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This article is arranged according to the following outline:

Special Place in the Hebrew Bible, Judaism, and Biblical Scholarship
contents and structure
The Primeval History
The Patriarchs
The Exodus
Sinai/Horeb Covenant and Laws
The Journey
Moses' Farewell
the authors
Doublets and Terminology
Narrative Flow
Relationships of the Sources to Each Other and to History
j and e
Observable Signs of Editing
Linguistic Evidence
history of scholarship
The Ten Commandments
Other Laws
Story and History in Genesis
The Exodus
The Tabernacle
central values
All the Families of the Earth
the traditional view



The first five books of the Hebrew Bible are known as the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, and also as the Pentateuch, from the Greek pentateuchos, meaning five scrolls. Traditional Judaism refers to it as the ḥummash, another form of the number five. The original Pentateuch is written in Hebrew, with each book bearing an ancient Hebrew title derived from its incipit: Bereshit, Shemot, va-Yikra, Be-Midbar, and Devarim. The Septuagint translators gave the texts the Greek names of Genesis, Exodos, Leviticon, Arithmoi, and Deuteronomion, which in turn influenced the more commonly used names of Latin derivation: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.


Although many older individual literary narratives are extant from Mesopotamia and Egypt, the Pentateuch is a unique literary creation in two ways. First, it combines prose, poetry, and law in developing its story-line. Second, it begins with a description of the creation of the universe and ends with the death of Moses. Thus, unlike myths of gods and heroes, or lists of kings and the lengths of their reigns, the stories of the Torah are arranged chronologically to detail the development and movement of a people over time. As such, it is the first history-writing on earth.

The book of Genesis describes creation, the destruction via the flood, and the subsequent re-population of the world. It explores the theme of relations between the God yhwh and humanity in the world that the deity has created. God makes a covenant with all humankind through its common ancestor Noah, promising the security of the cosmos. Then the focus narrows to the family of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with whom God makes a second covenant promising protection, prosperity, progeny, and property. Originally from Mesopotamia, they settle in Canaan, and then make their way to Egypt, where their descendants, the Israelites, are enslaved. In Exodus, yhwh makes himself known in the world beyond the Israelites through a series of miracles, introduced by their leader Moses, that both demonstrate this God's control of the forces of nature and succeed in pressuring the Egyptians to release the Israelites from bondage. yhwh then makes a third covenant with Israel, the text of which is the Ten Commandments, during a revelation at Mount Sinai, also known as Horeb. yhwh also gives laws by which they are instructed to live, and yhwh gives instructions for building a Tabernacle, which will be the location of future revelations and will house the ark, containing the tablets of the covenant. Leviticus then is different in that it contains few stories but provides more laws regarding the moral and ritual behavior of the people, from commandments about holidays, sacrifices, and purity to the commandment to love one's fellow human beings as oneself. Numbers details their journey in the wilderness for 40 years with the ultimate goal of moving back to Canaan and claiming it as their own land, to be known as Israel. In Deuteronomy Moses addresses the Israelites in a speech in which he reviews their history and exhorts them to keep their covenant with God. The book, and the Torah, end as Moses concludes his farewell address and dies within sight of the promised land.

Special Place in the Hebrew Bible, Judaism, and Biblical Scholarship

The Torah has a singular status in relation to the rest of the Hebrew Bible. First, the events it narrates are central to and assumed by the remaining biblical books. Second, many other biblical books refer to it or allude to passages in it. The Torah also holds a special place in Jewish tradition because of the significance of the events it describes and because of the law contained in it that became normative within Judaism. This special status has continued in modern biblical scholarship in that the questions raised concerning its history and authorship form the foundation for the historical development of the field.

contents and structure

The story detailed in the Torah can be divided into six major parts:

  1. The primeval history (Genesis 1–11)
  2. The patriarchs (Genesis 12–50)
  3. The Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 1:1–15:21; interim: 15:22–16:36)
  4. Sinai/Horeb covenant and laws (Exodus 17–40; Leviticus)
  5. The journey (Numbers)
  6. Moses' farewell (Deuteronomy)

These parts are not entirely discrete: for example, Exodus 15:22–16:36 fit neither the Egypt nor the Sinai sections, but rather describe events of the journey between the two settings. Additionally, it is possible to place Numbers 1–10 in the Sinai/Horeb section, since it describes preparations at the mountain for the upcoming journey, or to connect Exodus 16–18 to the Exodus section since it precedes the arrival at Sinai. However, such variations are minor and do not undermine the basic division of the Pentateuch into six major parts.

