The Order Of The Books In The Hebrew Bible -- By: Gregory Goswell

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 51:4 (Dec 2008)
Article: The Order Of The Books In The Hebrew Bible
Author: Gregory Goswell

The Order Of The Books In The Hebrew Bible

Greg Goswell*

* Greg Goswell is lecturer in biblical studies at Presbyterian Theological College, 684 Elgar Road, Box Hill North, VIC 3129, Australia.

The Bible as a literary work is made up of text and paratext. Paratext may be denned as everything in a text other than the words, that is to say, those elements that are adjoined to the text but are not part of the text itself if the “text” is limited strictly to the words. The paratext of Scripture embraces features such as the order of the biblical books, the names assigned to the different books, and the differing schemes of textual division within the books.1 Since these elements are adjoined to the text, they have an influence on reading and interpretation. This study proceeds on the assumption that text and paratext (though conceptually differentiated) are for all practical purposes inseparable and have an important interrelationship that influences the reading process. I will examine one paratextual feature, namely, the order of the placement of the books that make up the Hebrew Bible. Where a biblical book is placed relative to other books influences, initially at least, a reader’s view of the book, raising expectations regarding the contents of the book.2 A reader naturally assumes that material that is juxtaposed is in some way related in meaning. It is this habit that forms the basis of the following survey and analysis.

It would perhaps be helpful at this early juncture to explain what I am not doing in the present study. This is not a history of the formation of the canon of Scripture. There are many books and articles that attempt such a survey. Some of these have been used in the present study, though their research and conclusions have been put to a different use than that of plotting the historical genesis of the collection of books that now makes up the Hebrew Bible. This article is not an effort to justify the limits of the canon, nor does it seek to explain why some books were included (e.g. Esther, Ecclesiastes) or some excluded (e.g. Sirach) from the canon of Scripture. Nor is it an explanation of the genesis of alternative arrangements of the biblical books. I am not concerned with genetics but with the effect on the reader of

the present arrangement of biblical books, however that arrangement may have been produced. I will seek to tease out hermeneutical implications of the canonical orders settled upon by different communities of faith. The aim is not to justify and promote a particular order of books, whether Jewish or Christian, as the exc...

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