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Introduction to the Pentateuch

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The bibliography for the Introduction to the Pentateuch, as well as for Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy is presented at the end of this article.

The Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible

The first five books of the Bible (both Hebrew and Christian) are foundational to all of Scripture and rank as one of the most important portions of the Word of God (Wolf 1991:17). This is so because its theological and historical revelations are necessary for an understanding of the rest of the Old Testament and the New Testament as well. These five books contain, for example, God's revelation about the origin of the world with its emphasis on the creation of man made in the image of God, how sin entered human history and the judgment that followed, and the origin of the nation of Israel and its covenant–relationship to Yahweh.

For the Jew, these five books contained an authority that the rest of (their) Scripture—the prophets and the writings—did not seem to match. This is evident in that when the Jews were driven into exile, it was the books of Moses that were read most frequently in the synagogues. The first five books of the Bible have from the earliest of time been taken by the Jews to constitute a unity known to them as the Torah or Law. To the Jews, the word Torah best described this part of Scripture as this biblical Hebrew term means not only the "law" but also "teaching" or "instruction" which more completely characterizes God’s communication to the Israelites through Moses (Wolf:1991:18).

The first five books of the Bible have commonly come to be referred to as the Pentateuch, a word derived from the Greek penta, meaning, "five," and teuchos, originally meaning “a case for carrying papyrus rolls” but in later usage, meaning the "scroll" itself. The division of these writings into five separate books may owe its origin to a practical consideration as one scroll containing all the words would be unwieldy, whereas five scrolls could be handled quite easily (Wolf 1991:17-18).

Before developing a synthesis of the individual books of the Pentateuch, it is helpful to consider issues pertaining to its authorship, author, chronology of events and dating of composition, theological emphases, and covenant forms which dominate the compositional structure of the text from Exodus through Deuteronomy.

Much has been written on an introduction to the Pentateuch, and the topics considered here are discussed in detail in other works, some of which are cited in the text and referenced in the bibliography. The intent here is to deal with these issues only to the extent necessary to carry out the goal of this work which is to develop a synthesis of each book of the Pentateuch. Some of these topics have a direct bearing on developing such a synthesis, while others provide a framework within which to better understand the Pentateuch.

Authorship of the Pentateuch

Wolf (1991:51) has noted that few subjects in Old Testament studies have generated more discussion and more disagreement than the question of who wrote the Pentateuch. Opinions range widely with some arguing that every word was written by Moses, while others insist that Moses had nothing whatever to do with the writing of the Pentateuch. Instead it is claimed that certain ancient sources, labeled J, E, P, and D, were the original documents from which the Pentateuch was formed, and that the writers of these alleged documents, the so-called Yahwist, Elohist, Priestly Code writer, and the Deuteronomist, are regarded as the true authors of the Pentateuch. (See, Archer 1985:83-108, and Wolf 1991:62-70, for a detailed discussion of the documentary hypothesis of the Pentateuch.)

While the issue of authorship is minimally important in the process of understanding the Pentateuch, the issue of the text’s unity of composition is important in order to develop a synthesis of the text. It is important, therefore for this study to establish authorship of the Pentateuch.

Conservative biblical scholarship, while acknowledging problems associated with Mosaic authorship, generally adheres to the traditional Jewish and Christian position, while liberal biblical scholarship tends to reject Mosaic authorship in support of the documentary hypothesis. This development of a synthesis of the Pentateuch is in agreement with the traditional Jewish and Christian position and assumes Mosaic authorship and, therefore, a unity of composition of the text. To argue in favor of Mosaic authorship would be extensive and not the purpose of this study. Nevertheless it is helpful to present in brief a case for Mosaic authorship.

The case for Mosaic authorship

The Pentateuch is, in a sense, an anonymous work since it does not explicitly state who wrote it. The question of authorship for the Pentateuch is complex. For example, in considering the authorship of Genesis it is evident that it deals with a vast period of time, none of which took place in Moses' lifetime.

A reading of the Old Testament, however, gives the impression that the Pentateuch was written by Moses. Add to this the testimony of the New Testament, and considerations of the Pentateuch's unity of composition, a case can be made for Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Old Testament.

More specifically, a case for Mosaic authorship can be argued on the basis of,

1. statements concerning the writing activity of Moses as found in the Pentateuch itself, as found in the rest of the OT, and as found in the NT;

2. the theological and compositional unity of the complex text of the Pentateuch which tends to support the position of a single author/unity of authorship;

3. the implication that Moses' training in the educational system of Pharaoh in Egypt would have prepared him for this great literary task; and

4. the fact that the involvement of Moses as the principle human protagonist in the record of Israel’s deliverance, desert experiences, and its birth as a nation in covenant–relationship with Yahweh, makes him the logical choice for not only the recording of those events, but, more importantly, as the author of the theological message forged from those events.

Points 3 and 4 require no supportive argument; they are reasonable logical assumptions.

In what follows, consideration is given to explicit statements in the whole of Scripture which support Mosaic authorship, and, to reasons for assuming unity, both literarily and theologically, for the Pentateuch.

Explicit biblical statements in support of Mosaic authorship
Statements found in the Pentateuch

Wolf (1991:53) has observed that a number of passages in the Pentateuch assert that Moses wrote at least part of it. In Exodus 17:14, for example, the Lord told Moses to write an account of the battle with the Amalekites. Then also, as recorded in Exodus 24:4, Moses, at Mount Sinai, wrote down all the words and laws spoken by the Lord and repeated to the people. Numbers 33:1-2 says that at the Lord’s command, Moses recorded the stages of the Israelites’ journey from the time they came out of Egypt. In Deuteronomy 31:9 the text says that Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests and commanded them to read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing at the end of every seven years when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord. The literal understanding of this text requires that a written copy of the Law must have been in existence. The most comprehensive statement of Mosaic authorship in the Pentateuch is found in Deuteronomy 31:24, where it states that after Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end he commanded the Levites to “Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord.”

Statements found in the rest of the Old Testament

The Pentateuch is not the only portion of the Old Testament which associates these five books with Moses (Wolf 1991:54). For example, after Moses' death, God instructed Joshua to obey all the law given by Moses and to meditate upon the "Book of the Law" day and night (Josh 1:7-8). Again, at the covenant renewal ceremony at Mount Ebal Joshua built an altar of uncut stones following instructions written in the Book of the Law of Moses (Josh 8:31). The specifications for this altar are given in Exodus 20:25. Additionally, Joshua 8:34-35 emphasizes that all the words of the law were read to the people. Furthermore, in his farewell address to the nation, Joshua urges the people to be faithful to God by obeying "all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses" (Josh 23:6).

Joshua was not the only one to make this association, for it is recorded in 1 Kings 2:3 that just before he died David challenged Solomon to keep the decrees and commandments written in "the Law of Moses.” Also, 2 Kings 14:5-6 says of Amaziah that when he became king he killed his servants who had slain the king his father, but he did not put to death the sons of the slayers according to what is written in "the Book of the Law of Moses." And 2 Kings 18:6; 23:2 says that Josiah served the Lord with all his heart and soul "in accordance with all the law of Moses."

Biblical scholars, at least conservative scholars, are agreed that by the time of Ezra and Nehemiah in the fifth century B.C. the Pentateuch was attributed to Moses (Wolf:1991:54). This is supported by the phrase the "Book of Moses" which appears in Ezra 6:18 and Nehemiah 13:1 as well as in 2 Chronicles 25:4.

Statements found in the New Testament

The authorship connection between Moses and the Pentateuch is even more direct in the New Testament (Wolf 1991:55) where there are numerous references to the "Law of Moses" or the "Book of Moses" (Mark 12:26), or just simply to "Moses" as in, “Moses and the prophets” (Luke 16:29, 31; 24:27; Acts 26:22). While the gospels contain many references to Moses and his writings, the most important ones are found in the gospel of John. In John 1:17 the gospel writer states that "the law was given through Moses." And in 1:45 he reports that Philip told Nathaniel he had “found the one Moses wrote about in the Law." In John 5:46-47, Jesus Himself declares that Moses wrote about Him, but the Jews did not believe that He was the Christ because they did not believe what Moses wrote. As His dispute with the Jews heated up, Jesus noted that Moses had indeed given them the Law but none of them kept it (John 7:19). In the ensuing dispute with the Jews, Jesus attributes the giving of circumcision to Moses. But John notes here that it actually did not come from Moses but from the Patriarchs. John’s clarification of this point supports the claim for Mosaic authorship. The institution of circumcision came through Abraham (Gen 17) as the sign of the covenant God made with him, yet it comes down to the Jews through the Law of Moses (John 7:22-23). Significantly, the reference to Moses' giving the Jews circumcision implicitly attributes the authorship of Genesis to Moses. Genesis is the most difficult of the five books to link to Moses, thus if some connection can be made between Moses and the Book of Genesis a case can be made for Mosaic authorship of the entire Pentateuch.

