The Bible as History
History is the systematic written account of events - especially of those affecting a particular nation - together with an explanation of their causes. Biblical history is a record of God's revelations dealing with the salvation of mankind from the creation of the world to the foundation of the Church. This historical account of God's dealing with men is contained in several Scriptural books, the contents of which we shall now briefly indicate .
1. Genesis. In the first part of this book (ch. 1-11) Moses describes the beginning of all things: The creation of the material world and of man; the Fall; the promise of a Redeemer; the birth and longevity of the Patriarchs; the deluge, Noe and the Ark; the Tower of Babel and the dispersion of mankind. In the second part (ch. 12-50) the sacred writer describes the call of Abraham; the covenant of the circumcision; the birth and marriage of Isaac; the birth of Esau and Jacob; the life and character of Jacob and his twelve sons; the story of Joseph and his brethren; the sojourn of the Jews in Egypt.
2. Exodus. In this book the author describes the departure of the Jews from Egypt, the land of oppression and bondage. After noting the advent of a new king (ch. 1) who, unlike Pharao, was unfriendly to the Jews, the author gives us a short history of Moses (ch. 2-12). He tells us how Moses was exposed on the banks of the river and taken up by Pharao's daughter, how God appeared to him in a burning bush, sent him as a liberator to his people, and empowered him to confirm his mission with miracles. After narrating the ten plagues, the author describes the miraculous journey of the Jews to Mount Sinai (ch. 13-19). In the remaining chapters (ch. 20-40) he enumerates the Ten Commandments and other laws, and describes in detail the setting up of God's house, the tabernacle.
3. Leviticus. This book describes the duties, rites and ceremonies to be carried out by the Jewish priests and by their assistants, the Levites. It contains the laws concerning the various sacrifices and the manner of offering them (ch. 1-7). It describes the consecration of Aaron and of his sons to the Jewish priesthood and their first solemn sacrifices (ch. 8-10). It explains the distinction between clean and unclean animals and the laws concerning purification from leprosy and other legal uncleanness (ch. 11-15). After describing the feast of the expiation, it explains the various crimes and trespasses (ch. 16-20), and concludes with the ordinances concerning priests, offerings and feasts (ch. 21-27).
4. Numbers. This book is called numbers from the "numbering" or census which occurred at the beginning and again at the end of the forty years' wandering. The book opens with a description of the census, of the arrangement of the tribes in their camp, and of the obligations of the Levites. The latter are to take the place of the firstborn of the children of Israel in the divine services of the temple (ch. 1-4). It then enumerates further laws and regulations, describes the offering of the princes at the dedication of the tabernacle, and recalls the second celebration of the Pasch (ch. 5-9). The following chapters (ch. 10-22) describe the thirty years wanderings of the Jews from Mt. Sinai to the plain of Moab, their many murmurings against and reconciliations with God. The remaining chapters (ch. 22-36) describe the sojourn on the plains of Moab, the appointment of Josue as Moses' successor, and the plans of the chosen people to enter into and divide among the tribes and Levites the Promised Land.
5. Deuteronomy. The thirty-three chapters of this book contain the great discourses of Moses to the Jewish people. In these speeches Moses extols the Providence of God in regard to the chosen people, repeats the principal laws, exhorts the Jews to obey them, and threatens dire punishment to those who transgress them. The concluding chapter (ch. 34), appended to the book, describes the death and burial of Moses.
The first five books of the Bible are frequently referred to as the Pentateuch. The word "Pentateuch" comes from the Greek terms "pente," meaning "five," and from "Teuchos," meaning "Book." A constant tradition, both Jewish and Christian, has always affirmed that Moses is the author of these five books.
