You think you know what history is?

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

We turn from law to history, or from instruction to prophecy, depending on whether you’re a Christian or a Jew. The second major division of the Old Testament in the Christian tradition is a group of historical writings. At this point the contents page of the church’s bible begins to look different from the Jewish one. The Jewish tradition puts what Christians call the historical books in two different categories, with the earlier books classed as Prophets, and some later ones put in the category of Writings.1

The historical books classed as Prophets are Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel (treated by Jews as a single scroll or book) and 1 & 2 Kings (also treated as a single book). These make up what are known in Jewish tradition as the four Former Prophets.2 This Jewish classification is a good reminder that we are reading history with a message: the books are concerned not simply to relate what happened, but to tell the story of God’s activity with, for and sometimes against his people, or at least their rulers.

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