The Pauline epistles use "Moses" in a similar manner as, for example, in Romans 10:5 where Paul says that "Moses describes . . . the righteousness that is by the law," and then goes on to quote Leviticus 18:5. In 2 Corinthians 3:15 Paul refers to the veil that covers the hearts of the Jews "when Moses is read." It would seem, that in these contexts "Moses" denotes the "Books of Moses," and thus the Pentateuch. Nowhere in the New Testament is there any hint that some individual authored the Pentateuch other than Moses.

Unity of composition in support of unity of authorship

Demonstrating the literary unity of the Pentateuch does not prove Mosaic authorship. However if such unity can be shown for major portions of the Pentateuch an argument can be made for unity of authorship which can be used to support a claim for Mosaic authorship. Unity of composition for the Pentateuch is not argued for in detail here but only broadly from the perspective of continuity in the overall story, narrative structure, and grammatical features.

Continuity/unity of narrative story

The five books of the Pentateuch present a coherent picture of the origins of mankind, its fall into a state of sin, and the result of that fall. It also presents a coherent picture of the birth and development of Israel as a nation in covenant–relationship with Yahweh (Wolf 1991:18-19). Furthermore, except for Genesis, these books focus on the life and ministry of Moses whom God raised up to lead the sons of Israel out of bondage in Egypt and into that covenant-relationship with Himself, and to, but not into, the Land of Promise as a fulfillment of His promise to Abraham. The continuing role of Moses as the protagonist in Exodus through Deuteronomy, and the central focus of Yahweh's developing covenant–relationship with Israel, in accordance with the promises He made to Abraham, serve to unify the books of the Pentateuch.

Continuity/unity in narrative structure

The main narrative sections of the Pentateuch are concluded by poetic material sometimes followed by an epilogue (see, for example, Sailhamer 1990:7-8). For example, at the close of the patriarchal narratives stands the blessings of Jacob which are written in poetic form in Genesis 49 and an epilogue in chapter 50. The Exodus narratives are concluded by the song of Moses (Exodus 15) written in poetic form, and the wilderness wanderings are followed by Balaam's oracles (Num 23-24) written in poetic form. And at the end of the Pentateuch there is a double poetic section containing Moses' song of witness and blessing on the twelve tribes (Deut 32-33), followed by an epilogue (Deut 34).

Continuity/unity in grammatical features

Along with the overall continuity in the narrative, there are also certain grammatical features that underscore the unity of the Pentateuch. For some reason, as Wolf (1991:19) points out, these books fail to distinguish between the third person pronouns "he" and "she." Instead of making this distinction like the rest of the OT, the Pentateuch uses only the masculine form.

Conclusion on Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch

While it is possible to conclude as some have that the witness of the Pentateuch itself to Mosaic authorship can be understood as confirming only that certain portions of the text were written by Moses, there is nevertheless other credible biblical evidence to support his writing of the text. And while it would seem that certain portions of the Pentateuch were additions from later periods of Israel's history (see, Wolf 1991:58-60), it does not invalidate that Moses could have written the majority of the text. For example, the declaration of the humility of Moses (Num 12:3) would hardly be convincing if it came from Moses' own judgment. Equally difficult to determine in the Book of Numbers is the origin of the Balaam story (Num 22-24). Since Moses was not a participant in these events, or even an observer of them, their origin as Scripture is somewhat problematic. These and other examples suggest later additions to the text of the writings. Nevertheless, there is reasonable evidence to support Mosaic authorship, and it is reasonable, therefore, to conclude along with both Jewish and Christian tradition, that authorship of the majority and essential content of the Pentateuch is to be ascribed to Moses.

The person of Moses

From a Jewish perspective, the dominant figure of the Pentateuch and, to a certain extent, of the entire OT is Moses. Abraham plays a key role in Genesis, but his stature and accomplishments do not match those of Moses. Although Abraham was the founding father of Israel, Moses was the one who organized the nation, promulgated their laws, and, under God, led them for forty years through the wilderness. Throughout this time he was a prophet, a priest, and, in effect, a king/ruler as he directed every facet of Israel's national life. The NT highly praises both Abraham and Moses, but it was Moses who appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration, along with Elijah, to talk with Jesus (Matt 17:3-8).

Though he was born into a Jewish household as a member of the tribe of Levi, he was raised an Egyptian by Pharaoh's daughter and given an education befitting a prince of the royal household. Moses' concern for his people in later life led directly to his self-imposed exile from Egypt. His calling by God after forty years in the desert of Midian set him aside as a prophet, one who would speak the word of God to the sons of Israel and to Pharaoh. In his role as a prophet, Moses was unique. When Aaron and Miriam claimed that God spoke through them as well as through Moses, God replied that he spoke with Moses face to face, not through dreams and visions (Num 12:6-8). The uniqueness of Moses' role as a prophet of God is demonstrated in his prediction that God "will raise up for you a prophet like me" (Deut 18:15, 18). After many centuries of prophets coming and going, Israel was, at the time of Christ's appearance, yet looking for the prophet of whom Moses spoke (John 1:21). According to Acts 3:21-23 this was fulfilled in Christ.

Closely associated with Moses' prophetic role were the "miraculous signs and wonders" that Yahweh performed through him, first in Egypt, and then in the wilderness (Deut 34:10-11). A prophet was also a man of prayer interceding on behalf of others (see for example, Gen 20:7). Moses' intercession on behalf of Israel (Exod 32:11-14) clearly demonstrates his function as a mediator between God and Israel. The year that Israel spent at Mount Sinai was a significant time for Moses, for it was then that he served as lawgiver and became mediator of the covenant Yahweh entered into with the sons of Israel. The people were afraid to listen to the powerful voice of God, so God spoke to Moses and Moses gave them the laws and statutes (Exod 20:18-19). Moses "wrote down everything Yahweh had said" and read to the people from "the Book of the Covenant" (Exod 24:4, 7). Moses' role as lawgiver is clearly connected with the writing of the Pentateuch since all five books are referred to as "the Law."

At Mount Sinai Moses also directed the establishment of national worship under the leadership of the priests and Levites. Moses officiated at the ordination of the priests, offering the prescribed sacrifices and applying the blood required by the Levitical law (Lev 8). Thus, before Aaron was installed as high priest, Moses was Israel's priest. It is evident from this that in order for Moses to officiate at the inauguration of the Aaronic priesthood he necessarily must have been sanctified. Since there is no record of this happening, it is clear that God Himself must have sanctified Moses, likely at the burning bush incident when he was told by God to take off his sandals because he was on holy ground (Exodus 3:1-6; compare this with Isa 6:1-7). And it was Moses who received from Yahweh the plans for the construction of the Tabernacle and the regulations for the various offerings (Exod 25:9; Lev 7:37-38). Significantly, Moses remained the spiritual leader of Israel even after the priests and Levites were carrying out their responsibilities.

Dating and chronology of the Pentateuch

The importance of chronology in establishing a history of a nation has been underscored by Thiele (1983:33):

CHRONOLOGY IS THE BACKBONE of history. Absolute chronology is the fixed central core around which the events of the nation must be correctly grouped before they may assume their exact position in history and before their mutual relationships may be properly understood. Without exact chronology there can be no exact history. Until a correct chronology of a nation has been established, the events of that nation cannot be correctly integrated with the events of neighboring states. If history is to be a true and exact science, then it is of fundamental importance to construct a sound chronological framework about which may be fitted the events of states and the international world.

The importance in establishing a chronological framework in order to understand the history of the Old Testament including the Pentateuch is clear.

Establishing a chronological framework of the Old Testament in general, and of the Pentateuch in particular, is problematic, however, because biblical data, the primary source for establishing a chronology, is generally with respect to some person, such as a king (see for example Jeremiah 1:2-3 and Daniel 1:1), or event, such as an earthquake (see for example Amos 1:1) and results, therefore, in a relative rather than “absolute” dating of events and persons. It is beyond the intent of this brief section to discuss what is meant by an absolute chronological framework. Suffice it to say that such a framework can be established for examining the history of a nation in relationship to other nations based on historical records of that nation.

In order to establish an absolute chronology some chronological reference point needs to be established or identified. The Western world choose the birth of Christ as that reference point. Given that point (see Hoehner 1977:11-27 for a detailed determination of the date of the birth of Christ), a chronology can be derived backwards and forwards in time. This does not solve all the problems associated with establishing a robust chronological framework, one that will allow for the study of all nations. It is critical that there be points of intersection between nations, societies, cultures (see Daniel 1:1 as an instance of intersection between Israel and Babylonia).

