Thursday, October 15, 2009

4) Compilation of the Tanakh

Whatever the Persian kings' reason for not visiting the Temple (or for not visiting it publicly) might have been, we ought to say to their credit that not less important than the physical building of the Temple was the fact that under their rule the Jews, although often severely molested by hostile elements, could dedicate themselves to their spiritual call, and work on the compilation of the most influential book of mankind: the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). Quite a number of Biblical books were composed during the Persian period, as e.g. the Books of Haggai, Zechariah, Maleachi; Ezra, Nehemiah; the Scroll of Esther; the ending of the Book of Chronicles; several Psalms. Of previous Prophets, at least the Book of Ezekiel as well as the closing chapters of the Book of Jeremiah, were written in that period26, too. They form an integral part of the Tanakh which was canonized finally only in the Roman period.

The ancient type of Hebrew writing was then, under Ezra, officially replaced by the so-called square, or Aramaic, letter types in which we still write the Torah scrolls and the rest of the Hebrew Bible. But not only the style of writing got altered. In the days of the Prophets during the period of the First Temple and before, the main emphasis in teaching the Torah had been on the spoken word. Now, after the institution of Prophecy had come to an end - with Haggai, Zechariah and Maleachi terminating it - the voice of prophets was no longer heard, and the teaching of Torah was founded on the written word. The square script, easier to read, enabled a wider public - Jews and non-Jews - to get access to it. This latter point may find a negative proof in the fact that the Samaritans who stayed with the ancient Hebrew writing, remained an enclosed community.

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