Reflecting the ancient practice, the original Torah lacked divisions between words, sentences, and sections. These were added at later times. The subject of their introduction is complex because we no longer have all the facts, and there are disputes about what happened. The following is a brief highlight of how the Bible was divided.
- Christians divided the Hebrew Bible into chapters and verses in the first millennium CE. They did so to make reading more accessible and to facilitate references, such as saying the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac occurs in Genesis 22.
- Jews generally accepted this division with few exceptions despite many obvious errors, such as placing God’s creation on the seventh day, which belongs in Genesis 1, in 2. Jewry did so to be able to share the Bible with non-Jews.
- Israeli Jews divided the Five Books of Moses so they could be read in a three-year cycle. Babylonian Jews also separated the books for reading but had it completed in a year. Later, all Jewry accepted the Babylonian practice so that all Jews would act alike.
- The Masorites of the first millennium CE divided the Torah into sentences and paragraphs. There was more than one Masoretic tradition. Maimonides decided which was correct. Jewry accepted his solution. The Torah scrolls used in synagogues have the Masoretic divisions, not the chapters and verses in the Christian-initiated method.
- Many disagreed with the Masoretic divisions. For example, the Masoretic text accepts no separation between Genesis 49 and 50. Also, while the conventional sentence structure for the Decalogue (which people call The Ten Commandments) has seven sentences, the Masoretic Text has fifteen. Thus it counts more verses in the portion Va’ethchanan where the Decalogue appears, 118, more than the number acquired by the conventional usage.
- Many scholars also questioned the rationality of other divisions. For example, they felt that the first half of the sentence of Genesis 2:4 belongs to chapter one, while the second half should be the first verse in chapter two.