The Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible, also called the Tanakh (Tenakh, Tenak, Tanach) or Mikra, is the canonical collection of Hebrew scripture, which is also the textual source for the Christian Old Testament. These texts are composed mainly in Biblical Hebrew, with some passages in Biblical Aramaic (in the books of Daniel, Ezra and a few others). The form of this text that is authoritative for Rabbinic Judaism is known as the Masoretic Text (MT) and it consists of 24 books, while the translations divide essentially the same material into 39 books for the Protestant Bible, and into 46 books for the Catholic Bible.
Modern scholars seeking to understand the history of the Hebrew Bible use a range of sources, in addition to the Masoretic Text. These sources include early Greek (Septuagint) and Syriac (Peshitta) translations, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Dead Sea Scrolls and quotations from rabbinic manuscripts. Many of these sources may be older than the Masoretic Text and often differ from it. These differences have given rise to the theory that yet another text, an Urtext of the Hebrew Bible, once existed and is the source of the versions extant today. However, such an Urtext has never been found, and which of the three commonly known versions (Septuagint, Masoretic Text, Samaritan Pentateuch) is closest to the Urtext is not fully determined.
Tanakh is an acronym of the first Hebrew letter of each of the Masoretic Text’s three traditional subdivisions: Torah (‘Teaching’, also known as the Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im (’Prophets’) and Ketuvim (’Writings’)—hence TaNaKh. The books of the Tanakh were passed on by each generation and, according to rabbinic tradition, were accompanied by an oral tradition, called the Oral Torah.
The three-part division reflected in the acronym ’Tanakh’ is well attested in the literature of the Rabbinic period. During that period, however, ’Tanakh’ was not used. Instead, the proper title was Mikra (or Miqra, מקרא, meaning ’reading’ or ’that which is read’) because the biblical texts were read publicly. Mikra continues to be used in Hebrew to this day, alongside Tanakh, to refer to the Hebrew scriptures. In modern spoken Hebrew, they are interchangeable.
Many biblical studies scholars advocate use of the term Hebrew Bible (or Hebrew Scriptures) as a substitute for less-neutral terms with Jewish or Christian connotations (e.g. Tanakh or Old Testament). The Society of Biblical Literature’s Handbook of Style, which is the standard for major academic journals like the Harvard Theological Review and conservative Protestant journals like the Bibliotheca Sacra and the Westminster Theological Journal, suggests that authors “be aware of the connotations of alternative expressions such as… Hebrew Bible [and] Old Testament” without prescribing the use of either. Alister McGrath points out that while the term emphasizes that it is largely written in Hebrew and “is sacred to the Hebrew people”, it “fails to do justice to the way in which Christianity sees an essential continuity between the Old and New Testaments”, arguing that there is “no generally accepted alternative to the traditional term ‘Old Testament.'” However, he accepts that there is no reason why non-Christians should feel obliged to refer to these books as the Old Testament, “apart from custom of use.”
Christianity has recognized the close relationship between the Old and New Testaments from its very beginnings, although there have sometimes been movements like Marcionism (viewed as heretical by the early church), that have struggled with it. Modern Christian formulations of this tension include supersessionism, covenant theology, new covenant theology, dispensationalism and dual-covenant theology. All of these formulations, except some forms of dual-covenant theology, are objectionable to mainstream Judaism and to many Jewish scholars and writers, for whom there is one eternal covenant between God and the Israelites, and who therefore reject the term “Old Testament” as a form of antinomianism.
Christian usage of “Old Testament” does not refer to a universally agreed upon set of books but, rather, varies depending on denomination. Lutheranism and Protestant denominations that follow the Westminster Confession of Faith accept the entire Jewish canon as the Old Testament without additions, although in translation they sometimes give preference to the Septuagint (LXX) rather than the Masoretic Text; for example, see Isaiah 7:14.
“Hebrew” refers to the original language of the books, but it may also be taken as referring to the Jews of the Second Temple era and their descendants, who preserved the transmission of the Masoretic Text up to the present day. The Hebrew Bible includes small portions in Aramaic (mostly in the books of Daniel and Ezra), written and printed in Aramaic square-script, which was adopted as the Hebrew alphabet after the Babylonian exile.
Development and codification
There is no scholarly consensus as to when the Hebrew Bible canon was fixed: some scholars argue that it was fixed by the Hasmonean dynasty, while others argue it was not fixed until the second century CE or even later.
According to Louis Ginzberg’s Legends of the Jews, the twenty-four book canon of the Hebrew Bible was fixed by Ezra and the scribes in the Second Temple period.[
According to the Talmud, much of the Tanakh was compiled by the men of the Great Assembly (Anshei K’nesset HaGedolah), a task completed in 450 BCE, and it has remained unchanged ever since.
