What Is the Old Testament? - Books & History

Instructor: Derek Hughes
The main text of the Christian religion is the Bible, which is made up of two sections. The first section is referred to as the Old Testament, while the second is the New Testament. This lesson will introduce you to the history and books of the Old Testament.

History of the Old Testament

The Old Testament is the first book of the Christian bible, which contains anywhere from 39-51 books, depending on which denomination of Christianity you're talking about. The Old Testament is largely based on the Hebrew Bible, which is a collection of writings by Ancient Israelites. Because the books in the Old Testament are all ancient texts, it is very difficult to determine the exact date they were written or incorporated.

This lesson will focus on the various sections and books of the Old Testament. A more complete history of the Old Testament would require a much more in-depth, long-term study of the history of Christian and Jewish religions.

Books of the Old Testament

The Old Testament can be divided into 5 broad segments. These are grouped according to theme, author, and historical context. In order, the 5 categories are:

  • The Pentateuch
  • The Historical Books
  • The Wisdom Books
  • The Major Prophets
  • The Twelve Minor Prophets

The next few sections will broadly detail each of these sections. You may notice that the number of books of each section varies according to religion or denomination. This is because some Christian denominations split some larger books into smaller halves or have added books to their canon.

The Pentateuch

The Pentateuch makes up the first five books of the Old Testament and is also referred to as the 5 books of Moses. The books of the Pentateuch are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Moses is believed to be the author of these books (not Charleton Heston, as a famous movie might have you believe).

Generally, these books introduce the reader to the Jewish and Christian God's plan, laws, and purpose. They also contain the story of Moses, which you can also learn about from the 5,000 or so movies made from it.

The Historical Books

The next 7-20 books, depending on whether you are reading the Jewish Old Testament or various versions from the different denominations of Christianity, consist of the historical books. These books, which have a mostly Hebrew origin, detail the rise, establishment, and moral/physical collapse of the nation of Israel. Many famous people show up in the historical books, including King Solomon, Elijah, and the prophet Samuel.

The Wisdom Books

Following the historical books are a group of 5-8 books called the wisdom books. These books use a different tone than the previous books, in that they aren't strictly stories or historical documents. Instead, the books of this section include conversations, such as in the book of Job, or songs and poetry, such as in the book of Psalms. Overall, these books seek to ask and answer existential questions about God, faith, and humanity itself.

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