What is the testimony of the New Testament?
One Remarkable Statement.
"This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." (Luke 24:44)
This is the only such statement in all of the Bible, dividing the Old Testament into 3 sections: the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. It is a well known fact that the Jewish Bible is divided into 3 sections as well: the Law (Torah), the Prophets (Nebi'im), and the Writings (Kethubim), the Psalms being the first book in the Writings, as the chart shows.
The Hebrew Old Testament Arrangement
The preceding classification, with minor variations, is one that was settled before or by the fourth century A.D. in the Babylonian Talmud. The name "Writings" or Kethubim seems to be a title that came along later than the New Testament, even though the divisions themselves were in existence in New Testament times. However, it is apparent that the list of Kethubim was by no means fixed and rigid. The title of that section was also slow in coming as is indicated by the 2nd century B.C. reference to the Old Testament in the Prologue of Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach or Ecclesiasticus:
"...my grandfather Jesus, when he had much given himself to the reading of the law, and the prophets, and other books of our fathers, and had gotten therein good judgment, was drawn on also himself to write something pertaining to learning and wisdom..."
"For the same things uttered in Hebrew, and translated into another tongue, have not the same force in them: and not only these things, but the law itself, and the prophets, and the rest of the books, have no small difference, when they are spoken in their own language." (The Apocrypha according to the Authorised Version, pg. 94.)
The ancient writer knew that there were 3 sections to the Old Testament, but he did not seem to know the name of the third section, if there was one. Hazrat Isa's only-one-time designation of Law, Prophets, and Psalms, may indicate that the third section was still lacking an accepted widely-known name in the 1st century A.D. However, this designation was used at least sometimes in the 1st century, else his disciples might have not understood what was being referred to:
The three sections are also referred to, in the first century AD, by Philo (De Vita Contemplativa 25) and by Hazrat Isa Masih (Luke 24:44), both of whom give the third section its earliest name of "the Psalms".
Hazrat Isa followed the order of books found in the Hebrew Bible in one sweeping statement, when he covered the contents of the entire Hebrew Old Testament, from the beginning book (Genesis 4), to the end (2 Chronicles 24:20-22):
"Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel" [Habil] "to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all." (Luke 11:50-51)
Naming this section of the Hebrew Bible after its first book, Psalms, is not without precedent among the Jews. The Hebrew title for Genesis took its name from the opening words in the book, as did the Hebrew titles for Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Lamentations. So it is natural for the unnamed collection of writings to be called by its first book, "Psalms". Many scholars take it for granted that what Hazrat Isa had in mind in saying "Law, Prophets, and Psalms" was in fact, the three divisions of the entire Old Testament canon. An interesting corroboration comes from Abdullah Yusuf Ali:
"The Jews divide their Scripture into three parts: (1) the Law (Torah), (2) the Prophets (Nebiim), and (3) the Writings (Kethubim). The corresponding Arabic words would be: (1) Tawrat, (2) Nabiyin, and (3) Kutub. This division was probably current in the time of Jesus. In Luke xxiv. 44 Jesus refers to the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms." (Ali, Ibid., pg. 283.).
The ancient historian Josephus gives further evidence of the existence of the three-fold division in the first century, also similar to Hazrat Isa's "law, prophets, psalms" designation:
"For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have,] but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them, five belong to Moses, which contain his laws, and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death. This interval of time was little short of three thousand years; but as to the time from the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life." (Josephus: Complete Works, pg. 609.)
It is apparent that Josephus' breakdown (5+13+4=22) does not tally with the (5+8+11=24) scheme found in Hebrew Bibles today, but that is due to the unsettled arrangement/combination of books within the last two divisions during that time, and not due to a differently accepted canon. There is an additional reason for Hazrat Isa and others identifying the third division with Hazrat Dawud's book, the Psalms:
David Noel Freedman, "The Formation of the Canon of the Old Testament," in Religion and Law: Biblical-Judaic and Islamic Perspectives, ed. by Edwin B. Firmage, Bernard G. Weiss, and John W. Welch (Winona Lake IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990), pp. 320-321: "The effort to rewrite or revise the classic history of Israel did not entirely succeed, but the Chronicler's work, ultimately supplemented by the memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah, constituted the framework of a third cycle of literature in the canon. Such books as the Psalter, Proverbs, and others that could be associated with the house of David (for example, Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes) were included, as well as those that dealt with the fortunes of the sacred city and its Temple (for example, Lamentations, and later, Daniel)."
"Thus, the division of Zabur as the corpus belonging to David is not an unexpected category of the Old Testament canon. It does not, in and of itself, deny the existence of the Kethubim or even make it difficult to explain their association. Freedman's explanation also answers questions regarding the separation of books like Chronicles, Ruth, and Daniel from the Prophets. When we look at the Old Testament canon in this fashion we find that the three divisions center around Moses, David, and the prophets. This is consistent with both the Islamic division and the New Testament division of the Old Testament canon." (letter from Dr. W. Barrick)
Freedman's comments bear a remarkable similarity to the record found in 2 Maccabees 2:13, written sometime prior to 50 A.D.:
"The same things also were reported in the writings and commentaries of Neemias; and how he founding a library gathered together the acts of the kings, and the prophets, and of David, and the epistles of the kings concerning the holy gifts." (The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English.)
The Greek of the LXX supports a translation along the lines of Nehemiah gathering books concerning "the kings and prophets, and that of David, and letters of kings concerning votive offerings." In Nehemiah's time, the canon/arrangement of the Pentateuch was settled, but the rest of the Old Testament canon was still in the process of being revealed and arranged. Interestingly enough, the writer of Maccabees mentions the gathering of literature which looks suspiciously like the last two sections of the Hebrew Old Testament as it was known during the first century; namely, the Prophets ("the kings and prophets", corresponding roughly to the former and latter prophets respectively), and the Psalms ("that of David"), or as later known, the Kethubim. One can only guess what scripture is signified by "letters of kings concerning votive offerings". Generally speaking, according to the above observations, the Kethubim would be primarily concerned with David (Hazrat Dawud), his lineage, or his city. Specifically speaking, however, where does the book of Job (Hazrat Ayub) fit into this scheme? Was it packaged with Hazrat Dawud because it was the only section of Scripture containing a significant amount of poetic/wisdom literature? One possibility is that as has been held by some, the author of the book Job, is none other than the son of David, Hazrat Sulayman (pbuh), linking the book with the house of David through authorship. Or perhaps there was a time in the early development of the Kethubim when Job was not included there but among the Prophets? Might this also explain why Josephus includes only four books in this section (perhaps Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs)? Anyway, these are questions that probably cannot be answered, seeing there seems to be no strong evidence to prove or disprove them.
(Copyright © 2001 Al-Kitab Scripture Research Institute