Old Testament and the Pentateuch Research Paper

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Old Testament and the Pentateuch

The Old Testament & the Pentateuch

The Pentateuch is the Greek word for the first five books of Moses, which is also the Torah. The first five books of Moses make up the legal and ethical religious texts of Judaism. The Torah is written on a parchment scroll and referred to as the book of Torah, or Sefer Torah in Hebrew (McDermott, 2002). A specially trained scribe writes the Torah in a traditional manner that has formalized strict requirements.

The founding religious document of Judaism consists of three main parts and, in its totality, is referred to as the Tanakh. The Torah is the first of the three parts of the Tanakh (McDermott, 2002). . The Torah has five books, the Hebrew names of which are the incipits -- the first few words in the initial verses of the books -- also known as the beginning phrases in Rabbinic usage (McDermott, 2002). . In English, the five books are named according to their predominant themes. Familiarly, they are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

The text itself. Christians refer to the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy as the Old Testament, which are sourced from the writings of ancient Israel. In the contemporary vernacular, these writings are called the Hebrew Bible (McDermott, 2002). Different Christian denominations accept different sets of these books as Old Testament. Protestants agree that there are only 39 books in the Old Testament. A larger number of books are recognized by the Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, and Ethiopian churches.

The Pentateuch tells how God selected the people of Israel as his chosen people, gives the history of the Israelites, and provides poetic text and wisdom about good and evil, and the writings of the biblical prophets (McDermott, 2002). The perspective that Jews and Christians hold with regard to the Pentateuch are quite different because of the Messianic basis of Christianity. To Christians, the Old Testament conditioned the way for the New Testament.

Origin of the text. The Old Testament or Pentateuch is considered to be the word of the God as revealed to Moses. It is also accepted in Islam as the Holy Book; however, Muslims believe it to have been modified after Moses died ("Al-Araf," 2011). The Muslims believe that the original text of the Holy Book was corrupted by Ezra and Jewish scribes circa 400 BC when the Tanakh was reconstructed ("Al-Araf," 2011). The basis for this is the claim that the text was lost to the Jews and not followed for many generations (Consult the Book of Samuel I and II, the Book of Kings I & II, and the Book of Ezekiel, among others) ("Al-Araf," 2011).

The Qur'an holds that Moses outlined the religious guidelines revealed to the Children of Israel by God (Most Exalted). The Qur'an reads: "It is He Who has sent down the Book (the Qur'an) to you with truth, confirming what came before it. And He sent down the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel)" [3.1] ("Al-Araf," 2011). Although Muslims do not revere the Jewish version of the Torah, the Qur'an does refer to it respectfully, and the Muslims believe -- as a fundamental tenet of Islam -- that Moses was a prophet ("Al-Araf," 2011).

The Torah, according to rabbinic tradition, was given to Moses in 1312 BCE on Mount Sinai. An alternate date for the revelation of the Torah is 1233 (McDermott, 2002). According to Jewish mysticism, the most significant text of which is the Zohar, the Torah came into being before the creation of the world and became the blueprint for Creation. Contemporary biblical scholars argue that the books of the Pentateuch were brought to their present form during the 5th Century in what is known as the Persian period. Joseph Blenkinsopp of the University of Notre Dame wrote,

"Here and there in the Pentateuch Moses is said to have written certain things ... But nowhere is it affirmed that the Pentateuch was authored by Moses ... One would therefore think that what calls for an explanation is not why most people stopped believing in the dogma of Mosaic authorship, but rather why anyone believed it in the first place" (Blenkinsopp, 1992, p. 1).

Rabbinic tradition has it that the Torah was dictated by God to Moses, except for the last eight verses of Deuteronomy, as these describe the death of Moses. The view of the majority of contemporary scholars is that there is not a single author of the Pentateuch as it was composed over centuries.

The construction of the text. There was period of time in the 19th century when a theory was developed and circulated that suggested the five books of the Pentateuch were created by combining four complete, but independent and parallel, resources by perhaps four different editors -- referred to as redactors (Blenkinsopp, 1992). This theory was referred to as the documentary hypothesis, or Wellhausen hypothesis, and it placed the construction of the combined text circa 450 BCE (Blenkinsopp, 1992). During the 1970s, the popularity of the documentary hypothesis began to wear thin, and several variations of the theory emerged (Surburg, 1979).

The documentary hypothesis uses an approach called source criticism to determine the original source from which a redactor drew in order to create the final text (Blenkinsopp, 1992). Theoretically, and practically, for that matter, getting as closer to the source of an event or original trigger for a text increases the credibility (Surburg, 1979). It is also likely to result in a more accurate description of what actually occurred. This approach is not unlike that of a forensic scientist or the backward mapping process used by a policy analyst. Commonly, the books of the Pentateuch quote or refer to earlier sources that a historian can attempt to identify and associate with a date or period of time (Blenkinsopp, 1992). Or the particular way that a text has been written indicates changes -- vocabulary, writing style, repetition, phraseology -- that point to a specific or general source -- such as a genealogical record -- that is likely to have been accessed by the biblical author or redactor (Blenkinsopp, 1992). Making these connections helps to bridge gaps that undermine the historical reliability of the documents.

The work of Julius Wellhausen contributed more order to the documentary theory. Wellhausen organized the four sources chronologically -- referring to them as JEDP -- and argued that a trend toward increased priestly power and influence was evident in Israel's religious history (Blenkinsopp, 1992). The independent sources are the Jahwist, the Elohist, the Deuteronomist, and the Priestly source (Blenkinsopp, 1992). Wellhausen's chronological ordering and elaboration of the sources is as follows:

The Yahwist source (J) assumed to be circa 950 BCE in the southern Kingdom of Judah.

The Elohist source (E) attributed to circa 850 BCE in the northern Kingdom of Israel.

The Deuteronomist (D) is associated with religious reform in Jerusalem circa 600 BCE.

The Priestly source (P) written by Jewish priests (Kohens) exiled in Babylon circa 500 BCE.

The Redactors JE, JED, JEDP -- in order -- produced the final form of Torah circa 450 BCE. (Blenkinsopp, 1992).

By the end of the 20th century, this model had been challenged, but the insights and the terminology became the framework for more modern theories of the origin of the Pentateuch (Blenkinsopp, 1992). The dominant theories today hold that the combination of the books, fragments of text, and supplements of authors and editors happened gradually through a process of slow accumulation (Surburg, 1979). Further, recent theories put the origin of the Pentateuch forward to the 5th century during the time of Judah in the Persian empire (Surburg, 1979).

The divine origin of the text. Several views of the origin of the Torah persist into the present. One belief is that the entire Torah was given to Moses all at once. An extension of this view is that the dictation included every word of the text, which would mean that phrases such as "And God spoke to Moses" would be included in the dictation just as they were written (Strack & Stemberger, 1992). This view even holds that the dictation included God telling Moses about his own death and the events that would happen after Moses' death (Strack & Stemberger, 1992). A less conservative rabbinic view holds that the Torah was revealed to Moses over a long period of many years, ultimately concluding at his death (Strack & Stemberger, 1992). Still another rabbinic perspective is that the Moses wrote most of the Torah, but the last few verses were written by Joshua after Moses death (Strack & Stemberger, 1992). An even more divergent view suggested by Abraham ibn Ezra and Joseph Bonfils is that phrases exist in the Torah that provide information that would have only been known well after Moses' time (Strack & Stemberger, 1992). The argument is that some other prophet, likely Joshua, wrote these parts of the Torah (Strack & Stemberger, 1992). These sets of…[continue]

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