The Hebrew Bible or Tanakh (; Hebrew: , or ), 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 (in the books of Daniel and Ezra, the verse , and some single words). The form of this text that is authoritative for Rabbinic Judaism is known as the Masoretic Text (MT) and consists of 24 books, and is sorted and numbered using ''perek'' and ''pasuk'' (Chapters and verses of the Bible). The contents of the Hebrew Bible is similar to the Protestant Christian Old Testament, in which the material is divided into 39 books and arranged in a different order. Catholic Bibles and Eastern / Greek Orthodox Bibles contain additional materials, derived from the Septuagint (texts translated into Koine Greek) and other sources. In addition to the Masoretic Text, modern scholars seeking to understand the history of the Hebrew Bible use a range of sources. These include the Septuagint, the Syriac language Peshitta translation, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Dead Sea Scrolls collection and quotations from rabbinic manuscripts. These sources may be older than the Masoretic Text in some cases 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 (Septuagint, Masoretic Text, Samaritan Pentateuch) is closest to the Urtext is debated.

The name "Tanakh"

Rabbinic Judaism has many acronyms, such as "Rambam"; see Hebrew abbreviations. ''Tanakh'' is an acronym, made from the first Hebrew letter of each of the Masoretic Text's three traditional divisions: Torah (literally 'Instruction' or 'Law'), Nevi'im ('Prophets'), and Ketuvim ('Writings')—hence TaNaKh. (On the "a"s of the word, see abjad.) 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'' (or ''Miqra'', מקרא, meaning ’reading’ or 'that which is read') 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'' (or ''Hebrew Scriptures'') as a substitute for less-neutral terms with Jewish or Christian connotations (e.g. ''Tanakh'' or Old Testament). 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 ndOld 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."McGrath, Alister, ''Christian Theology'', Oxford: Blackwell, 2011, pp. 120, 123. . Christianity has long asserted a close relationship between the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, although there have sometimes been movements like Marcionism (viewed as heretical by the early church), 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 the "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 (LXX) rather than the Masoretic Text; for example, see Isaiah 7:14. "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 (mostly in the books of Daniel and Ezra), written and printed in Aramaic square-script, which was adopted as the Hebrew alphabet after the Babylonian exile.

Development and codification

There 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.McDonald & Sanders, ''The Canon Debate'', 2002, p. 5, cited are Neusner's ''Judaism and Christianity in the Age of Constantine'', pp. 128–145, and ''Midrash in Context: Exegesis in Formative Judaism'', pp. 1–22. 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 (''Anshei K'nesset HaGedolah''), a task completed in 450 BCE, and it has remained unchanged ever since. The 24-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 pronunciation

The original writing system of the Hebrew text was an abjad: consonants written with some applied vowel letters (''"matres lectionis"''). 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 ( ''mikra''), pronunciation ( ''niqqud'') and cantillation ( ''te`amim'') enable the reader to understand both the simple meaning and the nuances in sentence flow of the text.

Number of different words used

The number of distinct words in the Hebrew Bible is 8,679, of which 1,480 are hapax legomena, words or expressions that occur only once. The number of distinct Semitic roots, on which many of these biblical words are based, is roughly 2000.

Books of the Tanakh

The Tanakh consists of twenty-four books, counting as one book each 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel, 1 Kings and 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles, and Ezra–Nehemiah. The Twelve Minor Prophets () are also counted a single book. In Hebrew, the books are often referred to by their prominent first word(s).


