The Old Testament (sometimes abbreviated OT) is the first section of the two-part Christian Biblical canon and is based on the Hebrew Bible but can include several Deuterocanonical books or Anagignoskomena depending on the particular Christian denomination. For a full discussion of these differences, see Books of the Bible.
Following Jerome’s Veritas Hebraica, the Protestant Old Testament consists of the same books as the Hebrew Bible, but the order and numbering of the books are different. Protestants number the Old Testament books at 39, while the Jews number the same books as 24. This is because the Jews consider Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles to form one book each, group the 12 minor prophets into one book, and also consider Ezra and Nehemiah a single book.
The traditional explanation of the development of the Old Testament canon describes two sets of Old Testament books, the protocanonical and the deuterocanonical (or Biblical apocrypha) books. According to this theory, certain Church fathers accepted the inclusion of the deuterocanonical books based on their inclusion in the Septuagint (most notably Augustine), while others disputed their status and did not accept them as divinely inspired scripture (most notably Jerome). Michael Barber, a Roman Catholic theologian, argues that this reconstruction is grossly inaccurate.
~ Books of the Old Testament ~
The Hebrew Bible or Tanakh.
Canon common to Judaism, Samaritanism and Christianity (excepting the minority of Protestant denominations sometimes called New Testament only Christians which reject the “Old Testament”)
Canon Common to Judaism and Christianity but excluded by Samaritans
• 1–2 Samuel
• 1–2 Kings
• 1–2 Chronicles
• Song of Solomon
• Minor prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)
These are one book in the Jewish Bible, called “Trei Asar” or “Twelve”.
Included by Roman Catholics, Orthodox, but excluded by Jews, Samaritans and most Protestants:
• 1 Maccabees
• 2 Maccabees
• Wisdom (of Solomon)
• Ben Sira
• Baruch, includes Letter of Jeremiah (Additions to Jeremiah)
• Additions to Daniel
• Additions to Esther
Included by Orthodox (Synod of Jerusalem):
• 1 Esdras (see Esdras for other names)
• 3 Maccabees
• 4 Maccabees (in appendix but not canonical)
• Prayer of Manasseh
• Psalm 151
Included by Russian and Ethiopian Orthodox:
• 2 Esdras
Included by Ethiopian Orthodox:
• 1–3 Meqabyan
Included by Syriac Peshitta Bible:
• Psalms 152–155
• 2 Baruch
From scripture to canon: formation of the Old Testament
Greek, Latin and Protestant Old Testaments
See also: Development of the Old Testament canon, Septuagint#Table of books, Development of the Hebrew Bible canon, and Books of the Latin Vulgate
The process by which scriptures became canons and Bibles was a long one, and its complexities account for the many different Old Testaments which exist today. By about the 5th century BC Jews saw the five books of the Torah (the Old Testament Pentateuch) as having authoritative status; by the 2nd century BC the Prophets had a similar status, although without quite the same level of respect as the Torah; beyond that, the Jewish scriptures were fluid, with different groups seeing authority in different books.
The scriptures were translated into Greek between about 280-130 BC. At this stage (i.e., around the time of Christ) there was no collection of these scriptures – the various texts were read as separate scrolls. It was only in the early centuries of the Christian era that the scriptures began to be bound together into books and that Bibles as we know them today came to be invented. The Greek translations, called the Septuagint, contained several books (using that term loosely) not found in the modern Hebrew Bible (1-2 Esdras, Judith, Tobit, 1-4 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, and numerous additions to other books), based loosely on chronology and “literary typology” (i.e. subject matter). It continues in use to this day as the Old Testament of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
In 331, Constantine I commissioned Eusebius to deliver fifty Bibles for the Church of Constantinople. Athanasius recorded Alexandrian scribes around 340 preparing Bibles for Constans. Little else is known, though there is plenty of speculation. For example, it is speculated that this may have provided motivation for canon lists, and that Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus are examples of these Bibles. Together with the Peshitta and Codex Alexandrinus, these are the earliest extant Christian Bibles. There is no evidence among the canons of the First Council of Nicaea of any determination on the canon, however, Jerome (347-420), in his Prologue to Judith, makes the claim that the Book of Judith was “found by the Nicene Council to have been counted among the number of the Sacred Scriptures”.
In Western Christianity or Christianity in the Western half of the Roman Empire, Latin had displaced Greek as the common language of the early Christians, and about 400 AD Pope Damasus I commissioned Jerome, the leading scholar of the day, to produce an updated Latin bible to replace the Vetus Latina. Sometime in the centuries after the Septuagint (exactly when is disputed) the Rabbis (Jewish religious scholars and teachers) defined the Jewish canon, which is a much shorter canon of only 24 books, and Jerome used it (commonly called the Hebrew Bible) instead of the Greek Old Testament as the basis for his translation, citing “Hebraica Veritas” (Latin: Truth of the Hebrew). His Vulgate (i.e. common language) Old Testament became the standard bible used in the Western Church, specifically as the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate, while the Churches in the East continued, and still continue, to use the Septuagint.
Jerome had wanted to drop all the books that did not appear in the Hebrew Bible, but St Augustine, a bishop and another great scholar of the day, opposed him and won the argument, notably at the Council of Carthage on 28 August 397. In the 16th century the Protestant reformers reopened the debate, and sided with Jerome, but only for their own congregations: yet although Protestant Bibles now have only those books that appear in the Jewish Bible, they have them in the order of the Greek Bible. The Catholic Church, largely in reaction to this attack on tradition, officially adopted a canon, the Canon of Trent, which can be seen as following Augustine’s Carthaginian Councils or the Council of Rome, and includes most, but not all, of the Septuagint (3 Ezra and 3 and 4 Maccabees are excluded); the Anglicans after the English Civil War adopted a compromise position, restoring the 39 Articles and keeping the extra books that were excluded by the Westminster Confession of Faith, but only for private study and for reading in churches, while Lutherans kept them for private study, gathered in an appendix as Biblical Apocrypha.
While the Hebrew, Greek and Latin versions of the Hebrew Bible are the best known Old Testaments, there were others. At much the same time as the Septuagint was being produced, translations were being made into Aramaic, the language of Jews living in Palestine and the Near East and likely the language of Jesus: these are called the Aramaic Targums, from a word meaning “translation”, and were used to help Jewish congregations understand their scriptures. For Aramaic Christians there was a Syriac translation of the Hebrew Bible called the Peshitta, as well as versions in Coptic (the everyday language of Egypt in the first Christian centuries, descended from ancient Egyptian), Ethiopic (for use in the Ethiopian church, one of the oldest Christian churches), Armenian (Armenia, a former kingdom, now part of modern northeast Turkey, was the first to adopt Christianity as its official religion), and Arabic.