Here are a lesson and notes on The Structure of the Old Testament (46 minutes). Download it from here.

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1. The O.T. is not a book, but a library

  • Yes, there is a single overarching narrative, a story. But...
  • The O.T. is a library -- a collection of books -- more than a book.
    • Not written at one time, not published at one time, not completed at one time.
    • Multiple literary genres, and each has its own rules for proper understanding. (More on this in AIM O.T. Interpretation.)
    • Genres include:
      • Apocalypse    Battle report    Blessing    Covenant    Curse    Doxology    Genealogy
      • Itinerary    Psalm    Song    Travelogue    Treaty    Wisdom    Lament    Law code
      • Lawsuit    Narrative    Prayer    Primeval narrative    Prophecy    Proverb
    • A library naturally has multiple authors.

2. Authorship

  • Most books are anonymous, though some books reflect the lives and teaching of major biblical characters, like Moses, David, and Ezra.
  • The Jews attributed much of the Bible to Ezra, the priest of the 5th century BC. See Ezra 7:10 (also Neh 8).
  • Pentateuch traditionally attributed to Moses.
  • Joshua is occasionally seen writing in a book.
  • The prophets' words were preserved by their disciples. See Isa 8 and Jer 36. Just as the N.T. apostles used amanuenses, the O.T. prophets had scribes.
  • Many Psalms and Proverbs have authorial attribution.
  • God of course is both primary "author" and central character.

3. The O.T. came together gradually

  • As a whole:
    • Pentateuch contains a good deal of old material.
    • Writings of prophets appear 8th century - 5th century BC.
    • Oldest surviving MSS are in the Dead Sea Scrolls and in the Christian codexes of the 4th and 5th centuries AD. Other MSS: Aleppo Codex and Leningrad Codex (c.900 and 1000 AD).
    • Copies were made by hand (manuscripts), dictated to scribes.
    • The process took centuries.
  • Many sections of the O.T. grew. They were not always written at one time. Examples:
    • Proverbs -- multiple authors.
    • Genesis -- The primeval accounts rewritten from the Babylonians and Sumerians may go back to 1800 BC, but Gen 36:31 shows the final edition was written no earlier than the establishment of the monarchy (1050 BC).
    • Torah -- Exodus reflects wilderness wanderings; Deuteronomy, the changed situation.
    • Exodus -- see 17:14 and 24:7.
    • 2 Chronicles -- compare 5:9 with 36:19.
  • Testament & covenant
    • The "new covenant" of Jer 31:31-34 implies an old one.
    • Ambiguity: testament = covenant. Heb: berith; Grk: diathēkē.
    • "Old Testament" eventually used to refer to the book containing the documents of the Old Covenant.

4. Sections and order

  • Hebrew (Masoretic) three-part order
    • TaNaKh = Torah + Nevi’im + Khethuvim
      • Torah: 5 documents
      • Prophets: Joshua-Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, The Twelve (order of The Twelve somewhat fluid), 10 documents, 21 documents with Minor Prophets divided
      • Writings: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles, 11 documents (13 when Ezra-Neh and Chron divided)
    • Jesus refers to the tripartite division in Luke 24.
    • Ends with the invitation to make aliyah (to go up) to Jerusalem. Most Jews, however, remained in the Diaspora (Babylon, Syria, Anatolia, and many other countries -- especially Egypt).
  • Greek (LXX) four-part order
    • Pentateuch: Genesis; Exodus; Leviticus; Numbers; Deuteronomy
    • Histories: Joshua; Judges; Ruth; 1-4 Kingdoms; 1-2 Chronicles "things left over"; 1-2 Esdras; Esther (expanded); Judith; Tobit
    • Wisdom: Psalms (expanded); Proverbs; Ecclesiastes; Song of Songs; Job; Wisdom of Solomon; Sirach
    • Prophecy: The Twelve; Isaiah; Jeremiah; Baruch; Lamentations; Letter of Jeremiah; Ezekiel; Daniel (expanded); 1-2 Maccabees; 3 Maccabees (sometimes); 4 Maccabees (sometimes)
    • The LXX was translated by Jews in Alexandria in the 3rd C. BC, but eventually rejected by the Jews because of the strategic use made of it by the Christians in their evangelism.
      • Most Jews in Jesus' time spoke Greek not Hebrew
      • The LXX is in the same language as the N.T. -- Koinē Greek.
      • Note: of some 340 O.T. citations in the N.T., 307 are from the Greek LXX. The remainder are from the Hebrew MT (around 15) and other unknown Hebrew version(s).
    • Ends with a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah.
  • How many genuine books?
    • 49 documents in Orthodox canon compared to 46 in Roman and 39 in usual Protestant canon.
    • The Apocryphal books are extremely useful, for understanding the development of theology in the Greek, Hasmonean, and Roman periods; for filling in the hole in the history of God's people between about 400 and 7 BC; and for understanding certain quotations and allusions in the N.T.
    • Spurious documents written in the "Intertestamental Period" and even into the 1st C. AD.

