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Jewishness as Permanent Citizenship

France, with the exception of the University of Strasbourg, proved to be sceptical, even hostile, when it came to this type of scrutiny of biblical texts. He made the scientific exegesis of the Bible known in France and shaped the discipline through his contributions. Entirely familiar with the work of the leading biblical scholars of his time Abraham Kuenen, Julius Wellhausen and in direct contact with them, Renan wanted to analyze the origins of Judaism and Christianity by way of a strictly scientific approach, which caused him many problems.

Criticized and vilified, Renan managed to establish that the Hebrew Bible was the result of a long evolution and that the exclusive Yahwism at the origin of Judaism emerged only in the last two centuries of the Judean monarchy. He affirmed that one could trace the different stages of the formation of the Bible thanks to progress made in the exegetic methods.


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History must perforce extract as much truth as possible from the indications which it has at its command; it is doing a very sorry work when it relates a number of childish stories in a tone of the utmost seriousness. Munk can be considered as the founder of Jewish studies in France. By the time this conflict was settled it had become obvious that authors of biblical texts often drew their inspiration from the traditions and texts of the Ancient Near East that had preceded them.

Biblical narrative therefore had to be compared to the material evidence of archaeological discoveries. Clermont-Ganneau furthered the topography of the sites mentioned in the Bible by exploiting the texts of Arabic historians and geographers. In particular, he identified the town of Guezer in Canaan. We are indebted to him notably for rescuing the stele of the Moabite king Mesha, which relates a military conflict between Moab and Israel, also found in the Bible although it is recounted quite differently. Allow me to point out as well that Clermont-Ganneau identified two major archaeological frauds, thus revealing the fact that, unfortunately, fake documents and objects are as old as archaeology.

Who Are the Hebrews? - Questions & Answers

The biblical question becomes the religious question in a far broader sense than has been perceived until now. Until then very few material traces had been found of the manuscripts of the pre-Middle Ages Hebraic Bible, whereas today we have evidence, albeit fragmented, supporting almost all the books composing it and dating back to the last two centuries before the Christian era.

These documents, some of which diverge quite substantially from what was to become the official Masoretic text, confirm the wide diversity of the textual transmission of the scrolls that were subsequently to constitute the three parts of the Jewish canon: Pentateuch, Prophets and Writings. Figure 2. Caves at Qumran containing the manuscripts. The Ugaritic texts from the end of the second millennium describe Baal with functions and titles that are applied to Yahweh in the Bible.

The Hebrew Bible - The Story of the Jews - PBS

This confirms the idea that, from the point of view of the history of religions, the god of Israel was a god of storm and thunder like Baal-Hadad, the god that caused lightning and thunder. How can this phenomenon be explained?

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The Hebrew Bible is one of the main founding documents of the so-called Judeo-Christian civilization, or at least of Western civilization. It is also a key element for understanding the birth of Islam and the Islamic civilization. How can we understand history, literature, pictorial and musical art, as well as a number of current geopolitical conflicts, without in-depth knowledge of the biblical texts and their meaning?

The Bible, moreover, unquestionably remains of interest to the public. The recent discovery of the supposed wall of the palace of David by the archaeologist Eilat Mazar, challenged by other specialists, not only kept the Israeli public holding its breath, but also had international repercussions. Figure 3. Excavations in the city of David. One regularly finds fanciful explanations, for example on the historical underpinnings of accounts of the plagues of Egypt and the exodus eruption of the Santorin volcano or the horns of Moses he is said to have had a skin disease , which are presented in the media in all earnestness.

To counteract these aberrations and for the understanding of our culture, sound training in the Bible seems more than necessary, whether at school, university, or in the cultural field in general. To this end, we cannot be content just to sum up the contents of the main biblical accounts or to marvel at the beauty of certain poetic texts; the Bible must be examined from a historical perspective.

I have little time for the sirens of post-modernity proclaiming the end of history or chanting the wonders of subjective or synchronic readings, to the detriment of rigorous research. I am convinced that the work of historians is essential if we are to understand the Bible.


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  • To be sure, the danger of circularity is particularly great, for to reconstruct the historical contexts in which the texts of the Hebrew Bible were written, the most important document is the Bible itself! And for a long time we contented ourselves with a scholarly replication of the chronology of the books, from Genesis to the Books of Kings, and including, for the Persian period, the Books of Ezra and of Nehemiah.

    I will cite just a few examples. The history of the Patriarchs and that of Moses do not reflect events of two successive periods; they are two founding and initially rival narratives: on the one hand, the construction of an identity through genealogies and ancestor figures in the accounts of the Patriarchs, and, on the other, an identity model based not on kinship but on the acceptance of a law, a contract, in the Mosaic tradition.

