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In Christianity the name for the Hebrew Bible is Old Testament, in Judaism one of the names is Tanakh [less commonly, Tanach], the Written Torah. The word Tanakh formed, with assistant vowels, from the Hebrew initial consonants of the names of the three divisions of the Old Testament, namely, Torah, the law (the Pentateuch), Nebiim, the prophets, and Ketubim, writings (Hagiographa). Most important, the interpretation of the Written Torah Tanakh is guided by an oral Torah. Many think the terms Tanakh and Old Testament are interchangeable, but they are not. Tanakh initially had only twenty-four books, but some were divided into separate books, so it now has thirty-nine book. The Tanakh's thirty-nine books are arranged in a sequence that differs significantly from that of the Old Testament in the Christian Bible. Since the Tanakh contains but thirty-nine books, the Protestant Old Testament canon also contains that number. The Roman Catholic Old Testament includes a further seven books that are deemed to be apocryphal by Protestants.

The formation of the Hebrew Canon was comparatively late in time, and it was a slow and gradual process. For some centuries after the people had come into possession of the earlier Old Testament writings the eighth and seventh century prophecies, the earner collections of Psalms and Proverbs, the historical works now woven into the Pentateuch, and known to us as the Elohistic and Jehovistic documents, etc.they had no sacred Canon. As yet all these books existed separately and were circulated separately. Some were known better than others; some were held in higher esteem than others; but none were yet elevated to the rank of sacred writings.

Torah / The Law (the Pentateuch) The first step pointing in the direction of a Canon seems to have been taken in the reign of King Josiah, a little more than 600 years before Christ, when that monarch accepted the mysterious "book of the law," said to have been found in the Temple by Hilkiah the priest (probably the Book of Deuteronomy), and proclaimed it as the law of the land, instituting a general national reformation in harmony with its teachings. That this book, however, did not come into general acceptance at that time, or for a century and a half afterwards, is plain from the numerous prophetical and other writings of that period. Not until we reach the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, almost a century after the captivity, do we find a second step (and this time an effectual one) taken toward a Canon. Ezra and Nehemiah come from Babylon to Jerusalem filled with zeal for the service of the Lord. They bring with them an important book which they call the book of the law of Moses, containing an elaborate code for the regulation of the temple worship and the religious life of the people. As soon as they can prepare the way for its favorable reception, they call the people together in a great assembly, read it to them, and bind them with a solemn covenant to accept and henceforth obey it. This is in the year 444 BC. The book was almost beyond question essentially the Pentateuch, or the five so-called "Books of Moses." Thus seems to have been taken the decisive step in the formation of the first part of the Old Testament Canon that part known the Law, containing the Books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Nevi'im / The Prophets With the law thus lifted up into sacredness, and with the eyes of the people turned more and more to the past, as from this time on they were, rt was only a question of time when the writings of the old prophets also, of whom the nation was so proud, would be lifted up into sacredness and added to the Canon. This is precisely what we see going on during the next two centuries. The prophetical writings are gradually gathered together, are subjected to those revisions and editings of which we discover so many traces,1 are read more and more among the people, and are lifted up into ever increasing honor, until by about the year 250 BC the second part of the Canon is formedthat part known among the Jews as the Prophets, containing the Books of Joshua, Judges, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets.

Kethuvim / The Hagiographa / Writings But the Canon cannot stop here. Other writings, some of them of much importance, are in existence, and the work of production is still going forward. Out of these a third collection is gathered together by about the year 100 BC - the Hagiographa. It was composed of those books of the Old Testament not included in the Law or the Prophets; namely, Psalms, Proverbs, Job, the Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and First and Second Chronicles. And yet there continued long to be doubt about some of the books. As late as the death of Paul there was much dispute whether Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon ought to be included. Indeed, none of the books of this collection were ever put by the Jewish people, even up to the time of Christ, on the same level of authority with the writings of the two older collections. Highest of all ranked the Law; somewhat below this, the Prophets; distinctly below both, the Hagiographa. Indeed, it was only with some hesitancy, and a little license of speech, that the books of the Hagiographa were spoken of as real scripture at all.

Under the Roman irritation and especially after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus (70 AD), as the national Jewish feeling became extremely intense, the cleft opened between the Jewish consciousness and the Christian widened, through two generations, into a chasm in the time of Hadrian. The Jewish people, recoiling from its pagan environment, fenced itself more and more firmly within its own institutions, especially its religious and sacred books, becoming a stricter and stricter constructionist. The highest impersonation of this tendency was the illustrious Rabbi Aqiba. Inasmuch as the Christians depended almost wholly on the Septuagint, the latter became unpopular with the Jews, not solely because of its inaccuracies and divergencies from the synagogal text. Hence arose a demand for a new and faithful rendering of the latter, since the dispersed Jews could not now dispense with a Greek translation. This demand was met (about 132?) in the spirit of Aqiba by the version of Akyla (Aquila), slavishly faithful, turning the Hebrew word for word.

Still another, though far inferior, index to the old Hebrew text, is found in the Targums, or Aramaic paraphrases of the Old Testament Scriptures. The two most important are those of Onkelos and (Pseudo-) Jonathan, the latter called Palestinian. But the former is by far the more valuable, because of its fidelity to the Hebrew, whereas pseudo-Jonathanf has adorned his scroll with all manner of more or less vivid pictorial additions and elucidations. Thus he assures us, "the Lord made the firmament, poising it with his three fingers," and to the serpent is said, "thy skin thou shalt cast off once every seven years"; in this way the text is expanded by nearly one-half, a fact that is interesting as showing a manner of literary growth. The Targums attest the Hebrew text as it was expounded to the people of the 1st century of our era, and in parts perhaps two centuries earlier.

Still further, the Samaritan Pentateuch, i.e., the Hebrew text in Samaritan characters, as current among Samaritans, is an important witness to the text of the Law. First brought from Damascus to Europe in 1616 by Pietro della Valle, it has long been a bone of bitter but indecisive contention. At many points diverging from the Masoretic Text [MT], it agrees with the Septuagint at many, but critics still debate whether it represents a truly different tradition or only a faulty retranslation from the Greek. Its witness is by no means yet proved negligible, but rather gains steadily in consideration.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

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