The first historical works of the Hebrews appear in Solomon's days
The time of Solomon must not be regarded solely as the period when with the collaboration of Phoenician craftsmen in very many places of the land of Canaan there appeared innumerable buildings of a spiritual (the Great Tabernacle), profane (the royal palace), industrial (Ezion-geber) or military character (Megiddo and the series of strongholds that have already been mentioned). Solomon's times were also a period of great cultural development. At this turning-point in history there was an elite which contrived to free itself from the weighty concerns of daily existence and began to require a record in writing of the history of the spiritual past. Thus during Solomon's reign (or shortly afterwards there appeared in Yahudah the oldest written chronicle of the history of the Chosen People. What is generally known as the Yahwist tradition was fixed in writing. It was the laying of the first stone of that colossal edifice which one day was to be known as the Scripture.
Obviously, the matter is more complex than that; it will be convenient indeed at this point to examine how the various elements which constitute the first books of the Old Covenant have been combined. Although this summary investigation is necessarily schematic there will be no losing sight of the fact that the Yahwist cycle was first written down at the period which concerns us here. In fact the explanation which follows is intended to show its full significance.
The twentieth-century reader who examines the Pentateuch (that is, the first five books of the Scripture: Bereshith, Shemoth, Vayiqra, Bemidbar, Devarim: the Jews call the Pentateuch the Torah or the Law) is right to wonder what is the date of the text before him.
In the first place the date of the final composition, as we have it today in the Scripture, must be considered. This literary work is of a fairly late date, probably of the sixth or fifth century B.C., that is, after the return from the Babylonian Exile.
But, this being said, it must be added that the sources used by the writers of the sixth were ancient: they go back to very remote periods, almost contemporary with the events described and reported. This may alleviate any disquiet that is felt with regard to the substantial truth of the facts. 40
40 On this point there has been no variation in the historical method. A twentieth century historian writes a history of Charlemagne or King Alfred; although he is writing at a much later period his work will be valid nonetheless if it is well supported by documents of the period with which he is dealing. This is the answer to the argument, which is unfounded, of those who assert that the Scripture is a work of the sixth century BC.
But what were the documents that were consulted and used by the writers of the text which we have today?
odern Scriptural scholars, to whom we owe the description of how the Scripture came to be written, have been led to conclude that the Pentateuch was drawn up on the authority of four principal sources. These are called by scholars 'cycles', 'codes' or 'traditions'. The non-specialist may find it useful to know that these terms are synonyms.
In the first place there is the Yahwist cycle, thus called because from the beginning of the work YAHWEH is called YAHWEH. The style is popular, colourful and brisk, The usual abbreviation for the Yahwist tradition is the letter J.
Then there is the Elohist tradition, a series of documents in which YAHWEH is designated by the name 'Elohim ('EI -YAHWEH; 'Elohim is what is known as a 'plural of power'). This cycle was fixed in Scripture at a period a little later than the Yahwist cycle, probably shortly after Solomon's death (between 950 and 850). Here the style is rather formal and careful. It is known in abbreviation as the 'E tradition'.
Thirdly, there is the Deuteronomic Code, named after the book of Devarim. This is mainly a revision of the law, made between 700 and 650.
Lastly, there is the Priestly Code: it gives a summary of the customs of the kingdom of Yisrael (compared and combined with those of Yahudah) which had just been irreparably destroyed by the king of Syria, Sargon II (capture of Samaria, 721 B.C.). This code is designated by the letter P.
There were thus two popular traditions (Yahwist and Elohist), one legal tradition and one spiritual tradition (the Priestly).
We can now return to the Yahwist tradition which was written down, as was mentioned above, in the land of Yahudah 41 at the time of Solomon.
Indeed this tradition had already taken shape some centuries previously, but in oral form. This is always the form taken by history at the beginning of a civilization. 42 Before the time of the tenth-century scribes the records of the first Hebrew group had been collected and care fully preserved. For centuries story-tellers had related before an attentive audience the extraordinary adventures, both spiritual and profane, of the great family of Abraham; the wanderings of the old patriarch who had come from far-off southern Mesopotamia to the mountains of Yahudah; the highly coloured episodes which are highlighted in Yacob's turbulent life; the Covenant which in his magnanimity YAHWEH granted to the people whom HE had chosen for himself to accomplish an unparalleled spiritual mission; the sojourn in Egypt, the flight from 'the house of slavery' under the leadership of Mosheh; the halt on Sinai and the 'forty years in the desert'; the entry, under Yahshua Ben Nun, into the Promised land. It was all these inspiring events whose narration in poetical form the shepherds heard at the end of the day as they gathered round their chieftain's tent, sitting cross-legged before the story-teller of the tribe. In these stories the actions of their great ancestors were relived and they never ceased to marvel at the divine protection constantly given to the children of Yisrael.
These vivid accounts of their past history came to constitute the spiritual bond of the great Yisraelite family. It was from these accounts too that the descendants of Abraham, Yitschaq and Yacob, the sons of the shepherds who had followed Mosheh over the plains, were able to draw their faith and hope. The stories were always in the same form, in which not a word had been changed for centuries; they were faithfully passed on from one generation to another. The audience was thrilled and filled with enthusiasm even when hearing episodes that they knew very well.
In this unexpected and entirely original way the ever living memories of past ages assumed a fixed but oral form which was regarded as settled and was always scrupulously observed. It was in this way that the history 'of Yisrael was preserved.
