On the Order of the Hebrew Canon: Christian vs. Jewish and the Difference it Makes

It’s common knowledge that the Old Testament books have a different arrangement in the Jewish canon than they do in the Christian canon. I never thought much about it but was intrigued to read the following observation by Frederick Murphy in his new book Apocalypticism in the Bible and Its World. [Murphy died on September 13, 2011 due to complications of multiple myeloma. He wrote this book entirely during his illness. It is a testimony to the depth of scholarship Murphy brought to the subject. It deserves a long life.] On the order of the Hebrew canon and the difference it reveals he wrote,

“Another important difference between how Jews and Christians read their shared Hebrew Bible is that they order the books differently. The Jewish Bible, the Tanak, ends with the ideal situation—the temple operating in Jerusalem, surrounded by worshipers, a Jewish community serving the God of Israel and of all creation, and a Davidic monarchy whose main purpose is to support worship in the sanctuary. This is depicted in Ezra-Nehemiah, and 1-2 Chronicles. In contrast, the Christian order of Old Testament books ends with the prophet Malachi, who predicts the coming of Elijah to warn of God’s coming in judgment. This orients the reader to the future, to eschatological events—those having to do with the end of the world’s present state—events that will change the world as we know it forever. It emphasizes the apocalyptic strand in Second Temple Judaism. It was an aspect of Jewish religion at the time of Jesus through which Jesus himself, his followers, and the early church experienced life and interpreted their own situation. The first three Gospels held that John the Baptist was Elijah returned, so there is a firm connection between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New. For the most part, rabbinic Judaism downplayed the apocalyptic strand in Judaism. In Christianity it remained crucial.” (xvi-xvii)

Apocalypticism in the Bible and Its World

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About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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