The Hebrew Bible,  the original testament

The Hebrew Bible is a generic term for the canonical scriptures shared by Judaism and Christianity, where it is known respectively as the Tanakh and the Old Testament. Scholars of these texts often prefer to refer to them as the Hebrew Bible as their students may come from either faith.

The authors of the individual books included kings, prophets, historians and priests.

According to Jewish tradition, the contents of the Tanakh were formalised around 450 B.C.E. and thereafter changed very little. The oldest Hebrew manuscripts are those from Qumran and date from between 300 B.C.E. and 68 C.E., these include the whole text of Isaiah (Revell 1992, 598) and sections of many of the other books. 

The most significant Hebrew manuscript for our understanding of the Hebrew Bible has historically been the Masoretic Text. Formulated by the Ninth Century C.E., this represented an attempt to produce a Hebrew canon with standardised vowel markings (Revell 1992, 599). It seems to have built upon verbal traditions concerning the reading of an early standardised version that lacked vowel markings, copies of which were probably in existence as early as the first century C.E. (Revell 1992, 599).

Between the third and first centuries B.C.E., scholars (generally accepted as having been based in Alexandria) undertook the task of translating the Tanakh into widely spoken Greek (Peters 1992, 1093). The outcome was a version, usually called the Septuagint from a tradition concerning the number of scholars who did the original translation work on the Pentateuch section. However, in parallel with this tradition there is the usual scholarly dispute over the precise origins of the Greek texts and even what should be called the Septuagint (Peters 1992,1093). ‘The Septuagint’ remains a convenient shorthand by which to refer to an early body of Greek literature that contained translations of the Hebrew texts.

The earliest primary witness to the Septuagint comprise fragments dating from the second to first centuries B.C.E. (Peters 1992, 1094). The infant Church adopted the Septuagint in preference to the Hebrew (Peters 1992, 1102), no-doubt prompted by the need for public teaching to be in the common tongue within such a multi-ethnic group. Quotations from the early church provide and important secondary witness to the text . A Greek translation is still used within the Eastern Orthodox Church. 

The Septuagint preserves a tradition that pre-dates the Masoretic Text and, thought substantially the same, nevertheless differs from it in many ways (summarised in Peters 1992, 1101). These differences are generally omissions, additions, clarifications or abbreviations, however at times they are clearly attempts to influence interpretation. The text of Jeremiah is noteworthy as the Septuagint version is significantly shorter and apparently derived from a different tradition to that found in the Masoretic Text. Opinions vary as to the value of the additional stories found in Daniel (The Prayer of Azariah and the Three Young Men, Bel and the Dragon, and the Story of Susanna), all of which appear in the Apocrypha.

The Samaritans preserved their own version of the Pentateuch which differs in minor details from the canonical Hebrew Bible. Stephen appears to have quoted from this (Keener 1993, Acts 7:2-9) when he defended himself before the council (Acts 6:8–7:52).