Saturday, 15 October 2016

The Reading of the Scriptures by Fr Felix, O.F.M.Cap. part 13.

The first five books of the Old Testament are called the Pentateuch.* They were written by Moses to whom we have frequent reference in the New Testament. He begins with a short account of the creation of the material universe and of man in two sublime chapters. Then already in the third chapter of the first book (Genesis) we have the terrible tragedy of the Fall by which sin and sorrow were introduced into the world, disturbing the harmony of all creation. The narrative moves rapidly on to describe the circumstances leading to the Deluge; then we have the call of Abraham, and thenceforward Abraham and his descendants are the chosen people to whom "the words of God were committed" (Romans 3, 2). *Pentateuch is a compound Greek word meaning five sheaths .(or cases) in which the rolls or volumes were kept.

The Book of Exodus tells of Moses and his mission to deliver the Hebrew people from Egypt, where they had been persecuted and reduced to slavery. In connection with this deliverance it describes the first institution of the Pasch, which became the greatest religious festival of the Old Law. The exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb are two examples of many places in the Old Testament where there is a typical or mystical sense in addition to the literal. The words tell us the historical facts which occurred, but, moreover, these facts themselves had a further meaning, and were prophetical of future events which found fulfilment in the New Law. From St. Matthew 2, 15, we know that this liberation of the Israelites under Moses' leadership was a type or prophetic figure of the return of Christ from Egypt. Similarly, the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb was a type of the immolation of Our Lord on Calvary. (cfr. ,St. John 19, 36). Even the ceremonies prescribed for the celebration of the Paschal ritual were significant and symbolical. No leaven could be used during the week of the festival (Exodus 12, 15); the full significance of this is explained by St. Paul—leaven is the symbol of corruption and sin, and the unleavened bread symbolises "sincerity and truth" (I Corinthians 5, 7-8). The Pentateuch brings the history of the Old Testament down to the death of Moses and the end of the Patriarchal period about 1400 B.C. Josue describes the conquest and division of Chanaan (Palestine) by the Israelites, under the valiant hero of that name who is also the human author of the book. Judges tells of their system of government under divinely appointed Judges or dictators for a period of about four hundred years. The idyllic Book of Ruth (of four chapters only) tells how Ruth, a Moabite woman, and therefore a gentile, became the wife of Boos and so the ancestress of King David. She is one of the three women mentioned in the genealogy of the human ancestry of Our Lord (St. Matthew 1, 5). The four Books of Kings and the two of Paralipomenon treat of the Monarchy of Israel until the Babylonian Exile (1051-586 B.C.). In 4 Kings 17, we have the origin of that strange people, the Samaritans. They were "planted" into Palestine from Babylon and its environs by the Assyrian King, Salmansasar; a fact which accounts for their peculiar cult (St. John 4, 20), and explains the mutual antipathy between Samaritan and Jew, thus illustrating many passages in the New Testament. Tobias is of special interest in that it belongs to the former Exile, that of the Ten Tribes. Judith and Esther tell of the Jewish heroines whose names they bear. The two Books of Esdras relate the return of the Jews from the Babylonian Exile, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its Temple. Then there is a lacuna in Sacred History until the Machabees (1 and 2), which record incidents in the religious persecution under the Syro-Grecian Seleucids, successors of Alexander the Great (166-40 B.C.).