Comparing the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament

Comparing the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament

Spring is finally in the air, following two nearly concurrent religious holidays: the Jewish celebration of Pesach, or Passover, and the Christian holiday of Easter. Judaism and Christianity are closely intertwined, such that some writers consider the two faiths to form an overarching “Judeo-Christian tradition” in the West. Judaism and Christianity share a great deal of holy scriptures between them—namely, the collected writings of the ancient Israelites, which we know today as the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible. However, these two editions, while very similar, are not the same. Today, we’ll compare the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament—how they differ, what they have in common, and how the King James Version comes closer than other editions in bridging that gap.

Differences in Compilation

The Hebrew Bible is better known as the Tanakh. This is not a Hebrew word itself but rather an acronym formed from the first letters of Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuv’im—thus, it is a collection of teachings, prophets, and writings. The Torah, the first five books of both the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament, is the most important scripture in the Jewish faith, concerning the creation of the world and the life of Moses. The books of the twelve minor prophets—Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi—are each a discrete book in the King James Version of the Old Testament, while the Tanakh simply groups them as one book called The Twelve. While the five books of the Torah begin both compilations, the Tanakh, as its acronym indicates, places the words of the prophets before the writings of wisdom, such as the books of Job, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes. The King James Version of the Old Testament contains 39 books, while the Hebrew Bible’s consolidation of the books of prophets leaves it with only 24.

Differences in Translation

The King James Version of the Bible was the work of a great assembly of 17th-century Biblical scholars who translated the Hebrew version of the original Old Testament into English. While English translations of the Hebrew Bible exist today, it was only in the 20th century that Jewish scholars began to undergo the work of translating Jewish scriptures into local vernaculars. Prior to that, the cultural expectation was to learn Hebrew in order to read the Torah and the rest of the Tanakh, bypassing the difficulties and ambiguities that arise in translation. The Jewish Publication Society translation of 1917 aspired to recreate the artful prose of the King James Version in their efforts. Nevertheless, one will find significant differences when comparing the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament. One notable instance is how versions translate the Hebrew word almah. English editions of the Hebrew Bible translate this word as “young woman,” while the Christian Old Testament translates it as “virgin.” This distinction has clear theological ramifications in Christianity.

While reading the Hebrew Bible can give you a different approach to the books of the Old Testament, you may find there is no substitute for the King James Version, particularly the majesty of a leather-bound KJV Bible for your home.