In establishing a chronological framework for the Old Testament including the Pentateuch, often times more data than the biblical record is needed. The primary sources for developing an Old Testament chronology include, but are not necessarily limited to, biblical data, archaeological data, and astronomical data.

Sources of chronological data

Biblical sources

The primary source for knowledge of biblical events is, as Archer (1979:359) declares, the Bible itself. The frequent references to individual life spans and to regnal years of kings, as well as such chronological data as the interval between the Exodus and the building of the Temple of Solomon (1 Kings 6:1), and the length of the Egyptian sojourn (Exod 12:40, 41), serve to establish major chronological data points of OT Hebrew history.

Chart 1 summarizes biblical chronological data important for establishing a chronology of the Pentateuch. It is important to observe from this summary that much of this data provides chronological reference for the events relative to the Exodus. Thus establishing an absolute date for the Exodus is important for establishing a chronology of the Pentateuch. This is done in a subsequent section.

Chart 1 Summary of Biblical Chronological Data

Biblical Source

Chronological Data

Genesis 15:13

Israel to be enslaved and oppressed 400 years in a foreign country;

Exodus 12:2, 18

The Exodus from Egypt takes place on the 15th day, of the 1st month, of the 1st year (Note: from this point on, time in the Pentateuch; is referenced with respect to the date of the Exodus)

Exodus 12:40, 41

Israel lived in Egypt 430 years to the day; (Note: this is referenced back in time from the Exodus)

Exodus 19:1

Israel arrived at Mount Sinai on the 15th day, of the 3rd month, of the 1st year after the Exodus;

Exodus 40:2

Erection of the Tabernacle on the 1st day of the 1st month (of the 2nd year) after the Exodus;

Numbers 1:1

Taking of the first census commanded at Sinai on the 1st day, of the 2nd month, of the 2nd year from the Exodus;

Numbers 10:11

Israel's departure from Sinai occurred on the 20th day, of the 2nd month, of the 2nd year after the Exodus;

Numbers 20:1

Israel arrives at Kadesh Barnea in the 1st month (of the 40th year?)

Numbers 20:22

Israel set out from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor;

Numbers 22:1

Israel traveled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho (in the 40th year);

Numbers 33:1

Israel set out from Rameses on the 15th day of the 1st month (of the 1st year) the day after the Passover (see also, Exod 12:2);

Numbers 33:38, 22:24

Aaron died on Mount Hor on the 1st day, 5th month, of the 40th year after the Exodus;

Deuteronomy 1:1

It takes 11 days to go from Horeb (Mount Sinai) to Kadesh Barnea;

Deuteronomy 1:1-3

Moses spoke to Israel on the East bank of the Jordan (the plains of Moab) on the 1st day of the 11th month of the 40th year after the Exodus;

Deuteronomy 2:7

Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness;

Deuteronomy 2:14

Israel wandered in the wilderness for 38 years from the time they left Kadesh Barnea until the Exodus generation died off and Israel arrived at the plains of Moab;

Deuteronomy 34:7

Moses died on the Plains of Moab when he was 120 years old (therefore Exodus 2:1 to Deuteronomy 34:7 spans 120 years);

Joshua 4:19

Israel entered the Land on the 10th day, of the 1st month, (of the 41st year) after the Exodus;

Joshua 5:6

Israel moved about in the desert forty years from the time they had left Egypt until the time they entered the land of Canaan;

Joshua 14:7

Caleb was 40 years old when he spied out the land of Canaan (Num 13:1-16);

Joshua 14:10

Caleb was 85 years old at the time of the division of the Land (45 years from the time Moses spoke to him about his inheritance);

Joshua 24:29

Joshua was 110 years old when he died;

Judges 11:26

Israel had lived in the Land 300 years when Jephthah was judging;

1 Kings 6:1

Construction of Solomon's Temple began exactly 480 years after Israel came out of Egypt, in the 4th year of Solomon’s reign, the 2nd month;

1 Kings 6:38

The Temple was completed in the 8th month of the 11th year of Solomon’s reign;

Galatians 3:17

The Law came 430 years after the giving of the promise to Abraham;

Archaeological sources

Archaeological artifacts are important in establishing a chronological framework for the Pentateuch and the rest of the Old Testament because they can be used to determine the time period of successive layers of ancient Near Eastern archaeological sites. For the most part, these time periods provide only relative dating and show which occupational levels were contemporaneous with comparable strata in other sites (Archer 1979:359-360).

Livingston(1974:4-9) has noted that Palestinian archaeologists have discovered that the most reliable means to establish relative dating sequences is to carefully observe and record layers of soil through which they dig. For in these layers they have discovered that particular types of pottery are repeatedly found in particular layers that have the same sequence. Study of this archaeological condition has revealed that both soil layer and its matching type of pottery were tied with a specific people and their culture. Pottery chronology has, Livingston observes, been refined to the extent that archaeologists can, for the most part come within about fifty years of dating the beginning and end of any occupation site. Other artifacts found by archaeologists that aid in identifying people and dating events include such things as buildings, home utensils, implements used for farming, hunting, and manufacturing, weapons of war, art objects, tombs, bones, weights, coins, and, most importantly, inscriptions.

Helpful for deriving absolute dating during the era of Israel’s kings was Assyria's practice of dating years by the name of an official known as the limmu, who normally held office for only one year. Incomplete limmu lists, recovered from archaeological artifacts, go back prior to 1200 B.C. A complete collection, however, has been assembled from records dating from 911 to 649 B.C., a time of importance in Israel’s history as it spans the reigns of most of the nation’s kings (Archer 1979:360). Thiele (1983) has dealt at length with the issue of dating the Hebrew kings in detail and has established a complete list.

Astronomical Sources

As Livingston (1974:2) points out the king lists permit a largely relative chronology within Egyptian history, providing us with the knowledge that a certain king and the events of his reign preceded or followed some other king. What is not known from this information, however, is when these things occurred with respect to an absolute reference point, which for the West is the birth of Christ. Help in such cases can come from astronomical data.

Livingston (1974:1-2) provides a good example of the importance of astronomical data in helping to establish an absolute chronological framework from a stream of historical data that provides only a relative chronology. Writing on the Egyptian dynasties as reference points, he notes that the Sothic cycle makes it possible to assign an absolute date to the major dynasties and to many individual kings in Egyptian history. From the king lists a fairly complete relative chronology may be determined. However, it is not known from this data when these things occurred with respect to the absolute reference which the West has accepted, namely, the birth of Christ. However, given the event which marked the beginning of the solar year for the Egyptians, namely, the rising of the Dog Star, Sothis, it is possible to correlate the relative chronology of the Egyptian king lists with the absolute chronological framework accepted in the West. Livingston records that on good evidence the rising of Sothis occurred in A.D. 139, and the previous occurrence would have been in 1317 B.C. and the one prior to that in 2773 B.C. With this information, it has been possible to take the three instances of when Sothis is reported to have risen on a certain calendrical day in a certain royal year and, ascertaining where the calendar was in its cycle, assign and absolute date to the royal year. The earliest of these, he says, is 1872 B.C. Having determined this chronological framework, it is possible, Livingston argues, to establish a fixed checkpoint for another culture whenever that culture intersects with that of Egypt. Then given that point of intersection in the established chronological framework that culture’s chronological information can be assessed and arranged.

Also referencing the Sothic cycle, Archer (1979:360) observes that it is possible to establish that the ninth year of Amenhotep I was 1545 B.C. In the ninth year of Amenhotep I, a heliacal rise of Sothis was observed on the ninth day of the third month of summer. Modern astronomers have calculated that, if the observation was made from Memphis or Heliopolis, such an observation could only have been made on that day in 1537 BC. If the observation was made in Thebes, however, it could only have taken place in 1517. The latter choice is usually accepted as correct since Thebes was the capital of early 18th dynasty Egypt; hence, Amenhotep I is given an accession date in 1526 BC, although the possibility of 1546 BC is not entirely dismissed. This is significant from a biblical perspective because if, as argued for below, the Exodus took place in 1446 BC (the early date) then it took place in the reign of the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep II (1450-1425) who followed Amenhotep I.

Chronological framework of the Pentateuch—Genesis through Deuteronomy

In establishing a chronology for the Pentateuch two broad time periods are considered; the time period for Genesis, and the time period for Exodus through Deuteronomy. For Genesis, there are two chronological frameworks to be considered; that which is prior to the Patriarchs, and that which is for the Patriarchs. In the case of Exodus through Deuteronomy, the prominent chronological factor which establishes the chronological framework is the date of the Exodus.

