History of Literature, Fhilosophy and Religions



A Brief History of Western Literature
Introduction Western Literature
The Foundations of Western Literature
The Bible
Classical  Literature
The Middle Ages and the Renaissance
The 17-18th Century
The 18-19th Century 






The Bible illustrations by

Julius von Carolsfeld "Das Buch der Bucher in Bildeb"

Gustave Dore

William Blak
e "The Book of Job"



The sacred scriptures of Judaism and Christianity. The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament and the New Testament, with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox versions of the Old Testament being slightly larger because of their acceptance of certain books and parts of books considered apocryphal by Protestants. The Jewish Bible includes only the books known to Christians as the Old Testament. The arrangements of the Jewish and Christian canons differ considerably. The Protestant and Roman Catholic arrangements more nearly match one another.

Traditionally the Jews have divided their scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament) into three parts: the Torah (the “Law”), or Pentateuch; the Nevi'im (the “Prophets”); and the Ketuvim (the “Writings”), or Hagiographa. The Pentateuch, together with the book of Joshua (hence the name Hexateuch) can be seen as the account of how Israel became a nation and of how it possessed the Promised Land. The division designated as the “Prophets” continues the story of Israel in the Promised Land, describing the establishment and development of the monarchy and presenting the messages of the prophets to the people. The “Writings” include speculation on the place of evil and death in the scheme of things (Job and Ecclesiastes), the poetical works, and some additional historical books.

In the Apocrypha of the Old Testament, various types of literature are represented; the purpose of the Apocrypha seems to have been to fill in some of the gaps left by the indisputably canonical books and to carry the history of Israel to the 2nd century BC.

The New Testament is by far the shorter portion of the Christian Bible, but, through its associations with the spread of Christianity, it has wielded an influence far out of proportion to its modest size. Like the Old Testament, the New Testament is a collection of books, including a variety of early Christian literature. The four Gospels deal with the life, the person, and the teachings of Jesus, as he was remembered by the Christian community. The book of Acts carries the story of Christianity from the Resurrection of Jesus to the end of the career of Paul. The Letters, or Epistles, are correspondence by various leaders of the early Christian church, chief among them the Apostle Paul, applying the message of the church to the sundry needs and problems of early Christian congregations. The Book of Revelation (the Apocalypse) is the only canonical representative of a large genre of apocalyptic literature that appeared in the early Christian movement.


Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Plants

Cappella Sistina, Vatican



Old Testament

In its general framework, the Old Testament is the account of God's dealing with the Jews as his chosen people. The first six books of the Old Testament narrate how the Israelites became a people and settled in the Promised Land. The following seven books continue their story in the Promised Land, describing the establishment and development of the monarchy and the messages of the prophets. The last 11 books contain poetry, theology, and some additional historical works. Throughout the Old Testament, the Jews' historical relation to God is conceived in reference to the ultimate redemption of all humanity. The Old Testament's profoundly monotheistic interpretation of human life and the universe as creations of God provides the basic structure of ideas in which both Judaism and Christianity exist. The term Old Testament was devised by a Christian, Melito of Sardis, about AD 170 to distinguish this part of the Bible from the New Testament. Except for a few passages in Aramaic, the Old Testament was written originally in Hebrew during the period from 1200 to 100 BC.

The Hebrew canon recognizes the following subdivisions of its three main divisions: (1) the Torah (q.v.), or Pentateuch, contains narratives combined with rules and instructions in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; (2) the Nevi'im (q.v.), or Prophets, is subdivided into the Former Prophets, with anecdotes about major Hebrew persons in the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, and stories of the Latter Prophets exhorting Israel to return to God in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets; and (3) the Ketuvim (q.v.), or Writings, with poetry—devotional and erotic—and theology and drama to be found in Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles.

The total number of books in the Hebrew canon is 24, the number of scrolls on which these works were written in ancient times. The Old Testament as adopted by Christianity numbers more works for the following reasons. The Roman Catholic canon, derived initially from the Greek-language Septuagint (q.v.) translation of the Hebrew Bible, absorbed a number of books that Jews and Protestants later determined were not canonical; and Christians divided some of the original Hebrew works into two or more parts, specifically, Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles (two parts each), Ezra-Nehemiah (two separate books), and the Minor Prophets (12 separate books).


