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Title: Tanakh  
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Subject: Judaism, Biblical canon, Torah, Nevi'im, Talmud
Collection: Hebrew Bible, Hebrew Words and Phrases, Jewish Texts
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The Tanakh (;[1] Hebrew: תַּנַ"ךְ‎, pronounced  or ; also Tenakh, Tenak, Tanach) or Miqra is the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The traditional Hebrew text is known as the Masoretic Text.

Tanakh is an acronym of the first Hebrew letter of each of the Masoretic Text's three traditional subdivisions: Torah ("Teaching", also known as the Five Books of Moses), Nevi'im ("Prophets") and Ketuvim ("Writings")—hence TaNaKh. The name "Miqra" (מקרא), meaning "that which is read", is another Hebrew word for the Tanakh. The books of the Tanakh were passed on by each generation, and according to rabbinic tradition were accompanied by an oral tradition, called the Oral Torah.


  • Terminology 1
  • Development and codification 2
  • Language and pronunciation 3
  • Books of the Tanakh 4
    • Torah 4.1
    • Nevi'im 4.2
    • Ketuvim 4.3
      • The poetic books 4.3.1
      • The five scrolls (Hamesh Megillot) 4.3.2
      • Other books 4.3.3
      • Order 4.3.4
  • Translations 5
  • Jewish commentaries 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


The three-part division reflected in the acronym "Tanakh" is well attested in literature of the Rabbinic period.[2] During that period, however, "Tanakh" was not used. Instead, the proper title was Miqra (or Mikra, מקרא, meaning "reading" or "that which is read") because the biblical texts were read publicly. Miqra continues to be used in Hebrew to this day, alongside Tanakh, to refer to the Hebrew scriptures. In modern spoken Hebrew, they are interchangeable.[3]

Development and codification

There is no scholarly consensus as to when the Hebrew Bible canon was fixed: some scholars argue that it was fixed by the Hasmonean dynasty,[4] while others argue it was not fixed until the second century CE or even later.[5]

According to the Talmud much of the contents of the Tanakh was compiled by the men of the Great Assembly (Anshei K'nesset HaGedolah), a task completed in 450 BCE, and has remained unchanged since that date.[6]

Formal closure of the canon has often been ascribed to Rabbinic Judaism after the destruction of the First Temple in 587 BCE.

The twenty-four book canon is mentioned in the Midrash Koheleth 12:12.[7]

Language and pronunciation

The original writing system of the Hebrew text was an abjad: consonants written with some applied vowel letters ("matres lectionis"). During the early Middle Ages scholars known as the Masoretes created a single formalized system of vocalization. This was chiefly done by Aaron ben Moses ben Asher, in the Tiberias school, based on the oral tradition for reading the Tanakh, hence the name Tiberian vocalization. It also included some innovations of Ben Naftali and the Babylonian exiles.[8] Despite the comparatively late process of codification, some traditional sources and some Orthodox Jews hold the pronunciation and cantillation to derive from the revelation at Sinai, since it is impossible to read the original text without pronunciations and cantillation pauses.[9] The combination of a text (מקרא miqra), pronunciation (ניקוד niqqud) and cantillation (טעמים te`amim) enable the reader to understand both the simple meaning and the nuances in sentence flow of the text.

Books of the Tanakh

Complete set of scrolls, constituting the entire Tanakh.

The Tanakh consists of twenty-four books: it counts as one book each Samuel, Kings, Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah and counts Trei Asar (תרי עשר, the Twelve Prophets; literally "twelve") as a single book.


The Torah (תּוֹרָה, literally "teaching") consists of five books, commonly referred to as the "Five Books of Moses". Printed versions of the Torah are often called Chamisha Chumshei Torah (חמישה חומשי תורה, literally the "five five-sections of the Torah"), and informally a Chumash.

In Hebrew, the five books of the Torah are identified by the first prominent word in each book.

  • Bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית, literally "In the beginning") - Genesis
  • Shemot (שִׁמוֹת, literally "Names") - Exodus
  • Vayikra (ויקרא, literally "And He called") - Leviticus
  • Bəmidbar (במדבר, literally "In the desert [of]") - Numbers
  • Devarim (דברים, literally "Things" or "Words") - Deuteronomy


Nevi'im (Hebrew: נְבִיאִים Nəḇî'îm‎, "Prophets") is the second main division of the Hebrew Bible, between the Torah and Ketuvim. It contains two sub-groups, the Former Prophets (Nevi'im Rishonim נביאים ראשונים, the narrative books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings) and the Latter Prophets (Nevi'im Aharonim נביאים אחרונים, the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and the Twelve Minor Prophets). This division includes the books which cover the time from the entrance of the Israelites into the Land of Israel until the Babylonian captivity of Judah (the "period of prophecy"). Their distribution is not chronological, but substantive.

