Old Testament

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The Old Testament is a Christian term for a collection of religious writings by ancient Israelites[1] that form the first section of Christian Bibles, in contrast to the Christian New Testament. The books included in the Old Testament (the Old Testament canon) varies markedly between Christian denominations; Protestants accept only the Hebrew Bible's canon but divide it into 39 books, while Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, Coptic and Ethiopian churches recognise a considerably larger collection.[2]

The books can be broadly divided into the Pentateuch, which tells how God selected Israel to be his chosen people; the history books telling the history of the Israelites from their conquest of Canaan to their defeat and exile in Babylon; the poetic and "Wisdom" books dealing, in various forms, with questions of good and evil in the world; and the books of the biblical prophets, warning of the consequences of turning away from God.

For the Israelites who were its original authors and readers these books told of their own unique relationship with God and their relationship with proselytes, but the overarching messianic nature of Christianity has led Christians from the very beginning of the faith to see the Old Testament as a preparation for the New Covenant and New Testament.

Content[edit source | edit]

The Old Testament contains 39 (Protestant) or 46 (Catholic) or more (Orthodox and other) books, divided, very broadly, into the Pentateuch (meaning "five books"), the historical books, the "wisdom" books and the prophets.[3]

Table[edit source | edit]

The table uses the spellings and names present in modern editions of the Bible, such as the New American Bible Revised Edition, Revised Standard Version and English Standard Version. The spelling and names in both the 1609–10 Douay Old Testament (and in the 1582 Rheims New Testament) and the 1749 revision by Bishop Challoner (the edition currently in print used by many Catholics, and the source of traditional Catholic spellings in English) and in the Septuagint differ from those spellings and names used in modern editions which are derived from the Hebrew Masoretic text.[a]

For the Orthodox canon, Septuagint titles are provided in parentheses when these differ from those editions. For the Catholic canon, the Douaic titles are provided in parentheses when these differ from those editions. Likewise, the King James Version references some of these books by the traditional spelling when referring to them in the New Testament, such as "Esaias" (for Isaiah).

In the spirit of ecumenism more recent Catholic translations (e.g. the New American Bible, Jerusalem Bible, and ecumenical translations used by Catholics, such as the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition) use the same "standardized" (King James Version) spellings and names as Protestant Bibles (e.g. 1 Chronicles as opposed to the Douaic 1 Paralipomenon, 1–2 Samuel and 1–2 Kings instead of 1–4 Kings) in those books which are universally considered canonical, the protocanonicals.

The Talmud in Bava Batra 14b gives a different order for the books in Nevi'im and Ketuvim. This order is also cited in Mishneh Torah Hilchot Sefer Torah 7:15. The order of the books of the Torah are universal through all denominations of Judaism and Christianity.

The disputed books, included in one canon but not in others, are often called the Biblical apocrypha, a term that is sometimes used specifically to describe the books in the Catholic and Orthodox canons that are absent from the Jewish Masoretic Text and most modern Protestant Bibles. Catholics, following the Canon of Trent (1546), describe these books as deuterocanonical, while Greek Orthodox Christians, following the Synod of Jerusalem (1672), use the traditional name of anagignoskomena, meaning "that which is to be read." They are present in a few historic Protestant versions; the German Luther Bible included such books, as did the English 1611 King James Version.[b]

Empty table cells indicate that a book is absent from that canon.

