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How the Bible Became a Book: The Textualization of Ancient Israel [Hardcover]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   257
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.22" Width: 6.34" Height: 0.74"
Weight:   1.15 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   May 15, 2008
Publisher   Cambridge University Press
ISBN  0521829461  
EAN  9780521829465  

Availability  102 units.
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Item Description...
For the past two-hundred years Biblical scholars have usually assumed that the Hebrew Bible was mostly written and edited in the Persian and Hellenistic periods. Recent archaeological evidence and insights from linguistic anthropology, however, point to the earlier era of the late-Iron Age (eighth-though-sixth centuries BCE) as the formative period for the writing of biblical literature. How the Bible Became a Book combines recent archaeological discoveries in the Middle East with insights culled from the history of writing to address how the Bible first came to be written down and then became sacred Scripture. It provides rich insight into why these texts came to have authority as Scripture and explores why Ancient Israel, an oral culture, began to write literature. It describes an emerging literate society in ancient Israel that challenges the assertion that literacy first arose in Greece during the fifth century BCE.

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More About William M. Schniedewind

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! William M. Schniedewind is Kershaw Chair of Ancient Eastern Mediterranean Studies, Professor of Biblical Studies and Northwest Semitic Languages, and Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA.

William M. Schniedewind currently resides in the state of California. William M. Schniedewind has an academic affiliation as follows - University of California, Los Angeles University of California at Los.

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Product Categories
1Books > Subjects > History > Middle East > Israel   [1452  similar products]
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Bible & Other Sacred Texts > Bible > Hebrew   [88  similar products]
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Criticism & Interpretation > General   [1848  similar products]
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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Excellent  May 6, 2008
This is an extremely well written book following an excellent scholar tradition. For me the book has no weaknesses and is full of excellent information written in a very interesting way and any seeker of the truth will love it! It is highly recommended to anyone seeking the truth!
B.C.E.  Mar 15, 2008
As a Christian and one whom believes each and every word in the Old and New Testatments, whenever I see the term "B.C.E." (Before The Common/Current Era) I know I will be reading an errant opinion/book. This also goes for that "B.C.E." using History Channel, Discovery Channel, and, at times, History Internationl Channel. Most of the intelligent world uses "A.D." (Anno Domini, year of our Lord), so B.C.E. prejudices the views of 90% of the world which is Christian. Not for me to even explore...
The Social Location of Writing  Jul 12, 2006
So as to not complicate things, let me say that Schniedewind wants to answer two questions in this book. One is when most of the Hebrew Bible/ the Bible were put into writing and the second is why. The average reader who has found this book will probably be well versed in the Documentary Hypopthesis. JEPD or JEDP were sources that were compiled and then redacted to form most of the Bible. According to which version of the documentary hypothesis one subscribes to, the sources were written in the 10th, 9th, 7th, 6th, 5th, or 4th century.

One might also be aware of tradition history which became popular among Scandinavian scholars. In this view, the writings were later in Israelite history, but the oral traditions had been passed on for years, even centuries. Or one might be aware of the latter scholarship. The Copenhagen School pushes for the Bible being written in either the Persian or the Hellenistic period. Other scholars such as Redford or Finkelstein push for dating the Bible to the Saite period because of topographical reasons and the like.

Being the socialogist that he is, I'm surprised that Niels Peter Lemche (Copenhagen School) did not consider Schniedewind's argument before. In a nutshell it runs like this: writing ran against many social norms in the ancient world. Only by the time of Hezekiah was Israel ready to accept the transition of oral traditions to written text.

I think Schniedewind stirs up some confusion when he argues that orality had an authority over and against the written word. On page 15 he writes "the Rabbis were strident in emphasizing that oral tradition served as a final authority greater than written Torah." He does not cite Talmud Jerushalmi Hor 3.8 which says that "Mishnah can take precedence over Scripture, " but the idea is the same. If writing had taken ascendency during the time of Hezekiah, what matter is being debated by the Rabbis?

In contrast to the ideal of the Rabbis, Schniedewind writes that the catalysts for the transformation of Judean society (to one that depended upon writing) began with the Assyrian conquest. Assyria carved out an empire that stretched from India to Egypt. "Writing became an increasingly important tool in administrating the empire" (page 65). Hezekiah had as a part of his political agenda the recreation of a Golden Age, the age of David and Solomon. This he did by combining northern traditions with southern so that the influx of northern refugees could find some semblance of assimilation into Judean society.

