Keith Hunt - Canonization of the Old Testament - Page Five   Restitution of All Things

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Canonization of the Old Testament #5

The Correcting Numbering


The Proper Numbering of the Books

     The original number of books comprising the Tripartite
Divisions was 22 - to equal the number of Hebrew letters. This
corresponded to the books in the Protestant canon today, yet the
originals were arranged and numbered differently (not as the
present 39). Our modern way of counting the books is easy to
explain. Whereas the 12 Minor Prophets (from Hosea to Malachi)
were formerly written on one scroll and counted as one book (as
Luke does in the New Testament - Acts 7:42 cf.13:40), each of the
12 is now counted separately. This makes the sum to be 33, not
22. But the re-counting did not end there. The one Book of
Chronicles is presently divided into two, as is Ezra-Nehemiah.
This brings the sum to 35. But more dividing has been done. The
four books we call 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings were once
reckoned as only one book. A relic of this book is found in the
King James Version. If one looks at the introductions to those
four books, it will be noticed that the secondary titles (as they
are presently reckoned) were First, Second, Third, and Fourth
Kings. These designations are the remnant names of the one
composition called "The Book of Kingdoms."

"The Greek collection of Samuel-Kings as one book with its
division into four volumes was followed by all the ancient
versions. The Greek title 'The Kingdoms' appeared in early titles
of the Latin Bible; the Arabic as well as the Ethiopic, followed
the Hebrew with 'Kings;' the Syriac used both titles, varying
with the books. In the Latin Bible 'Kings' came into current use"
(Montgomery, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on theBook of
Kings, (ICC), p.2).

     Melito about A.D.170 and The Apostolic Constitutions (c.
A.D.200) also affirmed that our four books of Samuel and Kings
were once acknowledged as one book (Rawlinson, "Truth of
Scripture Records," p.325). The literary evidence within those
sections sustains the unity of them all. As Montgomery states,
our present books of Kings are "a continuation of the books of
Samuel, but without clearly marked literary distinction" and that
the modern partitioning was "divided for arbitrary convenience"
(ibid. p.1). The truth is, there is no need to divide the one
Book of Kingdoms into 4 separate books! But when this is done, it
increases the original 22 books to 38! The King James Version
(and most other versions) divide one other ancient book (which
was once a single entity) and raise the original 22 books to our
present 39 for the Old Testament. What was the remaining book
that was divided? It was what we now call Joshua/Judges!
     Originally, the historical account from the death of Moses
until the rise of Samuel the prophet was accounted as a single
book. Later people, however, severed it into the books of Joshua
and Judges. These books introduced the "Prophets' Division" and
recorded the singular time when Israel had NO kings in contrast
to the next Book of Kingdoms which recorded the history of Israel
when they HAD kings. Internally, Joshua/Judges are a single
literary composition, and they both have the earmarks of one
author (whom the Jews recognized as Samuel), and even the apostle
Peter referred to Samuel as the one who commenced the "Prophets'
Division" of the Old Testament (Acts 3:24).

     Thus, the original 22 books of the Tripartite Divisions were
numbered in the following fashion:


1. Genesis 
2. Exodus 
3. Leviticus 
4. Numbers
5. Deuteronomy


6. Joshua/Judges
7. The Book of Kingdoms
8. Isaiah 
9. Jeremiah 
10. Ezekiel
11. The Twelve


12. Psalms
13. Proverbs 
14. Job
15. Song of Songs 
16. Ruth
17, Lamentations 
18. Ecclesiastes 
19. Esther
20. Daniel
21. Ezra/Nehemiah
22. The Book of Chronicles

The Testimony of Josephus

     Josephus does not mention the Tripartite Divisions of the
Old Testament in his account concerning the divine scriptures. He
does, however, refer to the canon as being reckoned as 22 books.
Let us notice what he says on the matter.