Chronological framework prior to the Patriarchs (Genesis 1-11)

In constructing a chronology for the Pentateuch is important to understand that for the time period before the Patriarchs (Gen 1-11), OT data are very limited and concise and there exists the possibility of gaps in the genealogical biblical records recorded in Genesis 5 and 11 (Archer 1979:361-365) as such genealogies were not intended to serve a narrow chronological purpose as is the case in the modern sense. Rather, like those in Matthew 1 or Luke 3, their main purpose was theological (see Kitchen 1966:37-38; and Archer 1979:361).

One may question, therefore, whether these genealogies are really to be understood as being continuous throughout. There are indications which suggest that this is not the case. One such indication is found in the phrase "A begat B" which does not always imply direct parenthood. This is shown by its use in Matthew 1 in cases where links are known from the OT to have been omitted. Terms like "son" and "father" can mean not only '(grand)son' and '(grand)father' but also 'descendant' and 'ancestor' respectively. Thus, in Genesis 5 and 11, 'A begat B' may often mean simply that 'A begat the line culminating in B.' In such cases, one cannot use these genealogies to fix the date of the Flood or of the earliest man, Adam (Kitchen 1966:37-38; see also, Archer 1979:361).

In addition, there are some problems associated with the biblical data and external evidence as well. For example, Kitchen (1966:36) has observed that the time covered by the genealogies from Adam to Abraham, if taken to be continuous, is not nearly long enough when compared with external data. If the birth of Abraham is taken to be about 2000 B.C., as is generally argued for, then on the basis of the biblical chronological data the Flood would have occurred some 290 years earlier, at about 2300 B.C. However, on the basis of Mesopotamian evidence this date is excluded because it would fall some 300 or 400 years after the period of the Gilgamesh of Uruk for whom (in both Epic and Sumerian King List) the Flood was already an event of distant past.

All of this, however, does not necessarily mean the genealogical data recorded in Genesis 5 and 11 are without any factual basis. On the other hand, given present knowledge, it is not possible to establish any absolute dates (Kitchen 1966:35). It is not even possible to establish a relative chronology from Adam to Terah with reasonable certainty owing to the possibility of gaps in the genealogical biblical record (Archer 1979:361-365).

Chronological framework of the Patriarchs (Genesis 12-50)

Biblical scholars are not all agreed on the date of the Patriarchal age (Kitchen 1966:41). There are three independent 'main lines' of approach, Kitchen (1966:42-43) argues, that can be taken to establish a chronological framework for this important period of Israel's history. One approach seeks to determine if any major events in the Patriarchal narratives can be linked with external history. Another approach seeks evidence of chronological data preserved in the details of the narratives, such as personal names, legal usages, etc., which can be correlated with possible use in the Near Eastern context recorded in other documents. A third approach gives consideration to possible chronological links between the Patriarchal era and later epochs.

Major events and external history

According to Kitchen (1966:43-47), the main event of this kind is the raid of the four Eastern kings of Genesis 14. Archaeological data in the Transjordan suggests a date of ca. 1800 B.C., while the names of the four Eastern kings fit the period ca. 2000-1700 B.C. Additionally, the system of power-alliances (four kings against five) is typical of Mesopotamian politics within the period ca. 2000-1750 B.C. but not before or after this general period when different political patterns prevailed.

Chronological data preserved in narrative details

Again according to Kitchen (1966:47-53), the personal names of the Patriarchs and their families can be directly compared with identical or similarly formed names in Mesopotamian and Egyptian documents of the 20th to 18th centuries B.C. and occasionally later. Further, seasonal occupation of the Negev region on the southwest border of Palestine is archaeologically attested for the 21st to 19th centuries B.C., but not for a 1000 years earlier or for 800 years afterwards. It is known from Genesis 20:1; 24:62, that Abraham and Isaac spent time in this area, and from Genesis 26:12; 37:7 that they were keepers of flocks and herds and occasionally grew crops of grain. This activity would best fit the period of ca. 2100-1800 B.C. Additionally, Patriarchal customs of inheritance find close parallels in the Mesopotamian culture of ca. 1500 B.C., and in the Old Babylonian culture in Ur ca. 19th to 18th centuries B.C. And lastly, the price of twenty shekels of silver paid for Joseph in Genesis 37:28 is the price that would have been paid for a slave in about the 18th century B.C. Earlier than this, slaves were cheaper, with an average price of ten to fifteen shekels, while later they became steadily more expensive.

Links with later periods

Kitchen (1966:53-56) has observed that certain passages and genealogies in the Pentateuch link the Patriarchs to the period of the Exodus. One such link is found in Genesis 15:13, where Abraham was informed that his descendants would dwell in a foreign land where they would be oppressed as slaves for 400 years, and in Exodus 12:40-41, which records that the people of Israel had lived in Egypt for precisely 430 years. The discrepancy in these time periods can be accounted for, Kitchen suggests, by understanding the 400 years as a round figure in prospect, while the 430 years should be understood as more precise in retrospect.

An additional link between the Patriarchal period and the time of Moses is found in Galatians 3:17 where Paul, in speaking of the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant, mentions that the Law came 430 years after the promises were given. Several explanations have been set forth concerning the 430 years noted by Paul (see Kitchen 1966:53). Some have suggested that it began with Abraham, in which case the 430 years included Israel's time of about 200 years in Canaan and about 200 years in Egypt. The Septuagint supports this view, but this conflicts with the clear statement in Exodus 12:40, 41 that the Egyptian sojourn was 430 years exactly. Another suggestion is that the period began with the confirming of the Abrahamic Covenant with Jacob (Gen 35:9-12). A third and perhaps best view is that the period began with the final confirmation of the Covenant to Jacob just prior to his moving to Egypt (Gen 46:1-4). According to this last view, the period of time noted in Galatians 3:17 corresponds to the period of the sojourn in Egypt and correlates exactly with Exodus 12:40.

Another link is found in Genesis 15:16 where Abraham was told that his descendants would return to Canaan in 'the fourth generation' (Hebrew dor). The simplest explanation is that the four dor correspond to the 400 years, not to 'generations' in the modern sense. This, Kitchen says, is suggested by clear evidence from Ugaritic and early Assyrian sources which indicate that dor or daru can mean a 'span' or 'cycle of time' of eighty years or more.

Yet another link is found in the genealogies. Some scholars, Kitchen says, dismiss the figure of four centuries between the Patriarchs and the Exodus by appealing to Exodus 6:16-20, a 'genealogy of Moses and Aaron, which they interpret as four literal generations lasting in total only a century or more. But in doing so they overlook the following facts:

1. Exodus 6:16-20 is not a full genealogy, but only gives the tribe (Levi), clan (Kohath), and family-group (Amram by Jochebed) to which Moses and Aaron belonged, and not their actual parents. Evidence for this is found in the fact at the time of the Exodus the Amramites were numerous, and so Amram must be considered as having lived much earlier.

2. Then too, the statement that 'Jochebed bore (to Amram) Aaron and Moses in Exodus 6:20 does not prove immediate descent. Evidence here is found in, for example, Genesis 46:16-18 which indicates that the children that Zilpah 'bore' to Jacob include great-grandsons.

3. Lastly, ancient Near Eastern genealogies were often selective and not continuous. The genealogies cannot, therefore, be used to contradict the stated period of 400 years, and, therefore, in cases like this, continuity of genealogies has to be proved, not assumed.

Based on all these considerations, Kitchen (1966:56) concludes that the total evidence accords well with a chronological framework for the Patriarchs between the 20th to 18th centuries B.C.

Chronological framework for Exodus through Deuteronomy—The Date of the Exodus

The major event which occurred during the time period which is recorded in Exodus through Deuteronomy was, as noted above, the Exodus. The date which this event took place is critical for establishing a chronological framework as all other events after it are keyed to it. It is important, therefore, to establish this date in an absolute chronological framework (i.e., the Western calendrical system) so that correlation can be made with other nations with which Israel’s history intersected.

The date of the Exodus is much debated. Two principal views exist concerning this date: the early date view (ca. 1446-1440 B.C.) during the reign of the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep II (1450-1425), and the late date view (ca. 1299-1232 B.C.) during the reign of Rameses II. Support for the early date comes from the biblical record and archeological data while support for the late date comes primarily from archaeological data (Hannah 1985 104-105). Much has been written on this issue. What follows is a very brief argument in favor of the early date.

