Bible 101: How is the Bible Organized?
As a kid, my Sunday School classroom had a little chart, showing all the books of the Bible and what categories they fit in. As a seven year old, I have to be honest that this meant very little to me, and I’ll be honest and say that for a long time, I never thought about it again. The Bible was the Bible and it simply was organized the way it was organized. As I got further into seminary, however, I became very interested in how the Bible was organized. The reason is because many of the categories are not immediately obvious when you divorce the text from that context, which means that in fact the act of organizing the Bible into grouped categories is in fact an act of interpretation. It’s an act which assigns genre to certain texts and groups it in with other texts that may or may not actually belong to the same tradition.
Begin At The Beginning: Old Testament and TaNaKh
The Bible opens with five books referred to by many Christians as the Pentateuch but known to Jews as the Torah (which means, “The Law”). These books lay out the origins of the world, the origins of God’s chosen people, the laws they were expected to live by, and explains how they came to live in the Holy Land. It’s a mix of law, history, and mythology, and that can be felt even within a given book itself, as in Exodus, which not only tells the story of Moses and how the Hebrews fled Egypt, but also provides explicit instructions on how to build a tabernacle for the Lord, as well as how to dress priests. The Pentateuch ends with the death of Moses and the entrance of the Hebrews into the Holy Land.
The Histories kick off with Joshua. The Holy Land, it turns out, is occupied, and must be conquered. Continuing from Deuteronomy: Joshua, Judges, First and Second Samuel, and First and Second Kings comprise the Deuteronomic Histories, kicking off the Histories of the Bible. In the Christian Old Testament and Septuagint, Ruth is often inserted in between Judges and First Samuel, because it takes place during the period of the Judges. The Deuteronomistic Histories (so, not including Ruth) have a set agenda: they explain God’s laws (Deuteronomy, part of the Torah), then tell the story of how the Israelites conquered…