  • (יְהוֹשֻעַ / Yĕhôshúa‘) - Joshua
  • (שופטים / Shophtim) - Judges
  • (שְׁמוּאֵל / Shmû’ēl) - Samuel
  • (מלכים / M'lakhim) - Kings
  • (יְשַׁעְיָהוּ / Yĕsha‘ăyāhû) - Isaiah
  • (יִרְמְיָהוּ / Yirmyāhû) - Jeremiah
  • (יְחֶזְקֵיאל / Yĕkhezqiēl) - Ezekiel

The Twelve Minor Prophets (תרי עשר, Trei Asar, "The Twelve") considered as one book in Judaism.

  • (הוֹשֵׁעַ / Hôshēa‘) - Hosea
  • (יוֹאֵל / Yô’ēl) - Joel
  • (עָמוֹס / ‘Āmôs) - Amos
  • (עֹבַדְיָה / ‘Ōvadhyāh) - Obadiah
  • (יוֹנָה / Yônāh) - Jonah
  • (מִיכָה / Mîkhāh) - Micah
  • (נַחוּם / Nakḥûm) - Nahum
  • (חֲבַקּוּק /Khăvhakûk) - Habakkuk
  • (צְפַנְיָה / Tsĕphanyāh) - Zephaniah
  • (חַגַּי / Khaggai) - Haggai
  • (זְכַרְיָה / Zkharyāh) - Zechariah
  • (מַלְאָכִי / Mal’ākhî) - Malachi


Ketuvim (כְּתוּבִים, "Writings") consists of eleven books, described below.

The poetic books

In masoretic manuscripts (and some printed editions), Psalms, Proverbs and Job are presented in a special two-column form emphasizing the parallel stitches in the verses, which are a function of their poetry. Collectively, these three books are known as Sifrei Emet (an acronym of the titles in Hebrew, איוב, משלי, תהלים yields Emet אמ"ת, which is also the Hebrew for "truth").

These three books are also the only ones in Tanakh with a special system of cantillation notes that are designed to emphasize parallel stichs within verses. However, the beginning and end of the book of Job are in the normal prose system.

The five scrolls (Hamesh Megillot)

The five relatively short books of the Song of Songs, the Book of Ruth, the Book of Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and the Book of Esther are collectively known as the Hamesh Megillot (Five Megillot). These are the latest books collected and designated as "authoritative" in the Jewish canon even though they were not complete until the 2nd century CE.[10] These scrolls are traditionally read over the course of the year in many Jewish communities. The list below presents them in the order they are read in the synagogue on holidays, beginning with the Song of Solomon on Passover.

Other books

Besides the three poetic books and the five scrolls, the remaining books in Ketuvim are Daniel, Ezra–Nehemiah and Chronicles. Although there is no formal grouping for these books in the Jewish tradition, they nevertheless share a number of distinguishing characteristics.

  • Their narratives all openly describe relatively late events (i.e. the Babylonian captivity and the subsequent restoration of Zion).
  • The Talmudic tradition ascribes late authorship to all of them.
  • Two of them (Daniel and Ezra) are the only books in Tanakh with significant portions in Aramaic.


The following list presents the books of Ketuvim in the order they appear in most printed editions. It also divides them into three subgroups based on the distinctiveness of Sifrei Emet and Hamesh Megillot.

The three poetic books (Sifrei Emet)

The Five Megillot (Hamesh Megillot)

Other books

The Jewish textual tradition never finalized the order of the books in Ketuvim. The Babylonian Talmud (Bava Batra 14b-15a) gives their order as Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Daniel, Scroll of Esther, Ezra, Chronicles.

In Tiberian Masoretic codices, including the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex, and often in old Spanish manuscripts as well, the order is Chronicles, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Esther, Daniel, Ezra.


