THE BOOKS OF POETRY AND WISDOM
These form collections of unquestionable literary unity. Foremost among them are the Psalms, the greatest monument to Hebrew poetry. A large number were composed by David and the others by priests and levites. Their themes are praises, supplications and meditations, and they served a liturgical function.
The book of Job, the book of wisdom and piety par excellence, probably dates from 400-500 B.C.
The author of 'Lamentations' on the fall of Jerusalem at the beginning of the Sixth century B.C. may well be Jeremiah.
We must once again mention the Song of Songs, allegorical chants mostly about Divine love, the Book of Proverbs, a collection of the words of Solomon and other wise men of the court, and Ecclesiastes or Koheleth, where earthly happiness and wisdom are debated.
We have, therefore, a collection of works with highly disparate contents written over at least seven centuries, using extremely varied sources before being amalgamated inside a single work.
How was this collection able, over the centuries, to constitute an inseparable whole and-with a few variations according to community-become the book containing the Judeo-Christian Revelation? This book was called in Greek the 'canon' because of the idea of intangibility it conveys.
The amalgam does not date from the Christian period, but from Judaism itself, probably with a primary stage in the Seventh century B.C. before later books were added to those already accepted. It is to be noted however that the first five books, forming the Torah or Pentateuch, have always been given pride of place. Once the proclamations of the prophets (the prediction of a chastisement commensurate with misdemeanour) had been fulfilled, there was no difficulty in adding their texts to the books that had already been admitted. The same was true for the assurances of hope given by these prophets. By the Second century B.C., the 'Canon' of the prophets had been formed.
Other books, e.g. Psalms, on account of their liturgical function, were integrated along with further writings, such as Lamentations, the Book of Wisdom and the Book of Job.
Christianity, which was initially Judeo-Christianity, has been carefully studied-as we shall see later on-by modern authors, such as Cardinal Daniélou. Before it was transformed under Paul's influence, Christianity accepted the heritage of the Old Testament without difficulty. The authors of the Gospels adhered very strictly to the latter, but whereas a 'purge' has been made of the Gospels by ruling out the 'Apocrypha', the same selection has not been deemed necessary for the Old Testament. Everything, or nearly everything, has been accepted.
Who would have dared dispute any aspects of this disparate amalgam before the end of the Middle Ages-in the West at least? The answer is nobody, or almost nobody. From the end of the Middle Ages up to the beginning of modern times, one or two critics began to appear; but, as we have already seen, the Church Authorities have always succeeded in having their own way. Nowadays, there is without doubt a genuine body of textual criticism, but even if ecclesiastic specialists have devoted many of their efforts to examining a multitude of detailed points, they have preferred not to go too deeply into what they euphemistically call difficulties'. They hardly seem disposed to study them in the light of modern knowledge. They may well establish parallels with history-principally when history and Biblical narration appear to be in agreement-but so far they have not committed themselves to be a frank and thorough comparison with scientific ideas. They realize that this would lead people to contest notions about the truth of Judeo-Christian Scriptures, which have so far remained undisputed.