Does the Pentateuch, and especially the book of Genesis, contain true history? Space does not permit us to enter into this vast and interesting problem, and hence we shall offer only a few brief arguments in favor of the historical character of these books:
a). The New Testament accepts as historical the narratives of the creation, the unity of the human race, man's original justice, the fall, the deluge, the patriarchs, etc. The great events of the opening chapters of Genesis are confirmed by similar narratives in the folklore of almost all peoples (see J. Feldmann, "Paradies und Sundenfall" Munster. 1913).
b). The few special facts narrated in Genesis as, for example, the story of paradise and the Fall, the flood and the dispersion of the human race, were events of such an unusual nature that tradition could easily have kept an accurate account of them.
c). The Jews were conscious of their divinely appointed mission, and hence, treasured with great care all information concerning their great men who were favored by God with a special revelation and had experienced His providential guidance.
d). Egyptian civilization is at least three thousand years older than the beginnings of the Jewish race. Modern science is now establishing many points of contact between Egyptian history and Old Testament history. Thus, for example, the Tower of Babel is said to belong to the same family as the pyramids of Egypt .
e). Moses meant to write history and inspiration guarantees the historical character of what he wrote.
f). Some of the facts narrated in Genesis now form a part of the infallible teaching of the church.
6. Josue. This book is so called because it was written by Josue and contains a record of the events which occurred under his leadership. The first part of the book (ch. 1-12) tells us of the miraculous crossing of the Jordan, the fall of Jericho, and the conquest of Canaan. The book then describes the partition of the land by Josue and the priest Eleazer among the twelve tribes of Israel (ch. 13-22). The concluding chapters (ch. 23, 24) contain the final instructions and admonitions of Josue to his people.
7. Judges. This book covers a period of four hundred years, from Josue to Samuel, the last of the Judges. It is an account of the great leaders who guided the destinies of the chosen people before it had kings. The book opens with a description of the infidelity and idolatry of the Jewish people after the death of Josue (ch. 1,2). Then follows a series of biographical sketches of the Judges of Othoniel, Ood, Samgar, Barak, Debora, Gedeon, Abimelech, Jephte and Samson (ch. 3-16). The appendix (ch. 17-21) deals with the erection of an idol in Dan and the crime committed by the people of Gabaa, a city in the tribe of Benjamin.
8. Ruth. The four chapters of this book record a touching incident from the time of the Judges. It tells us how Ruth, a Gentile woman of Moab, after the death of her Jewish husband returned with her mother-in-law, Noemi, to the latter's former home in Juda. Here Ruth became the wife of Booz, who was of the tribe of Benjamin. Of this union was born Obed, the grandfather of David, making Ruth the ancestress of David and of Christ: "Booz begot Obed, Obed begot Isai, Isai begot David" (4:22).
9. 1 Kings (1 Samuel). This book gives us the history of Samuel (ch. 1-12) the last of the Judges, and of the priest Heli and his two sons. It describes the battles of the Israelites with the Philistines and the wanderings of the ark of the covenant. It narrates the establishment of a Jewish kingdom with Saul as king (ch. 13-31). The later chapters show Saul's growing dislike and hatred of David. The book closes with a description of a battle between the Israelites and the Philistines in which Saul and his sons are slain.
10. II Kings (2 Samuel). This book shows us the growth of the Jewish empire in the reign of king David (ch. 1-24). The book reveals the many weaknesses of David but at the same time his unwavering fidelity to the one true God and to the law of Moses.
11. III Kings (1 Kings). This book describes the reign of David's son, Solomon, his wisdom and his riches (ch. 1-11). It describes the building and dedication of the temple in Jerusalem. It narrates the split of the Jewish kingdom into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. The latter comprised the tribes of Benjamin and Juda, the former, the other ten tribes; the latter came to be known as the Kingdom of Juda, the former, as the Kingdom of Israel. The book then continues with the parallel story of the Kingdoms, and in the concluding chapters narrates the remarkable deeds of the prophet Elias.
