The Pentateuch, Law of Moses or Torah

Introduction

It is believed that the name Pentateuch “the first five books of the Old Testament, the book of the Law” (The Columbia Viking Desk Encyclopaedia, 1964, p.1402) was first found in the letter of Elora of a second century Gnostic, Ptolemy and passed into Christian use. These books are called The Law (Torah) or the Law of Moses by the Jews. (Everyman’s Encyclopedia, 1978). It would be difficult to overestimate the role that the Pentateuch has played in the course of biblical scholarship. In all likelihood, these first five books in the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy- have been subjected to scrutiny more than any single block, with the sole possible exception of the Gospels (Knight and Tucker, 1985).

Origin

The word Pentateuch derives from the Greek pentateuchos “five-volumed (book)”, following the Jewish designation “the five-fifths of the law”. Jews call it the Torah, that is instruction, often rendered in English Law as it is called in the New Testament (Greek nomon; example, Matt. 5:17; Luke 16:17; Acts 7:53; 1 Cor. 9:8). According to Lasor, Hubbard and Bush (1982), the Pentateuch was “the most important division of the Jewish canon, with an authority and sanctity far exceeding that attributed to the prophets and writing” (p.54). They observe that the books of the Pentateuch are not ‘books’ in the modern sense of independent self-contained entries, but were purposefully structured and intended as part of a larger unity; therefore the term Pentateuch is not only convenient but necessary. However, granted this fact of the unity of the larger corpus, the conventional five-fold division is important not simply as a convenient means of reference to the material, but because there is clear editorial evidence establishing just these five books as genuine subdivisions of the material. Despite marks of real disparity and complexity in structure and origins, far more primary and important is the overarching unity which the Pentateuch evidences. A careful reading of the Pentateuch will reveal, beside a definite unity of purpose, plan and arrangement, a diversity – a complexity – that is equally striking.

Authorship

The traditional view according to Halley (1962) is that “Moses wrote the Pentateuch substantially…with the exception of the few verses at the close which give an account of his death, and occasional interpolations made by copyists for explanatory purposes” (p.56). This is in consonance with the view of Childs (1979). A modern critical view is that of a composite work of various scholars of priests made about the eighth century B.C., for partisan purposes, based on oral traditions, the principal redactors of which are called J (for Jahweh/Yahweh, the personal name of God), E (for Elohim, a generic name for God), D (for Deuteronomic) and P (for priestly). Each is claimed to be unique. However, “this view is not supported by conclusive research or evidence, and intensive archaeological and literary research has tended to undercut many of the arguments used to challenge Mosaic authorship” (The NIV Study Bible, 1984, p.2). Jews and …