Old Testament Book Order

Christian Bible orderJewish Bible order
Pentateuch
Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy
Law (Torah)
Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy
Historical Books
Joshua
Judges
Ruth
1-2 Samuel
1-2 Kings
1-2 Chronicles
Ezra
Nehemiah
Esther
Prophets (Nevi’im)

Former Prophets
Joshua
Judges
1-2 Samuel
1-2 Kings
Poetic Books
Job
Psalms
Proverbs
Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs
Latter Prophets
Isaiah
Jeremiah
Ezekiel
Minor Prophets
Prophets
Isaiah
Jeremiah
Lamentations
Ezekiel
Daniel
Minor Prophets
Writings (Ketuvim)
Psalms
Proverbs
Job

Megillot
Song of Songs
Ruth
Lamentations
Ecclesiastes
Esther

Daniel
Ezra
Nehemiah
1-2 Chronicles

Christian Bible vs. Jewish Bible order

Over twenty years ago, I took an Old Testament class at my university. My professor was Jewish, and one of the required Bible texts was the Jewish Publication Society version of the Hebrew Bible.

One of my obsessions when I was in college was comparing different English Bible versions. I wanted to see if there was any ideological differences between the versions used by Protestants, Catholics, Jews, etc.

Eventually, I figured out that, in the actual text, the differences between a Jewish translation and a Christian translation, or between a Protestant translation and a Roman Catholic translation, were negligible. Things like translation philosophy make a far bigger difference in translation.

The major difference between Christian Bibles and Jewish Bibles is the book order.

In the Jewish Bible order, the Old Testament books are divided into three sections, Law (Torah), Prophets (Nevi’im), and Writings (Ketuvim). In Hebrew, taking the first letter of each section forms the word Tanakh, used to describe the entirety of the Hebrew Bible.

In the middle of the Writings, there are five books that are grouped together. They are called the Megillot, that are read in that order according to the Jewish liturgical calendar.

Jewish Bible translations, such as those by the Jewish Publication Society, Isaac Leeser, and Robert Alter, use this order. Messianic Jewish translations, such as The Scriptures, the Complete Jewish Bible, the Orthodox Jewish Bible, and the Tree of Life Version, also use the Jewish Bible order.

Some Christian scholars use this order as well. In their Old Testament introductions, S. R. Driver, R. K. Harrison, Brent A. Strawn, Marvin A. Sweeney, and Edward J. Young each use the Jewish Bible order.

All of the major Bible translations in English either use the Christian Bible order, which is derived from the Greek Septuagint order, or the Jewish Bible order.

Book order in Hebrew Manuscripts

Now, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. Thus, we might be inclined to follow the order found in Hebrew manuscripts, and not the Greek manuscripts. That would be, then, the Jewish Bible order, right? Well, not quite. While all the Hebrew manuscripts we have follow the three-fold division of Law, Prophets, and Writings, they differed in the exact order of the books, especially within the Writings.

Let’s take a look at the Hebrew manuscripts found in the British Library, ranging from the 12th to the 16th centuries. There are other manuscripts, of course, but the British Library has a lot, and we can view these manuscripts online!

Of the 23 different manuscripts I found that contains the Writings, there are 16 different orderings! And none of them are identical to the Jewish Bible ordering. Do you want to see them? Of course you do. Here they are. (Note: Ezra includes both Ezra and Nehemiah).

Add MS 15250
Add MS 21161
Harley MS 1528
Or 2212
Or 2375
Or 2376
Or 1475
Or 4227
Add MS 15252
Or 2091
Harley MS 5775Arundel Or 16Harley MS 5711Harley MS 5498Harley MS 5506Add MS 9399Harley MS 5715Or 6570Or 2628King’s BibleOr 5956Add MS 15251Or 2201
RuthRuthRuthRuthChronicles
Ruth
ChroniclesPsalmsChroniclesRuthChronicles
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Proverbs
Job
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Proverbs
Job
Daniel
Ezra
Nehemiah
Ruth
Song of Songs
Ecclesiastes
Lamentations
Esther
Psalms
Proverbs
Job
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Proverbs
Job
Psalms
Ruth
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs
Lamentations
Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs
Lamentations
Song of Songs
Ecclesiastes
Lamentations
Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs
Lamentations
Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs
Lamentations
Ruth
Song of Songs
Ecclesiastes
Lamentations
Ruth
Song of Songs
Ecclesiastes
Lamentations
Song of Songs
Ruth
Lamentations
Ecclesiastes
Psalms
Proverbs
Job
Daniel
Ezra
Chronicles
Daniel
Ezra
Chronicles
Daniel
Ruth
Song of Songs
Lamentations
Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs
Lamentations
Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs
Lamentations
Ruth
Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs
Ruth
Song of Songs
Ecclesiastes
Lamentations
Daniel
Esther
Ezra
Chronicles
Esther
Daniel
Ezra
Chronicles
Esther
Daniel
Ezra
Chronicles
Daniel
Esther
Ezra
Chronicles
Daniel
Esther
Ezra
Esther
Daniel
Ezra
Esther
Daniel
Ezra
Chronicles
Esther
Job
Proverbs
Chronicles
Daniel

Ezra
Chronicles
Ruth
Song of Songs
Ecclesiastes
Esther
Lamentations
Song of Songs
Lamentations
Ecclesiastes
Esther
Esther

Ezra
Esther
Daniel
Ezra
Chronicles
Daniel
Ezra
Esther
Chronicles
Esther
Daniel
Ezra
Esther
Daniel
Ezra
Chronicles

You can see that, while there was some general agreement about what books should be grouped together, there was still no consensus on the exact book order, even a thousand years after the Hebrew Bible was written.

