Old Testament Survey - Lesson 12

Historiographic Writings

In this lesson, you'll explore the historiographic writings of the First Testament, focusing on the books from Joshua to Kings and the Chronicles. Learn principles of interpretation used by evangelical scholars for these ancient Hebrew texts. Discover key techniques like selective storytelling, event sequencing, and narrative shaping through repetition, keywords, and direct speech. Understand that God is the central figure in these narratives, and review how theological themes intertwine with history. 

Daniel Block
Old Testament Survey
Lesson 12
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Historiographic Writings

I. Introduction to Historiographic Writings

A. Transition from Torah to Historiographic Writings

B. Importance of Interpreting First Testament as Evangelical Interpreters

II. Principles of Interpretation

A. Recognition of Ancient Hebrew Literature

B. Understanding Authorial Artistry

1. Role of the Holy Spirit in Guiding Biblical Authors

2. Selection and Inclusion of Material

3. Use of Genealogies and Telescoped History

4. Selection in Wilderness and Settlement Narratives

5. Selective Narration in Stories of Solomon and Hezekiah

C. Arrangement and Sequencing

1. Challenges of Reconstructing Chronological Order

2. Use of Theological Statements Over Chronological Accuracy

D. Shaping of Narratives

1. Use of Key Words and Repetition

2. Emphasis on Dialogue and Character Interaction

III. Characterization in Hebrew Narratives

A. Techniques of Character Development

1. Actions and Appearances

2. Direct and Indirect Speech

3. Internal Monologues and Editorial Comments

B. Presentation of Major and Minor Characters

1. Round vs. Flat Characters

2. Role of God as the Primary Character

IV. Theological Focus in Narrative Interpretation

A. Divine Involvement and Human Response

B. Theological Presuppositions and Historical Events

V. Principles for Reading First Testament Narratives

A. Letting the Text Speak for Itself

B. Literary Intent and Clarity

C. Organic Progression of Theological Concepts

D. Contextualization Within Ancient Near Eastern Historiography

VI. Categories of Hebrew Historiographic Writings

A. Deuteronomistic History

B. Chronistic History

C. Outliers in Hebrew Historiography

VII. Additional Considerations

A. Interpretive Challenges and Methods

B. Questions of Authorship and Anonymity

  • Learning about the First Testament's language, geographical, and cultural contexts, and how these factors contribute to its frequent misinterpretation and underappreciation in modern times.
  • Gain insights into the literary and cosmic foundations of grace and glory in the Torah, understanding its role as more than law.
  • Learn that to be made in God's image entails embodying divine qualities and functioning as His representative on Earth, which extends a universal dignity upon all humans and shapes a theological ethic that influences how you treat others.
  • Genesis 1-3 frames human response to divine creation, emphasizing human dignity, work's moral role, free will's consequences, and the persistent grace amid sin.
  • This lesson reviews the Israelite covenant, understanding its stages, implications, and its role in God's redemptive plan.
  • Gain insights into Abraham's covenant with God, exploring his faith and God's promises.
  • Learn how the Exodus from Egypt marked Israel's transformation from a family to a nation under Yahweh.
  • Understand how the covenant at Sinai transforms Israel from slaves into a treasured nation destined for a divine mission, fulfilling God's ancient promises.
  • This lesson covers the covenantal expectations at Sinai. The covenantal agreement provided a constitutional and ethical framework for societal living, focusing on community rights and responsibilities.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into how the tabernacle was both a physical manifestation of God's presence and a profound symbol of His grace, emphasizing the holiness and detailed guidance He provided to the Israelites for worship and daily life.
  • Gain insights into Deuteronomy, recognizing its focus on teaching rather than legislation, and understanding Moses' role as an instructor of Yahweh's will.
  • In this lesson, you explore how to interpret the First Testament's historiographic writings, emphasizing the divine inspiration and literary artistry that guide the selective storytelling and theological themes.
  • Learn how the books of Joshua and Judges illustrate the fulfillment and failure of Israel's covenant with Yahweh, highlighting divine promise, cultural assimilation, and the cyclical nature of faith and apostasy.
  • The Book of Ruth, highlights divine providence, social justice, and personal righteousness while exploring the role of Boaz as a pivotal figure in maintaining the lineage of King David.
  • Samuel had a significant yet complex role in Israel's history; judge, priest, prophet, and crucial figure in establishing monarchy.
  • Learn of David's central role in the Bible, understanding his unique portrayal and the extensive attention he receives compared to other figures.
