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TCS Question - Why are there so many names for the Bible?

There are a lot of names that we use to refer to our sacred texts, and it can get confusing. Before we even get to the Jewish Bible as a whole it is important to break it down into its constituent parts.

Technically our Bible is made up of three sections, each comprised of a number of different individual books. There is the vru, Torah, which consists of the Five Books of Moses, and is traditionally considered to be the part of the Bible that was directly written by God and given to Moses on Mount Sinai.

The next section is the ohthcb Nevi’im – the Prophets, this section covers the period from the Israelites conquest of the Promised Land under Joshua (for whom the first book is named) through until the prophecies of Malachi to those returning from the Babylonian exile. The Prophetic books also cover the period of the monarchy, including the Stories of Kings David and Solomon together with their descendants.

The final section is called ohcu,f Ketuvim – the Writings, it is really an anthology of other books and texts that were written (or at least finalized) in the period after the return of the Babylonian exile through the next three centuries. It is much harder to find the thread that links these books together other than the fact that sometime around the first century the Rabbis decided that these books (and not others) would be included in the Jewish sacred Canon.

Collectively, our Hebrew Bible therefore consists of the Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim and is known by the acronym l"b, TaNaKh; this is technically the Hebrew/Jewish name for the Bible. It is made up of 24 books (which can be further divided) split into three independent sections.

It gets more confusing because Christianity also regards a number of these books as sacred and some of the names are used interchangeably, even if they shouldn’t be.

The Christian Bible technically can be divided into two sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The New Testament, written from sometime in the first century of the Common Era, begins with the story of Jesus and his descendants. This section is clearly not part of our tradition. However, many people will refer to the Old Testament and the Tanakh interchangeably, as though they are the same books.

While the Old Testament and Tanakh are very similar, there are significant differences between them. Before going further it is also worth noting that there are differences between the Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Old Testaments. The major distinction is in the numbering and arrangement of the books, and significantly in the translation, and therefore the understanding, of these texts.

In the Protestant tradition, the 39 books that make up the Old Testament can be seen to conform, despite the difference in order, to the 24 books of the Tanakh. Four of the books are divided into two (Samuel, Kings, Ezra & Nehemiah, and Chronicles) and then the rag hr, Trei Asar, literally the twelve, made up of the writings of 12 minor Prophets is subdivided into an individual book for each Prophet in the Old Testament.

However, in the Catholic Old Testament there are actually seven other books that do not appear in our Tanakh; they are: Tobit, Judith, Maccabees 1 & 2, The Book of Wisdom, The Wisdom of Sirach, and The Book of Baruch. These books cover a period of the later Prophets through the time when the books of Ketuvim were being written.

These additional books may have once been sacred to the Jewish community, but for a variety of reasons the Rabbis chose not to include them when finalizing the Jewish canon. In the Dead Sea scrolls elements of Sirach, Tobit, and Baruch were discovered; together with partial copies of Enoch and Jubilees, which are in the Eastern Orthodox Old Testament, but not in the Catholic or Protestant traditions.

While the Tanakh and Old Testament are similar, they are not interchangeable, and the sacredness of these books to Judaism and Christianity has led to differences in composition, content, and even names. 

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Rabbi Danny
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