The Hebrew Bible emerged out of an oral tradition developed by the ancient Israelite community in an effort to narrate their history, explain the origins of the cosmos, and define their place in it as members of the larger human community. The process of transcribing this oral tradition into writing began during the period of the Davidic Monarchy in 1000 B.C.E. and lasted approximately 800 years.
|Books of the Torah|
In contrast to other nations of the ancient near east whose national origins were directly intertwined with their creation myths, the Israelite scribes connected their historical emergence as a nation to the creation myths through a series of ancestral narratives depicting the birth of the world, a family, and a nation called Israel. The Hebrew scriptures consist of twenty-four books and is divided into three sections that are referred to with the acronym TaNaKh, an abbreviation for Torah, Neviim, and Ketuvim.
The Torah (or Pentateuch) refers to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, associated with its central figure Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Although these books are theologically united together as the "Law of Moses" received from God at Mt. Sinai, they are historically understood as a series of narratives grouped together under the other meaning of Torah, "instruction." They lack a continuous theme or a single author and were edited over a period of 500 years and canonized during the 6th century B.C.E.
|Books of the Nevi'im (Prophets)|
Neviim, "Prophets," is the second section of the Tanakh. It is comprised of the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel I-II, Kings I-II, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and twelve minor or shorter prophetic narratives, including those of Hosea through Malachi. In the medieval period, rabbinic commentators divided this one section of texts in half, referring to Joshua through Kings as "former prophets" and Isaiah through the twelve minor prophets as "latter prophets," based on their placement within the biblical text. While the books of Joshua through Kings are not named after prophets, it can be argued that they all involve some degree of prophecy. Yet it is even more plausible to group them together as one continuous historical narrative, beginning in the Book of Deuteronomy, involving the worship of one God associated with the Davidic kingdom who actively rewards and punishes Israel for its sins. It is likely that these prophetic books were canonized after those in the Torah during the late Persian and early Hellenistic periods.
|Books of the Ketuvim (Writings)|
|Song of Songs
Ketuvim or "writings," is a collection of books that were most likely canonized together because they were all compiled by the end of the Second Temple period. They are comprised of a variety of material. The first section consists of poetry—Psalms, Proverbs, and Job. Then there is a grouping of five smaller books copied together because they were originally written on small scrolls—Song of Songs, an erotic love poem; Ruth, the story of the first "convert" to Judaism; Lamentations, a dirge over the destruction of the First and Second Temples; Ecclesiastes, a wisdom book portraying a Hellenistic type of fatalism; and Esther, the story of diaspora Jews triumphing over an attempted genocide. The last section of Ketuvim involves the historical texts of Daniel, depicting Judean history from the Persian to the Hellenistic periods; Ezra/Nehemiah portraying the history of the exilic period; and Chronicles, presenting a selective retelling of history from Adam through Cyrus in 538 B.C.E.
|516 BCE-70 CE: Second Temple Period|
|70-200 CE: Period of the Tannaim ("repeaters" of oral traditions)→MISHNAH|
|200-500 CE: Period of the Amoraim (Mishnah "discussers")→GEMARA|