The Historical Books

The main purpose of the Historical Books is not to give “scientific history”, but “theological history”.

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Two very important aspects of this theological history demand more emphasis: the importance of the Covenant (“I will be your God and you will be my people” = God’s promise) but there is a big IF… namely, if you are faithful to the Covenant.

The Historical Books are not only the story that God will always fulfil his promise, but very explicitly that the rulers, be they judges or kings, were most of the time not faithful to the Covenant. There is a similarity of the narratives for all the judges (the Twelve Judges) insofar as they all began well, but ended badly.

This is also true of the Story of the Kings. The people, who asked Samuel for a king, wanted “to be like the other nations”, which they were not; they were the People of the Covenant, and should have been relying on God for protection and not on a king.

All kings, except three (e.g. Josiah) after Solomon were bad. Indeed, it was Solomon’s foolish way of ruling that led to the split of the United Kingdom into Israel (North) and Judah (South) in 931 BCE. Yet God still remained faithful to his Covenant and brought it to fulfilment despite these unfaithful and sinful kings.

The Historical Books are, therefore, telling the story of how their infidelity led to one disaster after another, the Fall of Samaria in 722/1 and the Fall of Jerusalem (587/6). These books are subdivided into two main historical collections and some other books:

The Deuteronomic History is made up by what the Jewish list calls “Former Prophets”. (Deuteronomistic History is a modern theoretical construct holding that behind the present forms of the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, there was a single literary work).

  • Joshua is written like an eye-witness account of a military campaign.
  • Judges is about the judges whose stories as temporary leaders of the people it relates.
  • 1-2 Samuel is about the prophet, who dominates much of its pages.
  • 1-2 Kings presents the story of the kings of Israel and Judah down to the destruction of Jerusalem and the sending into exile.

The Chronicler’s History comes from the hands of a Levite or Priest and is not just a retelling, but more a rereading and even a reinterpretation from their point of view. Priests are allotted a much more important place in history than in the Book of Kings.

  • 1-2 Chronicles are concerned with the affairs of Judah, the southern kingdom, for the most part. They come from Jerusalem and are concerned with the reconstruction of the Temple.
  • Ezra and Nehemiah are named after the architects of the reconstruction Temple and city after the return, Ezra the scribe and Nehemiah the builder.

A third part of this group is made up of:

  • Ruth is named after the heroine, a pagan woman from Moab, who may have been a historical figure since she is named as the great-grandmother of King David but the author has fictionalised her story.
  • Esther is named after its fictional heroine who became queen.
  • Lamentations is the name given to five poems which were used to lament the sacking of the city of Jerusalem, the destruction of the first Temple and the exiling of the people of Judah in 586 BCE.

The final part contains five deutero-canonical books:

  • Judith is named after its Jewish heroine, a beautiful, young and resourceful widow. The book is a work of fiction.
  • Tobit is named after its Jewish hero, living in exile in Nineveh.
  • Baruch is named after the alleged author who claims to have written the work in Babylon after the Chaldeans had destroyed Jerusalem (586 BCE).
  • The Books of 1-2 Maccabees are named after the name Maccabaeus, given to Judas, the central character of the story.


Download the introduction to the Historical Books.