History and Sources

Do Christians consider the Old Testament identical to the Hebrew scriptures?

Christian communities identify and enumerate the canon of the “Old Testament” differently both from mainstream Jewish tradition and, in some instances, from each other. In theory, Christian churches agree in dividing the whole corpus into the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, but they identify various groupings in the Hebrew scriptural canon as individual works and thus arriving at a total of thirty-nine books. But for pedagogical purposes, one could argue, Christian biblical studies distinguish the Pentateuch (the Jewish Torah), the Historical books, Prophets strictly so-called, and Wisdom literature.

The historical books include a group known to both Protestants and Jews also as the “former prophets” (Joshua, Judges, I and II Samuel, and I and II Kings); the books of Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah. Among the “Latter” Prophets, known to most Christians simply as the prophetic texts, are the three major prophetic books, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; the twelve “minor” prophets counted as one in the Hebrew scriptures; and Daniel. Finally, among the category of texts collectively known to Jews as the Writings is a set of works some Christians call “wisdom literature,” some traditionally attributed to David and his son Solomon, and the mini-anthology called the Five Scrolls (or megillot). Catholic versions of the Bible add seven works considered “apocryphal” in Protestant traditions, including the “historical” Books of Maccabees and the “wisdom” books Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom. Finally, both Protestants and Catholics call “apocryphal” three other short works, III and IV Esdras (Ezra) and the Prayer of Manasseh.


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