What is the Hebrew Bible? And why does it have 24 books while the Old Testament has 39 books?

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By BibleAsk Team


The Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew Bible (Hebrew Scriptures, Old Testament, or Tanakh) is a collection of books that were first gathered and preserved as the holy books of the Jewish people. It also forms a big part of the Christian Bible, known as the Old Testament. Except for a few passages in Aramaic, in the Book of Daniel, these passages were written originally in Hebrew during the time from 1200 to 100 bce. The Hebrew Bible perhaps reached its status about the 2nd century ce.

The Books of the Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew canon contains 24 books, one for each of the scrolls on which these works were written in the old days. The Hebrew Bible is divided into three main sections: the Torah, or “Teaching,” also called the Pentateuch or the “Five Books of Moses”; the Neviʾim, or Prophets; and the Ketuvim, or Writings. The Hebrew Bible is often referred to as the Tanakh, a word uniting the first letter from the names of each of the three main divisions. Each of the three major divisions of texts is further subdivided.

The Torah has narratives combined with rules in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

The books of the Neviʾim are classified among either the Former Prophets—which contain narratives about main Hebrew persons and include Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings—or the Latter Prophets—which urge Israel to return to God and are named for Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and (together in one book known as “The Book of the Twelve”) the 12 Minor Prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi).

The Ketuvim, contains poetry (devotional and erotic), theology, and drama in Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs (attributed to King Solomon), Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles.

The Hebrew Bible as taken by Christianity, shows more than 24 books for several reasons. First, Christians divided some of the original Hebrew texts into two or more parts: Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles into two parts each; Ezra-Nehemiah into two separate books; and the Minor Prophets into 12 separate books.

Also, the Bibles used in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and some Protestant churches were taken originally from the Septuagint, the Greek-language translation of the Hebrew Bible done in the 3rd and 2nd centuries bce. This included some books of the noncanonical by Orthodox Judaism and most Protestant churches, slightly longer versions of Daniel and Esther, and one additional psalm.

Further, the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church, one of the Oriental Orthodox churches, also includes within its Old Testament two works considered by other Christian churches to be pseudepigraphical: the apocalyptic First Book of Enoch and the Book of Jubilees.

Check out our Bible Answers page for more information on a variety of topics.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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