The Old Testament

Old Testament is the name the first Christians gave the collection of Jewish holy books known as the Tanakh. A testament is a covenant, a treaty, and the Old Testament is the covenant between God and the Jewish people. God promised the Hebrews land and safety in return for obedience and worship. Paul first mentions the Old Testament in his second letter to the Corinthians. The name New Testament is introduced in the gospel to Matthew, during the Last Supper (Matth. 26:28).

The Old Testament tells the history of the Jewish people and of Israel. The exclusive treaty between God and the Israelites takes a central position. It was first established after Noah survived the flood (Genesis 9:8-17) and extended several times: first with Abraham (Genesis 15:18), later with Moses in the Sinai (Exodus 19, 20 and 24).

Creation & origin

For the most part the Old Testament has been handed down in Hebrew. Of some parts only Aramenean sources are known: Daniel 2:4b-7:28, Ezra 4:8-6:18 and 7:11-26 and some words in Genesis 31:47 en Jeremiah 10:11.

There has been much speculation on the origin of the Old Testament, in particular on the first five books (known as the Torah). One thing is clear, however; they were not written by Moses, and were not created as a single entity. There are three schools of thought exist on how these books were created:

  1. copied and pasted together from previously existing original single texts
  2. one original text, extended over the centuries
  3. the Torah is a collection of numerous loose fragments

The historical books were probably written around the time of the Babylonian captivity (597 - 538 BC). They cover the period from approximately 1100 BC (the time of the Judges) until the return from Mesopotamia.


The Tanakh consists of three parts that evolved along the lines of canonization:

  1. Torah: the Law, comprising the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy);
  2. Nevi'im: the Prophets, including the books about Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings;
  3. Ketuvim: the Writings, historical works, books of poetry and Daniel.

The Christians decided to use a classification based on the type of book: the Books of Moses (also known as the Pentateuch), the Historical Books, the Books of Poetry, and the Prophets. Within the Prophets, those with short books are referred to as Minor Prophets.

In the Roman Catholic tradition the deuterocanonical books too are considered part of the Old Testament: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, 1 and 2 Maccabees and parts of Daniel and Esther. Protestants consider these apocryphal, i.e. not part of the canon, not holy. The most recent Protestant Bibles exclude the deuterocanonical books.

Pentateuch, Books of Moses: History: Poetry, wisdom:   Prophets: Minor prophets: