Term used by Christians for the first part of the Bible, though many scholars prefer to use the term ‘Hebrew Scriptures’ as a more neutral description. It is always regarded as authoritative (except by certain heretics, e.g. Marcion), though the precise contents of the OT have been disputed. In NT times the Samaritans accepted only the first five books of the OT, and at the Reformation Catholics accepted all the books contained in the LXX, while Protestants accepted the Hebrew canon and relegated the inter‐testamental books contained only in the Greek LXX to the Apocrypha.

The Hebrew Bible is divided into the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings:

The Law (Torah) reached its final form about 400 BCE and is the Pentateuch: Genesis to Deuteronomy.

The (Former) Prophets consist of the historical books which record activities of prophets—Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings.

The (Latter) Prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve Minor Prophets (Hosea to Malachi).

The Writings comprise the Psalms, Job, Proverbs, and five Rolls (Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and Esther), Daniel, Ezra–Nehemiah, and Chronicles.

The Greek OT, the Septuagint (LXX) included additional books and compiled them in a different order. The historical books are grouped together, so that after the Pentateuch, the order is: Joshua, Judges and Ruth; the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles; 1 Esdras (not in Hebrew OT), 2 Esdras (Ezra–Nehemiah in Hebrew); Esther; followed by Judith, Tobit, and 1 and 2 Maccabees (not in Hebrew); then 3 and 4 Maccabees. The next section consists of the poetical books: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sirach), Psalms of Solomon. The Prophetic Books consist of: the twelve Minor Prophets, followed by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, Lamentations, Letter of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Susanna, Daniel (including the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Children), and Bel and the Dragon.

The OT is more of an anthology than a unified document with a single theological outlook. The great insight of modern critical scholarship has been the recognition of different strands in the historical books and the overall theological stamp which has been imposed upon them at a date far later than that of the events described. The OT was compiled over a period of more than a thousand years. But its religious system is not that of Judaism as now encountered. A few pieces of poetry, such as Judg. 5, may have originated before 1000 BCE, while Daniel is as late as 165 BCE. It has been one task of critical study to try to reconstruct the course of the history of Israel, and the records of neighbouring peoples and other discoveries of archaeologists have been important. Clues are provided by the books themselves about the time and place of their composition, notwithstanding the theological and religious purposes which control the historical records. Without the texts no history of Israel could be written at all, and some details in it are confirmed by archaeologists' discoveries of inscriptions and artifacts. Such external confirmation renders the OT historical record more reliable as the centuries go on. On the other hand, there are numerous distortions and omissions—as when 2 Kings conceals the fact that Josiah was a vassal of foreign powers, and in the book of Daniel the author is incorrect about Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem and his madness for seven years.

A function of historical criticism is to determine the context of events and to evaluate with integrity the presuppositions of the editors; it thus discloses the development in the OT of religious and ethical thought over the centuries. Then a further task is what this says to a modern reader, being aware of the cultural distances. Without that degree of sympathy, no dialogue is possible.