The Primeval History

The primeval history provides etiologies for the state of the world and how it came to be that way. It sets up literary themes and historical backgrounds that demonstrate the worldview of the Israelite authors who produced it. It also provides basic descriptions of yhwh; who God is, how and why God acts, and the power God has to create and act upon his creation. This power is always present in the background of Pentateuchal narrative, and it occasionally moves into the foreground, manifesting itself in extraordinary acts of God in human history.

The Torah begins with the creation of the universe and everything in it. Upon completion, God rests, seeing that the creation is "very good." That is: the initial state of creation is pictured as positive. The story of the Garden of Eden sets a major theme for the remainder of the Primeval History, one that endures really throughout the Hebrew Bible: the development of the relationship between God and humanity. God creates humans to tend the garden and commands obedience. The humans disobey. The basic conflict established between God's commandments and humanity's disobedience is a fundamental theme in the remainder of the biblical narrative, and it raises issues of God's justice and the divine ability and propensity for punishment, but it also demonstrates God's compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. The knowledge of good and bad acquired in the Garden of Eden comes at the price of labor, pain, a hostile environment, and mortality. Adam and Eve are exiled from the garden. The competition between their children for God's favor is followed by the murder of Abel by Cain. Over the generations, the essential goodness of creation becomes corrupted by humanity to the point that "yhwh saw that human bad was great in the earth" (Gen. 6:5) and the deity decides to wipe out all life on earth as a result. He plans to repopulate the earth from the descendants of Noah, the most righteous man in his generation. God's great flood devastates the earth, after which God covenants with Noah never again to dismantle the creation via the waters that surround the habitable earth. This is the first of three covenants that frame the Pentateuch's history, and the sign of this covenant is the rainbow in the sky.

But the corruption of humans and their fundamental disobedience continue. The conflicts between men are illustrated in the story of Noah and his son Ham, and conflicts with God result in the dispersion of humans from Babylon (also called "Babel") and their separation from one another by the birth of different languages.

The Patriarchs

The focus narrows considerably in this next section. The man who is to become the patriarch of Israel and other nations, Abraham, is introduced. Favored with a revelation from yhwh, Abraham is instructed to migrate from Mesopotamia to Canaan. There God makes a covenant that promises Abraham protection, offspring, land, and wealth. The sign of the covenant is circumcision. Implied is the demand on Abraham's part for loyalty and complete obedience to yhwh. The basic theme of divine commandment and human obedience is further explored as Abraham, willing to sacrifice his son Isaac at God's command, passes the deity's test, but other members of his extended family who are not obedient to God's word, such as Lot's wife, are punished for it.

yhwh renews the covenant with Isaac, and then with Jacob. Jacob is a complicated, fairly well-developed character. His name means "supplanter," and it is his brother Esau whom he supplants as he buys Esau's birthright and then tricks his father Isaac into bestowing the blessing of the preeminent son on him rather than on Esau. Jacob is deceived in turn by his father-in-law Laban, and then by Jacob's own sons in the disappearance of his favorite son, Joseph. He himself ceases to be the deceiver after wrestling with "a man" whom Jacob understands to have been God himself as he exclaims, "I have seen God face to face." As a result of the encounter, Jacob's name is changed to Israel, which the biblical author takes to mean "struggles with God," explaining "for you have struggled with God and with men and you have prevailed." This new moniker reflects Jacob's own struggles with God, but it also points to the future clashes of Jacob's descendants, the children of Israel, with their God.

After Jacob, all future covenant renewals will be made between God and the children of Israel, the Israelites as a whole. Also, the portrayal of Jacob in the text changes; after he is named "Israel," Jacob slowly becomes a more passive character, a stark contrast to the protagonist he had been from the time of his birth.

