Ketuvim (Writings)

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After the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE, the rabbis of the following century canonized the books of Ketuvim. Certain of the Ketuvim were associated with figures from Nevi'im, probably from early on--Proverbs and Song of Songs with King Solomon, Lamentations with Jeremiah, and Psalms as a whole with King David. The Talmud records the rabbis' disagreements over whether to include Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs, and suggests that Esther too was not unanimously approved.

Ketuvim opens with Psalms (Tehillim). These poems include liturgies for public celebrations in the Temple, individual meditations at times of danger or suffering, and expressions of awe at Creation. Taken together the Psalms leave the impression of an "official theology" of Temple, priesthood, and nation, but what makes them timeless is the personal voice expressing peril, doubt, and celebration.

The books of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes (Kohelet) come out of what scholars term the "Wisdom tradition." Wisdom was an international literature in the biblical Near East, nurtured by scribes in every culture from Egypt to Mesopotamia. Its characteristics included the observation of nature and the world as the source of understanding, and the use of reason to determine the best course for human happiness.


Scene of the Book of Ruth

Two stories and one poem are set at particular points in Jewish history. Ruth presents a narrative set in the time of the book of Judges about a Moabite woman who follows her mother-in-law back to Bethlehem when her own husband dies. She joins her destiny with Israel and becomes the ancestor of King David. Esther, set in Persia, is well-known as the megillah (scroll) that tells the story behind the holiday of Purim. Lamentations is a series of poems set in Jerusalem in the days after the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians.

Unlike any of the other books are Song of Songs and Daniel. The former is a collection of passionate love poetry, by tradition an allegory of the love affair between God and Israel. Daniel is an eclectic book most often noted as the earliest apocalyptic text in Judaism.

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