Writings ‎

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			The Writings comprise the third section of the Tanakh. Like the Prophets there is more than ‎one category in the section. The Prophets contained the Early Prophets and the Later Prophets ‎‎- distinctly different texts, the first being historical narrative, the second prophetic messages. ‎The Writings consist not of two subsections, but three. First there are the inspirational or ‎emotional works. These include the book of Psalms, the Song of Songs, and Lamentations. ‎Next are the historical works including Ruth, Chronicles I and II, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, ‎and Daniel. Third is the Wisdom Literature – Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. The three ‎categories really don’t fit together at all. Even fitting the subsections together into a cohesive ‎group isn’t easy. In all likelihood, these were the remaining writings that were deemed holy at ‎one time or another and they were included in the canon. They had to be grouped together ‎somehow, so they became the Writings. ‎
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Going through the three categories, we will start with the inspirational or emotional works. ‎The Psalms have a legitimate claim to be the best known book of the Tanakh other than the ‎Chumash books. They are quoted widely in both Jewish and Christian circles. Rabbinic ‎literature makes use of Psalms verses everywhere. For whatever the concept, there is always a ‎verse in the Psalms to back it up. In terms of number of chapters and it is by far the longest ‎book in the Tanakh (it has 150 chapters – the runner-up, Isaiah, has 66). It is also the longest ‎book in terms of word count. ‎
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The Psalms are the common person’s Bible. While they are deep, they are also extremely ‎accessible. They touch on the emotions that everyone feels – anger, hurt, joy, fulfillment, awe, ‎love. They express the very real elements of the human relationship with God. ‘My God, my ‎God, why have You forsaken me?’ Which person has not felt this at some point in life? Jesus ‎made some of these words famous around the world, but David, the traditional author of ‎most of the Psalms first uttered them in his own moments of despair. The emotional roller ‎coaster that is life, rushing from inspiring highs to overwhelming lows makes up the theme of ‎the Psalms. Their significance to human feelings has hardly been matched in literature and ‎possibly never will. Their authorship is usually attributed to David, but the Psalms themselves ‎state that there were several other authors. Academics are divided over the date of their ‎authorship with some favoring a second temple origin. ‎
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We will draw two images from the Psalms. The first will be from the famous Psalm 23: ‘The ‎Lord is my Shepherd…’ The second will come from two equally well-known Psalms, at least ‎in Jewish circles, Psalms 121 and 130. These three Psalms portray classic divine images, the ‎first of God as a Mentor, the second as a Protector. They are among the most personal images ‎that we will examine - an appropriate niche for the intensely personal Psalms. ‎
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Song of Songs has long puzzled both scholars and rabbis as to what it really means and what ‎it is doing in the Tanakh. Ostensibly it is a rather long love poem, complete with surprisingly ‎graphic (at least by Biblical standards) descriptions of sexual attraction. Needless to say, this ‎does not fit in with the rest of the Tanakh. Rabbinic explanation of this strange selection ‎usually leans towards the metaphorical – that the entire poem represents not the love between ‎a man and a woman but between God and Israel. Not all rabbinic authorities have gone for ‎this approach, but enough have bought in to make it part of the Holy Writings. Nobody ‎knows when it was written, but tradition assigns it to King Solomon. ‎
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Lamentations was written following the destruction of the first temple in the 6th century BCE. ‎Tradition has it written by the Prophet Jeremiah. There is no strong reason to doubt this but ‎no reason to accept it either, other than tradition. It is simply a series of lamentations over the ‎destruction, expressing anguish over what happened and a combination of hope and ‎hopelessness over the future. ‎
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The historical section is a mixed bag. Chronicles is simply a retelling of the entire history of ‎mankind from Adam to the destruction of the first temple. It starts off as just a series of ‎names listed one after the other. It only begins as a historical record with the stories ‎associated with David. It winds on and on, much of it paralleling the books of Kings. It ends ‎with the destruction of the temple and the first stirrings of rebuilding 70 years later through ‎the words of Koresh, king of Persia. ‎
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Ezra and Nehemiah usually come as a pair. In the traditional Jewish count of the books of ‎Tanakh (24 books) they are counted as one. They are the story of the return of the Jews from ‎Bavel to resettle the ancient homeland and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and the temple. ‎They describe the difficulties these two leaders had in getting their fellow exiles to join in this ‎ambitious project and in organizing the rebuilding once they arrived. Ezra was a scribe, one of ‎the scholarly classes who were the progenitors of the rabbis. Nehemiah was a servant of the ‎Persian king who managed to convince his ruler of the importance of the rebuilding project of ‎the Jews in Israel. He became the administrative leader while Ezra was the religious leader. ‎The religious reaction to the initial rebuilding of the temple found in Nehemiah will provide ‎one of our images from this section. ‎
