A literary and historical examination of the Bible’s earliest books.
Wright sets out some ambitious goals for his debut foray into biblical textual analysis: He seeks to untangle the historical factors behind the composition and transmission of the first 12 books of the Bible, from Genesis to 2 Kings. Along the way, he takes readers on a quick but comprehensive tour of the ancient Near East and gives shorthand accounts of the period’s surviving literature. He also explains such topics as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Babylonian captivity in clear, accessible prose that might have been seen as heretical in earlier eras—although Wright clarifies at the outset that his book is about history and not faith. He then goes on to matter-of-factly discuss what he sees as extensive Old Testament plagiarism of earlier Eastern epics such as Gilgamesh, the ahistorical nature of such characters as Joseph, and the precise real-world motivations that ancient Hebrew writers might have had for penning the narratives they did. He portrays Israel in these well-designed pages as just one earthly kingdom among many, suffering defeats at the hands of the Assyrians and the Chaldeans and seeking to bolster its self-esteem in the face of years of exile and dispossession. He sees this need as the seedbed for the Old Testament’s founding stories: “Pen, ink, and papyrus were the writers’ weapons; inspiration was their ammo, and Genesis through Kings II became the salvo that fought back.” In his quietly assertive, scrupulously researched account, the Hebrew Bible is depicted as an overwhelmingly important text but not in any way divine. Rather, he writes, it’s a text that can and should be analyzed like any other.
A forthright, intriguing dissection of the history of a founding religious text.