Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew Bible or Tanakh[lower-alpha 1] (/tɑːˈnɑːx/;[1] Hebrew: תָּנָ״ךְ Tānāḵh), also known in Hebrew as Miqra (/mˈkrɑː/;[1] Hebrew: מִקְרָא Mīqrā), is the canonical collection of Hebrew scriptures, including the Torah, the Nevi'im, and the Ketuvim. Different branches of Judaism and Samaritanism have maintained different versions of the canon, including the 3rd-century Septuagint text used by Second-Temple Judaism, the Syriac language Peshitta, the Samaritan Torah, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and most recently the 10th century medieval Masoretic text created by the Masoretes currently used in modern Rabbinic Judaism. The terms "Hebrew Bible" or "Hebrew Canon" are frequently confused with the Masoretic text, however, this is a medieval version and one of several texts considered authoritative by different types of Judaism throughout history.[2] The modern Masoretic text is mostly in Biblical Hebrew, with a few passages in Biblical Aramaic (in the books of Daniel and Ezra, and the verse Jeremiah 10:11).[3]

Hebrew Bible
תָּנָ״ךְ, Tanakh
Complete set of scrolls, constituting the Tanakh
Period8th/7th centuries BCE – 2nd/1st centuries BCE
Hebrew Bible at Hebrew Wikisource

The authoritative form of the modern Hebrew Bible used in Rabbinic Judaism is the Masoretic Text (7th to 10th century CE), which consists of 24 books, divided into pesuqim (verses). The contents of the Medieval Masoretic text are similar, but not identical, to those of the Protestant Old Testament, in which the material is divided into 39 books and arranged in a different order. This is due to the Tiberian-Masoretic text having been considered the "original" Hebrew text across Europe since the Renaissance, including within the Catholic church. Scholars within the Catholic church started to treat these books differently due to this misunderstanding of the Masoretic text, and Martin Luther took this understanding even further due to the ad fontes influence of Humanism. Luther did not know the Masoretic was a modern interpretation when using it to justify removing 7 books from the Christian Old Testament. The ancient Christian Bibles currently used by the Catholic and Orthodox churches are based on the Septuagint, which was considered the authoritative scriptural canon by Second-Temple Judaism practiced by the 1st century Christians.[4]

In addition to the Masoretic Text, modern scholars seeking to understand the history of the Hebrew Bible use a range of sources.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

The name "Tanakh"

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'),[9] Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings)—hence TaNaKh.

The three-part division reflected in the acronym Tanakh is well attested in the rabbinic literature.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12]

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).[13][14] 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 [and] Old Testament" without prescribing the use of either.[15] 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".[16]

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.[16][17][18] 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.[19] 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

The inter-relationship between various significant ancient manuscripts of the Old Testament (some identified by their siglum). Mt being the Masoretic text. The lowermost text "(lost)" would be the Urtext.

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,[20] while others argue it was not fixed until the second century CE or even later.[21]

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.[22]

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.[23]

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.[24]

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.[25] 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.[26] The combination of a text (מקרא mikra), pronunciation (ניקוד niqqud) and cantillation (טעמים 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,[27]:112 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.[27]:112

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 (תרי עשר) are also counted as a single book. In Hebrew, the books are often referred to by their prominent first words.


The Torah (תּוֹרָה, literally "teaching") is 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 (חמישה חומשי תורה "Five fifth-sections of the Torah") and informally as Chumash.

  • Bərē’šīṯ (בְּרֵאשִׁית, literally "In the beginning") – Genesis
  • Šəmōṯ (שְׁמֹות, literally "The names of") – Exodus
  • Vayyīqrā’ (וַיִּקְרָא, literally "And He called") – Leviticus
  • Bəmīḏbar (בְּמִדְבַּר, literally "In the desert of") – Numbers
  • Dəvārīm (דְּבָרִים, literally "Things" or "Words") – Deuteronomy


Nevi'im (נְבִיאִים Nəḇīʾīm, "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 (נביאים ראשונים Nevi'im Rishonim)

  • Yəhōšúaʿ (יְהוֹשֻעַ) – Joshua
  • Šōfṭīm (שֹׁפְטִים) – Judges
  • Šəmūʾēl (שְׁמוּאֵל) – Samuel
  • Məlāḵīm (מְלָכִים) – Kings

The Latter Prophets (נביאים אחרונים Nevi'im Aharonim)

  • Yəšaʿyāhū (יְשַׁעְיָהוּ) – Isaiah
  • Yīrməyāhū (יִרְמְיָהוּ) – Jeremiah
  • Yəḥezqēʾl (יְחֶזְקֵאל) – Ezekiel