5. A perspective on the Pentateuch (Donald Miller, 1978)

  • Genesis = Prenatal word of God. Everything is embryonic – outlines of creation and covenant…. Great energies are gathering, an enormous hope swelling in the womb of Genesis.
  • Exodus = Birth and infancy. Centuries-long pregnancy comes to term in the birth of the people of God. Painful and arduous travail in Egypt, breaking of Red Sea waters, then miraculous newborn on the far shore. Singing and dancing and praise result. The infant people take their first step and receive their first instruction at Sinai: “Don’t do this…”
  • Leviticus = Childhood. Learning their ABCs under the mercy and judgment of God. Audiovisual instruction > abstractions. Red heifer, scapegoat, fire, rituals...
  • Numbers = Adolescence. And rebellion. Awkwardness of wilderness years. Nostalgic for the secure and womblike existence they had in Egypt. Restless and impatient with Moses and the older generation.
  • Deuteronomy = Adulthood. Matured and ready to receive the promised land inheritance. Now educated, trained, tested… Moses presents them before God (and God presents them before Moses) and blesses them. Love is the operative word. Integrates all that develops in us from infancy through childhood and adolescence and enables us to have intimate and faithful personal relationships.

6. Concentric circles

  • Most holy: the Torah
  • Prophets: "Obey the Torah!"
  • Writings: Reflections on life in conformity (or not) with Torah
  • Many other works, as well.
    • Like any literate civilization, Judaism produced prodigious amounts of literature.
    • These works are not inspired.

7. A perspective on O.T. - N.T. parallels (Eugene Peterson, 1987)

  • O.T.
    • Torah – Basic story
    • Prophets (Josh-Mal) take this story, introduce it into new situations across the centuries, insisting on no mere recital of the past, but faith and obedience.
    • Writings – Reflective response, assimilating and then responding to it in wisdom and in worship (Prov; Job; Pss)
  • N.T.
    • Gospel as New Torah
    • Epistles – Story told through journeys and conflicts in multiple geographical settings (Mediterranean basin).
    • Acts plays a double-role – turning Gospels into a Pentateuch while also introducing the prophetic / apostolic lives of Peter and Paul.
    • James & Rev = Response of a people whose lives are shaped by the story that they have heard and told in faith. – Eugene Peterson 1987

8. Assorted facts

  • The long and the short of it
    • Longest book (chapters): Psalms
    • Longest chapter: Psalm 119
    • Shortest chapter: Psalm 117
    • Longest book (words): Jeremiah
  • The O.T. is written in two languages
    • Hebrew: 99%
    • Aramaic: 1%
  • The O.T. is 3/4 of the Christian Bible!
    • The O.T. was the Christian Bible until the N.T. came together in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
    • When the N.T. refers to scripture, it is virtually always referring to the books of the O.T.
    • Claiming to know the Bible well, with a substandard knowledge of O.T. history, geography, and theology, is careless -- if not dishonest.

9. Dating

  • Roughly chronological.
  • In the Prophets, a good deal of the material is arranged thematically.
  • Most scripture authored 1000-400 BC.

10. Further study and reading