September 15, 2008

Well, it's been awhile. The process of getting ready for school has been overwhelming, and now school has started. It is amazing, how renewed participation in the daily rhythm of the student--books and pens and desks and classrooms--has been like running a dredge through the waters of my psyche. Sediment long-settled has emerged in the form of nightmares every night.

I almost hesitate to call them nightmares, mundane as they are. These are dreams about missing class, or learning at the last minute about a play you're in, or the dog getting hit by a car, or family arguments. There very realistic. Very plain. And they go without ceasing.

I don't really get what you'd call "sleep" per se. It's more just lying down and dreaming constantly until I get up and find something to do.

It's been like this for about a week. I'm sure I'll settle in soon.

Every week, I have to write a journal about what I'm reading for one of my classes. I've decided to write it here. The class is Old Testament/New Testament and it's about the Bible. More specifically, it's about how the Bible came to be, the historical conditions in which it was written, and the people who wrote it. As I do my reading, I'll share what I've learned and my general perception. I hope having an audience of blog friends and an audience of professors won't skew the process.

So a quick history of Israel as presented in the Old Testament....

- Pre-history (Adam and Steve, Noah and the Ark, Tower of Babel, etc.)

- Abraham and his sons. (Abraham comes down from Ur to the lands that now make up Israel and starts to raise his family.)

- Egypt, Exodus, Conquest (Hebrew people are enslaved by Egypt. Charlton Heston leads them out of there. They wander in the wilderness for 40 years, then conquer what is now known roughly as Israel)

- High Point/Golden Age (Solomon and David rule a relatively wealthy and powerful kingdom of Israel)

- Babylonian captivity and expatriation. (Forced captivity in Babylon)

There's obviously a lot more to it than this, but for our purposes this is good for now.

The first 5 books of the Bible are often called the Pentateuch. They comprise the early history of Israel. In terms of their subject matter, they start at the earliest point. I mean, THE earliest point, i.e. creation. It has traditionally been said that they were written by Moses. This is not true. It's also said that they were written before the others. Also not true.

It turns out, according to my textbook anyway, that these books were written during the period above called "Babylonian captivity and expatriation"--at the earliest!

This means that everything written in those texts is being written by a people who are either in exile or have recently had the experience of exile.

So it's hard to overstate how the story of Moses leading his people out of Egypt is about Babylon, not Egypt.

Oh yeah. This brings me to "a people". The writers are many. This is obvious if you look at the text. After all, there are two creation stories in Genesis. Two stories of the Flood. Sometimes, it's clear that these disparate stories have been edited together, even though they differ in tone, characters, and details. Some of the creation stories, like the story of the Flood, are obviously based on--or share a common root with--Babylonian texts on the same subjects.

One source of writings is often called "P", for "Priestly". This source is very concerned with things being in their proper place, and those proper places being properly understood. It is the Priestly Source whose flood story is very specific about the size and construction of the arc. The P creation story is ordered into days, in which a certain number of things are made, and then rest on the seventh day.

Another source is called the "Jahwist" source, or "J", because this source refers to God as Jahweh (there's another source that calls God Elohim). J is more mythological. His version of God is more anthropomorphic. J has Adam and Eve and the Serpent in Eden.

More soon.

(Disclaimer. Please don't take this stuff as Gospel. Those are later. Also, I'm a student and this is a journal, not an academic paper. I'm learning as I go.)

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