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Ruth is a simple story of a Moabite woman who converts to the Israelite religion. It is ‎difficult to know how common this was in Biblical times but from the fact that a short book ‎was written about it might indicate that it was on the rare side. The book tells of the ‎interaction between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi, as they make their way back to Israel ‎from Moab and struggle to join the existing community around Bethlehem. Ruth eventually ‎marries the leader of the community and bears a son who, the book concludes, will be the ‎ancestor of David. ‎
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Esther chronicles events that took place in Persia at some point in the second temple era. In all ‎likelihood it took place during the 5th century, though it is impossible to know for sure due to ‎the ambiguity of the identity of the Persian king. Achashverosh was his name, and after ‎deposing of his queen, chooses Esther, a Jewish girl, as the next queen. Esther’s uncle ‎Mordechai learns of a plot by the king’s evil adviser, Haman, to destroy the Jews all over the ‎kingdom. In a series of court intrigues, Mordechai and Esther manage to foil Haman’s plans ‎and bring about his downfall. This book is read every year to celebrate the holiday of Purim, ‎around the end of the winter. Purim means lots, as in a lottery, which was the system Haman ‎tried to use to determine which day to carry out the destruction. Esther is unusual in that it ‎never mentions God in the entire book. It focuses on the ingenuity and determination of ‎individuals in overcoming powerful political forces. ‎
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Daniel is the story of a Jewish advisor to the king of Bavel shortly after the destruction of the ‎first temple. There is no consensus on when it was actually written, but the events take place ‎in the middle of the 70 year period of exile. It is loaded with messianic predictions that ‎Daniel envisions. Despite its lack of a really cohesive theme, its prophetic declarations of ‎what would be the fate of the Jews and the nations that would control them had great ‎influence over the Jewish view of world events. ‎
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The third section, the Wisdom Literature, fits in nowhere with the rest of the Tanakh or the ‎rest of the Writings. These three books are stand-alone works. The book of Job is about as ‎mysterious as it is long. It begins with a very short dialogue between God and the spiritual ‎adversary, known as the Satan. Satan wants to goad a righteous man named Job, to test him ‎as to how far his righteousness goes. God agrees to this challenge with certain restrictions. ‎After a few rounds of this testing, Job has suffered enough and curses his life. The next 30-‎odd chapters go through a winding series of dialogues between Job and three friends who ‎attempt to dissuade him from blaming his misfortune on God or on fate. Job takes the ‎argument that he has done nothing deserving of his fate so something must be amiss in the ‎way God runs the world. In the end, a fourth friend arrives and sets the record straight, ‎bringing God’s system of divine justice back into a good light. God Himself seems to confirm ‎what this fourth friend advocates. The exact message of Job has been debated endlessly by ‎Jewish and non-Jewish scholars for almost 2,000 years. Nobody knows when this book was ‎written or who authored it. Its origins are every bit as mysterious as its message. But it will ‎give us one of the more mysterious images of the divine. ‎
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The book of Proverbs is a long series of statements expressing the greatness of wisdom as a ‎guide for life. Wisdom is praised endlessly from every imaginable angle. It is almost ‎worshiped as a divine agency. Interspersed with all this praise for wisdom are countless little ‎pieces of wisdom. These are tidbits of advice similar to what might be written on the side of a ‎box of herbal tea. They go on and on in what seem to be a random sequence. These proverbs ‎are described at the beginning of the book as the creations of Solomon, thus cementing his ‎reputation as the wisest of all men. Academics consider this book to be of much later vintage, ‎perhaps during the period when the Hellenist Greeks ruled the Middle East and Israel. This ‎book will provide us with our final image. ‎
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Ecclesiastes is another wisdom-oriented book attributed by tradition and by indications in the ‎text to Solomon. Academics place it also during the Greek period. It deals with observations ‎about the futility of life, how every one of life’s pursuits is vain and empty. By around the ‎third chapter, the author starts peppering the statements of futility with more positive ‎observations about life and bits of practical advice that may help get through some of the ‎pitfalls. The book ends with the famous conclusion that when all is said and done the only ‎thing to do is to fear God and keep the commandments, for that is all of life. To some degree, ‎this is a fitting conclusion to the Biblical outlook on life. ‎
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The Writings are no longer looked at as mere literature, whatever their origins. They have ‎attained the image of holiness, somehow expressing the deepest human longings for ‎understanding the essentials of what life is all about and how we should view God. There is ‎no uniform religious message that comes from the Writings. Even within one book it is ‎difficult to draw definite conclusions. But from the complete set a picture emerges from the ‎fog, of man groping to find God and God responding by reaching out to man. There is a good ‎deal of frustration along the way, and many obstacles, of both human and divine origin. In ‎the end, as Ecclesiastes states, the bottom line is to fear God. If there is any cohesive theme in ‎the multi-faceted Writings it is this: we are here on this earth to serve some purpose; we may ‎not know exactly what it is, but we know that it has something to do with God. The rest is ‎the task of religion and individual seekers. ‎


		


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