Concerning the Exilic period, Schniedewind shows that the Babylonians had a tremendous impact on Judea. In the 7th century BCE, there were 116 settled sites in Judea. After the Babylonian conquest there were only 41. "Moreover the average size of the sites has shrunk, from 4.4 hectares to 1.4 hectares ..." Using such evidence Schniedewind argues that there was no literary production in Judea during the Exilic period.
How the Bible Became A Book  Dec 13, 2005
Tarah Henderson
October 31, 2005
Religion 101.08

A Review of William M. Schniedewind's: How the Bible Became a Book

Chapter 1: How the Bible Became a Book
Schniedewind began the question of how today's Bible became a book by examining the theory with three main issues. These were: who wrote the bible, how is it that the Bible is written at all, and finally, what were the historical situations that allowed the Bible to become a text and finally written scripture. The part that I found the most interesting was when he was discussing the first question regarding the author. He showed how changing social standards alter the ways that people view language. To illustrate this he created a parallel between the Constitution and the Bible. When the Constitution was created there were many differences with social standards than we see today, especially regarding the treatment of African Americans, and basically all those non-white property owning males. The founders of the Constitution had these similar values; they were unable to know that ideas would drastically change in the following centuries. Schniedewind pointed out that when Plessy v. Fergusson and Brown v. The Board of Education occurred they changed our social standards they altered the way Americans viewed the Constitution. It was not the text that changed; rather it was our interpretation of it. Seeing these differences in opinion with relation to the Bible not only gives evidence of the authors as people but also a historical view of their values, theories, and ways of life. Focusing on the historical evidence also takes the focus away from the author as a single individual and allows you to see it for what it really was, a collection of works from many individuals over a period of time.
Chapter 2: The Numinous Power of Writing
This section describes the transition of the views of writing. I found this especially interesting because of the differences on perspective that Schniedewind explained. The fact that the Bible was written down at all was very significant and even slightly strange. In early Jewish and then Christian times writing was seen as a gift from the gods. The ability to write was reserved only for those in high religions and political positions. This kept the majority non-literate; Schniedewind explained that only about one percent of the ancient Mesopotamia and Greece societies were literate. Egyptians also had strong views when it came to written texts. They created, "Execration Texts;" these were used to perform voodoo-like black magic over other people. The person wishing to harm on the other would simply either write the name or other words on a figurine. Writing the person's name was significant because it was believed to hold a part of the person, destroying the name could do physical harm as well. They believed that once the object was broken the curse would occur.
Chapter 3: Writing and the State
Chapter three examines the use of writing in conjunction with the government. In my opinion, the most interesting part of this section looks at the ancient city of Ugarit. Ugarit had the first use of the alphabet; made of 30 cuneiform characters. This was when the society was at its peak of civilization in the middle part of the second millennium. The alphabet, although taking over a millennium to become widely used helped to advance literacy and lessen the governmental restriction. When the city was excavated there were numerous literary texts found that included the Ugaritic language. These documents included myths, economic correspondences, letters, administrative documents, and school texts. Schniedewind explained the significance of Ugarit in relation to the expansion of writing in Israel was based on two things: first; that the development of a complex economy and government, and second; when comparing the Ugaritic poetry with that of Israel it showed Israel as being a part of larger cultural context.
Chapter 4: Writing in Early Israel
The writing in ancient Israel was begun after a long period of oral tradition. It was only when there was extensive development of the state that literature began to be seen. Leading up to this point the Israelite people were wanderers leading semi-nomadic lives until they reached Cannan which seems to be the first main location of lasting civilization. Schniedewind told that the first biblical literature was in the form of worship songs, some of which are still sang daily today; including "The Song of Moses." These songs were originally passed on through oral tradition, however, later they were written in prose. The section is concluded by examining the relation of Canaanite and Israelite scribes and the early Israelite monarchy.
Chapter 5: Hezekiah and the Beginning of Biblical Literature
King Hezekiah is often viewed as being responsible for Biblical literature. When he ruled Jerusalem he greatly advanced their centralized government. This was subsequently due to the rise of the Assyrian Empire. When Assyria rose to dominate the power over the other smaller territories, the Israelites along with many other groups had to relocate to find safer living environments. This is when they moved to Jerusalem. The rapid urbanization from the massive number of Israelites as well as refugees populated the new society. It was after this that Hezekiah came to power. During his term he focused on improving Jerusalem. Hezekiah created a new system of taxation. He used the profits to fund building projects throughout Judah.
Schniedewind goes on to explain about Pentateuchal Literature. Here he examines where the idea of writing was first seen in the Bible. Deuteronomy is the first section where the subject of writing arises. There is no sign of writing in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. It is in jubilees where the topic of writing is seen in the first verse. I found this very amazing because it shows that the ancient people had the desire to record their history.
