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Cambridge University Press

Why the Bible Began - Print

Why the Bible Began - Print

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Why the Bible Began:
An Alternative History of Scripture and Its Origins

Jacob L. Wright

Hard cover 500pp.
ISBN 9781108490931
Cambridge University Press (2023)

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Wright demonstrates how the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible represents the first, and one of the most elaborate, projects of peoplehood. He tells the dramatic story of the Bible’s origins in relation to a longstanding political division between North and South (Israel and Judah) and the traumatic experience of defeat.

Why did no other ancient society produce something like the Bible? That a tiny, out of the way community could have created a literary corpus so determinative for peoples across the globe seems improbable.

For Wright, the Bible is not only a testimony of survival, but also an unparalleled achievement in human history. Forged after Babylon’s devastation of Jerusalem, it makes not victory but total humiliation the foundation of a new idea of belonging.

Lamenting the destruction of their homeland, scribes who composed the Bible imagined a promise-filled past while reflecting deeply on abject failure. More than just religious scripture, the Bible began as a trailblazing blueprint for a new form of political community.

Its response to catastrophe offers a powerful message of hope and restoration that is unique in the Ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman worlds. Wright’s Bible is thus a social, political, and even economic roadmap – one that enabled a small and obscure community located on the periphery of leading civilizations and empires not just to come back from the brink, but ultimately to shape the world’s destiny. The Bible speaks ultimately of being a united yet diverse people, and its pages present a manual of pragmatic survival strategies for communities confronting societal collapse.

“Profoundly insightful. Wright demonstrates how ancient Israel and Judah developed the resources to construct a resilient nationhood not in spite of but, paradoxically, because of the experience of military defeat, economic devastation, and diaspora. No other kingdom of the ancient Near East was able to do so. Today, as so many communities, peoples and nations face similar critical threats to their existence, Wright’s book provides a fascinating and incisively argued case study of how one people drew upon its cultural resources not simply to survive but to generate a vibrantly creative intellectual and spiritual tradition.”
Carol A. Newsom, Emory University

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