The B-I-B-L-E, Yes That’s the Book for Me!


Well as the Easter holiday rapidly approaches, and having received some positive feedback for my last bit of exegesis, I thought I’d be useful to give an extremely simplified guide to reading the Bible.

Sad to say this but most Christian religious instruction tends to be teaching a handful of stories from what is, after all, an enormous book and giving no context or explanation whatsoever for all of the other material. PLEASE NOTE that none of what follows is official theological instruction nor should it be construed as being comprehensive or exhaustive.

In other words, read the book for yourself and don’t just take my word for it ;)

This time I’ll be including the names of the books in Romanian based on the Orthodox Bible, which is different than both the Catholic and Protestant versions. I’m sure if you only speak English you’ll be able to parse these out.

An Extremely Brief History of the Israelites

Roughly 1800 BC, Abraham leaves a Sumerian city (Ur) and journeys to Israel. He almost kills one of his sons and then founds the nation of Israelites, now called Jews.

Abraham’s grandson Jacob takes all the Israelites to Egypt where at first they do well and then are later enslaved.

Around 500 years later (~1300 BC) God taps Moses to lead the Jews out of Egypt where they wander around the desert for 40 years before arriving back in Israel. On the way home, God tells Moses exactly what the laws and rules are which the Israelites need to follow.

Under Joshua and a series of other leaders, they overrun the other tribes in Israel and consolidate their power into the Kingdom of Israel, the greatest chief of which was David (~1000 BC). Under David they finally capture their future capital, Jerusalem, and build the first temple there.

In the year 720 BC, the Kingdom of Assyria arrives in Israel and destroys about 90% of the country. Actually there’s two kingdoms of Israel at this point, a northern one and a southern one, and it is the northern one (with most of the population) which is utterly wiped out. The Israelites who were killed or lost through assimilation are often known as the “10 lost tribes”. The Assyrians also smashed the first temple in Jerusalem.

The remaining kingdom of Israel is ruled by the tribe of Judah, which is very important in later Judaism as well as Christianity. This is also the same tribe which produced David.

Starting in 579 BC, the Babylonians (in what is now Iraq) invaded what was left of Israel and deported most of the population. Unlike the Assyrians, the Babylonians allowed them to keep their language and religion.

In 538 BC, the Persian Empire invaded and crushed the Babylonian Empire. The new ruler, known in English as “Cyrus the Great”, decided to allow the Israelites to go back home and even encouraged them to rebuild their temple.

Books of the Bible

Now what’s critical to understand is that none of the books of the Old Testament were written until the Israelites had all been deported to Babylon in the fifth century BC. While it’s certain that these stories already existed about David, Moses and all of the rest, none of them had ever been written down before.

The first five books of the Bible are:

  • Geneza
  • Exodul
  • Levitic
  • Numeri
  • Deuteronom

These are often collectively called the “Books of Moses” or the Pentateuch (Greek word meaning “5 books”) or the Torah in Hebrew.

Geneza is a strange book because it’s both a cosmogony (or story about how the world began) as well as a lot of mythological tales concerning Abraham, the very ancient history of cities in Israel (like Sodom and Gomorrah) and a whole lot of naming of various tribes.

A tremendous number of the ancient stories in Geneza are either copies of or close facsimiles to Sumerian stories, which were the religious texts used by the Babylonians in the fifth century, and would’ve been something the exiled Israelites were quite familiar with. The famous story of Noah and the Ark (the boat with all the animals) is almost identical to the Sumerian/Babylonian story of Gilgamesh, for instance.

Exodul is the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. It’s also the book wherein Moses meets God face to face and receives a lot of very important instructions on how to live, including the 10 Commandments (10 Porunci).

Levitic and Numeri are sometimes tedious lists of more commandments on how to live and what’s okay and what’s not okay and what kind of animals can be sacrificed and the number of buttons on a priest’s uniform and all kinds of things like that.

Deuteronom is a special case which I’ll get into below but it’s another book about the laws and rules that God gave to Moses.

These five books are critical because they describe both the ancient origin of the Israelites and all of the laws and rules that they must follow. However again I must emphasize that all of these stories were written centuries after the events occurred and so are mythological in nature.

Likewise with the next few books:

Iosua – The successor to Moses, these are the stories of all the Canaanite tribes that the Israelites killed, massacred and enslaved.

