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Bible Study: Old Testament

Number, Order, and Arrangement of the Old Testament Books

Differences between Hebrew and Catholic Scripture

In the Latin Vulgate Bible, and in the English versions, the Books of the Old Testament fall into the following groups:

from Genesis to Esther.

Job to Ecclesiasticus.

Isaiah to Malachi.

I-II Maccabees.

We may further break up these groups as follows:


(a). Genesis to Deuteronomy, i.e., the Pentateuch, or "five volumes." These treat of the foundations of the Theocracy or divine government of Israel without the intervention of a king who should stand between God and His people. These five Books cover the period from about 1490-1450 B.C.

(b). Joshua, Judges, and Ruth; or the Theocracy at work. This is the period "when there was no king in Israel," it lasted from about 1450-1100 B.C.
(c). I-IV. Kings and I-II Paralipomena; the Theocratic kingdom; i.e., from about 1100-562 B.C.
(d). Ezra and Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith and Esther, the period of the Exile and the Restoration, i.e., about 588-440 B.C.
(e). I-II Maccabees, the history of the Wars of Independence, about 166-130 B.C.


(a). The Poetical Books properly so-called, i.e., Job, Psalms, and Canticle of Canticles.
(b). The Didactic or teaching Books, i.e., Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus.


(a). The Major Prophets, i.e., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel; they are placed in their chronological order. Lamentations and Baruch follow Jeremias.
(b). The Minor Prophets, i.e., Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
The order in the principal Greek MSS. varies greatly, but it seems probable that the present order of the Latin Bibles is founded on an order preserved originally in the Greek Bibles.

In the Hebrew Bibles quite a different order is observed. The whole Bible is divided into three parts:

A. The LAW

Also referred to as the Torah, i.e., the Pentateuch.


(a). The Former Prophets, i.e., Joshua to Kings.
(b). The Later Prophets, i.e., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezechiel, and the twelve Minor Prophets.


These fall into four groups:
(a). The Poetic and Sapiential books, Psalms, Proverbs, Job.
(b). The five Megilloth or "rolls" as they were termed, i.e., Canticle of Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther.
(c). A Prophetical book, Daniel.
(d). The historical books, i.e., I-II Paralipomena and III Esdras.
The application of the term "Prophets" to the historical books is at first sight strange, but it shows real insight into the character of the Biblical writings; for histories as histories have no place in them, it is only as inspired histories, i.e., as histories set forth for the sake of the revelation of God's dealings with men which they contain, that they find a place in the Bible. And it is in this sense that the Hebrews classed these writings among "the Prophets."

In the Greek and Latin Bibles, and in all Catholic versions of them, we find certain Books which do not appear in the Hebrew Bible nor in those versions which regard this latter as the sole source of inspired Scripture; these Books are Tobias, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, and I-II. Maccabees; they are termed Deuterocanonical, as being derived from the second, Greek deuteros, canon, i.e., that of the Alexandrian, as opposed to the Palestinian Jews. Certain portions of Esther and Daniel are also found only in the Greek text as opposed to the Hebrew.

Counting all the Books separately, we have in the Latin and Greek Bibles, and in those versions derived from them, 46 Books in the Old Testament. In the Hebrew Bible we have 39 if we count each one separately; but the Jews themselves count them as 22 or sometimes 24. These numbers are arrived at by counting the "Law" as one Book, the "Prophets" as ten Books, the "Writings" as eleven Books, i.e., 22 in all. To obtain this number, however, Ruth was counted as one Book with Judges, and Lamentations as one with Jeremiah. If these two were enumerated separately, the resulting number was 24.

Very Rev. Hugh Pope, O.P., S.T.M.
Doctor in Sacred Scripture,
Member of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, and
late Professor of New Testament Exegesis at the Collegio Angelico, Rome.

Fr. R. L. Jansen, O.P.,
S. Theol. Lect.; Script. S. Licent. et Prof.

Fr. V. Rowan,
S. Theol. Lect.; Script. S. Licent. et Vet. Test. Prof.
Aggreg. in Univ. Friburgensi (Helvet).

Franciscus Cardinalis Bourne,
Archiepiscopus Westmonast.