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Old Testament,Christian name for the Hebrew Bible, which serves as the first division of the Christian Bible (see New TestamentNew Testament,
the distinctively Christian portion of the Bible, consisting of 27 books of varying lengths dating from the earliest Christian period. The seven epistles whose authorship by St. Paul is undisputed were written c.A.D. 50–A.D.
..... Click the link for more information. ). The designations "Old" and "New" seem to have been adopted after c.A.D. 200 to distinguish the books of the Mosaic covenant and those of the "new" covenant in Christ. New Testament writers, however, simply call the Old Testament the "Scriptures."
The Books of the Old Testament
Among contemporary Christians, the Roman Catholic Church recognizes as deuterocanonical several books that are consigned to the Old Testament ApocryphaApocrypha
[Gr.,=hidden things], term signifying a collection of early Jewish writings excluded from the canon of the Hebrew scriptures. It is not clear why the term was chosen.
..... Click the link for more information. by most Protestant bodies, whose canon conforms to that of the contemporary Hebrew Bible. There the books follow the order of the Palestinian Hebrew canon, which appears to have been adopted by c.A.D. 100, although most of the books had clearly received canonical status well before this time. The order is as follows: (1) the TorahTorah
[Heb.,=teachings or learning], Hebrew name for the five books of Moses—the Law of Moses or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. The Torah is believed by Orthodox Jews to have been handed down to Moses on Mt. Sinai and transmitted by him to the Jews.
..... Click the link for more information. or Law, the five books of the Pentateuch, i.e., Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; (2) the Prophets, consisting of Joshua, Judges, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve (or Minor) Prophets; (3) the Writings (Hagiographa), a heterogeneous group to which belong (a) Psalms, Proverbs, and Job, (b) the Scrolls (Megillot), consisting of the Song of Solomon (Song of Songs), Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther, and (c) Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and First and Second Chronicles.
The number of Old Testament books (not counting the Apocrypha) stands at 39; in the Hebrew Bible they are usually counted as 24. The discrepancy occurs because Ezra and Nehemiah are counted as one book, as are each of the following—First and Second Kings; First and Second Chronicles; and the 12 Prophets (Hosea through Malachi). Sometimes Judges and Ruth are also conflated, as are Jeremiah and Lamentations, making for 22 books, the number attested by Josephus (c.A.D. 36–A.D. 96).
Versions of the Old Testament
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, with a small portion in Aramaic (parts of the books of Daniel, Ezra, and Jeremiah). The text of the Hebrew Bible (called the Masoretic text, see MasoraMasora
[Heb.,=tradition], collection of critical annotations made by Hebrew scholars, called the Masoretes, to establish the text of the Old Testament. A principal problem was to fix the vowels, as the Hebrew alphabet has only consonants.
..... Click the link for more information. ) had been standardized by the 10th cent. A.D., but the only existing Hebrew texts of biblical books before this time have been found at Qumran (see Dead Sea ScrollsDead Sea Scrolls,
ancient leather and papyrus scrolls first discovered in 1947 in caves on the NW shore of the Dead Sea. Most of the documents were written or copied between the 1st cent. B.C. and the first half of the 1st cent. A.D.
..... Click the link for more information. ). The origin of the Masoretic version is unknown.
The original Old Testament canon was the SeptuagintSeptuagint
[Lat.,=70], oldest extant Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible made by Hellenistic Jews, possibly from Alexandria, c.250 B.C. Legend, according to the fictional letter of Aristeas, records that it was done in 72 days by 72 translators for Ptolemy Philadelphus, which
..... Click the link for more information. , long used in the Greek-speaking church and still retained by the Orthodox churches. This Hellenistic Jewish translation originated with the translation of the Pentateuch in the mid-3d cent. B.C. Later translations were made from it or patterned after it. The canon of the Septuagint included the books of the later Hebrew canon, with the addition of several others, most of which were those now reckoned deuterocanonical by Roman Catholics and apocryphal by Protestants. Dispute over the canonicity of these books has its source in the Latin Bible, which found its official form in the VulgateVulgate
[Lat. Vulgata editio=common edition], most ancient extant version of the whole Christian Bible. Its name derives from a 13th-century reference to it as the "editio vulgata." The official Latin version of the Roman Catholic Church, it was prepared c.A.D.
..... Click the link for more information. , the work of St. Jerome; this largely agreed with the list of books of the Septuagint, and the list and order of the Vulgate was the canon accepted by the Western Church of the Middle Ages.
At the Reformation, Protestant bodies withdrew recognition of the canonicity of those portions of the Old Testament that appeared in the Vulgate but not in the Masoretic canon, although the English church considered them (i.e., the deuterocanonical books) suitable for instruction and edification, but not for establishing or confirming doctrine. To set these books clearly apart, the translators who produced the Authorized Version (see BibleBible
[Gr.,=the books], term used since the 4th cent. to denote the Christian Scriptures and later, by extension, those of various religious traditions. This article discusses the nature of religious scripture generally and the Christian Scriptures specifically, as well as the
..... Click the link for more information. ) assembled them in the Apocrypha as an appendix to the Old Testament. Thus the Protestant canon became exactly like the Masoretic, except that it retained the order of the books as they appeared in the Vulgate.
