The Great Reign Of Hezekiah
The Spiritual Role Of Hezekiah's 'Academy'
One extensive spiritual lesson (the four-term equation: sin, punishment, repentance, forgiveness)
Modern biblical scholars of course had no difficulty in distinguishing the change of style between the historical sources, dating from the period of the Judges, and the additions made some four and a half centuries later by Hezekiah's writers.
In the former the language is primitive and archaic with rather rugged images; in the latter the style is elegant, flexible and varied, and shows the signs of a great literary period.
In these circumstances we can reconstruct the genesis of the book of Judges as follows:
At the outset there were separate accounts relating the political and military episodes of a certain tribe or group of tribes.
At the time of Hezekiah the literary men of Yahudah (a sort of academy) collected these scattered elements together, giving them a uniform theological slant in order to transform the separate accounts into one extensive spiritual lesson (the four-term equation: sin, punishment, repentance, forgiveness).
But at this stage the Book of Judges had still not reached its definitive form. During the following centuries chroniclers completed some of the chapters with incidents which it was considered should be saved from oblivion. The work only reached its final form three centuries later (in about 400 B.C.) at the time of Ezra, that is, on the return from the Babylonian Exile.
For the continuation of the national Divre Hayamim after the period of the Judges Hezekiah's Academy had available different accounts which enabled it to lay the foundation of a history of Schmu'el and David (1040970). Following this, for the period of Solomon, Rehoboam and Jeroboam, these historians possessed written information of recent date and of greater accuracy. We no longer possess the narrative drawn up at this time since it was revised and rewritten after the Babylonian captivity.
It should be added that a part of the Book of Proverbs must be credited to the men of Hezekiah.8 In addition, it may be wondered whether at this period these same men of letters had not considerable influence on the writing of one part of the Psalter. This is lyrical poetry in which intimate prayer rises up from the heart; it is addressed to YAHWEH in the same way that a man speaks to a powerfuI protector or even to a friend.
Today a number of biblical scholars think that the literary team working in Yerusalem on behalf of King Hezekiah put into shape the elements of the book which we now call Devarim.
A number of legal sections are scattered about in Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus among accounts and explanations intended to show us the set apart origin of the Laws.
YAHWEH's Commandments, the solid foundation of the Law
YAHWEH's Commandments, the solid foundation of the Law, was promulgated on the slopes of Sinai. With the solemn confirmation of the existence of the one YAHWEH (already proclaimed five or six hundred years previously to Abraham) there was given the text of a code reduced to a few very short commandments; during the following centuries these were expanded by many explanatory articles, carefully drafted in accordance with the Mosaic tradition.
Clearly YAHWEH's plan -in addition to the revolutionary declaration about the oneness of YAHWEH -could not be confined for long to the formulation of a code. Thus as the evolution of the human spirit made it possible, YAHWEH, speaking through his prophets showed how the Law was to be interpreted. This included the love that the faithful follower of YAHWEH should give to his Creator, the love that a man should have for his neighbour, the idea of a merciful YAHWEH to whom a man could lay bare his soul and with whom he could converse with humility and even affection. Thus Devarim effected a deepening of spiritual awareness, though the Decalogue still remained of course, the basic teaching. In this way the influence of the prophets over Devarim proved decisive.
The 'First Law', promulgated by Mosheh during the 'forty years' in the wilderness was intended to govern the lives of the shepherds on the plain and was applicable to the conditions of their lives as nomads.
But shortly after the Twelve Tribes had settled in the Promised Land the Mosaic legislation was no longer meeting the needs of the new economic, social or even spiritual conditions.
To solve the new problems, the Levites, developed regional codes
Among the Twelve Tribes, and more especially in the kingdom of Samaria an extraordinary development in the Law occurred. To solve the new problems, unknown to the shepherds of the time of Mosheh, which were arising for the new landowners and citizens of Yisrael, litigants came to consult the Levites who acted as guardians of the local tabernacles. They were qualified to give decisions. Thus gradually regional codes were developed, which though always inspired, of course, by the Law of Mosheh, were adapted to the new conditions. These Laws began to be written down on tablets or scrolls and it was thus possible when necessary to refer to them. Of course, these customs of the kingdom of Yisrael were a reflection of the moral evolution of the period, which was more humane than that of previous times. Thus in the kingdom of Yisrael, cut off from the tabernacle of Yerusalem by the schism, there originated and developed a new and less severe idea of justice.
In 721 came the fall of Samaria and the destruction of the kingdom of Yisrael. Some of the Levites, in charge of the tabernacles of this kingdom took refuge in Yerusalem; they had the presence of mind to bring with them the legislative texts previously written down and these proved a considerable spiritual asset for Yahudah.
The men of Hezekiah lost no time in setting to work on these texts. Their main task was one of classification, followed by that of establishing the indispensible connection between the texts. But the book also has a measured style which shows that the various elements were combined together by someone with impressive literary activities.
This was the procedure, it is probable, adopted by Hezekiah's scribes. In this way was formed the kernel of what at a later period, came to be known as Devarim. Spiritual customs of the times required that sacred documents of this kind should be deposited near the Ark of the Covenant, in the silence and semi-darkness of the innermost room of the Tabernacle, the Holy of Holies. In the absence of a definite statement it cannot be asserted with certainty that this was done for the precious collection of documents in question. In any case, it would have remained under the care of the kohens of the Tabernacle.
The text of Devarim established by Hezekiah's scribes would have been shorter than the book which we can read in our Scripture today. Down the centuries the work was progressively embellished by further additions, reflecting fresh social problems with the evolution of civilization; it continued to be augmented with Laws and moral principles of an increasingly developed nature.
By our incursion into the golden age of literature at the time of Hezekiah we have been able to realize the richness and spiritual dynamism of this period -end of the eighth, beginning of the seventh century -in which the Hebrew genius shone with incomparable brilliance.
8 This is shown by the inscription at the head of The Second Collection attributed to Solomon (Pr 251) This reads The following also are proverbs of Solomon transcribed by Hezekiah, king of Yahudah. As has already been explained the ascription to Solomon cannot be taken literally.