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In Christianity, the Old Testament is the collection of books that form the first of the two-part Christian Biblical canon. These works correspond to the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), with some variations and additions. In the Eastern Orthodox Church the comparable texts are known as the Septuagint, from the original Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures. In the Syriac Orthodox church, they are known as the Peshitta. The term "Old Testament" itself is credited to Melito of Sardis. Tertullian also used the Latin Vetus Testāmentum. The Old Testament in the Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Greek Orthodox Bibles have 39 books in common.

Some scholars believe much of the Old Testament was written in Mesopotamia. It is believed the Old Testament was composed and compiled between the 12th and the 2nd century BC. Jesus and his disciples referenced it when discussing Jesus's teachings, referring to it as "the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms ... the scriptures". ( ) The accounts of Jesus and his disciples are recorded in the New Testament.


The inter-relationship between various significant ancient manuscripts of the Old Testament (some identified by their siglum).
LXX here denotes the original septuagint.

The early Christian Church used the Septuagint, the oldest Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, as its religious text until at least the mid-fourth century. Until that time Greek was a major language of the Roman Empire and the language of the Church (except Syrian Orthodoxy which used the Syriac Peshitta and Ethiopian Orthodoxy which used the Geez). Also, the Church Fathers tended to accept Philo's account of the Septuagint's miraculous and inspired origin , and New Testament writers quoted extensively from the text.

When Jerome undertook the revision of the Old Latin translations of the Septuagint in about 400 AD, he checked the Septuagint against the Hebrew text that was then available. He came to believe that the Hebrew text better testified to Christ than the Septuagint. He broke with church tradition and translated most of the Old Testament of his Vulgate from Hebrew rather than Greek. His choice was severely criticized by Augustine, his contemporary, and others who regarded Jerome as a forger. But with the passage of time, acceptance of Jerome's version gradually increased in the West until it displaced the Old Latin translations of the Septuagint.

The Hebrew text differs in some passages that Christians hold to prophesy Christ, and the Eastern Orthodox Church still prefers to use the Septuagint as the basis for translating the Old Testament into other languages. The Orthodox Church of Constantinoplemarker, the Church of Greece and the Cypriot Orthodox Church continue to use it in their liturgy today, untranslated. Many modern critical translations of the Old Testament, while using the Hebrew text as their basis, consult the Septuagint as well as other versions in an attempt to reconstruct the meaning of the Hebrew text whenever the latter is unclear, undeniably corrupt, or ambiguous.

Many of the oldest Biblical verses among the Dead Sea Scrolls, particularly those in Aramaic, correspond more closely with the Septuagint than with the Hebrew text (although the majority of these variations are extremely minor, e.g. grammatical changes, spelling differences or missing words, and do not affect the meaning of sentences and paragraphs). This confirms the scholarly consensus that the Septuagint represents a separate Hebrew text tradition from that which was later standardized as the Hebrew text (called the Masoretic Text).

Of the fuller quotations in the New Testament of the Old, nearly one hundred agree with the modern form of the Septuagint and six agree with the Hebrew text. The principal differences concern presumed Biblical prophecies relating to Christ; for example the Septuagint of Isaiah contains the phrase a virgin shall conceive, which is quoted in the New Testament, but the Masoretic Text of Isaiah instead says a young woman shall conceive , the Hebrew word for virgin being quite different.

Books of the Old Testament

See also: Septuagint: Table of books

The Septuagint

In early Christianity the Septuagint was universally used among Greek speakers, while Aramaic Targums were used in the Syriac Church. To this day the Eastern Orthodox Church uses the Septuagint, in an untranslated form. Some scripture of ancient origin is found in the Septuagint but are not in the Hebrew. These include additions to Daniel and Esther. For more information regarding these books, see the articles Biblical apocrypha, Biblical canon, Books of the Bible, and Deuterocanonical books.

Some books that are set apart in the Hebrew text are grouped together. For example the Books of Samuel and the Books of Kings are in the Septuagint one book in four parts called "Of Reigns" (Βασιλειῶν). Scholars believe that this is the original arrangement before the book was divided for readability. In the Septuagint, the Books of Chronicles supplement Reigns and are called Paraleipoménon (Παραλειπομένων—things left out). The Septuagint organizes the minor prophets as twelve parts of one Book of Twelve.

All the books of western canons of the Old Testament are found in the Septuagint, although the order does not always coincide with the modern ordering of the books. The Septuagint order for the Old Testament is evident in the earliest Christian Bibles (5th century).

