Canon of the Old Testament

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The Chronological order in the tables below is approximately by the date of the topical material in the book. The book of Jonah, for example, tells a story that would have taken place in the 8th century BC but almost certainly was composed after the exile.

The Composition order in the tables is only very roughly indicative of when the books (or the material in them) might have been begun. Scholars disagree endlessly about how to date the composition and editing of the books.

In the notes below, "Exile" is a synonym for the time of the Babylonian Captivity (587-520 BC). "Post-exilic" therefore means "after the enslaved Jews were set free to return to Judea from Babylon."

TNK is the Jewish acronym for the Hebrew scriptures: Torah, Nebi'im, Kethub'im--Law, Prophets, and Writings.

LXX is the name given to the Greek translation and augmentation of TNK done by Jewish rabbis roughly two centuries before the time of Jesus. LXX is the Roman numeral for "70," and it refers to the legend that seventy Jewish rabbis independently translated TNK into Greek in one month's time, producing 70 manuscripts that were identical in every respect.

See "Rejection of Seven Old Testament Books" below for more details on the difference between TNK and LXX.

The complete canon

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Biblical order Topic Composition Genre LXX
01Genesis 0117th to 16th BC 04 11th BC to 6th BC Torah TNK
02Exodus 02Exodus 0511th BC to 6th BC Torah TNK
03Leviticus 04Exodus 0213th BC to 6th BC Torah TNK
04Numbers 05Exodus 0313th BC to 6th BC Torah TNK
05Deuteronomy 06Exodus 24649 to 609 BC Torah TNK
06Joshua 07Judges 089th to 6th BC History TNK
07Judges 08Judges 177th to 6th BC History TNK
08Ruth 09Judges 06 10th / 5th BC History TNK
091 Samuel 11Kings 09 9th BC History TNK
102 Samuel 12Kings 10 9th BC History TNK
111 Kings 13Kings 22640 to 609 BC History TNK
122 Kings 14Kings 23640 to 609 BC History TNK
131 Chronicles 15Kings 13 8th to 3rd BC History TNK
142 Chronicles 16Kings 14 8th to 3rd BC History TNK
15Ezra 36458, 428, 398 BC? 37 5th to 3rd BC History TNK
16Nehemiah 37Before or after Ezra 38 5th to 3rd BC History TNK
17Tobit 237th BC 402nd BC History LXX
18Judith 106th BC 451st BC History LXX
19Esther 40485-465 BC 365th-3rd BC History TNK
201 Maccabees 45167-139 BC 412nd to 1st BC History LXX
212 Maccabees 46164 BC 422nd to 1st BC History LXX
22Job 35N/A 30Post-exilic Wisdom TNK
23Psalms 0313th to 5th BC 0113th to 5th BC Wisdom TNK
24Proverbs 33Solomon 0810th to 6th? Wisdom TNK
25Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth) 41Solomon 393rd to 2nd BC Wisdom TNK
26Song of Songs 34Solomon 31Post-exilic Wisdom TNK
27Wisdom 441st BC 461st BC Wisdom LXX
28 Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 43180 BC 44180 BC Wisdom LXX
29Isaiah 188th & 6th-5th BC 168th to 5th BC Prophecy TNK
30Jeremiah 26627-587 BC 217th to 6th BC Prophecy TNK
31Lamentations 28587 BC 26Exile Prophecy TNK
32Baruch 29.1587 BC 32Post-exilic Prophecy LXX
33Ezekiel 27593-573 BC 25Exile Prophecy TNK
34Daniel 29.2587-539 BC 432nd BC Prophecy LXX & TNK
35Hosea 198th BC 128th BC Prophecy TNK
36Joel 38450 to 350 BC? 345th to 4th? Prophecy TNK
37Amos 17786-742 BC 118th BC Prophecy TNK
38Obadiah 39450 to 312 BC? 355th to 4th BC? Prophecy TNK
39Jonah 22786-746 BC 33Post-exilic Prophecy TNK
40Micah 20740 to 687 BC 158th BC Prophecy TNK
41Nahum 21612 to 609 BC? 197th BC Prophecy TNK
42Habakkuk 25612 to 609 BC? 207th BC Prophecy TNK
43Zephaniah 24640 to 609 BC 187th BC Prophecy TNK
44Haggai 30520 BC 276th BC Prophecy TNK
45Zechariah 31520 to 499 BC 286th to 5th BC Prophecy TNK
46Malachi 32after 515 BC 296th BC Prophecy TNK

The Pentateuch

"Pentateuch" literally means "five vessels" in Greek. The Five Books of Moses are also known collectively as the Torah in rabbinic Judaism; they are contained in the Torah Scrolls used in synagogue services.

