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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 3.2:
What are the books of the Jewish Bible (Tanakh)?

Answer:

First, note that the Bible isn't the entire corpus of what we call "Torah"; in fact, it's the smaller piece. In traditional Jewish thought, the Torah (in the limited sense) is "merely" lecture notes — the minimum needed to remember or rebuild the larger body of knowledge. The non-written part we call Oral Torah (Torah shebi'al peh). The word Torah in the narrower sense refers to the five books of Moses, or to a scroll that contains those books. However, this is only because we believe that the entire Torah — using the word in its broadest sense — is implied by the words of its text. That includes not only the ideas in the Oral Torah, but also the ideas in the prophetic and inspired works that compose the rest of the Jewish Bible. The prophets wrote down their words to increase their impact, not because these were innovative ideas. Tradition has it that the text of the Torah can be simultaneously understood on 4 levels: the simple meaning (p'shat), as mnemonics based on extra or missing letters, gematria, acrostics, etc... (remez), through scriptural hermeneutics (d'rash), and on a philosophical and kabbalistic level (sowd). The acronym of these four levels is "pardeis" (orchard) and is associated with the concept of Paradise.

Also, note that the word "Bible" is more commonly used by non-Jews, as are the terms "old testament" and "new testament", although "scripture" is a synonym used by both Jews and non-Jews. The appropriate term to use is Tanakh. This word is derived from the Hebrew letters of the three parts that make it up:

Torah:

Books of Genesis (B'reishis), Exodus (Sh'mos), Leviticus (Vayikra), Numbers(Bamidbar), and Deuteronomy (D'varim).

N'viim (Prophets):

Books of Joshua, Judges, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habukkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. (The last twelve are sometimes grouped together as "Trei Asar." ["Twelve"])

K'Tuvim (Writings):

Books of Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel (although not all that is included in the Christian Canon), Ezra and Nehemiah, I Chronicles, and II Chronicles.

It should be noted that the breaking of Samuel (Shmuel), Kings (Melachim), and Chronicles (Divrei hayamim) into two parts is strictly an artifact of the Christian printers who first issued the books. They were too big to be issued as single volumes. Because every one followed these de facto standards, the titles of Volume 1 and Volume 2 were attached to the names. The division of the Tanach into chapters was also done by medieval Christians, and only later adopted by Jews.

Many Christian Bibles have expanded versions of several of these books (Esther, Ezra, Daniel, Jeremiah and Chronicles) including extra material that is not accepted as canonical in Judaism. This extra material was part of the ancient Greek translation of the Tanakh, but was never a part of the official Hebrew Tanakh. Jews regard this extra material as apocryphal. Among Christians, there is a difference of opinion. Catholics regard this material as canonical, while many Protestant sects regard this material as Apocrypha. What is and is not regarded as Apocrypha varies among the many Christian sects. Some of the most famous Apocryphal stories are closely associated with the book of Daniel, and indeed are printed as part of that book in some Christian Bibles. These stories include: Susan and the Elders, The Song of the Three Children, and Bel and the Dragon.

There are other books mentioned in Torah. For example, Joshua 10:13 refers to a book of "Jasher". Are such books part of the Jewish canon? No. Do they exist? There are many books on the web that claim to be such lost books. However, there are many sites (such as http://answers.org/Bible/jasher-book-of.html that points out that many of them are hoaxes.


The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

[Got Questions?]Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to questions@scjfaq.org. The FAQ maintainer will endeavor to direct your query to an appropriate individual that can answer it. If you would like to be part of the group to which the maintainer directs questions, please drop a note to the FAQ maintainer at maintainer@scjfaq.org.

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