The Books of the Old Testament

The Bible is a collection of books. There are sixty-six books in the Bible: thirty-nine books in the Old Testament and twenty-seven in the New Testament. The word “Bible” comes from the Greek word biblia, a word which means “books.” The Greek word is plural, indicating that the Bible is a collection of books, written by several authors over a period of more than 1,000 years.

The Christian Bible is divided into two sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The word “Testament” comes from a Hebrew word, by the way of the Greek, which means “covenant.” The name “Old Testament” reflects the Christian belief that the promise of a new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Many Christians prefer to call the Old Testament “Hebrew Bible” or “First Testament.”

In antiquity, the Jewish people called the whole collection known today as the Old Testament by the three divisions of which the Bible is composed. In the Prologue to the book of Sirach, they are called “the Law and the Prophets and the other books.” In the Gospel of Luke the books of the Old Testament are called “the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalm” (Luke 24:44).

The Old Testament is a collection of thirty-nine books written in Hebrew and Aramaic. The whole Old Testament was written in Hebrew, with the exception of Daniel 2:4-7:28; Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26; and Jeremiah 10:11, which were written in Aramaic.

The apocryphal books which were included in the Alexandrian canon and eventually became part of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, were the work of the post-exilic community and they were never recognized as sacred scriptures by the Jewish community. Many of the apocryphal books were written in Greek.

The Jewish people today call their scripture Tanak or Hebrew Bible. The word Tanak comes from an acronym made up of the initial consonants of the three major parts of the Hebrew Bible: Torah (Law), Nebiim (Prophets) and Kethubim (Writings).

The order and division of the books of the Old Testament are different in the Hebrew Bible and in the English Bible.

English Bible

The Old Testament in the English Protestant Bibles contains 39 books and is divided into four sections:

Pentateuch: 5 books
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy

Historical Books: 12 books
Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther

Poetical Books: 5 books
Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs

Prophetical Books: 17 books
(a) Major Prophets: 5 books
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel

(b) Minor Prophets: 12 books
Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi

Hebrew Bible (Tanak)

The Hebrew Bible contains 24 books and it is divided into three sections:

Torah (Law or Teaching): 5 books
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy

Nebiim (Prophets): 8 books
(a) Former Prophets: 4 books
Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings

(b) Latter Prophets: 4 books
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve

Kethubim (Writings): 11 books
(a) Poetry: 3 books
Psalms, Job, and Proverbs

(b) Megilloth (Festal Scrolls): 5 books
Song of Songs: read at Passover
Ruth: read at the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost
Lamentations: read on the ninth of Ab, the day Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 B.C.
Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth): read at the feast of Tabernacles (Feast of Booths)
Esther: read at the feast of Purim

(c) The Other Writings: 3 books
Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles

When comparing the two divisions, the following things must be remembered:

1. In the English Bibles, the book of Daniel is included among the Prophets while in the Hebrew Bible Daniel is included with the Writings. The reason Daniel is included among the Prophets is because the Christian Bibles follow the division of the Septuagint. The inclusion of Daniel among the Writings in the Hebrew Biblemay indicate that Daniel probably was one of the last books of the Old Testament to be written.

2. In the English Bibles, the book of Lamentations follows the book of Jeremiah based on the belief that Jeremiah wrote Lamentations. In the Hebrew Bible the book of Lamentation is included among the Festal Scrolls, reflecting the view that the book is exilic or post-exilic.

3. In the English Bibles the books of the twelve Minor Prophets are numbered separately, while in the Hebrew Bible they are counted as one book, probably because they fit in one scroll.

4. In the English Bibles, the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles are counted as two books each while in the Hebrew Bible, Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles are counted as one book each.

5. In the English Bibles, Ezra and Nehemiah are two books. In the Hebrew Bibles the two books are counted as one.

The Apocrypha

The word “Apocrypha” means “hidden thing.” The term “Apocrypha” is used to designate the books that were not included in the Hebrew scriptures. When Jerome translated the Bible into Latin in the 4th century B.C., he included these extra books because he believed these books could be read for edification. These books became known as the Deuterocanonical books (second canon). Jerome’s translation of the Bible into Latin is called the Vulgate. This version of the Bible became the official Bible of the Catholic church.

The following books are listed as the Old Testament Apocrypha that appear in the Catholic and the Orthodox Bibles. However some of the Apocryphal books do not appear in both Bibles. The order of the books listed below follows the order of the Apocryphal books that appear in the New Revised Standard Bible:

The Apocryphal Books

Tobit, Judith, The Additions to Esther, The Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, the Letter of Jeremiah, The Additions to Daniel (The Prayer of Azariah, The Song of the Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon), 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, The Prayer of Manasseh, Psalm 151, 3 Maccabees, 2 Esdras, and 4 Maccabees.

This is the second post in the series “An Introduction to the Old Testament.” For other posts in this series, click on the links below.

NEXT: The Land of Palestine

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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Studies on An Introduction to the Old Testament

1. Introducing the Old Testament

2. An Introduction to the Old Testament

3. The Books of the Old Testament

4. The Land of Palestine

5. The Old Testament: Inspiration and Revelation

6. The Canon of the Old Testament

7. The Formation of the Canon

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