The New Testament makes a number of allusions to and may quote the additional books (as Orthodox Christians aver). The books are Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Jesus Seirach, Baruch, Epistle of Jeremy (sometimes considered part of Baruch), additions to Daniel (The Prayer of Azarias, the Song of the Three Children, Sosanna and Bel and the Dragon), additions to Esther, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, Odes, including the Prayer of Manasses, and Psalm 151.

Extracts from Theodotion

In most ancient copies of the Bible which contain the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, the Book of Daniel is not the original Septuagint version, but instead is a copy of Theodotion's translation from the Hebrew. The Septuagint version of the Book of Daniel was discarded, in favour of Theodotion's version, in the second to third centuries; in Greek-speaking areas, this happened near the end of the second century, and in Latin-speaking areas (at least in North Africa), it occurred in the middle of the third century. History does not record the reason for this, and Jerome basically reports, in the preface to the Vulgate version of Daniel, this thing 'just' happened.

The canonical Ezra-Nehemiah is known in the Septuagint as "Esdras B", and 1 Esdras is "Esdras A". 1 Esdras is a very similar text to the books of Ezra-Nehemiah, and the two are widely thought by scholars to be derived from the same original text. It has been proposed, and is thought highly likely by scholars, that "Esdras B" - the canonical Ezra-Nehemiah - is Theodotion's version of this material, and "Esdras A" is the version which was previously in the Septuagint on its own.

Latin translations

Jerome's Vulgate Latin translation dates to between 382 and 420 AD. Latin translations predating Jerome are collectively known as Vetus Latina texts.

Origen's Hexapla placed side by side six versions of the Old Testament, including the 2nd century Greek translations of Aquila of Sinope and Symmachus the Ebionite.

Canonical Christian Bibles were formally established by Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem in 350 and confirmed by the Council of Laodicea in 363, and later established by Athanasius of Alexandria in 367. The Council of Laodicea restricted readings in church to only the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments. The books listed were the 22 books of the Hebrew Bible plus the Book of Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremy, together with the New Testament containing 26 books, omitting the Book of Revelation.

The Council of Carthage, called the third by Denzinger, on 28 August 397 issued a canon of the Bible restricted to: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Josue, Judges, Ruth, 4 books of Kingdoms, 2 books of Paralipomenon, Job, Psalter of David, 5 books of Solomon, 12 books of Prophets, Isaias, Jeremias, Daniel, Ezechiel, Tobias, Judith, Esther, 2 books of Esdras, 2 books of Machabees, and in the New Testament: 4 books of Gospels, 1 book of Acts of the Apostles, 13 letters of the Apostle Paul, 1 of him to the Hebrews, 2 of Peter, 3 of John, 1 of James, 1 of Judas, and the Apocalypse of John.

Other traditions

The canonical acceptance of these books varies among different Christian traditions, and there are canonical books not derived from the Septuagint. For a discussion see the article on Biblical apocrypha.

The exact canon of the Old Testament differs among the various branches of Christianity. All include the books of the Hebrew Bible, while most traditions also recognise several Deuterocanonical books. The Protestant Old Testament is, for the most part, identical with the Hebrew Bible; the differences are minor, dealing only with the arrangement and number of the books. For example, while the Hebrew Bible considers Kings to be a unified text, and Ezra and Nehemiah as a single book, the Protestant Old Testament divides each of these into two books.

Translations of the Old Testament were discouraged in medieval Christendom. An exception was the translation of the Pentateuch ordered by Alfred the Great around 900, and Wyclif's Bible of 1383. Numerous vernacular translations appeared with the Protestant Reformation.

The differences between the Hebrew Bible and other versions of the Old Testament such as the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Syriac, Greek, Latin and other canons, are greater. Many of these canons include whole books and additional sections of books that the others do not. The translations of various words from the original Hebrew may also give rise to significant differences of interpretation.

Relationship between Old and New Testament

The Old Testament is written with a vocabulary of about 5,800 words. The New Testament is written with a vocabulary of about 4,800 words.

Christian views on Mosaic Law

There are differences of opinion among Christian denominations as to what and how Biblical law applies today. Some conclude that none are applicable, some conclude that only parts are applicable, others conclude that all are still applicable to believers in Jesus and the New Covenant.

