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A page from a 17th century Armenian Bible The Bible is a collection of 66 books that together tell the story of God’s relationship with humankind. The books of the Bible were written over a period of about 1600 years, beginning around 1400 BC. Many of the stories were passed from one generation to the next by word of mouth before being written down. The Christian Bible is divided into two parts: the Old and New Testament. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, the language of the Jews, and the New Testament in Greek. The Old Testament, also called the Hebrew or Jewish Bible, contains the sacred writings of the Jewish religion. The first five books—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy—make up the Torah, a word meaning “teachings” in Hebrew.

Map of the Ancient Near East

A view of the Sea of Galilee today

Holy Land

The Bible’s 39 books tell the story of the people of ancient Israel. Most of the events in the Bible take place in or around the Holy Land, known at various times as as Canaan, Israel or Palestine, but the lands of the Bible include the Fertile Crescent, an arc of land stretching eastwards from Israel to Mesopotamia and Sumer, the rich farming land that lies between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates in modern Iraq, and, in the other direction, Egypt, the great civilization on the banks of the Nile to the southwest of the Holy Land.

The word “Bible” comes from the Latin word “biblia” (itself from the same word in Greek), meaning “the books”.

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