of the Old Testament
Table of contents:
2. The historical background of the Old Testament
3. The Pentateuch
4. Historical books
5. Wisdom writings
6. Major and minor prophets
8. Works cited
The Old Testament constitutes an essential and fundamental
part of the Bible. In fact, the Old Testament comprises books
which were written before the 12th and 2nd centuries BC. The
Old Testament plays a significant role in the understanding
of the Christian teaching. At the same time, the Old Testament
has a great historical value as a collection of books which
recounts the history of the Jewish people. In actuality, the
Old Testament comprises books which may be divided into five
major categories: the Pentateuch, historical books, wisdom
writings, books of major prophets and books of minor prophets.
In such a way, the Old Testaments combines books which vary
by genre and their themes. To put it more precisely, the Old
Testaments contains the narration of the history of Jewish
people and the emergence of Christianity as a powerful religion.
In such a way, historical books are combined with books containing
the basic information on Christian religion, including fundamental
Mosaic laws. In addition, the Old Testaments contains prophecies
concerning the future along with philosophical works that
makes the entire work, created before Christ the major work
and the basis of the early Christianity, which was used the
foundation for the development of Christianity and the New
Testament created by Christ and his disciples.
The historical background of the Old Testament
The Old Testaments constitutes the large part of the Bible.
In fact, the Old Testaments represents a collection of books
that vary in genre and themes but which are united on the
basis of the common historical ground and its major focus
on the development of the Christian teaching. The Old Testament
may be viewed as the backbone of the Bible prior to Christ
since the books comprising the Old Testament were written
by different authors in the period from the 12th to 2nd centuries
On analyzing the history of the Old Testament, it is important
to underline that the interpretation of original texts of
books comprising the Old Testament vary substantially. To
put it more precisely, specialists (Bahnsen et al., 291) distinguish
the Septuagint which is commonly accepted in the Orthodox
Christian tradition, and the Latin translations of the Hebrew
texts, including the translation made by Jerome, which are
commonly accepted in Catholic Christian tradition. At this
point, it should be said that the Septuagint represents the
Greek translation of the original Hebrew texts. Originally,
the Greek translations were perceived as correct translations
of the Old Testament. However, in the late 4th – early
5th century AD, Jerome’s translation of original Hebrew
texts revealed the fact that the Greek translations were not
absolutely precise and they did not always adequately conveyed
the original message of ancient authors. At first, Jerome’s
translations faced a strong opposition from the part of Christian
theologies, including Augustine, who insisted on the correctness
of the Greek translation. Nevertheless, gradually, the Latin
translations of the original Hebrew texts were accepted by
western, Catholic theologies and clergymen.
In spite of variations in interpretation and structure that
can be traced in the Septuagint and the Latin translations
of the Old Testament, its books are the heart of one of the
major, world religions, Christianity. It is important to underline
the fact that the Old Testament represents the narration of
the ancient history of Jewish people its origin and development
along with the narration concerning the development of Christianity
and the Christian teaching. The Old Testament comprises basic
wisdoms, philosophical and religious concepts and ideas of
Christianity, on the basis of which the Christian religion
was shaped and later complemented by Christ and his disciples
in the New Testament. Finally, the Old Testaments contains
important prophecies related to the future, though the interpretation
of these prophecies can vary and is not absolutely precise,
which, though, is the characteristic of all prophecies.
The Pentateuch consists of five books, which actually the
Pentateuch is called after. Specialists (Anderson, 317) believe
that first five books of the Bible comprising the Pentateuch
were written by Moses after the forty year period in desert
in c. 1406 BC. Basically, the five biblical books are dedicated
to the origin of the world at large and Jewish people in particular.
The primary concern of the books is to reveal the origin of
the world and the early history of Jewish people as well as
the role of God in the life of Jewish people. At the same
time, the five books contain fundamental principles of the
Christian teaching, including the Moses Law, which are considered
to be given by the God to Moses, who was a prophet and mediator
between the God and Jewish people. In such a context, Moses
can be viewed as the founding father of the Jewish state since
it is Moses who brought the Jews to Israel after the 40 years
of wandering in desert.
