Is the Tanakh “Great Literature”?

Presently, my poll shows more than 60% of my readers have read all of the Tanakh (AKA: “The Jewish Bible: — also derogatorily called the “Old” Testament by Christians).  Some people would call “The Bible” great literature. But as my Tanakh post illustrates, “the Bible” is really a little library of many books which we can’t judge as a whole. Discussing “the Bible” as if it were just one book is actually partially buying into the fundamentalist believer’s notion of a homogenized, spirit-guided book.

Questions for readers:

  • If you think the Tanakh qualifies as great literature, which book(s) do you think qualify as great literature?
  • Which books, or parts of books, do you think should be required reading for kid before college?
  • Which do you think should be required for liberal arts students who are trying to get a “well-rounded education”?
  • What other world-religion texts do you think should be required?
  • Which secular authors do you think should be required?
  • If not required in school, which to you recommend reading casually?
  • Do you think reading the Tanakh is benefitial even without supplementary reading?

Let’s hear it!  (Yes, NT stuff is coming later)


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

6 responses to “Is the Tanakh “Great Literature”?

  1. Earnest

    I think Genesis and Exodus qualify as at least classic literature, if not great literature. There is not much published from that time period to compare them to.

    But I can also say that it is the old-sounding fragments that I think are great. it is well known that Genesis seems to start twice. As a concretion of various authors Genesis seems to me to be a bit disjointed.

  2. I’ll try be concise:

    1. Great literature: Samuel, parts of Job & Ecclesiastes, some fairly small excerpts from the later prophets (Isaiah..Malachi)
    2. Required reading for kids: Genesis, Exodus, some small selections from Leviticus..Kings
    3. Well rounded education: everything with the possible exception of Chronicles, Ruth, half of Psalms+Proverbs
    4. Other world religion texts: bits from rabbinic sources, NT, Church fathers, Koran and hadith, some Buddhist scriptures, Chuang Tzu, Analects etc — depending on how much you can squeeze in!
    5/6. Other secular authors+casual reading: very hard to come up with a list off the top of my head, especially since it needs a whole theory of education to go with it (eg. whether it’s even worthwhile having required readings)
    7. Is reading Tanakh beneficial — definitely! But to a point, then you get into diminishing returns. There is benefit in knowing the narrative parts as well as the laws and basic worldviews. But by the time you’ve read a handful of Psalms, for instance, reading up to the full 150 might not give much.

  3. Melissa

    I really love your graphic as a way to explain the books that make up Tanach to my students. I would love to use it but the image is too small and I can’t blow it up without losing the readability of the text. Would you be willing to share it with me as a PDF or JPEG? Also I’m curious about the color coding, does it represent books codified in the same time period? Do you have a key to the color coding? Thanks!

  4. Sure Melissa — you didn’t include a reply email in your comment. Let me know if you are still interested. Sorry for the delay. I could send you a pdf of the diagram, or, here is the original with a key …

  5. Melissa Werbow

    Sabio, Oh, I had to give my email address to leave a comment, I didn’t know you couldn’t see it! Thank you so much for the link to the original, it was perfect and I could blow it up to a full page.


  6. You are welcome, Melissa.

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