THE CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT


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

THE CANON OF HEBREW SCRIPTURE

Hebrew Scripture, the Old Testament of our Bible, relates God's Creation of the world and his Word to Israel. God 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 of Moses, 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. The following is Genesis 1:1, the first line of Hebrew Scripture:


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 Israelites to the nations outside of Palestine. The ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were conquered by Assyria and dispersed in 722 BC. The major dispersion in Judah occurred during the period known as the Babylonian Exile, when the Jews were deported in three waves following the invasions of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (Second Kings 24-25). An initial capture of young Jewish men during the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah (608-598 BC) occurred following the King's victory in the Battle of Carchemish over Egypt (Jeremiah 46:2) in 605 BC, which included Daniel and his three companions Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Daniel 1:1-7). The second deportation occurred during the invasion in 597 BC, and the third major deportation to Babylon occurred following the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 586 BC. King Cyrus of Persia allowed the people of the Babylonian Exile to return to Jerusalem and Judah. The Second Temple in Jerusalem was built and completed in 516 BC during the period known as the Restoration. The Restoration was described by two leaders: Ezra restored the Mosaic Law, while Nehemiah restored the twelve gates and walls of Jerusalem. 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 during the Hellenistic Age 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 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. In his famous work The City of God (Book 18, Chapter 43), St. Augustine of Hippo considered the Greek Septuagint the authoritative translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, and appeared to follow the wording of Exodus 20:17 in the Greek Septuagint and Deuteronomy 5:21 for his enumeration of the Ten Commandments of God. The Orthodox Churches have retained the entire Septuagint for their canon of the Old Testament to the present day! The following is Genesis 1:1 from the Greek Septuagint:


Genesis 1:1 from the Greek Septuagint Old Testament.

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. Possible criteria included 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. It is now known with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls that the Writings or Hagiographa often varied with each religious sect.

The Hebrew canon for Judaism recognized 10 books less than the Canon of the Greek Septuagint. The Law contained the Torah of Moses, beginning with the Book of Genesis. The Prophets included the Former Prophets beginning with Joshua, that are now part of the Historical Books, and the Latter Prophets, beginning with Isaiah and comprising the Major Prophets and the Prophets of the Book of the Twelve. The Writings comprised the Psalms and 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   Ruth
Isaiah Lamentations
Jeremiah Ecclesiastes
Ezekiel Esther
Daniel Chronicles
  The Twelve     Ezra-Nehemiah  


THE CANON OF THE CHRISTIAN OLD TESTAMENT

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 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 was born in Dalmatia and had a great affinity for languages. He first settled in the Syrian desert and finally in Bethlehem. Commissioned by Pope Damasus in 382, he translated both Old and New Testaments into Latin; he completed the translation of the New Testament Gospels into Latin in 384, and the Old Testament by 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. The books of the Apocrypha were written during post-exilic Second-Temple Judaism, after the time of Ezra and the Restoration but before the time of Jesus and the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. To support the traditional use of the Greek Septuagint as the source of the Christian Old Testament, St. Augustine and the Council of Hippo in 393 AD preserved seven books of the Apocrypha, known as the deuterocanonical books: the Historical Books of Tobias (Tobit), Judith, First and Second Maccabees, and the Wisdom Books of Wisdom and Sirach (Ben Sira), the Prophet Baruch, as well as the Greek portions of Esther (which added the name of God), and Daniel which contained the Prayer of the Three Young Men, the story of Susanna, 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.

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. The Book of Wisdom is witness to the trend in post-exilic Second-Temple Judaism that looked forward to life after death: immortality is a reward of the just (3:1-4). The book also notes that all living creatures reflect the perfection of the Creator (Wisdom 13:5). Sirach (Ben Sira) offers both moral instruction and a history of the patriarchs and leaders of Israel. First and Second Maccabees are historical works which describe the victory of the Hasmonean priest Mattathias and his five sons the Maccabees with the end of persecution by the Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes. And so began the independent Hasmonean Dynasty of Israel from 167 to 63 BC. The Rededication of the Jerusalem Temple by the third son Judas Maccabeus, the Hammer (First Maccabees 4:36-59, Second Maccabees 10:1-8) is commemorated yearly during the 8-day Festival of Lights known as Hannukah, also called the Feast of the Dedication (John 10:22). 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 the Prophet 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, 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 portions of 3 texts written in Hebrew which had been considered part of the Apocrypha - Tobias (or Tobit), Sirach (or Ben Sira), and 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:




THE CHRISTIAN OLD TESTAMENT
ORTHODOX CATHOLIC   PROTESTANT  
The Law
Genesis Genesis Genesis
Exodus Exodus Exodus
Leviticus Leviticus Leviticus
Numbers Numbers Numbers
Deuteronomy Deuteronomy Deuteronomy
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
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
The 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



THE BIBLE