Pentateuch, The

Pentateuch, The,

is the Greek name given to the five books commonly called the "five books of Moses." This title is derived from "pente",five, and "teucos") which, meaning originally "vessel" "instrument," etc., came In Alexandrine Greek to mean "book" hence the fivefold book. In the time of Ezra and Nehemiah it was called "the law of Moses," ( Ezra 7:6 ) or "the book of the law of Moses," ( Nehemiah 8:1 ) or simply "the book of Moses." ( 2 Chronicles 25:4 ; 35:12 ; Ezra 6:13 ; Nehemiah 13:1 ) This was beyond all reasonable doubt our existing Pentateuch. The book which was discovered the temple in the reign of Josiah, and which is entitled, ( 2 Chronicles 34:14 ) "a book of the law of Jehovah by the hand of Moses," was substantially, it would seem the same volume, though it may afterward have undergone some revision by Ezra. The present Jews usually called the whole by the name of Torah , i.e. "the Law," or Torath Mosheh "the Law of Moses." The division of the whole work into five parts was probably made by the Greek translators; for the titles of the several books are not of Hebrew but of Greek origin. The Hebrew names are merely taken from the first words of each book, and in the first instance only designated particular sections and not whole books. The MSS. of the Pentateuch form a single roll or volume, and are divided not into books but into the larger and smaller sections called Parshiyoth and Sedarim . The five books of the Pentateuch form a consecutive whole. The work, beginning with the record of creation end the history of the primitive world, passes on to deal more especially with the early history of the Jewish family, and finally concludes with Moses last discourses and his death. Till the middle of the last century it was the general opinion of both Jews and Christians that the whole of the Pentateuch was written by Moses, with the exception of a few manifestly later additions,--such as the, 34th chapter of Deuteronomy, which gives the account of Moses death. The attempt to call in question the popular belief was made by Astruc, doctor and professor of medicine in the Royal College at Paris, and court physician to Louis XIV. He had observed that throughout the book of Genesis, and as far as the 6th chapter of Exodus, traces were to be found of two original documents, each characterized by a distinct use of the names of God; the one by the name Elohim, and the other by the name Jehovah. [GOD] Besides these two principal documents, he supposed Moses to have made use of ten others in the composition of the earlier part of his work. The path traced by Astruc has been followed by numerous German writers; but the various hypotheses which have been formed upon the subject cannot be presented in this work. It is sufficient here to state that there is evidence satisfactory that the main bulk of the Pentateuch, at any rate, was written by Moses, though the probably availed himself of existing documents in the composition of the earlier part of the work. Some detached portions would appear to be of later origin; and when we remember how entirely, during some periods of Jewish history, the law seems to have been forgotten, and again how necessary it would be after the seventy years of exile to explain some of its archaisms, and to add here and there short notes to make it more intelligible to the people, nothing can be more natural than to suppose that such later additions were made by Ezra and Nehemiah. To briefly sum up the results of our inquiry --

  1. The book of Genesis rests chiefly on documents much earlier than the time of Moses though it was probably brought to very nearly its, present shape either by Moses himself or by one of the elders who acted under him.
  2. The books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers are to a great extent Mosaic. Besides those portions which are expressly declared to have been written by him other portions, and especially the legal sections, were, if not actually written, in all probability dictated by him.
  3. Deuteronomy, excepting the concluding part, is entirely the work of Moses as it professes to be.
  4. It is not probable that this was written before the three preceding books, because the legislation in Exodus and Leviticus, as being the more formal, is manifestly the earlier whilst Deuteronomy is the spiritual interpretation and application of the law. But the letter is always before the spirit; the thing before its interpretation.
  5. The first composition of the Pentateuch as a whole could not have taken place till after the Israelites entered Cannan. It is probable that Joshua and the elders who were associated with him would provide for its formal arrangement, custody and transmission.
  6. The whole work did not finally assume its present shape till its revision was undertaken by Ezra after the return from the Babylonish captivity. For an account of the separate books see GENESIS, EXODUS, LEVITICUS, NUMBERS, DEUTERONOMY.

Bibliography Information

Smith, William, Dr. "Entry for 'Pentateuch, The,'". "Smith's Bible Dictionary". . 1901.