At one time, however, it seemed that this history was in danger of being lost. Directly the tribes were reasonably established in the Promised land the former shepherds of Yisrael, who had been nomads, began to settle down. Many of them rapidly took to work on the land, settling in farms at a distance from one another in the thinly populated countryside; at the same time others opened workshops in the fortified cities in the midst of the Canaanite population. The unity of the tribe was broken, the clan disappeared; family interests predominated. Henceforward the story-teller no longer had his ready made audience; his function as historiographer increasingly declined in importance. During this sudden change in the social scene the bard was no longer needed and the new conditions were to eliminate him entirely.
Yet the traditional accounts of Yisrael's history were not forgotten for that reason. On the contrary. In the course of the great social changes which developed some of the Yisraelites gave up their nomadism and settled down. Among these people tabernacles for the worship of YAHWEH were established in 'high places' which, for one reason or another, were already famous in history. In these spiritual centres, served by kohens or Levites, there thus grew up a body of spiritual officials who were at pains to preserve the memory of the national heritage and more especially the local traditions concerning the heroes of the past who had made some of these places famous in the land. At one a patriarch had pitched his tents in the course of the continual movement of his flocks from pasture to pasture. In another, a military leader had won an outstanding victory over an army of the idolaters. Further on, stood a valley where a great gathering of the tribes had assembled. Then, there were the places where YAHWEH had appeared to speak to his envoys. Each of these set apart sites had its own history and the stories connected with it. Thus all the narratives which, it might have been thought, were doomed to oblivion by the disappearance of the professional story-tellers, took on new life. The tabernacles of YAHWEH became the guardians of these local chronicles and their kohens recited whole chapters of them to the crowd of pilgrims. The 'set apart history' of the people of Yisrael was in good hands. Unfortunately, it still remained in oral form and this of course constituted a real danger to its very existence.
At the time of Solomon, however, a group of Yahudaean learned men were concerned at the fragmentary character of these chronicles and still more at the frailty of traditions entrusted solely to the memory. In the shadow of the Great Tabernacle of YAHWEH and Solomon's palace a department of archives was set up where the kohens and the royal scribes could set down in writing the principal events of the national history.
In a short time, therefore, we find the various parts of the Yahwist narratives assembled together, classified and transcribed on to tablets. It was a straightforward and honest work: the scribe respected the style and substance of these compositions where at each line the character of the people of Yisrael seems to shine forth. This was the first attempt at authentic history to be found in those remote ages. 43
If the Scripture is everywhere regarded as one of the literary masterpieces of humanity we should not forget that the Yahwist document, one of the constituent elements of the Pentateuch, provokes astonishment by the flexibility of its composition and the colourful nature of its narratives. By making contact with it we can appreciate the intellectual revolution which marks Solomon's century. 44
In conclusion, the perceptible progress made at this period in music and set apart music should be noted. Just as it was very difficult to distinguish those psalms which were composed at the time of David so it is impossible for the modern historian to determine what musical works appeared in Solomon's reign. Nevertheless, it must be unreservedly admitted that the work of poets and composers was extensive. At a time when imposing ceremonies took place before the Great Tabernacle we can be sure that the psalmody and its accompaniment were in accordance with the majestic ceremonial of the worship.
41 Hebrew scholars consider that this cycle is of Judaean origin from the fact that Hebron, the first capital of Yahudah (it was there that Abraham set up his principal camp and there, too, at Machpelah that he established the patriarchal family tomb) occupies a central position in the historical events described in this tradition. In addition during Yoseph's adventure in Egypt the leading role is allotted to Yahudah, Yacob's fourth son (Bereshith 37:26, 27).
42 Long before the 'songs' of the Iliad had been 'fixed' by being written down the bards of ancient Greece had sung, to the accompaniment of the harp, of the mighty deeds of the Trojan war. In the Middle Ages the troubadours, also 'sang the Song of Roland long before the period when it was written down.
43 The chronicling of events in the order in which they occurred with a concern for objectivity is an idea that is foreign to the spirit of the ancient East. The pharaohs, like the great monarchs of Mesopotamia. thought only of inscribing beneath their statues the accounts of their feats of arms. There was no concern at all to connect their reign with that of their predecessors. On the contrary, these vain princes thought only to make a good story of their own exploits by embellishing them. All this was a form of propaganda. With regard to the chronological lists, it must be noted that they obviously cannot be assimilated to history, although they are of course useful to the modern investigator. Thus the scribes of Yisrael were the first writers to provide us with an example of chronicles intended to shed light on the development of a nation.
44 In the text of the Pentateuch it is relatively easy to distinguish by the style, the syntax and by the name given here and there to YAHWEH (YAHWEH or 'Elohim the two traditions which overlap each other in the narrative. They were combine together at the time of Hezekiah (end of the eighth century); at this time the (Yahwist) tradition joined to the E (Elohist) tradition in a single narrative which is often designated by JE.
Solomon The Magnificent Index Solomon Sitemap Scripture History Through the Ages Solomon The Historian RADIANT DAWN Solomon's Wisdom SOLOMON IN ALL HIS HONOR David's role in building the Temple Dates of the building of the Temple Division of the Temple The Ark of the Covenant The most Kodesh Place Dedication of the Temple SOLOMON Prince of Peace SOLOMON THE TRADER Solomon's Ophir expedition The queen of Sheba LITERARY ACHIEVEMENTS OF SOLOMON First historical works of the Hebrews What did Solomon write THE SHADES OF NIGHT Political and social failure Solomon's spiritual failure The moral failure of Solomon CONCLUSION of Solomon