What is it?
The Ketuvim, or writings, are a collection of individual stories, philosophical essays, songs and poems. It also contains a continuation of the historical narrative from the exile into Babylon until the return to the Land of Israel and the building of the Second Temple. Finally Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles) is a very brief summary of the entire narrative contained in the Tanach.
Ketuvim consists of:
Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs)
Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles)
Five of the books of Ketuvim are known as the Hamesh Megillot (Five Scrolls). These are Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs), Rut (Ruth), Ekha (Lamentations), Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), and Esther.
Ketuvim is the last section of the Tanach.
What is it about?
As has already been noted, there is a great variety in the subject matter and styles amongst the books of Ketuvim. Tehillim, Mishle, and Shir HaShirim (Psalms, Proverbs, and Song of Songs) are self-explanatory. Ekha (Lamentations) is a poetic lament about the destruction of the First Temple and the subsequent exile; Kohelet is a beautiful piece of philosophical prose dealing with some of the fundamental issues of life. Iyov (Job) is a philosophical story that deals with the question of faith after tragedy. Rut (Ruth) and Esther are stories, the former - about King David's great grandmother and her conversion to Judaism, the latter - the Purim story. Daniel and Ezra-Nechemiah continue the historical narrative. As mentioned above, Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles) is a summary of the historical narrative of the entire Tanach.
Where does it come from? Who wrote it down?
Different books of Ketuvim were authored by different people. The following list explains the traditional view of who wrote down what:
Tehillim (Psalms) was written down by King David and Ten Elders.
Mishle (Proverbs) was written down by the men of Chizkiah, a king of Judah.
Iyov (Job) was written down by Moses.
Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) was written down by the men of Chizkiah, but composed by King David.
Rut (Ruth) was written down by Samuel.
Ekha (Lamentations) was written down by Jeremiah.
Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) was written down by the men of Chizkiah, but composed by King David.
Esther was written down by the Men of the Great Assembly.
Daniel was written down by the Men of the Great Assembly.
Ezra-Nechemiah was written down by Ezra.
Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles) was written down by Ezra and Nechemia.
The books of Ketuvim are traditionally believed to have been divinely inspired. What this means varies from book to book, in some cases prophecy is considered to be the word of God, in others a poem or song is considered to have been inspired by God.
There was some debate amongst the sages about including certain books in Ketuvim. For example Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) was deemed by some to be too negative and depressing to be included. The status of other texts was also debated and some texts were considered to be "not quite right" in Jewish eyes. These books together compose the Sefarim HaChitzonim (External Books, or Apocrypha) - which have no religious value. Thus the process of deciding which books entered the Tanach was most definitely performed by humans - the sages of 1 CE.
What does it look like?
As with Nevi'im, Ketuvim is now mostly reproduced in standard punctuated Hebrew. One would imagine that the Hamesh Megillot (Five Scrolls - see above) would be consistently published as scrolls, at least to use for ceremonial purposes. This is not the case (with the exception of Esther), and they are usually used - like the rest of Ketuvim - from printed books. Mostly one will come across Ketuvim as part of the Tanach.
What do we do with it?
Each of the Hamesh Megillot are read on different occasions in the year.
Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) is read on Pesach.
Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) is read on Succot.
Rut (Ruth) is read on Shavuot.
Ekha (Lamentations) is read on Tisha B'Av, the ninth day of Av.
Esther is read twice on Purim.
Tehillim (Psalms) are read on many different occasions throughout the year as a great many prayers are simply quotes from Tehillim (Psalms). In addition Tehillim are often printed in a siddur (daily prayer book). The rest of Ketuvim are printed in the Tanach, and are studied in much the same way the Nevi'im are.
What language is it in?
Ketuvim is written in Biblical Hebrew, except for the second half of Daniel and part of Ezra which are written in Aramaic. Much of the language is very beautiful and poetic.
If I want to read it...
Again, the JPS Tanach, the Artscroll Tanach (which includes a short commentary) and the Jerusalem Bible are the recommended editions. Many parts of Ketuvim are stunningly poetic.
Tehillim (Psalms) are printed in many siddurim (daily prayer books), but here they are usually printed without translation. Shir HaShirim, Kohelet, and Rut are to be found in the machzorim (special festival prayer books) for the days they are read.
Artscroll and others print single volume editions of the books of Ketuvim, with extensive commentaries.
Neviim | Mishnah
Index to Jewish Texts