Pieter Bruegel the Elder
The Tower of Babel



in Judaism, in the broadest sense the substance of divine revelation to Israel, the Jewish people: God's revealed teaching or guidance for mankind. The meaning of “Torah” is often restricted to signify the first five books of the Old Testament, also called the Law or the Pentateuch. These are the books traditionally ascribed to Moses, the recipient of the original revelation from God on Mt. Sinai. Jewish, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant canons all agree on their order: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

The written Torah, in the restricted sense of the Pentateuch, is preserved in all Jewish synagogues on handwritten parchment scrolls that reside inside the ark of the Law. They are removed and returned to their place with special reverence. Readings from the Torah (Pentateuch) form an important part of Jewish liturgical services.

The term Torah is also used to designate the entire Hebrew Bible. Since for some Jews the laws and customs passed down through oral traditions are part and parcel of God's revelation to Moses and constitute the “oral Torah,” Torah is also understood to include both the Oral Law and the Written Law.

Rabbinic commentaries on and interpretations of both Oral and Written Law have been viewed by some as extensions of sacred oral tradition, thus broadening still further the meaning of Torah to designate the entire body of Jewish laws, customs, and ceremonies.


Cosimo Rosselli
Crossing of the Red Sea

Cappella Sistina, Vatican




(Hebrew), English The Prophets the second division of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, the other two being the Torah (the Law) and the Ketuvim (the Writings, or the Hagiographa). In the Hebrew canon the Prophets are divided into (1) the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) and (2) the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve, or Minor, Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi).

This canon, though somewhat fluid up to the early 2nd century BC, was finally fixed by a council of rabbis at Jabneh (Jamnia), now in Israel, c. AD 100.

The Protestant canon follows the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament. It calls the Former Prophets the Historical Books, and subdivides two of them into I and II Samuel and I and II Kings. Some Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox versions further divide Kings into four books. I and II Maccabees are also included in the Roman and Eastern canons as historical books.

The Prophets in the Protestant canon include Isaiah (which appears in two books in some Catholic versions), Jeremiah, and Ezekiel from the Hebrew Latter Prophets. The Minor Prophets (The Twelve) are treated as 12 separate books; thus the Protestant canon has 17 prophetic books. The Roman Catholics accept the book of Baruch, including as its 6th chapter the Letter of Jeremiah, both considered apocryphal by Jews and Protestants.


The Return of Judith to Bethulia

c. 1469



(Hebrew), English Writings , Greek Hagiographa the third division of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament. Divided into four sections, the Ketuvim include: poetical books (Psalms, Proverbs, and Job), the Megillot, or Scrolls (Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Ecclesiastes, and Esther), prophecy (Daniel), and history (Ezra, Nehemiah, and I and II Chronicles).

Thus the Ketuvim are a miscellaneous collection of liturgical poetry, secular love poetry, wisdom literature, history, apocalyptic literature, a short story, and a romantic tale. They were composed over a long period of time—from before the Babylonian Exile in the early 6th century BC to the middle of the 2nd century BC—and were not entirely accepted as canonical until the 2nd century AD. Unlike the Torah and the Nevi'im (Prophets), which were canonized as groups, each book of the Ketuvim was canonized separately, often on the basis of its popularity.


El Greco
The Burial of the Count of Orgaz




The Bible illustrations by

Julius von Carolsfeld "Das Buch der Bucher in Bildeb"

Gustave Dore

William Blak
e "The Book of Job"



New Testament

second, later, and smaller of the two major divisions of the Christian Bible, and the portion that is canonical (authoritative) only to Christianity.

Christians see in the New Testament the fulfillment of the promise of the Old Testament. It relates and interprets the new covenant, represented in the life and death of Jesus, between God and the followers of the Christ. Like the Old Testament it contains a variety of kinds of writing. Among its 27 books are selected recollections of the life and acts and sayings of Jesus in the four Gospels; a historical narrative of the first years of the Christian Church in Acts of the Apostles; Epistles or letters of advice, instruction, admonition, and exhortation to local groups of Christians—14 attributed to Paul, one (Hebrews) probably in error, and seven by three other authors; and an apocalyptic description of the intervention of God in history, the Book of Revelation.

