An old testament is an assortment of ancient Jewish books compiled by Christians and used as the first segment of their religious scriptures known collectively as the bible, of which the old testament accounts for about three quarters. The specific books in an old testament, what they should be titled, and how they should be presented differ among every major denomination of the religion, but each branch seems to agree that all of the content considered canon in the Jewish Tanakh should be included.
Christians refer to the these books as the old testament because they believe that the covenant between Yahweh and humankind was ended through the torture and execution of Jesus, and that, before he was killed, Jesus gave humans a new covenant which is described in the New Testament. Jews, however, do not believe that the original covenant between them and Yahweh has ended because, in the Torah, Yahweh says dozens of times that the covenant will never end, not even with the coming of the messiah, and Jews don't believe Jesus was the messiah anyway since he doesn't fit the prophecy in their scriptures.
Every major denomination of Christianity disagrees about which books should be considered canon in the old testament and what the books should be called. They also all disagree with the Jews on the order of presentation. Because of this, they each have different old testaments. The table below shows which books each denomination considers canon and how the group the books, however, the order of presentation is not preserved.
The following books are considered apocryphal or pseudographical by all major denominations of Christianity and Judaism.
- Apocalypse of Abraham
- Ascension of Isaiah
- 3 Baruch
- Bel and the Dragon
- Eldad and Modad
- Second Book of Enoch
- Greek Apocalypse of Moses
- History of Joseph
- History of the Captivity In Babylon
- History of the Rechabites
- Jannes and Jambres
- Joseph and Aseneth
- Ladder of Jacob
- Letter of Aristeas
- Life of Adam and Eve Collection
- Lives of the Prophets
- Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah
- Odes of Solomon
- Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children
- Prayer of Jacob
- Prayer of Joseph
- Psalm 151
- Psalms of Solomon
- Sibylline Oracles
- Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
- Vision of Ezra
I do not capitalize "old testament" unless I'm referring to a specific version like the Codex Alexandrinus Old Testament. I do this, not out of disrespect, but in accordance with the conventions of English usage. Because every major Christian denomination has their own old testament, you're not reading the Old Testament, but rather an old testament. In much the same way, "encyclopedia" is not capitalized because it is a category of book, but "Encyclopedia Britannica" is capitalized because it is a specific book in the category of encyclopedias.
For the same reason, I do not capitalize "bible," however, I do capitalize "New Testament" since there is effectively only one across Christianity. I also capitalize the individual books included in the compilations; there is variation, but not enough to warrant calling them a category rather than a specific book.
Christians have been arguing for 2,000 years (and Jews for centuries earlier) over which writings should be considered canon, and they continue to disagree to this day. If Yahweh wanted a specific canon, why didn't he reveal it to everyone everywhere? Why allow for ambiguity or debate to decide which writings are endorsed by Yahweh? Do any of them have the correct canon, and, if so, are all other denominations guilty of blasphemy for using the wrong canon? Did they fail as Christians because their bible contained books that taught them to behave differently than later Christians?
There is much conjecture and debate about the authors of the books in the old testament canon. In most of the books, the author doesn't identify himself, and historians believe that the majority of the books are not written by either the traditionally accepted authors or the the authors named in the books.
We should expect books inspired by a god to be rife with deep philosophical wisdom, full of inexplicable insight on the very foundations of the universe, and written in the most interesting way possible, but the actual content of the books of the old testament is unimpressive. Large sections of the book are dedicated to pointless lineages, bizarre animal sacrifice rituals, and long lists of strange taboos. Many stories are written multiple times in contradicting ways. Rather than provide deep wisdom, science, or enlightened morality, the authors speak of conventional wisdom of the time, describe science in basic and often flawed ways, promote slavery, encourage rape, and various other forms of barbarism. Rather than be written in an exciting manner, the book is so poorly written that most Christians who claim to believe it is the most important book ever still quickly lose interest and stop reading it.
Most of the books of the old testament show signs of redaction, some to a staggering degree. The Torah is so disjointed that historians have proposed various solutions like the Documentary Hypothesis to account for it. None of the earliest surviving manuscripts match each other perfectly, so there are a large number of sentences where we can't say with certainty what the original wrote.