What to read immediately after Gilgamesh is a somewhat difficult question.
There is an argument that reading the Hebrew Bible is the next step--but I'm not going to do it. In this post and the next one, I want to talk about why a reader might read the Bible here, why I am choosing not to, and what I plan to read when I eventually do read it. In the following two posts, I'll talk about two new books that discuss the history of the Biblical text and why it is important for a any survey of Western literature to include a serious non-religious reading of the Bible.
Let me start by saying that although the I know the Bible is a religious text read by people with a tremendously wide variety of beliefs, I do not plan to discuss it from that perspective at all. I will refer to it occasionally from a historical perspective and primarily from a literary perspective. (If you would like to find out more about my own personal place in the world of religion, you can read some of the posts on my old blog with the labels "judaism" and "atheism.")
Orthodox Jewish rabbis date the giving of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) to about 1300 BCE--roughly the same time or slightly earlier, as I'll discuss in a future post, as the Trojan war which served as a central subject of early Greek texts. Those who believe that the Bible is true say that God dictated the text to Moses, while others argue that it was divinely inspired. On the other hand, more secular Biblical scholars who trace through the text of the Torah find evidence that it was composed by a variety of authors over time--some writings as early as 950 BCE and others centuries later. The assorted writings were not compiled until years later--with some scholars placing the completed Torah as late as the last two centuries BCE.
When we look at the entire text of the Hebrew Bible (aka the Old Testament), it might have been even later. The Dead Sea Scrolls (dating to roughly the beginning of the Common Era) contains much of Hebrew text. The oldest complete text in existence dates to the 4th Century CE (aka AD) and is in ancient handwritten Greek.
So one reason I am choosing to delay reading the Bible is because it is a bit unclear where it fits historically. Another is that it makes sense to me to read the Hebrew Bible immediately before the New Testament since that text grows out of it so directly. The writings in the early centuries of the Common Era are heavily shaped by both the Old and New Testaments.
Another reason is that I have read the Bible before, albeit more than twenty-five years ago when I was still quite young. Although I've read it, I do think it would be extremely profitable to read again in its entirety. At the time, I read it primarily as literature as well, but I had not yet sharpened my literary skills at all. Nor did I have any teacher to guide me in my reading.
My final reason for postponing my reading of the Bible is that I am quite nervous about how you my readers will respond. Talking about the Bible can be a pretty dangerous thing. I know that anything I say might offend someone. I thought it might be a good idea for y'all to get to know me a bit first.
Next time: the translations I will--and will not--be using when I do eventually start reading the Bible.