Researchers at universities in Durham and Lisbon recently suggested that the stories of “Beauty and the Beast” and “Rumpelstiltskin” go back 4,000 years, and Dr. Faus­tus another thousand years before that (although apparently in those days he was a blacksmith). When the brothers Grimm began to compile such fairy tales in the 19th century, their project fostered a sense of German nationalism. The notion that deep in the woods there was a boundless store of common stories affirmed the emerging identity of the German people.

That’s how stories coalesce to form a powerful narrative. When the people of Judah found themselves in exile in Babylon in the sixth century before Christ, they looked deep into their collective soul to discover how they’d come to be there. What they found was a collection of stories about how God created the world, called a people, saved them from famine and slavery, made a covenant with them, and gave them land, king, and a temple before things went astray.

But then, as with the brothers Grimm, came the crucial moment: the exiled people of Judah wove those stories together and discovered their belief that God would save them as before, and that, remarkably, they were as close to God in exile as they had been in the Promised Land. When the early Christians compiled the New Testament seven centuries later, they made the same two moves: they believed God had found a way to save them again, and they saw Christ’s suffering not as abandonment but as the closest that humanity had ever come to God’s heart.