The Old Testament
In the first century CE the Jewish
scriptures were not bound in a book, but were written on scrolls that contained
one or more texts. Jewish scholars referred to these scrolls as the Law (Torah),
the Prophets (Nebi'im), and the Writings (Kethubim). Today Jews
often refer to their scripture as the Tanakh, an acronym using the first
three Hebrew letters for these groups of scripture.
In urban synagogues during the time
of Jesus there would have been readings on the sabbath from scrolls in Hebrew.
In rural Sabbath gatherings the readings would have been from Targums, commentaries on the
scriptures in Aramaic, the spoken language of the people of Galilee.
Paul and the other authors of the New
Testament read these Jewish scriptures in Greek. In the first churches within Roman
cities the only written scripture was the Septuagint, the Greek translation of
the Hebrew scriptures that was read throughout the Roman Empire by
Greek-speaking Jews. In the fourth century, when the Christian Bible was
authorized in Greek as the Christian canon of scripture, the Old Testament
included the books of the Septuagint.
Translators of the Hebrew scriptures into
Greek or English must consider how to render a Semitic language into an
Indo-European language, which is not always straightforward. In addition, there
are variant readings of the Hebrew scriptures. Before about 100 CE there did
not exist a single standard version of the various Hebrew scrolls read as
scripture by the Jews. It is misleading, therefore, to refer to the "canon" of
the Old Testament before this date.
When Jewish scriptures were written on
scrolls they did not have a set order, for no single scroll contained all the
texts. However, the Prophets were read after the Torah and before the Writings.
When the church in the fourth century created its canon, it changed this order
by placing the Prophets after the Writings. In Christian scripture the story of
God moves from the giving of the law to Israel, to psalms and reflections on the
law, and then to the prophetic witness that judges Israel and hopes for renewal
of the covenant.
At the time of the Reformation Protestant
translators of the Christian Bible used the Hebrew canon established about 100
A.D. for the Old Testament, rather than the Septuagint. This is why Protestant
Bibles do not contain all the Old Testament books that are in Roman Catholic
Bibles, which based the Old Testament on the books included in the Septuagint
read by first century Jews and Christians. Protestants refer to the books
in the Septuagint, which are excluded from the Old Testament in Protestant
Bibles, as the Apocrypha.
[ Apocrypha ] [ Pentateuch ] [ Prophets ] [ Writings ]