Windows on the Word

Nugget #235: Shavu’ot and Pentecost

The Hebrew word שָׁבֻעֹת֙ – Shavuot (sha-vu-ote) literally means ‘weeks’. The word ‘week’ in Modern Hebrew is שבוע – shavuah. Exodus 34:22 says, “And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest.” The phrase ‘feast of weeks’ is from the Hebrew – חַ֤ג שָׁבֻעֹת֙ – chag shavu’ot. In Modern Hebrew, the word חג – means ‘holiday’. The time of shavuot is given in Leviticus 23:15-16: “And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the LORD.”  The phrase ‘seven sabbaths’ is from the Hebrew – שֶׁ֥בַע שַׁבָּת֖וֹת – sheva shabatot (plural of Shabbat). Therefore Shavuot occurs 7 weeks and one day or 50 days, after Passover. In the New Testament, Shavuot is called Pentecost – which is a Greek word derived from the root for ‘five’ – referring to the 50 days.
According to Jewish tradition, Shavuot marks the giving of the Law, Matan Torah  ( מתן תורה ) to the children of Israel on Mt. Sinai, therefore, much emphasis is placed on the Word of God at Shavuot. In 1533, a Rabbi named Joseph Caro invited many of his colleagues to study Torah all night on Shavuot and so began the tradition of the “all night Torah study” on Shavuot and many people study until the morning light.
It has been said, “Reading the Bible without meditating on it is like trying to eat without swallowing.”  We must read it.  We must meditate on it, but most of all, we must obey it!  For only if we obey it do we really believe it.
A Primer on the T’nakh
Since the Word of God is studied at Shavuot, I thought a simple “primer” on the layout of the Hebrew T’nakh would be helpful and interesting to all Bible students. The Hebrew Scriptures were originally called the Mikra (מִקרָא ) from the root (קרא ) meaning ‘reading’ or ‘that which is read’ because Bible texts were always read publically. The “Jewish Canon” (the order of the books of the T’nakh), was compiled by the men of the Great Assembly, lead by Ezra, and completed in 450 BC. It has remained unchanged ever since. I am teaching you the Jewish Canon so that you can be somewhat familiar with the Mikra or T’nakh (both words are still used). The word “T’nakh” came into use during the Rabbinic period as it reflects the three-part division of the Hebrew Scriptures as shown in the below table:
English Name Transliteration
Hebrew Name <-
The Law of Moses Torah
The Prophets Nevi’im
The Writings Ketuvim
Taking the first Hebrew letter from each division (the letters in read above), we have the Hebrew acronym – תנ״ך which is transliterated as T’nakh (also Tanakh). In the tables below, we study the Hebrew names of the books of the Bible which is often very different from the English name The Hebrew names of the books is either the name of the writer or, the first word (or sometimes a prominent word in the first verse) from the Hebrew text.
The first section of the T’nakh, the Torah, contains the five books of Moses:
English Title Meaning Transliteration
Hebrew Title  <-
Genesis “in the beginning” B’reshit בְּרֵאשִׁית
Exodus “names” Sh’mot שִמוֹת
Leviticus “and he called” Vayikra וְיִקרָא
Numbers “in the desert” B’midbar בְמִדבָר
Deuteronomy “words” Devarim דְבָרִים
The second section of the T’nakh, the Prophets, is divided into two groups:
  • the Former Prophets (Nevi’im Rishonim – נביאים ראשונים)
  • the Latter Prophets  (Nevi’im Aharonim – נביאים אחרונים)
The Former Prophets contains four books:
English Title Transliteration

Hebrew Title  

Joshua Yĕhôshúa’ יְהוֹשֻעַ
Judges Shophtim  שוֹפטִים
Samuel * Shmû’ēl שְׁמוּאֵל
Kings * M’lakhim
* Note that Samuel and Kings are counted as one book each.
The Latter Prophets also contains four books:
English Title Transliteration
Hebrew Title <-
Isaiah Yĕsha’ăyāhû יְשַׁעְיָהוּ
Jeremiah Yirmyāhû
Ezekiel Yĕkhezqiēl יְחֶזְקֵיאל
The Twelve * Trei Asar תרי עשר
* Note that “The Twelve” (Minor prophets) are counted as one book
The Twelve are the Minor Prophets:
English Title Transliteration
Hebrew Title <-
Hosea Hôshēa’
Joel Yô’ēl
Amos Āmôs
Obadiah Ōvadhyāh
Jonah Yônāh
Micah Mîkhāh
Nahum Nakḥûm
Habakkuk Khăvhakûk
Zephaniah Tsĕphanyāh
Haggai Khaggai
Zechariah Zkharyāh
Malachi Mal’ākhî
The third and final section of the T’nakh, the Writings, has three divisions:
  • The Poetic Books
  • The Five Megillot (Scrolls)
  • The other books
It is important to note that the Poetic books are written in Hebrew poetry. In masoretic manuscripts and some printed editions, they appear in a special two-column form emphasizing the parallel rows in the verses. They are also the only books in the T’nakh with special cantillation notes that emphasizes these parallel rows. The Poetic books are:
English Title Transliteration
Hebrew Title <-
Psalms Tehillim תְהִלִּים
Proverbs Mishlei  מִשְלֵי
Job Eeyov אִיּוֹב
The Hebrew word for ‘scroll’ is מְגִילָה (megillah) with the plural, ‘scrolls’ being מְגִילוֹת (megillot). The Five Megillot are traditionally read in many Jewish communities in the synagogue on the holidays as follows: Passover – Song of Songs; Shavu’ot – Ruth; Tisha B’av – Lamentations; Sukkot – Ecclesiastes; Purim – Esther.
English Title Meaning Transliteration
Hebrew Title <-
Song of Solomon Song of Songs Shir Hashirim שִׁיר הַשִׁירִים
Ruth Ruth Rut רוּת
Lamentations “how” Ey-chah
Ecclesiastes “the preacher” Kohelet
Esther Esther Esther אֶסְתֵר
The last group of the writings have in common that they describe late events (i.e. the Babylonian captivity and subsequent restoration of Zion). Two of these books, Daniel and Ezra, are the only books in the Tanakh with portions written in Aramaic. Aramaic is also a semitic language and became the lingua franca for much of the Semitic world. Aramaic portions of Scripture include: Jeremiah 10:11; Daniel 2:4-7:28; Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26
English Name Meaning Transliteration
Hebrew Name <-
Daniel Daniel Daniel
Ezra Ezra Ezra
Nehemiah Nehemiah Na-chem-ya
Chronicles * “words of the days” Divrei HaYamim דברי הימים
* Note that Chronicles is counted as one book.
By hn-admin
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