Biblical literature, as it is
treated in this article, consists of four bodies of written works: the Old
Testament writings according to the Hebrew canon; intertestamental works,
including the Old Testament Apocrypha; the New Testament writings; and the
New Testament Apocrypha.
The Old Testament is a collection
of writings that was first compiled and preserved as the sacred books of
the ancient Hebrew people. As the Bible of the Hebrews and their Jewish
descendants down to the present, these books have been perhaps the most
decisive single factor in the preservation of the Jews as a cultural
entity and Judaism as a religion. The Old Testament and the New
Testament--a body of writings that chronicle the origin and early
dissemination of Christianity--constitute the Bible of the Christians.
The literature of the Bible,
encompassing the Old and New Testaments and various noncanonical works,
has played a special role in the history and culture of the Western world
and has itself become the subject of intensive critical study. This field
of scholarship, including exegesis (critical interpretation) and
hermeneutics (the science of interpretive principles), has assumed an
important place in the theologies of Judaism and Christianity. The methods
and purposes of exegesis and hermeneutics are treated below. For the
cultural and historical contexts in which this literature developed, see
JUDAISM and CHRISTIANITY .