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The Hebrew Scriptures

Julian Spriggs M.A.

The Jews call what Christians call the Old Testament, “The Scriptures”. It was and continues to be read as part of worship in the synagogues. All 39 books in the Christian OT are in the Jewish scriptures, but the Hebrew Scriptures are arranged differently. It was arranged in a three-fold canon, referred to in Luke’s Gospel: “the law of Moses, and the prophets and the psalms” (Lk 24:44). Psalms was the first and biggest book of the writings.

Three main sections

1. Torah (the teaching / law)
2. Nebiim (the prophets)
3. Ketubim (the writings)

This is often abbreviated to Tanakh: Ta (Torah), Na (Nebiim), Kh (Ketubim)

There is a total of 24 books, as the 12 minor prophets are separate, but are counted as one book. Samuel, Kings and Chronicles are one book each, Ezra and Nehemiah are also joined.

1. The Law (Torah)

The five books of Moses. Each book is named after one of the first few words in the Hebrew text.

By way of beginning (Bereshit) - Genesis
These are the names (Welleh semot) - Exodus
And he called (Wayyiqra) - Leviticus
In the wilderness (Bemidbar) - Numbers
These are the words (Elleh haddebarim) - Deuteronomy

2. The Prophets (Nebiim)

Divided into the former prophets and latter prophets

2a. Former Prophets
Joshua
Judges
Samuel (one book)
Kings (one book)

2b.Latter Prophets
Isaiah
Jeremiah
Ezekiel
The Twelve (minor prophets, counted as one book)

3. The Writings (Ketubim or Hagiographa)

Divided into three sections: poetry, rolls and history

3a. The books of Truth
Psalms
Proverbs
Job

3b. Five Rolls (Megilloth) - Each associated with one of the Jewish festivals
Song of Solomon (Passover)
Ruth (Pentecost)
Lamentations (Fall of Jerusalem)
Ecclesiastes (Tabernacles)
Esther (Purim)

3c. Historical Books (The Rest)
Daniel
Ezra-Nehemiah (one book)
Chronicles (one book)

The Septuagint (LXX)

The Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek around 250 BC. It was done by a committee of seventy skilled Jewish linguists in Alexandria. They re-ordered the books according to subject matter, giving the order used by Latin and English translators, which we have today. Many of the books were given Greek names, which continue to be used today. They also included several of what are now called the Apocryphal books.

Written Hebrew only has consonants, so each book fitted on a single scroll. When translated into Greek the text became longer, so some books were split into two (Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra / Nehemiah)