The Hebrew Bible, which is also called the Tanakh, or sometimes the Miqra, is the canonical collection of Hebrew scriptures, including the Torah. These texts are almost exclusively in Biblical Hebrew, with a few passages in Biblical Aramaic instead. The Hebrew Bible is also the textual source for the Christian Old Testament. The form of this text that is authoritative for Rabbinic Judaism is known as the Masoretic Text and it consists of 24 books, while the translations divide essentially the same material into 39 books for the Protestant Bible.
Modern scholars seeking to understand the history of the Hebrew Bible use a range of sources, in addition to the Masoretic Text. These sources include early Greek and Syriac translations, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Dead Sea Scrolls and quotations from rabbinic manuscripts. Many of these sources may be older than the Masoretic Text and often differ from it. These differences have given rise to the theory that yet another text, an Urtext of the Hebrew Bible, once existed and is the source of the versions extant today. However, such an Urtext has never been found, and which of the three commonly known versions is closest to the Urtext is not fully determined.
The name "Tanakh"Tanakh is an acronym of the first Hebrew letter of each of the Masoretic Text's three traditional divisions: Torah, Nevi'im, and Ketuvim —hence TaNaKh. Central to Judaism is that the books of the Tanakh are passed from generation to generation, l'dor v'dor in the Hebrew phrase. According to rabbinic tradition, they were accompanied by an oral tradition, called the Oral Torah.
The three-part division reflected in the acronym ’Tanakh’ is well attested in the literature of the Rabbinic period. During that period, however, ’Tanakh’ was not used. Instead, the proper title was Mikra because the biblical texts were read publicly. The acronym 'Tanakh' is first recorded in the medieval era. Mikra continues to be used in Hebrew to this day, alongside Tanakh, to refer to the Hebrew scriptures. In modern spoken Hebrew, they are interchangeable.
The term "Hebrew Bible"Many biblical studies scholars advocate use of the term Hebrew Bible as a substitute for less-neutral terms with Jewish or Christian connotations. The Society of Biblical Literature's Handbook of Style, which is the standard for major academic journals like the Harvard Theological Review and conservative Protestant journals like the Bibliotheca Sacra and the Westminster Theological Journal, suggests that authors "be aware of the connotations of alternative expressions such as...Hebrew Bible Old Testament" without prescribing the use of either. Alister McGrath points out that while the term emphasizes that it is largely written in Hebrew and "is sacred to the Hebrew people", it "fails to do justice to the way in which Christianity sees an essential continuity between the Old and New Testaments", arguing that there is "no generally accepted alternative to the traditional term 'Old Testament.'" However, he accepts that there is no reason why non-Christians should feel obliged to refer to these books as the Old Testament, "apart from custom of use."
Christianity has long asserted a close relationship between the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, although there have sometimes been movements like Marcionism, that have struggled with it. Modern Christian formulations of this tension include supersessionism, covenant theology, new covenant theology, dispensationalism and dual-covenant theology. All of these formulations, except some forms of dual-covenant theology, are objectionable to mainstream Judaism and to many Jewish scholars and writers, for whom there is one eternal covenant between God and the Israelites, and who therefore reject the term "Old Testament" as a form of antinomianism.
Christian usage of "Old Testament" does not refer to a universally agreed upon set of books but, rather, varies depending on denomination. Lutheranism and Protestant denominations that follow the Westminster Confession of Faith accept the entire Jewish canon as the Old Testament without additions, although in translation they sometimes give preference to the Septuagint rather than the Masoretic Text; for example, see.
"Hebrew" refers to the original language of the books, but it may also be taken as referring to the Jews of the Second Temple era and their descendants, who preserved the transmission of the Masoretic Text up to the present day. The Hebrew Bible includes small portions in Aramaic, written and printed in Aramaic square-script, which was adopted as the Hebrew alphabet after the Babylonian exile.
Development and codificationThere is no scholarly consensus as to when the Hebrew Bible canon was fixed: some scholars argue that it was fixed by the Hasmonean dynasty, while others argue it was not fixed until the second century CE or even later.
According to Louis Ginzberg's Legends of the Jews, the twenty-four book canon of the Hebrew Bible was fixed by Ezra and the scribes in the Second Temple period.
According to the Talmud, much of the Tanakh was compiled by the men of the Great Assembly, a task completed in 450 BCE, and it has remained unchanged ever since.
The twenty-four book canon is mentioned in the Midrash Koheleth 12:12: Whoever brings together in his house more than twenty four books brings confusion.
Language and pronunciationThe original writing system of the Hebrew text was an abjad: consonants written with some applied vowel letters. During the early Middle Ages scholars known as the Masoretes created a single formalized system of vocalization. This was chiefly done by Aaron ben Moses ben Asher, in the Tiberias school, based on the oral tradition for reading the Tanakh, hence the name Tiberian vocalization. It also included some innovations of Ben Naftali and the Babylonian exiles. Despite the comparatively late process of codification, some traditional sources and some Orthodox Jews hold the pronunciation and cantillation to derive from the revelation at Sinai, since it is impossible to read the original text without pronunciations and cantillation pauses. The combination of a text, pronunciation and cantillation enable the reader to understand both the simple meaning and the nuances in sentence flow of the text.
