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CHAPTER II. HEBRAIC LITERATURE

The Bible, a Collection of Epic, Lyric, Elegiac, and Sententious Writings. The Talmud, Book of Ordinances. The Gospels.

THE BIBLE.—The Hebrew race possessed a literature from about 1050 B.C. It embodied in poems the legends which had circulated among the people since the most remote epoch of their existence. It was those poems, gathered later into one collection, which formed what, since approximately the year 400, we call the Bible—that is, the Book of books.

In the Bible there are histories (Genesis, History of the Jews up to Joshua, the Book of Joshua, Judges, Kings, etc.), then anecdotal episodes (Ruth, Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Esther), then books of moral philosophy(Proverbs of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus), then books of an oratorical and lyrical character (Psalms of David and all the Prophets). Finally, a single work, still lyrical but in which there are marked traces of the dramatic type (the Song of Songs).

THE TALMUD.—To the works which have been gathered into the Bible, it is necessary to add the Talmud, a collection of commentaries on the civil and religious laws of the Jews, which forms an indispensable supplement to the Bible, to anyone desiring to understand the Hebraic civilisation.

THE GOSPELS.—The Gospels, published in the Greek tongue, have nothing Hebraic except that they were compiled by Jews or by their immediate disciples and that they have preserved something of the manner of writing of the Jews.

BIBLICAL WRITINGS.—The Biblical writings, regarded solely from the literary point of view, form one of the finest monuments of human thought. The sentiment of grandeur and even of infinity in Genesis ; the profound and simple sensibility as in the History of Joseph, Tobit, and Esther; eloquence and exquisite religious sentiment as in the Book of Job and the Psalms of David; ecstatic lyricism, vehement and fiery, accompanied with incredible satiric force as in the Prophets; wisdom alike equal to that of the Stoics and of the serious Epicureans as in Ecclesiastes and the Proverbs; everywhere marvellous imagination, always concise at least, if not restrained; lyrical sensuality which recalls the most perturbed creations of erotic Greeks and Latins, whilst surpassing them in beauty as in the Song of Songs; and throughout there is this grandeur, this simple majesty, this easy and natural sublimity which in the same degree is to be found only occasionally in Homer and which appears to be the privilege of the people who were the first to believe in a single God. That is what makes, almost in a continuous way, the astonishing beauty of the Bible, and which explains how whole nations, of other origin, have made down to our own day, and still continue to make, the Bible their uninterrupted study, and draw from it courage, serenity, exaltation of soul, and a singular ferment of their poetic and literary genius.

As has been the case with many other literary monuments, it is possible, without owning that it is desirable, that the Bible may even survive the numerous and important religions which have been born from it.