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This is the traditional Hebrew term for the Old Testament. It is also the name of the newest and most refreshing translation of the Bible from the original Masoretic in years. The only other time that so many Rabbis from so many different sects and tribes came together for such a project was the translation of the Septuagint in Greek in 300 BC. I highly recommend this translation to anyone (the Bible scholar or newbie). It presents one with a new way to read the scriptures.

Tanakh is a 3-letter hebrew acronym. An approximate English spelling would be "TNK".

TNK stands for Torah, N'viim, and K'tuvim. Torah means the five books of Moses, N'viim means the Prophets, and K'tuvim means "Writings" (includes Psalms, Proverbs, the book of Job, the book of Ruth, the book of Esther, etc).

The books of the Tanakh are at the core of religious Jewish belief. Other Jewish writings, such as the Mishnah and Talmud build and quote from the lessons and stories found in the Tanakh.
The Tanakh, in hebrew תנך (read right to left,) is the Hebrew Acronym for what Christians refer to as the Old Testament. The acronym comes from a combination of the three words תורה, Torah (Bible), נבאיים, Neveim (Prophets), and כתובים, Ketuvim (Writings). The reason that the word is not pronounced ToNeK, as the English spellings would suggest, is that Hebrew is normally written without vowels, which would go under the words; Instead of תׄנִך, it is written תָנַך.

The three sections of the Tanakh have always been related to very differently:

The Torah, תורה, was written by God and given to the Jews at Mount Sinai, according to the Jewish, and then later Christian and Muslim religions. Jews believe that since it was written by God, every word, and even every letter, contains meaning, especially concerning legal issues (see the Talmud.)

The Neveim, נבאיים, as well as the Ketuvim were divinely inspired. The difference between the two is much less blatant. It is mainly a product of two things: the historical period, and the intention and meaning. The books of Neveim are normally divided, by Jewish writers, into two sets, Neveim Rishonim, (First Neveim), and Neveim Acharonim, (Later Neveim). The Neveim Rishonim are:

  • Joshua - In which the Jews enter the land of Israel, and wage war against the natives to (incompletely) conquer it
  • Judges - The Jews, during centuries of lawlessness, have several prominent leaders, local or national, who do the will of God and save the people
  • Samuel - The Jews petition for a king, receive Saul, who was "small in his own eyes," and whose insecurities lead to the throning of David
  • Kings - A chronicle of the Reigns of David and later Solomon. Rather bloody, with frequent revolts

None of these are divided, as opposed to the Christian system of calling both Samuel and Kings two books each.

Neveim Acharonim deal mostly with the same time period (slightly later) and have the same level of importance as the first ones. They are significantly more cryptic and were written in later, more Aramaicized Hebrew. Almost all are in large part prophetic visions of the end of the world and the coming of the Messiah, along with exhortations to repent before that time. They are:

  • Yeshaya (Isiah) - History and visions
  • Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) - God will judge the people
  • Yechezkel (Ezekiel) - Visions and hope for the future
  • The Trei Asar (Twelve Minor Prophets)
    1. Hosea - The symbolic abandonment of Hosea's wife as a simile for the Jews' abandonment of God
    2. Joel - Repentance is still a really good thing
    3. Amos - God's anger against his enemies, and the enemies of the Jews
    4. Obadiah - Shortest book, about the destruction of the Jews' enemies
    5. Jonah - An exception, in which a fish swallows Jonah, whilst he refuses to go to Nineveh to ask them to repent, preferring to convince the Jews first. The theme is of repentance, not fish
    6. Micah - The evil of the nation and especially the leaders
    7. Nahum - Nineveh will be destroyed, again (See Bereshis)
    8. Habakkuk - Dialectic on trust in God
    9. Zephaniah - God's justice, and the hope of return to Jerusalem
    10. Haggai - Encouraging the Jews to return to Israel
    11. Zechariah - Exhortations to rebuild the Holy Temple, in the form of visions
    12. Malachi - Jews do not follow the will of God, and Malachi looks forward to the future when they will
*Pronunciations are basically ok; any lone c or h, or ch, not at the end of a name are kh noises, except Hosea, which is actually an h (consistency? what?).

Ketuvim, כתובים, were written over a longer span than Neveim, and were either written later, or were less literally true than Neveim Rishonim. The books are:

  • Tehillim, (Psalms) - Composed by King David, these are an expression of all human emotion as relates to God
  • Mishle (Proverbs) - A collection of the wisdom of Solomon
  • Eyov (Job) - A possibly metaphorical story about a man who God chooses to test by taking everything away from him. Jewish sages do not agree on nearly everything concerning this book; whether it is literally true, whether the protagonist is Jewish, and when it occurred (sometime between Exodus and the end of the Second Temple, though many Misdrashim say he was an advisor to the pharaoh)
  • Daniel - Dream interpretation and visions
  • Ezra-Nehemiah - Rebuilding of the Temple
  • Divrei HaYamim (Chronicles, literally The Words of Days) - A recount of the history in the Pentateuch and Neveim Rishonim, Early Prophets, from a historical viewpoint. Huge numbers of "begats"
  • And the Five Megillot, which are probably the most varied books of the Tanakh:
    1. Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs) - A love song, between the Jewish nation and God, which allegorically describe their relationship, the Jews' unfaithfulness, and God's willingness to re-accept them
    2. Ruth - A story of a descendant of Lot, of Genesis fame, named Ruth
    3. Eichah (Lamentations) - A mostly alphabetically organized set of poems on the destruction of Jerusalem, and the Temple
    4. Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) - Musings on the meaning of life, interspersed with various themes, memorably that life is "vanity of vanities" without belief in God
    5. Esther - A story of a Jewish princess who marries the insane king of Persia, thereby foiling the plan of Haman to kill the Jews. It shows the place of God in a world "run" by people, and its theme is summarized by the quote to Esther, "If you do nothing, profit and salvation will come for the Jews from another place, and you and the house of your father will be lost." (Chapter 4)

I felt the need to correct certain gross mispronunciations (of Hebrew books), and insert Hebrew names (for semi-translated, semi-transliterated names).

The JPS published a translation of the Tanakh, with this name, that is supposed to be "considered by both Jewish and Christian scholars to be the most authoritative translation of Hebrew scripture."

This translation, which is mostly literally accurate (and when not, sometimes footnotes the liberties taken) and does not attempt a word-for-word translation, is nice, if somewhat unhelpful, containing no classical Bible commentary. The translation is the work of several biblical scholars, and is not quite accurate according to (or interested in) the traditional Jewish understanding, favoring translations according to recent biblical linguistic scholarship rather than similarly literal understandings according to Jewish sources (which predate the Conservative movement). Some also point out that the language used is not exactly modern in some instances, though it certainly beats almost any other translation currently available for laypersons.

Sources: Hebrew-English Tanakh, Amazon.com on same

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