Sinning in the Hebrew Bible

Sinning in the Hebrew Bible: How The Worst Stories Speak for Its Truth

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 296
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    Sinning in the Hebrew Bible
    Book Description:

    Stories of rape, murder, adultery, and conquest raise crucial issues in the Hebrew Bible, and their interpretation helps societies form their religious and moral beliefs. From the sacrifice of Isaac to the adultery of David, narratives of sin engender vivid analysis and debate, powering the myths that form the basis of the religious covenant, or the relationship between a people and their God.

    Rereading these stories in their different forms and varying contexts, Alan F. Segal demonstrates the significance of sinning throughout history and today. Drawing on literary and historical theory, as well as research in the social sciences, he explores the motivation for creating sin stories, their prevalence in the Hebrew Bible, and their possible meaning to Israelite readers and listeners. After introducing the basics of his approach and outlining several hermeneutical concepts, Segal conducts seven linked studies of specific narratives, using character and text to clarify problematic terms such as "myth," "typology," and "orality." Following the reappearance and reinterpretation of these narratives in later compositions, he proves their lasting power in the mythology of Israel and the encapsulation of universal, perennially relevant themes. Segal ultimately positions the Hebrew Bible as a foundational moral text and a history book, offering uncommon insights into the dating of biblical events and the intentions of biblical authors.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50434-8
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction The Bible and Myth (pp. 1-21)

    We think of the Hebrew Bible as our moral fixed point. But the Bible is also a history book. Morality and history often conflict. The stories of days long gone by are unattractive, downright terrible, and even immoral, but they are even more evident in the Hebrew Bible than law codes and moral exhortations. Thus the Hebrew Bible presents us with many unexpected moral problems that are horrifying to contemplate. These difficult stories demand a greater explanation, which I will attempt to supply in this book. By asking why the Bible chooses to tell us such terrible stories, I hope...

  4. CHAPTER ONE The Matriarch in Peril (pp. 22-57)

    The Old Testament is a great saga. The stories are told and retold throughout our society. But they are also told and retold within the text of the Bible as well. The stories always fascinate children, even as they puzzle adults. Furthermore, the stories have an uncanny way of repeating themselves, just at their most puzzling and mystifying moments, as if crying out for extra attention. The more the stories are repeated, the more important they become. We will take a closer look at the most puzzling and horrifying of these stories and try to understand them. We shall learn...

  5. CHAPTER TWO The Golden Calf: A Lesson in Chronology (pp. 58-81)

    Twice in the recent past, calf figurines have emerged from the soil of Palestine. Sometime in the early 1980s an on-duty Israeli soldier, Ofer Broschi, looked down at his feet while standing on a hilltop in Northern Samaria. Close enough to the surface to be partly visible, Broschi glimpsed an object and then dug out an intact seven-inch cast bronze calf. He brought it back to his home kibbutz Shamir, where it was displayed for a time in its small archaeological museum. The importance of the find, however, demanded a greater audience with easier access, especially for scholars. It was...

  6. CHAPTER THREE A Historical Tragedy: The Short-Lived Deuteronomic Reform (pp. 82-99)

    By the time we get to the end of the First Temple period (950–587 BCE), we grow more certain of the historicity of the biblical narrative.¹ We saw this clearly in the last chapter. Traditionally, we say that the Bible begins with the five books of Moses. From a literary point of view, the Bible is probably best divided up into a tetrateuch, four books comprising Genesis through Numbers, leaving Deuteronomy and Joshua through 2 Kings as a great history of the Davidic kingdom and the dynasty of David or, as it was known by its neighbors, “the house...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR The Concubine of the Levite: A Complete Horror (pp. 100-122)

    Phyllis Trible, in her book Texts of Terror, describes the events of the end of Judges as “a world of unrelenting terror.”¹ She is right. The book is a catalogue of violence, while the so-called epilogue of Judges outdoes the entire rest of the book for horror. The events almost will not bear describing. The whole passage begins with one of the summary expressions of the book of Judges: “In those days, when there was no king in Israel . . .” or more completely, at the end, when all ambiguity is put aside: “In those days there was no...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE The Horror of Human Sacrifice: Sex, Intermarriage, and Proper Descent (pp. 123-151)

    If you don’t know the story of the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22), this summary of the narrative is hardly going to suffice. It is one of the fastest moving, most powerful, and most horrifying stories in the Bible; it is also justly famous as an example of biblical style at its best. Indeed, its fame has only made it one of the most terrifying stories in all Western literature; at the same time, the moral uncertainties present in the story keep Western authors returning and returning to the text.¹

    Shortly after the birth of Isaac—the son in whom...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Ways of a Man with a Woman (pp. 152-179)

    Women are the victims of terrible crimes all through the Bible: Sarai/Sarah, Rebecca, Jephthah’s daughter, the concubine of the Levite. Each story is worse than the previous. To be sure, looking at the portrayal of women has helped us understand how historical events are narrated and how myth is created, even how they evolve together. In the stories about Sarai/Sarah and Rebecca, the matriarchs are interpreted as evincing some virtue in a larger mythical context. They are not presented by the narrator as victims so much as paradigmatic figures, though they must seem to us to be victims of their...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN No Peace in the Royal Family (pp. 180-221)

    The explicit punishment meted out to David for the crime against Uriah the Hittite and against God is that David would have no peace in his family:

    ⁹ Why have you despised the word of the Lord , to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite...

  11. Conclusion Synoptic Sinning (pp. 222-258)

    Though we have hardly run out of terrible stories, we have seen enough to move to some conclusions. First, we should note that biblical writers have no compunction about reporting terrible stories about their ancestors. This is quite at odds with any theory that the Pentateuch was written in the sixth century BCE, especially so if the theory presupposes that the narrator is trying to generate an ethnic identity for the first time.¹ One clear result of reading the stories of the patriarchs is to see how the stories about ancient family relationships mediated stress points and built an ethnic...

  12. Notes (pp. 259-274)
  13. Index (pp. 275-286)

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