THE "J" DOCUMENT
The days of Israel's wealth and prestige among the nations of the Near East vanished, but a movement had begun in King Solomon’s time that would be of utmost importance to Western civilization, although it is rarely and only obliquely mentioned in the Scriptures.
While the cries of opulent merchants and the chants of straining slaves echoed through the crooked, sunny streets of Jerusalem, within the thick-walled chambers of the temple, wise priests and scribes were gathering memories, laws and history for the guidance of their people, to tighten the cords of unity among them and to trace for them the background of Israel's powerful identity.
There was no dearth of material for the scribes to work with, for from time immemorial storytelling was the backbone of social relations among the people, from the Nile to the Euphrates and beyond. There were stories in prose and in poetry, written or recited; myths concerning the mysteries of life, legends with their roots in fact, tales of pagan gods and records of real men, memories of heroes whose exploits had actually been performed by whole tribes.
Though other nations might record the feats, real or imaginary, of their great kings and heroes, the priests wrote only of Israel's relations with her God. Although Moses' inspiration had seen God as I AM, in Solomon's days the priests' concept was still anthropomorphic, far from the spiritual heights future prophets would attain. Invisible and all-powerful, God was still to the priests man-like: kind, patient and completely righteous, yet on occasion terrible in his anger towards his wayward people. God and Israel were the center of the world.
Reverently the scholars studied the folklore, sacred writings and court records of Israel's past, discussing, weighing, sifting carefully and selecting those narratives which best expressed their knowledge of their God. The skillfully retold stories constitute the earliest segments of our Bible.