Arguments for the early (15th century) date

The traditional date of ca. 1446 B.C. is based on 1 Kings 6:1, which specifies very definitively that the fourth year of Solomon's reign was the four hundred and eightieth year after the Exodus (see Hannah 1985:104). It is has been established that the fourth year of Solomon's reign was ca. 966 B.C. (see Thiele 1983:67-78 for the establishment of an absolute date in Hebrew chronology). This would establish the date of the Exodus at 1446 B.C. These figures seem to be corroborated by evidence found in Judges 11:26 where it is recorded that Jephthah said that Israel had possessed the land of Canaan for 300 years. The time of Jephthah’s statement has been established at approximately 1106 B.C (see, for example, Merrill 1987:148-149). If the 300 years spoken of in Judges 11:26 refers back to the time when the Conquest proper began, then adding 40 years from the Exodus to the beginning of the Conquest, a date of 1446 B.C is obtained for the Exodus. On the other hand, if the 300 years spoken of in Judges 11:26 refers back to the time when the Conquest proper ended, then adding another six or seven years for the conquest of the land results in a date of 1452 or 1453 B.C. for the Exodus. While this evidence is approximate, it clearly supports the early date as opposed to the late date (see, Kaiser 1990:290).

Second, as Hannah (1985:104) points out, archeological evidence from Egypt during this period corresponds with the biblical account of the Exodus (see Unger 1954:140-145; and Archer 1964: 215-216), particularly with respect to Amenhotep II.

Third, events in the region of Canaan about 1400 B.C. correspond with the Conquest under Joshua (Hannah 1985:104). In particular, archaeological evidence found at Jericho, Ai, and Hazor suggest that they were destroyed about 1400 B.C. Waltke (1972:47) has noted that all the accredited Palestinian artifactual evidence supports the literary account that the Conquest occurred at the time specifically dated by the biblical text.

Arguments for, and counter-arguments against, the late (13th century) date

While the argument advanced by proponents of the early date is straightforward and based on biblical evidence, proponents of the late dating of the Exodus, such as Kitchen (1966 57-75), argue the following points which are first stated and then argued against (see, for example, Hannah 1985:104-105):

1. Argument

The Exodus could not have take place until after 1300 B.C. because while the Israelites were in Egypt, they built the city of Rameses (Exod 1:11). If this city were named for the Pharaoh, Rameses II (1299-1232 B.C.), it is argued that the Exodus could not have occurred prior to 1290 B.C.

Counter argument

This point is discredited on the basis of historical considerations. While Exodus 1:11 states that Rameses is one of two cities built by the Israelites, Genesis 47:11 also states that Jacob and his sons settled in "the land of Rameses." Whereas it is true that Rameses II was a prodigious builder, it is not at all certain that the city mentioned in Exodus 1:11 bore his name at first. It appears from Exodus 1 and 2 that Moses had not been born until after Rameses was built, and yet he was 80 years old at the time of the Exodus. The same problem exists with the appearance of the name "Rameses" in Genesis 47:11, hundreds of years before the reign of Rameses II. A likely explanation is that in both cases earlier names were updated by a later editor who used the more recent name. Support for this explanation is found with regards to Genesis 14:14 where Abraham pursued the captors of Lot as far as Dan. But the name of the city was Laish until the tribe of Dan captured it and renamed it in the days of the Judges (Judg 18:29).

Another argument against the identification of Rameses as the pharaoh of the Exodus is the length of the reign of the king who preceded him. Rameses predecessor, Set I, reigned for only twelve years, clearly not long enough to account for the time Moses spent in Midian. On the other hand, Thutmose III, the pharaoh of the oppression according to early date view, ruled from about 1495-1450 B.C. This time span allows sufficient time for Moses to have taken refuge in Midian for 40 years (Acts 7:30) and then have been told at the burning bush that "all the men who wanted to kill you are dead" (Exod 4:19).

2. Argument

The 480 years of 1 Kings 6:1 is an approximate figure representing twelve generations. Since twenty-five years more nearly corresponds to a generation, the twelve generations (implied by 1 Kings 6:1) would be only about 300 years. Thus the Exodus would have occurred around 1260 B.C. and the Conquest about 1220 B.C.

Counter argument

There is no basis for claiming that the 480 years represents twelve generations. The text of 1 Kings 6:1 is very explicit in reporting the year and month that construction on the Temple began. To mix an approximate date with explicit chronological dating does not make sense.

3. Argument

Archaeological data (accumulated in the late 1930's) suggests that the presence of strong opposition to the Israelites from the Edomites (Num 20:20-21) was impossible before 1300 B.C. because the region of the southern Transjordan was unoccupied from 1900-1300 B.C.

Counter argument

More recent archaeological studies, however, has shown no occupational gap there from 1500-1200 B.C.

4. Argument

Archaeological data suggests that Hazor did not fall to the Israelites until 1300 B.C.

Counter argument

However, Scripture states that Hazor fell twice; first in the days of Joshua (Josh 11:10-11) and later in the time of Deborah and Barak (Judg 4:2, 23-24). Further, there is evidence in one area of the excavated city of a destruction around 1400 B.C.

5. Argument

Archaeological evidence at the ancient sites of Lachish and Debir have uncovered a pattern of destruction which indicates that these cities were destroyed by fire in the 13th century B.C.

Counter argument

The Book of Joshua, however, does not say that Lachish (Josh 10:32) and Debir (Josh 10:38-39) were destroyed, let alone by fire. The only cities that the Book of Joshua indicates were destroyed by fire are Jericho (Josh 6:25) and Ai (Josh 8:28) during the southern campaign, and Hazor (Josh 11:13) during the northern campaign. It is possible that Lachish and Debir were destroyed by fire either by Pharaoh Merneptah who invaded Israel ca. 1230 B.C., or by the Sea Peoples who invaded the land about 1200 B.C.

There appears to be no valid reason for rejecting the biblical data. Consequently, the date of the Exodus is taken as 1446 B.C. on the basis of 1 Kings 6:1, with supporting evidence in Judges 11:26, and on the date of 966 B.C. as the fourth year of Solomon's reign.

Summary on a chronological framework for the Pentateuch

Based on the date of 1446 B.C. as the date for the Exodus, and using biblical data summarized in Chart 1.1, as well as extra-biblical data about the kings, nations, and people, interacting with Israel, and certain astronomical data, a chronological framework keyed to modern reckoning, can be established for the Pentateuch (see, for example, Archer 1979:364-368; Merrill 1987:31). Chart 2 presents a broad chronology of the Patriarchs and Israel’s sojourn in Egypt.

Date of composition

Assuming Mosaic authorship, then the Pentateuch would have to have been written some time between the time of the Exodus and the death of Moses, namely, between 1446 and 1406 B.C. Given this, it is possible that Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus were composed during the one year Israel was encamped at Mount Sinai (1446-1445 B.C.). The books of Numbers and Deuteronomy would have to have been completed in the final year of Israel's forty years of wandering in the wilderness (1407-1406 B.C.).

The Recipients

The recipients of the Pentateuch are clearly the Israelites, redeemed and delivered from bondage in Egypt, separated to Yahweh, and then brought into covenant-relationship with Him at Sinai. It would seem that the books of the Pentateuch were directed to every generation of Israel because the covenant entered into at Sinai and renewed on the Plains of Moab was cut with every generation and not just the one ratifying it as recorded in Deuteronomy 29:14-15. However, having said that it is clear that the immediate recipients of the books of Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus would likely have been the Exodus generation, while the immediate recipients of the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy would have been the second generation from the Exodus, or the soon-to-be "Conquest" generation. The relationship between geography, time, and major events in the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, may be summarized as Chart 3 shows.

Editor's Note: Numbers 1:11 in this graphic should probably read Numbers 1:18, and the reference to Numbers 25:18 is uncertain. Perhaps it refers to Numbers 33:38?

Lastly, it is helpful to see in graphic form, as shown in Chart 4, the chronological relationship of the Pentateuch with the rest of Israel's OT history.

Theological types of Christ appearing in the Pentateuch

Identifying major theological themes and emphases is an important aspect of correctly understanding a book of the Bible. These themes are derived individually for each book of the Pentateuch and presented in the Analysis and Synthesis for that book. There is, however, one aspect of these themes which runs throughout the Pentateuch and it is appropriate to discuss it here in the introduction. That theme is theological types of Christ.

Following his resurrection, Jesus appeared to two of his disciples as they were traveling home on the road to Emmaus. Not recognizing him, they engaged him in conversation which led to his chiding them for not understanding that the Christ was to have suffered before entering into his glory. Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:13-27). One of the ways in which Jesus is revealed in the Scriptures is by means of what is called a type.

A biblical type may be defined as a historical person, object, institution, or event that has, in addition to its historical significance, a divinely intended future significance. In this function, it foreshadows a corresponding person, object, institution, or event, known as an antitype. Types are limited to only two categories, and any supposed type that does not fit one of these two categories is not legitimate. A type can be substantiated when the NT designates it as one. A second category allows for types that are not explicitly designated as such but are strongly implied by the meaning expressed in the text. In this later case, there is a correspondence between type and antitype.

The following is a summary of the types of Christ revealed in the Pentateuch.

