Ancient Israel, Literature, and Context

One reason that I find ancient Israel, along with its literature and ancient context, Alma Memeto be so fascinating is its place historically. During the periods in which ancient Israelite religion and culture developed, it was usually under a foreign power, or at least the threat of a foreign power, namely Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Persian, or Roman power(s). Even when they operated autonomously, the shadows of great empires recognized their value and sought to rule the Judean region. It is in these contexts that the majority of literature and religious ideas were formed.

In other words, ancient Israel developed in constant tension. They never had the opportunity to be settled, as did Egypt and Mesopotamia, both of which were protected by large geographical boundaries and enabled to grow extensively due to their available resources. Ancient Israel, while it did have some beneficial geographical boundaries, was not enabled to grow extensively due to their lack of available resources. This lack of resources resulted in a culture rooted in constant tension. I suspect that it was the very tension that allowed ancient Israel to thrive and always maintain presence and life, even in exile.

Tensions are a huge aspect of what drives my interest in the Hebrew Bible, Pseudepigrapha, and other ancient literature. To this day humans feels tensions in their contexts when they don’t live a privileged lifestyle. And to observe and take note of how, historically speaking, people have dealt with those tensions is beautiful and awe-inspiring. Perhaps Tennessee Williams’ character Alma said it best: “To me, well, that is the secret, the principle back of existence, the everlasting struggle and aspiration for more than our human limits have placed in our reach” (From Summer in Smoke by Tennessee Williams).

 

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