Tanach part 1: Torah

The Hebrew Bible is called Tanach, an abbreviation for Torah (the Law), Neviim (the Prophets) and Kesuvim (the Writings). There are a total of 24 books in Tanach, although at first glance it may look like more (Samuel, Kings and Chronicles are each divided into two volumes, but they are in fact each a single book; Ezra and Nehemiah form a single book and the twelve “minor” prophets collectively constitute a single book).

The Books of the Prophets are generally divided into two sections: the Early Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings) and the Later Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and The Twelve). The Writings are divided into the philosophical “Books of Truth” (Psalms, Proverbs and Job, whose Hebrew initials spell out “emes,” truth), the “Five Scrolls” (megillos) that are read on various holidays (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther), and the historical books of Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles.

The Books of the Torah were dictated word-for-word, directly by God to Moses. The Books of the Prophets were revealed by God prophetically. The Books of the Writings were written with Divine inspiration, rather than through prophecy.

Note: The years the books were written are sometimes “best guesses.” For example, the period of the Anshei K’nesses HaGedolah, the Men of the Great Assembly, lasted approximately 130 years. We have chosen to list books compiled by the Great Assembly as “circa 3450 (311 BCE),” in the midpoint of their era. While this estimate may be off by as much as fifty years, it is provided primarily to give readers a context as to whether a book was written contemporary with events described within it or hundreds of years later.

Torah (The Law)

Bereishis – Genesis (50 chapters) – Dictated to Moses by God, 2448 (1313 BCE); Creation, the flood, the Forefathers (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), Joseph’s dreams, descent to Egypt. Covers events from Year 1-2238 (3760-1523 BCE).

Shemos – Exodus (40 chapters) – Dictated to Moses by God, 2448 (1313 BCE); The birth of Moses, Ten Plagues, redemption from Egypt, revelation at Sinai, the Golden Calf, the Tabernacle. Covers events from 2309-2449 (1452-1312 BCE).

Vayikra – Leviticus (27 chapters) – Dictated to Moses by God between 2448-2488 (1313-1273 BCE); Laws of sacrifices, kosher food, ritual purity, forbidden relationships, the Sabbatical year, and more. Covers events during the wandering in the desert, 2448-2488 (1313-1273 BCE).

Bemidbar – Numbers (36 chapters) – Dictated to Moses by God between 2448-2488 (1313-1273 BCE); Census of the Jewish people, the twelve spies, Korach’s rebellion, Amalek attacks, Balaam, the deaths of Miriam and Aaron. Covers events during the wandering in the desert, 2448-2488 (1313-1273 BCE).

Devarim – Deuteronomy (34 chapters) – Dictated to Moses* by God, 2488 (1273 BCE); The final address of Moses, a review of laws, blessings and curses, a song of praise, the death of Moses. Moses’ speech, delivered 2488 (1273 BCE), reviewing events of the past 40 years.
*The last eight verses, describing the death of Moses, may have been transcribed by Joshua. (See Talmud Baba Basra 15a, Makkos 11a, et al.)