The Twelve Minor Prophets (תרי עשר, Trei Asar, "The Twelve"), which are considered one book:

  • Hōšḗaʿ (הוֹשֵׁעַ) – Hosea
  • Yōʾēl (יוֹאֵל) – Joel
  • ʿĀmōs (עָמוֹס) – Amos
  • ʿŌḇaḏyā (עֹבַדְיָה) – Obadiah
  • Yōnā (יוֹנָה) – Jonah
  • Mīḵā (מִיכָה) – Micah
  • Naḥūm (נַחוּם) – Nahum
  • Ḥăḇaqqūq (חֲבַקּוּק) – Habakkuk
  • Ṣəfanyā (צְפַנְיָה) – Zephaniah
  • Ḥaggay (חַגַּי) – Haggai
  • Zəḵaryā (זְכַרְיָה) – Zechariah
  • Malʾāḵī (מַלְאָכִי) – Malachi


Kəṯūḇīmַ (כְּתוּבִים, "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 Emetַ (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.

  • Təhīllīm (תְהִלִּים) – Psalms
  • Mīšlē (מִשְׁלֵי) – Proverbs
  • ’Īyyōḇ (אִיּוֹב) – Job

Five scrolls

The five relatively short books of the Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and 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.

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.
  • Dānī’ēl (דָּנִיֵּאל) – Daniel
  • ‘Ezrā (עֶזְרָא) – Ezra and Nehemiah
  • Dīvrē hayYāmīm (דִּבְרֵי הַיָּמִים) – 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 Songs, Lamentations, 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 Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra.[29]


Nach, also anglicized Nakh, refers to the Nevi'im and Ketuvim portions of Tanakh.[30][31] Nach is often referred to as its own subject,[32] separate from Torah.[33]

It is a major subject in the curriculum of Orthodox high schools for girls and in the seminaries which they subsequently attend,[30] and is often taught by different teachers than those who teach Chumash.[32] The curriculum of Orthodox high schools for boys includes only some portions of Nach, such as the book of Joshua, the book of Judges,[34] and the Five Megillot.[35] See Yeshiva § Torah and Bible study.


  • 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, ISBN 0-8276-0252-9
  • Tanach: The Stone Edition, Hebrew with English translation, Mesorah Publications, 1996, ISBN 0-89906-269-5, 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
  • The Koren Jerusalem Bible is a Hebrew/English Tanakh by Koren Publishers Jerusalem and was the first Bible published in modern Israel in 1962

Jewish commentaries

Hebrew bible (Tanakh) in the collection of the Jewish Museum of Switzerland, printed in Israel in 1962.

The major commentary used for the Chumash is the Rashi commentary. The Rashi commentary and Metzudot commentary are the major commentaries for the Nach.[36][37]

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.[38] Another approach is to study the Bible as a human creation.[39] 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[40] by the Orthodox Jewish community.[41] As such, much modern day Bible commentary written by non-Orthodox authors is considered forbidden[42] 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,[43] 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


