The bestselling book of all time…

From Biblica- The Bible Atlas:

beginning with the Old Testament..the Bible tells a story that has endured for thousands of years. Many of the standards and commandments laid down in the Bible form the foundation of the moral values and laws of the Western civilization.

It all began with storytelling. Long before anyone had learned to read or write, stories about God and his people were passed along by word of mouth from generation to generation by the Hebrew people.

The Hebrew people were not unique. Their neighbors in the Ancient Near East had  their own tales of primeval times, though generally they were stories about warring gods and superhuman heroes. I contrast, the histories recounted by the Hebrews recognized a single, true God who holds all of creation in his grasp. The characters in the Hebrew sagas were very much of flesh and blood. While all these stories were being  circulated, he world’s first writing system evolved. In about 3200 BC the people of Mesopotamia developed cuneiform, a type of writing in which symbols were pressed into clay tablets or chiseled into stone. Egyptians developed hieroglyphics, writing with pictographs. Both Mesopotamia and Egypt were to play important roles in the Bible. Abraham first heard God’s call in Mesopotamia, his 12 great-grandsons migrated to Egypt (the sons of Jacob-heads of the 12 tribes of Israel). But it is unlikely that most of the early Hebrews were literate. Because cuneiform and hieroglyphics utilized thousands of symbols, reading and writing were left to trained scribes. However, by the end of the Hebrews’ time in Egypt,  Moses, a man with an Egyptian education, began to lead them. It is quite likely that Moses was able to read and write in the Egyptian manner.

God directed Moses to free his people from bondage in Egypt and lead them back into the land of Canaan, where they would become the great nation of Israel. Along the way on the slopes of Mt. Sinai, in the wilderness that lies between Egypt and Canaan, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, inscribed on stone tablets. By the time the people reached Canaan (40 years later), alphabets were used there for writing, and the Hebrews soon developed their own alphabets. As they settled into the land, they began to write down the stories and laws that have been handed down by word of mouth.

In about 1011 BC the heroic young David became King of Israel and initiated a period of literary expansion. David himself is credited with writing many of the Bible’s psalms. He also appointed scribes to keep chronicles of his reign, and later kings followed suit. When Solomon, David’s son became king he built a great Temple and commissioned psalms to be sung there. Solomon himself is said to have personally „composed three thousand proverbs, and his songs numbered a thousand and five” (1 Kings 4:32).

When Solomon died in 931 BC the kingdom split into the northern kingdom of Israel and the smaller southern kingdom of Judah (with Jerusalem as its capital). In the period of the Divided Kingdom that followed, a number of prophets brought God’s word to the people, admonishing them for straying away from God and neglecting the poor. If such behavior persisted, they warned, heathen enemies would overthrow them. And so it happened. In 722 BC the Assyrians had completely conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and scattered the people. The kingdom of Judah survived a little longer. Then, in 587 BC, the Babylonians swept down, destroyed Jerusalem and its great Temple a year later, and took many of the people (the Jews) to live as  captives in Babylon.

Stranded far from home, many of the exiles were tempted to follow the exotic customs and rites of idol worship that surrounded them.  Worried that their own precious culture would be lost, devout Jews made concerted efforts to organize earlier writings about their heritage and make sense of why they had lost  all of what God had given them. What emerged were many of the final compositional forms of the texts that constitute the Hebrew Scriptures.

Chief among the books of the Bible are the writings covering the period from creation of the universe to the death of Moses.  These five books were soon considered the Jewish Law and respected as Sacred Scripture. They are known as the Torah (teachings) or the Pentateuch (five scrolls, or books).

In 539 BC the great Persian king Cyrus II overthrew the Babylonians and soon permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuilt the Temple. The words of the prophets from that postexilic period were subsequently grouped together, and this collection came to be known as the Later Prophets. The earlier historical books containing prophetic writings were assembled together and called the Former Prophets by the Jews, and in these books the prophets attempt to form he conscience of the nation.

The books of the Former and Later Prophets were eventually combined Known simply as the Prophets, these books were soon considered part of Jewish Scripture and are second in importance only to the Torah. All the remaining books of the Jewish Bible are known as the Writings. They include Psalms, Proverbs and other wisdom writings (Job and Ecclesiastes)books that update the history of the Jews to just after the rebuilding of the Temple, and a few others (Daniel, Ruth and Esther among them). This was the last group of books to be accepted by Jews as Holy Scripture.

After Alexander the Great swept across the Near East, amassing his gigantic empire, Greek became the common language, and a Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures was begun in the third century BC. The translation is known as  the Septuagint (from the Greek for 70) because according to legend 70 (or 72) Jewish scholars each made independent translations, but came up with the same wording. In time, all the books of the Jewish Scriptures were included in the Septuagint, as well as a number of books that would later be excluded from the Protestant canon (authorized collection of sacred writings). These extra books, written between 300 BC and 70 AD came to be known as the Apocrypha.


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