Satlow (Religious and Judaic Studies/Brown Univ.; The Gift in Antiquity, 2013) explores the holy writings of the Bible back more than 10,000 years.
The author’s knowledge and his resources, both literary and archaeological, are vast. He is searching for the evolution of the Scriptures we read now, whether referred to as the Torah, the Bible or the Pentateuch or Septuagint. The question is not so much who wrote them as how they evolved into universal works of authority. Satlow specifically differentiates among normative, oracular and literary authority. These writings developed in Judah, through the Babylonian captivity, the Hellenistic period and into the time of Jesus. What we call the Bible didn’t really exist until St. Athanasius of Alexandria contributed his list of the holy books in the A.D. fourth century, and it was the A.D. 11th century before there was a standard Hebrew text. These books are not historical in the truest sense; the legacy of the texts and their interpreters is their power to bring order to our world. The author traces the story of the Middle Eastern people as they jockeyed for power for centuries, always carrying their texts to new locales. The story lives thanks to the scribes, who played the largest part in maintaining, copying and, most importantly, reading the texts to their illiterate populations. Satlow’s book is so packed with information that it will appeal most to scholars and those who have spent years studying religious writings. For those who rarely read the Bible and have little knowledge of ancient history, it will be confusing but edifying. In conclusion, the author writes, “[t]his is perhaps the Bible’s greatest legacy: the radically implausible notion that one can build a community, a religion, a culture, and even a country around a text.”
Regardless of the reader’s familiarity with the material, the author’s expertise cannot be doubted.