The books are not arranged chronologically in the New Testament. The Epistles of Paul, for example, which address the immediate problems of local churches shortly after Christ's death, are considered to be the earliest texts. The books are instead arranged in a more logical narrative order, the Gospels telling the life of Jesus and his teachings; the Acts detailing the work of Christ's followers in propagating the Christian faith; the Epistles teaching the meaning and implications of the faith; and Revelation prophesying future events and the culmination of the divine purpose.

The setting of the New Testament within the Christian community is one factor that makes a biography of Jesus or a history of the 1st-century church difficult or impossible. The books of the New Testament were composed not in order to satisfy historical curiosity about the events they recount but to bear witness to a faith in the action of God through these events. A history of the New Testament is made difficult by the relatively short time span covered by its books when compared with the millennium and more of history described by the Old Testament. There is less historical information in the New Testament than in the Old, and many historical facts about the church in the 1st century therefore must be arrived at by inference from statements in one of the Gospels or Epistles.


Saint John Takes the Book from the Seventh Angel 

Book of Revelation

also called Book of Revelation , or Apocalypse of John last book of the New Testament. It is the only book of the New Testament classified as apocalyptic literature rather than didactic or historical, indicating thereby its extensive use of visions, symbols, and allegory, especially in connection with future events. Revelation to John appears to be a collection of separate units composed by unknown authors who lived during the last quarter of the 1st century, though it purports to have been written by John, “the beloved disciple” of Jesus, at Patmos, in the Aegean Sea.

The book comprises two main parts, the first of which (chapters 2–3) contains moral admonitions (but no visions or symbolism) in individual letters addressed to the seven Christian churches of Asia Minor. In the second part (chapters 4–22:5), visions, allegories, and symbols (to a great extent unexplained) so pervade the text that exegetes necessarily differ in their interpretations. Many scholars, however, agree that Revelation is not simply an abstract spiritual allegory divorced from historical events, nor merely a prophecy concerning the final upheaval at the end of the world, couched in obscure language. Rather, it deals with a contemporary crisis of faith, probably brought on by Roman persecutions. Christians are consequently exhorted to remain steadfast in their faith and to hold firmly to the hope that God will ultimately be victorious over his (and their) enemies. Because such a view presents current problems in an eschatological context, the message of Revelation also becomes relevant to future generations of Christians who, Christ forewarned, would likewise suffer persecution. The victory of God over Satan (in this case, the perseverance of Christians in the face of Roman persecution) typifies similar victories over evil in ages still to come and God's final victory at the end of time.

Although Christ is clearly the central figure of Revelation, an understanding of the text presupposes familiarity with Old Testament language and concepts, especially those taken from the books of Daniel and Ezekiel. The author uses the number seven, for example, in a symbolic sense to signify “totality” or “perfection.” References to “a thousand years” (chapter 20) have led some to expect that the final victory over evil will come after the completion of some millennium.


Susanna and the Elders
c. 1555
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna




in biblical literature, works outside an accepted canon of scripture. The history of the term's usage indicates that it referred to a body of esoteric writings that were at first prized, later tolerated, and finally excluded. In its broadest sense apocrypha has come to mean any writings of dubious authority.

There are several levels of dubiety within the general concept of apocryphal works in Judeo-Christian biblical writings. Apocrypha per se are outside the canon, not considered divinely inspired but regarded as worthy of study by the faithful. Pseudepigrapha are spurious works ostensibly written by a biblical figure. Deuterocanonical works are those that are accepted in one canon but not in all.

At the time when Greek was the common spoken language in the Mediterranean region, the Old Testament—the Hebrew Bible—was incomprehensible to most of the population. For this reason, Jewish scholars produced the Septuagint, a translation of the Old Testament books from various Hebrew texts, along with fragments in Aramaic, into Greek. That version incorporated a number of works that later, non-Hellenistic Jewish scholarship at the Council of Jamnia (AD 90) identified as being outside the authentic Hebrew canon. The Talmud separates these works as Sefarim Hizonim (Extraneous Books).

The Septuagint was an important basis for St. Jerome's translation of the Old Testament into Latin for the Vulgate Bible; and, although he had doubts about the authenticity of some of the apocryphal works that it contained (he was the first to employ the word apocrypha in the sense of “noncanonical”), he was overruled, and most of them were included in the Vulgate. On April 8, 1546, the Council of Trentdeclared the canonicity of nearly the entire Vulgate, excluding only the Third and Fourth Books of Maccabees, the Prayer of Manasseh, Psalm 151, and the First and Second Books of Esdras. Eastern Christendom, meanwhile, had accepted some of the Old Testament apocrypha—Tobit, Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus (Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach)—but rejected the rest.

