Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. I have always found your column in the Catholic Star Herald to be interesting, educational and enlightening, but I was confused by a recent reference. In answering a question about Catholics reading the Scriptures, you referred to the 73 books in the Bible: 46 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament.

Admittedly, I am a very old-school Catholic, but in all my years of Catholic education we never had more than 72 books (45 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament.) Was another book discovered, unearthed or otherwise approved when I wasn’t paying attention? (Camden, N.J.)

A. Like you, I learned that the Bible contained 72 books and was surprised to see the more recent use of the number 73. The difference lies in whether Jeremiah and Lamentations are considered as one book or two.

Although the author of Lamentations is not named internally, strong tradition (including the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate) has ascribed its origin to Jeremiah. Both books deal with the turmoil leading up to and following the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 586 B.C.

Some scholars see a notable consistency between the two books, not only in their common subject matter but in a similar tone and vocabulary. Others, though, point to the poetic style of Lamentations as sharply different from Jeremiah’s combination of history, biography and prophecy.

The New American Bible, which is the version most commonly used by Catholics, presents the two as separate books and thus counts a total of 73 books.

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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.