Chapter 6: Josiah and the Text Revolution
One interesting theory from this section that Schniedewind explains is the argument regarding the use of vowels in Greece and Jerusalem. He is opposing Eric Havelock's opinion that the widespread literacy was the result of the Greek's development of the vowel in the 5th century BC. The Israelites previously created a more simplified vowel system in the 7th century BC. Schniedewind argues against Havelock that the reason that the Greeks were very adamant about their vowel system was that it was more necessary for their language.
During King Josiah's reign there was the first large spread of literacy. It was at this point that the "illiterate" actually began to be seen as an individual group, the minority. Because of these changes with the amount of literate people increasing it actually caused a decline in the quality of their texts. The decline in literary value was related to the educational system. Previously, all literate people were trained in special schools for scribes; when the literacy reform occurred and it began to be more important for everyday people to become literate, they were not trained to the extent that previous professionals were.
Chapter 7: How the Torah Became a Text
Schniedewind separated this chapter into three very significant occurrences with in the Torah. The first is the revelation at Sinai with Moses; the second is the significance of the stone tablets given by God, and finally the written law at Horeb. It is in this section where writing is so significant. Moses is often credited with being the primary individual responsible for the Torah becoming a text. This was very interesting to me because I was always unclear when the writing of the commandments and the stone tablets was first seen. Schniedewind explained that it was not until Exodus 24 when the covenant ceremony was over that the idea of writing appeared. Unlike popular belief, writing was not seen at the revelation at Mt. Sinai, when the 10 commandments were given, or in the covenant code. It is at this time, in Exodus 24 that Moses actually writes the Torah, the people make a covenant to God with blood, God is seen, and God even promises to write on the tablets of stone. One important thing to note is that the Torah specifically names the "scroll of the covenant." This scroll is what Moses read to the people before they agreed to the covenant. In this way, we see that the reading of the scroll signified an agreement to the covenant between God and Israel.
Chapter 8: Writing in Exile
The Babylonian exile is a period that destroyed Jewish life as it was previously known. Babylonian armies overtook the Israeli communities and either completely decimated the town or changed its government. Jerusalem was burned to the ground and Judah was destroyed. Although these changes occurred, the scribal ways were still present and prevailed into the Persian Empire.
Schniedewind explained that there are two main theories regarding the use of writing during this period. The first was argued by Peter Ackroyd when he wrote, Exile and Restoration. In this be explained that the difficulty of the times created a period of dramatic productivity with the writing, collecting and editing of the Torah. Ackroyd believed that following the destruction of Jerusalem the Israeli people desired to preserve its history. This desire led to an increase in writing. On the other spectrum is C.C. Torey. He not only believed that writing did not occur during the Babylonian Exile, he believed that it did not even happen. Torey, rather thought that the age was simply a fiction created by priests in the Persian period.
Chapter 9: Scripture in the Shadow of the Temple
This section examines the writing of the Torah and Jewish life during the Persian Empire (5th - 3rd centuries BC). Jerusalem, which was previously a thriving society drastically declined with the coming Persian Period. Yehud was dramatically depopulated and grossly impoverished. During this time, the Davidic kings vanished and leadership was transferred to the priests. Although the Persian Empire was previously seen as a period of advancement, Schniedewind disagreed. He believed that the work of the priests was to preserve the religion and written texts; not necessarily write extra information. Aramaic overtook Hebrew as the primary religion. It became the primary language for Jewish people living in the Second Temple period; even scribes were taught in Aramaic. The little amount of Hebrew that was still used was kept private and was only for the perseverance of the Israeli religion and language. Religious life was transferred to temples; this was the sight of the priests' work. In addition to editing the framework for the Bible, priests also divided the Psalms into a five part book. This was the same as "The Five Books of Moses," known as the Pentateuch.
Chapter 10: Epilogue
As a conclusion to his novel, Schniedewind compares the use of oral tradition and the written text. He explains that oral tradition should not be viewed as less important or valid than written text. He furthers this by explaining that the Vedas, the Hindu religious text was only passed on orally for centuries, although they also had a formed written language and alphabet. Schniedewind further tells of the Dead Sea Scrolls, some of the most important Archaeological discoveries in history. They were found by a young boy in search of his lost sheep. He stumbled into a cave that contained over 900 manuscripts, twenty-five percent of which were biblical literature.
As a whole I found this novel very interesting and informative. Although I was raised a Christian I always felt like I did not have enough knowledge about my own religion, nor how it came into being. I feel like Schniedewind presented this material very well because it can be very biased. One of the most credible aspects of his writing was that he seemed to focus on main points and historical data, rather than just opinion. Although I did like this book, I also found some areas slightly confusing, and because it spanned over such a large period of history at times some material seemed to contradict at first glance. Although slightly confusing, overall I would highly recommend How the Bible Became a Book. To me it should not just be read by Christians, but rather, by anyone desiring to know more about the development of Judaism and Christianity.

