Heidegger's Bible Handbook: Old Testament in General: Major Divisions



3. The Distribution of the Canonical Books of the Old Testament with respect to external form. The major Sections. The Parashot. Their use and antiquity. The הפטרות/Haphtaroth, and their use. The Gospels answer to the Parashot, and the Apostolic Epistles to the Haphtaroth. Now, the same are wont to be distributed in a variety of ways, but chiefly with respect to their external form and matter. With respect to external form, the distribution is unto sections, and unto chapters, and unto verses. The Sections Rabbi Elias Levita[1] in his Præfatione in Hamasoret, and the Hebrews following him, divided into Major and Minor. But others into Major, Medium, and Minor. The Major are the פרשות/Parashot, the separate[2] divisions or sections of the Books of Moses or of the Law, fifty-four in number, or, as Elias prefers, and others after his example, fifty-three, signified with a triple פ or ס, and almost corresponding to the Sabbaths of a year, in such a way that on the individual Sabbaths one might be read in the Synagogues, but at the Feast of Tabernacles, with the civil year ending, the whole might be completed, with two conjoined obviously, the last of Deuteronomy, and the first of Genesis (which last reading was called שמחת תורה, the joy of the law). Concerning the antiquity of these, see the Hebrews contending in the works of the Celebrated Hottinger τὸν μακαρίτην, now dead, Thesauro Philologico, book I, chapter 2, section 5. Moreover, since this custom of reading the Law of Moses by the Parashot, besides other Sacred Rites, Antiochus Epiphanes had taken away, 1 Maccabees 1:56;[3] with his tyranny restrained, the pious doctors of that time restored it, with the הפטרות/Haphtaroth, similar sections, also added, extracted from the Prophets, and joined with the Mosaic readings, evidently for the purpose of a more ample reading. From which time legal and Prophetic sections began to be read together. Christians, imitating the Hebrews, appear in the New Testament Books to have substituted the Dominical Gospels in the place of the Parashot, and the Apostolic Epistles in the place of the Haphtaroth, with a certain Paul the Deacon attending to this.[4]

[1] Elias Levita (1468-1549) was a Jewish Hebrew grammarian. He wrote Tishbi, a lexicon presenting for the German reader seven hundred and twelve words used in the Talmud and Midrash; and Sefer Meturgeman, explaining all the Aramaic words found in the Targum. His Masoret Hamasoret is an explanation of the vocalization of the Hebrew text.


[2] פרש signifies to separate or divide.


[3] And when they had rent in pieces the books of the law which they found, they burnt them with fire.


[4] Paul Warnefridus, or Paul the Deacon (c. 720-799), was a Deacon of Aquileia, and later a Monk of Monte Cassino. He was appointed by Charlemagne to subjoin appropriate sermons of the Church Fathers to certain reading portions. From that time, the division of the New Testament into anniversary readings began to take root.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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