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Biblical order Topic Composition Genre LXX
00Click on the Sort none.gif sort symbol above to sort the table by the values in that column.
01Genesis 0117th to 16th BC 04 11th BC to 6th BC Torah TNK
02Exodus 02Exodus 0511th BC to 6th BC Torah TNK
03Leviticus 04Exodus 0213th BC to 6th BC Torah TNK
04Numbers 05Exodus 0313th BC to 6th BC Torah TNK
05Deuteronomy 06Exodus 24649 to 609 BC Torah TNK

History

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Biblical order Topic Composition Genre LXX
06Joshua 07Judges 089th to 6th BC History TNK
07Judges 08Judges 177th to 6th BC History TNK
08Ruth 09Judges 06 10th / 5th BC History TNK
091 Samuel 11Kings 09 9th BC History TNK
102 Samuel 12Kings 10 9th BC History TNK
111 Kings 13Kings 22640 to 609 BC History TNK
122 Kings 14Kings 23640 to 609 BC History TNK
131 Chronicles 15Kings 13 8th to 3rd BC History TNK
142 Chronicles 16Kings 14 8th to 3rd BC History TNK
15Ezra 36458, 428, 398 BC? 37 5th to 3rd BC History TNK
16Nehemiah 37Before or after Ezra 38 5th to 3rd BC History TNK
17Tobit 237th BC 402nd BC History LXX
18Judith 106th BC 451st BC History LXX
19Esther 40485-465 BC 365th-3rd BC History TNK
201 Maccabees 45167-139 BC 412nd to 1st BC History LXX
212 Maccabees 46164 BC 422nd to 1st BC History LXX

Prophecy

I've added six history books to this list because they contain important prophetic stories, including the prophetic ministries of Joshua, the Judges, Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, and Elisha. The whole of the Old Testament can be treated as a prophetic tradition, beginning with Abraham's call by God, continuing in the five books of Moses, and coming to a conclusion in the late apocalyptic visions of Daniel. In TNK, these six books are considered the "former ['earlier'] prophets."

In TNK, the "minor prophets" formed one book; in the Christian arrangement of the "Old Testament," the minor prophets are counted as twelve separate "books." The arrangement of the minor prophets is roughly chronological. The "major prophets" in the Jewish tradition are Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. They are "big books," while the "minor prophets" are short pieces.

The Christian organization of the "Old Testament" moves Lamentations, Baruch, and Daniel out of the "Ketuvim" (writings) into the prophetic section. Lamentations is also described as one of the "Five Megillot ["Scrolls"]", each of which is read on a special occasion during the Jewish liturgical year.

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Biblical order Topic Composition Genre Rank LXX
06Joshua 07Judges 089th to 6th BC History Former prophet TNK
07Judges 08Judges 177th to 6th BC History Former prophet TNK
091 Samuel 11Kings 09 9th BC History Former prophet TNK
102 Samuel 12Kings 10 9th BC History Former prophet TNK
111 Kings 13Kings 22640 to 609 BC History Former prophet TNK
122 Kings 14Kings 23640 to 609 BC History Former prophet TNK
29Isaiah 188th & 6th-5th BC 168th to 5th BC Prophecy Major prophet TNK
30Jeremiah 26627-587 BC 217th to 6th BC Prophecy Major prophet TNK
31Lamentations 28587 BC 26Exile Prophecy Megilla TNK
32Baruch 29.1587 BC 32Post-exilic Prophecy Ketav LXX
33Ezekiel 27593-573 BC 25Exile Prophecy Major prophet TNK
34Daniel 29.2587-539 BC 432nd BC Prophecy Ketav LXX & TNK
35Hosea 198th BC 128th BC Prophecy Minor prophet TNK
36Joel 38450 to 350 BC? 345th to 4th? Prophecy Minor prophet TNK
37Amos 17786-742 BC 118th BC Prophecy Minor prophet TNK
38Obadiah 39450 to 312 BC? 355th to 4th BC? Prophecy Minor prophet TNK
39Jonah 22786-746 BC 33Post-exilic Prophecy Minor prophet TNK
40Micah 20740 to 687 BC 158th BC Prophecy Minor prophet TNK
41Nahum 21612 to 609 BC? 197th BC Prophecy Minor prophet TNK
42Habakkuk 25612 to 609 BC? 207th BC Prophecy Minor prophet TNK
43Zephaniah 24640 to 609 BC 187th BC Prophecy Minor prophet TNK
44Haggai 30520 BC 276th BC Prophecy Minor prophet TNK
45Zechariah 31520 to 499 BC 286th to 5th BC Prophecy Minor prophet TNK
46Malachi 32after 515 BC 296th BC Prophecy Minor prophet TNK

