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Bible: The Old Testament

Key Facts

full title  · The Old Testament

author  · Unknown (various)

type of work  · Sacred writings and religious narrative

genre  · Myth; folktale; epic; poetry; wisdom literature

language  · Ancient Hebrew; some passages in Aramaic (an ancient Near-Eastern dialect)

time and place written  · First millennium b.c., Palestine and surrounding Near-Eastern regions

date of first publication  · Fourth century to first century b.c.

narrator  · The narrator of each book is anonymous, but sometimes assumes the voice of a famous biblical figure to increase the authority of a given book. For instance, in Ecclesiastes, the narrator claims to be the wise King Solomon, or the Teacher.

point of view  · The anonymous speaker of each book typically narrates in the third person. In some books, the narrator describes events objectively (as they would appear to the observer), but the point of view is limited to the human perspective of the protagonist or of the Israelites. In others, the narrator has an omniscient, or unlimited, knowledge of both human and divine motives and actions. However, some books contain the laws and commandments spoken by God, or the lengthy speeches, poetry, and sayings of one person. These are narrated in the first person. They often contain imperatives and instructions delivered to the reader or to an unseen audience of listeners.

tone  · In the books of wisdom and law, the narrator attributes to the speaker a universal tone, as though each imperative or saying is timeless and applies to all people. In Genesis, Exodus, and the historical books, the narrator remains uncritical and withholds judgment on the characters’ actions. The narrator conveys the scope of the Israelites’ disobedience to God by repeating phrases or ideas that show the cyclical and ongoing nature of Israel’s evil ways.

tense  · Past

setting (time)  · Approximately 2000 b.c. to 400 b.c.

setting (place)  · The Ancient Near East, particularly the eastern Mediterranean region of Palestine

protagonist  · The Israelites

major conflict  · God promises to give the Israelite people a great land and nation, but the Israelites’ persistent disobedience and worship of false gods hinders the fulfillment of God’s promise, or covenant.

themes  · The problem of evil; the possibility of redemption; the virtue of faith

motifs  · The covenant; doubles and opposites; geography

symbols  · The fertile ground; the Ark of the Covenant

foreshadowing  · Moses’s and Joshua’s exhortations to the Israelites; Israel’s failure to remove the native inhabitants and their religions from the Promised Land; the division of the kingdom between Rehoboam and Jeroboam