Here’s what I see as the Big Picture in the Hebrew Bible and the accompanying Apocrypha.

The centrality of the Covenant: In this revolutionary social ordering, the descendants of Jacob are (1) an entire people (2) bound by a code of conduct and ethics (3) in relationship with a supreme deity that evolves from the foremost of many lesser gods into a monotheistic faith, and (4) even the rulers are subject to this authority and its conditions.

Unending hostilities: In establishing and maintaining a society where they may openly uphold this Covenant relationship, they face armed invasion from rival tribes and neighboring sheiks and monarchs. Even in rare periods of external peace, internal opposition arises. Ultimately, they cannot match the military might of empire armies and are defeated.

The cohesive kingdom of the twelve tribes is of much briefer duration/reality than it appears in the Jewish mindset: According to Scripture, the united monarchy spans the reigns of only King David and King Solomon, roughly seven decades or so. The identity as Jews comes after its collapse, into Judah, to the south, and the less observant but larger Israel, to the north. Yet the restoration of the nation in its full glory remains the hope of Zion.

The Babylonian exile looms larger in the Jewish experience than I had suspected: My impression had been that the exile was a blip in the larger Biblical tome. The captivity of Judah occupies roughly the same span as the glory years of the united monarchy, yet gives rise to the captivity. While Daniel and Esther are devoted exclusively to exile, the thrust of the Biblical arch from Kings into Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel and the Twelve also engage this catastrophe, as do the Maccabees in their later, parallel oppression. The history of their Egyptian slavery and Exodus also no doubt plays out in relation to this. More centrally, the Babylonian captivity lays the foundation for the survival of Judaism in the eventual two millennia of Diaspora.

Historical accuracy fades to mythological truth: Archaeological evidence and factual discrepancies support a reading of these texts based on their underlying drama and psychological realities, rather than historical and geographical precision. Poetic license is expected.

Women are largely excluded from the dialogue: It’s the missing dimension.

The work is left unfinished:  The Holocaust, especially, looms large over the canon.

Sistine Chapel ceiling 1508: The Expulsion of Adam And Eve from the Garden of Eden, painting by Michelangelo Buonarroti

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