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An Introduction to the Pentateuch

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I. Identification:

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 pentáteuchos 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

II. 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 13:17-41)

B. The books contain a chronological and theological progression:2
The 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 constitution:

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

III. Authorship: Moses4

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!

IV. Documentary Hypothesis:

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 Jahweh)8

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 reflection.

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 “post-critical.”

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]),