The Torah (תּוֹרָה, literally ''"teaching"''), also known as the Pentateuch, or as the ''"Five Books of Moses"''. Printed versions (rather than scrolls) of the Torah are often called ''"Chamisha Chumshei Torah""'' ( ''"Five fifth-sections of the Torah"'') and informally a ''"Chumash"''. * ''Bereshit'' (בְּרֵאשִׁית, literally ''"In the beginning"'') – ''Genesis'' * ''Shemot'' (שְׁמֹות, literally ''"The names f'') – ''Exodus'' * ''Vayiqra'' (וַיִּקְרָא, literally ''"And He called"'') – ''Leviticus'' * ''Bemidbar'' (בְּמִדְבַּר, literally ''"In the desert f'') – ''Numbers'' * ''Devarim'' (דְּבָרִים, literally ''"Things"'' or ''"Words"'') – ''Deuteronomy''


''Nevi'im'' ( , ''"Prophets"'') is the second main division of the Tanakh, between the Torah and Ketuvim. This division includes the books which cover the time from the entrance of the Israelites into the Land of Israel until the Babylonian captivity of Judah (the ''"period of prophecy"''). Their distribution is not chronological, but substantive. The Former Prophets ( ) * ''Yĕhôshúa‘'' (יְהוֹשֻעַ) – ''Joshua'' * ''Shophtim'' (שֹׁפְטִים) – ''Judges'' * ''Shmû’ēl'' (שְׁמוּאֵל) – ''Samuel'' * ''M'lakhim'' (מְלָכִים) – ''Kings'' The Latter Prophets ( ) * ''Yĕsha‘ăyāhû'' (יְשַׁעְיָהוּ) – ''Isaiah'' * ''Yirmyāhû'' (יִרְמְיָהוּ) – ''Jeremiah'' * ''Yĕḥezqiēl'' (יְחֶזְקֵאל) – ''Ezekiel'' The Twelve Minor Prophets (, ''Trei Asar'', ''"The Twelve"''), which are considered one book * ''Hôshēa‘'' (הוֹשֵׁעַ) – ''Hosea'' * ''Yô’ēl'' (יוֹאֵל) – ''Joel'' * ''‘Āmôs'' (עָמוֹס) – ''Amos'' * ''‘Ōvadhyāh'' (עֹבַדְיָה) – ''Obadiah'' * ''Yônāh'' (יוֹנָה) – ''Jonah'' * ''Mîkhāh'' (מִיכָה) – ''Micah'' * ''Naḥûm'' (נַחוּם) – ''Nahum'' * ''Ḥăvaqûq'' (חֲבַקּוּק) – ''Habakkuk'' * ''Tsĕphanyāh'' (צְפַנְיָה) – ''Zephaniah'' * ''Ḥaggai'' (חַגַּי) – ''Haggai'' * ''Zkharyāh'' (זְכַרְיָה) – ''Zechariah'' * ''Mal’ākhî'' (מַלְאָכִי) – ''Malachi''


''Ketuvim'' (, ''"Writings"'') consists of eleven books.

Poetic books

In Masoretic manuscripts (and some printed editions), Psalms, Proverbs and Job are presented in a special two-column form emphasizing the parallel stichs in the verses, which are a function of their poetry. Collectively, these three books are known as ''Sifrei Emet'' (an acronym of the titles in Hebrew, איוב, משלי, תהלים yields ''Emet'' אמ"ת, which is also the Hebrew for "truth"). 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. * ''Tehillim'' (תְהִלִּים) – ''Psalms'' * ''Mishlei'' (מִשְׁלֵי) – ''Book of Proverbs'' * ''Iyyôbh'' (אִיּוֹב) – ''Book of Job''

Five scrolls

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 ''Ḥamesh Megillot'' (Five 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. These books are read aloud in the synagogue on particular occasions, the occasion listed below in parenthesis. * ''Shīr Hashīrīm'' (שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים, literally "Song of songs", also known as "Song of Solomon"'') – (on Passover) * ''Rūth'' (רוּת) – ''Book of Ruth'' (on Shavuot) * ''Eikhah'' (אֵיכָה) – ''Book of Lamentations'' (on Tisha B'Av) * ''Qōheleth'' (קֹהֶלֶת) – ''Ecclesiastes'' (on Sukkot) * ''Estēr'' (אֶסְתֵר) – ''Book of Esther'' (on Purim)

Other books

Besides 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 (i.e. the Babylonian captivity and the subsequent restoration of Zion). * The Talmudic tradition ascribes late authorship to all of them. * Two of them (Daniel and Ezra) are the only books in Tanakh with significant portions in Aramaic. * ''Dānî'ēl'' (דָּנִיֵּאל) – ''Book of Daniel'' * ''‘Ezrā'' (עֶזְרָא) – ''Book of Ezra'' and ''Book of Nehemiah'' * ''Divrei ha-Yamim'' (דִּבְרֵי הַיָּמִים) – ''Books of Chronicles''

Book order

The Jewish textual tradition never finalized the order of the books in Ketuvim. The Babylonian Talmud (Bava Batra 14b – 15a) gives their order as Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Daniel, Scroll of Esther, Ezra, 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.


