The Hebrew Scriptures and the Old Testament

The books in the Old Testament section of the Learning Bible are translations of the Hebrew Scriptures still used by the Jewish people in their worship services today. These books were written by many different authors over a period of hundreds of years. The Introductions to the individual books of the Old Testament in the Learning Bible offer some suggestions about where and when these books may have been written, so this article will not try to deal with this issue.

It can be said that the Old Testament developed in stages and its books were collected in groups. Before the process of collecting books and putting them in some kind of order took place, individual manuscripts were made and hand-copied and passed among groups. The earliest literature of the Jewish people may date as far back as the time of Moses or earlier (about 1300 B.C.), while other literature found in the Old Testament (for instance Daniel) may have been written as late as the second century B.C. That means the literature collected into the Old Testament was written during a period of nearly 1,200 years!

While the writing of Hebrew manuscripts was taking place, the process of collecting and editing was also going on. One important collection of books was called "The Law," which included the first five books of the Bible. "The Law" is also called by its Hebrew name, Torah, and by the name Pentateuch which is the Greek term for a five-volume book.

Another collection was called "The Prophets." In the Jewish Bible, this collection includes certain books that Christians would call "history books." The last major group of books to be collected were simply called "The Writings." They contain books of poetry and wise sayings, and books that Christians would consider prophetic or historical in nature. Because different religious traditions arrange these books differently, a chart has been provided for easy reference.

It is not known exactly how or when the books of the Old Testament were selected and approved for inclusion in the Hebrew Scriptures, but it is certain that the books of the Torah were accepted as authoritative almost from the time they were written. It is also certain that the Jewish canon was not "closed" until around A.D. 100, almost seventy years after Jesus' crucifixion. Only the books on this final list were considered to be Scripture by the Jewish people.

The chart "Tanak" shows the three main sections of the Hebrew Scriptures: The Law, The Prophets, and The Writings. If you compare this list to the O/T in Christian Bibles chart, you'll notice that all of these books are included in the Old Testaments of Christian Bibles, though they are grouped differently and placed in a slightly different order. The Hebrew word for Bible is Tanak (sometimes spelled Tanakh). This is an acronym, or a word made from the first letters of the Hebrew words for each of the three main sections: Torah, Nevi'im, and Kethuvim.

If you examine further the O/T in Christian Bibles chart, you'll notice that some Christian traditions include other books in their Old Testaments as well. These additional writings are known as "Apocryphal" or "Deuterocanonical" books. The term "Apocrypha" comes from a Greek word meaning "hidden," and today suggests books that have been "set aside" or given secondary status. The term "Deuterocanonical," a word that Catholics prefer to use when referring to many of these same books, means books that came into the canon at a later (secondary) date in order to distinguish them from the Hebrew Scriptures discussed above. In the 1600s, some Protestant Christians began to use only the Jewish list of Old Testament books, while the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians continued to use some or all of the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books as well.