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Old Testament

Versions of the Old Testament

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, with a small portion in Aramaic (parts of the books of Daniel, Ezra, and Jeremiah). The text of the Hebrew Bible (called the Masoretic text, see Masora) had been standardized by the 10th cent. A.D., but the only existing Hebrew texts of biblical books before this time have been found at Qumran (see Dead Sea Scrolls). The origin of the Masoretic version is unknown.

The original Old Testament canon was the Septuagint, long used in the Greek-speaking church and still retained by the Orthodox churches. This Hellenistic Jewish translation originated with the translation of the Pentateuch in the mid-3d cent. B.C. Later translations were made from it or patterned after it. The canon of the Septuagint included the books of the later Hebrew canon, with the addition of several others, most of which were those now reckoned deuterocanonical by Roman Catholics and apocryphal by Protestants. Dispute over the canonicity of these books has its source in the Latin Bible, which found its official form in the Vulgate, the work of St. Jerome; this largely agreed with the list of books of the Septuagint, and the list and order of the Vulgate was the canon accepted by the Western Church of the Middle Ages.

At the Reformation, Protestant bodies withdrew recognition of the canonicity of those portions of the Old Testament that appeared in the Vulgate but not in the Masoretic canon, although the English church considered them (i.e., the deuterocanonical books) suitable for instruction and edification, but not for establishing or confirming doctrine. To set these books clearly apart, the translators who produced the Authorized Version (see Bible) assembled them in the Apocrypha as an appendix to the Old Testament. Thus the Protestant canon became exactly like the Masoretic, except that it retained the order of the books as they appeared in the Vulgate.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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