Nevi'im is traditionally divided into two parts:
- Former Prophets or Nevi'im Rishonim [נביאים ראשונים], which contains the narrative books of Joshua through Kings.
- Latter Prophets or Nevi'im Aharonim [נביאים אחרונים], which mostly contains prophecies in the form of biblical poetry.
In the Jewish tradition, Samuel and Kings are each counted as one book. In addition, twelve relatively short prophetic books are counted as one in a single collection called Trei Asar or "The Twelve Minor Prophets". The Jewish tradition thus counts a total of eight books in Nevi'im out of a total of 24 books in the entire Tanakh. In the Jewish liturgy, selections from the books of Nevi'im known as the Haftarah are read publicly in the synagogue after the reading of the Torah on each Sabbath, as well as on Jewish festivals and fast days.
- I. Joshua or Yehoshua [יהושע]
- II. Judges or Shoftim [שופטים]
- III. Samuel or Shmu'el [שמואל]
- IV. Kings or Melakhim [מלכים]
The book of Joshua contains a history of the Israelites from the death of Moses to that of Joshua. After Moses' death, Joshua, by virtue of his previous appointment as Moses' successor, receives from God the command to cross the Jordan. In execution of this order Joshua issues the requisite instructions to the stewards of the people for the crossing of the Jordan; and he reminds the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half of Manasseh of their pledge given to Moses to help their brethren.
The book essentially consists of three parts:
- The history of the conquest of the land (1-12).
- The allotment of the land to the different tribes, with the appointment of cities of refuge, the provision for the Levites (13-22), and the dismissal of the eastern tribes to their homes. This section has been compared to the Domesday Book of the Norman Conquest (though significantly shorter, and not the work of one man; i.e. not comparable in impressiveness).
- The farewell addresses of Joshua, with an account of his death (23, 24).
Academics treat the text of Judges as having three distinct sections:
- The Introduction (1:1-3:10 and 3:12) giving a summary of the book of Joshua
- The Main Text (3:11-16:31), discussing the five Great Judges, Abimelech, and providing glosses for a few minor Judges
- The Appendices (17:1-21:25), giving two stories set in the time of the Judges, but not discussing the Judges themselves.
The book of Samuel is essentially broken down into five parts:
- The period of God's rejection of Eli, Samuel's birth, and subsequent judgment (1 Samuel 1:1-7:17)
- The period of the life of Saul prior to meeting David (1 Samuel 8:1-15:35)
- The period of Saul's interaction with David (1 Samuel 16:1-2 Samuel 1:27)
- The period of David's reign and the rebellions he suffers (2 Samuel 2:1-20:22)
- An appendix of material concerning David in no particular order, and out of sequence with the rest of the text (2 Samuel 22:1-24:25)
A conclusion of sorts appears at 1 Kings 1-2, concerning Solomon enacting a final revenge on those who did what David perceived as wrongdoing, and having a similar narrative style. While the subject matter in the Book(s) of Samuel is also covered by the narrative in Chronicles, it is noticeable that the section (2 Sam. 11:2-12:29) containing an account of the matter of Bathsheba is omitted in the corresponding passage in 1 Chr. 20.
It contains accounts of the kings of the ancient Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah, and the annals of the Jewish commonwealth from the accession of Solomon until the subjugation of the kingdom by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians (apparently a period of about four hundred and fifty-three years). The Books of Kings synchronize with 1 Chronicles 28 - 2 Chronicles 36:21. While in the Chronicles greater prominence is given to the priestly or Levitical office, in the Kings greater prominence is given to the royal office.
- V. Isaiah or Yeshayahu [ישעיהו]
- VI. Jeremiah or Yirmiyahu [ירמיהו]
- VII. Ezekiel or Yehezq'el [יחזקאל]
- VIII. Trei Asar (The Twelve Minor Prophets) תרי עשר
The 66 chapters of Isaiah consist primarily of prophecies of the judgments awaiting nations that are persecuting Judah. These nations include Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Syria, Israel (the northern kingdom), Ethiopia, Egypt, Arabia, and Phoenicia. The prophecies concerning them can be summarized as saying that God is the God of the whole earth, and that nations which think of themselves as secure in their own power might well be conquered by other nations, at God's command.
Chapter 6 describes Isaiah's call to be a prophet of God. Chapters 35-39 provide historical material about King Hezekiah and his triumph of faith in God. Chapters 24-34, while too complex to characterize easily, are primarily concerned with prophecies of a "Messiah," a person anointed or given power by God, and of the Messiah's kingdom, where justice and righteousness will reign. This section is seen by Jews as describing an actual king, a descendant of their great king, David, who will make Judah a great kingdom and Jerusalem a truly holy city.
The prophecy continues with what some have called “The Book of Comfort” which begins in chapter 40 and completes the writing. In the first eight chapters of this book of comfort, Isaiah prophesies the deliverance of the Jews from the hands of the Babylonians and restoration of Israel as a unified nation in the land promised to them by God. Isaiah reaffirms that the Jews are indeed the chosen people of God in chapter 44 and that Hashem is the only God for the Jews (and only the God of the Jews) as he will show his power over the gods of Babylon in due time in chapter 46. It is of much interest to note that in chapter 45:1, the Persian ruler Cyrus is named as the person of power who will overthrow the Babylonians and allow the return of Israel to their original land. The remaining chapters of the book contain prophecies of the future glory of Zion under the rule of a righteous servant (52 & 54). There is a very complex prophecy about this servant, that is written in a very poetic language. Although there is still the mention of judgment of false worshippers and idolaters (65 & 66), the book ends with a message of hope of a righteous ruler who extends salvation to his righteous subjects living in the Lord’s kingdom on earth.
