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Structure of the Hebrew Scriptures
(Old Testament) and Apocrypha

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The Biblical Canon

The English words "Bible" and "bibliography" come from the Greek word "biblion" which means book or scroll. One source indicates that the root origin of the word is found in the name of an ancient city Byblos. That was the site of a famous temple to the Goddess Astarte and the location of a large library of papyrus scrolls.

The Christian Holy Bible (sometimes called the Scriptures, Holy Scriptures or Word of God) is composed of 66 or more books, grouped into two or three sections. These sections are:

  1. The Hebrew Scriptures (sometimes referred to as the Old Testament): In the Christian canon, the 39 books are divided into 5 groupings:
    bullet The Law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
    bullet History: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther
    bullet Stories, Poetry and Wisdom: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon
    bullet Major Prophets: Isiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel
    bullet Minor Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Michah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
  2. The Apocrypha: The word "Apocrypha" means "hidden". Its books are often referred to as intertestamental writings. One source [1] lists 7 books in the Apocrypha: Tobit, Judith, 1 & 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch. Another source [2] lists 14 books or parts of books: 1 & 2 Esdras; Tobit; Judith; the rest of the chapters of the Book of Esther; The Wisdom of Solomon; Ecclesiasticus; Baruch; A Letter of Jeremiah; The Prayer of Azariah & the Song of the Tree; Daniel & Susanna; Daniel, Bel & the Snake; Prayer of Manasseh, 1 & 2 Maccabees. Not all religious traditions accept the Apocrypha as a valid part of Scripture.
  3. The Christian Scriptures, aka the New Testament. This is a series of 27 gospels, epistles (letters), and other books written by members of the early Christian movement.

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How Were the Books Chosen?

bullet The Hebrew Scriptures: Following the Roman-Jewish war circa 65 CE, Jews were expelled from Palestine and were scattered throughout the Roman Empire. The focal point of their religion, the temple at Jerusalem, was destroyed. Their religious leaders felt a need to precisely define the Hebrew Scriptures so that they would form a new "anchor" for Judaism. About 20 years after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, Jewish scholars assembled in Jamnia, a Judean town west of Jerusalem. Their task was to decide which books should form part of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Pentateuch, the first 5 books, formed the core. To this, they added 34 other books. However, they rejected most of the commonly used religious texts which had been written after about 150 BCE. Later, the mainline Christian church made the Jewish Bible part of their own sacred texts. They rearranged the order of the books slightly.
bullet The Apocrypha: This consist of many books that were used for spiritual guidance by the Jews. The collection was included in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that was in general use during Jesus' lifetime. But some 60 years after Christ's death, they were rejected by Jewish scholars as scripture. The books of the Apocrypha were incorporated into the Roman Catholic Latin Vulgate translation, but were later rejected or demoted to the status of an appendix in most Protestant translations.

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Original Languages of the Hebrew Scriptures and Apocrypha

bullet Hebrew Scriptures: The text was originally written in Hebrew, except for a few verses which were composed in Aramaic (Ezra 4:8 to 6:18; Ezra 7:12-26; Jeremiah 10:11; Daniel 2:4b to 7:28). While exiled in Babylon, the people of Israel learned to speak Aramaic, a language related to Hebrew. They eventually adopted it as their native tongue. By the time of the birth of Jesus, Hebrew had been abandoned by the Jews except for use in religious services, and in literary and scholarly usage. Many people also spoke Greek.
bullet The books of the Apocrypha appear to have been originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic. However, the original texts have not survived. Today, we only have translations in Greek and a few other languages, including Latin.

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Translations of the Hebrew Scriptures and Apocrypha

Relatively few Christians have actually read the Bible in its original form. Essentially all base their Biblical knowledge upon one or more translations of the Bible. There have been dozens of such translations, of varying degree of accuracy:

The traditional belief is that during the 3rd century BCE, 72 translators were locked up in separate rooms on the island of Pharos. Each spent precisely 72 days to translate the Hebrew text into "koine dialektos" a popular version of Greek. When the translations were compared, they were found to be identical. Few people believe this story today. Most theologians believe that the translation was completed in many stages between the 3rd century BCE and 1st century CE. By this time, few Jews were able to read Hebrew. There was concern that they would stray from the faith because they could no longer read the Torah.

The number 72 was rounded off to 70, which in Latin is Septuagint, and in Roman numerals is LXX. This translation has since been referred to both as the Septuagint and as LXX. It was the most commonly used translation among Jews at the time of Christ, and generally used by the writers of the New Testament. LXX contained many translation errors. Because of this, although Jerome (342-420 CE) and two women assistants started to use the Septuagint as a source for the Latin Vulgate, they quickly changed to the Hebrew texts. The Vulgate was used for many centuries by the Roman Catholic Church. (Later writers substituted the phrase "venerable brothers" for his helpers' names in order to suppress the knowledge that Jerome was aided by women.) 3

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  1. G.SA. Mather & L.A. Nichols, Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, (1993), P. 38
  2. The Revised English Bible, with the Apocrypha, Oxford University Press (1989), P. iii
  3. E. Boulding, "The Underside of History", Westview Press, Boulder CO, (1976), P. 356 & 372

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Copyright 1996 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-MAY-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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