Anyone else feeling battle fatigue by now?

My straight-through reading of the Bible took less than three months, much of it with that can’t-put-the-book-down intensity of a bestseller. But then there’s the rough sledding of Kings and then, in the Christian arrangement of the books, Chronicles. The Hebrew Bible wisely saves that for the finale.

It also moves Ezra/Nehemiah to the back, after material arising before and during the Babylonian captivity.

My Christian background had always made me view the captivity as an interruption in the Jewish story, but in this review of my read-through, a comment by Herbert Tarr in Congregation now has me seeing something quite different. The captivity becomes a fertile opportunity in the refining and definition of the faith. “So the devastating Babylonian conquest, the destruction of the Temple, and the exile of Judeans to Babylonia were followed by an unparalleled development — a miracle wrought by the Judeans themselves. … All other peoples assimilated, as did the ‘Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.’ The Judean captives, in contrast, developed a cultless religious community: no new temple was built in Babylonia and there were no new sacrifices, but there were more prayers and confession and fasts and worship in the incipient synagogue, and concentration on the Sabbath and other hold days continued. Then, still another miracle: in response to King Cyrus’ edict, a substantial number of Judeans, though established now in Babylonia, did return and erect the Second Temple.”

Vintage engraving of Israelites going into captivity. After the fall of Jerusalem, Nebuzaradan was sent to destroy it. The city was plundered and razed to the ground. Solomon’s Temple was destroyed. Only a small number of vinedressers and husbandmen were permitted to remain in the land.

In the Hebrew Bible, the sequence of the books after Kings plunges straight into the materials that sustain the evolving thinking and experiences of exile — Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekial, the Twelve (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obediah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zepaniah, Haggai, Zachariah, Malachi), Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, and Daniel.

The Christian ordering, in contrast, begins wandering through those and even more — the Roman Catholics having six more books than the Protestants. (Do we dare joke that there’s the reason fewer Catholics read the Bible than do Protestants?)

Alas, my road map included those six chapters — some of them welcome, but a few, well, tedious. For individuals setting forth on a read-through, I’d suggest sticking to the Jewish ordering and adding in the others more judiciously.

In my review of my reading, I have to admit how helpful Congregation: Contemporary Writers Read the Jewish Bible has been. I hope what I’m distilling from this anthology gives you a taste of their own thinking and the underlying richness of the rabbinical tradition. As we move ahead, we’ll encounter books that aren’t in the Jewish Bible and thus have no commentary from Congregation. I miss their companionship!

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