"We have not a countless number of books, discordant and arrayed
against each other; but only twenty-two books, containing the
history of every age, which are justly accredited as divine. Of
these, five belong to Moses, which contain both the laws and the
history of the generations of men until his death. This period
lacks but little of 3000 years. From the death of Moses,
moreover, until the time of Artaxerxes, king of the Persians
after Xerxes [i. e. to the time of Ezra and Nehemiah], the
prophets, who followed Moses, wrote down what was done during the
age of each one respectively, in thirteen books. The remaining
four contain hymns to God, and rules of life for men. From the
time of Artaxerxes, moreover, until our present period, all
occurrences have been written down but they are not regarded as
entitled to the like credit with those which precede them,
because there was no certain succession of prophets. Fact has
shown what confidence we place in our own writings. For although
so many ages have passed away, no one has dared to add to them,
nor to take anything from, nor to make alterations. In all Jews
it is implanted, even from their birth, to regard them as being
the instructions of God, and to abide steadfastly by them, and if
it be necessary, to die gladly for them" (Contra Apion I.8).

     Josephus here says that the Jewish people late in the first
century believed the Old Testament had been put together and
completed in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. It might be said that
Josephus is bringing to witness some 8 million or so Jewish
people since he was writing in the capacity of a priestly
spokesman for his people. Note also that of the works written
after the time of Ezra (including all the books of the Apocrypha)
none was reckoned as being inspired of God since no one with the
prophetic spirit had come on the scene after Ezra. It was a
cardinal belief at the time that no one could write inspired
scriptures without the person having a prophetic commission to do

     It is significant to note that the Jews had a high regard
for the official canon. They would not think for one moment of
adding to, of subtracting from, or altering in any way the sacred
books. This shows the firm confidence the Jews had for the
inviolability of the Old Testament canon. Yet with all this,
there seems to be an apparent discrepancy between Josephus' order
of the Old Testament books and the traditional one accepted by
Jews today. Josephus supposedly supports a canon of 5 Mosaic
books, 13 of the Prophets, and 4 of Hymns and Precepts. In giving
this enumeration, is Josephus presenting an order of books in
which he disregarded the Tripartite Divisions? Without doubt! For
example, the Prophets' Division never had 13 books within it, nor
has the Psalms' Division been limited to 4 books!
     Josephus was not referring to the actual Tripartite
Divisions at all. But why did Josephus mention this odd (and
quite unique) arrangement of the canonical books? The matter can
become clear when we recall to whom Josephus was writing in this

Josephus' Intention

     There are several reasons why Josephus avoided a precise
reference to the Tripartite Divisions and the proper order of the
Old Testament books.

1) He was writing to Gentiles - people who knew little about, or
were unable to appreciate, the significance of the true
arrangement of the canonical books.

2) His main intention for writing this passage, as is evidenced
from the context, was only to demonstrate the extreme antiquity
of the Jewish nation. Notice his emphasis upon the age in which
things occurred. His immediate subject was the demonstration of
Jewish longevity, not to give the Gentiles a disquisition on the
proper order of the books within the sacred canon.

3) Gentile scholars of the first century were great
encyclopaedists in their manner of classifying literary
documents. Much as we do today in our modern libraries, it was
common to arrange books according to subject matter. There was
nothing wrong in this, of course (because such classification has
the advantage of facilitating the teaching process), but if a
true Greek were to look at the arrangement of the Old Testament
books in the Tripartite Divisions (particularly to that of the
Third Division), it would have been looked at as showing little
rhyme or reason. True enough, the Third Division is harmonious in
every way, but the arrangement is not in the Greek manner - we
will see that the books were positioned for liturgical purposes
for readings in the Temple. To explain this factor would have
taken Josephus away from his intended design of showing the
antiquity of the Jewish race and into another subject which the
Greeks would not have easily understood. It is precisely because
of this that he was not prepared to risk bewildering his Gentile
readers by discussing the canonical arrangement. Instead, he
himself, went over to the common Greek manner of classifying
documents according to the chronological time periods to which
they referred. And indeed, this is exactly what he tells us about
his 13 books which he said were written by prophets. They "wrote
down what was done during the age of each one respectfully."