  • Learn about the Davidic covenant's role in shaping biblical history and theology, emphasizing its eternal impact on Israel and beyond.
  • The books of Kings and Chronicles use historical events to underline theological themes, highlighting the role of scribes in documenting Israel’s history.
  • In this lesson on 1 and 2 Kings, review the downfall of Israel through kings' forgetfulness of God's covenants.
  • Learn about Solomon's temple's historical and theological significance, its divine design and purpose, and its role in Israelite worship and communal life.
  • Gain insights into the transformation and resilience of the Judean people during their exile in Babylon from 586-539 BC, exploring their struggles and adaptations in a new socio-political and religious context.
  • Learn about Daniel's exemplary life in Babylon, his integrity, and his prophetic visions, which highlight divine sovereignty and the vindication of the faithful amidst calamities.
  • Review the Persian period's impact on the Jewish diaspora, analyze the Book of Esther's literary and theological significance, and reflect on divine providence and cultural identity.
  • Explore the crucial roles of Ezra and Nehemiah in reconstructing the Jewish community and faith post-exile, understanding their historical significance, source materials, and theological insights.
  • Gain insight into the roles and significance of prophets in ancient Israel, learning about their historical context, and their critical function in guiding and correcting the nation through direct communication from Yahweh.
  • Learn about the lives and ministries of prophets Amos and Hosea, their calls for justice and return to divine covenant amidst Israel's political and spiritual turmoil, through prophetic books that blend personal biography with national prophecy.
  • This lesson reviews Jonah's struggle with divine grace and Micah's advocacy for justice and the messianic hope.
  • In this lesson, you learn how Isaiah's vision portrays the Messiah as king, servant, and conqueror, emphasizing his divine roles and global mission.
  • Learn of the political and social contexts of Jeremiah and Ezekiel's exile, including Babylon's rise, Jerusalem's fall, and the crisis of faith portrayed in Lamentations, emphasizing hope amid despair through God's faithfulness.
  • Learn about Jeremiah's life and prophetic ministry, navigating challenges with kings, themes in the Book of Jeremiah, and profound passages on true religion and a future covenant, offering lessons on prophetic burdens, God's faithfulness, and spiritual transformation.
  • Explore Ezekiel's life as a priest in exile, his bizarre actions, and profound messages revealing Yahweh's passion and eternal promises of judgment and restoration.
  • Learn about Nahum and Joel's prophecies on judgment, hope, and Yahweh's character. Explore the day of the Lord and the expansion of the covenant community.
  • Explore Obadiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah's prophecies. Discover themes of judgment, faith, and restoration in God's plan.
  • Gain insight into Haggai's role in motivating temple rebuilding during the Persian rule. His brief yet impactful ministry fosters hope and action amid community disillusionment, recoginizing God's presence and reign.
  • Gain deep insight into Hebrew poetry: its forms, parallelism, acrostics, and emotional depth. Explore its celebration and lamentation of Yahweh's glory.
  • Gain insight into Psalms which reflect diverse emotions and experiences. Structured into five divisions, attributed to various authors, their interpretation involves understanding Torah context, literary devices, and applying timeless principles to life.
  • Explore biblical wisdom's depth: from practical skill to moral insight, rooted in the fear of Yahweh. It contrasts with secular knowledge, emphasizing God's order and universal application.
  • Engage with Proverbs to unravel its diverse wisdom, from aphorisms to discourses. Understand its practical guidance for righteous living and leadership.
  • Discover the Song of Songs, a rich exploration of love's nature. From its allegorical interpretations to its celebration of covenantal love, it examines human relationships with wisdom and depth.
  • The book of Job offers insights into faith and suffering, exploring theological themes and character dynamics. It emphasizes trust in God amid life's most difficult trials.
  • Uncover Ecclesiastes' profound journey from despair to hope. Koheleth's existential ponderings contrast with the narrator's faith, urging a shift from worldly pursuits to finding fulfillment in God's sovereignty.

This Old Testament Survey course offers a deep exploration of the Old Testament's literary structure, divine covenants, and historical context. Lessons cover the Pentateuch, emphasizing its narrative over legalistic interpretations, and extend through key biblical figures like Abraham and Moses. Topics such as the covenant at Sinai, the concept of imago Dei, and the tabernacle rituals highlight the continuity of God's grace and the ethical implications of divine laws. The course critically addresses common misconceptions, the role of the Torah as instruction, and the portrayal of God’s plan, underscoring the relevance and complexity of these ancient texts.