The narratives of the patriarchs end with the story of Joseph's rise to power in Egypt and the migration of Israel/Jacob and the family to Egypt. They are the heirs of a covenant promising them nationhood, a land, and a relationship with yhwh, and their return to Canaan is foreshadowed by Joseph's request to have his bones preserved and brought back with the Israelites for re-burial in Canaan.

The Exodus

The descendants of Jacob are slaves in Egypt, and yhwh remembers the covenant with them and acts to free them. The Exodus is not simply a story of liberation from slavery, however. There are three interdependent themes that play out in this story and through the remainder of the Torah's narrative. First is the forging of a nation out of the descendants of Jacob, the "children of Israel." As they move from slavery to freedom, they will receive the laws that bind them together as a nation and that also bind them in a covenant with their God. The second theme is the revelation of this God beyond the Israelites to the entire world. yhwh successfully challenges the greatest nation on earth, Egypt, overwhelming it with a series of miraculous events – including ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea – that culminate in the liberation of their Israelite slaves. In so doing, God makes Himself known to the entire world, demonstrating His mastery over all of the forces of nature and thereby over all of the Egyptian gods. The third theme focuses on the person of Moses, the man chosen to represent yhwh to Pharaoh and to the Israelites. Moses is pictured as a reluctant hero, a man who does not wholly belong to either the heavenly or the earthly realms and is tragically doomed to try to reconcile the two. He encounters yhwh at a burning bush and is given a mission he does not want, despite the enormous power yhwh has granted to him over the forces of nature. Moses returns to Egypt to free his people, a rebellious and unhappy community of slaves who complain to him and about him. Yet Moses defends them to yhwh when God loses patience with their rebelliousness. The struggles between God and humans reach a peak during the forty-year period of wandering in the desert, begun in the book of Exodus but detailed further in Numbers.

Sinai/Horeb Covenant and Laws

These three themes introduced in the Exodus story are continued and further interwoven in this, the largest unit of the Torah. After liberation from Egypt, the Israelites are brought to Sinai/Horeb, where yhwh speaks aloud to all of them from inside a fire on the mountain, detailing their responsibilities in the maintenance of the covenant relationship God has forged with them. Up to this point, yhwh has dictated only the terms of the covenant pertaining to divine commitment to humans. The covenant with the patriarchs in Genesis had been specific only with reference to yhwh's promises to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. During the revelation at Sinai, yhwh specifies and thereby limits the human responsibilities and obligations required in return for the divine promises.

The Decalogue forms the basis of this third major covenant of the Torah, the Israelite covenant (also known as the Mosaic covenant or the Sinai covenant). yhwh roots it in the historical act of salvation of the Israelites from slavery, and details the specific ritual and ethical injunctions by which the Israelites are to live. The first four commandments are ritual ones; that is, they pertain to the relations between humans and God. The last six are ethical laws; they pertain to relations between humans and their fellow human beings. Thus the two basic themes of the book of Genesis, relations between God and humans, and relations among humans on earth, are formally engaged.

The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 are followed by the Covenant Code, a corpus of law in Exodus 21–23. The entire book of Leviticus further elaborates the details of these and other laws pertaining to the two categories, ritual and ethical, apparent in the Ten Commandments. Ritual laws are concerned with priests, purity, sacrifice, holidays, dietary rules, and apostasy. Pervading much of the ritual law is a concept of distinction: between pure and impure, holy and secular, permitted and forbidden. Ethical laws govern behavior among humans and include economic laws, laws of sexual relations, rules of courts and justice, injuries, and general issues of how one should treat one's fellow human being.

In the Torah, the concept of covenant binds the legal and narrative texts together. Law is always given within a context of history. The laws are backgrounded by yhwh's historical act of salvation from slavery, the covenants that God has kept with their forefathers, and future promises of the Israelites' well-being in the land that God will give them.

In this section, the ark, the Tabernacle, the priesthood, and the Sabbath are all associated with knowledge of yhwh, and the book of Exodus culminates in the Tabernacle's consecration. All are tangible ways by which the Israelites will be aware of the presence of yhwh, and all are signs that they have been chosen to be yhwh's people, and yhwh will be their God. The keeping of the Sabbath is the sign of the Israelite covenant. The priesthood is bestowed upon Aaron, Moses' Levite brother, and upon Aaron's male descendants.

