The Old Testament – Overview

(Christian Study Topics)

christian36_300x300The Old Testament consists of thirty-nine books, beginning with Genesis and ending with Malachi. It is almost entirely written in Hebrew, the language of Israel; however, some short sections are written in Aramaic, an international language widely used in the diplomacy of the Ancient Near East. The Old Testament includes a number of different kinds of writings, of which the most important are the following:


1) The Five Books: The five books of the Law are sometimes also referred to as The Five Books of Moses, reflecting a traditional belief that they were largely written by Moses. In more scholarly works, they are sometimes referred to as The Pentatench, from the Greek words for “five” and “books”. They are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, andDeuteronomy. These deal with the creation of the world, the calling of Israel as a people, and its early history including the Exodus from Egypt. The story they tell ends with the people of Israel being about to cross over the Jordan, and enter the promised land. One of the most important themes of these books is the giving of the Law to Moses, and its implications for the life of Israel.


2) The Historical Books: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, I and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. These books deal with various aspects of the history of the people of GOD from their entry into the promised land of Canaan to the return of the people of Jerusalem from exile in the city of Babylon. It includes detailed accounts of the conquest of Canaan, the establishment of a monarchy in Israel, the great reigns of kings David and Solomon, the breakup of the single nation of Israel into two parts (the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah), the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians, the defeat of Judah, and the exile of her people by the Babylonians, and the final return from exile and the rebuilding of the Temple. The books are arranged in historical order.


3) The Wisdom Writings: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. These works deal with the question of how true wisdom may be found, and often provide some practical examples of wisdom.


4) The Prophets: This major section of the Old Testament contains the writings of a group of individuals, inspired by the Holy Spirit, who sought to make the will of GOD known to their people over a period of time. There are sixteen prophetic writings in the Old Testament, which are usually divided into two categories.

First, there are the four major (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel).

These are followed by the twelve minor (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah,Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi).

The use of the words “major” and “minor’ does not imply any judgment about the relative importance of the prophets. It refers simply to the length of the books in question. The prophetic writings are arranged roughly in historical order.