Gamaliel's E2 Guide to the Bible : The Pentateuch

The Pentateuch (Greek - "five-volumed"), known as the Torah (Hebrew -"law") in Judaism, is the word used to refer to the first five books of the Bible. Christians refer to the individual books by their Greek or Latin names, while Jews use Hebrew titles, the first word of the first verse of each book.

Traditionally, authorship of these books has been ascribed to Moses, but there is zero evidence for this in the books themselves, and in fact Moses dies at the end of Deuteronomy, so that doesn't make much sense at all. The most common view among Biblical scholars is the "Documentary theory" or the "Graf Wellhausen Hypothesis", which hypothesizes four textual sources for the Pentateuch, explaining the textual and thematic differences between different parts. The work of authors J, E, D, and P were combined by an editor, R, to form the five books. This view is not universal, and much of it has been challenged, but no competing view has gained as much support.

The books of the Pentateuch tell the story of the creation of the world and of man and the various trials of the Israelites, culminating with the covenant between God and the Israelites and ending just prior to their entry into the Promised Land, the land of Caanan promised by God to Abraham and his descendants.

GENESIS : Greek for "origin" or "beginning". Hebrew - Bereshith ("in the beginning")

The story of the creation of the world by God in seven days and of the first man, Adam, and his descendants, ending with the 12 sons of Jacob, whose are the ancestral heads of the twelve tribes of Israel.

EXODUS : Greek for "departure". Hebrew - shemot ("the names")

Centered around Moses, who leads the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt and into the wilderness. There, God makes a covenant with the Israelites, detailing the laws they must adhere to, most especially the Ten Commandments.

LEVITICUS : Latin for "dealing with priestly matters". Hebrew - Vayyiqra ("and he summoned")

Instructions from God to Moses detailing rituals, sacrifices, purity, and the priesthood given during the time the Israelites spend wandering the wilderness near Mount Sinai. Jewish kosher dietary laws have their origins here.

NUMBERS : Hebrew - BeMidbar ("in the wilderness"), also referred to as the Homesh Happiqqudim ("dealing with the numbering of the Israelites")

"Numbers" refers to the census taken of the Israelites in this book. The events concern the grumblings of the restless Israelites and their journey from Mount Sinai towards Canaan, the Promised Land.

DEUTERONOMY : from the Greek deuteronomion ("the second law"). Hebrew - debarim ("words")

Speeches and laws preparing the Israelites for their entry into the Promised Land. The Ten Commandments are reiterated. Moses dies just as the Israelites are poised to conquer Caanan under the leadership of Joshua.

Pen"ta*teuch (?), n. [L. pentateuchus, Gr. ; (see Penta-) + a tool, implement, a book, akin to to prepare, make ready, and perh. to E. text. See Five, and Text.]

The first five books of the Old Testament, collectively; -- called also the Law of Moses, Book of the Law of Moses, etc.


© Webster 1913.

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