Among the five books of the Pentateuch, Genesis is particularly
noteworthy because it is the fundamental book in which the
creation of the world by God is depicted in details. It covers
the period from 2500 BC to 1406 BC (Dever, 124). At the same
time, Genesis deals with such issues as the primary sin and
the expel of Adam and Eve from the Eden. Also, Genesis reveals
the origin of Jewish people and the people who were the ancestors
of Jews. It is worth mentioning the fact that Genesis mainly
refers to males in the depiction of the origin of Jewish people
while females are apparently secondary that reveals the patriarchal
social system existing in ancient Jewish society.
Exodus recalls the story of the liberation of Jewish people
from Egyptian enslavement and the start of the search of the
new, Promised Land for Jewish people. The liberation movement
was headed by Moses, but the book repeatedly lays emphasis
on the fact that all the actions of Moses were guided and
supported by God. At the same time, Jewish people is depicted
as blessed people because they were supported by God and Jewish
God is depicted as the only true God which helps defeat all
the enemies of Jewish people allowing Moses make miracles
and save his people.
Leviticus is mainly dedicated to the relationship of Jews
and God. To put it more precisely, the book defines basic
rules of the holy life which are provided by God to Israel
and Jewish people. This book introduces basic norms, rules
and rites which Jewish people had to obey in order to lead
a virtuous lifestyle and, therefore, be rewarded by God and,
eventually, find the salvation.
Numbers depict 38 years wandering of Jewish people in desert
under the guidance of Moses who proves to be not only the
prophet but also the national leader, which united the nation
and became its spiritual leader and guide in the desert. The
book depicts major events and turning points which defined
the religious and spiritual life of Jewish people in the epoch
and it also contains basic norms and rules, in accordance
with which Jewish people should live.
In this respect, Deuteronomy is particularly significant because
this book is the repetition or copy of the Law given to Moses
by God and Moses in his conveyed the laws granted by God to
all of the Jews. Along with the repetition of basic, divine
laws, the book contains the ending of the story of wandering
of Jewish people and the end of the life of Moses. The latter
eventually bring Jews to the Promised Land and dies peacefully.
Historical books of the Old Testament constitute an important
part of the Bible because they depict the history of Jewish
people as well as other peoples which contacted or invaded
Jewish territories. At the same time, it is important to underline
that the history of Jewish people is the primary concern of
authors of historical books of the Old Testaments. These books
are particularly valuable from the historical point of view
because they are written historical evidences of past events
which took place from 1406 to the 5th BC century.
Joshua is one of the main historical books of the Old Testament.
Joshua is considered to be one of the former prophets in the
Hebrew Bible (Berkowitz, 183). The book tells the history
of crossing of the Jordan and the violent and brutal conquest
of Canaan by Joshua. This was a holy war waged to claim the
chosen land from the idolatrous and dissolute Canaanites.
It is worth noting the fact that the military actions conducted
by Jewish kings were amply supported by God who interfered
to support Jewish armies and Jewish people in their struggle.
Judges is another historical book of the Bible which covers
the period before the monarchy. It was the period of frequent
apostasy and divine punishment of people who adopted Canaanite
pagan practices. Instead, the worship of God was rewarded
by the divine support. In such a way, the book depicts the
strengthening of the Christian God as the major divine power
and the main and only God of Jewish people. At the same time,
the book depicts conflicts of Jews with other peoples. For
instance, Judges depicts in details the conflict between Israelites
and the Midianites who oppressed Jewish people. In such a
way, the development of religious foundations of Jewish people
is accompanied by the narration of numerous conflicts of Jewish
people and neighboring peoples.
Ruth depicts the history of Israel in the period of a relative
peace between Moab and Jewish people. The book was written
during the period of monarchy. The major theme of the book
is redemption. However, the book lays emphasis on the redemption
not by blood and birth, but through self-giving love that
fulfills God’s law. In such a way, historical events
are closely intertwined with religious teaching, promoting
the faith in God and the importance of the obedience to the
1 and 2 Samuel are important historical books which depict
the history of Israel during the period of monarchy. The books
depicts conflicts of Israel with neighboring states and its
progress as a state. The reign of the Kind David occupies
one of the central places in the books. In this respect, it
is important to underline that such an attention of the author
of these Biblical texts may be explained by the attention
of David to religion. In fact, David is depicted as an almost
ideal theocratic king, who was a successful statesman and
simultaneously attempted to live in accordance with divine
laws and spread religion among masses of Jewish people.
