The Old Testament (Tanach) is a collection of books written over a period of approximately a thousand years.  It's authors were from all walks of life, from shepherds to priests to kings.  The events and commentary within its pages happened from about 6000 BC to around 400 BC, recording the life and times of a minor nation amongst mighty world empires.

The Hebrew people (or the Jews) divide the collection into two or three sections: The Law (Torah), the Prophets (Nevi'im), and the Writings (Ketuvim).  The Law is specifically treated without question by all sects of Judaism, while some of "the writings" were questioned along the way.  The Law is also known as "the Book of Moses" or simply "Moses."  The Prophets include the Books of Joshua through 2 Kings (the Former Prophets, except Ruth) and  Isaiah through Malachi (The Latter Prophets, except Lamentations and Daniel).  The Writings, in order as found in the English Bible, are Ruth, 1&2 Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, and Daniel.

The books were collected over time, with the writing prophets accepted mostly within a generation due to the fact that their prophecies came true.  The historical books ("the Former Prophets"), by their subject matter alone, seem to have been written in three time periods: the conquest of Canaan (Joshua), during the reign of David (Judges through 2 Samuel) and around the time of the fall of Jerusalem.  The Writings range from Job (deals with Patriarchal era) to Daniel (deals with the Jews in Exile).

Order as writtenEdit

Taking into both the subject matter and the philosophical and theological content, a possible time line can be constructed as to what books were available to the people of God over time.

  • Moses had some form of source material passed down from the patriarchs.  It was mostly by word of mouth, but one can see where at least a genealogy would have been preserved in some sort of written form.  He then wrote it down during the Exodus.  The Books of Moses, then, gave the history of the people and laws for building the nation.
  • Joshua, in picking up the mantle from Moses, established a history that either he or a scribe living in that era penned as evidence of their claim to the land.  As in the days of the patriarchs, memorials were erected as visual reminders of the conquest.
  • The book of Judges records a dismal display of the tribes living without leadership and under subjection of various oppressors.  Throughout the period God would raise up flawed men -- and one woman! - to deliver a flawed people from the oppression.  Since the narrative continues almost flawlessly into both Ruth and 1 Samuel, this book was probably written early in the history of the united kingdom.
  • The book of Ruth is demonstratively written in the days of David, the second king of the united kingdom as a testimony of his right to rule as predicted by Jacob in the blessing of Judah in Genesis 50.  It is set in the period of the Judges, though the exact time of the life of Naomi cannot be determined.
  • The book of Job is classic "wisdom literature" set in the patriarchal period.  Since Job is treated as an historical figure, there must have been some record of his misfortune going back to during his life.  The unseen intrigue in the background, though, had to have been supplied to the writer by God himself.  There is no way of knowing when the book was put to parchment, though tradition suggests that it may have been the work of Moses (possibly because he was a prophet?).
  • David penned many of the Psalms, along with Asaph and other unnamed writers.  One is even credited to Moses.  These were collected over time, becoming the "song book" of the temple and synagogues after that.  Hints of the Psalms are found in the written prophets, but it is not clear exactly how widespread these were to the general public.
  • The Proverbs were mostly penned by Solomon, and internal evidence suggests that they were distributed widely, for he was known for his wisdom.
  • Song of Solomon, or the Song of Songs, appears to have been written in the early days of Solomon's reign.  It is not clear exactly which wife the Shulamite was, but she seems to have been his "true love."
  • Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon near the end of his long reign as decisions he had made had proven that his vaunted wisdom was not enough to assure happiness.
  • 1 & 2 Samuel were known to the Jews as 1 & 2 Kingdoms, the first volume of the Books of the Kingdoms which record the rise and fall of Judah and, to an extent Israel.  The two books of Samuel were completed after the kingdoms divided and the narrative of David's life continues almost without a break in the early chapters of the present 1 Kings (formerly 3 Kingdoms).  Though the exploits of Saul and David were undoubtedly known (see the Psalms of David), the people probably did not have them in written form until after the death of Solomon.
  • 1 & 2 Kings (3 & 4 Kingdoms) record the break up of the kingdoms and their decline into bondage once again.  They answer the question posed during the exile: "What went wrong?"  Tradition puts Nehemiah as a probable author, but there is no way of knowing for sure.
  • The "Latter Prophets" were mostly written by the named authors before, during, and after the exile, as recorded in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.  As the events came to pass as predicted these largely neglected men were accepted as prophets and their writings preserved.
  • Daniel was penned during the exile as a testimony to the power of the true God over the false gods of Babylon, and Persia.
  • 1 & 2 Chronicles were written after the exile to recount the failure of the northern kingdom.  Much of its material covers that found in 1 & 2 Kings.
  • The book of Esther was written to commemorate the holiday of Purim ("the lottery").  It recounts the rise of a Jewish girl to the honor of queen of Persia.  Unusual for its lack of mention of God by name (neither Yahweh nor Elohim), the account does mention fasting and prayer.  The first person veiwpoint clearly reflects an authorship within the lifetime of Mordecai, Esther's uncle.