The narrative further explores Moses' role as prophet, caught between the world of God and the world of humans. Moses' role is to represent the people to yhwh, and yhwh to the people, receiving the full impact of the complaints of each about the other. This peaks in the golden calf story, in which Moses successfully pleads with God not to destroy the rebellious nation but then himself unleashes his anger and punishment on them.

The Journey

The themes of the Exodus culminate in this fifth section, the journey from Sinai/Horeb to the promised land. In a series of seemingly unrelated episodes, the themes of nationhood, the revelation of yhwh, and the character of Moses are further developed and serve to unify the individual stories contained in the book of Numbers. A major concern for the journey is the purity of the camp; the nation among whom yhwh dwells must be a holy one. And yhwh does dwell in the camp. God's closeness to the people is demonstrated on a daily basis, as they are led personally by yhwh via a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night. When they are hungry, their God feeds them with the miraculous appearance of manna. When they complain about the manna, their God brings them quail. When they are thirsty, their God makes water come from a rock. And yet, despite this extreme closeness – or perhaps, as a result of it – the humans' rebelliousness reaches its zenith.

Moses declares himself unable to bear the burden of the entire nation alone, and yhwh extends prophetic ability to others. But Moses' singular, albeit lonely and difficult, prophetic status is confirmed by yhwh Himself in the story of Miriam's leprosy, in which Miriam and Aaron challenge Moses saying, "Hasn't God spoken through us too?!" And the people, too, convey Moses' singular status when they reject him as leader in the story of the scouts who bring back a mixed report of the promised land. Fear of the residents of the land prompt the Israelites to try to replace Moses with a new leader and return to Egypt. yhwh threatens to destroy them and start over with Moses' own descendants. Moses reminds yhwh of his own declaration of mercy and compassion, and once again the impossibility of standing between humans and God is illustrated in the figure of Moses. As a result of their fear and rebelliousness, yhwh condemns the generation of former slaves to die in the wilderness as they travel for 40 years. Their children, born in freedom, will be the ones to take possession of the land.

As a result, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram accuse Moses and Aaron of failing to bring them to the land, and they charge Moses specifically with raising himself above the people, who are all holy. yhwh eliminates the rebels with fire and earthquake, and confirms the special holiness of the Levites, and especially of Aaron, by causing Aaron's rod to blossom. The rod is to be saved in the tabernacle "as a sign to rebels." Moses, however, takes the rod and strikes it against a rock to bring water for the continually complaining and rebellious Israelites. As a result, in the greatest tragedy of the Torah, Moses unwittingly aligns himself with the rebellious human community, and is condemned to die along with them without setting foot in the promised land.

The themes of rebellious humans and Moses' special status continue in the remaining stories in the book of Numbers. The book ends with a confirmation that the older generation has died out and with accounts relating to the acquisition of land east of the Jordan River and distribution of the land that the next generation will possess on the other side of that river.

Moses' Farewell

The book of Deuteronomy presents a speech by Moses to the people as they stand on the plains of Moab, east of the Jordan River, preparing to enter the promised land. Moses summarizes the events from Exodus through Numbers, dwelling particularly on the history of his and the people's experience in the journey from slavery to freedom. He also gives them another corpus of laws (Deut. 12–26).

Moses' speech centers on the theme of covenant, warning the people of their tendency to rebellion, and reminding them that success in their new land depends on their fulfillment of the covenant forged with yhwh at Sinai. In other words, the people have a choice, and a fundamental role in how their destiny as a nation will play out. They can choose to abide by the terms of the covenant and thereby ensure their well-being and longevity in the land, or they can choose to reject their covenantal obligations, in which case they will bear the responsibility for their national destruction. Moses details the blessings that will flow from yhwh to the people for keeping the covenant, and the curses entailed in breaking it.

Moses writes "this torah" in a book and gives it to the Levites, who are to keep it beside the ark and read it publicly. Then he designates Joshua as his successor, and he blesses the people. He climbs a mountain overlooking the promised land, sees it, and dies.