1 and 2 Kings is also focused on the history of the ruling
monarchs in Israel. These books are particularly noteworthy
because they convey the history of the King Solomon, who was
apparently one of the major figures in the history of Israel
and one of the most successful kings who amply supported religion
and met basic religious ideals. In such a way, he was a respectable
successor of David.
1 and 2 Chronicles continues the history of Jewish people
they contain extensive genealogies, including David’s
line. The books also depict major constructions of Jewish
people at the epoch, including the temple Solomon had to be
Other historical books of the Old Testament, including Ezra,
Nehemiah and Esther, tell the story of Jewish people. Basically,
these books focus the attention of readers on the history
of relationship of Jewish state and the Persian Empire, which
grew in power in 6-5th century BC. The books depicts the struggle
of Jewish people against the Persian occupation.
Wisdom writings constitute a very important part of the Old
Testament because these books, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes,
Song of Songs, incorporated the wisdom of Jewish people and
its major thinkers, including the King Solomon, who became
the symbol of wisdom. In fact, these books may be viewed as
the philosophical basis of the Old Testament in which authors
postulate basic principles, philosophical concepts and rules,
which regulate human life, their internal world and relationship
with divine forces.
At the same time, it is impossible to estimate that wisdom
writings of the Old Testament represent only authentic works
created by particular authors. In actuality, wisdom writings
should be viewed as a quintessence of woks of the most outstanding
thinkers, such as the King Solomon or Ecclesiast, and wisdom
of Jewish people. In this respect, it is possible to refer
to proverbs which rather contain ideas accumulated by Jewish
people as a socio-cultural group than ideas of the author.
In a way, it may be viewed as a collection of folkloric elements
created by Jewish people.
However, it is important to underline that practically all
these books contain references or imply basic divine laws
which are fundamental for the Old Testament and their origin
may be traced back to the Moses Laws.
Major and minor prophets
The Old Testament contains a variety of books of prophets,
among which it is possible to distinguish major prophets,
who played a very significant role and are referenced to throughout
the Bible as well as in other ancient literary works, and
minor prophets, whose works are less renowned and well-known
but still they contain prophecies which may be significant
in terms of the Bible.
Among the major prophets its is possible to single out Isaiah
which depicts the communication of Isaiah and God, which is
actually a common structure for books of prophets. To put
it more precisely, books of major and minor prophets are actually
the depiction of the interaction and communication of prophets
and God, whom they represented on the Earth and whose ideas
they conveyed to masses of people. Isaiah, for instance, while
depicting his communication with God, warns about the threat
of Assyrian aggression against Israel, sin and punishment
of Israel and the successive punishment of Assyria for the
moral degradation and aggression against Israel. However,
probably the most important prophecy of Isaiah is the prophecy
concerning the Messiah who should come and save Jewish people.
This idea became the milestone of Judaism and Christianity
and Jesus was perceived as the Messiah.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible
to conclude that the Old Testament contains a variety of books
which are quite different by their genre and theme but which
are united by the common religious background and history.
To put it more precisely, the Old Testament depicts the history
of the development of Jewish people and Jewish state of Israel
and historic perturbations it had to pass through. At the
same time, the Old Testament represents the Biblical version
of the creation of the world by God and provides basic religious,
moral and ethical norms, rules and rites which defined the
life of Jewish people and which laid foundation for the Christian
tradition and partially Judaist tradition. Finally, the book
contains wisdom accumulated by Jewish people and its most
outstanding representatives as well as numerous prophecies
concerning the nearest and distant future.
Anderson, Bernhard. Understanding the Old Testament. New York:
Random House, 2006.
Bahnsen, Greg, et al. Five Views on Law and Gospel. Zondervan:
Grand Rapids, 1993.
Berkowitz, Ariel. Torah Rediscovered. 4th ed. Shoreshim Publishing,
Dever, William G. Who Were the Early Israelites? William B.
Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 2003.