Jewish commentaries

There are two major approaches towards study of, and commentary on, the Tanakh. In the Jewish community, the classical approach is religious study of the Bible, where it is assumed that the Bible is divinely inspired. Another approach is to study the Bible as a human creation. In this approach, Biblical studies can be considered as a sub-field of religious studies. The later practice, when applied to the Torah, is considered heresy by the Orthodox Jewish community. As such, much modern day Bible commentary written by non-Orthodox authors is considered forbidden by rabbis teaching in Orthodox yeshivas. Some classical rabbinic commentators, such as Abraham Ibn Ezra, Gersonides, and Maimonides, used many elements of contemporary biblical criticism, including their knowledge of history, science, and philology. Their use of historical and scientific analysis of the Bible was considered kosher by historic Judaism due to the author's faith commitment to the idea that God revealed the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai.

The Modern Orthodox Jewish community allows for a wider array of biblical criticism to be used for biblical books outside of the Torah, and a few Orthodox commentaries now incorporate many of the techniques previously found in the academic world, e.g. the Da'at Miqra series. Non-Orthodox Jews, including those affiliated with Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism, accept both traditional and secular approaches to Bible studies. "Jewish commentaries on the Bible", discusses Jewish Tanakh commentaries from the Targums to classical rabbinic literature, the midrash literature, the classical medieval commentators, and modern day commentaries.

See also


  1. ^ "Tanach". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. ^ Mikra'ot Gedolot
  3. ^ BIBLICAL STUDIES Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation. Norton Irish Theological Quarterly.2007; 72: 305-306
  4. ^ Philip R. Davies in The Canon Debate, page 50: "With many other scholars, I conclude that the fixing of a canonical list was almost certainly the achievement of the Hasmonean dynasty."
  5. ^ McDonald & Sanders, The Canon Debate, 2002, page 5, cited are Neusner's Judaism and Christianity in the Age of Constantine, pages 128–145, and Midrash in Context: Exegesis in Formative Judaism, pages 1–22.
  6. ^ (Bava Batra 14b-15a, Rashi to Megillah 3a, 14a)
  7. ^ "Whoever brings together in his house more than twenty four books brings confusion." (Midrash Qoheleth 12:12)
  8. ^ The Masorah of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, (ISBN 0-8028-4363-8, p. 20)
  9. ^   also pages 250–255
  10. ^ Coogan, Michael D. A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament - the Hebrew Bible in its Context. Oxford University Press. 2009; p. 5

External links

  • Judaica Press Translation of Tanakh with Rashi's commentary Free online translation of Tanakh and Rashi's entire commentary
  • Illustrated Summary and Analysis of the Torah (first 5 books of the Tanakh)
  • Hebrew-English Tanakh: the Jewish Bible - Online edition of the oldest known complete Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible (including contillation marks) placed next to classic Jewish translation; can be used on most Internet-connected computers and mobile devices.
  • Mechon Mamre – The Hebrew text of the Tanakh based on the Aleppo codex and other Tiberian manuscripts close to it, edited according to the system of Rabbi Mordechai Breuer. Hebrew text comes in four convenient versions (including one with cantillation marks) and may be downloaded. The JPS 1917 English translation is included as well as parallel translations (Hebrew - English, Hebrew - French, Hebrew - Portuguese and a Hebrew - Spanish Bible, see: A Jewish Hebrew - English/French/Portuguese/Spanish Bible According to the Masoretic Text and the JPS 1917 Edition)
  • Download the complete Tanakh in Hebrew with translation and transliteration Lev Software
  • Mikraot Gedolot (Rabbinic Bible) at Wikisource in English (sample) and Hebrew (sample)
  • Tanach on Demand – Custom PDF versions of any section of the Bible in Hebrew.
  • A Guide to Reading Nevi'im and Ketuvim – Detailed Hebrew outlines of the biblical books based on the natural flow of the text (rather than the chapter divisions). The outlines include a daily study-cycle, and the explanatory material is in English, by Seth (Avi) Kadish.
  • Jewish Links for Online Judaica Resources (Anshe Emet Synagogue) - free online primary Jewish sources and resources.
  • Unicode/XML Westminster Leningrad Codex – A free transcription of the electronic source maintained by the Westminster Hebrew Institute. (Leningrad Codex)
  • An extensive list of links and resources pertaining to the study of the Tanakh
  • Tanakh Hebrew Bible Project – An online project that aims to present critical text of the Hebrew Bible with important ancient versions (Samaritan Pentateuch, Masoretic Text, Targum Onkelos, Samaritan Targum, Septuagint, Peshitta, Aquila of Sinope, Symmachus, Theodotion, Vetus Latina, and Vulgate) in parallel with new English translation for each version, plus a comprehensive critical apparatus and a textual commentary for every verse.
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