Posted by: Andrew G | March 17, 2010


A little while ago on the Free Thought and Rationalism Forum, one member wrote a comment to the effect that she could not understand how someone could just simply adopt the stories or customs of another culture and then claim them as his or her very own.

I think she was from China. The reason I mention this is because only now do I have a decent response to her understandable exasperation. I think if she were to bring it up again I would ask her if I should throw away my wok. Or, in keeping with the original conversation about the case of the Jews and Christians, I would suggest she read the book of Isaiah (and try to slog through the manic parts).

Human civilization has almost always been a buffet-style conglomeration of shared communication and innovation. Yes, we do learn to shun the outsider. And yes, war creates technological advance. And yes,  conquest creates roads and cultural mixing.  But trade has brought the entire world to your very own bookshelf and to the corner store down the street.

And so to the Jews– a tiny group compared to the populations of the world, and yet arguably their culture is the soft flapping of butterfly wings that has affected almost everyone on the planet in some way. Not their cuisine exactly, but certainly their literature and their religious ideas have shaped big chunks of human history, due in part to our inclination to adopt what we find useful.

So, that being said, what can I say that isn’t already easily accessible by way of interwebbing? Well, a recent commenter brought up the Tanakh, or the Hebrew Bible.

Ever wonder how the Old Testament got put together? It’s a collection of books after all, right, and not just one big book. Some sources of the books of the bible date from around 1300 BCE, with likely oral traditions dating even further back (maybe even to October 4004 BCE, but let’s not get into that scholar’s arduous work… :-)) But for the most part, the books were kind of collected together around 400 BCE or so. Some scholars might insist there were still revisions for the next 500 years after that.

Man oh man. Editing a book for 500 years. Writers have it rough, I tell you.

The Jews, while looking at the collection of their literature, decided to order their books of faith in a way that has some striking differences to the Christian Old Testament. Now, to be historically fair, both collections were put together by differing committees over stretches of time. So depending on how you feel about committees there is a kind of lesson on humanity right there.

Recently I read a book entitled “God: A Biography” by Jack Miles. Next month I will do a full review, but for now I will just borrow a few ideas from him.

In a very general sense, there are three basic categories of books in ancient Jewish literature. There is the Law (Torah), the Prophets (Nev’im) and the Writings (Ketuvim).  The Old Testament books are ordered in a way to suggest the growing steps of revelations by God and his plan, so they are loosely ordered as Law, then Writings, then Prophets.

In the Hebrew Bible, the order of books is loosely Law, then Prophets and then Writings. This order suggests a much different development according to Jack Miles, one in which maybe God has given us all God needs to give us. God is willing to stay silent now and hand over the reins to us so that we have to be responsible to ourselves as much as for ourselves.

I guess we’re still seeing how that works out.

Here’s a site that compares the order of the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament.

There is much more in the Jewish faith to explore and appreciate, and much better resources than the blog of one curious child of the world. For a more in-depth discussion, check out this blog from John Anderson. But I will end my bit here with these questions:

Can the truth come from a committee?

How about two committees? Maybe there is a magic number.

Can truth come from the act of editing (over 2500 years now, I suppose)?

(And since yer supposed to make blogs interactive, I’m going to rip a video of the comic Lewis Black that I first saw on another blog, biblecritical. Bryan, an atheist, decided he would read the Bible in a year. I have to give him respect, considering the effort and determination he’s putting in, despite not coming to the book with any faith.)

(Caution — language gets a little rough)



  1. Хорошо написал. Так держать!!! 🙂

    [Ok, or well done. Keep her steady!!!]

    [It wrote well. So to hold!!!]

    Andrew’s edit: My Russian translation skills are a little weak, so this took me a while to figure out. Thanks to babel-fish for the help.

    • Спасибо Minotavr!

      [I’ll work on my Russian, ok? :-))

  2. Hi,

    Plenty of useful information on

    Andrew’s note: this comment was I think advertising spam (lots of info about weight loss). However, I found it surprising that there was mention of Will’s site. So, I’ve cut the comment down. If Karenak comes back and is willing to take part in a conversation or strike up a relationship about the topics on this site, then I will be happy to receive compliments or comments, and then maybe keep up links to Karenak’s website.

  3. […] uses the Hebrew Bible as his main source rather than the Old Testament. I’ve mentioned the difference between the two before. Basically, the order is different. But order is important in storytelling. Pulp Fiction and Star […]

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