Old Testament - Why are the books in the order we find them?


Researching for an OT class. Why are the OT books in the order we find them?


I just ran across the answer to this question, but I don’t remember where, to ensure the accuracy of my response.

The writer said that Judaism puts 2 Chron last, because that way their “Bible” points them back to the Torah and the Temple, whereas the Christian Bible ends with books that point towards the future with the Messiah.

Otherwise, in the Christian NT, the books follow a soft rule of the longer books first then the shorter ones – a soft rule, not a hard rule.


The longest to shortest rule is in play in the OT also. The “Major” prophets are actually just the ones that are longer. The Minor prophets are shorter, of course. (In the NT The epustles are arranged longest to shortest.) :slight_smile:


You may also want to note that some bibles have a different order, such as with the New American Bible.

What did professor say in lectures? Here’s a reference link anyway.


I’ll just point out that there are really different ways to order the biblical books: Jews order the OT differently than Christians do, and the Hebrew, Greek (Septuagint), and the Latin (Vulgate) ordering all differ from each other.

The one consistent thing is that the Torah (the Law) - being the most important - comes first. Jews group the OT under three broad categories: the Law (Torah), the Prophets (Nevi’im), and the Writings (Ketuvim) - hence the reason why Jews would often call the OT the Tanakh (an acronym formed from the first letters of Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim: TaNaK).

Simply speaking, the Torah and the Prophets section were fixed pretty early. The Torah became the foundation of Jewish law and way of life during and after the Babylonian Exile (some would even put the ‘canonization’ of the Torah much earlier, perhaps around the religious reforms of King Josiah in the late 7th century BC); the ‘Prophets’ (really consisting of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings - the so-called “Former Prophets” - plus the actual prophets - the “Latter Prophets”) was fixed some time later - maybe somewhere during the period of Persian rule over Judah after the Exile, immediately before the Macedonian conquest (late 4th century BC) or even afterwards, around the 2nd century BC. As chefmomster2 said, the Latter Prophets section is actually organized in order of length: first comes the longer works (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) followed by the shorter ones - which are counted as one book or scroll.

The ‘Writings’ was the last section to be canonized (well into the 1st-2nd century AD) and is pretty much the ‘miscellanea’ section. Some scholars even believe that some of the books in the Ketuvim section were among the latest protocanonical books to be written, which to them explains why they are grouped in this section (Daniel, for example, which a number of scholars would date to the 2nd century BC - making it the last OT book to be written!) Unlike in the other two categories, the order of books in the Ketuvim section was never really fixed: different sources and manuscripts had different ways to order the books.


Genesis (Bereshit “In the Beginning”) - Exodus (Shemot “Names”) - Leviticus (Vayiqra “And He Called”) - Numbers (Bemidbar “In the Desert of…”) - Deuteronomy (Devarim “Words”)


(Former Prophets) Joshua - Judges (Shofetim) - Samuel (counted as one book) - Kings (Melakhim, counted as one book)

(Latter Prophets) Isaiah - Jeremiah - Ezekiel - Minor Prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi - counted as one book)


(Poetic) Psalms (Tehillim “Praises”) - Proverbs (Mishlei) - Job

(The Five Scrolls) Song of Songs (Shir ha-Shirim) - Ruth - Lamentations (Eikhah, “How”) - Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth “[The] Teacher”) - Esther

(Other books) Daniel - Ezra-Nehemiah (counted as one book) - Chronicles (Divrei ha-Yamim “The Matters of the Days,” counted as one book)

All in all, Jews reckon twenty-four books grouped in three sections: five in the Torah, eight in the Prophets, and eleven in the Writings. The canonical order also reflects the status the relevant books have in Judaism: the Law of Moses is on top, followed in descending order by the Prophets and the Writings.



The Greek arrangement of books differ from the Hebrew in that it tends to neatly group the books by their contents and/or subject matter and/or (supposed) authorship, and in the case of the historical books, by chronological order. There are four categories: the Law, History, Poetry, and Prophecy. (I’m using the Greek names for many of the books below.)