12. IV Kings (2 Kings). This book describes the marvelous accomplishments of the prophet Eliseus and continues the parallel account of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. (III Kings ch. 12 to IV Kings ch. 17). It records the end of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B. C. when the ten tribes were taken into Assyrian captivity, and the fall of the Southern Kingdom in 588 B. C. when the two tribes of Benjamin and Juda were carried into Babylonian Captivity (ch. 18-25). 13. 1 and II Paralipomenon (from the Greek word meaning "things left over"). These two books sometimes supplement and amplify, sometimes summarize the Books of Kings. Book I stresses ancient genealogies (ch. 1-9) and concentrates on the history of Saul (ch. 10) and David (ch. 11-29).
Book II deals with the history of Solomon (ch. 1-9) and of the Kings in the Southern Kingdoms (ch. 10-36). Chapter 36:23 mentions the release of the Jews from Babylonian captivity by Cyrus. The two books of Paralipomenon are sometimes called the Chronicles.
14. 1 Esdras. The first part of the book (ch. 1-6) tells us of the first homecoming of the Jewish exiles from Babylon under Zorobabel and Josue. The author recalls how Cyrus, king of the Persians, released the Jews from captivity, restored to them the vessels which Nabuchodonosor had stolen, and gave them permission to rebuild the temple. He states the number of the Jews that returned and describes their zeal in rebuilding the temple despite the opposition of the Samaritans. In the remaining chapters (ch. 7-10) the author tells about the second homecoming of the exiles under Esdras and describes the work of Esdras in Jerusalem.
15. II Esdras or Nehemias. This book continues the history of the Jews, begun by I Esdras, after their return from captivity. It describes the arrival of Nehemias, cupbearer to the king of Persia, in Judea and the rebuilding of the walls of the temple (ch. 1-7) and explains the religious reforms inaugurated by Esdras and Nehemias (ch. 8-13).
16. Tobias. The book sets before us many good works performed in Assyrian captivity by Tobias and his son, pious Jews of the tribe of Nephtali. The books extols divine Providence and points out the value of good works.
17. Judith. The book tells us how Judith, a heroic Jewish widow, entered the camp of the Assyrians, slew their leader Holofernes by cutting off his head when he became drunk, and in this way saved her own people from destruction.
18. Esther. The book narrates how Esther, living in Babylonian exile with her uncle, was chosen queen by King Xerxes to replace queen Vasthi who was deposed for disobedience to the king. It also explains how Esther saved the Jews in Babylon from destruction by the evil courtier Aman. The present Jewish feast of Purim (of Lots) recalls the casting of lots by Aman to determine in what month the Jews should be destroyed.
19. 1 Machabees. This book describes the wars, undertaken by the Jews against Antiochus IV and his successors, in behalf of religious and civil liberties. The leaders of the Jews were the priest Mathathias and his five sons among whom Judas Machabeus was the most eminent. After indicating the cause of the wars, namely the cruelty of Antiochus Epiphanes (ch. 1-2), the book describes the deeds of Judas Machabeus (ch. 3-9), and of his brothers Jonathan (ch. 10-12) and Simon (ch. 12- 16). The book covers approximately sixty years in the second century.
20. II Machabees. This book narrates and supplements many of the facts mentioned in the first book. It deals especially with the persecutions by the Seleucidi and the wars of Judas Machabeus. The introduction of the book (ch. 1-2) contains two letters of the Palestinian Jews to the Alexandrian Jews and the author's preface in which he explains the scope and character of the book. The first part of the book (ch. 3-7) describes the beginning of the persecutions, the profanation of the temple, the glorious martyrdom of Eleazer and of the seven brothers and their mother. The second part (ch. 8-15) describes the wars and victories of Judas Machabeus.
The New Testament
1. The Gospels. The gospels contain an account of the nature, Person, teachings and works of Our Lord Jesus Christ. But while the theme of the four Gospels is one and the same Christ, and while the four narratives agree in all essentials and constitute one Gospel in fourfold form, the viewpoint and standpoint of each Evangelist is different:
St. Matthew wrote his Gospel to show that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messias promised in the Old Testament, and that His kingdom is the Church which He founded.