     Josephus, then, reckoned the sacred scriptures according to
chronological composition, not the official canonical
arrangement! [As a matter of fact, when later Christians in the
early third century placed the Septuagint Version of the Old
Testament into a codex form, they did indeed subjectivize the
books as most normal Greeks would have expected.]
     Once it is realized that Josephus was not attempting to
reproduce the actual canonical order of the Old Testament books
for his Gentile readers, it is possible to deduce what were the
actual books of which he was speaking. There is hardly any doubt
that Josephus' last 4 books of Hymns and Precepts were 1) Psalms
2) Song of Songs (the two books of the hymns); followed by 3)
Proverbs and 4) Ecclesiastes (the books of moral teaching) (Ryle,
"The Canon of the Old Testament," p.176). The 13 prophetical
books, written "down what was done during the age of each one
respectfully," were arranged chronologically by Josephus. They
were 1) Job, 2) Joshua/Judges, 3) Ruth, 4) Book of Kingdoms, 5)
Isaiah, 6) Jeremiah, 7) Lamentations, 8) Ezekiel, 9) The Twelve,
10) Daniel, 11) Esther, 12) Ezra/Nehemiah, 13) Book of

     Thus we have Josephus telling us he subjectivized those 13
books into their chronological arrangement without reference to
their actual canonical order.

     One other point needs to be made. It is a common assumption
among some biblical scholars that Josephus arrived at his 22
numbering of the complete Old Testament canon by attaching the
Book of Ruth to Judges and the Book of Lamentations to Jeremiah.
There is not the slightest proof that this was the case. Indeed,
that particular method of re-counting the books was not used
until the third century A.D. when the Septuagint (Egyptian/Greek)
Version was finally placed by Christians into a codex form of
book. Before that time, the various scrolls of the Old Testament
books were apparently not arranged in any official order by
Egyptian Jews or Christians (unless in the official Palestinian
Tripartite manner). The finalized Septuagint arrangement is a
result of codexing the books, rather than leaving them as
scrolls. This positioning is thus late and is no proof that
Josephus (a hundred or so years earlier) combined Ruth with
Judges and Lamentations with Jeremiah.

"It seems unwarranted to suppose that Josephus attached Ruth to
Judges and Lamentations to Jeremiah without counting them. It is
a conjecture without sufficient evidence to sustain it" (Briggs,
"Study of the Holy Scripture," p.128).

     It certainly is unwarranted! For one thing, this guessing
transfers two books out of the Third Division of the Old
Testament and places them in the Second, thereby upsetting the
story-flow in both divisions (to be explained in the next
chapter). This procedure destroys the unique characteristics of
the Tripartite Divisions and should never be done! Even some 400
years after Christ when the rabbis who compiled the Jewish Talmud
spoke of the order of the sacred books, the suggestion was made
that Isaiah (perhaps for liturgical purposes) could best be
positioned after Ezekiel (Baba Bathra 15a) - a suggestion which
had no lasting effect on the canon itself - but this reckoning
only concerned a transfer within a tripartite division, not a
re-positioning from one division to another!

     Isaiah certainly does not belong after Ezekiel! In 180 B.C.,
the Book of Ecclesiasticus gave a chronological rundown from
Genesis to the close of the Old Testament. Significantly, Sirach
discussed in proper canonical order Isaiah (48:22), Jeremiah
(49:7), Ezekiel (49:8), and then "The Twelve" (the Minor
Prophets) (49:10). Prof. R.H. Charles called attention to this
fact that "The Twelve" were in the precise order as the present
Hebrew canon (The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, vol. l, p.505).
     Sirach was referring to a canonical order of "The Twelve."
His reference was not for chronological reasons because some of
the prophets making up "The Twelve" lived before Isaiah! This is
a clear indication that Sirach had a canon of divine scriptures
in front of him that he was referring to. It should also be
pointed out that he did not place the Book of Daniel right after
Ezekiel as our modern Old Testaments have it!

     This is powerful evidence that the Prophets' Division of the
canon was established in the present Jewish arrangement over 200
years before Christ began to preach! Josephus would have been
well aware of this official order. In the next chapter we will
see why this arrangement must be maintained for the sake of
orderly teaching.


To be continued

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