Laws (Pentateuch)
Genesis (“Beginning”) - Exodos (“Going Out”) - Leuitikon (“Pertaining to the Levites”) - Numbers (Arithmoi) - Deuteronomion (“Second Law”)
Iesous Naue (“Joshua [son of] Nun”) - Judges - Routh - 1 Reigns (= 1 Samuel) - 2 Reigns (= 2 Samuel) - 3 Reigns (= 1 Kings) - 4 Reigns (= 2 Kings) - 1 Paralipomenon (= 1 Chronicles) - 2 Paralipomenon (= 2 Chronicles) - 1 Esdras (= combination of material from Ezra, Nehemiah, and 2 Chronicles) - 2 Esdras (= Hebrew Ezra-Nehemiah) - Esther - Ioudith - Tobit - 1 Makkabees - 2 Makkabees - 3 Makkabees - 4 Makkabees

Poetic Books (Wisdom Books)
Psalms (+ Psalm 151, Prayer of Manasses) - Proverbs - Ecclesiastes - Song of Songs - Iob - Wisdom of Solomon - Sirach


Minor Prophets (Hosee, Amos, Michaias, Ioel, Abdias, Ionas, Naoum, Habbakoum, Sophonias, Haggaios, Zacharias, Malachias - counted as one book)

(Major Prophets) Esaias - Jeremias - Baruch - Lamentations - Letter of Jeremias - Iezekiel - Daniel (+ Prayer of Azariah, Susanna and Bel and the Dragon)

Note that this order is based on the one found in the 4th-century Codex Vaticanus. Other manuscripts order the sections and individual books differently. For example, the Prophets appear after the historical books and before the poetical books in Codex Sinaiticus (4th century) and Codex Alexandrinus (5th century). Some manuscripts might also include some other works like the Book of Odes (really a collection of different songs from the OT, NT, and Christian tradition), the Prayer of Manasseh or Psalms of Solomon.

Since most early Christians used the Septuagint, they adopted the fourfold category of Law, History, Poetry, and Prophecy. Now depending on the specific Church, a particular canon might have more or less books than others (the full Ethiopian canon - the largest of any denomination - is a famous example), but they all consistently include the books into one of the four sections.

Now the order of books we find in English Bibles is based on that of the Latin Vulgate, which in turn was based on the Septuagint’s order. As with the other traditions, early manuscripts also disagreed with each other in the order of the categories and individual books. In the Latin order:

(1) 1 and 2 Esdras in the Vulgate refer to Ezra and Nehemiah respectively, rather than a Ezra-Nehemiah-2 Chronicles pastiche and a more straightforward translation of Ezra-Nehemiah as it is in the Greek version. The Latin version of Greek 1 Esdras (included in some manuscripts) is called 3 Esdras.

(2) Samuel and Kings are referred to as such (as in Hebrew), but are still divided into two books each, reflecting the Greek division of the two works into 1-2 Reigns (Samuel) and 3-4 Reigns (Kings).

(3) 1 and 2 Maccabees are often placed last, after Malachi. (In modern Catholic Bibles, 1-2 Maccabees are often grouped with the other historical books.)

Finally, the Protestant canon is based on the Latin/Catholic order, with the ‘apocryphal’ books either placed in the Apocrypha section or omitted entirely.


I wonder if this will be altered at all by the more recent view of Daniel as a late-date apocalyptic work (165-164 BC), rather than as exilic prophecy?


As I noted, I’ve already seen some people who see the fact that Daniel is to be found among the ‘Writings’ category to be supportive of a late date for the work, given the gradual nature of the canonization process of the OT (the Ketuvim section being fixed last, after the Torah and the Prophets). I doubt it will have any effect in the Christian ordering of the canon though.

The idea of Daniel as a prophet/the book of Daniel as prophecy is an old one though. The Greek ordering reflects this idea, and, we have both Jesus and Josephus in the 1st century referring to Daniel as a prophet (Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14; Antiquities 10).


Pardon me for missing that. :o

Whether or early or late date, the prophetic aspect of Daniel is also supported by Matthew 11:13 in which Jesus said "the Law and the Prophets prophesied up to John (Baptist). From an apologetics aspect (de-constructing the fabricated “intertestamental period”), the meaning of “up to John” can be argued ad nauseam, but it should be clear that there was indeed revelation in the centuries immediately preceding the Incarnation. Per Jerome’s rendering, “resurrection” as both a concept and a term are in both Daniel and 2 Maccabees. Thus, to me an early date Daniel is more curious as none of the intervening prophets seem to broach the subject. A late date Daniel (165 BC) is conceptually consistent with the resurrection written of in 2 Maccabees.

