The biblical canons of both modern Judaism and Protestant Christianity share the same books of Israel’s Scriptures—what Christian tradition calls the Old Testament. However, the Jewish order of these books differs from the order in Protestant denominations. In Judaism, the compilation of Scripture is called the Tanakh—an acronym for the tripartite division of Torah (the Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings). When readers move through the Jewish order of Israel’s Scriptures, they find an interesting pattern: both the second and third divisions (the Prophets and the Writings) begin with nearly identical reminders of the first division, the Torah. In this way, readers are reminded of the Torah’s centrality and the need to study the entire Bible with the Torah in mind.

The Five Books of Moses, Genesis—Deuteronomy, go by the Hebrew name “Torah” (תורה). Though English Bibles usually translate תורה as “Law,” the word means something closer to “Teaching” or “Instruction.” This understanding makes better sense, since Genesis is a narrative—not a “law”—and very little legal material appears in Numbers. More, legislative concerns don’t feature until midway through Exodus, and even Deuteronomy and Leviticus have significant narrative passages alongside the divine regulations. From a Christian perspective, calling these books the “Law” can make them seem legalistic, but this is not an accurate way to understand the diverse teachings and illuminative instructions throughout the Torah.

After the Torah, Joshua inaugurates the Prophets, and the Writings start with the Psalms. The latter two scriptural sections both begin in similar ways that remind readers of the Torah. Before the Israelites enter Canaan, God tells Joshua, “This book of the Torah (התורה; ha’torah) shall not depart from your mouth; you shall meditate (הגית; hagita) on it day and night (יומם ולילה; yomam va’laylah)” (Joshua 1:8). Similarly, the Writings begin by saying that the righteous person delights “in the Torah (בתורה; b’torah) of the Lord, and on his he meditates day and night (יהגה יומם ולילה; yehegeh yomam va’laylah)” (Psalm 1:2). The beginnings of both the Prophets and the Writings recall the importance of the Torah; Mosaic Instruction resonates throughout the Tanakh and reminds readers that all of Israel’s theology and history is built on the rock of Torah.

The word for “meditate” (הגה; hagah) in these verses does not describe meditation as it is known in Eastern religious traditions like Buddhism or Hinduism; Joshua does not require the recitation of a mantra after reading the Torah. Instead, the Hebrew הגה refers to speaking divine Teaching aloud. The poetry of the Psalms elucidates this meaning of הגה as audible utterance: “The mouth of the righteous utters (יהגה; yehegeh) wisdom and their tongue speaks (תדבר; te’daber) justice” (Psalm 37:30). The word for “utters” in this Psalm is the exact same word that appears in Psalm 1:2 at the start of the Writings. This audial understanding of “meditate” clarifies why God tells Joshua that the Torah “shall not depart from your mouth,” meaning that the Lord wants the Israelites to read the book of the Torah out loud.  

After Jesus is raised from the dead, he speaks of Israel’s Scriptures using the same tripartite division of Torah-Prophets-Writings that Judaism upholds to this day. Yeshua tells his disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written concerning me in the Torah of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). Since Jesus describes the Torah as the five books “of Moses,” the “Prophets” must begin with Joshua, and the “Psalms” indicate the start of what would later be called the Writings. Jesus would have known that the Prophets and the Psalms began with a call to meditate on the Torah, which is why he also told his disciples before his death and resurrection, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Torah to become void” (Luke 16:17).

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20 COMMENTS

  1. Shalom I like the word hagah that the word has to be spoken out loud thereby retaining it easily. Am I right? Am blessed thankyou.
  2. Dr. Schaser, I read your comments and your most enlightening discourses. I am a Catholic (Crhistian since we believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Mashiah), and my comment is that the TANAK is not our Old Testament. Our Old Testament is the Septuagint.
    • Hi Alfonso,

      Your comment kind of seems misleading in my opinion. The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Tanakh plus some other Jewish works which have become known as the Apocrypha. There are some differences between the Septuagint and the MT but the Septuagint is the same OT.
    • The Septuagint is a Jewish-Greek translation of the Hebrew Tanakh. The Catholic Bible is based primarily on the Latin Vulgate, which is a translation of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek (including parts of the Septuagint).
  3. Good read, Prof. Schaser, but I would add this: The prophets do not start with YeHoshua (Joshua), but with Moshe because he prophesied as well. And, what of Enoch? He preceded Moshe. How many times must a man prophesy before he is qualified as a prophet? I say once, not 5 times. And Moshe did prophesy. "Behold, there is a prophet coming after me who will be like me..." I believe Yeshua (Jesus) fulfilled this.
    • Thanks for your comments, Danny. Even Abraham is said to be a "prophet" prior to Moses (Gen 20:7). The article doesn't argue that Joshua was the first prophetic figure in biblical history (Joshua himself is never said to prophesy in Scripture, though Deuteronomy may allude to Joshua as a prophet; cf. Deut 18:18; 34:9-10). Instead, the article notes that the book of Joshua begins the Prophets section of the Tanakh according to Jewish tradition.
  4. In addition to what I wrote earlier, in Matthew chapter 5 Yeshua said," For I came NOT to abolish or destroy the Torah or the prophets, but to fulfill. Therefore, not ONE jot or tittle (dot or dash) is changed in ANY WAY." which means the Torah is still in effect for any/all who do not accept him as the Anointed Salvation (Ha Meshiach Yehoshua). He Berit Hadasha (the New Covenant of forgiveness supercedes Ha Torah... Yeshua's very name means Salvation! In Matthew the messenger Gavriel said to Yosef, "He shall be called Yeshua, for He will save his people." In Hebrew, "yikra yeshua l'yoshia Amo". He is the fulfillment of Yeshiyahu's (AKA Isaiah) prophecy of the Anointed Servant who suffers, then will be cut off". He is considered a Great Prophet by many Yehudim, and most of them were murdered by their own people. Amen (truth)
    • The New Testament does not claim that it "supersedes" the Torah; this would go against Jesus' words in Matthew 5:17-18. The notion that the Torah is only for those who don't follow Jesus would mean that Jesus' disciples shouldn't follow the Torah, but Jesus is speaking directly to his disciples (Matt 5:1) when he says that they must not relax any Torah command (5:19).
  5. Thanks Prof. Pinchas et.al. There wont be the New Testament without the Torah much as the Bible wont be complete without both. Yeshua validate this when he stated that "I have not come to abolish the law....." Again, thanks for the insight
  6. Thank you for sharing this.
    Speaking divine Teaching aloud is such a beautiful, profound and necessary thought!
    Shalom!
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