A simple explanation of TaNaKh

People may ask, why do we call the Old Testament the TaNaKh (some write it as "Tanach" or "Tanach")? The answer is very simple: If you separated each of the capital letters above, you have T-N-K, the 3 sections of the Old Testament: Torah (first five Books of the Bible that contain all of God's Divine Instructions in Righteousness); Nevi'im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings).

The First Section - Torah

The first section (which most people incorrectly call the "Law"), the TORAH, actually translates as "the Instructions" or "The Teachings." Torah consists of the five books written by Moses, including the Law that YHWH gave him. We know the books by their Greek names:

  • Genesis ("Creation") — The creation of the world and of the faith, of the original covenants. In Hebrew, Bereshit literally means, "In the beginning".
  • Exodus Exodus ("Departure") - Talks about the beginning of the departure from Egypt to find the Promised Land. In Hebrew, Shemot literally means, "Names".
  • Leviticus - The books about the Levitical priesthood. In Hebrew, Vayikra literally means, "And He called" - YHWH calls the tribe of Levi to be the priests.
  • Numbers - Discusses the numbers of those in the desert, the 12 tribes and the scouts. In Hebrew B'midbar literally means, "In the desert [of]"....
  • Deuteronomy - The "second law" - In essence, this book, which accounts for Moses’ final single day with the Israelites — is the SECOND TELLING of the Laws as YHWH gave them...Moses recapitulates, reaffirms that which was told to him when he communed on Mt. Sinai. In Hebrew, it is called Devarim which literally means, "Things" or "Words" because they were Moses’ Last Words to the people, his last will and testament.

The Second Section - Nevi’im

The second section of the Old Testament is called the Nevi’im (the Prophets) because it speaks of those who spoke by divine inspiration, who had those incredible gifts, starting with the one who YHWH entrusted to lead the Israelites into Yisrael - Joshua - through the prophets of the earliest history of the Promised Land through the 3 major and 12 minor prophets. In Deuteronomy 18:18, YHWH says "...and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him." While this applies to the Prophet who would be like Moshe (Yeshua), it applies to all prophets, as well.

When Yeshua said "do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets," what He means is, "do not think I have come to abolish the Torah or the Nevi'im." He has come to fulfill them, which includes the Prophet that is to come, the New Testament that is pronounced in Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel; the Eternal Kingdom which is prophesied in Samuel, et al.

The Books of Nevi’im form the section about the "prophets." Literally, Nevi’im in English means "spokesperson." While we think of a "prophet" as someone who can prognosticate, see into the future, the Free Online Dictionary gives a more accurate definition:

proph•et (prft)n.

1. A person who speaks by divine inspiration or as the interpreter through whom the will of a god is expressed.

2. A person gifted with profound moral insight and exceptional powers of expression.

3. A predictor; a soothsayer.

4. The chief spokesperson of a movement or cause.

5.a. Prophets (used with a sing. or pl. verb) The second of the three divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures, comprising the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve.

5.b. Prophet One of the prophets mentioned in the Bible, especially one believed to be the author of one of these books.

The books in the Nevi'im include the books of the Early Prophets:

Joshua (In Hebrew Y’Hoshua or Yehoshua) - The story of the fight for, division of and early settlement of Canaan by the Israelites. It runs from the death of Moses to the death of his successor, originally named Hosea, Y’Hoshua.

Judges (In Hebrew, Shoftim) - Reviews Joshua and the sins of the nation after his death left a void in leadership. The book then speaks of the 6 time periods and the Great and minor judges of Israel, 12 men and women who rescued Israel from its oppressors. Finally, it recounts two incidents which occurred during the tenure of the great judges. A judge was not one who sat on a court bench and rendered decisions, but one who brought justice to Israel, often through military activity.

I and II of Samuel (In Hebrew Shmu'el) - Speaks about the rejection of Eli, the story of Samuel, who is considered the last of the Great Judges and the first of the major prophets. Samuel was prophet when Israel decided it wanted a king like the rest of the nations; so this chronicles King Saul and the earliest years of the young shepherd David who would become king after Saul turned on him. The books of Shmuel come in two parts.

I and II of Kings (In Hebrew Melakhim) - A two-part saga which chronicles the kings of Ancient Israel from Solomon until the fall of Israel to Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians.

The Major Later Prophets wrote around the time, and after, of the captivity of Israel by Babylon:

  • Isaiah - In Hebrew Yeshayahu
  • Jeremaiah - In Hebrew Yirmiyahu
  • Ezekiel - In Hebrew Yehezq'el
  • The Minor Prophets, of which there were 12.

