The thirty-nine divinely inspired books from Genesis to Malachi, according to the popular present-day arrangement, constitute the major portion of the Bible.
The books of the Hebrew Scriptures as they appear in most of the common Bibles may be divided into three sections: (1) Historic, Genesis to Esther, seventeen books; (2) Poetic, Job to The Song of Solomon, five books; (3) Prophetic, Isaiah to Malachi, seventeen books. Such divisions are rather general, since the historical section contains poetic portions (Gen. 2:23; 4:23, 24; 9:25-27; Ex. 15:1-19, 21; Judg. chap. 5) as well as prophetic (Gen. 3:15; 22:15-18; 2 Sam. 7:11-16); the poetic section contains historical material (Job 1:1–2:13; 42:7-17); and in the prophetic section historical data is also found.—Isa. 7:1, 2; Jer. 37:11-39:14; 40:7–43:7.
By combining and rearranging these same thirty-nine books in a different order, the Jews counted only twenty-four or twenty-two books, and, according to their traditional canon, arranged them as follows: First, there was the Law (Heb., Toh·rahʹ), also called the Pentateuch, consisting of (1) Genesis, (2) Exodus, (3) Leviticus, (4) Numbers and (5) Deuteronomy. (See PENTATEUCH.) Second came the Prophets (Heb., Nevi·ʼimʹ), divided into the “Early Prophets,” (6) Joshua, (7) Judges, (8) Samuel (First and Second together as one book), (9) Kings (First and Second as one book), and the “Later Prophets,” subdivided into the Major prophets, (10) Isaiah, (11) Jeremiah and (12) Ezekiel, and (13) Twelve Minor Prophets (a single book composed of Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi). The third section was called the Holy Writings (Hagiographa or, in Hebrew, Kethu·vimʹ), beginning with (14) Psalms, (15) Proverbs and (16) Job; then came the “Five Megilloth” or five separate scrolls, namely (17) The Song of Solomon, (18) Ruth, (19) Lamentations, (20) Ecclesiastes and (21) Esther, followed by (22) Daniel, (23) Ezra-Nehemiah (combined) and (24) Chronicles (First and Second together as one book). The book of Ruth was sometimes appended to Judges, and Lamentations to Jeremiah, to give twenty-two books, a total corresponding to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, although this is not the conventional arrangement in Hebrew Bibles today.
Not all the early catalogues had the books of the Hebrew Scriptures arranged in the above order, and as found in the Septuagint and all extant Greek manuscripts. This is because at the time the individual books were in separate scrolls. To illustrate: In the Baraitha on the Scriptures in the Talmudic tractate Baba Bathra (which is the earliest extant Jewish list, dating back at least to the early second century C.E.), it is stated: “Our Rabbis have taught that the order of the Prophets is Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, the Twelve.” (The Journal of Theological Studies, October 1950, p. 155) This may explain why Jeremiah precedes Isaiah in a number of Hebrew manuscripts written in Germany and France.
All the Hebrew Scriptures were written and compiled by Jews, members of the nation “entrusted with the sacred pronouncements of God.” (Rom. 3:1, 2) And, for the most part, these pre-Christian Scriptures were written in Hebrew, with the following limited portions in Aramaic: Genesis 31:47; Ezra 4:8 to 6:18 and 7:12-26; Jeremiah 10:11; Daniel 2:4b to 7:28. Aramaic words are also found in Job, certain Psalms, The Song of Solomon, Jonah, Esther, and in the Hebrew parts of Daniel. The book of Ezekiel likewise shows Aramaic influence.
Moses wrote and compiled the first five books of the Bible, and he was followed by some thirty-eight other writers and compilers including Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah. They lived over a period of eleven hundred years, from the sixteenth to the fifth century B.C.E., and came from various occupations, such as that of the shepherd, copyist, governor, king, prophet and priest.
Some of the Bible writers were eyewitnesses of the incidents they recorded, such as Moses’ experiences before Pharaoh. (Ex. 5:1–12:32) Certain historical data they gathered from previous records through diligent research, as when compiling the genealogical records. (1 Chron. chaps. 1 to 9) But many things, such as knowledge concerning the assembly of angelic hosts in heaven, and revelations in the field of prophecy, were matters beyond the realm of human knowledge and could be learned only by direct inspiration of God. This, and the perfect unity of the whole, despite being the composite work of many writers extending over so long a period of time with their various backgrounds, all attest to and demonstrate that Bible writers indeed “spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.”—2 Pet. 1:21.
CANON OF HEBREW SCRIPTURES
The books of the Hebrew Scriptures do not appear in our Bibles in the order in which they were written. Joel, Amos and Jonah lived about two centuries or so before Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. Neither do the titles of the books always disclose their writer. The book of Job, for instance, was presumably written by Moses, the book of Ruth by Samuel. Details about the individual books, as to when and by whom each was written, are set out in the “Table of Bible Books in Order Completed” in the article BIBLE. See the articles on the individual books for contents, importance and significance, proof of authenticity and other information.
