The Back Page – The Old Testament

The Back Page

The Old Testament

Our Old Testament contains 39 books:
Law (5): Genesis–Deuteronomy
History (12): Joshua–Esther
Poetry (5): Job–Song of Solomon
Prophecy (17): Isaiah–Malachi

These books were written over a period of centuries by a number

of writers, some of whom remain unknown to us. The Old Testa-
ment was composed mostly in Hebrew, with a few parts in the

related language of Aramaic. The ancient scripts look different
from the modern, but here is what modern Hebrew looks like:
ְ ּבֵרא ִUׁשית ָּבָmרא ֱא ֹל ִWהים ֵqאת ַה ָּׁשַUמִים ְו ֵqאת ָה ָֽאֶרץ׃
This is Genesis 1:1. Hebrew reads from right to left, unlike
English, and books open from what we would consider the back.
What we call the Old Testament our Jewish friends call their
Bible, or, more frequently, the Tanakh. It contains the same books,
though arranged, named, and numbered differently:

Torah (Law or Instruction, 5): Genesis–Deuteronomy
(all named differently)
Nevi’im (Prophets, 8): former prophets: Joshua, Judges,
Samuel, Kings; latter prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah,
Ezekiel, The Twelve
Kethuvim (Writings, 11): Psalms, Proverbs, Job; The

Five Megilloth: Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamenta-
tions, Ecclesiastes, Esther; Ezra-Nehemiah, Daniel,


Thus the Hebrew Bible contains 24 books instead of 39, but
includes all the same material. The first letters of the three Jewish
divisions—TNK—form the basis for the word “Tanakh.” We get a
hint of this threefold division of the Jewish scriptures when Jesus
says that “all things which are written about Me in the Law of
Moses [Torah] and the Prophets [Nevi’im] and the Psalms [the
first and largest book in the Kethuvim] must be fulfilled” (Luke

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