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An Introduction to the Pentateuch

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A. The Pentateuch consists of the first five books of the
OT: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy
B. The term "Pentateuch" comes from the Greek term
pent teuchos meaning "five-volumed (book) after the
Jewish designation, "the five-fifths of the law"1
C. The Jews called it "Torah" (instruction) which is often
rendered in English by "Law" (Matt 5:17; Luke 16:17;
Acts 7:53; 1 Cor 9:8)
D. Although each book is a unit, together they form a
larger unit and unity
A. These five books form a backbone for the rest of the OT
and NT theologically (Deut 26:5-10; Josh 24:2-13; Acts
B. The books contain a chronological and theological
progression:2The Pentateuch: The founding of the
Theocracy--the re-establishment of God's rule on earth
through man over evil and over all creation
1. Genesis: The origins behind the founding of the
theocracy--the promised blessing of the seed in
the land and of all peoples through the seed
2. Exodus: The redemptions of the seed of Abraham out
of bondage and the formation of this people to be
a nation with a constitution
a. The redemption of the people
1) Their bondage 1--10
2) Their redemption 11-18
b. The formation of a people with a
1) Moral judgments 19-20
2) Social judgments 21--24
3) Cultic judgments 25ff
3. Leviticus: Israel's culture is established by
providing a manual of ordinances to help with
their needs when approaching God who is going to
live among His people in holiness (Lev 26:11-12)
4. Numbers: YHWH orders Israel's walk (the military
arrangement, census of the tribes, transport of
the sacred palladium), but Israel disrupts YHWH's
order; Nevertheless, the promised blessing cannot
be frustrated from within or from without
5. Deuteronomy: The reconstitution of the nation
under YHWH to enter the land through a covenant
renewal in legal-prophetic form
C. The Pentateuch is also tied around the two-fold
narrative character of narrative interspersed with
blocks of legal material. La Sor et al consider this
to be connected with the genre of the suzerain-vassal
treaty form which combines history (the historical
prologue) and law (in the stipulations)3
A. The Pentateuch is an anonymous work5
B. The Books do give indications of Moses as its writer:He
was ordered to write historical facts (Ex 17:14; Num
33:1-2), laws (Ex 24:4, 7; 34:27ff) and one poem (Deut
31:9, 22)
C. Moses is affirmed as author in the rest of the OT:
(Joshua 1:7-8; 8:32, 34; 22:5; 1 Ki 2:3; 2 Ki 14:6;
21:8; Ezra 6:18; Dan 9:11-13; Mal 4:4)
D. The NT referred to Moses as the author of the
Pentateuch (Matt 19:18; Mark 12:26; Luke 2:22; 16:29;
24:27; John 5:46-47; 7:19; Acts 13:39; Rom 10:5)
E. Moses is testified to be the author of the whole
Pentateuch in a unanimous way in the Talmud and the
Church Fathers!
A. "The aim of higher criticism is to determine the date,
authorship, composition and/or unity of the literary
works in the Old Testament"6
B. Philosophically higher criticism developed out of the
Rationalism of Spinoza (1670)
1. All truth must stand before the bar of reason
since only reason is universal in time and common
to all humanity
2. Therefore the Bible's claim of special revelation
and inspiration is repudiated
3. Therefore, not all of the Bible can measure up to
the demands of reason.
C. This was an attempt to identify the main documents
which were sources behind the Pentateuch (assuming that
Moses was not the author [under reason])
D. Elements employed to identify these blocks were:
1. Subject matter
2. The use of divine names (YHWH, Elohim)
3. Duplications in material (doublets and triplets)7
4. Similarity of vocabulary and style
5. Uniformity of theological outlook
6. Priestly Concerns
E. In 1875 Wellhausen (building upon earlier scholars such
as Graf) identified four sources behind Genesis which
were called J, E, D, P. This became known as the Graf-
Wellhausen Hypothesis:
1. The Yahwist's narrative ("J" from the German
2. The Elohist's narrative ("E")9
3. The Deuteronomist's document 10
4. The priestly document (P) dealings with priestly
issues (portions of narrative, genealogies,
ritual, cult) in Genesis through Numbers
(supposedly this comes from 586-516 BC)
F. A major difficult with this approach is that it
overlooks literary styles and techniques used in
narration (e.g., the use of duplications to communicate
sovereignty, the use of divine names to teach theology
et cetera)11
1 La Sor, Hubbard, Bush, Old Testament Survey,54.
2 This material is modified from Allen P. Ross' "An Outline
for The Theology of the Hebrew Psalter," 3-4, and class notes
from Elliott E. Johnson.
