25, 32, Rev. 19:7, 21:2, 9)(64)
• The end times (Daniel 7:1-12:13, much of the book of Zechariah, Ez. 38-39). In fact, in a previous chapter I noted several Old Testament references in Revelation and noted that no other New Testament book quotes or alludes to the Old Testament as often.
• The issue of the covenant becomes a key for Paul as he preaches about Jesus and the law. For Jews today, the prophetic criticism of faithlessness remains a call for contemporary faithfulness, as I said above; the prophet’s stress upon justice and suitable worship are as timely a Word of God today as in the ancient world. Paul understands faithless as a more basic flaw in both human nature and the law; we cannot keep the law faithfully, and thus we need Christ (Rom. 3:21-26). A passage such as Jeremiah 7:21-26 points to the need for new beginnings (Jer. 31:31-34).
• The prophet’s concerns for the poor and for justice are not as apparently strong in the New Testament but are certainly there. In both the Torah and the prophets, God is a God of justice. (The Greek word dikaiosunê, corresponding to tzedakah, means “righteousness” and “justice.”) God takes the side of the poor, downtrodden, and powerless. Luke’s gospel and Matthew 25:31-46 very much echo God’s care for the needy. You could also think this way: in the Old Testament, God demands justice for the poor, outcast, and powerless. In the New Testament, God also takes the side of those who are spiritually impoverished, the Gentiles, bringing them into the circle of blessing.
• Although Christians are quick to stress that Jesus is “more than a prophet,” he was frequently understood to be a prophet (Matt. 21:11, Mark 6:15, 8:28, Luke 7:16, 24:19, John 4:19, 6:14, et al.) and possessed the Spirit in a way that people considered prophetic (Matt. 12:28, Mark 3:28-29, Luke 4:18-20, et al).
• Related to the redemption of the nations, is the metaphor of marriage between God and his people (e.g., Hos. 1-3, Rom. 9:25-26, 1 Pet. 2:10, Eph. 5:25, 32, Rev. 19:7, 21:2, 9)
• Many New Testament images of the end times come from the Old Testament: e.g., Daniel 7:1-12:13, much of the book of Zechariah, Ez. 38-39, etc. In fact, in another page on this site, I note that no other New Testament book quotes or alludes to the Old Testament as often as the Book of Revelation.
• The prophetic approach to the covenant becomes a key for Paul as he preaches about Jesus and the law. For Jews today, the prophetic criticism of faithlessness remains a call for contemporary faithfulness, as I said above; the prophet’s stress upon justice and suitable worship are as timely a Word of God today as in the ancient world. Paul understands faithless as a more basic flaw in both human nature and the law; we cannot keep the law faithfully, and thus we need Christ (Rom. 3:21-26). A passage such as Jeremiah 7:21-26 points to the need for new beginnings (Jer. 31:31-34)
• The prophet’s concerns for the poor and for justice are not as apparently strong in the New Testament but are certainly there. (See my post on this site concerning the needy.) In both the Torah and the prophets, God is a God of justice. (The Greek word dikaiosunê, corresponding to tzedakah, means “righteousness” and “justice.”) God takes the side of the poor, downtrodden, and powerless. Luke’s gospel and Matthew 25:31-46 very much echo God’s care for the needy. You could also think this way: in the Old Testament, God demands justice for the poor, outcast, and powerless. In the New Testament, God demands justice for the poor and powerless (see, for instance, Luke’s gospel) also takes the side of those who are spiritually impoverished, the Gentiles, bringing them into the circle of blessing.
• Although Christians are quick to stress that Jesus is “more than a prophet,” he was frequently understood to be a prophet (Matt. 21:11, Mark 6:15, 8:28, Luke 7:16, 24:19, John 4:19, 6:14, et al.) and possessed the Spirit in a way that people considered prophetic (Matt. 12:28, Mark 3:28-29, Luke 4:18-20, et al).
A few of the many Old Testament passages used or alluded to in the Revelation of John.

(For the purpose of having a handy list of references, I found these at the StudyJesus.com site, which
gives a number of others.)

• The image of “the son of man” in Daniel 7:13-14 connects to Rev. 1:7.
• The image of “the kingdom of priests” in Exodus 19:6 an Isaiah 61:6 connects to Rev. 1:6.
• Ezekiel’s vision of four living creatures and four wheels in chapter 1, and also Isaiah 6:1-4, connect with Revelation chapter 4, wherein the living creatures give God honor and glory.
• The dwelling of God in the new heaven and earth in Isaiah 65:17ff connects to Rev 21:1-2. Also, Michael the archangel (Dan. 12:1) connects to Rev. 12:7-12.
• The condemnation of Deuteronomy 29:19-20, with the image of being blotted out of the book of life, connects to Rev. 21:19. In fact, that article indicates: “Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15, 21:27 are based on Exodus 32:32-33; Psalm 69:28; Daniel 12:1,” and also Ps. 56:8 and Malachi 3:16. All these have to do with the theme of God writing a book containing the names of the faithful.
• The differently colored horses of Zechariah 1:7-17 and 6:1-8 connect to Revelation 6:1-8.
• The eating of the scroll in Ezekiel 2:8-3:33 and Jeremiah 15:16 connect to Rev. 10:8-11.
• Much of Joel 1-2, with its descriptions of plagues, droughts, and the coming day of the Lord, connects to the various events in Revelation: e.g., the locusts in Rev. 9.
• Some of Ezekiel’s images of the restored temple in chapters 40-48, as well as Zechariah chapter 4, connect to Rev. 11:1-6 et al. Also, the restored Jerusalem in Ezekiel 48:30-35 connect to Rev. 21:12-14.
• Genesis 49 lists the twelve tribes of Israel, in the context of Jacob’s death: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, Dan, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin. Jacob adopted Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and thus they became heads of tribes. Rev. 7:1-8 describes how angels sealed the number of God’s servants out of “every tribe of the people of Israel,” and then lists the twelve tribes. Instead of the tribe of Dan we have the tribe of Manasseh, and the tribe of Joseph rather than that of Ephraim is mentioned.
• The cities of refuge are described in Numbers 35:9-34. They were places where a person who had accidentally killed someone could flee and when the high priest died they could return home without fear of being killed out of revenge. The cities were Kedesh, Golan, Ramoth Shechem, Bezer, and Hebron. Although Rev. 12:6 doesn’t mention “cities of refuge” per se, the concept of a safe place prepared by God is there: for instance, the woman with child (representing God’s people) flees to a safe place in the wilderness where she will be nourished for 1260 days.
• Daniel has a vision of four beasts in Dan. 7:1-8, which connects to Rev. 13:1-7, where beasts emerge from the sea. As that article indicates, the fourth beast represents Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the terrible Greek ruler of the Maccabean period.
• Ezekiel 38-39 describes the prince Gog of the land of Magog. In Rev. 20:7-10, Gog and Magog become nations who are enemies of God’s people.
• The famous story of Balaam and his donkey (Balaam’s ass, as we Sunday school kids laughed about) is found in Numbers 25:1-9, as well as 31:16. This story is echoed in Rev. 2: 14 where God scolds the church at Pergamum.
• Rev. 14:14-20 tells of the angel reaping a grape harvest with a sickle and putting the harvest into the winepress of God’s wrath, producing copious blood. Of course, this is the reference for a line in “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as well as the title of the novel, The Grapes of Wrath. We find the earlier image in Joel 3:13 and Isaiah 63:1-6.
• Isaiah 65:17, 66:22, refer to the blessings of God upon the exiles who return from captivity in Babylon. These promises connect to a passage near the conclusion of Revelations, 21:1.

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