The Christian name for the Jewish Tanach, which was adapted as the first part of the Christian Bible. The 39 books of the Old Testament are split into three distinct groups: The Torah, also known as the Pentateuch, which details the Creation, foundation of the tribe of Israel, and the Law; the Prophets, or Navim in Hebrew, and the Writings, called the Katuvim in Hebrew, which include the history books and the Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes (not to be confused with Ecclesiasticus, a book of the Apocrypha). Interesting tidbit: The Hebrew name, Tanach comes from the initials of each section: T for Torah, N for Navim and K for Katuvim. This is because Hebrew as a language has no specific vowels (so they are added in), and K is often changed to CH in transliteration.
The testament takes its name from the word for 'agreement,' and thus the Old Testament focusses on God's first1 agreement with mankind (the Law), whereas the New Testament focusses on the second - the Crucifixion. The entire Old Testament is written in Hebrew, and covers the period from the Creation (whatever date you set on that) to roughly 420 BC (around the time Malachi was doing the rounds.)
List of books with short summaries
- Genesis - in which God creates everything, Adam and Eve are naughty and get separated from God; Cain kills Abel; Noah goes sailing; some people build a tower and cause languages to come about; Abraham becomes the root of everyone's family tree; Sodom and Gomorrah get into a pickle; Abraham's grandson Jacob becomes father of the tribe of Israel and Joseph gets a coat and has an adventure, in the process causing the creation of the first ghetto.
- Exodus - in which the Egyptians oppress the Israelites, Moses is born, runs away to Midian (sensible chap), sees a burning bush and returns. Pharoah doesn't listen to his request to let the Israelites free, and so brings plagues of blood, frogs, gnats, flies, boils, hail, locusts and darkness, not to mention a plague on livestock and the killing of all the Egyptian firstborn. The Israelites are finally freed, but are chased by the back-stabbing Egyptians to the Red Sea, which is parted, killing all the soldiers in pursuit. The Israelites are told of a Promised Land and given the Law, but craft a golden bull and are promised a good hiding. Also in this book is much of the Law concerning the tabernacle and priests.
- Leviticus - in which are contained many laws on offerings and the concept of cleanliness.
- Numbers - containing long lists of members of tribes and their offerings. In this book, the narrative begins again, as men are sent to explore Canaan, the Promised Land. The people rebel while they are away, however, and many offerings are made, followed by many battles with neighbouring tribes.
- Deuteronomy - which begins with the Israelites about to take their land, before they rebel yet again, and are made to wander in the desert for 40 years. This book contains most of the Law, including a reiteration of the Ten Commandments. At the end, Moses dies, having never entered the Promised Land.
- Joshua - in which our eponymous hero takes over Moses' role and leads the Israelites over the Jordan (following a repeat in miniature of the Red Sea incident) to kick ass and chew bubblegum. Jericho is destroyed with the help of a prostitute named Rahab, the Amorites get kicked, followed by most of the North and South. The land gets divided up amongst Israel's 12 tribes, and then Joshua dies.
- Judges - in which the Israelites have many enemies and are protected only by divine providence. The trouble is, they keep rebelling and worshipping their enemies' gods. God sends various judges to sort things out (and inevitably kick the butts of all those trespassing). The most famous of these are Gideon, who took an entire Midianite camp with 300 men, and Samson, who had a bad hair day and tore an entire temple down.
- 1 Samuel - in which Samuel becomes the leading prophet type-person in Israel and inaugurates the first king, Saul, who leads a good life before going astray and being rejected by God. Samuel anoints David, a shepherd-boy, who kills a 9-foot giant, gets chased around by Saul, who eventually takes his own life to avoid being killed in battle by the Philistines.
- 2 Samuel - in which David becomes king over Judah and Israel, kills off the husband of a beautiful woman named Bathsheba so that he can marry her, gets rebuked by the prophet Nathan, repents, deals with his rebellious son Absalom, and then becomes the greatest king ever.
- 1 Kings - in which Solomon becomes king, builds the Temple and puts the Ark of the Covenant there. There follow various kings, some good, some bad, until Ahab comes along, and has dealings with Elijah, who has a showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, where God incinerates a calf thrice soaked in water with fire from heaven, and great bloodshed follows for the priests of Baal. He calls Elisha to be his companion, and together they bring about the downfall of Ahab, who was, all in all, a nasty piece of work.
- 2 Kings - in which Elijah is taken up to heaven, and Elisha becomes head-honcho prophet, making sure widows have enough oil, and curing lepers. He then fades into the background as a chronicle of kings is given, who are - you guessed it - some good, some bad.
