While this question is similar to this question, I'm certain the answer will be very different, and far more complex....

How was the Old Testament compiled?

  • If you ask the various religions how it was done, God told them which books to include. But, basically, some people got together, argued, came to some decision. But, when it was put together, as an accepted canon depends on which religion you are talking about, as several of them added/removed books for centuries. Commented Sep 25, 2011 at 23:05
  • @JamesBlack: How many religions accepted the Old Testament at the time it was compiled? As far as I know, only one religion (at least at the time much/most of the OT was compiled)--Judaism. If parts were compiled later by other religions (I'm assuming you mean Christianity and/or Islam), then that would be valid in your answer as well.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 4:46
  • @Flimzy Even with Judaism, you have the Torah, yes. But then comes along the Talmud (post-Christ), which is a "non-Biblical" text from the Christian perspective. So, even the "Old Testament" from a Jewish perspective wasn't a stagnant set of documents compiled in antiquity and persisted unchanging. (Also, by using the term "Old Testament", this question presumes a Christian perspective since Jews don't call their bible the "Old Testament".)
    – Richard
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 12:28
  • Related: Why doesn't the Catholic Bible include all books from Septuagint?
    – Richard
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 12:31
  • @Flimzy - When canons are still being debated, it was still being compiled, since they were picking which books to include, so that continued for a long, long time. Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 21:07

4 Answers 4


The following is taken from a section of the Introduction in the "Complete Jewish Bible", English Version by David Stern, entitled The Canon

Scholars agree that the canon of the Torah achieved its present form before the time of 'Ezra (around 445 B.C.E.), the Prophets later and the Writings last. But the final review of the canon was made by the Council of Yavneh (Jamnia) convened around 90 C.E. by Rabbi Yochanan Ben-Zakkai in the wake of the destruction of the temple by Romans twenty years earlier. Several books now included in the Tanakh were questioned—Daniel and Ezekiel, because of their startling visions and experiences; Esther, because God is not mentioned in it; Song of Songs, because of its overtly sexual character; and Ecclesiastes, because of its depressed world-viewpoint (except for the last two verses, which redeemed it). Ecclesiasticus (not the same as Ecclesiates) was rejected by the rabbis of Yavneh but is found in the Apocrypha, a collection of fifteen ancient Jewish books that include Tobit, Judith, 1-2 Maccabees and the Wisdom of Solomon. Catholic and Anglican Bibles include the Apocrypha. Some sixty other ancient books are collectively called the Pseudepigrapha. English language editions of the Apocrypha and the Pseudipigrapha are available.

There are several more pages of history regarding the formation of newer versions, New King James, etc. and the attribution of writings (who wrote which book) for the books of the Tanakh (Old Testament) in the Introduction I've sighted above. However, the passage above seems to best answer the question about the actual "compiling" of the Old Testament.

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    Down voted because it elevates the decisions of councils overmuch. Commented Mar 27 at 9:25

Since there is only one answer at the moment, I will add mine, which is from my comments.

Basically, for Christians the OT canon was still in flux until 1647 when a final decision was made as to which books would be in the Episcopalian Bible, so the OT wasn't compiled until then.

Even the Jews didn't have a unified canon until after the death of Christ.

As long as books are being added/removed/rearranged, it is in the process of being compiled.

For links to explain these dates you can look at When was the OT canon as used by Protestants finalized?.

So, it was compiled by people coming together to determine which books should be where, and in some cases decisions to rename or split a book was made. Each group had their own reasons for their decisions, and these could be debated, but basically, long ago these decisions were argued and made, and then other groups would re-debate and make some modifications, based perhaps on newer information or better understanding.

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    So, Moses wasn't scripture until some council approved it? Surely you don't mean that, but is that not what you have said? Commented Mar 27 at 9:26

The selection of the Canon was more instantaneous than previous posts are saying. As each book was written, the godliness of the author played a significant role in recognising the canonical nature of what was written. This is a more Protestant approach.

The authors themselves may have communicated their knowledge that what they had written was of divine origin.

Be it noted there is something especially evil about writing something and then falsely claiming it is of divine origin. The difference of a scriptural work to non-scriptural work is likely to often be striking. And the difference between a godly author and an imposter is also likely to be vast.

All the books of the Old Testament were written by holy men of God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. And all the scriptures were received as scripture by other holy men of God who knew the human author to be a man of God.

Confirming the people of God's choice were at times predictions of future events, and sometimes miracles showing the people who were the true prophets of God and who were not. Also confirmation of new scripture was helped by new revelation not contradicting previously written scripture. The writings of Moses were accepted as soon as they were written. And any subsequent writing could not contradict the Torah/Pentateuch properly understood.

The Council meetings that are known to have met, merely more formally selected the Canon. They were merely setting formal approval on books which were already recognised as scripture by large numbers of God's people.

It is obvious nonsense to suppose that the people of had to wait for hundreds of years for some council to approve the writings of Moses, for instance, before they could be read as scripture.

In the case of differing Canon in different denominations we each make our own choice as to which denomination has a better understanding of the Word of God, especially with regard to the relationship between justification and sanctification, and the meaning of each, and make our choice of the "correct canon" accordingly.


Authors like Joachim Jeremias and Gerard von Rad had shown that the origins of the OT began circa 1200-900 B.C. in the David King's dynasty, probably with the Wise Solomon. They and others are in agreement that the "David King's dynasty" text in I Kg was the first in the creation of the OT.

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    The Pentateuch was completed with very minor additions, such as the account of the death of Moses, by 1406 BC. Commented Mar 27 at 9:32

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