    The chronological arrangement of the history of the Patriarchs as a prelude to that of Exodus is the result of a deliberate intention to combine these two myths of separate origins. The narratives in this book are drawn from military propaganda, mainly neo-Assyrian and neo-Babylonian. The transition period between the Bronze Age and the more distant Iron Age was characterized by a sort of economic crisis that is believed to be reflected in the reduction of urban density.

    Who Wrote the Torah?

    By settling in the mountains, these groups were apparently trying to escape the control of the Canaanite city-states. It is in the context of this movement of a part of the Canaanite population that the establishment of Israel must be seen. The opposition between Israel and Canaan is therefore neither a historical nor an ethnical given; it is a matter of theological conflict aimed at distinguishing the people of Yahweh from the other inhabitants of the Levant. It is a collection of legends on heroic figures from various Israelite tribes, which were put into a certain chronological order.

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    David and Solomon, whose history is not beyond questioning we know of no extra-biblical document from the first part of the first millennium before our era that mentions a King Solomon , must have reigned over a relatively small area. Moreover, according to the archaeologists, in the first millennium Jerusalem became a large town only from the 8th century before our era. As the Judean capital, it is mentioned for the first time in extra-biblical documents in the annals of the Assyrian king Sennacherib, who related the siege of Jerusalem in Figure 4.

    The graffiti of Kuntillet Ajrud mentioning Yahweh and his Asherah. The prohibition of images in the Decalogue is therefore not an ancient prescription but an idea formulated at the earliest in the sixth century before our era. In my opinion, the negation of clues to the existence of a statue of Yahweh often stems from the theological wish to distinguish Yahweh from neighbouring divinities. This type of distinction does indeed exist in the Bible, but it is the result of a long series of events and not a given from the start.

    This part was not actually first; it was the result of a theological and editorial effort to bring together, in the same volume, traditions and scrolls from different eras, conveying differing and even contradictory ideologies. To illustrate this phenomenon, allow me to mention a film that enjoyed considerable success last year and whose triviality, if you happened to see it, must have struck you. The film is Mamma Mia. The narrative, hence the chronology, of this film is clearly secondary.

    The only aim of the plot is to bring together and organize a number of songs of the Swedish group ABBA, which originally did not relate a continuous story and have no common thread. And what is the role of the Bible in this reconstruction? One of the last attempts to write a history of ancient Israel was by Mario Liverani. In so doing he seeks to show that the first books of the Bible were not historical documents; their function was essentially a matter of identity.

    The maximalists believe that one simply has to trust the biblical account, of which the main lines are reliable. For the minimalists, everything started in the Achaemenid period only, around years before our era or even later, in the Hellenistic period. The partisans of this point of view argue that the Bible is a pure ideological construction serving to found Judaism between the 4th and 2nd centuries before our era, and that the first physical manuscripts of the Hebraic Bible the Dead Sea scrolls date precisely from that period. In the construction of the history of Israel and in the dating of the first scrolls of certain biblical texts, we can therefore go back several centuries further.

    Significant albeit modest epigraphic discoveries confirm this point of view. The Amulets of Ketef Hinnom. Another example is the inscription of Deir Alla in Transjordan, from the 8th century before our era, containing the beginning of an oracle by Balaam, son of Beor, who received a message from the gods. He was probably the same visionary found in the narrative and oracles of the Book of Numbers.

    These few cases suffice to underscore the fact that the material and traditions at the origin of the Hebraic Bible are not an invention from the Persian era. Biblical research can nevertheless not be satisfied with this canon; it has to examine many other writings and documents, without which canonical texts would never have been written.

    The Bible was not born in isolation.

    It is the entire Fertile Crescent that, in one way or another, contributed to the shaping of the Hebrew Bible. Moreover, the Bible shows this explicitly. Consider the beginning of the history of Abraham in the Book of Genesis. From there it moved to Harran, where Abram received the divine call enjoining him to go to the Land of Canaan, which he crossed from Shechem to the Negev before going into Egypt.

    Thus, from the outset Abraham covered the entire Fertile Crescent.

    The Jewish Concept of Messiah and the Jewish Response to Christian Claims

    Once again, we can only briefly consider a few aspects here. The Fertile Crescent. These documents, such as those of Ugarit, separated from the biblical writings by more than a millennium, raise the issue of establishing a well thought-out link between them. One can hardly imagine that the biblical authors depended directly on these documents.

    Egyptology is important for scholars of the Bible, not only because the main founding myth of the Bible relates the exodus from Egypt.

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    A great deal of time and energy has been spent tracking the events of the exodus and the figure of Moses in Egyptian documents, without much success, and close contact between Egypt and Palestine in the first millennium before our era tends to have been largely overlooked. Yet the Egyptian influence at the time was immense from a historical and literary standpoint.

    The third part of the Book of Proverbs, probably dating back to the end of the Judean monarchy, shows striking resemblances with the teachings attributed to the pharaoh Amenemope, with whom the Judean scribe was apparently acquainted.