UNDERSTANDING THE BIBLE
RELIGION 101 - Dr. Rennie
THE CONTENTS OF THE JEWISH SCRIPTURES

The italicized words are Christian titles, usually from the Latin. Names in bold are Hebrew titles which are usually taken from the first significant word of each book. The Latin title usually relates to the contents.

The Hebrew Bible is called the Tanakh after the first letter of the name of the three sections of which it is composed: the Torah, the Nevi'im, and the Kethuvim.


I. TORAH ("teaching" or "instruction") = The Pentateuch or "Five Books" (of Moses). The collection of these text may have begun as early as 1020 BCE, but it was not completed until around 400 BCE. Contains--

Bere'shit ("in the beginning") = Genesis

The genealogy (family tree) of mankind from Adam via Noah and his descendants after the Flood; God's covenant with Abraham to bring the people out of Egypt and give them the land of Canaan.

Shemot ("names") = Exodus

The period of bondage in Egypt and the Exodus ("coming out"); the giving of the Torah ("instruction") including the Decalogue or Ten Commandments given to Moses.

Va-yiqra' ("and he called") = Leviticus

Called "the Torah of the Priests" (Levite = Priest) this book includes the laws of worship, sacrifice, ritual purity ("kosher") sexual relations, and of festivals and times sacred to the Jews.

Be-midbar ("in the wilderness") = Numbers

The history of the wanderings in the desert after the flight from Egypt; some legal and ritual regulations.

Devarim ("words") = Deuteronomy

Contains speeches attributed to Moses shortly before his death which summarize the history of Israel and give ethical teachings. The emphasis is on the concentration of worship in one place, the Temple in Jerusalem.


II. NEVI'IM ("The Prophets") = The Prophets, contains materials relating to the entry into Canaan (i.e. relating to events as early as c. 1200 BCE). The earliest written texts cannot predate the monarchy, however. That is, c. 1020 BCE. The collection of the texts of the Nevi'im was not completed until around 200 BCE.

This section of the Hebrew canon (= a closed collection of scriptures) is divided into two parts of four books each:
 

(The Former Prophets)  (Latter Prophets)
Joshua Isaiah 
Judges Jeremiah
Samuel  Ezekiel 
Kings 12 "minor" prophets 

The Former Prophets relate Joshua's leadership after Moses' death and the ensuing period up to the Exile of the Judaeans in Babylon. The Latter Prophets contain work attributed to the "literary prophets" (those who left works in their own names) who lived in the 8th - 5th centuries BC. The material from these eight books (originally scrolls) of the Nevi'im are divided into 21 books in the Christian Old Testament: Joshua, Judges, 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and each of the twelve minor prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi).


III. KETUVIM ("writings") = Hagiography completed around 160 BC

Contains eleven works

Psalms

Lamentations

Song of Songs (also known as the Song of Solomon, or Canticle of Canticles)

Proverbs

Job

Ecclesiastes

(the forgoing are known as literary or poetical works in the Christian Bible, whereas the following are known as historical works)

Ruth

Esther

Daniel

Ezra and Nehemiah (known as 1 and 2 Esdras in Greek Bibles)

Chronicles

These writings are regarded as having divine authority by all Christian denominations as well as all Jews and appear in all arrangements of the Christian Bible. However, although both Jews and Christians agree as to the authority of the preceding writings there are others which are disputed. (See below.)

In the Jewish religion following the Tanakh comes the Talmud which is composed of Mishnah--a body of legal and theological material supposedly delivered by God to Moses at the same time as the Torah. It was not, however, written down until the period 200 BC - 200 AD. And Gemara, which elaborates on the Mishnah. Both these canons of literature were closed about the 5th century AD. They are not interpreted as authoritative in the Christian religion and do not appear in any Christian Bibles.

The three sections of the Hebrew Bible--Torah, Nevi'im, and Ketuvim--seem to represent three successive stages of collection and redaction (the work of editing). Although they contain material from as early as 1,200 BCE (approximately the same date as the Rg Veda) this material has been reworked and new material added.

After the immediately post-Exilic period no essentially new material was added to the Torah, although editing and organizing the old material continued. In all probability the Torah was finalized and closed some time between the Exile and the rebuilding of the Temple. (587-520 BCE) The Nevi'im were completed before the Seleucid conquest of Palestine (c.200 BCE), and although the Ketuvim were composed between then and the Maccabean revolt in 164 BCE, their collection and canonization did not take place until c. 90 CE.

It is notable that a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, called the Septuagint, was made sometime between 300 and 130 BCE in Alexandria in Egypt. This indicates an active Jewish community there who were gradually losing contact with the old language of Hebrew. So the Diaspora, the spread of the Jewish faith outside of Palestine was already well underway before the final destruction of the Temple by the Romans.

THE APOCRYPHA

In the Christian religion there is a group of pre-Christian writings which were included in the Septuagint but which were excluded from the Hebrew canon. They are recognized by the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches as "deuterocanonical," that is, as later additions to the canon. These are

Tobit (or Tobias)

Judith

The Wisdom of Solomon

Ecclesiasticus

Baruch (accepted only by the Catholic church)

1 & 2 Esdras

The Letter of Jeremiah

The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews

Susanna

Bel and the Dragon

1 & 2 Maccabees (sometimes 1- 4 Maccabees)

The Prayer of Manasseh and

Supplements to the books of Esther and Daniel (The majority of Esther and Daniel are accepted by all)

The authority of these books is not accepted by the Protestant Churches who relegate them to a collection called the Apocrypha found in some Protestant Bibles.


As can be seen, the organization of the Protestant Christian "Old Testament" differs somewhat from the organization of the Hebrew Bible, despite the fact that they contain basically the same material.

The Pentateuch remains the same as The Torah.

However, the Nevi'im and Kethuvim are divided into Historical Books, Prophetical Books, and Poetical Books.

The Christian Historical Books contain the "Former Prophets" of the Hebrew Nevi'im: Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, as well as the books of Ruth, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles from the Kethuvim.

The Christian Prophetical Books contain only "the latter Prophets": Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the 12 "minor" prophets, each given a book of their own: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Add Lamentations and the Book of Daniel to this (taken from the Kethuvim) and you have Seventeen Titles in the Protestant Prophetical Books.

The Christian Poetical Books contain Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon, all from the Hebrew Kethuvim.


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brennie@westminster.edu