Stories of Biblical
and Early Post-Biblical Times
George W. E. Nickelsburg
The post-exilic Jewish community produced a vast quantity of narrative literature. Common to this literature is its setting in Israelite history in relation to situations and characters known from this history. These narrative writings do not admit of easy classification, and some of them could, with good reason, have been grouped with texts treated elsewhere in this volume.
These problems notwithstanding, we have divided the narrative writings into two somewhat overlapping categories. In the next chapter we shall treat documents that are closely related to the biblical texts, often expanding, paraphrasing, and implicitly commenting on them. In the present chapter, we discuss an older type of narrative, which is only loosely connected with biblical traditions about Israel’s past. Often this connection involves little more than the historical setting (e.g., the exile or diaspora) and some figure(s) from the past—a foreign king or a patriarch or prophet. The stories may also use biblical themes and may imitate biblical stories, but here the similarities cease.
Chronology presents one problem in determining the proper contents of this chapter. The book of Tobit and quite possibly an early stratum in Judith are older than the final form of the canonical book of Daniel. On the other hand, because the old stories in Daniel 1-6 were used in a document composed in the Maccabaean period and because these stories were imitated in writings from the post-biblical period, we shall treat Daniel 1-6 briefly here.
Another ambiguity relates to the stories that were incorporated into the Greek version of Daniel. In the form in which we know them, they function as expansions and imitations of a biblical text. However, it remains uncertain whether they were composed to be inserted into the biblical text or whether they were composed earlier, before their prototypes had become part of that text.
Finally, at the end of this chapter we discuss Aristeas to Philocrates and 3 Maccabees, two texts about events in the third century B.C.E. (postbiblical times). Because of their narrative form, we include them here. With equal justification they might have been grouped with Wisdom literature and historical writings respectively.