Some commentators have divided the book into twenty-three subsections, and perceived its contents as organized into in five sub-sections or 'books'.
- The introduction, ch. 1.
- Scorn for the sins of the Jews, consisting of seven sections, (1.) ch. 2; (2.) ch. 3-6; (3.) ch. 7-10; (4.) ch. 11-13; (5.) ch. 14-17:18; (6.) ch. 17:19-ch. 20; (7.) ch. 21-24.
- A general review of all nations, foreseeing their destruction, in two sections, (1.) ch. 46-49; (2.) ch. 25; with an historical appendix of three sections, (1.) ch. 26; (2.) ch. 27; (3.) ch. 28, 29.
- Two sections picturing the hopes of better times, (1.) ch. 30, 31; (2.) ch. 32,33; to which is added an historical appendix in three sections, (1.) ch. 34:1-7; (2.) ch. 34:8-22; (3.) ch. 35.
- The conclusion, in two sections, (1.) ch. 36; (2.) ch. 45.
In Egypt, after an interval, Jeremiah is supposed to have added three sections, viz., ch. 37-39; 40-43; and 44. The principal Messianic prophecies are found in 23:1-8; 31:31-40; and 33:14-26.
Jeremiah's prophecies are noted for the frequent repetitions found in them of the same words, phrases, and imagery. They cover the period of about 30 years. They are not in chronological order. Modern scholars do not believe they have reliable theories as to when, where, and how the text was edited into its present form.
Ezekiel contains three distinct sections.
- Judgment on Israel - Ezekiel makes a series of denunciations against his fellow Judeans ( 3:22-24), warning them of the certain destruction of Jerusalem, in opposition to the words of the false prophets (4:1-3). The symbolic acts, by which the extremities to which Jerusalem would be reduced are described in Chapters 4 and 5, show his intimate acquaintance with the Levitical legislation. (See, for example, Exodus 22:30; Deuteronomy 14:21; Leviticus 5:2; 7:18,24; 17:15; 19:7; 22:8)
- Prophecies against various neighboring nations: against the Ammonites ( Ezek. 25:1-7), the Moabites ( 25:8-11), the Edomites ( 25:12-14), the Philistines ( 25:15-17), Tyre and Sidon ( 26-28), and against Egypt (29-32).
- Prophecies delivered after the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II: the triumphs of Israel and of the kingdom of God on earth ( Ezek. 33-39 ); Messianic times, and the establishment and prosperity of the kingdom of God ( 40-48).
The book Twelve "Minor" Prophets includes:
- Hosea or Hoshea [הושע]
- Joel or Yo'el [יואל]
- Amos [עמוס]
- Obadiah or Ovadyah [עבדיה]
- Jonah or Yonah [יונה]
- Micah or Mikhah [מיכה]
- Nahum or Nachum [נחום]
- Habakkuk or Habaquq [חבקוק]
- Zephaniah or Tsefania [צפניה]
- Haggai or Haggai [חגי]
- Zechariah Zekharia [זכריה]
- Malachi or Malakhi [מלאכי]
"Minor" in this context refers to the length of the books, not the importance of the prophets themselves.
Liturgical Use: The Haftarah
The Haftarah is a text selected from the books of Nevi'im that is read publicly in the synagogue after the reading of the Torah on each Sabbath, as well as on Jewish festivals and fast days.
Certain cantillation marks appear in Nevi'im but not within any of the Haftarah selections, and most communities therefore do not have a musical tradition for those marks. J.L. Neeman suggested that "those who recite Nevi'im privately with the cantillation melody may read the words accented by those rare notes by using a "metaphor" based on the melody of those notes in the five books of the Torah, while adhering to the musical scale of the melody for Nevi'im." Neeman includes a reconstruction of the musical scale for the lost melodies of the rare cantillation notes.<ref>Neeman, J.L. The Tunes of the Bible - Musical Principles of the Biblical Accentuation, Tel Aviv, 1955 (Hebrew). Vol. 1, pp. 136, 188-189.</ref>
Aramaic translation of Nevi'im
A targum (plural: targumim) is an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible written or compiled in the Land of Israel or in Babylonia from the Second Temple period until the early Middle Ages (late first millennium).
According to the Talmud, the Targum on Nevi'im was composed by Jonathan ben Uzziel. Like Targum Onkelos on the Torah, Targum Jonathan is an eastern (Babylonian) Targum with early origins in the west (Land of Israel).
Like the Targum to the Torah, Targum Jonathan to Nevi'im served a formal liturgical purpose: it was read alternately, verse by verse, in the public reading of the Haftarah and in the study of Nevi'im.
Yemenite Jews continue the above tradition to this day, and have thus preserved a living tradition of the Babylonian vocalization for the Targum to Nevi'im.