Interestingly, in his book Inside the Bible, Jesuit Fr. Kenneth Baker places the Book of Wisdom as late as 50 BC (some as late as 29-26 BC), which I find interesting, if only for its thinly veiled prophecy of Christ in chapter 2:12-21. Does any of this musing have to do with the order of books? Potentially. :rolleyes:


Some have even seen Joshua ben-Sira’s (aka Jesus son of Sirach’s) silence about Daniel to be proof of its late date. In Sirach 44-50 ben-Sira praises various figures of Israelite/biblical history; in chapters 48-49 he describes prophets like Isaiah (48:20-25), Jeremiah (49:4-7), Ezekiel (49:8-9), and the twelve minor prophets (49:10) and makes allusions to the books bearing their names (note the Isaiah-Jeremiah-Ezekiel-Minor Prophets order, which corresponds to the order the books appear in the ‘Prophets’ section of the Jewish ordering; the author’s grandson, writing at ca. 130 BC, already knows the OT as “the Law, the Prophets and the other ancestral books”). He then also describes post-exilic people like Zerubbabel, Joshua, and Nehemiah (49:11-13), and Simon the high priest (50:1-21, ca. 280-260 BC). But strangely enough, he does not mention Daniel, nor makes any allusion to the book. Now ben-Sira wrote at around the early 2nd century BC (ca. 180-175 BC), so those who favor a late date for the book would usually put it somewhere after the writing of Sirach.

But then again, some have argued that the presence of eight manuscripts of Daniel among the Dead Sea Scrolls (the earliest of which dates from ca. 125 BC) would necessitate a reevaluation of this ‘late date’ idea. Even the apocalyptic ideas of Daniel are not necessarily indicative of a late date (Joel, Zechariah, and Isaiah 24-27 exhibit apocalyptic motifs, but these works are exilic or even earlier), nor does the inclusion of Daniel in the Ketuvim (Lamentations, many of the Psalms, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles are all written in the 6th-3rd century BC range, during the Exile and shortly afterwards - some of the Psalms could indeed date from before the Exile; not to mention that Daniel was considered in early Jewish tradition to be not so much a ‘prophet’ but a statesman who also had prophetic gifts).

Interestingly, in his book Inside the Bible, Jesuit Fr. Kenneth Baker places the Book of Wisdom as late as 50 BC (some as late as 29-26 BC), which I find interesting, if only for its thinly veiled prophecy of Christ in chapter 2:12-21. Does any of this musing have to do with the order of books? Potentially. :rolleyes:

BTW, the Wisdom of Solomon and 2 Maccabees are AFAIK really the only OT books (at least, what we Catholics would accept as OT) which are originally written in Greek. Greek Esther and Greek Daniel are more like Greek versions of Hebrew/Aramaic works. (A theory explaining the existence of a longer and a shorter version goes like this: the original versions of Esther and Daniel would have probably been the shorter Hebrew/Aramaic versions found today in Jewish and Protestant Bibles; longer versions of these books in Greek, containing additional material, were later composed and circulated. These expanded versions might have even been intended to supplant the earlier, shorter versions of these books, but in any case, while they were adopted by Greek-speaking Diaspora Jews - hence their inclusion in the Septuagint - they failed to catch on among Palestinian and Babylonian Jews, who continued to use the earlier, shorter texts.)


A good example of the books of the K’tuvim appearing in a different order would be the Leningrad Codex: (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leningrad_Codex);;). Apparently the order of the books varied over the centuries even within Judaism itself.


Yes. If you see it as a prophetic work, it comes as the fourth major prophet. If you see it as an apocalyptic work, it would be a writing. Interestingly, the “prophesies” in it give a good figure for the dating: they are quite detailed and very accurate from the time of Daniel in Babylon to the coming of the Greek kingdom–but then they get much less detailed, and are harder to fit to history. Which seems to indicate that it was actually written under the resistance to Antiochus Epiphanes. It often reminds me of that Yogi Berrism: “Prediction is hard, especially about the future.”


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