Dr. Daniel Block 
Old Testament Survey
Historiographic Writings
Lesson Transcript


We move now from the Torah, that is the Pentateuch, into the historiographic writings. I will begin my discussion of writings that will take us from the book of Joshua all the way through Kings with some comments also on Chronicles, but I'll begin this discussion by talking about how we interpret this material as evangelical interpreters of Scripture. So, interpreting historiographic writings of the First Testament is our theme.

Here are some principles on this topic. First, we need to recognize that while the Spirit of God inspired all the writings of the First Testament, they represent ancient Hebrew literature. This means that they were written according to the conventions of the day.

Literature is an art form, and authors are artists. To grasp their message requires an appreciation of their artistry, a recognition of the manner the author plays with words, ideas, imagery, his viewpoint, and much more. The writing of the historical books involved at least three major issues.

First, selection. All artists make choices. The Holy Spirit guided the biblical writers in making decisions concerning what to include and what to leave out.

This is admitted outrightly in John's gospel in John 20:30-31. The episodes from Jesus' life with which the gospel writer deals have been carefully selected to develop a single thesis. We may also expect this in the First Testament narratives.

Seldom do biblical authors attempt to be exhaustive. They pick and choose material that will support their theses. In this, they are quite conscious of what they are doing.

Here are a couple of examples. First, genealogies. Frequently, biblical authors will pass over large amounts of material and long periods of time with a genealogy.

Genesis 5, Genesis 10, 11, 25, 36. Genealogies represent a way of writing history in telescoped form. This is historiography.

Second, look at the wilderness narratives. The events singled out for detailed description in Exodus 16 to 17, and then in Numbers, these events singled out during the 40 years in the desert wanderings are deliberately selected to develop the recurring motif of human ingratitude and faithlessness on the one hand, and divine grace and patience on the other. But the author is well aware that there were many other pit stops along the way.

Look at Numbers chapter 33, which gives you a long list of the places where the Israelites stopped, but we know nothing about what happened at most of those places. Third, from Joshua 12, we learn literally dozens of Canaanite kings were defeated by the Israelites, yet the author only selects a few for detailed treatment. The narratives of judges, from Judges 3, 31, 10, 1 to 5, and 12, 8 to 15, we learn that there were several figures in Israel's early settlement days who receive only passing comment.

The author is aware of their existence. However, because they do not fit his primary thesis, the theme he's developing, he does not structure his treatment of these five or six other judges according to the stereotypical pattern. Five, the story of Solomon is told extremely selectively.

In Kings, the focus begins on his wisdom, then turns to his temple construction and concludes with his folly. But the Chronicler is even more selective. Apart from the activity related to the temple, the author of Chronicles has virtually nothing to say about Solomon at all.

Six, the story of Hezekiah begins with a thesis-type statement, II Kings 18, 1 to 8. The rest of the narrative is devoted to developing that thesis, but it's not exhaustive. So selection is key. Second, arrangement and sequence.

The narrators work deliberately at both the macroscopic level and the microscopic level. From our work in the Synoptic Gospels, we are aware that it is extremely difficult to reconstruct the life of Jesus. The fact is that the ancient authors were telling the stories from their perspective and with their theses in mind.

They were less interested in chronology than in making theological statements. Consequently, the chronology is often jumbled, and we have difficulty recreating the sequence of events as they actually happened. For example, how was David introduced to Saul, and how did he land up in Saul's court? I Samuel 16 and 17 seem to present two different answers.

The author is obviously more interested in other issues than in presenting a chronology of David's life. Now, at the grand level, biblical narratives tend to be crafted after the simple scheme of problem or conflict, which leads to a complication, and then which leads to a resolution. We often have these three principles at play in biblical narratives.

For example, Genesis 22 illustrates the process at the microscopic level, at one little story episode. The problem, Abraham is commanded to sacrifice his special son, the one on whose shoulders the promise rests. God says that in chapter 21.

The complication, Abraham proceeds to do so, thereby jeopardizing a lifelong wait, and actually, the divine promise, the resolution. In the nick of time, God provides a substitute ram, and the promise is reconfirmed. It all works out.

Exodus 14 offers another classic illustration. The problem, Israel is hemmed in with the sea in front and the desert all around, and Pharaoh's armies coming in from behind. The complication, Pharaoh recognizes this.

He regrets that he has let the Israelites go, and he sends the best of his military forces after these Israelites, who are now easy pickings. The resolution, Yahweh opens a way through the sea by which not only is Israel enabled to escape, but the Egyptian forces are also dealt a staggering blow. So, arrangement.