The twenty-four book canon is mentioned in the Midrash Koheleth 12:12: Whoever brings together in his house more than twenty four books brings confusion.
Language and pronunciation
The original writing system of the Hebrew text was an abjad: consonants written with some applied vowel letters (“matres lectionis”). During the early Middle Agesscholars known as the Masoretes created a single formalized system of vocalization. This was chiefly done by Aaron ben Moses ben Asher, in the Tiberias school, based on the oral tradition for reading the Tanakh, hence the name Tiberian vocalization. It also included some innovations of Ben Naftali and the Babylonian exiles. Despite the comparatively late process of codification, some traditional sources and some Orthodox Jews hold the pronunciation and cantillation to derive from the revelation at Sinai, since it is impossible to read the original text without pronunciations and cantillation pauses. The combination of a text (מקרא mikra), pronunciation (ניקוד niqqud) and cantillation (טעמים te`amim) enable the reader to understand both the simple meaning and the nuances in sentence flow of the text.
Books of the Tanakh
The Tanakh consists of twenty-four books: it counts as one book each Samuel, Kings, Chronicles and Ezra–Nehemiah and counts the Twelve Minor Prophets (תרי עשר) as a single book. In Hebrew, the books are often referred to by their prominent first word(s).
Main article: Torah
The Torah (תּוֹרָה, literally “teaching”), also known as the Pentateuch, or as the “Five Books of Moses”. Printed versions (rather than scrolls) of the Torah are often called “Chamisha Chumshei Torah”” (חמישה חומשי תורה “Five fifth-sections of the Torah”) and informally a “Chumash”.
- Bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית, literally “In the beginning”) — Genesis
- Shemot (שְׁמֹות, literally “The names [of]”) — Exodus
- Vayikra (וַיִּקְרָא, literally “And He called”) — Leviticus
- Bemidbar (בְּמִדְבַּר, literally “In the desert [of]”) — Numbers
- Devarim (דְּבָרִים, literally “Things” or “Words”) — Deuteronomy
Main article: Nevi’im
Nevi’im (נְבִיאִים Nəḇî’îm, “Prophets”) is the second main division of the Tanakh, between the Torah and Ketuvim. It contains three sub-groups. This division includes the books which cover the time from the entrance of the Israelites into the Land of Israel until the Babylonian captivity of Judah (the “period of prophecy”).
Their distribution is not chronological, but substantive.
The Former Prophets (נביאים ראשונים Nevi’im Rishonim)
- Yĕhôshúa‘ (יְהוֹשֻעַ) — Joshua
- Shophtim (שֹׁפְטִים) — Judges
- Shmû’ēl (שְׁמוּאֵל) — Samuel
- M’lakhim (מְלָכִים) — Kings
The Latter Prophets (נביאים אחרונים Nevi’im Aharonim)
- Yĕsha‘ăyāhû (יְשַׁעְיָהוּ) — Isaiah
- Yirmyāhû (יִרְמְיָהוּ) — Jeremiah
- Yĕkhezqiēl (יְחֶזְקֵאל) — Ezekiel
The Twelve Minor Prophets (תרי עשר, Trei Asar, “The Twelve”), which are considered one book
- Hôshēa‘ (הוֹשֵׁעַ) — Hosea
- Yô’ēl (יוֹאֵל) — Joel
- ‘Āmôs (עָמוֹס) — Amos
- ‘Ōvadhyāh (עֹבַדְיָה) — Obadiah
- Yônāh (יוֹנָה) — Jonah
- Mîkhāh (מִיכָה) — Micah
- Nakḥûm (נַחוּם) — Nahum
- Khăvhakûk (חֲבַקּוּק) — Habakkuk
- Tsĕphanyāh (צְפַנְיָה) — Zephaniah
- Khaggai (חַגַּי) — Haggai
- Zkharyāh (זְכַרְיָה) — Zechariah
- Mal’ākhî (מַלְאָכִי) — Malachi
Main article: Ketuvim
Ketuvim (כְּתוּבִים, “Writings”) consists of eleven books, described below. They are also divided into three subgroups based on the distinctiveness of Sifrei Emet and Hamesh Megillot.
The three poetic books (Sifrei Emet)
- Tehillim (תְהִלִּים) — Psalms
- Mishlei (מִשְׁלֵי) — Proverbs
- Iyyôbh (אִיּוֹב) — Job
The Five Megillot (Hamesh Megillot). These books are read aloud in the synagogue on particular occasions, the occasion listed below in parenthesis.
