The Formation Of The Hebrew Scriptures

The Hebrew Bible is the product of two processes, distinct yet interacting at many points. One is the growth of the national literature of Israel, built up as the sayings of sages, the hymns and poems of singers, narratives of early historians, oracles of prophets, and the judgements of lawyers were written down and shaped by many subsequent generations of scribes. The other process, which began as early as the time of the Babylonian Exile (586-532 BCE), is the selection and codification of the core of these disparate works to form the official literature of the nation. Before the Exile only the first process was clearly at work, though some legal materials already had an authoritative status from the seventh century, perhaps even earlier. After about the second century BCE the second process was virtually complete, with only marginal disputes about the scriptural status of a few books possibly continuing down into the Christian era. But between these dates 'sacred writings' were still being produced even though other, more ancient ones were already fixed and settled as the core of Holy Scripture. Once some books were already regarded as 'holy', that had an effect on how other books were written: pastiche of earlier biblical books became common. Later books of the Bible thus have a complex relationship with earlier ones, and this will be explored below by examining first, the growth of Israel's national literature; second, its acceptance as Scripture; and finally, the interaction of the two processes (Sanders 1992).

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