Introduction to Judaism and Disability: Portrayals in Ancient Texts from the Tanach through the Bavli continued . . .


The section of the Tanach called Prophets begins with the history of the conquest of Israel by Joshua; it extends through the periods of the kings and the divided monarchy as well as including the prophecies generated in that era by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others. The Book of Isaiah, as we have it today, combines the words of three prophets who lived in three different eras (J. McKenzie 1968, i). The prophets provided the counterpoint to the worldly viewpoints of the kings, speaking in God's words to the rulers of those days.

The Writings include a diverse set of works: Psalms, Proverbs, short novellas (e.g., the Books of Ruth and Esther), and sustained poems (e.g., Job and the Song of Songs), as well as a retelling of the story of Israel during the monarchy (Chronicles) and how the Temple was rebuilt (Ezra and Nehemiah).

In defining, in the broadest terms, what the different parts of the Tanach were about, we might say that the Torah is the template for Israel's place in the universe and for how it could become a monotheistic faith in a world of idolatry. The Prophets are concerned with how to make the theory presented in the Torah into a living reality and with the struggle to adhere to the ideal faith that the Israelites developed in their years in the wilderness, which is described in the Torah. The Writings present diverse views on life, suffering, sin, repentance, prayer, and history. Ideas are expressed in Writings that conflict with basic motifs of the Torah (e.g., Deuteronomy's vision of God working through history vs. Job's inscrutable Deity), yet all these works were included in the canon. (1) This ability of Judaism to contain within itself diverse views will also be seen in rabbinic literature.

To understand the Judaism of the biblical and rabbinic eras we must comprehend the idolatry against which those Judaisms were rebelling. Idolatry is not, as is commonly believed, the worship of mute, lifeless statues. The statues merely provided a focal point for meditation and devotion. Idolaters related to their gods in terms of three major religious metaphors:

  1. As Úlan vital, the spiritual cores in phenomena, indwelling wills and powers for them to be and thrive in their characteristic forms and manners. The phenomena are mostly natural phenomena of primary economic importance.
  2. As rulers.
  3. As parents, caring about the individual worshiper and his conduct as parents do about children.

Of these three different ways of viewing and presenting the gods, the first would appear to be the oldest and most original; for it is the one that is never absent..The second metaphor, that of the ruler appears to be later..[Then] the major gods became national gods, identified with narrow national political aspirations. (Jacobsen 1976, 20-21)

Idolatry was a developing, changing entity. Idolaters related to the gods in ways that changed as their societies developed.

Previous page

Next page

Go back to information about this book