REview  Dec 8, 2005
In William M. Schniedewind's How the Bible Became a Book: A textualization of Ancient Israel Schniedewind answers the questions of who wrote the Bible, when was it written and why was even written down at all.
He starts with his prologue which paints the background for the book and fills you in on what the scholarly community has been debating over and briefly explains why and to what view he is adhering to personally.
In chapter one Schniedewind gives an overview of the context of the rest of the book. He briefly goes over the main issues such as; who wrote the Bible, why the Bible is a written text, as well as when the Bible was written. He directs you to ponder the exact questions he is about to address.
Chapter two brings up the fact that in pre-literate societies writing was considered extremely sacred and even possessed magical powers. Very few people could read or write in these ancient societies so that added to the sacredness of the written word. Often times written words were used in magic as part of the components of a curse or a spell.
The third chapter Schniedewind explains the importance of the invention of the alphabet and how it made literacy more accessible. Schniedewind continues on to explain how because literacy was still so scarce that scribes and writing were a sign of the power that a king possessed. There was no way you were considered a king, no matter who you
were, if you did not have a royal scribe. The royal scribes usually wrote down records and made inscriptions. These inscriptions were often used as monuments to be set in the public eye view. Although almost no one could read it did not matter because the inscriptions were not meant to be read but rather were symbols of the king's power on display.
Chapter four goes over the persistent problem of the ancient world of written versus oral. The ancient world was originally extremely predominately an oral tradition society; everything that was learned was passed down through oral recollections or stories. With the rise in literacy came the controversy over which, oral or written became an issue.
In chapter five we are told that because of the dominating Assyrians who adapted Aramaic (because of its `alphabetic writing system' which made is easier to learn to read and write) literacy became more common among upper social classes.. Written documents took a while to catch on to the encompassed general public because there wasn't really an actually need among the classes in society because they were mostly farmers and shepherds and such, which were usually non-literate anyway. Once urbanization began to grow, and eventually, so did the need for written documents and the literacy to read and write them. It says that literature was beginning to be written in the days of Hezekiah, but mostly by scribes.
Chapter six covers the time during the period of Josiah's Reform when the concept of textual authorship was discovered this was a time when kings used royal seals on their deeds and other `out going' documents or decrees to signify that this written document was from them, it is like a signature. During this time writing continued to gradually catch on to `everyone else' as its functionality continued to grow.
Chapter seven focuses on the Torah and that it was written down. Because the Torah was written down it created a lot of tension because many believed that the Torah should be taught orally from memory versus being read. It causes a lot of controversy because there a re textualized edits that differ between the oral presentation of the Torah and the written presentation of the Torah (i/e: Exodus 24) which deal with the detail between God speaking to Moses and God writing The Ten Commandments with his own finger (oral versus text).
In chapter eight Schniedewind goes the effects of the exile of Jehoihachin's family as well as the influence of Babylon had on writing and keeping records and how they directly effected the progress of the biblical text.
Chapter nine focuses on how biblical literature switched from the hands of the royal courts to the priests. Hebrew was at the brink of extinction because of the dominating Aramaic and exile; this lead to the textualization of the Jewish religion and the change of the meaning of the tetragramaton. Literature was now common and thus also a time when libraries were being valued and greatly expanded. At the end of the chapter Schniedewind synopsizes his book briefly reviewing the answers to the questions at the beginning of the book.
Finally in the last chapter (which is actually an epilogue) Schniedewind reiterates the importance of both the oral and written transmissions but puts them in the modern day scenario of the modern day Christian and Jewish religions.
Schniedewind is a very scholarly and intelligent man. This book was well written and was extremely well supported but I still found it very hard to really follow. I found that although I generally followed what he was saying I felt as though I was missing big parts of the points he was trying to get across to the reader. My lack of understanding of the entire `picture' of the book may come from my complete lack of any historical knowledge, or it may come from the fact that the book was a long read and I dislike to read, or it may have been my lack of ability to honestly understand the value of what Schniedewind was excited enough about to actually write a book on it; in any case, whatever the personal reason was, it made it hard for me to want to pick up the book each time. I did like this book more than a vast majority of the books that I was forced to read in high school, which I personally think says a lot for this author and his approach to a subject that often times can become over technical and confusing for the general public. Schniedewind does a great job of blending his mix of `scholarly audience talk' and his' general audience talk' in this book. I have to say that although I do not feel that I entirely understood this book, nor did I attain the full potential of the message that Schniedewind was trying to convey I would say that if you are the sort of person that finds ancients history interesting, and you are someone who like to read, than you will thoroughly enjoy this book. It was very informational and more than adequately covers the topic on the cover.


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