And thirdly, we have shaping. Many different elements are involved in the shaping of specific Hebrew narratives. We will highlight just a few.

First, key words. These are lead words that are repeated in a story over and over and over again. For example, in Exodus 33, 11 to 23, one short paragraph, the Hebrew word for face, occurs seven times.

Now, in our English translations, this isn't obvious. Sometimes it is rendered as presence, so we miss that, but it is seven times in one short paragraph. Second, repetition.

Repetition is not restricted to lead words and motifs. Often phrases and entire statements are repeated. When this occurs, we need to note how exact is the repetition, and if deviations occur, then we need to ask why.

The reshaping is generally intentional. Here's an illustration from Judges 6, 25 to 32. In verse 25, the Lord says, "...pull down the altar, cut down the asherah that's beside it, and offer a bull." Verse 28, "...the altar was torn down, the asherah that was beside it was cut down, the bull was offered." Verse 30, "...for he has torn down the altar of Baal, he has cut down the asherah that was beside it." Verse 31, "...someone has torn down the altar." And verse 32, "...he has torn down the altar." Guess where the focus of attention is? It's on this altar of Baal.

Or Judges 3, 19 to 20, Ehud comes to Eglon, the fatted calf who is the king of Moab. He says in verse 19, "...I have a secret message for you, O king." And Eglon says, "...I'd like to hear it." But then in verse 20, Ehud changes one word from secret to divine. "...I have a message of God for you." And of course, that message of God is the dagger with which he spears him.

Repetition. Dialogue. Conversation.

The unique feature of Hebrew narrative is its heavy use of direct speech. Actual narration is often relegated to the role of either tying speeches together or confirming assertions made in the dialogue. Direct speech is used as the chief instrument for revealing varied nuances of ideas and the relationships among the characters.

If the direct speech is crossed out in many instances, very little of this remains. Do an experiment with your own Bible sometimes. Photocopy a page, for instance, Judges 13.

Then with a heavy felt marker, cross out everything that is in quotation marks in English and see what's left. There's little left of the story. You can't make sense of any of it.

The conversations recorded in Hebrew narratives are generally true dialogues. One person talking to another. Dialogue means two people talking.

Rarely will there be more than two parties getting involved in the conversation. Look at Genesis chapter 27, where Jacob steals the birthright from Esau by preparing a meal for their father Isaac. In that story, the problem is created by the fact that no conversations involve three people.

It's always either Isaac and Ishmael or Rebekah and Isaac or Jacob and Isaac. You never have three people involved in a conversation, which is why it goes so wrong. The prominence of dialogue on the story makes one wonder how the author knows what people are saying.

Does he have a tape recorder that he is referring to? Of course, that's a rhetorical question. A fourth feature is characterization. The development of characters and personalities is an extremely important part of Hebrew narrative.

By a series of literary techniques, the author paints these figures as if they were real people doing real things and relating to one another as real people, the way they do. In the narrative, character is revealed by the report of a person's actions by the narrator. When the narrator says a character did something, that reflects something of that person's character.

Second, by his or her appearance, sometimes they talk about the costume, the posture, the gestures, or by one character's comments about another person. People ask for people's opinion of others. What Akish says about David is very important.

Direct speech by a character. You can tell what's in the heart of a character by the way they talk and what they say. Five, by inward speech, which amounts to interior monologue.

In Scripture, we often hear expressions like, and the character said in his heart. Well, that means he thought, but the author describes it as if it's a thought that's expressed in words. Six, sometimes the narrator's editorial comments about the attitudes, the motives, intentions of the character are in the text, but these are actually quite rare, which is why when the author of Genesis 15, 6, or is it 7, says, and the Lord counted Abraham's belief as righteousness.

Abraham believed God, and the Lord counted it as righteousness. Well, there, the author tells us what Abraham is thinking, and it gives us a clue into the mind of both the character and the narrator himself. In this characterizations, you also have flat, narratorial explanations of someone's actions.

Characters are either, in literary terms, we call them either round characters where they are three-dimensional. There's a lot of detail about the person, either from what they say or do, or what other people say or do to them, or about them, or what the narrator says. Those are round characters.

These are the principal characters, but sometimes you've got minor characters, the props in the in the drama. These are flat characters. We don't know much about them.

In Judges 6, 25 to 32, here God makes special demands upon people. Whom he calls, he commissions. In the broader context, this charge prefigures the greater challenge Gideon will have with the Midianites, but Gideon, the principal character and a round character, remains silent in the entire text.

