The Jewish Foundational Literature
Reading the Jewish Scriptures in the 21st Century
The French philosopher Voltaire noted that “The Bible is more famous than known,” commenting on the little we know about what is arguably one of the most influential book collections of all time.
Despite the passage of time and the wide divergence of world view, contemporary readers stand in a not entirely different context of living experience from the people of the Bible.
In asking questions about identity and survival, the Scriptures are true and honest to what it means to be human. They ask what is good for humankind and never rest till they have found an answer.
These books were not written to be read, but to be studied.
Israel's Most Precious Asset
The term “Bible,” used mainly by non-Jews who add more books to the 24 books collection that constitute the Jewish Scriptures, is an imprecise term eschewed by Jewish tradition. Equally ambiguous is “Torah,” a loaded term that encompasses far more than the 24 books of the foundational literature, Jewishness’ core.
On the other hand, the acronym TaNaKh, derived from the initial letters of the name of the three main divisions of the 24 books that form the foundational literature of Israel, best define
The term TaNaKh implies that through the centuries of the composition of the different books, diverse religious ideas blend with each other. Jewish culture has never been a single voice. What there is in the TaNaKh is a coalescence of different experiences.
The world of the priests who wrote many of the TaNaKh’s books and passages differed from those of the Sages who wrote books such as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, etc. Their worlds were also different from those of the classical Prophets and the court historians, all of whom wrote various books and passages of the Hebrew Scriptures
If anything, the term “TaNaKh” takes exception to that sectarian interpretation in Judaism that says that God dictated to Moses at Sinai all that’s to be found in the TaNaKh together with the particular interpretations of this or that sectarian interpretation of the texts.
Nothing in the Jewish religion is denigrated by acknowledging that countless human beings inspired by God wrote the 24 books that distilled the human encounter with what transcends humanity.
The TaNaKh may be read as a book of human experiences in which the encounter with God influenced their understanding of life.
TaNakh is not a preferred term for fundamentalist Jews.
The Book of Genesis has a tendency toward provocation because even as a sacred text it is interdenominational. It can be read with interest by secularists and fundamentalists.
“The Book of Exodus is devoted to the two most important questions on which human minds have dwelled since time immemorial: the question of the role played by the divine in our lives and the question of who “we” are.” JAN ASSMAN
“Leviticus contains the largest collection of core Jewish ideas and more laws than any other book of the Torah.”
If there was an “axial breakthrough” in Israel it is here if anywhere that we will find it.” ROBERT N. BELLAH
“Running from destiny is real. Feeling you can’t do something because you know how it will turn out, no matter what you do, is real. Other people suffering because of you is real. Getting a second chance is real — and so is being a brat.