Nach, also anglicized , refers to the Nevi'im and Ketuvim portions of Tanakh. Nach is often referred to as 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. The curriculum of Orthodox high schools for boys includes only some portions of Nach, such as the book of Joshua, the book of Judges, and 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 (2010–) by Avraham Ahuvya (RAM Publishing House Ltd. and Miskal Ltd.) * ''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

Jewish commentaries

The major commentary used for the Chumash is the Rashi commentary. The Rashi commentary and Metzudot commentary are the major commentaries for the Nach. There are two major approaches to the study of, and commentary on, the Tanakh. In the Jewish community, the classical approach is a religious study of the Bible, where it is assumed that the Bible is divinely inspired. Another approach is to study the Bible as a human creation. In this approach, Biblical studies can be considered as a sub-field of religious studies. The latter practice, when applied to the Torah, is considered heresy by the Orthodox Jewish community. As such, much modern day Bible commentary written by non-Orthodox authors is considered forbidden by rabbis teaching in Orthodox yeshivas. Some classical rabbinic commentators, such as Abraham Ibn Ezra, Gersonides, and Maimonides, used many elements of contemporary biblical criticism, including their knowledge of history, science, and philology. Their use of historical and scientific analysis of the Bible was considered acceptable by historic Judaism due to the author's faith commitment to the idea that God revealed the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. 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.

See also

* 613 commandments, formal list of Jewish 613 commandments * 929: Tanakh B'yachad * Hebrew University Bible Project * Jewish English Bible translations * Mikraot Gedolot * New Jewish Publication Society of America Tanakh * Non-canonical books referenced in the Bible * Weekly Torah portion


;Footnotes ;Sources

Further reading

* * Kuntz, John Kenneth. ''The People of Ancient Israel: an introduction to Old Testament Literature, History, and Thought'', Harper and Row, 1974. * Leiman, Sid. ''The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture''. (Hamden, CT: Archon, 1976). * Levenson, Jon. ''Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible''. (San Francisco: HarperSan Francisco, 1985). * * Noth, Martin. ''A History of Pentateuchal Traditions''. (1948; trans. by Bernhard Anderson; Atlanta: Scholars, 1981). * Schmid, Konrad. ''The Old Testament: A Literary History''. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012).

External links

Judaica Press Translation of Tanakh with Rashi's commentary
Free online translation of Tanakh and Rashi's entire commentary
Hebrew–English Tanakh: the Jewish Bible
Online edition of the oldest known complete Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible (including cantillation marks) placed next to classic Jewish translation; can be used on most Internet-connected computers and mobile devices. * Mikraot Gedolot (Rabbinic Bible) at Wikisource in English (sample) and Hebrew (sample)
A Guide to Reading Nevi'im and Ketuvim
– Detailed Hebrew outlines of the biblical books based on the natural flow of the text (rather than the chapter divisions). The outlines include a daily study-cycle, and the explanatory material is in English, by Seth (Avi) Kadish.
Tanakh Hebrew Bible Project
An online project that aims to present critical text of the Hebrew Bible with important ancient versions (Samaritan Pentateuch, Masoretic Text, Targum Onkelos, Samaritan Targum, Septuagint, Peshitta, Aquila of Sinope, Symmachus, Theodotion, Vetus Latina, and Vulgate) in parallel with new English translation for each version, plus a comprehensive critical apparatus and a textual commentary for every verse. {{Authority control Category:Ancient Jewish literature Category:Ancient Hebrew texts