The Old TestamentThe Old Testament is actually shared by Christianity and Judaism. The arrangement of the books in the Christian and Jewish bibles are different but the contents are the same. This is, of course, to be expected for it was the early Christians who adopted the Hebrew scriptures as their own. The Old Testament in the Christian Bible consist of thirty nine books grouped into four separate sections: the five book of Moses or the Pentateuch, the historical books, the books of poetry and ethics and the book of the prophets. The table below gives a listing of these books.
The PentateuchThe Pentateuch is the name given to the first five books of the Old Testament. The authorship of these books had been traditionally ascribed to Moses, the most important Hebrew prophet. These books are called Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Genesis contains the mythical account of the world's beginning and the creation of man. According to the myth God created the universe and everything in it in a period of six days. The first human beings created were Adam and Eve. The story of Adam and Eve will be elaborated in some depth here due to its importance in the Christian doctrine of the atonement. Adam and Eve was originally created to live forever in the paradise called the Garden of Eden. They were given only one prohibition: not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the original forbidden fruit. However, tempted by the serpent, Eve partook of the fruit and induced Adam to do likewise. The punishments from God to them for disobeying him were: the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the imposition of hard labour on Adam, the pain of childbirth on Eve and the mortality of their lives. Christian theologians call this event The Fall; the loss of man's primal innocence. From thence on every generation would inherit this Original Sin of Adam and Eve.
The next notable event in Genesis is the story of the Flood. Mankind was falling into wickedness and God decided to destroy the whole world with a cataclysmic flood. He called on the one human worth saving, Noah, and commanded him to built an ark. The ark was to be big enough to house Noah's family and specimens of every living kind of animals in the world. When the flood finally came, Noah, his family and the selected animals were preserved by the ark which floated on the waters of the flood. After the flood God made a covenant with Noah, symbolized by a rainbow, promising never again to bring a flood to destroy the world.
A major character, in Christian and Hebrew theology, introduced in Genesis is Abraham. Abraham was to be the father of all the Hebrews. Abraham was born in Ur in Chaldea. (see map below) He travelled many lands, through Haran and Canaan, searching for a land he could call his own. Abraham fathered two sons, Ishmael [a] and Isaac. One day God called on Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham, with a heavy heart, took Isaac to the mountain to do as God has commanded him. Seeing the obedience of Abraham, God commanded Abraham to substitute a ram for Isaac, sparing the boy's life. God made a covenant with Abraham, promising him that his descendents will be as numerous as the stars and that they would inherit the land of Canaan. Christian theology considers Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son as a precursor to God's sacrifice of his own Son to save the world.
In Haran, Jacob married his cousins Leah and Rachel, the daughters of Laban. After working with Laban for twenty years, Jacob left Haran, despite some initial resistance from Laban. In his return to his home country, Jacob stopped at Gilead and there met with a mysterious stranger who wrestled him throughout the night until daybreak. Jacob held on to the person and would not release him until he received his blessing. The stranger agreed and said that from then on he shall be called Isreal which means "he who prevails with God". In other words, Jacob had wrestled with God and won! Jacob's twelve sons eventually had the twelve tribes of Isreal named after them: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph and Benjamin. Joseph, as the exception, was the ancestor of two tribes, Ephraim and Mennasseh. Note that there are actually thirteen names for the twelve tribes of Israel. However the tribe of Levi never received any parcel of land and were mainly a priestly caste living all over the land.
The narratives now center on Joseph. Joseph was the favourite of Jacob. His jealous brothers tried to do him in but got things botched up such that Joseph was sold as a slave to the Ishmaelites. He was sold as a slave in Egypt and eventually his talent for interpreting dreams became known to the Pharaoh. Joseph's skills helped Egypt through seven years of famine. As the No.2 man (after the Pharaoh) himself, Joseph wielded enormous power. A chance happening during the famine reunited him with some of his brothers. He sent them back for his father and his other brother Benjamin. His whole family eventually moved to Egypt on his invitation. Thus was the story of how the nation of Israel came to settle in Egypt.
The term patriach is normally applied to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons. So when one talks about the patriachal narratives in the Bible one is talking mainly about the stories mentioned above. Until recently, the patriachal narratives had normally been accepted as the first part of the Bible that may be historical.