Adam as a type of Christ

Adam is recognized as a type of Christ in as much as the NT explicitly designates him as such; “. . . as did Adam, who was a pattern (type/typos) of the one to come” (Rom 5:14). Both entered the world through a special act of God as sinless men. Adam is the head of the old creation; Christ is the Head of the new creation. Through Adam's one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men; through Christ's one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all who believe in Him (Rom 5:15-19).

Melchizedek as a type of Christ

Melchizedek (righteous king of Salem) is declared a type of Christ in Hebrews 7. Speaking of him, the writer of Hebrews declares that without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, he, like the Son of God remains a priest forever (Heb 7:3). Thus Melchizedek typifies Christ as high priest. For as David declares of Christ in Psalm 110:4, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

Isaac as a type of Christ

In Genesis 22 it is recorded that Abraham was called upon by God to offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice, a burnt offering (Gen 22:2). The similarity between this and what is implied by John 3:14-16, strongly suggests a typical relationship between Isaac and Christ through a correspondence of circumstances. This is strengthened when it is taken into consideration that Isaac was born of miraculous circumstances, and was the heir to all the promises of God. Furthermore, as Christ willingly gave himself up to be the “lamb of God,” so too it would seem that Isaac gave himself in obedience to his father even unto death.

Joseph as a type of Christ

Joseph typifies Christ in some ways with respect to His first and second advents. Joseph, like Christ at His first advent, was rejected by his brothers and sold into slavery for a price. Like Christ, Joseph suffered persecution and hardship before being exalted. Like Christ, Joseph endured several levels of humiliation going from favorite son, to servant, and then slave before being exalted as ruler of the land (see Phil 2). Like Christ, Joseph was maltreated by his brothers who intended it for evil but God effected it for good. In this regard Joseph was sent before his brothers to prepare the way for their deliverance in the time of great famine (Gen 45:4-8; 47:23-25; 50:20-21). In this way Joseph was used to effect blessing upon the elect seed and other families of the earth in a typical fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant, even as Christ will do at His second coming. Further, Joseph typifies Christ at His second coming in that he tested his brothers to see if they had truly repented even as Christ will purify his brothers during the Tribulation and lead them to repentance. In summary, Joseph and Christ are both objects of special love by their fathers; both are hated by their brethren; both are rejected as rulers over their brethren; both are conspired against and sold for silver; both are condemned though innocent; and both are raised from humiliation to positions of exaltation by the power of God to be agents of blessing. Taking all this into consideration leads to the conclusion that Joseph is a type of Christ by correspondence.

Judah as a type of Christ

Judah, the elect line through whom the ruler would come (Gen 49:10), is a type of Christ at His first coming by correspondence in the willing offer of himself as a substitute for his brother. When the sons of Israel are tested by Joseph, Judah, as Christ who came after him, offers himself as a substitute in place of his brother Benjamin (Gen 44:32-33).

Moses as a type of Christ

Moses is a type of Christ by correspondence in a number of ways. Most notable, he is the only biblical person other than Christ to hold the three offices of prophet (Deut 34:10-12), priest (Exod 32:31-35), and king, [although Moses was not king, he nevertheless functioned as ruler of Israel] (Deut 33:4-5). As a prophet, Christ was the prophet like Moses of whom Moses spoke (Deut 18:15; John 1:45; Acts 7:37). Further, both were endangered in infancy, both renounced power and wealth, both were rejected by their brethren, both were deliverers, lawgivers, and mediators. Additionally, Moses, like Christ, offered himself as a substitute for the nation after the people sinned by worshiping the golden calf at Sinai. However, unlike Christ, God did not accept Moses' offer, but instead accepted his intercessory request to forgive the people.

Passover lamb as a type of Christ

The Passover lamb is a type of Christ with respect to the sacrificial offering of himself. By correspondence, the lamb, like Christ, was without blemish and was sacrificed as a substitute with the blood being applied to effect atonement for sin. In this same way, every animal sacrifice offered to effect atonement for sin is a type of Christ. Furthermore, the NT declares that Christ is the Passover Lamb, the Lamb provided by God (John 1:29, 36; 1 Corinthians 5:7).

The Rock as a type of Christ

The rock from which water sprung in the wilderness is a type of Christ, for 1 Corinthians 10:4 declares that "they drank of the spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.”

The bronze serpent as a type of Christ

The bronze serpent on the stake (Num 21:4-9) is a type of Christ as Jesus Himself declares in John 3:14, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Both the serpent and Christ are lifted up. Faith is involved in both cases. Those who looked on the serpent were delivered and received, or did not loose, their physical life, while all who “look” on Christ lifted up on the cross by faith receive eternal life.

The sacrifices and feasts of Israel as types of Christ

The typological significance of the sacrifices and feasts of Israel is discussed in the Analysis and Synthesis of the Book of Leviticus presented in Chapter 4.

Covenants of the Pentateuch

Three covenants are recorded in the Pentateuch; the Noahic, the Abrahamic, and the Mosaic. From the perspective of biblical history, the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant are of primary importance in that they play a major role in the developing relationship between Yahweh and Israel. In the following, each covenant is briefly discussed in terms of its nature, function, and form.

The nature and function of the covenants of the Pentateuch

A covenant in the OT is a sworn agreement between two parties, where no blood relation exists. The Pentateuch contains examples of covenants between individuals, nations, and between God and man. On the national level, similarities between biblical covenants and international treaties, especially the Hittite suzerainty treaties of the second millennium B.C., have been recognized. The basic structure of these treaties has been compared at length with the covenant entered into by Yahweh and Israel at Mount Sinai. This comparison has led to the conclusion that there is a strong possibility that God relates to Israel as a suzerain relates to a vassal, and that Yahweh required the same allegiance demanded by the Hittite king. (See Mendenhall 1955 & 1962, and, Kline 1963, who deal with the issue of covenant in Israel in detail; see also Livingston 1974:153-157.)

Noahic Covenant

The Noahic Covenant was an everlasting covenant made with Noah and his descendants—all of humanity from that point on in time—in which God promised unconditionally that never again would He destroy the earth and all the flesh on it with a flood (Gen 9:8-11). As a sign of the covenant, God designated the rainbow as a reminder (to mankind) of His binding promise. While this covenant is important because it reveals that God would never again bring a flood judgment on mankind, it provides no revelation concerning His relationship with Israel or the nations as do the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants.

Abrahamic Covenant

God's covenant with Abraham marks the theological high point of Genesis and perhaps of the entire Pentateuch. (See Mitchell 1970 for a consideration of Abram’s understanding of the covenant.) First expressed in Genesis 12:1-3 in the form of a promise, it is then formally encoded and instituted as a covenant in Genesis 15:9-21 with the sign of the covenant specified in Genesis 17, and then sealed with an oath in Genesis 22:15-18. Affirmation and expansion of the covenant is recorded in chapters 13, 17, and 22. Isaac and Jacob, the elect seed of Abraham, receive confirmation of the covenant in Genesis 26:2-5 and 35:11-12, respectively. In summary, God promises to bless Abraham, to make him into a great nation, to give him and his descendants the land of Canaan as an inheritance, and to bless all the nations of the earth through him. Like the Noahic Covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant is everlasting (Gen 17:7, 13, 19), and it is unconditional. The only stipulation was that Abraham leave family and home and travel to an unknown land that God would reveal to him (Gen 12:1). In the ceremony ratifying the covenant, God alone took an oath passing between the pieces of the slaughtered animals (Gen 15:17). Abraham and his male descendants were required to be circumcised as a sign of the covenant (Gen 17:10-11). Galatians 3:17-18 emphasizes the promissory nature of the Abrahamic Covenant and affirms that the giving of the Mosaic Law did not set aside the former covenant which came 430 years later. After the passing of several centuries, God proved His faithfulness by remembering His covenant with Abraham and effected Israel's redemption from Egypt in order to bring the now great number of descendants of Abraham into relationship with Himself and give them the land of Canaan even as He had promised Abraham (Exod 2:24; 6:5).

Mosaic Covenant

In leading the sons of Israel out of Egypt God was separating them to himself, and in this process he proposed, at Mount Sinai, to make a covenant with them (Exod 19:1-5). The heart of the Mosaic Covenant is the Ten Commandments. The first of these commandments is foundational to the whole covenant-relationship forbidding Israel to have any other God but Yahweh––"you shall have no other gods before Me" (Exod 20:3). Significantly, this is the stipulation that Israel continuously violated from the very beginning until they were expelled out of the Land of Promise and driven into Babylonian exile.

The Mosaic Covenant differs from the Abrahamic Covenant in that it is not called an everlasting covenant. Yet certain aspects of the covenant are referred to as "lasting" or "permanent." For example Israel was to observe the Sabbath "as a lasting covenant." Observing the Sabbath was the sign of the Mosaic Covenant, corresponding to circumcision as the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant. Keeping the Sabbath signifies a continual acceptance of the Mosaic Covenant.

After forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the Mosaic Covenant was renewed by the new generation as they were poised to enter into and take possession of the Land of Promise. This was necessitated by the fact that the Exodus generation had effectively broken the covenant by their defiant refusal to obey Yahweh and enter and take possession of the land of Canaan. Such treaty renewal was apparently common among the Hittites when one of their vassal kingdoms had had a change in rulership. At the time of Israel's covenant renewal, the stipulations were brought up to date in light of Israel's changing conditions of going from a nomadic to a sedentary lifestyle. According to Deuteronomy 29:1, the covenant made with the new generation on the Plains of Moab contained some additional stipulations, but was still built on the foundation of the original covenant. Thus, this covenant renewal should not be viewed as a new, or even an additional covenant, but an update to the original in view of Israel's changing situation. This is indicated by the repetition of the Ten Commandments recorded in Deuteronomy 5.

The form of the Pentateuch covenants

The royal, or land grant covenant form of the Abrahamic covenant

Though Abraham's opportunity to participate in the covenant privileges was obviously conditioned on his leaving Ur and his family and journeying to Canaan, the subsequent covenant was unconditional. As many scholars now recognize, the covenant and its circumstances were in the form of a royal (land) grant, a legal arrangement well attested in the ancient Near East. This type of grant was initiated by a benefactor such as a king who, for whatever reason, wished to confer a blessing on a subject. It was often construed as a reward for some service rendered by the subject, but many times there was no expressed rationale. The grant was a boon explicable by nothing other than the sovereign pleasure of the benefactor. And just as its bestowal was unconditional so was its maintenance. The covenant could stand regardless of the behavior of its recipient. Thus the Abrahamic Covenant should be viewed as an unconditional grant made by Yahweh to His servant Abraham, a grant that was to serve a specific and irrevocable function. (See Weinfeld 1970 for a detailed discussion of the covenant of grant in the OT and the ancient Near East.)

The suzerainty-vassal covenant form

It has been observed (see Mendenhall 1955 & 1962, and Kline 1963) that in the Hittite international treaty texts there are nearly always found six elements which constitute the treaty between suzerain and vassals, but the order is not fixed. Rather, there is considerable variation in the order of the elements as well as the wording. Occasionally, one element or another may be lacking. These elements include a preamble, historical prologue, stipulations, provision for the preservation of the treaty, invocation to the gods, specification of curses and blessings, and a ratification ceremony.


The preamble identifies the suzerain, or "great king," who is the author of the covenant and the one giving it to his vassals. The emphasis is upon the majesty and power of the king.

Historical prologue

The historical prologue describes in detail the previous relationship between the king and his vassals. In particular, great emphasis is placed on the deeds which the king has performed for the benefit of the vassals. What this description amounts to is that the vassal is obligated to perpetual gratitude toward the great king because of the benevolence, consideration, and favor which he has already received. Immediately following this, the devotion of the vassal to the great king is expressed as a logical consequence. The vassal, therefore, is exchanging future obedience to specific commands for past benefits which he received without any real right.


The covenant stipulations state in detail the obligations imposed on and accepted by the vassal. They include typically:

1. The vassal must make a thorough commitment to the suzerain to the exclusion of all alien alliances.

2. The vassal agrees to a prohibition of any enmity against anything under the sovereignty of the great king. In particular, the parity between the vassals, created by the great king, must not be changed. One vassal cannot be a slave or dependent of another vassal. Every hostile action against a co-vassal is hostility against the king himself, and the king promises to take the part of the oppressed.

3. The vassal must answer the call to arms sent him by the king. To fail to respond is a breach of the covenant.

4. The vassal must hold lasting and unlimited trust in the king. The vassal must not permit any evil words against the king, for this is the beginning of rebellion.

5. The vassal must not give asylum to refugees from any source.

6. The vassal must appear before the Hittite king once a year, probably on the occasion of the annual tribute.

7. Controversies between vassals are unconditionally to be submitted to the king for judgment.

Provision for deposit in the temple and periodic public reading

Since the treaty was under the protection of the deity, one copy of the treaty was deposited in a sanctuary of the vassal and another in the sanctuary of the suzerain. At periodic intervals the treaty was to be read publicly.

Invocation of the gods as witnesses to the covenant

Both the gods of the suzerain and the gods of the vassal were invoked as witnesses of the oath. Most interesting is the inclusion of the mountains, rivers, springs, sea, heaven and earth, the winds and the clouds, to witness the making of the treaty.

Curses and blessings formula

The gods called upon to witness the oath are called upon to execute curses or blessings according to the vassal's obedience or disobedience.

Ratification ceremony/formal oath

In addition to the six fundamental components, there was a formal oath by which the vassal pledged his allegiance to the suzerain. Accompanying the oath was a solemn ceremony which constituted a procedure for ratifying the treaty.

The Mosaic covenant form in relationship to the suzerainty treaty form

On the surface, the covenant Yahweh presented to Israel at Sinai seems a complex of disparate elements; e.g., the Ten Commandments, the Book of the Covenant, the priestly instructions, the enumeration of curses and blessings, etc. While the exact relationship of all these parts is not particularly clear from the perspective of a modern reader, it seems appropriate to define Israel's constitution in terms of a suzerain-vassal relationship because there is a remarkable resemblance, as Mendenhall (1955 & 1962) and Kline (1963) have observed, between Yahweh's covenant with Israel and the suzerainty-vassal type of international treaty found in the Ancient Near East. This is demonstrated in the following summary correlation.


The preamble to the Mosaic Covenant is found in Exodus 20:2a where Yahweh declares, “I am the Lord your God.” Yahweh, who is the great king, is the author of the covenant and the one presenting it to His vassals, the Israelites, the descendants of Abraham. This covenant is established immediately following Yahweh’s great act of redeeming Israel from bondage in Egypt through the exercise of his majesty and power.

Historical prologue

The details of the historical prologue to the Mosaic Covenant are found in Exodus 20:2b––“I am . . . who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery,” and in Exodus 19:4-5––“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession.” This historical prologue does not relate back to Abraham, although that is clearly in view from Genesis, but rather back to the immediate past to which all of Israel could relate in as much as they had lived through it. A much more complete historical prologue is recorded in Deuteronomy 29 when Moses, at the end of his life, led Israel in a covenant renewal on the Plains of Moab, and again in Joshua 24:1-27 when Joshua, nearing the end of his life, led the Israelites through a covenant renewal at Shechem.


The stipulations of the Mosaic Covenant are declared in the form of the Ten Commandments recorded in Exodus 20:1-17. The first five of these commandments specify the fundamental framework within which Israel is to relate to Yahweh as their God and King. Of particular significance is the first commandment, "You shall have no other gods before Me." This is the first and most important obligation of the covenant because it required Israel to stop all forms of idol worship and accept Yahweh as their one and only God and King. The remaining commandments specify the fundamental framework within which the people of Israel are to relate to one another. Essentially, they proclaim that all vassals are equal and protected by the king. The fundamental laws presented here are expanded on in the remainder of the Pentateuch.

Provisions for deposit in the Temple and periodic public readings

Provisions for the deposit of the covenant in the ark are found in Exodus 25:16, 21; 40:20, and Deuteronomy 10:2-5, which require Israel to place the two tablets of the covenant in the ark of the covenant. Provision for the public reading of the covenant is specified in Deuteronomy 31:9-13 where Moses commanded Israel to read the Law at the end of every seven years.

The invocation of the gods as witnesses

Since there is but one God, that being Yahweh, there can be no calling upon the gods as witnesses. However, when Moses is leading the new generation of Israel through a covenant renewal on the Plains of Moab prior to their entering the Land, he calls on heaven and earth as witnesses (Deut 30:19).

The curses and blessings formula

There is no explicit section of blessings and curses in the formulation of the covenant given in Exodus; there is only the promise of God that Israel would be his treasured possession if the people obeyed him (Exod 19:5). However, with the giving of the Levitical law for priests and worshippers there is in Leviticus 26 a detailed specification of blessings in response to obedience to the covenant stipulations and curses as a result of disobedience. Further, at the time of the renewal of the covenant through Moses, a very distinct and comprehensive list of blessings and curses is added to the covenant in Deuteronomy 28:1-14 and Deuteronomy 28:15-68, respectively.

Ratification of the covenant

The initial ratification of the covenant is recorded in Exodus 24. But ratification of the covenant was not restricted to this one event, but rather was necessarily repeated with each renewal of the covenant as is recorded in Deuteronomy 29 when Moses led Israel in a covenant renewal on the Plains of Moab, and in Joshua 24 when Joshua led Israel in covenant renewal at Shechem.