(Jewish Bible)
(24 books)[c]
Books in bold are part of the Ketuvim
Old Testament
(39 books)
Old Testament
(46 books)
Eastern Orthodox
Old Testament
(51 books)
Original language
Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses
Nevi'im (Prophets)
YehoshuaJoshuaJoshua (Josue)Joshua (Iesous)Hebrew
Rut (Ruth)[d]RuthRuthRuthHebrew
Shemuel1 Samuel1 Samuel (1 Kings)[e]1 Samuel (1 Kingdoms)[f]Hebrew
2 Samuel2 Samuel (2 Kings)[e]2 Samuel (2 Kingdoms)[f]Hebrew
Melakhim1 Kings1 Kings (3 Kings)[e]1 Kings (3 Kingdoms)[f]Hebrew
2 Kings2 Kings (4 Kings)[e]2 Kings (4 Kingdoms)[f]Hebrew
Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles)[d]1 Chronicles1 Chronicles (1 Paralipomenon)1 Chronicles (1 Paralipomenon)Hebrew
2 Chronicles2 Chronicles (2 Paralipomenon)2 Chronicles (2 Paralipomenon)Hebrew
1 EsdrasHebrew
Ezra-Nehemiah[d]EzraEzra (1 Esdras)Ezra (2 Esdras)[f][g]Hebrew and Aramaic
NehemiahNehemiah (2 Esdras)Nehemiah (2 Esdras)[f][g]Hebrew
Tobit (Tobias)Tobit (Tobias)Aramaic (and Hebrew?)
1 Maccabees (1 Machabees)[i]1 MaccabeesHebrew
2 Maccabees (2 Machabees)[i]2 MaccabeesGreek
3 MaccabeesGreek
4 Maccabees[j]Greek
Ketuvim (Writings)Wisdom books
Iyov (Job)[d]JobJobJobHebrew
Tehillim (Psalms)[d]PsalmsPsalmsPsalms[k]Hebrew
Prayer of ManassehGreek
Mishlei (Proverbs)[d]ProverbsProverbsProverbsHebrew
Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes)[d]EcclesiastesEcclesiastesEcclesiastesHebrew
Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs)[d]Song of SolomonSong of Songs (Canticle of Canticles)Song of Songs (Aisma Aismaton)Hebrew
Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)SirachHebrew
Nevi'im (Latter Prophets)Major prophets
YeshayahuIsaiahIsaiah (Isaias)IsaiahHebrew
YirmeyahuJeremiahJeremiah (Jeremias)JeremiahHebrew and Aramaic
Eikhah (Lamentations)[d]LamentationsLamentationsLamentationsHebrew
Letter of Jeremiah[m]Greek (majority view)[n]
YekhezqelEzekielEzekiel (Ezechiel)EzekielHebrew
Daniel[d]DanielDaniel[o]Daniel[o]Hebrew and Aramaic
Twelve Minor Prophets
The Twelve
Trei Asar
HoseaHosea (Osee)HoseaHebrew
ObadiahObadiah (Abdias)ObadiahHebrew
JonahJonah (Jonas)JonahHebrew
MicahMicah (Micheas)MicahHebrew
HabakkukHabakkuk (Habacuc)HabakkukHebrew
ZephaniahZephaniah (Sophonias)ZephaniahHebrew
HaggaiHaggai (Aggeus)HaggaiHebrew
ZechariahZechariah (Zacharias)ZechariahHebrew
MalachiMalachi (Malachias)MalachiHebrew

Several of the books in the Eastern Orthodox canon are also found in the appendix to the Latin Vulgate, formerly the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church.

Books in the Appendix to the Vulgate Bible
Name in Vulgate
Name in Eastern Orthodox use
3 Esdras1 Esdras
4 Esdras
Prayer of ManassehPrayer of Manasseh
Psalm of David when he slew Goliath (Psalm 151)Psalm 151

Composition[edit source | edit]

The first five books – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, book of Numbers and Deuteronomy – comprise the Torah, the story of Israel from the Genesis creation narrative to the death of Moses. Few scholars today doubt that it reached its present form in the Persian period (538–332 BC), and that its authors were the elite of exilic returnees who controlled the Temple at that time.[6]

The books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings follow, forming a history of Israel from the Conquest of Canaan to the Siege of Jerusalem c. 587 BC. There is a broad consensus among scholars that these originated as a single work (the so-called "Deuteronomistic history") during the Babylonian exile of the 6th century BC.[7] The two Books of Chronicles cover much the same material as the Pentateuch and Deuteronomistic history and probably date from the 4th century BC.[8]

Chronicles links with the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which were probably finished during the 3rd century BC.[9] Catholic and Orthodox Old Testaments contain two (Catholic Old Testament) to four (Orthodox) Books of Maccabees, written in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC.

