History and Sources

How does Jewish tradition interpret history?

Large portions of the Hebrew scriptures include examples of the finest ancient historical writing. Authors of historical texts in the Bible do not merely catalogue events chronologically. They evaluate their data and pass judgment on the main characters from a particular perspective that views all happenings as part of a greater divine plan. They discern patterns in human behavior and in God’s ways of dealing with people. So, for example, the author of the Book of Judges observes how, when the people do evil in the sight of God, God allows them to suffer the consequences. Once they’ve had enough chaos, they cry out to God for help. God then raises up a Judge to rule the people, and justice reigns for forty or eighty years. But when the strong ruler dies, the people again go astray, and the cycle starts again (Judges 2:16-23). History begins when God creates time and space, moves through many generations of human beings struggling with and for each other, and will come to an apocalyptic conclusion at a time known only to God. Above all, history is the arena in which God deals actively with humankind as a whole, but directs both attention and expectation to the Children of Israel.


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