Torah and Tanakh are the scriptures of the Jewish faith. These same scriptures form the Old Testament section of the Bible.
What is the Tanakh?
The Tanakh or Mikra (“what is read”) is the Hebrew Bible – a collection of 24 books of Hebrew scriptures, mostly written in Biblical Hebrew. The word Tanakh is an acronym from the Hebrew letters of the three main sections: Torah, Nevi’im (or Navi), and Ketuvim. Sometimes you’ll see it written TaNaKh to highlight the three sections.
All the books of Tanakh are revered by Jews as holy and divine works; however, the Torah (Five Books of Moses) holds precedence.
What is the Torah?
The Torah (which literally means teaching) is what Christians know as the first five books of the Old Testament– also known as the Pentateuch, the Law, or the Five Books of Moses.
When all five books are together, handwritten by a trained scribe, in one parchment scroll, it is called Sefer Torah and considered very sacred. This precious scroll is read during Jewish prayers in synagogue. When not in use, it is stored in a cabinet or curtained off section of the synagogue, called the Torah ark.
The word Chumash refers to other forms of Torah, such as printed in book form with commentaries from rabbis (Jewish teachers).
Sometimes, the term Written Torah is used to refer the 24 books of the Tanakh. Oral Torah or oral tradition refers to all Jewish teaching – including later writings by Jewish rabbis (teachers), as well as Jewish culture and worship practices.
When was the Tanakh written?
Tanakh was written over many centuries, stretching from 1446 BC or earlier to 400 BC.
The Torah was written by Moses from around 1446 to 1406 BC (see the section below for explanation of dates).
The Nevi’im (prophets) begins with the book of Joshua (so as early as 1406 BC) and goes through to the latter prophets (ending around 400 BC).
In Ketuvim (Writings), Job is considered the earliest book to be written (of all the Tanakh), but with an unknown date and author. The Talmud (a Jewish collection of history and theology) says the book was written by Moses. Job is believed to have lived around the time of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph), so the book may have been written in the 1800’s BC or earlier. Nehemiah was probably the last book completed in Ketuvim, around 430 BC.
When was the Torah written?
Answering this question requires an understanding of the human author(s) of the Torah. Torah is often referred to as the Books of Moses, meaning Moses wrote all five books. However, the events of the first few chapters of Genesis predated Moses by thousands of years. Did Moses get the information directly from God or from other sources?
Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (AD 1135-1204) wrote in the Maomonide’s 13 Principles of Faith, “I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah that is now in our possession is the same that was given to Moses our teacher, peace be upon him.” Today, most Orthodox Jews believe Moses wrote the entire Torah, including Genesis, and many Christians agree.
Most Conservative Jews and some Christians, on the other hand, believe that Moses had a collection of oral traditions and/or writings regarding events in Genesis, which Moses then edited and transcribed into one book. Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki; 1040-1105) said that Moses presented the Israelites with the book of Genesis before he climbed the mountain and received the ten commandments.
Recent archeological finds prove that cuneiform writing was well established in Mesopotamia long before Abraham was born there. It is conceivable that Abraham and his descendants could have recorded the accounts of Genesis following the flood and even before. Less than 300 years passed from the flood to Abraham’s birth and Noah was still alive when Abraham was born and for the first 50 years of his life (Genesis 9 and 11).
Perhaps even Noah knew how to write. God gave Noah detailed instructions in Genesis 6:14-20. Remembering all those figures, building a boat that enormous, and dealing with logistics of storing food for all the animals would have been difficult without at least basic writing and math skills.
Noah’s grandfather Methuselah (who lived 969 years) was alive up until the year of the flood (Genesis 5:21-32, 7:6). The first man, Adam, was still alive when Methuselah was born and for the first 243 years of his life (Genesis 5). The account of creation and the fall of man, and the genealogies could have been related (orally or in written form) from Adam directly to Methuselah and then to Noah and then to Abraham.
Scriptures in the Torah itself refer to Moses as the author, writing down what God dictated:
- “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as a reminder and recite it to Joshua” (Exodus 17:14)
- “And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD.” (Exodus 24:4)
- “Then the LORD said to Moses, “‘Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” (Exodus 34:27)
- “Moses recorded their starting places according to their journeys by the command of the LORD” (Numbers 33:2).
Moses wrote the Torah during the 40 years following the exodus from Egypt. According to 1 Kings 6:1, Solomon laid the temple foundations 480 years after the exodus, so that places the exodus around 1446 BC. If Moses edited the book of Genesis from earlier writings from Abraham and the other patriarchs, those writings could go back as far as 1876 B.C. or even earlier.
What does the Tanakh consist of?
Tanakh consists of 24 books, divided into three main sections – Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim. Tanakh has the same books as the Old Testament section of the Bible that most Protestant Christians use. However, the order is different, and some books are combined into one book, so Tanakh has 24 books instead of the 39 books in the Old Testament.