  1. Also called Tanah, Tanach, Tenakh, Tenak, or sometimes the Miqra (מִקְרָא)
  1. "Tanach". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. Tov, Emanuel (2014-01-19), "The Myth of the Stabilization of the Text of Hebrew Scripture", The Text of the Hebrew Bible, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, pp. 37–46, doi:10.13109/9783666550645.37, ISBN 978-3-525-55064-9, retrieved 2022-09-02
  3. Jeremiah 10:11
  4. Tov, Emanuel (2008). Hebrew Bible, Greek Bible, and Qumran. Mohr Siebeck. doi:10.1628/978-3-16-151454-8. ISBN 978-3-16-151454-8.
  5. "Scholars seek Hebrew Bible's original text – but was there one?". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 2014-05-13. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  6. "Controversy lurks as scholars try to work out Bible's original text". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  7. Isaac Leo Seeligmann, Robert Hanhart, Hermann Spieckermann: The Septuagint Version of Isaiah and Cognate Studies, Tübingen 2004, pp. 33–34.
  8. Shanks, Herschel (1992). Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls (1st ed.). Random House. p. 336. ISBN 978-0679414483.
  9. "Torah". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  10. "Mikra'ot Gedolot". people.ucalgary.ca.
  11. It appears in the masorah magna of the Biblical text, and in the responsa of the Rashba (5:119); see Research Query: Tanakh/תנ״ך
  12. Biblical Studies Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading, and Interpretation. Norton Irish Theological Quarterly. 2007; 72: 305–306
  13. Safire, William (1997-05-25). "The New Old Testament". The New York Times..
  14. Hamilton, Mark. "From Hebrew Bible to Christian Bible: Jews, Christians and the Word of God". PBS. Retrieved 2007-11-19. Modern scholars often use the term 'Hebrew Bible' to avoid the confessional terms Old Testament and Tanakh.
  15. Alexander, Patrick H; et al., eds. (1999). The SBL Handbook of Style. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. p. 17 (section 4.3). ISBN 978-1-56563-487-9. See Society of Biblical Literature: Questions Regarding Digital Editions
  16. McGrath, Alister, Christian Theology, Oxford: Blackwell, 2011, pp. 120, 123. ISBN 978-1444335149.
  17. von Harnack, Carl Gustav Adolf (1911). "Marcion" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 691–693.
  18. For the recorded teachings of Jesus on the subject see Antithesis of the Law#Antitheses; for the modern debate, see Christian views on the old covenant.
  19. "Scanning an Ancient Biblical Text That Humans Fear to Open". The New York Times. January 5, 2018.
  20. Davies, Philip R. (2001). "The Jewish Scriptural Canon in Cultural Perspective". In McDonald, Lee Martin; Sanders, James A. (eds.). The Canon Debate. Baker Academic. p. PT66. ISBN 978-1-4412-4163-4. With many other scholars, I conclude that the fixing of a canonical list was almost certainly the achievement of the Hasmonean dynasty.
  21. 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.
  22. Ginzberg, Louis (1909). The Legends of the Jews Vol. IV : Chapter XI Ezra (Translated by Henrietta Szold) Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.
  23. (Bava Batra 14b–15a, Rashi to Megillah 3a, 14a)
  24. Midrash Qoheleth 12:12
  25. Kelley, Page H.; Mynatt, Daniel S.; Crawford, Timothy G. (1998). The Masorah of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: Introduction and Annotated Glossary. p. 20. ISBN 978-0802843630.
  26. John Gill (1767). A Dissertation Concerning the Antiquity of the Hebrew Language: Letters, Vowel-points, and Accents. G. Keith. pp. 136–137. also pp. 250–255
  27. Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2020). Revivalistics: From the Genesis of Israeli to Language Reclamation in Australia and Beyond. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199812790.
  28. Also called Kinnot in Hebrew.
  29. Swete, Henry Barclay (1902). An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek. Cambridge: Macmillan and Co. p. 200.
  30. "Guide to Israel Schools (Tiferet)". Yeshiva University. .. classes in Chumash, Nach, Practical Halacha, Tefilla, ...
  31. "Who's Afraid of Change? Rethinking the Yeshivah Curriculum". Jewish Action (OU). know little Nach, are unexcited by the study of ..
  32. "Tova .. our new ." Tova joined the .. faculty this fall as a Nach teacher .. High School for Girls.
  33. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (1995). The Living Nach. ISBN 978-1885-22007-3.
  34. covered in or before 8th grade (so it's a review)
  35. Esther, Rus, Shir HaShirim, Eicha and KoHeles: these are read aloud in synagogue, each at a particular point in the yearly Holiday cycle.
  36. Mishlei. Shai LaMora "Eshkol".
  37. "NACH – Shai LaMorah – All Volumes". Description. Nach metzudos on ...
  38. Peter Steinfels (September 15, 2007). "Irreconcilable Differences in Bible's Interpretations". The New York Times. of divine origin
  39. Michael Massing (March 9, 2002). "New Torah For Modern Minds". The New York Times. human rather than divine document
  40. David Plotz (September 16, 2007). "Reading Is Believing, or Not". The New York Times. Modern scholars have also unmoored ... Most unsettling to religious Jews
  41. Natalie Gittelson (September 30, 1984). "American Jews Rediscover Orthodoxy". The New York Times. watered-down Judaism soon turns to water
  42. Chaim Potok (October 3, 1982). "The Bible's Inspired Art". The New York Times. Song of Songs ... was entirely profane .. could not have been written by Solomon
  43. Mitchell First (January 11, 2018). "Rabbi Hayyim Angel's 13th Book Is Compilation of Tanach-Related Topics". Jewish Link NJ.

Further reading

  • Johnson, Paul (1987). A History of the Jews (First, hardback ed.). London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 978-0-297-79091-4.
  • Kuntz, John Kenneth. The People of Ancient Israel: an introduction to Old Testament Literature, History, and Thought, Harper and Row, 1974. ISBN 0-06-043822-3
  • Leiman, Sid. The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture. (Hamden, CT: Archon, 1976).
  • Levenson, Jon. Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1985).
  • Minkoff, Harvey. "Searching for the Better Text". Biblical Archaeology Review (online). Archived from the original on 14 March 2012. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
  • 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).
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