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NA236412 - ANGUS, D.: Moses and other stories from the Old Testament (Jones, UK) (Unabridged)
Everywhere in the world, where men and women have lived together, and developed into tribes or nations, countries or societies, they have always sought to explain how the world was made and how they came to be there. These stories, or ‘myths of creation’, nearly always have a creator, or god, as the central figure of the story. From this personality all life is thought to spring, and the rules by which life must be governed, are then laid down by this Supreme Being.
The stories of the Old Testament, which is made up of thirty-nine books, are those of the ancient Jews, or Israelites, who lived in, and around the countries that today are called Palestine and Israel. The first five books are still the sacred texts of the Jewish religion. They call them the Torah, which means the ‘teaching of the law’. Their names are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
These books are also sacred to Islam and, since Jesus Christ was a Jew, and grew up in that faith, the Old Testament is also the first part of ‘The Holy Bible’, which is the sacred scripture of Christianity. Christians call these first five books the Pentateuch, an ancient Greek word that means quite simply, ‘five books’. Christianity, Islam and Judaism are three of the most widespread religions of the world. So it’s fair to say that, given the huge spread of these beliefs among mankind, there have been very few stories told in the world’s history more influential than these.
They are also very old. Historians believe that the oldest books of the Bible date from about 1450 BC and the stories themselves are certainly much more ancient. Before the art of writing, people must have learned them from their parents and then passed them on to their own children. Today, in the practice of the Jewish religion, children are still required to learn great tracts of the scriptures, and so this ‘oral tradition’ is preserved.
When a Jewish boy reaches the age of thirteen he becomes Bar Mitzvah, which means a ‘son of the commandment’. He is then considered an adult and on the Sabbath day, after his thirteenth birthday, he is invited to lead the prayers in the synagogue. A Jewish girl becomes Bat-Mitzvah, or ‘daughter of the commandment’ at the age of twelve.
Every Sabbath day Jewish congregations read from the Torah in the synagogue. It takes a year of weekly readings to complete the whole five books. The day when the last part is reached and Genesis, Chapter One, is due to be read again, is a feast day called ‘Sinchat Torah’—‘The celebration of the Law’.
This idea of being obedient to God’s laws, or ‘commandments’, is central to the stories of the Old Testament. After the creation of the earth, the next story, Adam and Eve, is the story of the first act of disobedience to God. By the time we reach the story of Noah, God is so disappointed with mankind, that he nearly wipes out the whole human race in a great flood. In the book of Exodus, God gives the Israelites laws, or ‘commandments’, so that henceforth they will know exactly how to behave. The ‘covenant’ between man and God is the promise to obey these commandments.
Because the Old Testament and the traditions of Judaism form the background to Christianity, the Pentateuch stories have always been read in Christian churches as well. The lands of Canaan, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Babylon, where the stories are set, lie in the Middle East. Many of the ideas of these ancient civilisations of the East, have, over time, became central to the way of life in the West.
For centuries in Europe, religious themes and stories were the inspiration, not only for laws and philosophies, but also for many of the greatest expressions of art. Music and poetry, painting and sculpture all served to bring these stories to the public in new and exciting ways. The Renaissance movement in Medieval Italy owed a great deal to the ideas and the art of the Ancient Greeks. But the subjects of Renaissance art were most frequently taken from the Bible.
Michelangelo’s great work of sculpture ‘The David’ and his masterpiece of painting: the roof of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, with its famous image of God the Father giving living life to Adam, have become some of the most famous and iconic images in the world. The great masters Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, and Raphael all drew on the Old Testament for their work and the sculptor, Donatello also made his own beautiful statue of the shepherd boy David.
In Medieval England, the origins of a great theatrical tradition began to take shape in the ‘Mysteries’, plays performed by working men on Feast days, and featuring many of the best of the Old Testament stories. Many of these plays are still performed today. The English Bible itself, in the ‘approved’ version, written in the reign of King James I, is considered by many people to be one of the finest examples of poetic literature in the English language. Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes, works of the great English poet John Milton, both take their inspiration from the Old Testament. In music there is Handel’s wonderful Zadok the Priest and Verdi’s opera Nabucco.
In our own time these stories continue to be told and re-told and to inspire new music and entertainment. One of the most popular has been the successful musical by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Hollywood also has explored these themes with blockbuster films like The Ten Commandments and more recently the popular children’s cartoons of the stories of Moses: Prince of Egypt and Joseph: Joseph King of Dreams produced by the film makers DreamWorks.
Many people believe these stories to be inspired directly by God and to be the actual truth. Others see them as metaphors: examples that can help us to understand difficult questions. Whatever one’s point of view, they continue to fascinate, and to inspire artists of all kinds to find new ways in which to tell them.
Notes by David Angus
The music on this recording is taken from the NAXOS catalogue
BEETHOVEN Overtures Volume 1
BEETHOVEN Overtures Volume 2
The music was programmed by Sarah Butcher
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