OTB2 – Types of literature in the Old Testament books

©  Jeff Stacey   |   Last updated:  11 May 2020

The OT books contain the following types of writings:-

  • Historical narratives
  • Speeches and dialogues
  • Poetry
  • Collections of laws, regulations and instructions, including actual copies of formal “legal” documents (eg law codes, Divine or king’s decrees, “covenant renewal witnesses”, official letters, etc)
  • Lists (eg genealogies, land distributions, statistical data, etc)
  • Prophetic “oracles” (mostly in poetic form), being God-given warnings and promises in particular historical situations, with exhortations to believe and obey Him
  • Prayers and songs (usually in Hebrew forms of poetry)
  • Collections of sayings (usually “proverbs”)
  • Passages with ancient Hebrew traditional literary structures

These various types of writings are often also embedded within each other.  For example, Genesis 1 – 5 is primarily in the form of a historical narrative.  But:-

Gen 1:1 – 2:3 has a formal structuring

Gen 2:4, 5:1a are formal “section markers” (see also Gen 6:9, 10:1, etc]

Gen 2:23 and 4:23-24 are poems

Gen 3:1-13 is a series of dialogues

Gen 3:14-19 is three Divine decrees

Gen 5:1-32 is a statistical genealogy

The meaning of any OT passage can depend greatly on its type and form.  So identifying these features is important for accurate interpretation.

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