THE CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

Domenichino - The Fall of Adam and Eve, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Grenoble, France, 1625.


THE CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

The Old Testament of our Bible relates God's Creation of the world and his Word to Israel. He reveals his undying love for his creation mankind, in spite of man's sin and disobedience, through the promise of a Redeemer. The Old Testament is Hebrew Scripture or Tanakh, and is composed of the Law, the Torah or Pentateuch, the Prophets or Neviim, and the Writings, the Hagiographa or Kethuvim. The threefold division - and original order - of Hebrew Scripture was evident at the time of Jesus, who referred to "the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms (Luke 24:44)." The Old Testament was composed in Hebrew, except for the following written in Aramaic - Genesis 31:47, Jeremiah 10:11, Ezra 4:8-6:18 and 7:12-26, and nearly half of the Book of Daniel 2:4-7:28.

Genesis 1:1 in Hebrew - In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.


The writings of the Old Testament of the Bible were preserved in three languages - Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and have been passed on to us mainly through the following manuscripts: the Greek Septuagint from Alexandria; the newly discovered Dead Sea Scrolls of the Essenes; the Masoretic Hebrew text of Tiberias, Galilee; and the Targumim, Old Testament Books translated into Aramaic, as well as the Aramaic Peshitta Bible. The differing traditions have led to the disparity found in the Old Testament canons among Christian religions.

The diversity of language and manuscripts may be traced to the Diaspora, the dispersion of the Jewish people to the nations outside of Palestine. The major dispersion occurred during the period known as the Babylonian Exile, when the Jews were deported following the invasion by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The first deportation occurred in 597 BC following his first invasion, and the second major deportation to Babylon occurred following the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 587/586 BC. Many Israelites also fled to Egypt and flourished there. Following the arrival and Hellenistic influence of Alexander the Great in 332 BC and the founding of the city of Alexandria, they readily adopted the Greek language.

The oldest surviving translation of Hebrew Scripture was the Greek Septuagint, which was undertaken by Jewish scholars in Alexandria in the third century before Christ (BC). The Greek codices arranged the books in a fourfold division, in a different way than Hebrew Scripture, by placing the Law of Moses first, then the Historical Books, then the Wisdom books, and then the Prophets. The Greek Septuagint Old Testament was in circulation at the time of Christ and was widely read. In fact, the majority of Old Testament quotations in the Greek New Testament were from the Greek Septuagint Old Testament, primarily from Psalms, Isaiah, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and the Book of the Twelve. For example, when Jesus read Isaiah (61:1-2) in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-19), he followed the language of the Greek Septuagint. The early Christian Churches referred to the Septuagint as their source of Scripture. The Orthodox Churches have retained the Septuagint for their canon of the Old Testament to the present day!


Genesis 1:1 from the Greek Septuagint - In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.


The Hebrew canon for Judaism developed in stages. The divine inspiration of the Law was recognized as early as II Kings 22:8f, and reaffirmed as Scripture during the Restoration (Ezra 7:6, Nehemiah 8:1, Zechariah 7:12). The Prophets were accepted as inspired Scripture by the end of the second century BC (II Maccabees 2:13, 15:9; Sirach Foreword, 49:10). While the Psalms were uniformly regarded as Scripture, the final books of the Writings took time to be clearly defined. It is now known with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls that the Writings or Hagiographa often varied with each religious sect.

Following the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD, the rabbinical school of the Pharisees in Jamnia became a center of religious thought. Faced with the affinity of the early Christians for the Greek Septuagint, it is believed that they refined the books traditional to Judaism, particularly the Writings. Jamnia considered 4 criteria to determine which of the Writings - such as Ecclesiastes, Esther, and Song of Songs - should be retained for the Hebrew canon for Judaism: the book should conform to the Torah; it was written before the time of Ezra (circa 450 BC); it was written in Hebrew; and it was composed in Judah or Israel.

The Hebrew canon for Judaism recognized 10 books less than the Canon of the Greek Septuagint. The Law contained the Pentateuch of Moses. The Prophets included the Former Prophets that are part of the Historical Books, the Major Prophets, and the Prophets of the Book of the Twelve. The Writings comprised a body of wisdom literature, history, poetry, and songs. The Masoretic Hebrew Text of Galilee developed from the eighth through tenth century AD confirmed the Hebrew canon for Judaism.


JUDAISM
Law Prophets Writings
Genesis Joshua Psalms
Exodus Judges Proverbs
Leviticus Samuel Job
Numbers Kings Song of Songs
Deuteronomy The Twelve Ruth
Isaiah Lamentations
Jeremiah Ecclesiastes
Ezekiel Esther
Daniel Ezra-Nehemiah
Chronicles


The 24 Books of Judaism are equivalent to the 39 Books common to all Christian Old Testaments, for Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and Ezra-Nehemiah were each divided into two parts in the Christian canons, and the one Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets was split into twelve books, one for each prophet. The above table lists the Book of Daniel with the Prophets, as found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, instead of the Writings, as found in the Masoretic texts.