Chronology and Authorship
The critical study of the Old Testament is called higher criticismhigher criticism,
name given to a type of biblical criticism distinguished from textual or lower criticism. It seeks to interpret text of the Bible free from confessional and dogmatic theology.
..... Click the link for more information. when dealing with literary-historical problems and lower criticism when dealing with questions of a purely textual nature. Chronology and authorship present great difficulties. Before c.1000 B.C. there is little likelihood of any outside source against which to check biblical chronology, but from the time of David it is possible to devise a chronology with some checks from nonbiblical sources, especially Assyrian and Babylonian inscriptions and records.
The Old Testament represents the confession of the people of Israel that God first became active in their affairs in the experience of their Hebrew pastoral ancestors. Through the centuries, he continued to protect, admonish, and guide their vulnerable descendants. Under JoshuaJoshua
, in the Bible. 1 Central figure of the book of Joshua. 2 High priest associated with Zerubbabel in rebuilding the Temple. 3 Owner of the field where the Ark of the Covenant stood. 4 In Second Kings, governor of Jerusalem.
..... Click the link for more information. they came into possession of the land of Canaan, which they inhabited, except for their exile (586–539 B.C.) in Babylon, until the Romans decimated the population of Jerusalem and burned the Temple in A.D. 70.
As it now stands, the Old Testament presents a history of once disparate tribal groups with different traditions as the story of one people. The whole nation in embryo went down into Egypt with the patriarch JacobJacob
, in the Bible, ancestor of the Hebrews, the younger of Isaac and Rebecca's twin sons; the older was Esau. In exchange for a bowl of lentil soup, Jacob obtained Esau's birthright and, with his mother's help, received the blessing that the dying Isaac had intended for his
..... Click the link for more information. and his 12 sons, and was brought out from there under Moses' leadership some centuries later. Subsequently, the 12 tribes entered Canaan together and established a tribal league in the days of the Judges. It is more likely, however, that it was only in the days of the tribal league that the 12 tribes were first brought together.
In the 10th cent. B.C. the first of a series of editors collected materials from earlier traditional folkloric and historical records (i.e., both oral and written sources) to compose a narrative of the history of the Hebrews who now found themselves united under David and Solomon. Stemming from differing traditions originating among those living in what was later the northern kingdom of Israel and those in the southern kingdom of Judah, we can trace two dominant compilations, known as the E (preferring the epithet "Elohim" for God) and the J (preferring the epithet "Yahweh"), respectively. These were combined in Judah some time after the fall of the northern kingdom and are to be found inextricably associated in Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, First and Second Samuel, and First and Second Kings. According to scholars, this combined JE narrative is the bulk of the earlier Old Testament.
The prophets began to confront Israel in the days of the divided monarchy, indicting the people for failure to heed the moral demand of God and for failing to protect the weak in society. Their warnings of doom came to pass as Israel fell before the imperial might of Assyria and Babylon. Faithful disciples of the prophets guarded their oracles, even supplementing them, long after their masters had passed from the scene.
To Deuteronomy, scholars assign a late 7th-century B.C. origin. Deuteronomy, the book of the law "found" in the Temple during the reign of JosiahJosiah
, in the Bible. 1 King of Judah, son and successor of Amon. The great event of his reign came in its 18th year, when the book of the law, apparently Deuteronomy, was found in the Temple.
..... Click the link for more information. , was written, scholars argue, for a specific purpose—to provide a written law for the people, and to authenticate the reforms Josiah had instigated. Deuteronomy gave rise to a historical work, called the Deuteronomic History, in which the older JE traditions were reworked in light of its theology. Leviticus, with its emphasis on priestly matters, probably reached its final form in the post-exilic era in the establishment of post-exilic Judaism. The books of Chronicles and of Ezra and Nehemiah provide a theological agenda for post-exilic Judaism, stressing Temple worship, ethnic purity, and adherence to the Mosaic law.
See J. H. Hayes and J. M. Miller, Israelite and Judaean History (1977); B. S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (1979); J. Bright, A History of Israel (3d ed. 1981); W. H. Schmidt, Old Testament Introduction (1984); B. W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament (4th ed. 1986); P. C. Craigie, The Old Testament (1986); J. A. Soggin, Introduction to the Old Testament (rev. ed. 1989); J. Miles, God: A Biography (1995); Y. Hazony, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture (2012). See also translations of the books of the Old Testament by E. Fox (1996–) and of a number of its books by R. Alter (1996, 1999, 2004, 2007), both of whom have attempted to preserve the flavor of the original Hebrew.
the first and most voluminous part of the Bible, which is holy canon for both Jews and Christians.