Wednesday, July 20, 2016

How many books in the Bible?

How Many Books are in the Bible? Qualitative Numbers, or Math for Biblical Scholars

Josephus, the Jewish historian writing in Greek after the Jewish revolt in 70, tells us that the Jews have 22 sacred books—although he doesn’t say precisely which ones. And the apocalypse Fourth Ezra mentions a revelation of 24 books. The numbers 22 and 24 also appear in later patristic Christian lists, and 24 is indeed the number of books in the rabbinic Bible…. Did Josephus have 22 specific titles in mind? Maybe. We cannot know. Either way, he, like the later writers, is working with an iconic number that exists prior to a particular catalog. To ask what exactly the 22 books were may not be the most interesting question. It’s the number itself, not any specific list, that tells us more about the scriptural imagination of some Jews in antiquity.

See Also: The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).

By Eva Mroczek
University of California, Davis
July 2016
Indeed. And then there are those 70 books books given to Ezra to share only with the wise of his people (4 Ezra 14:46). Hmmm ... 70. Do you think that could be a symbolic number too?