Tanakh is an acronym referring to the traditional division of the canon of the Hebrew Bible, usually of the Masoretic authoritative text for Hebrew Judaism, into three thematic parts: Torah (Teaching), Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings). It is often referred to more simply as “the law and the prophets”. In traditional Judaism the Tanakh is also referred to as the Miqra (“what is read”) to differentiate it from extra-biblical, or oral, law (Talmud and Mishna).
Sources of the Critical Text of the Hebrew Bible
Early Hebrew texts:
Original text (Medieval manuscripts):
Ancient translations or recensions:
- Samaritan Pentateuch
- Old Latin manuscripts
- Latin Vulgate
- Syriac Peshitta
- Targums (Aramaic)
Torah — the Pentateuch of Mosheh
The first five books of Tanakh (Pentateuch) are ascribed to Moses. The Pentateuch forms the basis of all Jewish law and practice (Torah). Behind the Pentateuch as we know it are four source documents labelled J (Yahwist), E (Elohist), D (Deuteronomist), and P (Priestly Code) — referred to as JEDP Theory.
Nevi’im present Israel’s history as a nation on its land
There are three former ‘major’ prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel), and twelve latter ‘minor’ prophets, often referred to as “The Twelve” (Hosea, Amos, and Micah, Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, & Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, & Malachi, and Jonah).
Ketuvim include a variety of religious expressions
The Ketuvim, also known as the Wisdom Literature, include the five poetic books:
The Book of Job is the oldest book of the Tanakh, considered to have been inscribed circa 2200 BCE — about the time of Abraham. The last book of the Old Testament is the Book of Malachi, dated to circa 430 BCE, or perhaps slightly earlier. There is a 400-year gap between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament.
Abraham (ca. 1813-1638 BCE), the Hebraic patriarch, in fact is shared by all three main monotheistic religions. Under guidance of the one true creator, this idol-merchant’s son left the polytheism of Ur in Chaldea (Babylonia) for — by a circuitous route (bypassing the Arabian desert), firstly northwest through Mesopotamia and then southwest toward the Great Sea, but all along, understandably, keeping to the Fertile Crescent — the land of Canaan (modern-day Israel).
According to Jewish history, when Abram was left alone to mind his father’s merchandise, he took a hammer and smashed all of the idols except the largest, in which he placed the hammer in its hand.
On his father’s return Abram explained that “The idols got into a fight, and the big one smashed all the other ones.”
His father said, “Don’t be ridiculous. These idols have no life or power. They can’t do anything.”
Abram replied, “Then why do you worship them?”
Eventually, God made Abraham an offer: if Abram would leave his home and his family, then God would make him a great nation and bless him. Abram accepted and the b’rit (covenant) between G-d and the Jewish people was established. (Gen. 12). Abraham’s son Isaac was steadfast, veering neither to the right or to the left, and one of his sons, Jacob, was later named Israel as father of the twelve tribes thereof.
Jacob’s family eventually followed Joseph (by now “2IC” to Pharaoh) to Egypt to escape famine. Here the budding Israelites consolidated themselves and thrived before harsh treatment followed on from an increasingly oppressive regime after the death of their brother, Joseph. Until a Pharaoh-reared Hebrew by the name of Moses, under the direction of “I Am”, led the budding Israelites in a mass exodus (after no less than 430 years) from Egypt toward the promised land of the covenant.
The Tanakh is the beautifully preserved story of these people on the path to salvation. The Tanakh is the story of the salvation of a nation.
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See Chronological Order of Books (FROM JENSEN STUDY BIBLE, 1981)
Featured Image: Reading of the Torah [Wikimedia Commons]