Hebrew Language #4 Hebrew Literature #1 Old Testament

Hebrew Literature by Arthur Ernest Cowley

Old Testament-Scriptures.

Hebrew languageProperly speaking, “Hebrew Literature” denotes all works written in the Hebrew language. In catalogues and bibliographies, however, the expression is now generally used, conveniently if incorrectly, as synonymous with Jewish literature, including all works written by Jews in Hebrew characters, whether the language be Aramaic, Arabic or even some vernacular not related to Hebrew.

The literature begins with, as it is almost entirely based upon, the Old Testament. There were no doubt in the earliest times popular songs orally transmitted and perhaps books of annals and laws, but except in so far as remnants of them are embedded in the biblical books, they have entirely disappeared. Thus the Book of the Wars of the Lord is mentioned in Num. xxi. 14; the Book of Jashar in Josh. x. 13, 2. Sam. i. 18; the Song of the Well is quoted in Num. xxi. 17, 18, and the song of Sihon and Moab, ib. 27-30; of Lamech, Gen. iv. 23, 24; of Moses, Exod. xv.

As in other literatures, these popular elements form the foundation on which greater works are gradually built, and it is one function of literary criticism to show the way in which the component parts were welded into a uniform whole. The traditional view that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch in its present form, would make this the earliest monument of Hebrew literature. Modern inquiry, however, has arrived at other conclusions (see Bible, Old Testament), which may be briefly summarized as follows: the Pentateuch is compiled from various documents, the earliest of which is denoted by J (beginning at Gen. ii. 4) from the fact that its author regularly uses the divine name Jehovah (Yahweh). Its date is now usually given as about 800 B.C.[The dating of these documents is extremely difficult, since it is based entirely on internal evidence. Various scholars, while agreeing on the actual divisions of the text, differ on the question of priority. The dates here given are those which seem to be most generally accepted at the present time. They are not put forward as the result of an independent review of the evidence.]

In the next century the document E was composed, so called from its using Elohīm (God) instead of Yahweh. Both these documents are considered to have originated in the Northern kingdom, Israel, where also in the 8th century appeared the prophets Amos and Hosea. To the same period belong the book of Micah, the earlier parts of the books of Samuel, of Isaiah and of Proverbs, and perhaps some Psalms.
In 722 B.C.E. Samaria was taken and the Northern kingdom ceased to exist. Judah suffered also, and it is not until a century later that any important literary activity is again manifested. The main part of the book of Deuteronomy was “found” shortly before 621 B.C. and about the same time appeared the prophets Jeremiah and Zephaniah, and perhaps the book of Ruth. A few years later (about 600) the two Pentateuchal documents J and E were woven together, the books of Kings were compiled, the book of Habakkuk and parts of the Proverbs were written. Early in the next century Jerusalem was taken by Nebuchadrezzar, and the prophet Ezekiel was among the exiles with Jehoiachin. Somewhat later (c. 550) the combined document JE was edited by a writer under the influence of Deuteronomy, the later parts of the books of Samuel were written, parts of Isaiah, the books of Obadiah, Haggai, Zechariah and perhaps the later Proverbs.

In the exile, but probably after 500 B.C.E., an important section of the Hexateuch, usually called the Priest’s Code (P), was drawn up. At various times in the same century are to be placed the book of Job, the post-exilic parts of Isaiah, the books of Joel, Jonah, Malachi and the Song of Songs. The Pentateuch (or Hexateuch) was finally completed in its present form at some time before 400 B.C.E.. The latest parts of the Old Testament are the books of Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah (c. 330 B.C.), Ecclesiastes and Esther (3rd century) and Daniel, composed either in the 3rd century or according to some views as late as the time of Antiochus Epiphanes (c. 168 B.C.). With regard to the date of the Psalms, internal evidence, from the nature of the case, leads to few results which are convincing. The most reasonable view seems to be that the collection was formed gradually and that the process was going on during most of the period sketched above.



Hebrew Language #2 The name “Hebrew” and Speech of Canaan

Hebrew Language #3 Among Christian scholars

Missional hermeneutics 2/5
Theological Interpretation of Scripture and Biblical Criticism: Childs and Wellhausen


Additional reading

  1. Humanities and consensus
  2. A Book to trust #1 Background book for debate
  3. Biblical characters given as example
  4. Moshe Rabbenu and Torat Moshe
  5. Ketuvim, Writings, Hagiographa, Five Megillot and Messianic Scriptures
  6. Divine revelation mediated by Moshe and other selected people
  7. Translating Truth
  8. English Bible History by John L. Jeffcoat III and Dr. Craig H. Lampe
  9. The Samaritans



  1. How To Read Literature (and Novels!) Like a Professor – Thomas Foster
  2. The Plot of the Entire Bible, From Beginning to End

17 thoughts on “Hebrew Language #4 Hebrew Literature #1 Old Testament

  1. Pingback: Hebrew Language #5 Hebrew Literature #2 Torah, Apocryphal literature and Targum | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  2. Pingback: Hebrew Language #6 Hebrew Literature #3 Halakhah | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  3. Pingback: Hebrew Language #7 Hebrew Literature #4 Mishnah and Midrash | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  4. Pingback: Hebrew Language #8 Hebrew Literature #5 Talmud and Masorah | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  5. Pingback: Hebrew Language #9 Hebrew Literature #6 Hebrew Liturgy | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  6. Pingback: Hebrew Language #10 Hebrew Literature #7 The Geōnīm | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  7. Pingback: Hebrew Language #11 Hebrew Literature #8 The Qaraites or Karaites | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  8. Pingback: Hebrew Language #12 Hebrew Literature #9 Medieval scholarship | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  9. Pingback: Hebrew Language #13 Hebrew Literature #10 Exegesis | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  10. Pingback: Hebrew Language #14 Hebrew Literature #11 French school of the 11th century | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  11. Pingback: Hebrew Language #15 Hebrew Literature #12 High level of literature in Spain in the 12th and 13th century | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  12. Pingback: Hebrew Language #16 Hebrew Literature #13 Maimonides, Maimonists and anti-Maimonists | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  13. Pingback: Hebrew Language #17 Hebrew Literature #14 Families, works from France, Germany and the Levant | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  14. Pingback: Hebrew Language #18 Hebrew Literature #15 Limit of Hebrew literature its development | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  15. Pingback: Hebrew Language #19 Hebrew Literature #16 Later writers – From the Renaissance to 18th Century, going into a new religious movement within Judaism | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  16. Pingback: Hebrew Language #20 Hebrew Literature #17 Later writers – From the 18th Century into 19th century and Modernizing tendencies | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  17. Pingback: Hebrew Language #20 Hebrew Literature #18 The re-creation of Hebrew as a literary language | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

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