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Introduction to Hebrews.

Content created: 2018-08-24
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Hebrew Tales


  1. Jonah & the Great Fish (The Book of Jonah)
  2. Tobias & the Angel (The Apocryphal Book of Tobit)
  3. Judith (The Apocryphal Book of Judith)
  4. Susanna & the Elders (From the Book of Daniel)
  5. Hebrew Sacred History

Overview by DKJ

As with other popular stories from antiquity, Hebrew tales that remain to us are largely without known authorship or secure dates. However, unlike, say, Egyptian or Mesopotamian stories, each tends to have a more or less fixed version. The reason is that the Hebrew tales —at least the ones presented here— have been enshrined in scripture, and therefore especially carefully preserved, with changes resisted.

Four Popular Tales

Their status in scripture varies from one tale to another. For class use I have selected four tales which

  1. seem to have circulated in more than one version in antiquity, suggesting that people found them meaningful and enjoyed telling and retelling them,
  2. fairly clearly shed light on ancient Hebrew values and perspectives,
  3. are relatively brief,
  4. are unfamiliar to many college freshmen, and
  5. have often been represented in Western art, and which, for the rest of your life, will therefore be old friends when you visit art museums.

One of these stories —that of Jonah and the Great Fish— comes directly from the Bible. Three of them —Judith, Susanna & the Elders, and Tobias & the Angel— are “apocryphal,” that is, they come from the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, but they are not found in the extant Hebrew scriptures. We know them from Greek texts, not Hebrew ones, even though they are Hebrew stories. The Apocrypha is, in general, canonical for Catholics and Orthodox Christians, but not for Jews and Protestants. A separate procursus introduces each of these fascinating documents.

Hebrew Sacred History

At the same time, in a college world civ course it is desirable to include passages from canonical Hebrew Scripture —the Christian Old Testament— because of its enormous influence on later philosophy, religion, and ultimately history and politics. I have blocked this material under the heading “Hebrew Sacred History,” although it also includes some moral and ritual instruction. Much of it is abridged, with gaps breached by my summaries of the action. The general theme is the “contract” between the Hebrews and God.

Since these texts are very often studied in churches and synagogues, they are already known to a great many students. If you are already familiar with them, you are unlikely to need to read them again here. They are placed after the other four tales as Hebrew Sacred History.

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Background Design: Hebrew Lines From the Book of Jonah