- Shīr Hashīrīm (שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים, literally “Song of songs”, also known as “Song of Solomon”) — Song of Songs (on Passover)
- Rūth (רוּת) — Ruth (on Shavuot)
- Eikhah (אֵיכָה) — Lamentations (on Tisha B’Av)
- Qōheleth (קֹהֶלֶת) — Ecclesiastes (on Sukkot)
- Estēr (אֶסְתֵר) — Esther (on Purim)
- Dānî’ēl (דָּנִיֵּאל) — Daniel
- ‘Ezrā (עֶזְרָא) — Ezra and Nehemiah
- Divrei ha-Yamim (דִּבְרֵי הַיָּמִים) — Chronicles
The Jewish textual tradition never finalized the order of the books in Ketuvim. The Babylonian Talmud (Bava Batra 14b — 15a) gives their order as Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Daniel, Scroll of Esther, Ezra, Chronicles.
In Tiberian Masoretic codices, including the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex, and often in old Spanish manuscripts as well, the order is Chronicles, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Esther, Daniel, Ezra.
In Masoretic manuscripts (and some printed editions), Psalms, Proverbs and Job are presented in a special two-column form emphasizing the parallel stichs in the verses, which are a function of their poetry. Collectively, these three books are known as Sifrei Emet (an acronym of the titles in Hebrew, איוב, משלי, תהלים yields Emet אמ”ת, which is also the Hebrew for “truth”).
These three books are also the only ones in Tanakh with a special system of cantillation notes that are designed to emphasize parallel stichs within verses. However, the beginning and end of the book of Job are in the normal prose system.
Five scrolls (Hamesh Megillot)
The five relatively short books of the Song of Songs, the Book of Ruth, the Book of Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and the Book of Esther are collectively known as the Hamesh Megillot (Five Megillot). These are the latest books collected and designated as “authoritative” in the Jewish canon, with the latest parts having dates ranging into the 2nd century BCE. These scrolls are traditionally read over the course of the year in many Jewish communities.
Besides the three poetic books and the five scrolls, the remaining books in Ketuvim are Daniel, Ezra–Nehemiah and Chronicles. Although there is no formal grouping for these books in the Jewish tradition, they nevertheless share a number of distinguishing characteristics.
- Their narratives all openly describe relatively late events (i.e. the Babylonian captivity and the subsequent restoration of Zion).
- The Talmudic tradition ascribes late authorship to all of them.
- Two of them (Daniel and Ezra) are the only books in Tanakh with significant portions in Aramaic.
- The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text: A New Translation with the aid of Previous Versions & with the Constant Consultation of Jewish Authorities was published in 1917 by the Jewish Publication Society. It was replaced by their Tanakh in 1985
- Tanakh, Jewish Publication Society, 1985, ISBN 0-8276-0252-9
- Tanach: The Stone Edition, Hebrew with English translation, Mesorah Publications, 1996, ISBN 0-89906-269-5, named after benefactor Irving I. Stone.
- Tanakh Ram, an ongoing translation to Modern Hebrew (2010–) by Avraham Ahuvya (RAM Publishing House Ltd. and Miskal Ltd.)
- The Living Torah and The Living Nach, a 1981 translation of the Torah by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan and a subsequent posthumous translation of the Nevi’im and Ketuvim following the model of the first volume
Main article: Jewish commentaries on the Bible
There are two major approaches towards study of, and commentary on, the Tanakh. In the Jewish community, the classical approach is religious study of the Bible, where it is assumed that the Bible is divinely inspired. Another approach is to study the Bible as a human creation. In this approach, Biblical studies can be considered as a sub-field of religious studies. The later practice, when applied to the Torah, is considered heresy by the Orthodox Jewish community. As such, much modern day Bible commentary written by non-Orthodox authors is considered forbidden by rabbis teaching in Orthodox yeshivas. Some classical rabbinic commentators, such as Abraham Ibn Ezra, Gersonides, and Maimonides, used many elements of contemporary biblical criticism, including their knowledge of history, science, and philology. Their use of historical and scientific analysis of the Bible was considered acceptable by historic Judaism due to the author’s faith commitment to the idea that God revealed the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai.
The Modern Orthodox Jewish community allows for a wider array of biblical criticism to be used for biblical books outside of the Torah, and a few Orthodox commentaries now incorporate many of the techniques previously found in the academic world, e.g. the Da’at Miqra series. Non-Orthodox Jews, including those affiliated with Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism, accept both traditional and secular approaches to Bible studies. “Jewish commentaries on the Bible”, discusses Jewish Tanakh commentaries from the Targums to classical rabbinic literature, the midrash literature, the classical medieval commentators, and modern day commentaries.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia