The Tanakh (also spelt Tanach) is the Hebrew acronym for the Jewish Bible, based upon the initial letters of its three parts:

Because the books included in Tanakh were mainly written in Hebrew it may also be called the Hebrew Bible. (Parts of Daniel and Ezra are in Aramaic, but even these are written in the same Hebrew script.)

The Tanakh consists of the same books as the Protestant Old Testament, but the order of the books is different. The Catholic and Orthodox Old Testaments contain six books not included in the Tanakh; see apocrypha and deuterocanonical books.

According to the Jewish tradition, Tanakh consists of no more than twenty-four books. The Christian Old Testament (excluding the deuterocanonical books/apocrypha) counts them as thirty-nine books. This is because Jews often count as a single book what Christians count as several.

As such, one may draw a technical distinction between the text used within Judaism, the Tanakh, and the similar, but non-identical, text used within Christianity, the Old Testament. Thus, some scholars prefer Hebrew Bible as a term that covers the commonality of the Tanakh and the Old Testament while avoiding sectarian bias.

Sections of the Tanakh

The Tanakh is divided into three sections: The Torah (Hebrew for "Teaching"), Neviim (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings, also hagiographa).

The Hebrew text originally consisted only of consonants, together with some inconsistently applied letters used as vowels (matres lectionis). Around the Sixth Century A.D, the Masoretes added vowel points to the text to indicate the pronunciation. Until then the pronunciation could only be learnt from a teacher.

The books of the Torah have generally-used names which are based on the first prominent word in each book. The English names are not translations of the Hebrew; they are based on the Greek names created for the Septuagint which in turn were based on Rabbinic names describing the thematic content of each of the Books.

(It should be noted that the terms Torah, Chumash, Pentateuch and "five books of Moses" refer to the same works.)

The Torah consists of:

1. Genesis (בראשית)
2. Exodus (שמות)
3. Leviticus (ויקרא)
4. Numbers(במדבר)
5. Deuteronomy (דברים)

The books of Neviim (The Prophets) are:
6. Joshua(יהושע)
7. Judges(שופטים)
8. Books of Samuel
I Samuel I
II Samuel II
9. Books of Kings
I Kings
II Kings
10. Isaiah
11. Jeremiah
12. Ezekiel
13. The Minor Prophets
Book of Hosea (הושע)
Book of Joel
Book of Amos
Book of Obadiah
Book of Jonah
Book of Micah
Book of Nahum
Book of Habakkuk
Book of Zephaniah
Book of Haggai
Book of Zechariah
Book of Malachi

The Ketuvim (The Writings) are:
14. Psalms
15. Proverbs
16. Book of Job
17. Song of Songs
18. Ruth
19. Lamentations
20. Ecclesiastes
21. Book of Esther
22. Daniel
23. Ezra-Nehemiah
24. Books of Chronicles
1 Chronicles
2 Chronicles

  • In Christian Bibles, Daniel sometimes includes extra material that is not accepted as canonical by Judaism (the material is part of the Apocrypha, so also not accepted by most Protestants).
  • The breaking of Samuel (Shmuel), Kings (Melachim), and Chronicles (Divrei hayamim) into two parts is strictly an artifact of the printers who first issued the books. They were simply too big to be issued as single volumes.

It is clear that the Torah was transmitted side by side with some sort of oral tradition. Many terms and definitions used in the written law are totally undefined within the Torah itself; the reader is assumed to be familiar with the context and details. Many fundamental concepts such as shekhita (slaughtering of animals in a kosher fashion), divorce and the rights of the firstborn are all assumed as common knowledge by text, and are not elaborated on. There are a multitude of similar cases throughout the Torah where it is assumed that the reader is familiar with the details - from an unwritten (oral) tradition. According to classical Judaism, many of the details of this oral tradition were accurately transmitted, and eventually recorded in a collection of rabbinic works collectively known as "the oral law". These works include the Mishnah, the Tosefta, the two Talmuds (Babylonian and Jerusalem), and the early Midrash compilations.