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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: May 2015

1 - The Hebrew Bible and the Early History of Israel


The belief that the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) constitutes revealed scripture is a key feature of Judaism. This Bible has a long and complicated history. It was not written by a single author as a single book, the way modern books are, but reflects ancient Israelite or Jewish literature written over a one-thousand-year period by a small civilization that existed on the margins of the great ancient empires of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, and Greece. The people of ancient Israel lived mostly agrarian lives in small villages and struggled with the vagaries of climate and war; they did not live in a cultural vacuum but interacted with and were influenced by their neighbors. Along the way, they created the same kinds of cultural artifacts as the surrounding cultures: domestic goods, royal art and architecture, legends about the origins and the great deeds of their leaders, myths about the world around them, regulations for worship, rules to foster a cohesive social framework, and prayers to express their fears and hopes. Some of these bits and pieces evolved, and over time they were combined into what we know as the Bible.

Recovering the early history of the Bible and the society that created it is very difficult since the process that produced the Bible cannot be recovered with certainty. Extant sources are not sufficient to permit reconstruction of the entire history of the people who produced the Bible and were influenced by it.

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