All these books were in circulation by the third century BC when Jewish scholars in Alexandria, Egypt translated the Hebrew into Greek.  Traditionally the work of seventy (or 72) scholars, that translation is known as the Septuagint (LXX).  This Greek translation was largely what is quoted in the New Testament.

Hebrew Order of the TanachEdit

The Hebrew Bible is divided into three sections: The Torah, the Nevi'im, and the Ketuvim.

Torah (Law)Edit

The first five books are attributed to Moses since the text itself declares this to be so.  The books are[1]:

  1. Bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית, literally "In the beginning") - Genesis
  2. Shemot (שִׁמוֹת, literally "Names") - Exodus
  3. Vayikra (ויקרא, literally "And He called") - Leviticus
  4. Bəmidbar (במדבר, literally "In the desert [of]") - Numbers
  5. Devarim (דברים, literally "Things" or "Words") - Deuteronomy(Yehezq'el [יחזקאל]) contains three distinct sections.

The names of the books in English are translations or transliterations of the Greek.

Nevi'im (Prophets)[2]Edit

  1. Joshua (Yehoshua יהושע) in three parts
  2. Judges (Shoftim שופטים) in three parts
  3. Samuel (Shmu'el שמואל) in five parts (includes 1 & 2 Samuel in English)
  4. Kings (Melakhim מלכים) contains accounts of the Kings from Solomon to the Exile (includes 1 & 2 Kings)
  5. Isaiah (Yeshayahu ישעיה) - one of three "major" prophets
  6. Jeremiah (Yirmiyahu [ירמיהו]) - does not include Lamentations, longest book by word count
  7. Ezekiel (Yehezq'el [יחזקאל]) contains three distinct sections.
  8. The Latter Prophets (12 "minor" prophets in one "book")
  • Hosea or Hoshea [הושע]
  • Joel or Yo'el [יואל]
  • Amos [עמוס]
  • Obadiah or Ovadyah [עובדיה]
  • Jonah or Yonah [יונה]
  • Micah or Mikhah [מיכה]
  • Nahum or Nachum [נחום]
  • Habakkuk or Habaquq [חבקוק]
  • Zephaniah or Tsefania [צפניה]
  • Haggai or Haggai [חגי]
  • Zechariah Zekharia [זכריה]
  • Malachi or Malakhi [מלאכי]

Ketuvim (Writings)[3]Edit

The "Wrtings" are divided into the Three Poetical Books, the Five Scrolls, and three others, for eleven books in all.

The Three Poetic Books (Sifrei Emet)

  • Psalms (Tehillim  תְהִלִּים)
  • Proverbs(Mishlei מִשְלֵי)
  • Job (Iyyôbh אִיּוֹב)

The Five Scrolls (Hamesh Megillot)

  • Song of Songs (Shīr Hashīrīm שִׁיר הַשִׁירִים)
  • Ruth (Rūth רוּת)
  • Lamentations (Eikah איכה)
  • Ecclesiastes (Qōheleth קהלת)
  • Esther (Estēr אֶסְתֵר)

Other Books

  • Daniel (Dānî’ēl דָּנִיֵּאל)
  • Ezra-Nehemiah (‘Ezrā עזרא)
  • [1 &2] Chronicles (Divrei ha-Yamim דברי הימים)

The order of the books that now exists is from the Masoretic text, though other ancient collections have other orders. An apparent confirmation of at least the last book being our 2 Chronicles is a reference by Jesus to the martyrdoms of Abel (Genesis 4) and Zechariah (2 Chron. 24:21) -- the first and last books of the Bible as known in the first century.[4]

In all, then, the Hebrew Bible has twenty-four books compared to the Old Testament in Christian Bibles which has 39 books.  In addition, in some places in the Tanach the versification is different from the Old Testament.  In rare places the chapter breaks are even different.  However, in all the citations in the New Testamant, only one "chapter" is cited: the "second Psalm" (Acts 13:13).  As a rule, the versification in both Testaments is a late introduction.

English Bible Old Testament, Traditional OrderEdit

These books are divided into three basic sections for easier reference: Historical, Wisdom, and Prophets.










1 & 2 Samuel

1 & 2 Kings

1 & 2 Chronicles









Song of Solomon (Song of Songs)