These three things taken together – the simplicity of the theme of all these books, the way they are connected, and the fact that they were written by someone other than the person whose name they bear, many generations after the events related – lead us to infer that, as we have just said, they were all written by one Historian alone.--Spinoza, (1670) Theological Political Treatise (TTP), Chapter 8 [Here and below I use a draft of Curley's translation he kindly shared with me.--ES]
Yoram Hazony's The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture (recall also here) identifies "a single, largely unbroken narrative extending from creation of the world in Genesis to the destruction of Judah at the end of the book of Kings" at the core of the Hebrew Bible; this core he calls "The History of Israel." (140; disclosure: Hazony and I have written a piece on Hume & Newton together.) Hazony reads The History of Israel as offering an "instructional narrative," which conveys (among other things) a political philosophy. The History of Israel favors the anarchic, shepherding life, but as the story unfolds comes to recognize that anarchy is not self-sustaining. Political order is understood "as oscillating between the imperial state...and anarchy." (160) Hazony reads the Hebrew Bible as a search for a politics grounded in ethics--one that makes the state "limited in its aspirations" (153-4; recall this post).
Hazony sugests that Jeremiah "or perhaps one of his students, may have been the final author of the History of Israel as a unified work." (161; by "author," Hazony does not mean "the person who wrote all of it by himself," 37-8.) Hazony's argument for this is that The History ends "with the exile of Judag's leading political and spiritual figures, the most straightforward reading us that this history is the product of the exile from the land and its aftermath." (37; Hazony acknowledges he is echoing the Rabbanic opinion here.) The book would have been composed in Egyptian exile in the seventh century (BC). Crucially, it means that the viewpoint of the political philosophy of the Hebrew Bible is "the experience of the Jews in degredaton and exile, and the attempt to survive it." (38)
To put the point in terms not used by Hazony: the book is the profound reflection of shared (political-cultural) trauma. One intended aim of the political philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, then, is the prevention of the recurrence of such national trauma. This presupposes that the political meaning of the book is not so much an acceptance of the fate of exile, but a call to action to end it. Here Hazony comes close to Spinoza, which is surprising because Hazony is no fan of Spinoza (who is mentioned just once in critical context). As the epigraph to this post reveals, Spinoza and Hazony agree that the Hebrew Bible has an imposed, unified point of view and belongs to the genre of political history.
To be sure, Spinoza has a different view of the authorial context and intent of the History of Israel than Hazony. Spinoza unfolds his viewpoint with an early hint in Chapter 5, when he writes "the teaching of Scripture" could "be demonstrated as easily to the first Jews, who lived in the time of Moses, as it could to those who lived in the time of Ezra. But more of this later." Now, for those who do not recall their Biblical chronology, Ezra is said to have lived under Artaxerxes I in the fifth century (BC) and have returned the Exiles from Babylonian captivity toward Jerusalem. This would rule out Jeremaiah as the author of the Hebrew Bible. And in chapters 8-9 Spinoza does, indeed, suspect that Ezra is the author of the History of Israel (not the whole Hebrew Bible). (For Spinoza, too, the author of the Hebrew Bible worked with pre-existent material.)
The pairing of Moses and Ezra also reveals Spinoza's understanding of the intent behind The History of Israel. According to Spinoza Moses was the first political legislator/founder of Israel; Ezra is portrayed as te re-founder of Israel whose aim was (as Spinoza writes in the closing lines of the chapter) to impart "a thorough knowledge of the law to the people" by telling the story of the first founding of the nation. So, on this view, the Hebrew Bible is in the first instance a legal code that is supposed to create a unity where there was none. Not unlike the ideal of Plato's Laws, the legal code is embedded in a narrative and moral structure that is meant to illuminate, even interrogate it.
As an aside, Abraham Lincoln understood the nature of such reflexive, Ezra-like refoundings, too. The Gettysburg address recounts the original Jefersonian founding ("our fathers brought forth...a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal") before he offers a new (blood-drenched) refounding: "It is for us the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work...It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us...that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom." While maintaining the fiction of continuity ("unfinished work"), the project gets re-launched ("new birth"). Lincoln even notes, "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here," thus, inviting the opposite [recall my treatment of Adam Smith here].
I end with an observation: Spinoza, a double-exile, emphasizes in his reading of The History of Israel the possibility "that some day, given the opportunity," (and when Judaism embraces martial virtues) the Jews "would set up their state again, and that God would choose them anew, so changeable are human affairs." (Ch 3; this is the Spinoza beloved by Ben Gurion.) Thus, the bottom line according to Spinoza (of Ezra's teaching) about Moses is that he "perceived the way the people of Israel could best be united in a certain region of the world, and could form a whole society, or set up a state, as well as the way that people could best be compelled to obedience." (Ch 4.) By contrast, Hazony, a prolific Israeli public intellectual, interprets the underlying message of the Hebrew Bible as "calling to a life of independent judgment in search of truth and the good." (252)