Wisdom

In my own interpretation, I include Jonah as part of Wisdom Literature, but if others followed this way of categorizing the book, that would leave us with just 11 "Minor Prophets."

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Biblical order Topic Composition Genre LXX
22Job 35N/A 30Post-exilic Wisdom TNK
23Psalms 0313th to 5th BC 0113th to 5th BC Wisdom TNK
24Proverbs 33Solomon 0810th to 6th? Wisdom TNK
25Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth) 41Solomon 393rd to 2nd BC Wisdom TNK
26Song of Songs 34Solomon 31Post-exilic Wisdom TNK
27Wisdom 441st BC 461st BC Wisdom LXX
28 Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 43180 BC 44180 BC Wisdom LXX

Rejection of Seven Old Testament Books

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Biblical order Topic Composition Genre LXX
17Tobit 237th BC 402nd BC History LXX
18Judith 106th BC 451st BC History LXX
201 Maccabees 45167-139 BC 412nd to 1st BC History LXX
212 Maccabees 46164 BC 422nd to 1st BC History LXX
27Wisdom 441st BC 461st BC Wisdom LXX
28 Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 43180 BC 44180 BC Wisdom LXX
32Baruch 29587 BC 32Post-exilic Prophecy LXX
34Daniel (additonal material) 42587-539 BC 432nd BC Prophecy LXX & TNK


The proper name of the Hebrew Scriptures is "TNK," which stands for:

  • "Torah," the Hebrew word for "Law."
  • "Nebi'im," the Hebrew word for "Prophets."
  • "Kethub'im," the Hebrew word for "Writings."

The acronym may sometimes be written as it is pronounced: "tanak" or "tanakh."

After Persia was conquered by Alexander the Great (356–323 BC), Jewish children growing up in cities outside of the Holy Land tended to speak Greek as their first and most natural language. In the third century BC, probably in Alexandria, Egypt, TNK was translated into Greek by Jewish rabbis on behalf of Greek-speaking Jews. A legend sprang up that 70 rabbis independently translated TNK into Greek in one month's time and found that their translations matched word-for-word and letter-for-letter. The meaning of the legend is clear: those who could only read the Scriptures in Greek were reading an edition that was just as good as the Hebrew. Because of the legend of the 70 rabbinic translators, the Greek translation of TNK was called the "Septuagint" (the Greek word for "70"). "Septuagint" then came to be abbreviated as "LXX," using the Roman numerals for "70."

Some versions of the legend say that it was 72 rabbis, not 70. Either number can be factored into biblically significant numbers: 6 x 12 vs. 7 x 10.

The Septuagint did not just translate TNK. New books and new material composed in Greek or else whose Hebrew original has been lost were added to the canon. (Calling it a canon, meaning "official list", is not historically accurate; the concept of a canon is really a later development in the Christian era. The Roman Catholic Church accepts seven books of the Greek additions as canonical (i.e., as inspired by God); the Greek Orthodox, as a general rule, accept another two books from the Septuagint additions.

