Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Weird thing of the day 17 May 2005/8 'Iyyar 5765 (Day 23 of the `Omer)


This morning during my regular Gemara’ study I remembered something rather strange about the ordering of the books of the Hebrew Bible (“Old Testament” in Christian terminology). There is an official ordering and classification given in Bava Bathra’ 14b (or to be more accurate, for the latter two sections; I’m filling in the first for completeness):
  • Torah (Law)
    • BeRe’shith (Genesis)
    • Shemoth (Exodus)
    • Wayyiqra’ (Leviticus)
    • BeMidhbar (Numbers)
    • Devarim (Deuteronomy)
  • Nevi’im (Prophets)
    • Yehoshua‘ (Joshua)
    • Shofetim (Judges)
    • Shemu’el (Samuel)
    • Melakhim (Kings)
    • Yirmeyah (Jeremiah)
    • Yehezqe’l (Ezekiel)
    • Yesha‘yah (Isaiah)
    • Shenem ‘Asar (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi)
  • Kethuvim (Writings)
    • Ruth (Ruth)
    • Sefer Tehillim (Psalms)
    • ’Iyyov (Job)
    • Mishle (Proverbs)
    • Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes)
    • Shir hashShirim (Song of Songs)
    • Qinoth (Lamentations)
    • Daniyye’l (Daniel)
    • Megillath ’Esther (Esther)
    • ‘Ezra’ (Ezra and Nehemiah)
    • Divre hayYamim (Chronicles)
If you look in any edition of the Hebrew Bible, the ordering for the Torah will always be the same, and the ordering for Nevi’im will be mostly the same. However, the ordering of Yirmeyah, Yehezqe’l, and Yesha‘yah will likely be different, and the ordering for Kethuvim varies wildly from edition to edition. Despite the decisions of the Talmudh Bavli being universally accepted in Judaism as binding, the ordering I have given above is not used in any edition of the Hebrew Bible (so far as I know). I have no idea how this happened.

Also: “Shenem ‘Asar” means “twelve”, referring to the twelve prophetic documents bundled together in that one book. Somehow it ended up as the thirteenth book of the Hebrew Bible.

Also: I’m well aware that Christians are responsible for the division of books into chapters, which sometimes puts divisions in odd places, such as the middle of paragraphs or sentences. I am also aware that they’ve rearranged the books so that the Messianic prophecies fall closer to the end, making for a better lead-in to the New Testament. What I find totally mysterious is why they broke up some of the books. It cannot be a size issue, for Sefer Tehillim, which is relatively huge, did not suffer this fate. It also cannot be a preexisting division issue, for while Shenem ‘Asar does divide naturally into twelve separate parts, Sefer Tehillim has five traditional divisions and Mishle is explicitly a compendium of several smaller collections of proverbs, while Shemu’el, Melakhim, ‘Ezra’, and Divre hayYamim have no traditional or natural divisions. Go figure.

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