St. Jerome translated both Old and New Testaments into Latin; he completed the translation of the New Testament into Latin in 384, and the Old Testament in 405. St. Jerome translated from both Greek and Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament and noted the difference between the larger canon of the Greek Septuagint and the shorter Hebrew canon, and called those books comprising the difference the "hidden or secret books," or the Apocrypha. To support the traditional use of the Greek Septuagint as the source of the Christian Old Testament, St. Augustine and the Synod of Carthage in 397 AD preserved seven books of the Apocrypha, known as the deuterocanonical books: the Historical Books of Tobias (Tobit), First and Second Maccabees, and Judith, the Wisdom Books of Sirach and Wisdom, the Prophet Baruch, as well as the Greek portions of Esther (which includes the name of God), and Daniel which includes the Prayer of the Three Young Men, the story of Susannah, and Bel and the Dragon. St. Jerome included these as well for a total of 46 Books in his Latin Old Testament. The Latin Vulgate Bible served as the standard Bible for Western civilization for over 1000 years.

The Eastern Orthodox Churches preserved the entire Greek Septuagint, which also included I Esdras (A), Three Maccabees, and the Letter of Jeremiah, as well as Psalm 151.

Tobias (or Tobit) emphasizes the importance of the sanctity of marriage, parental respect, angelic intercession, as well as prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for the expiation of sins, as noted in the Archangel Raphael's speech in Tobias 12:9. Sirach offers both moral instruction and a history of the patriarchs and leaders of Israel. First and Second Maccabees are historical works which describe the end of persecution by the Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes through Mattathias and his sons the Maccabees. And so began the independent Hasmonean Dynasty of Israel from 165 to 63 BC. The Rededication of the Temple by Judas Maccabeus (1 Maccabees 4:36-59, 2 Maccabees 10:1-8) is commemorated yearly during the Feast of Hannukah. First Maccabees was first written in Hebrew, but only the Greek version has been preserved. In addition to its historical value, Second Maccabees affirms the theology of martyrdom and resurrection of the just (7:1-42), intercessory prayer of the living for the dead (12:44-45), as well as intercessory prayer of the saints for those still on earth (15:12-16). Judith describes the deliverance of the Jews from the hands of Holofernes, general to Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The Book of Wisdom is witness to the trend in late post-exilic Jewish thought that looked forward to life after death: immortality is a reward of the just (3:1-4, 19). The Book of Baruch, the scribe to Jeremiah, describes the prayers of the Babylonian Exiles and includes the Letter of Jeremiah.

Martin Luther in his 1534 translation differed from St. Augustine and considered the Apocryphal books "good for reading" but not part of inspired Scripture. The King James Bible of 1611 included the Apocrypha but in a separate section. While there are no direct quotations in the New Testament from the Apocrypha, there are also no direct quotations from Judges, Ruth, Esther, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Ezra, Nehemiah, Obadiah, Nahum, or Zephaniah.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Essenes, a conservative religious sect that emerged circa 200 BC, has shed new light on Hebrew Scripture. Every book of the Old Testament was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls except for the Book of Esther! It is important to note that the Dead Sea Scrolls included 3 books written in Hebrew which had been considered part of the Apocrypha - Tobias (or Tobit), Sirach, and the Letter of Jeremiah, as well as Psalm 151 of David. Among the diverse scrolls, several copies of the Books of Enoch and Jubilees were discovered as well, both of which are also found in the Old Testament of the Oriental Orthodox Church of Ethiopia. While the Dead Sea Scrolls raise questions about the traditional canon, they confirm much of our knowledge about Hebrew Scripture. An intact scroll of Isaiah was found, completely identical to our present Book in the Bible, and is roughly 1000 years older than any previous manuscript!

In summary, modern Christianity reflects the lack of uniformity found in the canon of the Old Testament, for Catholics and Eastern Orthodox continue to refer to the Greek Septuagint as Old Testament while Protestants chose the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew canon:



CHRISTIANITY
ORTHODOX CATHOLIC PROTESTANT
Pentateuch Pentateuch Pentateuch
Genesis Genesis Genesis
Exodus Exodus Exodus
Leviticus Leviticus Leviticus
Numbers Numbers Numbers
Deuteronomy Deuteronomy Deuteronomy
Historical Books Historical Books Historical Books
Joshua Joshua Joshua
Judges Judges Judges
Ruth Ruth Ruth
I Samuel I Samuel I Samuel
II Samuel II Samuel II Samuel
I Kings I Kings I Kings
II Kings II Kings II Kings
I Chronicles I Chronicles I Chronicles
II Chronicles II Chronicles II Chronicles
I Esdras (A)
Ezra Ezra Ezra
Nehemiah Nehemiah Nehemiah
Tobit Tobit
Judith Judith
Esther Esther Esther
Maccabees I Maccabees I
Maccabees II Maccabees II
Maccabees III
Wisdom Books Wisdom Books Wisdom Books
Job Job Job
Psalms (151) Psalms (150) Psalms (150)
Proverbs Proverbs Proverbs
Ecclesiastes Ecclesiastes Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs Song of Songs Song of Songs
Wisdom Wisdom
Sirach Sirach
Prophets Prophets Prophets
Isaiah Isaiah Isaiah
Jeremiah Jeremiah Jeremiah
Lamentations Lamentations Lamentations
Baruch Baruch
Letter of Jeremiah
Ezekiel Ezekiel Ezekiel
Daniel Daniel Daniel
Hosea Hosea Hosea
Joel Joel Joel
Amos Amos Amos
Obadiah Obadiah Obadiah
Jonah Jonah Jonah
Micah Micah Micah
Nahum Nahum Nahum
Habakkuk Habakkuk Habakkuk
Zephaniah Zephaniah Zephaniah
Haggai Haggai Haggai
Zechariah Zechariah Zechariah
Malachi Malachi Malachi
49 46 39



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