"The most striking difference between the Catholic and Protestant Bibles is the presence in the former of a number of writings which are wanting in the latter and also in the Hebrew Bible, which became the Old Testament of Protestantism. These number seven books: Tobias (Tobit), Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, I and II Machabees, and three documents added to protocanonical books, viz., the supplement to Esther, from x, 4, to the end, the Canticle of the Three Youths (Song of the Three Children) in Daniel, iii, and the stories of Susanna and the Elders and Bel and the Dragon, forming the closing chapters of the Catholic version of that book. Of these works, Tobias and Judith were written originally in Aramaic, perhaps in Hebrew; Baruch and I Machabees in Hebrew, while Wisdom and II Machabees were certainly composed in Greek. The probabilities favour Hebrew as the original language of the addition to Esther, and Greek for the enlargements of Daniel."[1]

Catholics accept these books as inspired by God:

1 Maccabees
2 Maccabees
Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) Aramaic and Hebrew versions found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Wisdom
Baruch
Tobit Aramaic and Hebrew versions found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Judith

Catholics also accept these enlargements of other books as inspired by God:

  • Additions to Esther.
"The text of Esther, written originally in Hebrew, was transmitted in two forms: a short Hebrew form and a longer Greek version. The latter contains 107 additional verses, inserted at appropriate places within the Hebrew form of the text. A few of these seem to have a Hebrew origin while the rest are Greek in original composition. It is possible that the Hebrew form of the text is original throughout. If it systematically omits reference to God and his Providence over Israel, this is perhaps due to fear of irreverent response (see note on [4:14).[2] The Greek text with the above-mentioned additions is probably a later literary paraphrase in which the author seeks to have the reader share his sentiments. This standard Greek text is pre-Christian in origin. The church has accepted the additions as equally inspired with the rest of the book."[3]

Martin Luther judged that these books were not inspired by the Holy Spirit. He also tried, but failed, to eliminate Esther from the OT canon. Those Protestants who follow Luther's teachings accept only the 39 books found in TNK as inspired by God and set aside these 7 books from LXX as "apocryphal" or "deuterocanonical."

"Of the approximately 300 Old Testament quotes in the New Testament, approximately 2/3 of them came from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) which included the deuterocanonical books that the Protestants later removed. This is additional evidence that Jesus and the apostles viewed the deuterocanonical books as part of canon of the Old Testament."[4]

No book of the Bible resolves the question of exactly which scriptures from the time of the Old Testament were inspired by God. The question can only be decided on extra-Biblical considerations.[5]

"Apocryphal" Books included in the Common Bible

- Tobit
- Judith
- Wisdom
- Ben Sira
- 1 Maccabees
- 2 Maccabees
- Baruch
--------------
- Additions to Esther
- Letter of Jeremiah
- Prayer of Azariah
- Susanna
- Bel
- Prayer of Manasseh
- Additions to Psalms
- 1 Esdras [3 Esdras]
- 2 Esdras [4 Esdras]
- 3 Maccabees
- 4 Maccabees

Old Testament Names in the Vulgate and Douay-Rheims

Four books of Kings 1 Samuel,
2 Samuel,
1 Kings,
2 Kings
Paralipomenon 1 Chronicles,
2 Chronicles,
Prayer of Manasses.
books "of things passed over"
Esdras 1&2 Ezra and
Nehemiah
Ecclesiasticus Sirach "The designation 'Liber Ecclesiasticus,' meaning 'Church Book,' appended to some Greek and Latin manuscripts was due to the extensive use which the church made of this book in presenting moral teaching to catechumens and to the faithful."[6]
Song [of Solomon] Song of Songs "Song of songs" = "greatest of songs."

Eastern Orthodox canon

The Eastern Orthodox canon of the Old Testament is two books longer than the Roman Catholic canon. The two extra books are:

That gives these Churches 75 books in their canon (39 + 7 + 2 + 27 = 75).

The Ethiopian Orthodox also accept the book of Enoch, so they have a longer canon still.

References

Links

"In other words, beneath the facade of a generally-applicable test, there were really two different tests: a relatively easy one for whites, and a much harder one for blacks. I think we see something similar here. The Books Protestants are used to seeing in their Bibles get a very easy test, while the Deuterocanon is held to a much stricter standard, a standard that much of the Protestant Bible couldn’t meet."
"Why Not 66: Answering Brian Edward's Arguments for the Protestant Canon (Pt. I)."
"Why Not 66: Answering Brian Edward's Arguments for the Protestant Canon (Pt. II)."
"Did the Protestant Bible Exist Before the Reformation?"
"St. Jerome on the Deuterocanon"
"Did St. Paul Use the Deuterocanon?"
  • Michael Barber: "Loose Canons: The Development of the Old Testament,"
- Part 1
- Part 2
- Part 3