The history books make up around half the total content of the Old Testament. Of the remainder, the books of the various prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and the twelve "minor prophets" – were written between the 8th and 6th centuries BC, with the exceptions of Jonah and Daniel, which were written much later.[10] The "wisdom" and other books – Job, Proverbs and so on – date from between the 5th century BC and the 2nd or 1st BC, with the exception of some of the Psalms.[11]

Themes[edit source | edit]

God is consistently depicted as the one who created the world and guides its history. Although he is not consistently presented as the only god who exists, he is always depicted as the only god whom Israel is to worship, and both Jews and Christians have always interpreted the bible as an affirmation of the oneness of God.[12]

The Old Testament stresses the special relationship between God and his chosen people, Israel, but includes instructions for proselytes as well. This relationship is expressed in the biblical covenant (contract) between the two, received by Moses. The law codes in books such as Exodus and especially Deuteronomy are the terms of the contract: Israel swears faithfulness to Yahweh, and God swears to be Israel's special protector and supporter.[12]

Further themes in the Old Testament include salvation, redemption, judgement, obedience and disobedience, faith and faithfulness, among others. Throughout there is a strong emphasis on ethics and ritual purity, both of which God demands, although some of the prophets and wisdom writers seem to question this, arguing that God demands social justice above purity, and perhaps does not even care about purity at all. The Old Testament's moral code enjoins fairness, intervention on behalf of the vulnerable, and the duty of those in power to administer justice righteously. It forbids murder, bribery and corruption, deceitful trading, and many sexual misdemeanors. All morality is traced back to God, who is the source of all goodness.[13]

The problem of evil plays a large part in the Old Testament. The problem the Old Testament authors faced was that a good God must have had just reason for bringing disaster (meaning notably, but not only, the Babylonian exile) upon his people. The theme is played out, with many variations, in books as different as the histories of Kings and Chronicles, the prophets like Ezekiel and Jeremiah, and in the wisdom books like Job and Ecclesiastes.[13]

From scripture to canon: formation of the Old Testament[edit source | edit]

The interrelationship between various significant ancient manuscripts of the Old Testament, according to the Encyclopaedia Biblica (1903) Some manuscripts are identified by their siglum. LXX here denotes the original Septuagint.

Greek, Latin and Protestant Old Testaments[edit source | edit]

The process by which scriptures became canons and Bibles was a long one, and its complexities account for the many different Old Testaments which exist today. By about the 5th century BC Jews saw the five books of the Torah (the Old Testament Pentateuch) as having authoritative status; by the 2nd century BC the Prophets had a similar status, although without quite the same level of respect as the Torah; beyond that, the Jewish scriptures were fluid, with different groups seeing authority in different books.[14]

Greek Bible[edit source | edit]

The scriptures were first translated into Greek in Alexandria between about 280–130 BC.[15] These early Greek translations – supposedly commissioned by Ptolemy Philadelphus – were called the Septuagint (Latin: "Seventy") from the supposed number of translators involved (hence its abbreviation "LXX"). This Septuagint remains the basis of the Old Testament in the Eastern Orthodox Church.[16]

It varies in many places from the Masoretic Text and includes numerous books no longer considered canonical in other traditions: 1st & 2nd Esdras, Judith, Tobit, 3rd & 4th Maccabees, the Book of Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch.[17] Early modern Biblical criticism typically explained these variations as intentional or ignorant corruptions by the Alexandrian scholars, but most recent scholarship holds it is simply based on early source texts differing from those later used by the Masoretes in their work.