Summary of Mosaic Covenant in terms of Suzerainty Treaty Components

Further identification of the Mosaic Covenant components with the suzerainty treaty components is primarily based on a summary by Hannah (1985:137) as:

Mosaic Covenant Compared with Suzerainty Treaties


Albright, William F.
1973a From the Patriarchs to Moses I. From Abraham to Joseph. The Biblical Archaeologist 36/1:5-33.
1973b From the Patriarchs to Moses II. Moses Out of Egypt. The Biblical Archaeologist 36/2:48-60.

Allen, Ronald B.
1990 Numbers. In The Expositor's Bible Commentary. Vol. 2. Genesis - Numbers. Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.

Archer, Gleason, Jr.
1979 The Chronology of the Old Testament. In The Expositor's Bible Commentary. Vol. 1. Introductory Articles. Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.
1985 A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Chicago: Moody Press. Originally printed 1964. Revised edition 1974. Paperback edition.

Ashley, Timothy R.
1995 The Book of Numbers. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Bellett, J. C.
1884 Bible Studies on the Historical Fulfillments Of Jacob's Prophetic Blessings on the Twelve Tribes. London: J. Masters and Co.

Childs, Brevard
1979 Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
1993 Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Cole, Alan R.
1973 Exodus. The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Ed. D. J. Wiseman. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press.

Craigie, Peter C.
1983 The Book of Deuteronomy. New International Commentary of the Old Testament. Ed. R. K. Harrison. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1976. Reprinted.

Davidson, A. B.
1904 The Theology of the Old Testament. International Theological Library. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

Davies, G. Henton
1967 Exodus. Torch Bible Commentaries. Eds. John Marsh & Alan Richardson. London: SCM Press Ltd.

DeCanio, Frank T.
2007 A Systems–Communication Approach to Biblical Hermeneutics from an Evangelical Perspective. Diss. (Th.D.) University of South Africa.

Deere, Jack S.
1985 Deuteronomy. In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament. Eds. John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck. Wheaton: Scripture Press Publications.

Dillard, Raymond D., & Tremper Longman, III
1994 An Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.

Dumbrell, William J.
1988 The Faith of Israel: Its Expression in the Books of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Durham, John I.
1987 Exodus. Vol. 3. Word Biblical Commentary. Eds. David A Hubbard & Glenn W. Barker. Waco, TX: Word Books

Eichrodt, Walter
1961 Theology of the Old Testament. Volume One. The Old Testament Library. Eds. G. Ernest Wright, et al. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
1967 Theology of the Old Testament. Volume Two. The Old Testament Library. Eds. G. Ernest Wright, et al. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.

Erickson, Millard
1985 Christian Theology. One-volume edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Gruenler, Royce Gordon
1986 The Trinity in the Gospel of John. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
1989 John 17:20-26. Interpretation 43 (April): 178-183.

Hamilton, Victor P.
1990 The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.
1995 The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Hannah, John D.
1985 Exodus. In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament. Eds. John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck. Wheaton: Scripture Press Publications

Harris, R. Laird
1990 Leviticus. In The Expositor's Bible Commentary. Vol. 2. Genesis - Numbers. Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.

Harrison, Roland Kenneth
1980 Leviticus. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Ed. D. J. Wiseman. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
1985 Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1969. Reprinted.

Hill, Andrew E., & John H. Walton
1991 A Survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.

Hoehner, Harold W.
1977 Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.

Hollingsworth, Owen L.
1956 The Levitical and Melchizedekian Priesthoods Contrasted. Thesis. Dallas Theological Seminary, May.

Hulbert, Terry C.
1965 The Eschatological Significance of Israel's Annual Feasts. Dissertation. Dallas Theological Seminary. May.

Johnson, Elliott
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1987b Exodus. Course Notes. Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary.
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1987d Numbers. Course Notes. Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary.
1987e Deuteronomy. Course Notes. Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary.

Jordan, James B.
1984 The Law and the Covenant. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics.

Kaiser, Walter C., Jr.
1990 Exodus. In The Expositor's Bible Commentary. Vol. 2. Genesis - Numbers. Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.

Kalland, Earl S.
1992 Deuteronomy. In The Expositor's Bible Commentary. Vol. 3. Deuteronomy – 2 Samuel. Ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.

Kidner, Derek
1967 Genesis. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Ed. D. J. Wiseman. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press.

Kitchen, K. A.
1966 Ancient Orient and Old Testament. Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press.

Kline, Meredith G.
1963 Treaty of the Great King. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
1972 The Structure of Biblical Authority. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Kurtz, J. H.
1863 Sacrificial Worship of the Old Testament. Transl. by James Martin. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

La Sor, William Sanford, et al.
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Levine, Baruch A.
1989 Leviticus. The JPS Torah Commentary. Ed. Nahum M. Sarna. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society.

Lindsey, F. Duane
1985 Leviticus. In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament. Eds. John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck. Wheaton: Scripture Press Publications.

Livingston, G. Herbert
1974 The Pentateuch in Its Cultural Environment. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Mendenhall, George E.
1955 Law and Covenant in Israel and The Ancient Near East. Pittsburgh: Presbyterian Board of Colportage.
1962 Covenant In The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. Vol. 1 Ed. George Arthur Buttrick. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Merrill, Eugene H.
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1985 Numbers, In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament. Eds. John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck. Wheaton: Scripture Press Publications.
1987 Kingdom of Priests. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Milgrom, Jacob
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1991 Leviticus 1-16. Vol. 3. The Anchor Bible. Eds. William Foxwell Albright & David Noel Freedman. New York: Doubleday.

Mitchell, John J.
1970 Abram's Understanding of the Lord's Covenant. Westminster Theological Journal, 24-48.

Morris, Leon
1955 The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
1983 The Atonement. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press.

Motyer, J. A.
1977 The Revelation of the Divine Name. Leicester: Theological Students Fellowship. Reprinted.

Noth, Martin
1962 Exodus. The Old Testament Library. Eds. G. Ernest Wright, et al. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
1968 Numbers. The Old Testament Library. Eds. G. Ernest Wright, et al. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.

Obbard, Aug. N.
1877 The Prophecy of Jacob. Cambridge: Deighton, Bell, and Co.

Rad, Gerhard von
1966 Deuteronomy. The Old Testament Library. Eds. G. Ernest Wright, et al. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, Revised ed.

1972 Genesis. The Old Testament Library. Eds. G. Ernest Wright, et al. Philadelphia: Westminster Press. Rev. ed.

Ross, Allen P.
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1988 Creation and Blessing. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Ryken, Leland
1987 Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Ryken, Leland, & Tremper Longman III (eds.)
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Sailhamer, John H.
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Sarna, Nahum M.
1989 Genesis. The JPS Torah Commentary. Ed. Nahum M. Sarna. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.
1991 Exodus. The JPS Torah Commentary. Ed. Nahum M. Sarna. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.

Schofield, J. N.
1969 Law, Prophets, and Writings. London: S.P.C.K.

Thiele, Edwin R.
1983 The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings .Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.

Thompson, J. A.
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Tigay, Jeffrey H.
1996 Deuteronomy. The JPS Torah Commentary. Ed. Nahum M. Sarna. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society.

Unger, Merrill F.
1954 Archaeology and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.

Vaux, Roland de
1964 Studies in Old Testament Sacrifice. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
1965 Ancient Israel: Religious Institutions. Vol. 2. Transl. by John McHugh. New York: McGraw-Hill Co. 1961. Paperback.

Waltke, Bruce K.
1972 Palestinian Artifcatual Evidence Support the Early Date of the Exodus. Bibliotheca Sacra 129 January–March.
1990 The Date of the Conquest. Westminster Theological Journal 52:181-200.

Waltke, Bruce K. with Cathi J. Fredricks
2001 Genesis: a commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.

Walvoord, John F.
1951 The Abrahamic Covenant and Premillennialism. Bibliotheca Sacra 108/432 (Oct-Dec):414-22.

Weinfeld, M.
1970 The Covenant of Grant in the Old Testament and in the Ancient Near East. Journal of The American Oriental Society 90/2 (June):184-203.

Wenham, Gordon J.
1981 Numbers. The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Ed. D. J. Wiseman. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press.
1992 The Book of Leviticus. New International Commentary of the Old Testament. Ed. R. K. Harrison. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1979. Reprint.

Wilkinson, Bruce, & Kenneth Boa
1983 Talk Thru the Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Wolf, Herbert
1991 An Introduction to the Old Testament Pentateuch. Chicago: Moody Press.

Woudstra, M. H.
1970 The Toledot of the Book of Genesis and Their Redemptive-Historical Significance. Calvin Theological Journal 5/2 (Nov):184-9.

Zuck, Roy B. (ed.)
1991 A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Press.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines

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