Dates that Affected Development of the Hebrew Bible — a.k.a. the Old Testament

Part of the Lost Books of the Bible For Dummies Cheat Sheet

The Hebrew Bible and Old Testament are the same group of writings, although Jews prefer the term Hebrew Bible. These biblical writings are much older than the Christian New Testament writings. These dates represent important events that influenced how scripture (religiously important reference writings) led to the collection of works known as the Hebrew Bible.

  • 450 BCE: Approximate year when Ezra the Scribe/Priest visits Jerusalem from Eastern portions of the Persian Empire and brings with him the "Scrolls of the Law" and teaches the people from them. This is the oldest reference to important religious writings in Jewish tradition (see Nehemiah 8).

  • 333 BCE: Alexander the Great conquers the ancient Near East.

  • 300–200 BCE: A large Jewish community develops in Alexandria, Egypt. Jewish religious writings begin to be translated into Greek, eventually producing the biblical Greek translations known as the Septuagint, which continue to expand until the first century BCE. Christians later use the Greek version for their Old Testament.

  • 200–100 BCE: The oldest of the Dead Sea Scrolls is written (according to historians' best guess).

  • 200–180 BCE: The book of Sirach (49:8–10) refers to "Twelve Prophets," suggesting an early collection of the 12 "minor" (that is, shorter) Prophets that are now part of the Hebrew Bible.

  • 20 BCE–50 CE: Philo of Alexandria makes one of the earliest references to the three-part division of Hebrew Scriptures into Law, Prophets, and Writings/Poetry. Although specific books aren't listed, an agreed-upon list is clearly emerging.

  • 4 BCE–around 32 CE: In Luke 11:48–51, Jesus may be implying that there's an emerging Hebrew "collection" of scriptures when he refers to martyrs from Abel to Zechariah, suggesting Genesis through 2 Chronicles.

  • 70–90 CE: Rabbi Yochanon Ben Zakkai, an important first-century CE Jewish leader, gathers a group of teachers in Jamnia (on the coast of Palestine). They may have discussed approved Hebrew scriptures, but there's no indication that a list is settled at this time because debates continue among scholars in later Jewish writings.

  • 70–90 CE: The ancient Jewish historian Josephus refers to the three-part division of the Hebrew Bible and refers to 22 books without listing them.

  • Around 100 CE: The book of 4 Ezra makes reference to 24 books of the Hebrew Bible without listing them.

  • Around 200 CE: The Jewish Talmud (Baba Bathra 14–15) finally provides a list of books, making it the earliest list of what emerges as the Old Testament for Protestants and the Hebrew Bible for Jews (same books, different order).

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