Thus the Pentateuch ends with a summary of the preceding sections and a recapitulation of the major themes. The emphasis throughout the prose, poetry, and law of Deuteronomy is on the theme of covenant, which serves to bind and unify all of the previous themes pertaining to the relations between God and humans.

the authors

Jews traditionally viewed the Torah as a unified document, revealed by God to Moses. The Torah itself does not say this; but Deuteronomy 31:9, 24–26 report that Moses writes "this torah" on a scroll, and this was taken to mean that the full Pentateuch had been recorded by Moses. The account of the first time that the Torah of Moses was read publicly also was taken to mean that, on the death of Moses, the whole of the Pentateuch was complete, having been divinely revealed (Ezra 3:2; 7:6; Neh. 1:7–9; 8:1, 14; 9:14; 10:30; 13:1). Rabbinic commentators through the centuries noted problems in the text that raised questions about Mosaic authorship, but through interpretation and elaboration they sought to reconcile the contradictions, reacting strongly against those who denied the unity of the Five Books. As a fundamental principle of Jewish faith, Maimonides stated that "the whole of the Torah found in our hands this day is the Torah that was handed down by Moses and that is all of divine origin" (commentary to Sanh. 10 (11):1).

From the 11th to the 21st centuries, however, scholars have been expressing doubts about Mosaic authorship. At present, except for Orthodox Jews and fundamentalist Christians who believe in Mosaic authorship as a matter of faith, no scholar on earth holds that Moses – or any one person – was the recorder of the Torah. This is not an issue of divine versus human composition. It has nothing to do with whether the Torah was dictated, revealed, or inspired by God. It rather concerns the persons who wrote it down: who they were, and when they lived. Scholars still debate the number of authors and when they wrote the texts, but the evidence rules out a single author. What made the evidence so compelling was the convergence of numerous independent lines of evidence, several of which remain unchallenged.

Doublets and Terminology

These began with the convergence of two lines of evidence: doublets and terminology. Doublets are two variations of a story: the Torah has two accounts of creation (Gen. 1:1–2:3 and 2:4–24), two accounts of the covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15 and 17), and two accounts of Moses getting water from a rock at Meriba (Exodus 17 and Numbers 20). It is possible for doublets to occur in a single-author work, but the number of doublets in the Torah is so large that it indicates a more complex compositional history. There are more than 15 in Genesis alone, besides creation and the Abrahamic covenant. They include:

The Genealogy from Adam. Gen. 4:1–2, 17–26; and 5:1–28, 30–32

The flood. Gen. 6:5–8; 7:1–5, 7, 10, 12, 16b–20, 22–23; 8:2b–3a, 6, 8–12, 13b, 20–22; and 6:9–22; 7:8–9, 11, 13–16a, 21, 24; 8:1–2a, 3b–5, 7, 13a, 14–19; 9:1–17

Abraham's move from Mesopotamia to Canaan. Gen. 12:1–4a; and 12:4b–5

Abraham tells a king that his wife is his sister. Gen. 12:10–20; and 20:1–18; and 26:6–14 (this is a triplet)

Abraham and Lot part. Gen. 13:5, 7–11a, 12b–14; and 13:6, 11b–12a

Hagar and Ishmael. Gen. 16:1–2, 4–14; and 16:3, 5–16; and 21:8–19 (a triplet)

The prophecy that Isaac will be born. Gen. 17:16–19; and 18:10–14

The naming of Beer Sheba. Gen. 21:22–31; and 26:15–33

Jacob and Esau, and Jacob's move to Mesopotamia. Gen. 26:34–35; 27:46; 28:1–9; and 27:1–45; 28:10

Jacob at Beth-El. Gen. 28:10, 11a, 13–16, 19; and 28:11b–12, 17–18, 20–22; and 35:9–15 (a triplet)

Jacob's children. Gen. 29:32–35; 30:1–24; 35:16–20; and Gen. 35:23–26

The change of Jacob's name to Israel. Gen. 32:25–33; and 35:9–10

Joseph is taken to Egypt. Gen. 37:2b, 3b, 5–11, 19–20, 23, 25b–27, 28b, 31–35; 39:1; and 37:3a, 4,12–18, 21–22, 24, 25a, 28a, 29–30