He is the only participant who says nothing, but we still know exactly how he feels. He is obedient but afraid. He acts secretly under cover of darkness.

He's a fearful character. You don't find that from his own words, but you see it from the way the narrator has painted this picture. Joash, Gideon's father, appears schizophrenic.

The Baal altar belongs to him, and Gideon fears his household, but his name, Joash, is Yahwistic. It's an orthodox name. It means Yahweh has given.

His defense of Gideon is passive, but in raising the issue to the theological level, his speech carries on the theme of the passage. But the question remains, is Joash's renaming of Gideon positive or negative? Gideon is given a new name here, Jerob Baal. The men of the city fear Gideon, but they are devoted to their gods.

They are totally Canaanite, but in being silenced by Joash's reasoning, they become a foil for the pagan divinities, and all that is Canaanite. It's a very clever, dramatical portrayal of the characters in this story. So, characterization.

A third principle in interpreting narrative is recognize that although biblical books tell interesting stories about interesting people, in the mind of all the authors in biblical narratives, the primary character is God. David's life is not preserved in the books of Samuel, so we may perform psychological analyses of his character, but to illustrate how the hand of God works in history, performing his purposes and achieving his goals. As an all-ancient Near Eastern historiography, that's a way of writing history, in the First Testament, the perspective is always theological.

The narrative texts are accounts of divine involvement in human affairs and humans' responses to God or the gods. To us, this is a matter of faith, not history. To the ancients, it was both.

The presupposition in Israel was that Yahweh was sovereign over all of history. He initiates it. He controls it.

He determines its outcome. Therefore, historical events are always God's acts. Compare the accounts of the death of Saul in 1 Samuel 31, 4 and 1 Chronicles 10, 13 to 14, or the cause of the exile of the northern kingdom in 2 Kings 17, or the explanation of Job's disasters in the narrative conclusion of Job 42, 11, where the text, the narrator, explicitly talks about all the evil, the disasters that Yahweh had sent upon Job.

Well, I thought at the beginning it was Hasatan, the adversary, who was doing that, but in the end, to the narrator, it was God's action. Humans play a secondary role in historical events. As the images of God, their function is to rule the world on God's behalf.

That's a theological presupposition. They are accountable to God. Furthermore, while they are free to do what they decide, their works are such that God's purposes are always met.

Biblical narrative is essentially historical preaching. Human history is the sermon text for preaching the truth of God. For this reason, in the Jewish canon, we have Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings.

This whole section is called the former prophets. Hear the message of the prophets as you're reading these texts. In the First Testament narratives, Israel has a unique role to play, not because of her superior morality, look at Deuteronomy 9, or her native genius, Deuteronomy 4, 6 to 7, or 7, 7 to 8, but because of her election by God and the divine concern for the world.

This small people had a missionary function. I've set you high above the nations for praise, honor, and glory. The Lord has set them high above the nations.

This small people is on a mission for God. We see this in the patriarchal promise in Exodus 19, the ordination of Israel to their missionary task, and also Deuteronomy 7. A fourth principle of interpreting for interpreting narrative is common to all biblical texts. We need to let the text say what it wants to say.

This means we work hard at trying to figure out what the author intended rather than letting it mean what we want it to mean. But this applies to all kinds of literature. We must treat the scriptures that way.

We do this when we read newspapers or other kinds of literature. For example, the context of Joshua 2 21 must determine the meaning of Rahab's scarlet cord. We must not let our own christological or sociopolitical concerns or even our interest in application deflect us from the author's intention.

What was the point of that scarlet cord? So that when the Israelites actually moved in with their population into the city of Jericho, which the Lord had defeated, when they moved in, they would recognize, this is Rahab's house. She's safe. You protect her because you have a virtual covenant with her that you will do this.

A fifth principle. We must assume that the First Testament narrative was written to make sense. The literary results are intentional and meaningful, not chaotic, not random, not accidental.

The books are not a mystery that requires a special key to break the secret code. The authors wrote in human language. Therefore, the words, sentences, literary styles were deliberately employed to make sense to their first audience.

This is the essence of all communication. Do not assume the meaning of the text will come to life only when you have found some sort of mystical key. Six.

We must assume some sort of organic progression in the theological and cultural concepts reflected in First Testament narrative. Each author builds on previous tradition, previous knowledge, and earlier texts. For biblical authors, this was represented in antecedent revelation and antecedent scripture.

We must always ask what beliefs or understandings from that scripture, from that earlier revelation, inform the text that we are reading. We're not looking forward yet. Future texts don't inform this text, but past texts do.