Historicity of the Old Testament narratives

Current debate concerning the historicity of the various Old Testament narratives can be divided into several camps.
  • One group has been labeled "biblical minimalists" by its critics. Minimalists (e.g., Philip Davies, Thomas L. Thompson, John Van Seters) see very little reliable history in any of the Old Testament.
  • Conservative Old Testament scholars, "biblical maximalists", generally accept the historicity of most Old Testament narratives on confessional grounds, and some Egyptologists (e.g. Kenneth Kitchen) admit that such a belief is not incompatible with the external evidence.
  • Other scholars (e.g. William Dever) are somewhere in between: they see clear signs of evidence for the monarchy and much of Israel's later history, though they doubt the Exodus and Conquest.
  • "Arabian Judah" proponents (e.g., Kamal Salibi, Bernard Leeman) suggest that evidence from Arabia and Ethiopia appears to support the hypothesis that the Old Testament historical account is accurate but that ancient Israel and Judah were located in south-west Arabia before the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests. Leeman ascribes the Israelite zenith under David and Solomon to the temporary withdrawal of the Egyptians and Assyrians from the area ca.1000-925 B.C.E. which enabled the Israelites of Asir and Hijaz to tax the lucrative Sabaean trade routes (Leeman 2005:10).

See also


  3. "scholars believe much of the Old Testament was written in Mesopotamia"
  4. Encyclopaedia Britannica: "Written almost entirely in the Hebrew language between 1200 and 100 BC"; Columbia Encyclopedia: "In the 10th century BC the first of a series of editors collected materials from earlier traditional folkloric and historical records (i.e., both oral and written sources) to compose a narrative of the history of the Israelites who now found themselves united under David and Solomon."
  5. H. B. Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, revised by R.R. Ottley, 1914; reprint, Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1989.
  6. Occasions where the Septuagint is Quoted in the New Testament
  7. Jerome's Prologue to Genesis
  8. Ernst Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, trans. Errol F. Rhodes, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1995.
  9. Karen Jobes and Moises Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint ISBN 1-84227-061-3, (Paternoster Press, 2001). - The current standard for Introductory works on the Septuagint.
  10. Timothy McLay, The Use of the Septuagint in New Testament Research ISBN 0-8028-6091-5. - The current standard introduction on the NT & Septuagint.
  11. V.S. Herrell, The History of the Bible, " Qumran: Dead Sea Scrolls."
  12. William Priestly, " The Dead Sea Scrolls." - A detailed explanation with scholarly apparatus.
  13. Jones, Table: " Instances where the New Testament agrees with the Septuagint."
  14. Jones, Table: " Instance where the New Testament agrees with the meaning of the Hebrew texts."
  15. Jennifer M. Dines, The Septuagint, Michael A. Knibb, Ed., London: T&T Clark, 2004
  16. Denzinger 186

Further reading

  • Bahnsen, Greg, et al., Five Views on Law and Gospel. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993).
  • Rouvière, Jean-Marc. Brèves méditations sur la Création du monde Ed. L'Harmattan, Paris, 2006
  • Berkowitz, Ariel and D'vorah. Torah Rediscovered. 4th ed. Shoreshim Publishing, 2004. ISBN 0-9752914-0-8
  • Anderson, Bernhard. Understanding the Old Testament. (ISBN 0-13-948399-3 )
  • Dever, William G. Who Were the Early Israelites? William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 2003. ISBN 0-8028-0975-8
  • Hill, Andrew and John Walton. A Survey of the Old Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000. ISBN 0-310-22903-0 .
  • Kuntz, John Kenneth. The People of Ancient Israel: an introduction to Old Testament Literature, History, and Thought, Harper and Row, 1974. ISBN 0-06-043822-3
  • Lancaster, D. Thomas. Restoration: Returning the Torah of God to the Disciples of Jesus. Littleton: First Fruits of Zion, 2005.
  • Leeman, Bernard. Queen of Sheba and Biblical Scholarship, Queensland Academic Press, 2005 ISBN 0-9758022-0-8
  • Salibi, Kamal. The Bible Came from Arabia, London, Jonathan Cape, 1985 ISBN 0-224-02830-8
  • Silberman, Neil A., et al. The Bible Unearthed. Simon and Schuster, New York, 2003. ISBN 0-684-86913-6 (paperback) and ISBN 0-684-86912-8 (hardback)
  • Sprinkle, Joe M. Biblical Law and Its Relevance: A Christian Understanding and Ethical Application for Today of the Mosaic Regulations. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2006. ISBN 0-7618-3371-4 (clothbound) and ISBN 0-7618-3372-2 (paperback)
  • Gerhard von Rad: Theologie des Alten Testaments. Band 1–2, München, 8. Auflage 1982/1984, ISBN

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