The Old Testament – An Overview (Part 2)

This week we are going to look at the remaining two sections of the Jewish Bible and how they became the three sections of Christian Old Testament, and how what appears to be the same number of books can have such different totals: 24 vs 39!

The second section of the Jewish Bible, the Tanakh, is called Nevi’im which means “Prophets”. It contains two sub-groups, the Former Prophets which are the narrative books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. All to whom God spoke, such as Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, Nathan, etc., are regarded as prophets and the books are read with the same sense as those collected under the title the Latter Prophets which are the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and the Twelve Minor Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

Two things to be noted: 1) There are no divisions in the Jewish Bible of the Book of Samuel in to 1 and 2 and likewise with the Book of Kings; and 2) The word ‘minor’ does not mean ‘insignificant’, but rather ‘brief’. It is the fact that the twelve scrolls are short in length that makes them minor, not their content. And in the Jewish Bible the Twelve Minor Prophets are regarded as one book.

This division includes the books which cover the time from the entrance of the Israelites into the Land of Israel until the Babylonian Captivity of Judah (the “period of prophecy”). Their distribution is not chronological, but substantive.

The rest of the books were gathered under the title Ketuvim which meansWritings”. There are three sub-sections: The Poetic Books – Psalms, Proverbs and Job. Then what is known as the Five Megillot or scrolls: Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther. These books have become an important part of the liturgy of the major annual Jewish festivals.

Finally, there are the remaining books: Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, and Chronicles (again not split into 1 & 2), the last book in the Jewish Bible. All of these are considered to have been written after the Babylonian Exile was over with Daniel probably the latest, as it contains portions written not in Hebrew but Aramaic. Total: 24

Christianity decided to put books into a chronological and historical order: and so Ruth comes after Judges, Chronicles (which is a parallel telling of Kings), moves beside it, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther, fall in behind these, Lamentations, considered to be authored by Jeremiah, moves beside it, Daniel is consider a book of prophesy and comes after Ezekiel.

It was decided to put the wisdom books after the historical books and before the prophets, counting the Minor Prophets as 12 not 1, creating four divisions. Total:39.

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