Judecatori – More stories of various leaders of Israel as they fought and quarreled with the other inhabitants in the land.

Rut – A rather sweet story of the first foreigner (non-Israelite) who married a Jew and converted to the new religion, thus opening the possibility of future converts.

1 & 2 Samuel – The story of how David came to be the greatest king that the Israelites ever had and all of his sexual conquests and adventures in foreskin collecting.

1 & 2 Regi and 1 and 2 Cronici – Stories of the kings that came after David and how they eventually got overrun by the Assyrians and the Babylonians respectively mostly because they were so wicked and stupid and never listened to the rules that they were supposed to obey.

So then the Israelites got sent en masse to Babylon and wrote down all of the above, some of it ancient history and some of it more current.

And then comes the first contemporary historical book:

Ezra – This is probably the most important book in the Old Testament (besides the first five) because the Persian king specifically sent Ezra to Israel to train and support the returnees and help them re-build the temple.

Although the first temple had been smashed some two hundred years earlier, parts of it were still standing and were used to rebuild it. And it was during this reconstruction work that the Book of Deuteronom was “found”. According to official doctrine, this was a perfectly preserved book written by Moses himself and contained fresh insights and clarifications on all the rules that the Israelites are supposed to follow.

However modern interpretation is that there was a lot of disagreement and noncompliance by the Israelites to the rules they were all supposed to follow, especially the parts about being dependent on the priests. The Book of Deuteronom (Greek for “second book”) was an extraordinarily useful thing to “find” because it conveniently cleared up all the issues that were then in dispute.

Neemia – More stories about the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem and the return of the Jews to Israel.

Wisdom Books

The next few books are not really meant to be historical but are stories to illustrate the right way to live, often called “Wisdom Books” in English.

Estera – A mythical story of a super hot Jewish woman who lived in the Persian Empire some 500 years before Cyrus and how she narrowly escaped death. Unique in that it’s the only book in the Bible which has no mention of God.

Iov – God and Satan start taking bets on the life of an honest man, Job, and all the suffering he went through as a result of this wager.

Psalmi – A number of songs, usually attributed to King David.

Proverbe – A collection of wise sayings to live by.

Ecleziast – A book that deals with a philosophical outlook on life, usually attributed to an unnamed son of King David.

Cantarea Cantarilor – A collection of poems by an unnamed author.

The Prophets

And now we get to a series of books written by prophets. These are essentially lengthy lectures by a particularly religious person (the prophet) to the Israelites on how to live.

These prophets and their Scoldings of Righteousness were all added at the same time (the Babylonian exile period) in order to buttress the rules and laws that Moses handed down in the first five books.

Isaia – A prophet living in the times of the Assyrian conquest, he variously scolds the Israelites for bringing that particular doom and other misfortunes upon themselves as a result of their wicked ways.

Ieremia – A prophet living in the times of the Babylonian conquest, he variously scolds the Israelites for bringing that particular doom and other misfortunes upon themselves as a result of their wicked ways. Easily the historical world champion in giving a Scolding of Righteousness ;)

Plangerile lui Ieremia – Obviously there was a lot to cry about when the Babylonians smashed the remnants of the Kingdom of Israel.

Ezechiel – A prophet living in the times of the Babylonian conquest, he variously scolds the Israelites for bringing that particular doom and other misfortunes upon themselves as a result of their wicked ways.

Daniel – A prophet living in the times of the Babylonian conquest, he shows the Jews via his own actions how to hang onto their faith even though they’re all living in captivity.

Osea – A prophet living in the times of the Assyrian conquest, he variously scolds the Israelites for bringing that particular doom and other misfortunes upon themselves as a result of their wicked ways.

Ioel – A prophet living in an unknown period of Israel’s history, he variously scolds the Israelites for bringing a series of disasters (including a plague of locusts) upon themselves as a result of their wicked ways.

Amos – A prophet living in the times of the Assyrian conquest, he variously scolds the Israelites for bringing that particular doom and other misfortunes upon themselves as a result of their wicked ways.

Obadia – A prophet living in the times of the Assyrian conquest, he variously scolds the Israelites for bringing that particular doom and other misfortunes upon themselves as a result of their wicked ways. The shortest book of the Bible.