It is not just that the number of doublets is large. It was observed that when each pair of doublet stories is separated, one of the stories refers to the deity as God (Hebrew El or Elohim) while the other refers to the deity by the proper name yhwh. Moreover, it was observed that this distinction continues in the Torah up to the moment that God reveals this proper name to Moses (Ex. 3:13–15), and then it stops. This was evidence that there were at least two sources that had been used in the Torah, one that said that God's proper name was not known until the generation of Moses, and one that pictured the divine name as known from the early generations of humans. Works describing this phenomenon often speak of the sources as having "different names of God," but that is not correct. Any work of literature or history might use different names for the same person. The phenomenon here is much stronger. It is that different works had different ideas of when God made the divine name yhwh known to humankind.

These source texts came to be known by the symbols e (for the text that referred to God as Elohim until Moses) and j (for the text that referred to God by the name yhwh, which was spelled Jahwe by the German scholars who first outlined this). Additionally, a third source was identified that followed the same pattern as e, stating definitively that God's name was not known until the time of Moses (Ex. 6:3). This source came to be known as p (the Priestly source). And a fourth source was observed to underlie the book of Deuteronomy. It is written in an entirely different, easily identifiable character and vocabulary. It contains doublets of the first four books as well as contradictions of detail. This source is known as d.

In addition, it has recently been recognized that the j source never uses the word God (Elohim) in narration. Persons in j use it in speech, but the narrator never once uses the word. This reinforces the evidence concerning the divine name with notable consistency. Specifically: the words El, Elohim, and yhwh occur over 2,000 times in the Torah, and the number of exceptions (where the wrong term occurs in a source) is only three.

The convergence of the two lines of evidence – doublets and the divine name – are reinforced by other terms, phrases, and names that occur only in particular sources but not in others. For example, we can cite the following:

(a) The phrase "gathered to his people" occurs only in p (11 times) and never in the other sources. Likewise the phrase "and he [or they] fell on his face" (eight times), the phrase "be fruitful and multiply" (12 times), the term "to expire" (gw' – 11 times), and the word "congregation" (Hebrew 'edâ – more than 100 times) occur exclusively in p. Conversely, there are words used throughout the other sources of the Torah that never occur in p, such as: rhm (mercy/merciful); hnn (grace/gracious); swb (repent/repentance); and hsd (faithfulness).

(b) Meanwhile, the term "to know" as a euphemism for having sexual intercourse occurs only in j (five times) and never in the other sources. Likewise the name Sheol (six times) and the term "to suffer" (Hebrew 'sb – seven times) occur exclusively in j.

(c) The name of the mountain where Moses leads Israel is named Sinai in j and p (20 times), but it is Horeb or "the Mountain of God" in e and d (14 times).

There are at least 25 of these characteristic terms, occurring over 500 times in the Torah. This is far too many to be just the result of clever scholars arranging their source identifications so that the right words will always show up in the right verses. Thus the evidence of doublets and different terminology converge towards a common explanation.

