Hilary of Poitiers on the Canon

Hilary of Poitiers (300-368) was a bishop of Poitiers in Gaul. He was one of the few churchmen of the West who were able to read Greek in his day. The influence of the earlier Greek Fathers is evident in his list of the canonical books of the Old Testament.

From his Expositions of the Psalms (Tractatus super Psalmos), § 15, written about A.D. 360.

It should be noted that this list of canonical books follows that of Origen in several matters of detail. Origen's list also appeared in an exposition of the Psalms (according to Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, vi. 25), which indicates that Hilary was drawing upon the work of Origen in his exposition. Like Origen, he lists only the books of the Hebrew canon, but afterwards he mentions that some add Tobit and Judith. The Latin text here is according to Migne, the English translation is my own.

Et ea causa est ut in viginti duos libros lex Testamenti Veteris deputetur, ut cum litterarum numero convenirent. Qui ita secundum traditiones veterum deputantur, ut Moysi sint libri quinque, Jesu Naue sextus, Judicum et Ruth septimus, primus et secundus Regnorum in octavum, tertius et quartus in nonum, Paralipomenon duo in decimum sint, sermones dierum Esdrae in undecimum, liber Psalmorum in duodecimum, Salomonis Proverbia, Ecclesiastes, Canticum Canticorum in tertium decimum, et quartum decimum et quintum decimum, duodecim autem Prophetae in sextum decimum, Esaias deinde et Jeremias cum Lamentatione et Epistola; sed et Daniel et Ezechiel et Job et Hester, viginti et duum librorum numerum consumment. Quibusdam autem visum est additis Tobia et Judith viginti quatuor libros secundum numerum Graecarum litterarum connumerare, Romana quoque lingua media inter Hebraeos Graecosque collecta. The reason for reckoning twenty-two books of the Old Testament is that this corresponds with the number of the [Hebrew] letters. They are counted thus according to old tradition: the books of Moses are five, Joshua son of Nun the sixth, Judges and Ruth the seventh, first and second Kings 1 the eighth, third and fourth [Kings] 2 the ninth, the two of Chronicles make ten, the words of the days of Ezra the eleventh, 3 the book of Psalms twelfth, of Solomon the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs are thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth, the Twelve Prophets sixteenth, then Isaiah and Jeremiah (with Lamentations and the Epistle) 4 and Daniel and Ezekiel and Job and Esther complete the number of the books at twenty-two. To this some add Tobit and Judith to make twenty-four books, according to the number of the Greek letters, which is the language used among Hebrews and Greeks gathered in Rome.


1. That is, what we call First and Second Samuel.

2. That is, what we call First and Second Kings.

3. Ezra and Nehemiah counted as one. Hilary's unusual expression sermones dierum Esdrae seems to have arisen by his misunderstanding of Origen's list of canonical books, in which it is noted that Chronicles is called Δαβρηϊαμειν, ὅπερ ἐστὶν λόγοι ἡμερῶν by the Jews.

4. Like Origen, Hilary lists the Epistle without Baruch, and may have meant "the Epistle" to refer to both together.