Nehemiah Part Two Deep Dive
HISTORICAL BOOKS TO THE PROPHETS | RYAN KERRISON
Protestant bibles place the Book of Nehemiah right toward the back of the Historical Books, due in part to the decisions made by those in the 3rd Century BC, who translated the Septuagint (the earliest Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) also known as the LXX. The order of the books has been preserved from that time, through Jerome (a 4th Century Priest), who translated the Vulgate (Latin translation of the bible), and now into our English translations today. This format runs differently in the traditional Hebrew scriptures, where Nehemiah gets categorised into the K’Tuvim (Writings) alongside the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and many more due to its literary nature.
When looking at the categories of holy scripture, you may be able to erect or remove hermeneutic parameters (the art and science of interpretation). For example, if you’re reading Proverbs, there’s little to no chance that an explicit account of Israel’s ‘cycle of sin’ will be discussed therein. Nor will Paul’s theology of unity expressed to the Galatians be present, this is in part due to the category of the book. Nehemiah functions as a kind of closing for the historical book category. The book reiterates the section’s emphasis of Israel’s identity and the backbone of the corpus; Yahweh’s covenant to His people. During its time of authorship and reception, this collection of historical writings would have helped shape the culture, religious beliefs and ideals that were to follow. A historian today may remark regarding the Israelite history, ‘this information is not historically reliable’, where an ancient Israelite historian may respond to modern historiography, ‘this information is not worthwhile’*. After Nehemiah is the Book of Esther. This book is categorised within the K’Tuvim also, but earlier, indicating its narrative relevance to the time of Judges and Samuel.
Looping back to the Protestant categories once more, we can see that there is a shift in category from Nehemiah, the Poetic and Wisdom literature categories emerge. These books are vital to the identity and practice of the Jewish tradition, and today are revered sections of scripture, essential to the understanding of themes such as worship, suffering, practical wisdom, philosophy of life, and much more. It is not my wish to unpack the Wisdom literature grouping here, but rather focus on the next collection of books; the Prophets.
When referring to the Prophets, there are two major categories. Major and Minor. The natural inclination is to give theological authority or spiritual significance to one section over the other. However, to do this is a misappropriation of what’s really going on within the texts. The cause of division between the minor and the major prophets is one of practicality. The Major Prophets are simply longer. They take up more space within the scrolls on which they were written. Within this basic categorisation, the texts can be further broken down into their respective chronology: The Assyrian Crisis, the Babylonian Crisis and the Post-Exilic Period. From there, a further delineation can be made: Indictment oracle, Judgement oracle, Instruction Oracle and Aftermath Oracle. It is also helpful to remember that these prophecies were not collected and written down during their time, they were simply national and spiritual influences across the spectrum of Ancient-Near Eastern culture.
So, when embarking on the journey between Nehemiah and picking up likely in the wonderfully messianic Book of Isaiah, be conscious of the historical and social shifts that have taken place within the story. Try to check out the references you see and find them back inside the story so far. Be aware of letting your own interpretive bias get in the way of the Spirit as you pursue revelation from the Word. Have fun!
Trashing Tip: Check out the footnotes in your Bible for more context, and consult a commentary for further study!
*John Walton, Victoe Matthews, Mark Chavalas, IVP Bible Background Commentary, Downers Grove: IVP, 2000), 211.