The meaning of the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew Bible is split into three main sections:

1. Torah (Law) – five books

Jews regard this as the holiest part of the Tenakh (the Jewish Bible). The word ‘torah’ means ‘instruction’ in Hebrew (the oldest Jewish language). The Jewish Bible is mainly written in Hebrew. The Torah is known as the Five Books of Moses and it is within this that the Ten Commandments are found.

A stained glass window depicts Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God

The Five Books of Moses are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. They tell the Jews about their history, the laws they should follow and how to live according to God’s will.

2. Nevi’im (Prophets) – eight books

These books describe the history of Judaism after the death of Moses. They tell of the Jews’ relationship with Yahweh and their history. They show the covenant relationship with God in action and how the Jewish people worked through this. The three longer prophetic books are those of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

3. Ketuvim (Writings) – 11 books

The purpose of this collection, as with the Nevi’im, is to record the history of the Jews and their actions within the covenant relationship with God. The books are very varied and deal with different events and themes. For example, the story of Job is about a righteous man who is seriously tested by God. One of the main teachings here is that we may not necessarily suffer due to sin. This section also contains the book of Psalms which is a collection of writings in praise of God.