Number of different words usedThe number of distinct words in the Hebrew Bible is 8,679, of which 1,480 are hapax legomena. The number of distinct roots, on which many of these Biblical words are based, is roughly 2000.
Books of the TanakhThe Tanakh consists of twenty-four books: it counts as one book each Samuel, Kings, Chronicles and Ezra–Nehemiah and counts the Twelve Minor Prophets as a single book. In Hebrew, the books are often referred to by their prominent first word.
TorahThe Torah, also known as the Pentateuch, or as the "Five Books of Moses". Printed versions of the Torah are often called "Chamisha Chumshei Torah"" and informally a "Chumash".
- Bereshit — Genesis
- Shemot — Exodus
- Vayiqra — Leviticus
- Bemidbar — Numbers
- Devarim — Deuteronomy
Their distribution is not chronological, but substantive.
The Former Prophets
- Yĕhôshúa‘ — Joshua
- Shophtim — Judges
- Shmû’ēl — Samuel
- M'lakhim — Kings
- Yĕsha‘ăyāhû — Isaiah
- Yirmyāhû — Jeremiah
- Yĕḥezqiēl — Ezekiel
- Hôshēa‘ — Hosea
- Yô’ēl — Joel
- ‘Āmôs — Amos
- ‘Ōvadhyāh — Obadiah
- Yônāh — Jonah
- Mîkhāh — Micah
- Naḥûm — Nahum
- ḥăvaqûq — Habakkuk
- Tsĕphanyāh — Zephaniah
- ḥaggai — Haggai
- Zkharyāh — Zechariah
- Mal’ākhî — Malachi
The three poetic books
Five Megillot. These books are read aloud in the synagogue on particular occasions, the occasion listed below in parenthesis.
- Shīr Hashīrīm — Song of Songs
- Rūth — Ruth
- Eikhah — Lamentations
- Qōheleth — Ecclesiastes
- Estēr — Esther
- Dānî'ēl — Daniel
- ‘Ezrā — Ezra and Nehemiah
- Divrei ha-Yamim — Chronicles
In Tiberian Masoretic codices, including the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex, and often in old Spanish manuscripts as well, the order is Chronicles, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Esther, Daniel, Ezra.
Poetic booksIn Masoretic manuscripts, Psalms, Proverbs and Job are presented in a special two-column form emphasizing the parallel in the verses, which are a function of their poetry. Collectively, these three books are known as Sifrei Emet.
These three books are also the only ones in Tanakh with a special system of cantillation notes that are designed to emphasize parallel stichs within verses. However, the beginning and end of the book of Job are in the normal prose system.
Five scrolls (''Hamesh Megillot'')The five relatively short books of the Song of Songs, the Book of Ruth, the Book of Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and the Book of Esther are collectively known as the Hamesh Megillot. These are the latest books collected and designated as "authoritative" in the Jewish canon, with the latest parts having dates ranging into the 2nd century BCE. These scrolls are traditionally read over the course of the year in many Jewish communities.
Other booksBesides the three poetic books and the five scrolls, the remaining books in Ketuvim are Daniel, Ezra–Nehemiah and Chronicles. Although there is no formal grouping for these books in the Jewish tradition, they nevertheless share a number of distinguishing characteristics.
- Their narratives all openly describe relatively late events.
- The Talmudic tradition ascribes late authorship to all of them.
- Two of them are the only books in Tanakh with significant portions in Aramaic.
Nach is often referred to as being its own subject, separate from Torah.
It is a major subject in the curriculum of Orthodox high schools for girls and in the seminaries which they subsequently attend, and is often taught by different teachers than those who teach Chumash. In addition to Rashi, the major commentary taught for Chumash, for Nach it's also Metzudot.
In Orthodox high schools for boys, by contrast, the curriculum does not include much of Nach, except to a limited extent Joshua and Judges plus the Five Megillot.
- The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text: A New Translation with the aid of Previous Versions & with the Constant Consultation of Jewish Authorities was published in 1917 by the Jewish Publication Society. It was replaced by their Tanakh in 1985
- Tanakh, Jewish Publication Society, 1985,
- Tanach: The Stone Edition, Hebrew with English translation, Mesorah Publications, 1996,, named after benefactor Irving I. Stone.
- Tanakh Ram, an ongoing translation to Modern Hebrew by Avraham Ahuvya
- The Living Torah and The Living Nach, a 1981 translation of the Torah by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan and a subsequent posthumous translation of the Nevi'im and Ketuvim following the model of the first volume
The Modern Orthodox Jewish community allows for a wider array of biblical criticism to be used for biblical books outside of the Torah, and a few Orthodox commentaries now incorporate many of the techniques previously found in the
academic world, e.g. the Da'at Miqra series. Non-Orthodox Jews, including those affiliated with Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism, accept both traditional and secular approaches to Bible studies. "Jewish commentaries on the Bible", discusses Jewish Tanakh commentaries from the Targums to classical rabbinic literature, the midrash literature, the classical medieval commentators, and modern day commentaries.