Narrative Flow

The source identifications are confirmed by another body of evidence: continuity of texts. It is possible to divide the sources with all of the doublets separated, with the divine name occurring consistently within the source texts, and with the characteristic terms and phrases likewise falling consistently in their sources – and then one can read the sources as complete, continuous texts, The p text flows as a continuous narrative, regularly picking up where it left off once the interveningj and e material are removed. The combined text of j and e likewise flows with hardly a gap when intervening material is removed (see below). One can read each of these texts as a nearly complete work. For example, when the j and p flood stories are separated, each flows as a continuous story without gaps, repetitions, or contradictions. Likewise, p's story of Korah's rebellion against Moses flows as a complete story when separated from j's story, also complete, of Dathan's and Abiram's rebellion. Either can be read as a continuous story (j = Num.16:1b–2a, 12–14, 25–26, 27b–32a, 33–34. p = 1a, 2b–11, 15–24, 27a, 32b, 35), and the two clauses that merge the stories and thus break the flow (Num. 16:24, 27) are editorial additions (confirmed by the fact that they do not occur in the Septuagint). The stories of Hagar and Ishmael (j = Gen. 16:1–2, 4–14. p = 16:3, 15–16), Jacob and Esau (j = Gen. 25:21–34; 27:1–45; 28:10. p = 26:34–35; 27:46; 28:1–9), the Red Sea (j = Ex. 13:21–22; 14:5a, 6a, 9a, 10b, 13–14, 19b, 20b, 21b, 24, 25b, 27b, 30–31. p = 14:1–4, 8, 9b, 10a, 10c, 15–18, 21a, 21c, 22–23, 26–27a, 28–29), and the spies (j = Num. 13:17–20, 22–24, 27–31, 33; 14:1b, 4, 11–25, 39–45. p = 13:1–16, 21, 25–26, 32; 14:1a, 2–3, 5–10, 26–29), are all further examples of intertwined j and p texts, that when separated yield complete and continuous independent narratives. Sometimes, p narratives only make sense in light of earlier p stories. For example, the p account of the heresy at Peor (Num. 25:6–19 (English 25:6–26:1a)) appears to begin in medias res, with the Israelite man and Midianite woman acting in the sight of Moses and the people, who "were weeping at the entrance of the tent of meeting." The weeping is unexplained unless the intervening j and e material is removed. Then we find that, five chapters earlier, the previous p story, the death of Aaron, ends with the people weeping for Aaron in its last verse (20:29). Thus the narrative flow of the p text appears to be consistent and intact.

Relationships of the Sources to Each Other and to History

j and e

The j and e sources both contain historical referents that lie in the period during which the country was divided into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The historical referents of j disproportionately relate to Judah, and those of e relate to Israel. Thus they had to have both been written during the divided monarchy, before the destruction of Israel by Assyria: between 922 and 722 b.c.e. These distinct historical connections both (1) support the identification of the sources and (2) point to the historical setting in which each was written. Neither source demonstrates awareness of either the fall of Israel or the dispersion of the northern tribes. j's reference to Esau/Edom breaking Israel's yoke from its neck (Gen. 27:40) probably places its composition after Hadad's rebellion against Solomon, or perhaps after Edom's full independence from Judah during the reign of the Judean king Jehoram (849–842 b.c.e.). The e text offers no similar clues to narrow its dates of composition further within the period of the divided monarchy.

The elements of j indicating a Judean provenance are as follows:

In j, Abraham resides in Hebron/Mamre (Gen. 13:18; 18:1). Hebron was the capital of Judah, and the home city of Zadok, the Judean high priest of David and Solomon.

Shechem was the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, built by Jeroboam i, the king who had rebelled against Judah. The j account of Israel's acquisition of Shechem is derogatory, involving the taking of Dinah by Shechem and the massacre of the city by Simeon and Levi (Genesis 34).

The J birth accounts of the eponymous ancestors of the tribes include only Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah (Gen. 29:32–35). Among these tribes, only Judah existed with a territorial identity in the era of the monarchy. The j text includes the story of Reuben's taking Jacob's concubine, and the story of Simeon's and Levi's massacre of Shechem. As confirmed in Jacob's deathbed blessing in Genesis 49, a poetic text included in j, these acts result in the preeminence passing to the fourth son: Judah.

In the j story of Joseph, Judah is the brother who saves Joseph from the other brothers' plans to kill him (Gen. 37:26–27; 42:22), and it is Judah who promises Jacob that Benjamin will survive the journey to Egypt (Gen. 43:8–9).

The author of j is the only author to include a lengthy story from the life of Judah (Genesis 38), culminating in the birth of Peres, the eponymous ancestor of the clan from which the Judean royal family was traced.

In the j story of Num. 17–20, 22–24, Moses sends scouts ahead to the promised land, and they see only Judah; they miss all the other tribes of Israel. The favorable spy in this story is Caleb; the Calebite territory was located in Judah and included Hebron.

Judah bordered Edom, which Israel did not, and j includes a lengthy account of the birth, youthful relations, and break between Jacob and Esau, the ancestor of the Edomites. These stories reflect the kinship and historical relations with Edom on several points. j also includes the list of the kings of Edom (Genesis 36).

