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How old is the Old Testament?

The Old Testament is the original Hebrew Bible of the Jewish religion. It consists of 39 books, written over a long period of time from around 1200 to 165 BC. The Old Testament was divided to three parts:

The Law

The first five books – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The Hebrew word for Law (‘Torah’) means ‘guidance’ or ‘instruction.’ These books include stories and examples of how people lived their lives in relationship to God’s moral law. These books were later called the ‘Pentateuch’ and were attributed to Moses.

The Prophets

The Prophets is the largest section of the Hebrew Bible, and has two parts – ‘former prophets’ and ‘latter prophets.’ The books of the prophets were written between the 8th and 6th centuries BC, with the exceptions of Jonah and Daniel, which were written much later.

The ‘former prophets’ consist of Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings. These books deal with a history of Israel from the Conquest of Canaan to the Siege of Jerusalem c. 587 BC. Most Bible scholars agree that these books originated as a single work (the so-called “Deuteronomistic history”) during the Babylonian exile of the 6th century BC.

The books of ‘latter prophets’ included books that are substantial like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Others are much shorter like Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

The Writings

These books include Psalms (songs and prayers for worship), Proverbs (sayings of wisdom), Job (a story that deals with the nature of suffering), plus the ‘five scrolls’ which were grouped together because each had associations with a particular religious festival: Ruth (the Feast of Weeks- Shavuot), Song of Solomon (Passover), Ecclesiastes (Tabernacles), Lamentations (Destruction of Jerusalem), and Esther (Purim).

The “wisdom” books – Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Psalms, Song of Solomon – have several dates: Proverbs perhaps was finished by the Hellenistic time 332–198 BC; Job finished by the 6th century BC or earlier; Ecclesiastes by the 3rd century BC.

This section also includes the last books of the Hebrew Bible to be written: Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1-2 Chronicles (all history books), and Daniel (visions of world history and the time of the end). The two books of Chronicles include much the same material as the Pentateuch and Deuteronomistic history and probably date from the 4th century BC. Chronicles, and Ezra–Nehemiah, were probably done during the 3rd century BC.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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