Sadly, many people believe they are considered minor because of their importance, which is not true. The reason they are considered minor is because of the scope of their work. While the Book of Isaiah has 66 chapters, the book of Jeremaiah has 52 and the book of Ezekiel has 44, the largest of the books of the minor prophets, the Book of Hosea, only has 14 chapters. The 12 minor prophets (12 as in 12 scouts, 12 Apostles) are, in order:

  1. Hosea or Hoshea
  2. Joel or Yo'el
  3. Amos
  4. Obadiah or Ovadyah
  5. Jonah or Yonah
  6. Micah or Mikhah
  7. Nahum or Nachum
  8. Habakkuk or Habaquq
  9. Zephaniah or Tsefania
  10. Haggai or Haggai
  11. Zechariah or Zekharia
  12. Malachi or Malakhi

The Third Section - Ketuvim

The Ketuvim called the "Writings" is the final section. While the minor prophets were not considered less in importance or qualification to the major prophets, the writings in this section come short of qualifying as true prophecy. The Ketuvim are believed to have been written under the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), but with one level less authority than that of prophecy.

While Jewish congregations go through the entire Torah each year, and selected portions of the Haftorah (the part extending beyond the Torah - the Nevi’im) are read on assigned Sabbaths/Shabbats - the books of this 3rd section, the Ketuvim, which was not canonized until the Second Century after Yeshua, are not an organized part of Rabbinic or Messianic Jewish liturgy. This does not mean that the books contained in this section were not known nor relevant. We find numerous references to the Psalms and Proverbs, the prophecies of Daniel especially chapter 9 and other references from Job, Nehemiah and 1 and II Chronicles in the Brit Hadasha (New Testament).

This final section is sub-divided into 3 divisions. The first sub-division is the poetic books - in Hebrew Sifrei Emet. When you take the first Hebrew letter of each of these three sections, they form the word "emet" which in Hebrew means "Truth."

The three Books that form this section are:

Psalms - In Hebrew Tehillim, ("Praises"). The book of Psalms consists of 150 poems, many with their own cantillation (musical notes) which sing "praises to YHWH." Just a little less than half of these were written by King David, who introduced songs to Israel’s temple and soothed King Saul with his songs. The largest of these Psalms, Psalm 119, is broken down according to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Proverbs - In Hebrew Mishlei, originally called Mishlei Shlomo - the Proverbs of Solomon, although the actual authorship, while generally attributed to King Solomon, is in debate. In addition to King Solomon, there are references to the "Wise Men," and others.

Job - In Hebrew Iyobh. The story of Job, a man who would seem to have lost everything sacred to him except for one thing, his faith; which in the end leads not just to the return of that which was thought to be lost but a multitude more.

The second sub-division has a very strong relevance to the Biblical holidays, and the extra-Biblical holiday of Purim. This sub-division is called "The Five Megillot" or "Five Scrolls" - and in some synagogues actually comes in separate scrolls, just as the Torah would.

In Hebrew, it’s called the Hamesh Megillot. All five of these megillot ("scrolls") are traditionally read publicly in the synagogue over the course of the year in many Jewish communities. In common printed editions of the Tanakh they appear in the order that they are read in the synagogue on holidays (beginning with Passover).

The Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon (in Hebrew Shir ha-Shirim) appears to be a love story between a man and a woman; but the hidden meaning behind this book is about a relationship between YHWH and His people, Israel. It’s a common reading on the Shabbat services during the week of Passover. Rabbi Akiva, one of the foremost leaders of the Rabbinic sect, called this book "the holy of Holies."

The Book of Ruth (in Hebrew, Rut) tells the story of a woman who was not born a Jew but who married one of the great judges, Boaz, and is through him a ancestor of David; thereby an ancestor of Yeshua. The story of her mother-in-law, Naomi, and her own life is read often on the morning at Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost in the Greek.

The Book of Lamentations (in Hebrew: Eikhah (also called Kinnot). While it describes the destruction of the temple in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) and the resulting exile or diaspora of the people, this book was written not as an account of that day, but as a prophetic warning of what could, would and did happen by those who did not stay close in their relationship with YHWH. Tragically, as history tells us, that warning fell on deaf ears and obstinate hearts.

Lamentations is traditionally read on Tish B’Av, the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, which is the Jewish day of mourning. It is the day on which both the First Temple, which fell centuries before Yeshua, and the Second Temple, which fell 40 years after His death, both met their end.

This day is also the day when the 12 scouts returned to the Jordan River with their report, and because of the negativity of 10 of them and the people’s desire to follow their warnings rather than the encouragement of Joshua and Caleb, this is the day which led to HaShem’s commandment that they travel 40 more years in the desert...and only those two servants, Joshua and Caleb, survive among all the Israelites over 40.