The canon of the Hebrew Scriptures was well established when Jesus Christ was on earth, as evidenced by his statements recorded in the Christian Greek Scriptures. For example, he referred to the three-section arrangement when he spoke of “all the things written in the law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms.” (Luke 24:44) His followers wrote of or spoke of “the public reading of the Law and of the Prophets,” “the Scriptures,” “the law of Moses and the Prophets,” “the holy Scriptures” and “the holy writings.”—Acts 13:15; 18:24; 28:23; Rom. 1:2; 2 Tim. 3:15; see CANON.
Noteworthy too is the fact that no apocryphal writings were admitted into the Hebrew canon. From the days of Ezra and Malachi, in the fifth century B.C.E, the completed canon of the Hebrew Scriptures has been guarded and protected against the inclusion of any writings of questionable nature. (See APOCRYPHA.) Scrupulous care was exercised by the manuscript copyists called Sopherim, who at a later time were succeeded by the Masoretes.
Originally the Hebrew Scriptures were written without vowels or punctuation, and without our present chapter and verse divisions. In the second half of the first millennium C.E. the Masoretes, who were also very careful Bible copyists, established a system of vowel points and accent marks as an aid to reading and pronunciation.
PRESERVATION AND TRANSMISSION
The Sopherim, although meticulous as to avoiding errors in copying, made certain unauthorized emendations or changes in the text, where, in their opinion, the received text seemed to bring reproach on Jehovah or his servants. In some instances these were minor changes, but in more than 140 other cases they changed the Tetragrammaton (the consonantal equivalent of the name “Jehovah”) to read either “Lord” or “God.” From the marginal notations of these scribal changes, it has been possible to restore the original text. All together, then, the Divine Name occurs 6,961 times in the Hebrew Scriptures.
None of the original writings of the Hebrew Scriptures are extant today, but there are more than 1,700 handwritten copies of various portions in the libraries of the world. Among the oldest of these, dating back to the second or the first century B.C.E., are the Nash papyrus, which contains small portions of Deuteronomy, and the Dead Sea Scroll of the book of Isaiah. Besides copies of the Scriptures in Hebrew, many versions of the pre-Christian Scriptures have been made, either in whole or in part in many languages. The first of these was the Samaritan Pentateuch, which, strictly speaking, was a transliteration of the Hebrew text into the Samaritan alphabet. The Aramaic Targums are rather loose paraphrases of the Hebrew Scriptures. The first translation in the true sense was the Greek Septuagint, commenced about 280 B.C.E. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate also contained an early translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. The New World Translation of the Hebrew text (used throughout this volume) was principally based on the seventh, eighth, and ninth editions of Rudolph Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica, a refined Hebrew text produced from the Ben Asher Masoretic texts, standardized during the tenth century C.E.
Critics of the Bible have expended considerable effort in an attempt to discredit the Hebrew Scriptures, as being either forgeries or simply folklore lacking historic authenticity. One line of attack has been to dissect the different Bible books in an effort to prove that they were written by different hands, as if a person were incapable of writing in more than one style. Such argument is altogether unsound, for today persons who write poetry can also write prose, and vice versa. A lawyer who formulates a legal document easily and quickly shifts his style when relating some personal experience. When the critics claim that certain verses, which they label “J” and in which the name Jehovah occurs, were written by men other than the writers of the verses where the title “God” (Heb., ʼElo·himʹ) appears, and which they designate as “E,” they demonstrate shallow reasoning.
One commentator (K. A. Kitchen of the University of Liverpool, writing in The New Bible Dictionary, p. 349), in pointing out the fallacy of the critics’ claim, says: “The practice of Old Testament criticism in attributing these characteristics to different ‘hands’ or documents becomes a manifest absurdity when applied to other ancient Oriental writings that display precisely similar phenomena.”
The importance of the Hebrew Scriptures cannot be overemphasized, for without their law code, history and prophecies much in the Christian Greek Scriptures would be doubtful in meaning. (Luke 24:27, 44) “For all the things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction.” “Now these things went on befalling them as examples, and they were written for a warning to us upon whom the ends of the systems of things have arrived.” (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11) Hence, the Christian Bible writers quoted directly some 365 times, and, additionally, made about 375 allusions and references to the former Bible writings. In this way the Christian Greek Scriptures carried on and expanded many of the various themes and promises set forth in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Without the Hebrew Scriptures we would be lacking many details about man’s origin, the cause of death and the Edenic promise that the Serpent’s head will be crushed by the seed of the woman. Without the Hebrew Scriptures we would not know many details about such things as the Noachian Flood, why blood is sacred, God’s covenant with Abraham, how Jehovah fought for his covenant people, and the history of the pictorial theocratic kingdom.