Like a plant, this development is organic. It grows. Seven.

We must interpret biblical historiographic narrative within the context of broader ancient Near Eastern historiography. Biblical authors wrote according to the literary conventions of ancient Near Eastern cultures, not modern Western standards. Among the conventions was the universal belief that if people sin, they will be punished by the gods.

This is not uniquely Israelite, but they expect the gods to bless them for their extraordinary acts of piety. But these common features should not blur us to the contrast between biblical and extra-biblical approaches to history. In Orthodox Israel, only Yahweh, the God of Israel, exists.

There are no other gods. This is a monotheistic system in contrast to the ubiquitous conflicts among the deities that determine the destinies of nations in the surrounding world. That picture is all over the place in extra-biblical texts.

Yahweh will not be manipulated with astrological or sorcerous techniques to perform the will of human beings. Only in the Bible are historians interested in what ordinary humans are doing, so that stories of ordinary people, their customs, their relationships, their experiences, and particularly the speech of real life ordinary people. This is quite unique in Scripture.

Extra-biblical texts are about the stories of important people, but so many of the characters in the Bible are very ordinary, like us. These are not primarily stories about important officials like kings or priests. Only the Israelites developed a sense of national self-consciousness and mission.

They were keenly aware that they were a chosen nation called by God for the sake of the world, at least so long as the Levites were performing their pastoral duties of teaching the people, keeping their memories alive. Other nations were occasionally aware of who they were, but nothing in the ancient Near East compares with Israel's self-conscious national traditions. There's nothing like this.

And only Israel developed a definite eschatology, the view that history is going somewhere. The present is not the climax of history. There's always something bigger to look forward to.

So those are all principles for interpreting historiographic writings. But a second major topic here we need to consider is the categories of Hebrew historiographic writings, Israel's historiographic writings. Even a casual reader will recognize that the historical writings of the first testament vary greatly in style, intention, and content.

Some accounts are relatively secular, relatively. The book of Esther never mentions God. Others are overtly theological, Joshua.

Scholars generally distinguish among three kinds of historical writings based on style and content. First, there's the Deuteronomistic history. This category consists of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and in my mind, actually the book of Ruth.

In the Hebrew Bible, except for Ruth, these are classified as the former prophets. They are referred to in scholarly writings as the Deuteronomistic history because throughout they reflect the theology of Deuteronomy and often imitates its style. When you read the speeches of Samuel, you think you're hearing Moses in Deuteronomy.

He uses the same sort of vocabulary, or Joshua at the end of the book of Joshua, his couple of speeches there. Some think the same person or persons wrote all these books, but I think it's preferable to imagine that all of them were familiar with the Torah, especially Deuteronomy, and they looked at Israel's experiences through the lens of that book, which is why they're called the Deuteronomic history. Secondly, we have the Chronistic history.

This consists of 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah. These books were written later in the Persian period, and they reflect in particular the perspective of the priests who became more influential in Jerusalem in that period after the Jews returned from exile in Babylon. So you've got the Deuteronomistic history and the Chronistic history.

Then we have two outliers, Ruth and Esther. These books represent short but beautiful, inspiring literary pieces written independently of the other books, apparently. In the Hebrew canon, they are included in the third part in the writings, but in my mind, I actually think this is unfortunate, especially for Ruth.

The Greek Septuagint, done in the 3rd to 2nd century BC, represents the earliest witness to the arrangement of the books in the Hebrew Bible. As in our English translations, where Ruth occurs between Judges and Samuel, as if it was written to explain how Yahweh's chosen king, David, could emerge from the cesspool was Israel in the dark days of the Judges. Indeed, the main character, Boaz, in the book of Ruth, paradigmatically embodies what Deuteronomy covenant righteousness looks like.

In the book of Esther, the character Esther lived in the Persian world and definitely derives from a different context. Is it a wisdom text illustrating Proverbs 16, 18, pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall? Think of Haman. Or is it something else? Just one added note on authorship.

Who wrote these books? The plain fact is, we don't know. They're not signed. As was the case in almost all ancient Near Eastern literary texts, none of the books in this collection of historiographic writings identifies its author.

In keeping with Jewish tradition, which identifies them as the former prophets, the authors of these books relied on prophetic records and were themselves inspired by God to assess the events and characters they described from that prophetic and priestly perspectives. But these are not signed documents, and we shouldn't expect them to be signed. In the ancient world, literary artists rarely signed what they wrote.

The message and the product was always more important than the person writing it, and the same applies to the biblical texts.