The Septuagint was originally used by Jews so thoroughly Hellenized that their knowledge of Greek was better than their Hebrew. The ever-increasing number of gentile converts to Christianity created a growing need for translations of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek and Latin. The three most acclaimed early interpreters were Aquila of Sinope, Symmachus the Ebionite, and Theodotion; in his Hexapla, Origen placed his edition of the Hebrew text beside its transcription in Greek letters and four parallel translations: Aquila's, Symmachus's, the Septuagint's, and Theodotion's. The so-called "fifth" and "sixth editions" were two other Greek translations supposedly miraculously discovered by students outside the towns of Jericho and Nicopolis: these were added to Origen's Octapla.[18]

In 331, Constantine I commissioned Eusebius to deliver fifty Bibles for the Church of Constantinople. Athanasius[19] recorded Alexandrian scribes around 340 preparing Bibles for Constans. Little else is known, though there is plenty of speculation. For example, it is speculated that this may have provided motivation for canon lists, and that Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus are examples of these Bibles. Together with the Peshitta and Codex Alexandrinus, these are the earliest extant Christian Bibles.[20] There is no evidence among the canons of the First Council of Nicaea of any determination on the canon, however, Jerome (347–420), in his Prologue to Judith, makes the claim that the Book of Judith was "found by the Nicene Council to have been counted among the number of the Sacred Scriptures".[21]

Latin Bible[edit source | edit]

In Western Christianity or Christianity in the Western half of the Roman Empire, Latin had displaced Greek as the common language of the early Christians, and about 400 AD Pope Damasus I commissioned Jerome, the leading scholar of the day, to produce an updated Latin bible to replace the Vetus Latina. Sometime in the centuries after the Septuagint (exactly when is disputed) the Rabbis (Jewish religious scholars and teachers) defined the Jewish canon, which is a much shorter canon of only 24 books, and Jerome used it (commonly called the Hebrew Bible) instead of the Greek Old Testament as the basis for his translation, citing "Hebraica Veritas" (Latin: Truth of the Hebrew). His Vulgate (i.e. common language) Old Testament became the standard bible used in the Western Church, specifically as the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate, while the Churches in the East continued, and still continue, to use the Septuagint.[22]

Jerome had wanted to drop all the books that did not appear in the Hebrew Bible, but St Augustine, a bishop and another great scholar of the day, opposed him and won the argument, notably at the Council of Carthage on 28 August 397. In the 16th century the Protestant reformers reopened the debate, and sided with Jerome, but only for their own congregations[citation needed]: yet although Protestant Bibles now have only those books that appear in the Jewish Bible, they have them in the order of the Greek Bible.[23]

Rome, largely in reaction to this attack on tradition, officially adopted a canon, the Canon of Trent, which can be seen as following Augustine's Carthaginian Councils or the Council of Rome,[p] and includes most, but not all, of the Septuagint (3 Ezra and 3 and 4 Maccabees are excluded);[24] the Anglicans after the English Civil War adopted a compromise position, restoring the 39 Articles and keeping the extra books that were excluded by the Westminster Confession of Faith, but only for private study and for reading in churches, while Lutherans kept them for private study, gathered in an appendix as Biblical Apocrypha.[23]

Other versions[edit source | edit]

While the Hebrew, Greek and Latin versions of the Hebrew Bible are the best known Old Testaments, there were others. At much the same time as the Septuagint was being produced, translations were being made into Aramaic, the language of Jews living in Palestine and the Near East and likely the language of Jesus: these are called the Aramaic Targums, from a word meaning "translation", and were used to help Jewish congregations understand their scriptures.[25]

For Aramaic Christians there was a Syriac translation of the Hebrew Bible called the Peshitta, as well as versions in Coptic (the everyday language of Egypt in the first Christian centuries, descended from ancient Egyptian), Ethiopic (for use in the Ethiopian church, one of the oldest Christian churches), Armenian (Armenia was the first to adopt Christianity as its official religion), and Arabic.[25]

