During the days of the vast Persian Empire (ca. 550–330 BCE)—when far-flung Greeks were accomplishing a luminous cultural revolution; when, through the interwoven power of Persians and Greeks, the known world from the Indus to Italy was united as never before; and when writing, already more than two thousand years old, was moving beyond epic poetry toward new sophisticated forms, especially toward Greek-language prose historiography—a group of Judeans assembled in one place, probably Jerusalem or Babylon, and took charge of the writing of their own history. This history echoed centuries, perhaps even millennia, but its focus was specific—Judea, especially Jerusalem. The resulting multivolume account—from creation to the fall of Jerusalem (Genesis-Kings, “the Primary History, ” spanning over 3,500 years)—did not just provide a history for the people of Judea; it transformed history-writing and became a landmark of world literature. Writing had reached a new level.
Such is one of this book's conclusions.
Other writers did likewise. Herodotus and Thucydides also wrote histories, and of comparable length. And other cities, not just Jerusalem, built other sweeping foundational narratives. Athens, by employing a well-established author, Hellanicus, assured the composing of its own ancient history. So in time did Babylon and Egypt—both relying on priest-writers. And so eventually did Rome.
But the Jerusalem-oriented history was far more than history, more than a variation on the Greeks. It had a unique resonance. Adapting Mesopotamian tradition, it hearkened all the way back to creation. And, having absorbed many of the prophets, it contained a great inner depth, a sense of reality as echoing. The center of Jerusalem was Zion, Mount Zion; and behind Zion (Sion) lay Sinai, Mount Sinai—one place of divine presence behind the other. The Jerusalem-oriented history was so constructed that Mount Sinai's incomparable mystique—God's great power and Moses' peerless leadership (ExodusDeuteronomy)—hovered over the portrayal of Mount Zion, over the story of Jerusalem (Samuel-Kings). And between the two stories of Sinai and Zion, lending further perspective to both, was a centuries-long history of conquest, failure, and judgment (Joshua-Judges). Jerusalem, therefore, might look drab