- Isaiah - in which the eponymous prophet fortells the deliverance of Israel from Babylon, and their greater deliverance - the Messiah, or Chosen One.
- Jeremiah - in which he fortells the exile of Israel of Israel because they forsook God, and also looks forward to the coming of the Messiah.
- Ezekiel - one of the most notorious books of the Bible, this details the whacked-out visions and actions of the prophet. Wonders to be found herein include a burning wheel descending from heaven (Roswell?), a pile of bones becoming an army, and a man lying on one side for years.
- Hosea - in which a prophet marries a prostitute to symbolize God's relationship with Israel.
- Joel - in which the prophet tells the people of Judah to repent because of the plagues coming upon them, and looks forward to the coming Messiah.
- Amos - in which Amos, a herdsman, prophecies judgement on the neighbours of the twelve tribes, but also calls the tribes to repentance for their involvement in idolatry and witchcraft. He, too, looks to the Messiah.
- Obadiah - in which Edom's destruction is foretold because of their treatment of the Jews, and once again the Messiah is prophesied.
- Jonah - in which a prophet is sent to Nineveh to call them to repentance, runs away in the other direction, is swallowed by a big fish, and ends up at Nineveh anyway. He calls them to repentance, they obey, and God is merciful.
- Micah - in which the prophet supports Isaiah and calls the people to repentance, along with giving a summary of prophecies concerning the Messiah.
- Nahum - in which the prophet fortells judgement on Nineveh because of the city's wicked ways.
- Habakkuk - in which the destruction of Jerusalem and Judea is foretold.
- Zephaniah - in which the prophet calls the people to repentance by promising the destruction of the enemies of the Jews, and tells of the future glory of the Church.
- Haggai - in which the prophet encourages the people to build the Second Temple, and promises it will be glorious, for the Messiah will set foot in it.
- Zechariah - in which the prophet calls the people to repentance with threatened judgements, and encourages the faithful with prophecies about - yes, well done, you guessed it again - the Messiah.
- Malachi - in which the prophet reproves priests and people for their evil practices, and calls them to remember the Law in preparation for the coming Messiah.
- Psalms - songs and poems of David and others, dealing with just about every human emotion.
- Proverbs - some of Solomon's wise sayings, which are always fun. 'A nagging wife is like a dripping tap' is a particular favourite of mine.
- Job - in which a successful man of God is tested, and loses everything. He has a chat with his friends Elihu, Bildad, Eliphaz and Zophar, and with God, and is about to turn from God when he sees the folly of his ways and repents. Everything is restored to him even more than before.
- Song of Solomon - in which Solomon writes of the relationship between two lovers, including some bizarre comparisons ('Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Mt. Gilead'). Christians today often read it as an allegory of the relationship between Christ and the Church.
- Ruth - in which a loyal young woman follows her mother-in-law to a strange land and finds love. Kind of romantic, with a nice string of begats at the end.
- Lamentations - also attributed to Jeremiah, this was written after the fall of Jerusalem, hence the name and the subject matter.
- Ecclesiastes - more of Solomon's wisdom, as he ponders the meaning of life. Some parts are very tongue-in-cheek, but the whole leads to the conclusion that only God can give meaning.
- Esther - in which the name of God is not mentioned once. Esther, a Jewish woman, becomes queen, and influences the king to protect the Jews.
- Daniel - which is a book in two halves. In the first half, the story of Daniel is told. He was educated in the palace and rose to high office, before the king's advisors advise him to make a law that no one should worship anything but him, and Daniel is caught praying to God. He is thrown into the lions' den, but saved by a miracle, and everyone is happy. Except the advisors... The second half details his visions, which look forward to the Messiah and to the end of the world.
- Ezra - in which the fulfilment of Jeremiah's prophecy about the return of the Jews from Babylon is detailed. Long lists and a little narrative.
- Nehemiah - in which Nehemiah, cup-bearer to the king, returns to Jerusalem with some likely chaps and rebuilds the walls.
- 1 & 2 Chronicles - in which the events of 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings are given more briefly, and from a different perspective, interspersed with long strings of begats. At the end of the book, Jerusalem falls, resulting in the exile of Judah to Persia, which is the subject of the first few prophets.
The order of books in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible is: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habukkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
1 - Yes, I suppose he had an agreement with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. It depends whether you count two people as mankind.
Thanks to Footprints for additions and suggestions and to GangstaFeelsGood for rephrasing suggestions and to arieh for telling me I got it wrong.
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