Christian theology and the Old Testament[edit source | edit]

Christianity is based on the claim that the historical Jesus was also the supernatural Christ, the Saviour. This claim is in turn based on Jewish understandings of the meaning of the Hebrew term messiah, which, like the Greek "Christ", means "anointed". In the Hebrew Scriptures it describes a king anointed with oil on his accession to the throne: he becomes "The LORD's anointed" or Yahweh's Anointed. By the time of Jesus, some Jews expected that a flesh and blood descendant of David (the "Son of David") would come to establish a real Jewish kingdom in Jerusalem, instead of the Roman province.[26]

Others stressed the Son of Man, a distinctly other-worldly figure who would appear as a judge at the end of time; and some harmonised the two by expecting a this-worldly messianic kingdom which would last for a set period and be followed by the other-worldly age or World to Come. Some thought the Messiah was already present, but unrecognised due to Israel's sins; some thought that the Messiah would be announced by a fore-runner, probably Elijah (as promised by the prophet Malachi, whose book now ends the Old Testament and precedes Mark's account of John the Baptist). None predicted a Messiah who suffers and dies for the sins of all the people.[26] The story of Jesus' death therefore involved a profound shift in meaning from the tradition of the Old Testament.[27]

The name "Old Testament" reflects Christianity's understanding of itself as the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophesy of a New Covenant (which is similar to "testament" and often conflated) to replace the existing covenant between God and Israel (Jeremiah 31:31).[1] The emphasis, however, has shifted from Judaism's understanding of the covenant as an eternal contract between God and Israel to one between God and those who are "in Christ".[28]

See also[edit source | edit]

Notes[edit source | edit]

  1. ^ Generally due to derivation from transliterations of names used in the Latin Vulgate in the case of Catholicism, and from transliterations of the Greek Septuagint in the case of the Orthodox (as opposed to derivation of translations, instead of transliterations, of Hebrew titles) such Ecclesiasticus (DRC) instead of Sirach (LXX) or Ben Sira (Hebrew), Paralipomenon (Greek, meaning "things omitted") instead of Chronicles, Sophonias instead of Zephaniah, Noe instead of Noah, Henoch instead of Enoch, Messias instead of Messiah, Sion instead of Zion, etc.
  2. ^ The foundational Thirty-Nine Articles of Anglicanism, in Article VI, asserts these disputed books are not used "to establish any doctrine," but "read for example of life." Although the Biblical apocrypha are still used in Anglican Liturgy,[4] the modern trend is to not even print the Old Testament apocrypha in editions of Anglican-used Bibles.
  3. ^ The 24 books of the Hebrew Bible are the same as the 39 books of the Protestant Old Testament, only divided and ordered differently: the books of the Minor Prophets are in Christian Bibles twelve different books, and in Hebrew Bibles, one book called "The Twelve". Likewise, Christian Bibles divide the Books of Kingdoms into four books, either 1–2 Samuel and 1–2 Kings or 1–4 Kings: Jewish Bibles divide these into two books. The Jews likewise keep 1–2 Chronicles/Paralipomenon as one book. Ezra and Nehemiah are likewise combined in the Jewish Bible, as they are in many Orthodox Bibles, instead of divided into two books, as per the Catholic and Protestant tradition.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k This book is part of the Ketuvim, the third section of the Jewish canon. They have a different order in Jewish canon than in Christian canon.
  5. ^ a b c d The books of Samuel and Kings are often called First through Fourth Kings in the Catholic tradition, much like the Orthodox.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Names in parentheses are the Septuagint names and are often used by the Orthodox Christians.
  7. ^ a b Some Eastern Orthodox churches follow the Septuagint and the Hebrew bibles by considering the books of Ezra and Nehemiah as one book.
  8. ^ a b The Catholic and Orthodox Book of Esther includes 103 verses not in the Protestant Book of Esther.
  9. ^ a b The Latin Vulgate, Douay-Rheims, and Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition place First and Second Maccabees after Malachi; other Catholic translations place them after Esther.
  10. ^ In Greek Bibles, 4 Maccabees is found in the appendix.
  11. ^ Eastern Orthodox churches include Psalm 151 and the Prayer of Manasseh, not present in all canons.
  12. ^ a b In Catholic Bibles, Baruch includes a sixth chapter called the Letter of Jeremiah. Baruch is not in the Protestant Bible or the Tanakh.
  13. ^ Eastern Orthodox Bibles have the books of Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah separate.
  14. ^ Hebrew (minority view); see Letter of Jeremiah for details.
  15. ^ a b In Catholic and Orthodox Bibles, Daniel includes three sections not included in Protestant Bibles. The Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children are included between Daniel 3:23–24. Susanna is included as Daniel 13. Bel and the Dragon is included as Daniel 14. These are not in the Protestant Old Testament.
  16. ^ Augustine's "2 of Esdras" could be 1 Esdras and Ezra-Nehemiah as in the Septuagint and Orthodox canon or Ezra and Nehemiah as in the Vulgate and Catholic canon.