The aim of St. Mark's Gospel is to show, especially from Our Lord's miracles over nature, that Christ is God and that He alone verifies in Himself the Roman title of "Lord of All."
St. Luke stresses those incidents which illustrate the fact that Christ is Saviour of all mankind of both Jews and Greeks.
St. John wrote his Gospel partly with a view to supplement those of his predecessors but principally to show that Christ was God and the Light of the World.
Because of this special viewpoint of each Evangelist, the Gospels - whether taken singly or collectively - do not give us a complete biography. St. John tells us that "there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written every one, the world itself I think would not be able to contain the books that should be written" (21:25).
2. The Acts of the Apostles, also written by St. Luke, is a continuation of the Third Gospel. Conformably to the theme of his Gospel and of St. Paul's preaching - that Christ is Redeemer of both Jews and Gentiles - St. Luke narrates the foundation and propagation of the Church among the Jews by St. Peter (ch. 1-12) and among the Gentiles by St. Paul (ch. 13-28).
1. From the summary of the historical books of the Bible found in this chapter construct a brief history of the Jewish people.
2. From the literary works which you are reading or have read make a list of the Scriptural references which they contain. Try to find the exact Biblical book, chapter and verse which contains the incident or idea quoted.
3. Define literature. Why must all true literature take cognizance of religion and of the Bible?
The following are some of the sections from the historical books of the Old Testament which have been incorporated as Lessons into various Masses of the Liturgical Year. Show how the contents of each selection are indicative of the central theme of the Proper of the Mass:
1. Genesis 28:10-22: Mass for Pilgrims and Travelers.
2. Exodus 23:20-23: Mass of the Guardian Angels.
3. II Kings 24:15-25: Mass in Time of Pestilence.
4. Tobias 12:7-15: Mass of St. Raphael.
5. Judith 13:22-25: Mass of the Seven Dolores of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
6. Esther 13:9-17: Mass for Deliverance from the Heathen.
7. II Machabees 1:1-5: Mass for Peace.
8. II Machabees 12:43-45: Anniversary Mass for the Dead.
9. Where are Abel (Genesis 4:4), Abraham (22:12) and Melchisedech (14:18) mentioned in the Ordinary of the Mass? How is Ruth 2:4 used in the Ordinary of the Mass?
What idea like a golden thread runs through the following passages? Is there any development within that idea? How is it related to the Gospels?
1. "I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed" (Genesis 3:15).
2. "Blessed be the Lord God of Sem, be Chanaan His servant. May God enlarge Japheth and may He dwell in the tents of Sem, and Chanaan be His servant" (Genesis 9:26, 27).
3. "In thee (Abraham) shall all the kindred of the earth be blessed" (Genesis 12:3).
4. "The scepter shall not be taken away from Juda, nor a ruler from his thigh, till He come that is to be sent, and He shall be the expectation of nations" (Genesis 49:10).
5. "I shall see Him but not now; I shall behold Him but not near; a star shall rise out of Jacob and a scepter shall spring up from Israel" (Numbers 24:17).
6. "The Lord thy God will raise up to thee a prophet of thy nation and of thy brethren, like unto me; Him thou shalt hear" (Deuteronomy 18:15).
7. "I will raise up thy seed after thee (David), which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish His kingdom. He shall build a house to My name, and I will establish the throne of His Kingdom forever. I will be to Him a Father and He shall be to Me a Son" (11 Kings 7:12-14).
8. "I will settle Him in My house, and in My kingdom forever; and His throne shall be most firm forever" (I Paralipomenon 17-14).
1. I will try to exemplify in my own life the faith and absolute obedience of the father of the chosen people, Abraham, to God's Will.
2. When I read sections in the historical books which describe the vices and crimes of men which show me what humanity was under the influence of original sin and without Christ, I will thank God for my living in the times after Christ's Redemption.
3. Realizing that it is only the grace of God which prevents me from falling into similar sins, I will always cooperate with the graces which the Promised Messias merited for me so abundantly.