So where did the Jewish Bible order come from, and how did it become the standard? I think we can attribute it to the printing press, and its ability to disseminate literature widely and in great numbers. The first printed Hebrew Bible was in Socino, Italy in 1488, and it actually put the five books of the Megillot after the Pentateuch!

But it was the second Rabbinic Bible of 1525 that became the definitive Hebrew text, and it used the Jewish Bible order. It is very similar to many of the book orders in the manuscripts, but not identical. Where they got that exact order, I’m not sure. Perhaps this order was based on the manuscripts they had then, or it had to do with its liturgical use, or a combination of both.

Book Order in the Babylonian Talmud

The oldest record we have of Old Testament book order is found in Bava Batra 14b in the Babylonian Talmud, which was compiled around the year 500. Here, the order of the Writings is Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Daniel, Esther, Ezra, and Chronicles. It’s worth reading, because not only does it have a book order, but it gives reasons why it chose that order, as opposed to other suggestions.

This is the order used by Roger Beckwith, Stephen Dempster, and Jason DeRouchie in their books on the Old Testament. However, no printed editions of the Hebrew Bible or English translations of the Bible that I know of use this order.

For those of you keeping score, this order of the Writings is the same order as in Add MS 15250, Add MS 21161, Harley MS 1528, Or 2212, Or 2375, and Or 2376 at the British Library! However, the Babylonian Talmud order of the prophets is Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and the Minor Prophets. Add MS 15250 and Harley MS 1528 have “Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel” (like most manuscripts), Add MS 21161 has “Samuel, Jeremiah, Kings, Ezekiel, Isaiah,” and the other three do not include the prophetic books. So none of these manuscripts completely corroborate the Babylonian Talmudic order.

Hebrew Texts Today

If you go out and buy a Hebrew Bible, you may notice that it has yet another order for the Writings! Why is that? Good question.

Today, our main scholarly source text for the Hebrew Bible is the Leningrad Codex, the earliest complete manuscript, dated to 1008. The order of the Writings is Chronicles, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. The tenth century Aleppo Codex uses this order as well.

Critical editions of the Hebrew text have used various orders. The first two editions of Biblia Hebraica (1909, 1913), edited by Rudolf Kittel, and abbreviated BHK, uses the text of the second Rabbinic Bible, and thus uses the Jewish Bible order.

It gets more complicated. The third edition of BHK (1937) switched to using the Leningrad Codex. However, they decided they didn’t like the Leningrad Codex order, and wanted 1-2 Chronicles to be last. But rather than use the Jewish book order, they simply moved 1-2 Chronicles to the end, thus creating yet another book order.

The current critical edition of the Hebrew Bible is Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS), which is the follow-up to BHK, also uses this order. If you take Hebrew in seminary, you will use this. BHS uses the Leningrad Codex as the source text. So the BHS order is the order that most Hebrew students end up seeing. It is the order that Brevard Childs, Paul R. House / Eric Mitchell, Rolf Rendtorff, and Miles Van Pelt use in their books on the Old Testament.

The next edition is Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ), and when that is completed, Chronicles will be back to the beginning of the Ketuvim.

Babylonian
Talmud Order
Leningrad Order
Aleppo Codex, BHQ
Jewish Order
JPS, BHK1, BHK2
BHS Order
BHK3
Genesis-KingsGenesis-KingsGenesis-KingsGenesis-Kings
Jeremiah
Ezekiel
Isaiah
Minor Prophets
Isaiah
Jeremiah
Ezekiel
Minor Prophets
Isaiah
Jeremiah
Ezekiel
Minor Prophets
Isaiah
Jeremiah
Ezekiel
Minor Prophets
RuthChronicles
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Psalms
Proverbs
Job
Psalms
Job
Proverbs
Ecclesiastes
Song of Songs
Lamentations
Daniel
Esther
Ruth
Song of Songs
Ecclesiastes
Lamentations
Esther
Song of Songs
Ruth
Lamentations
Ecclesiastes
Esther
Ruth
Song of Songs
Ecclesiastes
Lamentations
Esther

Ezra
Chronicles
Daniel
Ezra
Daniel
Ezra
Chronicles
Daniel
Ezra
Chronicles

Is there a right order? To be continued …

With the variation of book order between Christian and Jewish Bibles, and between Hebrew manuscripts, is there a right order for the books of the Bible? Is there an order that the books of the Bible ought to be read in? Does the Bible itself indicate a particular order for the books of the Bible? How do differences in book order affect interpretation? These are great questions, but these are fairly large discussions. I plan to address these soon in a future post.

2 thoughts on “Old Testament Book Order

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