The other apocryphal writings, canonical only to Roman Catholicism, with an exception or two, include the Book of Baruch (a prophet) and the Letter of Jeremiah (often the sixth chapter of Baruch); the First and Second Books of Maccabees; several stories from Daniel, namely, the Song of the Three, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon; and extensive portions of the Book of Esther.

Old Testament pseudepigrapha are extremely numerous and offer accounts of patriarchs and events, attributed to various biblical personages from Adam to Zechariah. Some of the most significant of these works are the Ascension of Isaiah, the Assumption of Moses, the Life of Adam and Eve, the First and Second Books of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, the Letter of Aristeas, and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs.

All the New Testament apocrypha are pseudepigraphal, and most of them fall into the categories of acts, gospels, and epistles, though there are a number of apocalypses and some can be characterized as wisdom books. The apocryphal acts purport to relate the lives or careers of various biblical figures, including most of the apostles; the epistles, gospels, and others are ascribed to such figures. Some relate encounters and events in mystical language and describe arcane rituals. Most of these works arose from sects that had been or would be declared heretical, such as, importantly, the Gnostics. Some of them argued against various heresies, and a few appear to have been neutral efforts to popularize the life of some saint or other early leader of the church, including a number of women. In the early decades of Christianity no orthodoxy had been established, and various parties or factions were vying for ascendancy and regularity in the young church. All sought through their writings, as through their preaching and missions, to win believers. In this setting virtually all works advocating beliefs that later became heretical were destined to denunciation and destruction.

In addition to apocryphal works per se, the New Testament includes a number of works and fragments that are described by a second meaning of the term deuterocanonical: “added later.” The Letter to the Hebrews attributed to Paul, who died before it was written, is one of these; others are the letters of James, Peter (II), John (II and III), and Jude, and the Revelation to John. Fragments include Mark 16:9–20, Luke 22:43–44, and John 7:53 and 8:1–11. All are included in the Roman canon and are accepted by the Eastern Church and most Protestant churches.

Heretical movements such as Gnosticism and Montanism spawned a great body of New Testament pseudepigrapha. The existence of such purported scriptures lent great impetus to the process of canonization in the young and orthodox Christian Church.


Daniele da Volterra
Madonna with Child, Sts Giovannino and Barbara

c. 1548

* * *

The Bible illustrations by

Julius von Carolsfeld "Das Buch der Bucher in Bildeb"

Gustave Dore

William Blak
e "The Book of Job"

* * *

Books of the Bible

Jewish Canon
Christian Canon
Protestant Canon
Roman Catholic Canon
(Revised Standard Version [RSV]) (Douai-Confraternity Versions)

Old Testament

Torah ("The Law")

Genesis Genesis; or, The First Book of Moses The Book of Genesis
Exodus Exodus; or, The Second Book of Moses The Book of Exodus
Leviticus Leviticus; or, The Third Book of Moses The Book of Leviticus
Numbers Numbers; or, The Fourth Book of Moses The Book of Numbers
Deuteronomy Deuteronomy; or, The Fifth Book of Moses The Book of Deuteronomy
The Book of Joshua The Book of Josue

Nevi'im ("The Prophets")

The Book of Judges The Book of Judges
The Book of Ruth The Book of Ruth
Joshua The First Book of Samuel The First Book of Kings
Judges The Second Book of Samuel The Second Book of Kings
First Samuel The First Book of Kings The Third Book of Kings
Second Samuel The Second Book of Kings The Fourth Book of Kings
First Kings The First Book of Chronicles The First Book of Paralipomenon
Second Kings The Second Book of Chronicles The Second Book of Paralipomenon
Isaiah The Book of Ezra The First Book of Esdras
Jeremiah The Book of Nehemiah The Second Book of Esdras
Ezekiel The Book of Tobias (apocryphal Tobit in RSV)
Hosea The Book of Judith (apocryphal Judith in RSV)
Joel The Book of Esther (includes The Additions to The Book of Esther, apocryphal in RSV)
Amos The Book of Esther The Book of Job
Obadiah The Book of Job The Book of Psalms
Jonah The Psalms The Book of Proverbs
Micah The Proverbs Ecclesiastes
Nahum Ecclesiastes; or, The Preacher Solomon's Canticle of Canticles
Habakkuk The Song of Solomon The Book of Wisdom (apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon in RSV)
Zephaniah Ecclesiasticus (apocryphal Ecclesiasticus in RSV)
Haggai The Prophecy of Isaias

