Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Old Testament

A little more than a year ago, I set out to read the Bible from cover to cover--front to back--all the way through. I had read various pieces and parts of the Bible in the past, especially where the readings were included in our liturgy at church, but I'd never been able to say I'd read it all.

My method for reading the Bible, from cover to cover, was somewhat an unorthodox one. Most clergy and scholars recommend reading it as a reference, skipping around to get the interconnected meaning and greater revelation. However, my goal was, again, to be able to say that I'd seen all of it, and nothing would hide from my view. I also sought justification for my own personal beliefs, and found new meaning from which to draw some new beliefs.

Today, then, is a milestone for me. I have completed the Old Testament. Whoa. What a weighty accomplishment that is! In my Oxford Bible, it represents 1375 pages of text. This is a huge volume of literature by any measure, and with my snail's pace reading skills, it took me quite some time.

The first five books, the Pentateuch, are familiar to almost all of us Jews and Christians as the creation story of Genesis through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and the rules for living in Deuteronomy. Then, we move into the Historical books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. After these, the Poetical books form some of the prettiest writing in the Bible, as much of it served as the ancient hymnal for the Jews: Job, Psalms Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon.

The final books are the major and minor prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations (of Jeremiah), Ezekiel, and Daniel being the major ones, and Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi being the minor ones.

If I could summarize my reading of this massive and sacred tome, I would say it follows like this:

The Jews are given the kingdom of God. Then, they lose their way, and the prophets scold them to "make right your ways." Time and time and time again, from Genesis to Moses to the descendants of David, the people endure this cycle of being "right" with God, and then falling out of favor through their own sinfulness. There is a LOT of repetition here, and we see the Jews inherit the land of Judah, then that land split into the two kingdoms (Judah and Israel), then that land invaded by Assyria, and then invaded again by Babylonia, and then once more by Persia. All of these invasions are interpreted by the prophets as the hand of God on his sinful people. Finally, under Persian authority, we see the triumphant return of the Jews to Jerusalem and the new temple rebuilt. In the Christian doctrine, all of this is with an eye to the coming Messiah, who will permanently "put things right" with God's peoples.

Of course, it is hugely inadequate to try to summarize almost 1400 pages of sacred text into a single paragraph, but there you go. If you want more, you'll have to read it for yourself!

As for me, I've been steeping in the "BC" aspect of my religion so long now, I'm actually quite anxious to get into a little "AD"! Onward!

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