Saturday, January 26, 2008

June Quick Guide (Five Scrolls and Post-Exilic Writings)

The Writings Ketuvim (Part 2)
The Five Scrolls (Megillot):
(Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther)

And Post-Exilic Writings:
(Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 & 2 Chronicles)

Song of Songs or Song of Solomon is poetry about sexual love. It is in the form of a drama with a man, a woman, and a chorus speaking the lines. Some of the poetry may have been used at weddings. The attribution to Solomon is due to his reputation as a lover. Because it contains mature content, in some Jewish traditions this book is not to be read until age 17! "Young women of Jerusalem, promise me...never to awaken love before it is ready." (8:4)

Within the entire biblical story likes the tension between Israel being a holy people set apart from the other nations and being a blessing and means of grace to all nations. They story of
Ruth, the Moabite, reminds Israel (and all those who profess faith) that God is not simply “our” God but the God of all.

The book of
Lamentations is a psalter of laments. The songs are about the destruction of Jerusalem. Lamentations has been attributed to Jeremiah, which is why it follows the book of Jeremiah in the Christian Old Testament. However, it is probably the work of several authors. While the book of Lamentations speaks to a specific historical situation, it also speaks to the hearts of any who have been victims of violence or who have experienced loss and grief.

Like Proverbs, Ecclesiastes is considered "wisdom literature" but the wisdom is of a different sort. Instead of pithy short sayings like in Proverbs, Qoheleth "the preacher" speaks at length about many topics and questions the truism that the righteous will live and the foolish perish. The book of Ecclesiastes contains the much-needed words of the skeptic. See if you can find the song by the Byrds.

Esther is a legend set in the time of the exile (although probably written much later) that provides the rationale for the Festival of Purim. Esther is the only book in the Bible that does not mention God. Yet the assurance of God's presence with God's people is assumed. Esther is a wonderful story about courage.

This is from Wikipedia:

All five of these megillot ("scrolls") are traditionally read publicly in the synagogue over the course of the year in many Jewish communities. In common printed editions of the Tanakh they appear in the order that they are read in the synagogue on holidays (beginning with Passover), thus:
  1. The Song of Songs (Hebrew: Shir ha-Shirim; שיר השירים) is read publicly in some communities, especially by Ashkenazim, on the Sabbath of Passover. In most Eastern Jewish communities it is read publicly each week at the onset of the Sabbath. There is also a widespread custom to read it at the end of the Passover seder.
  2. Book of Ruth (רות) is read in some communities, especially by Ashkenazim, before the reading of the Torah on the morning of Shavuot. Others read it in the Tikkun at night, or not at all.
  3. Lamentations (Hebrew: Eikhah or Kinnot; איכה) is read on the Ninth of Av in all Jewish communities.
  4. Ecclesiastes (Hebrew: Kohelet; קהלת) is read publicly in some communities, especially by Ashkenazim, on the Sabbath of Sukkot. In other communities it is not read at all.
  5. Book of Esther (Hebrew אסתר) is read in all Jewish communities on Purim. The public reading is done twice, on the evening of Purim and once again the next morning.

Daniel is set in the period of exile although it was probably written during the 3rd or 2nd century BCE. The first six chapters are filled with great stories including Daniel and lion's den and the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Daniel is the story of courage in the face of opposition. It is also the story of the Hebrews keeping their identity in the midst of a hostile, powerful, and influential culture. Chapters seven through twelve are filled with apocalyptic visions.

Ezra and Nehemiah tell of the return to Judah from Babylon in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. The temple and the walls are rebuilt, traditions are rediscovered, and the people seek to reestablish their identity. Ezra and Nehemiah provide food for thought about the tension between building walls for survival and identity and breaking down walls in order to seek peace and understanding with those who are different.

1 and 2 Chronicles is a retelling of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Some stories are identical. But not all. The Chronicles are told from a different viewpoint than that of the Samuel and Kings stories.

1 Chronicles is about David who can hardly do wrong. The Chronicler skips over the embarrassing story involving Bathsheba. Interesting to compare the accounts. The first nine chapters are real sleepers. Skim through the list of names but do read the narrative portions.

2 Chronicles picks up with the reign of Solomon and the division of the kingdom down to the exile and the return. Chronicles is an example of revisionist history. The story is told from the viewpoint of the southern kingdom. The north (Israel) gets bad press if it gets any at all! It seems to read a bit "smoother" than the Kings account.

Thus ends the TaNaKh with the edict of King Cyrus of Persia:

‘Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him! Let him go up.’

Next year in Jerusalem!


1 comment:

societyvs said...

I like these backgrounds on the texts - they will be very helpful in my study of them.