Torah (Book of Law or Book of Moses) is the first five books in the Bible:
Nevi’im (Prophets) has three sections – Former Prophets, Latter Prophets, and Minor Prophets.
- Former Prophets are:
- Samuel (one book, rather than two, as in Christian Bible)
- Kings (also one book rather than two)
- Latter Prophets (three of the five “major prophets” in the Christian Bible – Lamentations and Daniel are in the Ketuvim section of Tanakh.
- Twelve Minor Prophets (these are the same as the minor prophets that make up the last 12 books of the Old Testament; however, in Nevi’im, they are combined in one book)
Ketuvim (Writings) has three sections: Poetic Books, Five Scrolls (Megillot), and Other Books
- Poetic Books
- Five Scrolls (Megillot)
- Song of Solomon
- Other Books
- Chronicles (one book instead of two as in the Christian Bible)
What does the Torah consist of?
As mentioned above, Torah is the first section of Tanakh, and contains the Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
“Bless the LORD, O my soul and do not forget all His bounties. He forgives all your sins, heals all your diseases. He redeems your life from the Pit, surrounds you with steadfast love and mercy. He satisfies you with good things in the prime of life, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:2-5)
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths smooth.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
“But they who trust in the LORD shall renew their strength. As eagles grow new plumes: they shall run and not grow weary, they shall march and not grow faint.” (Isaiah 41:31)
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
“Be strong and resolute, be not in fear or in dread of them; for the LORD your God Himself marches with you: He will not fail you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
“You shall serve the LORD your God, and He will bless your bread and your water. And I will remove sickness from your midst.” (Exodus 23:25)
Jesus in the Tanakh
“And you, O Bethlehem of Ephrath, least among the clans of Judah, from you one shall come forth to rule Israel for Me— One whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:1)
“The people that walked in darkness Have seen a brilliant light; On those who dwelt in a land of gloom Light has dawned. . .
For a child has been born to us, A son has been given us. And authority has settled on his shoulders. He has been named ‘The Mighty God is planning grace; The Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler.’
In token of abundant authority and of peace without limit upon David’s throne and kingdom, that it may be firmly established in justice and in equity now and evermore. The zeal of the LORD of Hosts shall bring this to pass.” (Isaiah 9:1, 5)
“But he was wounded because of our sins, Crushed because of our iniquities. He bore the chastisement that made us whole, and by his bruises we were healed.
We all went astray like sheep, each going his own way; and the LORD visited upon him the guilt of all of us.
He was maltreated, yet he was submissive, He did not open his mouth; Like a sheep being led to slaughter, Like a ewe, dumb before those who shear her, He did not open his mouth.
By oppressive judgment he was taken away. Who could describe his abode? For he was cut off from the land of the living Through the sin of my people, who deserved the punishment.
And his grave was set among the wicked, and with the rich, in his death— though he had done no injustice and had spoken no falsehood.
But the LORD chose to crush him, that, if he made himself an offering for guilt, He might see offspring and have long life. And that through him the LORD’s purpose might prosper. (Isaiah 53:5-10)
Jesus in the Torah
“And HaShem G-d said unto the serpent: ‘Because thou hast done this, cursed art thou from among all cattle, and from among all beasts of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; they shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise their heel.’” (Genesis 3:15)
“What I see for them is not yet. What I behold will not be soon: A star rises from Jacob. A scepter comes forth from Israel.” (Numbers 24:17)
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet from among your own people, like myself; him you shall heed.” (Deuteronomy 18:15)
What you should know
Tanakh, including Torah, contains the same books as the Old Testament in the Bible. These books are precious and invaluable to both Jews and Christians, forming the Jewish canon of Scripture and over half of the Christian canon of Scripture.
The stories written in these books are not myth or fairytales – they are historic accounts of real people. They teach us much about the character of God and His relationship with mankind, as well as many lessons about perseverance, love for God and others, bravery when facing seemingly impossible odds, forgiveness, and much more!
The laws of Moses give God’s guidelines for morality and spiritual life and the Psalms lift us up in worship of God. Many of the prophecies in the Tanakh have already been fulfilled by Jesus and by the apostles, and other prophecies give valuable information regarding the end of the world.
Most importantly, the Messiah – Jesus – is revealed in the Torah and Tanakh. Jesus is the one who crushed the head of the serpent (Satan). Jesus, born in Bethlehem from the tribe of Judah, is the star of Jacob, the prophet of which Moses spoke. Jesus is the dawning light, the child born to us. Jesus bore our sin and our punishment, so we could be redeemed, set free. Jesus is the Passover Lamb, bringing salvation from sin and death and hell, once and for all.
Study Torah and Tanakh, and you will see Jesus. Study the life and teachings of Jesus in the New Testament, and you will see Torah and Tanakh referenced on most pages.
Shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection, when the Jews asked Peter (a disciple of Jesus), “‘Brothers, what are we to do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.’”
Won’t you repent of your sins and receive Jesus your Messiah as your savior from sin?