Zechariah The Prophecy of Jeremias
Malachi The Book of Isaiah The Lamentations of Jeremias
The Book of Jeremiah The Prophecy of Baruch (apocryphal Baruch and The Letter of Jeremiah in RSV)

Ketuvim ("The Writings")

The Lamentations of Jeremiah
The Prophecy of Ezechiel
The Prophecy of Daniel (includes The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the
Psalms The Book of Ezekiel Three Young Men, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon, apocryphal in RSV)
Proverbs The Book of Daniel The Prophecy of Osee
Job The Prophecy of Joel
The Song of Songs The Book of Hosea The Prophecy of Amos
Ruth The Book of Joel The Prophecy of Abdias
Lamentations The Book of Amos The Prophecy of Jonas
Ecclesiastes The Book of Obadiah The Prophecy of Micheas
Esther The Book of Jonah The Prophecy of Nahum
Daniel The Book of Micah The Prophecy of Habacuc
Ezra The Book of Nahum The Prophecy of Sophonias
Nehemiah The Book of Habakkuk The Prophecy of Aggeus
First Chronicles The Book of Zephaniah The Prophecy of Zacharias
Second Chronicles The Book of Haggai The Prophecy of Malachias
The Book of Zechariah The First Book of Machabees (apocryphal The First Book of the Maccabees in RSV)
The Book of Malachi The Second Book of Machabees (apocryphal The Second Book of the Maccabees in RSV)

New Testament

The Gospel According to Matthew The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ According to St. Matthew
The Gospel According to Mark The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ According to St. Mark
The Gospel According to Luke The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ According to St. Luke
The Gospel According to John The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ According to St. John
The Acts of the Apostles Acts of the Apostles
The Letter of Paul to the Romans The Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Romans
The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians The First Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians
The Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians The Second Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians
The Letter of Paul to the Galatians The Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Galatians
The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians The Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians
The Letter of Paul to the Philippians The Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Philippians
The Letter of Paul to the Colossians The Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Colossians
The First Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians The First Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians
The Second Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians The Second Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians
The First Letter of Paul to Timothy The First Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to Timothy
The Second Letter of Paul to Timothy The Second Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to Timothy
The Letter of Paul to Titus The Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to Titus
The Letter of Paul to Philemon The Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to Philemon
The Letter to the Hebrews The Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews
The Letter of James The Epistle of St. James the Apostle
The First Letter of Peter The First Epistle of St. Peter the Apostle
The Second Letter of Peter The Second Epistle of St. Peter the Apostle
The First Letter of John The First Epistle of St. John the Apostle
The Second Letter of John The Second Epistle of St. John the Apostle
The Third Letter of John The Third Epistle of St. John the Apostle
The Letter of Jude The Epistle of St. Jude the Apostle
The Revelation to John The Apocalypse of St. John the Apostle


The First Book of Esdras
The Second Book of Esdras
The Additions to the Book of Esther
The Wisdom of Solomon
Ecclesiasticus; or, The Wisdom of Jesus the
Son of Sirach
The Letter of Jeremiah
The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of
the Three Young Men
Bel and the Dragon
The Prayer of Manasseh
The First Book of the Maccabees
The Second Book of the Maccabees


Note on the Apocrypha.

The Protestant Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah are known to Roman Catholics as respectively the first and second books of Esdras.
The two Apocrypha books of Esdras constitute an entirely separate entity, usually called together Third Esdras by Roman Catholics. This latter two-book Esdras is not considered part of the Old Testament by either Protestants or Roman Catholics. Eastern Orthodox churches hold all the books, including Third Esdras, to be canonical, or part of the Old Testament. The Prayer of Manasseh was included only in the appendix to the Latin Vulgate Bible.


(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Bernat Martorell
Saint Peter Altar
Museu Diocesa de Girona


see also:

The Bible illustrations by

Julius von Carolsfeld "Das Buch der Bucher in Bildeb"

Gustave Dore

William Blak
e "The Book of Job"


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