By way of background, we know that what we refer to today as the New Testament is a collection of letters between members of the early or primitive church, and various biographical accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. Then, why was the Old Testament written?
The Old Testament was written as a means of galvanising a people towards a metaphysical and physical identity, and most importantly, towards nationhood. They thought it necessary following the destruction of what we refer to as the North and Southern Kingdom of Israel, and subsequent Exile of the people, especially the ruling elites.
It was written by the elites and it’s central theme is: One God, One People and One Covenant. For the first time defeat was seen as victory. Instead of ascribing victory to the gods of their enemy, Yahweh was Sovereign, therefore defeat was because they forsook Yahweh.
Furthermore, their ‘gentile’ neighbours were blamed for seducing them into serving their gods. Hence the likes of Jezebel, the so called ‘Witch of Endor’, or anything foreign or gentile was vilified. Apart from the faithfulness of Uriah, Ruth, and Rahab the prostitute; gentiles were hardly role models within the texts.
In fact the saying: “shake the dust off your feet when you leave their house” was a well known saying passed on from a very early age depicting metaphorically and physically what they should do whenever they had any dealing with a gentile. Hence the reason why the Parable of the Good Samaritan was very radical to the audience it was delivered to.
Consequently they captured their oral history and used the process of historical reconstruction (a bit of history, and a bit of fiction) in weaving these three fundamental ideas into their folklore, poetry, myths and other means of communication in their era. To this end the Bible is not infallible as tradition implies.
The lesson that stands out in all of this is the philosophy that we should never give up. The destruction of the Temple could have meant the end of the people, their identity, their faith; but the Elders reinvented other means of atonement namely: fasting, praying, and alms giving.
When Yahweh did not show after all their efforts to draw his attention through acts of holiness. When they saw their heroes die in battle, prophets executed, second Temple destroyed, evil kings reign, injustice and abuse of power; they came up with yet another invention: justice in the afterlife (in the shape of heaven and hell).
For them defeat was only an episode, and never the end. The redactors were careful to use characters known through Jewish history to convey the sort of values that will strengthen and foster unity and prosperity; and those that were detrimental to their cause.
Hence they weaved into these stories values like collectivism, selflessness, faithfulness, loyalty, sacrifice, patience, humility, vision, kindness, unity, etc. At the same, time inverses or polar opposites like individualism, selfishness, disloyalty, greed, shortsightedness, pride etc.
The characters we find in these stories are not there by coincidence, they are symbols and milestones in the struggle of a people trying to carve out a distinct future amidst the complexities of the world around them.
Therefore we find ourselves in grave difficulties when we try to read these stories through the lenses of the New Testament or Christian dogmas and doctrines. Worse still, treat them as timeless universal principles that govern all aspects of human life.
Today I will be setting the scene for my series on Moses.
- What were the redactors trying to convey?
- How did it serve the community in their nation building project?
In other words, what sort of Operative Narratives and Scripts were the Elders envisioning through this ground breaking project.
Join us at 3pm
St John the Evangelist Hall
Sidcup DA14 6BX
Reachout | Revive | Recover