Iona – A prophet living in the times of the Assyrian conquest, he variously scolds the Israelites for bringing that particular doom and other misfortunes upon themselves as a result of their wicked ways. Known for the famous story in which he is swallowed by an aquatic creature (fish or whale) and lived.

Mica – A prophet living in the times of the Assyrian conquest, he variously scolds the Israelites for bringing that particular doom and other misfortunes upon themselves as a result of their wicked ways.

Naum – A prophet living in the times of the Assyrian conquest, he variously scolds the Israelites for bringing that particular doom and other misfortunes upon themselves as a result of their wicked ways.

Habacuc – A prophet living in the times of the Babylonian conquest, he variously scolds the Israelites for bringing that particular doom and other misfortunes upon themselves as a result of their wicked ways.

Tefania – A prophet living in the times of the Assyrian conquest, he variously scolds the Israelites for bringing that particular doom and other misfortunes upon themselves as a result of their wicked ways.

Hagai – A prophet living in the times of the Babylonian conquest, he predicts that if the Israelites rebuild the temple everything is going to be awesome.

Zaharia – A prophet living in the times of the Babylonian conquest, he predicts that if the Israelites rebuild the temple everything is going to be awesome.

Maleahi – A prophet living in the times of the Babylonian conquest, he predicts that if the Israelites rebuild the temple everything is going to be awesome.

As you can see, these prophets continuously provide proof that when you disobey the rules, bad things happen, and when you follow the rules, good things happen. And at least four of them are intensely focused on how important it is to rebuild the temple (buttressed by the lucky discovery of Deuteronomy) and listen to the priests.

Apocrypha

The following books do not exist in some Bibles but are part of the Romanian Orthodox tradition:

Istoria Susanei – One of the most interesting books in terms of plot and drama. A bunch of old guys try to rape a hot young woman (Susannah) and God punishes them.

Cantarea celor trei tineri – This is an addition to a story in the book of Daniel concerning three religious men who were thrown into a fire but survived.

Istoria Balaurului – My all-time favorite book in the Bible, this contains a story of how Daniel outwitted priests belonging to another religion.

1 & 2 Ezdra – A continuation of the stories of the kings following David and chronologically follows the information in 1 & 2 Regi and 1 & 2 Cronici.

Psalmul 151 – An “extra” psalm that talks about what happened after David killed Goliath.

3 & 4 Macabei – What makes these books so interesting is that they are the only ones written about the history of the Israelites after their return to Israel and rebuilding the temple. In fact the setting is around 200 BC when the Jews were then fighting off the Greek empire.

4 Macabei is no longer a part of Romanian Orthodox Bibles but it used to be.

And that’s it, folks!

New Testament

Matei, Marcu, Luca & Ioan – Known as the gospels, these are the books which describe the life of Jesus.

Faptele Apostolilor – Stories about what the disciples of Jesus did after he died.

Romani, Corinteni, Galateni, Efeseni, Filipeni, Coloseni, Tesaloniceni, Timotei, Tit & Filimon – all letters written by Paul as he traveled the world to spread his version of Christianity.

Evrei – A letter written by an unknown author, addressed to Jews and urging them to embrace Christianity.

1 & 2 Petru – Letters written by the apostle Peter.

1, 2 & 3 Ioan – Three letters written by the apostle John (who also wrote the Gospel of John).

Iuda – Probably the most controversial book in the New Testament, this is supposed to be a letter written by Jude (English name), the brother (or cousin) of Jesus.

Without getting too much into Christian history, essentially Jesus is born, grows up and begins teaching around Israel, attracting a number of disciples amongst the Jews of Israel. After Jesus dies (Easter), his disciples all continue to spread his message to their fellow Jews, with their leader being a man named James (Rom: Iacov), who is either the brother or cousin of Jesus.

Paul, who never met Jesus once, suddenly gets converted in a blinding moment and decides to spread his version of the religion to both Jews and non-Jews. He gets into a number of disputes with the James/Jude (Iacov/Iuda) faction, some of which is detailed in the Book of Acts (Faptele Apostolilor).

Paul’s letters constitute the bulk of the New Testament and it’s obvious that his version and interpretation of Christianity ultimately won out over the original disciples faction (including James/Iacov). Much, much, much more on this can be found here (in English).

Apocalipsa – A nightmare written on paper, a very bizarre and detailed account of how the world will end with a lot of death and suffering and blood.

And that’s how it ends.

AND NOW YOU KNOW!

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