The second book of the Pentateuch, Exodus, deals with the freeing of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The person who led the Israelites out of Egypt is none other than the supposed author of the Pentateuch himself, Moses. Exodus tells of the birth story of Moses which will be given here as a preliminary to our discussion on it in the next chapter. He was hid by his mother for three months from the Pharaoh who instructed all Israelites male babies to be killed. No longer able to hide him after that, his mother made a basket out of bulrushes, placed the baby Moses in it and let it float away on the river. The baby was found and raised by the Pharaoh's daughter. In adulthood Moses was commanded by God to lead his people out from bondage in Egypt to the promised land. It was while leading the Israelites to Canaan that Moses received the ten commandments on Mount Sinai. Moses died before he could enter the land of Canaan but was given a glimpse of it before he died from the top of Mount Nebo. This deliverance is regarded throughout Jewish history as the outstanding instance of God's favour for his chosen people, the Israelites.
The next three books of the Pentateuch can be briefly summarized. Leviticus consist almost wholly of religious legislation. Written in the from of a sermon of Moses, the book contains a variety of laws on such things as the eating of meat, religious duties, marriage, the priesthood, festivals, real estates and slaves. Numbers presents a narration of the experiences of the Israelites under Moses during their exodus from Egypt. The last book of the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy consists of Moses final utterances and an account of his death. The final utterances of Moses lays down Israel's religious and moral laws.
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Next is the book of Judges. After the partition of the land the twelve tribes were more or less informally ruled by leaders known as "Judges" without any central administration. This book traces the history of Israel from Joshua's death through the period of the Judges before a monarchy was established over Israel.
The book of Ruth is set in the latter days of Judges and revolves around a Moabite woman of that name who married a Jew. Upon the death of her husband, Ruth was taken under the protection of Boaz, a kinsman of her husband, who eventually married her. Ruth, being a foreigner, was shown as a gentle person and as a ancestor of David. By showing that a foreigner could be the descendent of the greatest king of Israel the book is an early argument for inter-racial tolerance.
The next two books, I & II Samuel were originally a single book that was divided into two by the compilers of the Septuagint. The books relate the story of the first two monarchs of Israel, Saul and David and their relationship with the prophet Samuel. Saul led the Israelites through many victorious wars against foreigners encroaching on their territory. But Saul disobeyed Samuel and the prophet promptly anointed David, then only a child, as the new King of all Israel. David did not immediately ascent the throne but became king only after Saul was killed in a battle with the Philistines. David was then thirty years old. In between the time of his anointment and his actual ascension to the throne, David roamed the countryside with an armed band. It was during this period that David slew the Philistine giant, Goliath with his slingshot. Under the leadership of David Israel grew due to his conquest of neighboring lands and became the dominant power in the middle east. It was David who made Jerusalem the capital of all Israel.
The books of Kings were also originally a single book that was divided into two by the compilers of the Greek Bible. These books cover the history of Israel from the death of David until the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. After the death of David, his son Solomon, from an illicit relationship with Bathsheba, became King of Israel. Solomon substantially enriched Israel both culturally and economically by developing profitable trade routes. It was Solomon who, with the help of craftsmen and engineers from Phoenicia, built the Temple of Jerusalem. This temple was to remain the center of Jewish worship until the fall of Jerusalem. After Solomon's death (generally regarded to be around 928 BCE by scholars), Israel was divided into two separate kingdoms: Israel in North and Judah in the South. Divided, Israel and Judah lost all the power of Solomon's kingdom. Israel fell to the Assyrians in 722 BCE, while Judah held on for a little longer. In 586 BCE Judah was conquered by the Babylonians. Jerusalem was obliterated and the Temple was destroyed. Like the people of the northern kingdom, the people of Judah were either deported to the land of their conquerors as slaves or fled to the neighboring countries in the mediterranean.(This dispersion of the Jews became known as the dispora
The two books of Chronicles were also originally a single book. A considerable amount of overlap exists between I and II Chronicles and II Samuel and I and II Kings. In fact most scholars are of the opinion that the chronicler used II Samuel and the books of Kings as one of his sources. The books of Chronicles end with the return of the Jews from exile in 536 BCE.
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were evidently compiled by the same compiler of the books of Chronicles. Ezra records the return of the exiles from Babylon and their attempts to rebuilt the temple at Jerusalem. The book also chronicles the mission and work of the Jewish priest and scribe, Ezra. Nehemiah records the plans of the Jewish leader of that name for the restoration of Jerusalem. Nehemiah is probably one of the earliest record of a racist. In his zeal to keep Israel racially pure he excluded from the city people not of Jewish blood and strongly forbade inter-racial marriage. The last book in this section , the book of Esther relates how a Jewish girl of that name became Queen of Persia and risked her life to save her people (the Israelites). Its inclusion into the Old Testament is probably due to the book's introduction of a patriotic holiday, the Feast of Purim.