References[edit source | edit]

  1. ^ a b Jones 2001, p. 215.
  2. ^ Barton 2001, p. 3.
  3. ^ Boadt 1984, pp. 11, 15–16.
  4. ^ The Apocrypha, Bridge of the Testaments (PDF), Orthodox Anglican, "Two of the hymns used in the American Prayer Book office of Morning Prayer, the Benedictus es and Benedicite, are taken from the Apocrypha. One of the offertory sentences in Holy Communion comes from an apocryphal book (Tob. 4: 8–9). Lessons from the Apocrypha are regularly appointed to be read in the daily, Sunday, and special services of Morning and Evening Prayer. There are altogether 111 such lessons in the latest revised American Prayer Book Lectionary [Books used are: II Esdras, Tobit, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, Three Holy Children, and I Maccabees.]" 
  5. ^ Britannica, 1911 .
  6. ^ Blenkinsopp 1998, p. 184.
  7. ^ Rogerson 2003, pp. 153–54.
  8. ^ Coggins 2003, p. 282.
  9. ^ Grabbe 2003, pp. 213–14.
  10. ^ Miller 1987, pp. 10–11.
  11. ^ Crenshaw 2010, p. 5.
  12. ^ a b Barton 2001, p. 9.
  13. ^ a b Barton 2001, p. 10.
  14. ^ Brettler 2005, p. 274.
  15. ^ Gentry 2008, p. 302.
  16. ^ Würthwein 1995.
  17. ^ Jones 2001, p. 216.
  18. ^ Cave, William. A complete history of the lives, acts, and martyrdoms of the holy apostles, and the two evangelists, St. Mark and Luke, Vol. II. Wiatt (Philadelphia), 1810. Accessed 6 Feb 2013.
  19. ^ Apol. Const. 4
  20. ^ The Canon Debate, pp. 414–15, for the entire paragraph
  21. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "Book of Judith". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.  Canonicity: "..."the Synod of Nicaea is said to have accounted it as Sacred Scripture" (Praef. in Lib.). It is true that no such declaration is to be found in the Canons of Nicaea, and it is uncertain whether St. Jerome is referring to the use made of the book in the discussions of the council, or whether he was misled by some spurious canons attributed to that council".
  22. ^ Würthwein 1995, pp. 91–99.
  23. ^ a b Barton 1997, pp. 80–81.
  24. ^ Soggin 1987, p. 19.
  25. ^ a b Würthwein 1995, pp. 79–90, 100–4.
  26. ^ a b Farmer 1991, pp. 570–71.
  27. ^ Juel 2000, pp. 236–39.
  28. ^ Herion 2000, pp. 291–92.

Bibliography[edit source | edit]

Further reading[edit source | edit]

External links[edit source | edit]