The Jewish Bible is revered as the most important book of the Jews. It contains thirty-nine books and is divided into three sections: the Law (also known as the Torah or the Pentateuch), the Prophets (Nebi'im) and the Writings (Ketubim). The first letters of the Hebrew titles are combined for the alternate name, the TanNaKh. Because it was written in Hebrew (some parts are in Aramaic), it is also known as the Hebrew Bible, or the Masoretic Text (MT). Christians refer to the Hebrew Bible as the Old Testament.
The first and most important section, called the Torah ("the way" in Hebrew) or the Law, contains five books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), and thus is sometimes called the Pentateuch, meaning "five tools or vessels." These five books trace the history of Israel from creation (Adam and Eve), through the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob [known also as Israel, from whence comes the name of the nation of Israel], and his 12 sons), through their enslavement in Egypt and their deliverance by Moses 400 years later, and their journeys in the wilderness where they received instructions on how to live when they returned to the Promised Land (modern Israel). The narrative ends with the death of Moses.
Although authorship is traditionally ascribed to Moses (c. 1250 B.C.E.), most modern scholars accept the validity of the documentary hypothesis, which claims that the Torah was composed of four intertwined documents. The narratives combine two sources that are identified as the "Yahwist" and the "Eloist" sources because of the term used to refer to God (Yahweh and Elohim, respectively). These sources were likely compiled between 1000 and 700 B.C.E. A third source, known as the Priestly source, contributed the interspersed genealogies, and the descriptions of religious practices, festivals, and regulations. A fourth source, the Deuteronomist, provided most of the Book of Deuteronomy (long speeches by Moses), and likely had a hand in the overall editing of the collection during the Babylonian exile in the sixth century B.C.E.
The Book of the Prophets is divided into two main sections: the Former Prophets and the Latter Prophets. Though they are mainly narrative in form, the Former Prophets get their name from the stories of prophets contained therein. The first book, Joshua, recounts the military conquest of the Promised Land led by Joshua. Judges describes the chaos which followed the conquest, and the sequence of "judges" (prophets or military leaders) who took leadership. Samson and Gideon are the most memorable examples. The double volumes of Samuel and Kings trace the transition from the temporary rule of the judges to the permanent but precarious rule by the monarchy. Samuel, the judge, anoints first Saul and then David as king. Solomon, known as the wise king, succeeds him. During the reign of Rehoboam, a civil uprising leads to a division of the kingdom into Israel in the North and Judah in the South. 1 and 2 Kings tell the stories of these kings until the destruction and dispersion of Israel by Assyria in the eighth century, and the exile of Judah to Babylon in the sixth century B.C.E. Prophets, such as Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, and Elisha, convey messages from God to the kings, usually challenging their behavior. The Former Prophets recount the history of Israel from the conquest to the exile. Most scholars agree that the Former Prophets were written during the exile in order to explain why the people no longer lived in the land that had been promised to them by God.