La Sor et al make a good observation when they write, "The
Pentateuch thus has two major divisions: Gen. 1-11 and Gen. 12-
Deut. 34. The relation between them is one of question and
answer, problem and solution; the clue is Gen. 12:3" (OTS, 57).
3 La Sor et al, OTS, 59 n. 7.
4 When one affirms Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, this
does not mean that there was no editorial redaction in the final
canonical form. Certainly Moses was not able to write about his
own death at the end of Deuteronomy (Deut 34:5ff). In addition
Moses was obviously not an eyewitness to the Genesis events. No
doubt these were preserved through oral tradition until the time
of the Exodus when finally Moses put them down in writing.
However, it is not necessary to follow La Sor et al's
evolutionary explanation for the formation of the rest of the
Pentateuch (OTS, 63).
5 This is in keeping with the OT practice in general and
with ancient literary works in general (cf. Joshua, Judges,
Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah (La Sor et al, OTS, 61
n. 14).
6 Allen P. Ross, "Lecture One: The Literary Analytical
Approach," 1.
7 Two creation accounts (J and P), two flood accounts (P and
J), endangering Sarah (12:10--13:1; 20:1-18), Abraham's treaty
with Abimelech (21:22-34), God's covenant with Abraham (12; 15;
17), Hagar and Ishmael (16:4-14; 21:8-21; birth of Isaac (21:1-
7); wooing of Rebekah (24); Jacob's deception of Esau and flight
from him (25--27:8; 27); theophany in Bethel (28:13-16, 19; 28:1-
12, 17-18; 20-22), Jacob's meeting with Esau (32--33), Joseph and
his brothers (37, 39--50); Theophany at Sinai (Ex 19; 20:18-21;
Moses' ascent into the mountain (24:1-4; 24:12-18); Decalogue
(34:5-26; 20:1-17); Decalogue tablets (34:24-28; 31:18); Balak's
embassy to Balaam (22:2-19); Balaam sets out on the road (22:22-
35; 22:20-21); Meeting of Balaam and Balak (32:36-40); Balaam
blesses Israel (23:28--24:9; 22:41--23:10); Balaam's second
blessing (24:10-19; 23:11-24)
8 Driver affirmed that this was written in 850 BC in the
southern kingdom. That it was personal, biographical,
anthropomorphic, included prophetic-like ethics and theological
9 Driver affirmed that this was written in 750 BC in the
northern kingdom and was more objective, less consciously tinged
with ethical and theological reflection and with concrete
particulars running from Genesis through Numbers.
There also was a source considered to be JE which an unknown
redactor combined.
10Driver affirmed that this was composed under Hilkiah for
reform and that it unified the place of worship in Jerusalem,
that it was written under prophetic influence (Jeremiah) and that
the Deuteronomic school also reworked Joshua to Kings. See the
appendix to Deuteronomy for a fuller discussion of this.
11La Sor et al write, The danger is rather that, when such
analysis becomes the concern of biblical scholarship to the
exclusion of more comprehensive, overall considerations, it tends
to reduce the Pentateuch to unrelated fragments and hence to
result in the loss of any real grasp of the unity really present
in it" (OTS,65). I would add, however, that a movement toward
canonical interpretation does not necessarily need to be at the
expense of historical, critical studies. We do not need to be
This approach was antisupernatural (did not presume direct
divine communication), evolutionary (animism, polytheism,
monotheism was an assumed development of religion), lacking in
logic and argumentation (circular in reasoning, e.g., passages
are J because they have yalad, therefore, yalad is peculiar to
J), inconsistent (mixture of J and E elements, e.g., Gen 3:1-5 is
J, but Elohim is there), proof texting (Ex 6:2-3 does not mean
they had never heard of YHWH but that they had never experienced
him [yada] as YHWH [cf. 6:7; 14:4]).