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History

Fol­low­ing the Law in the Bible are those books which are called his­tor­i­cal. They cov­er the his­to­ry of Israel from the set­tle­ment in the promised land of Canaan to the first cen­turies before Christ. They include Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chron­i­cles, Ezra, Nehemi­ah, and Esther, as well as 1 and 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, and 1 and 2 Mac­cabees, which in the Eng­lish Bible includes 3 Maccabees.

In the bib­li­cal list­ing of the Ortho­dox Church, which is gen­er­al­ly that of the Sep­tu­agint, the Greek trans­la­tion of the Hebrew Bible, 1 and 2 Samuel are called 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Kings are called 3 and 4 Kings. Also, the so-called apoc­ryphal books, list­ed above after Esther, are con­sid­ered by the Ortho­dox as gen­uine parts of the Bible. The Old Tes­ta­ment apoc­rypha is a body of writ­ings con­sid­ered by the non-Ortho­dox to be of close asso­ci­a­tion with the Bible, but not actu­al­ly part of its offi­cial canon­i­cal contents.

The Book of Joshua begins with the Peo­ple of Israel cross­ing over the Jor­dan Riv­er and into the promised land led by Joshua, the suc­ces­sor of Moses. It tells of the vic­to­ries of the Israelites over the local inhab­i­tants, and the set­tle­ment of the twelve tribes in the ter­ri­to­ries appoint­ed to each by Moses.

The Book of Judges tells of the peri­od when the Israelites were ruled by the “judges” whom God appoint­ed, the most famous being Ehud, Deb­o­rah, Gideon, Jeph­thah, and Sam­son. Dur­ing this peri­od, the Israelites were often unfaith­ful to God and giv­en to evil. They were con­stant­ly at war with them­selves and their neigh­bors. The book ends with the line: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his eyes” (Judg 23:25).

The Book of Ruth is a very short sto­ry of the Moabite woman whom God blessed to be the wife of Boaz, the great-grand­moth­er of David the King.

The books of Samuel and Kings begin with the birth of Samuel, the prophet whom God chose to anoint Saul as the first king of Israel. Until Saul there was no king, for God Him­self was to be King for His Peo­ple. Yet Israel wished to be “like all the nations” and God yield­ed, with reluc­tance, to their desires (Sam 8). Saul soon became evil and God sent Samuel to anoint David, the shep­herd boy, as king in his place. Saul was enraged and made war against David, but David was mer­ci­ful to him though he could eas­i­ly have killed him. Dur­ing this whole time, the Israelites were con­stant­ly at war. Saul final­ly killed him­self rather than be tak­en in bat­tle, and David became the only king. Hav­ing sub­dued all of his ene­mies, both with­in Israel and with­out, David estab­lished a glo­ri­ous king­dom cen­tered in Jerusalem, the city which he built. David’s son, Solomon, favored by God with great wis­dom, enlarged his father’s king­dom and built the great tem­ple for God on Mount Zion. The king­ship of David and Solomon last­ed from 1000–422 BC.

No soon­er had Solomon died, than the king­dom col­lapsed. Two rival states emerged, Israel and Judah, which were con­stant­ly at war with each oth­er and with those around them. This was a time of great deca­dence and evil that last­ed for about three hun­dred years and end­ed with the Baby­lon­ian Cap­tiv­i­ty (587–539 BC). It was the time of Eli­jah and many of the great prophets of God.

Baby­lon was cap­tured by the Per­sians led by Cyrus and Dar­ius who restored the Israelites to their home­land. The books of Ezra and Nehemi­ah tell of the reset­tle­ment of the Jews, and of the rebuild­ing and the reopen­ing of the tem­ple in Jerusalem.

The two books of Chron­i­cles date from this same peri­od and may well have been com­piled by Ezra, although schol­ars con­sid­er them as the work of third cen­tu­ry authors, per­haps the same who wrote Ezra and Nehemi­ah. The Chron­i­cles cov­er the his­to­ry of Israel from Adam to the time of Cyrus. They con­tain numer­ous genealo­gies, and show par­tic­u­lar inter­est in David and the Kings as well as in the tem­ple and the priest­hood. In the Sep­tu­agint Bible the Chron­i­cles are called Par­alipom­e­na which means “that which has been left out,” thus indi­cat­ing their pur­pose as being to fill in what has been exclud­ed from the ear­li­er his­tor­i­cal books of the Bible.

The Book of Esther, and those of 1 and 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, and 1 and 2 Mac­cabees which, as we have said, are includ­ed in the Bible in the Ortho­dox Church, bring the his­to­ry of Israel down to New Tes­ta­ment times. They tell of the reor­ga­ni­za­tion of the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty around the tem­ple, the cult and the law as a mere rem­nant of the great nation, or nations of Israel and Judah, which exist­ed before the time of exile; a strug­gling rem­nant con­stant­ly in sub­ju­ga­tion to exter­nal pow­ers. It is most­ly the case that the his­tor­i­cal books of the Bible were writ­ten well after the events described in them actu­al­ly took place.