History and Sources

What are Judaism’s principal sacred writings?

According to a traditional Jewish reckoning, the Hebrew Bible is a collection of twenty-four “books” divided into three main groupings: Torah, Prophets, and Writings. Jews, and Christians generally, identify the Torah as comprised of five texts: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. In the category of “Prophets” (Nevi’im), Jewish tradition includes eight books. The four “former” prophets are: Joshua, Judges (as individual books), I and II Samuel as one book, I and II Kings as another. Comprising the four “latter” prophets are: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve “minor” prophets grouped as one. (Trei Assar in Aramaic, including Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi—called “minor” only because they are shorter texts.) Under the heading of Writings (Ketuvim) are a total of eleven books, because Ezra and Nehemiah are considered as one, as are I and II Chronicles. The “Five Scrolls” (Megillot) include the Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther; Psalms, Proverbs, Job and Daniel complete the “Writings.” Taken together the Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim are designated by the acronym TaNaKh.

Torah Scrolls showing decorative finials (rimonim) and small hands (yad attached to cords) used to point to sacred text without touching it directly. Temple Shaare Emeth, St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo courtesy of David Oughton).


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Religion Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App