The Old Testament: Torah, Prophets, and Writings

Let’s keep on with a survey of how we got the Old Testament.


Every copy of the original text had to be written out by hand, which leads many people to believe there must be a lot of mistakes. But Jews had detailed rules to govern the copying of their scriptures. The size of the pages or scrolls to be used was carefully recorded. The size of columns, spaces between words and letters, even the color of ink to be used, and the clothing to be worn by the scribe were all laid out in great detail. The number of words and letters of each book of the Old Testament was counted; the scribe fixed the middle letter of each line and each book. When he was finished, the scribe would have to submit his manuscript for checking, and if it was in error at any point, it was ordered to be destroyed, which meant he had to start all over again.  Copying was a sacred undertaking, so the scribes were very careful as they went about this task.


The first section of the Old Testament, referred to as the Pentateuch or Torah, was credited to Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. At one time, critics said it was impossible for him to be the author because writing had not been invented then, but things have changed as far as the history of writing is concerned. If it really was Moses that wrote these books, he did this in the 1400s B.C. since the Exodus is dated close to that time. The events prior to Moses’ birth as recorded in Exodus 1 could have come down to him in oral form or written records. Some people are very uncomfortable with the idea of oral history since they wonder if anyone could remember things well enough to get them correct. But ancient peoples memorized an amazing number of stories and poems. This first section of the Old Testament was accepted as sacred from early on.


Over the next 1000 years, people wrote down the history of Israel, the poetry of its musicians, the sayings of its wise people, and the good and bad news brought to Israel by its prophets. The second section of the Old Testament was called the Prophets, which are made up of historical books (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) and the prophetic books that we think of today (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and the 12 minor prophets).  The third and final section was called the Writings, which included the wisdom books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Lamentations) plus the other historical books (Ruth, Daniel, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles). Some of these books were considered sacred almost as soon as they were written, such as Joshua and Samuel, but some took longer to accept because they took longer to complete, Psalms and Chronicles in particular.