The book of Job relates how Job, a wealthy and upright man, had his faith tested by God. In one single day he lost all his wealth. His family was crushed to death when their house collapsed. And Job himself became afflicted with a terrible disease. Three of his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, came to console him. They ask him to seek forgiveness from God for whatever wrong he may have committed that had caused this calamity to befall him. Job protested his innocence and within this lies the message of the whole book: that the innocent sometimes suffer for no apparent reason while the wicked prosper. Job refused to curse God amidst his suffering and reiterated his faith in God by saying, "I know that my redeemer lives". (Job 19:25) Having passed this test, Job's wealth was restored and his suffering ended. The book did not offer any solution to the problem of the suffering of the innocence. All it did was to assert the superior wisdom of God in all things by making the creator ask Job rhetorically: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" (Job 38:4).
The book of Psalms is an anthology of Hebrew religious poetry. David was the author assigned to it by tradition. The book consist of a hundred and fifty psalms. These psalms are normally interpreted as covering the whole range of relationship between God and man. Some of the psalms are beautiful, even after translation into English, as is the one below
Yet amidst this seeming beauty there lies a schizophrenic ugliness that is evidenced in the passages below
The next book, Proverbs, is a collection of traditional Hebrew wisdom literature. The book is divided into eight clearly defined sections of which three are attributed to Solomon. Unlike the book of Job, the emphasis of the teachings contained here is that virtues such as honesty, chastity and regard for others will be rewarded by God with long life, happiness and prosperity. Tradition ascribed the compiler of these proverbs to Solomon. 
The book of Ecclesiastes has a teaching diametrically opposite to Proverbs. [b] Its message is cynical; human life is meaningless and futile.23 The author sees blind chance ruling the world:
The last book in this section is the Song of Solomon. It is actually a collection of love songs and religion has no place in it. The book is a dialogue between two very human lovers and the theme is overtly sexual, as the passages below will testify:
Probably the only reason why this book was included in the Old Testament was the traditional ascription of its authorship to Solomon. Both Jewish and Christian theologians, left with little choice, interprets the book allegorically as an oblique reference of God's relationship with his people. It shows that, when push comes to shove, the fundamentalists can allegorize any passage in the Bible as thoroughly as any liberal!
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The Book of Isaiah is mainly concerned with the political situation in Judah under the threat from Syria in 740-700 BCE. Isaiah criticized Judah for religious hypocrisy, cruel injustice, pride, greed and idolatry. Some parts of Isaiah are interpreted by Christians to be prophecies regarding Jesus Christ.
Jeremiah spoke out against the moral degradation of the unfaithful and extols God's divine justice who condemns his people as a result. He predicted the fall of Jerusalem and the deportation of the Jews to Babylon. Jeremiah was writing just before Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. It was a time of great social stress. It was therefore natural for the prophet to predict calamities to befall Judah and to attribute this to the wrong doings of the Jewish people which has turned God away from them.
Lamentations is a collection of mournful songs that lament the fall of Jerusalem. Its authorship has been traditionally ascribed to Jeremiah. Christians had reinterpreted the mournful songs as a reference of Christ's passion.
Ezekial was the last of the "major prophets" and the successor of Isaiah and Jeremiah. The book prophecies the destruction of Jerusalem but also the redemption of the Jewish people. Ezekial reported many startling visions, one of which was that of God transporting him to Temple in Jerusalem by grabbing him by the hair.
The first six chapters of Daniel relates the story of a Jewish hero, Daniel, who successfully resisted the older tyranny of Persia, and withstood every test of his faith. The rest of the book consists of a series of visions which reveal the future of the Jewish people.
The last twelve books in the Old Testament are those ascribed to the twelve "minor prophets":
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References1 Bruce, The Books and the Parchments: p904
2 Livingstone, Dictionary of the Christian Church: p3
3 ibid: p3
4 Riedel et.al., The Book of the Bible: p 71-74;
5 Livingstone, Dictionary of the Christian Church: p186
6 Parmelee, A Guidebook to the Bible: p45-46
7 Livingstone, Dictionary of the Christian Church: p363
8 ibid: p150
9 ibid: p280
10 ibid: p282
11 ibid: p457
12 ibid: p289
13 Riedel et. all, The Book of the Bible: p520
14 Livingstone, Dictionary of the Christian Church: p107
15 ibid: p187
16 Parmalee, Guidebook to the Bible: p57
17 Livingstone, Dictionary of the Christian Church: p178
18 Livingstone, Dictionary of the Christian Church: p274
19 Livingstone, Dictionary of the Christian Church: p421
20 Parmalee, Guidebook to the Bible: p69
21 ibid: p70
22 Livingstone, Dictionary of the Christian Church: p480
23 ibid: p265
24 ibid: p186
25 ibid: p294
26 ibid: p186-187
27 Livingstone, Dictionary of the Christian Church: p142
28 Riedel et.al., The Book of the Bible: p489-490
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