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Make Yourself an Ark | Genesis 6:11-17

The ark Noah was instructed to build is a sanctuary; both a place of safety and a place of cultic sacrifice. The ark is a holy place constructed in a written text composed after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. Knowing this, we are able to reconstruct the meaning of the allegory of the great flood in Genesis. God had ‘determined to make an end of all flesh.’ This we can only read in reference to the fates of the Hebrew kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Israel — a people of Yahweh — was destroyed by the Assyrian Empire in 722 BCE. The population of the northern kingdom was deported to exile beyond the Euphrates and so Israel ceased to exist as a political and cultural entity. The Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, the capital of the southern Kingdom of Judah, and its temple in 587 BCE threatened the Judeans with the same fate of cultural annihilation.

Abram the Hebrew | Genesis 14:13-16

In the reception of the biblical text, the word ‘Hebrew’ (עִבְרִי, ʿibrî) has come to be treated as a synonym of Israelite and in more modern parlance a synonym for Jew. Thus, the Hebrews of the Bible are the Israelites and the Jews of today are Hebrews. Yet, the text of the Hebrew Bible does not allow for this simple equation. These terms, strictly speaking, are not interchangeable. While Abram, the father of Isaac (the father of Jacob/Israel), is called ‘the Hebrew’ in Canaan (Genesis 14:13) and while the Israelites are referred to as ‘the Hebrews’ in Egypt (Exodus 1:22), the term itself seems to lack, in deeper analysis, the qualities of an ethnic marker. Where ‘Israelite’ signifies belonging to a national or ethnic group, ‘Hebrew’ appears to describe either a mode of life or a legal status.