Lamentations is a crying out in sorrow over a nation being cast aside by the Holy One, YHWH, because they refused to follow His ways. It describes the militaristic actions which would take place when Babylon conquered Israel. To lose not only the land which is a deep blessing, but to have the Temple which is the House of YHWH fall because of disobedience today still causes Jews to cry out in anguish.

Ecclesiastes (in Hebrew Kohelet). Most people know this book, the third and last book which King Solomon authored, because of the modern day song which came out: "To every thing, Turn Turn Turn, there is a season, Turn, Turn, Turn; and a time for every purpose under Heaven."

It’s the story of a man who cynically reflects on what he says in the opening chapter are "pointless and utterly meaningless" things we do in order to attain what we consider to be success. As Rabbi Boruch Clinton says in his article about the Five Megillos, although it takes a class examination of the text, and perhaps some help, one will discover: Solomon has addressed many of the most important issues in Jewish philosophy:

  • The relationship between destiny and free will
  • Providence and effort
  • Reward and punishment

Clinton wrote: "Ecclesiastes has shown us the Jewish path to living in peace with each of these concepts."

The beauty of Ecclesiastes is that it actually tells in its way the lessons that those who come to embrace Messianic Judaism come to understand, that spiritual relationships with YHWH are far more of an achievement than the attainment of wealth. And the one saying this is one whose mines and wealth have been the epitome of material success, the things movies are made of, for millennia.

Solomon encourages mankind to seek beyond our horizons, beyond what we can see, beyond this life - because none of the wealth we accumulate on Earth is as wonderful as that which we accumulate through our spiritual life. There is no price tag on knowing Torah or having that relationship with YHWH.

Ecclesiastes is read on the Sabbath during the week of Sukkot. This is the second Harvest of the year, and it is a harvest of souls. Messianic believers believe that Sukkot is rehearsal for the eternal Kingdom, when we will discover greater wealth in spiritual terms than we ever could imagine. It is also the time during which it is believed Yeshua was born, so to speak of the relationship we should have with YHWH at this time is more than coincidence. It’s godly.

The Book of Esther (in Hebrew "Hadassah"). This book, which is the basis for the extra-Biblical holiday of "Purim" (lots) speaks of a Jewess (Jewish woman) who saved her people from genocide after marrying the King of Persia.

Haman, the villain of this story, wants to extinguish the Jews and convinces the king of Persia, who has married the most beautiful woman in the kingdom he could find, unaware at the time of their marriage she was Jewish, to allow this to happen. But, after Hadassah/Esther thwarts the plan, while the king to save face cannot retract his decree, he does allow the Israelites to fight back.

On that day, which was chosen by Haman’s drawing lots (which is why Purim is so-called), the 13th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, the Jews kill 75,000 Persians. The next day, the 14th day of Adar, to celebrate their victory, the Jews read the Book of Esther and celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim. This holiday is called extra-Biblical because while it is based on a Bible story, the holiday is not decreed by Adonai.

The final sub-division of the Ketuvim, and therefore the last books of the TaNaKh when they are assembled according to traditional Jewish bibles (Christian versions of the Old Testament are arranged in different orders, with books of the Ketuvim merged with books of the Nevi’im) are as follows:

Daniel (in Hebrew Da-nî’e-l. The story of Daniel, told in the first six chapters as far as his adventures with colleagues in the courts of Babylon, should, in the eyes of many, be considered part of the Nevi’im, rather than the Ketuvim. After all, the prophesies of Daniel in Chapter 9 of this book came true.

But, Daniel was not a "spokesperson" for Israel and did not meet the criteria to be a prophet set down by the Talmud or Maimonides, the "Rambam". He was a visionary whose dreams of the future were "divine inspirations" through the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit of YHWH. As Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin writes: "While the quality of the revelation is much greater in prophecy than in ruach ha-kodesh, the level of revelation reached through ruach ha-kodesh can be much higher than that reached through prophecy.

Book of Ezra-Book of Nehemiah (while the books are separated in the current versions of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, they were originally a united book). This book accounts the missions taken first by Zerubbabel and then by Ezra and Nehemiah in relative order to bring the people back to the worship of YHWH and to restore purity to a community of Jews in disrepair.

And the Books (I and II) of Chronicles (in Hebrew Divrei ha-Yamim - "the matters [of] the days"). While the books of Kings, Samuel and Judges are the prophetic accounts of what happened as Israel was established, Chronicles is a narrative account of the day, of the events that took place from the establishment of Israel and the 12 tribes through the kingdoms of David and Solomon and other kings of the lands, including those who were illegitimate kings, until the fall of Jerusalem and the decree by Cyrus to rebuild the city and the Great Temple.