The religious iconography in j also corresponds to the situation in Judah. The ark, located in Judah, figures prominently in j stories but is never mentioned in e. j includes a description of the ark's movements in the wilderness (Num. 10:33–36), and j associates the presence of the ark with military success (Num. 14:41–44). The j Decalogue only prohibits the making of molten gods (Ex. 34:17), a prohibition which denounces the golden calves of northern Israel, which were molten, without denigrating the golden cherubs of the Temple in Judah, which were wooden and gold-plated. In j, cherubs are depicted as guarding the path to the tree of life, consistent with the cherub iconography of Judah. Cherubs are never mentioned in e.

The elements of E that indicate a northern, Israelite provenance are as follows:

In e, Jacob struggles with God and etiologically names the site of this event Peni-El (Gen. 32:31). The Israelite city of Peni-El was built by Jeroboam i, the founding monarch of the northern Israelite kingdom (i Kings 12:25).

e has an account of Joseph's deathbed wish to be buried in his homeland and an account of the Israelites taking his remains during the exodus. The traditional site of Joseph's grave was at the city of Shechem, which was also built by Jeroboam and served at one point as the capital of Israel (i Kings 12:25).

In contrast to the J story of Simeon's and Levi's massacre of the inhabitants of Shechem, in e the territory around the city of Shechem is acquired by peaceful purchase (Gen. 33:18–19).

The e birth accounts of the eponymous ancestors of the tribes include all of the tribes of Israel: Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulon, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin (Gen. 30:5–24a; 35:16b–19), but they do not include Judah.

In e, the birthright goes to Joseph, creating the northern tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Also, Ephraim is favored over Manasseh in e (Gen. 48:13–20), corresponding to the historical preeminence of Ephraim, Jeroboam's tribe (and the term "Ephraim" is frequently used in the Hebrew Bible as an alternate name for the northern kingdom of Israel). The term for the additional portion thus awarded to Joseph is the unusual sekem (Shechem; 48:22), a pun on the name of the Israelite capital city, which was located in the hills of Ephraim.

In the e Joseph story, Reuben rather than Judah is the brother who saves Joseph from the other brothers' plans to kill him (Gen. 37:21–22), and it is Reuben rather than Judah who promises Jacob that Benjamin will survive the journey to Egypt (Gen. 42:37).

In e's depiction of the Israelites' slavery in Egypt, the Egyptian taskmasters are identified as "officers of the corvee" (sarê missîm; Ex. 1:11). The northern Israelite tribes' hostility to the Solomonic policy of missîm was an explicit ground for their secession, which, according to the report of i Kings, was initiated by the stoning of Rehoboam's officer of the missîm (i Kings 12:18).

The heroic role of Joshua is developed in e but not in j. Joshua is identified as being of northern Israelite origins, of the tribe of Ephraim. Not only does e show definite signs of northern provenance, but there are elements of e that coincide particularly with the interests of the Levites of northern Israel who were of the priestly group from Shiloh. Specifically:

Only e includes the story of the golden calf heresy, led by Aaron. The Shiloh Levites' high priest Abiathar had been expelled from the Jerusalem priestly hierarchy by Solomon, his prerogatives thus passing to an Aaronid high priest (Zadok). According to i Kings, the Shiloh prophet Ahijah had initially supported the kingship of Jeroboam but later rejected it when the new king established golden calves at Bethel and Dan. The e golden calf story thus merges and denigrates the two symbols of the exclusion of the Shiloh Levites, Aaron and the golden calf, while praising the Levites who violently purge the people of the heresy.

Like the golden calf story, the e story of Aaron's and Miriam's criticism of Moses over Moses' Cushite wife (Numbers 12) also denigrates Aaron, who is reprimanded directly by God. This story explicitly declares Moses' revelation to be superior to Aaron's, and, like the golden calf story, portrays Aaron addressing Moses submissively as "my lord."

The iconography of e likewise corresponds to the situation in Israel, and especially to the concerns of the Shiloh Levites. For example, the Tabernacle is originally associated with the northern Israelite religious center at Shiloh. e includes a description of the Tabernacle's establishment in relation to the camp in the wilderness, emphasizing its importance for revelation (Num. 10:33–36), but the Tabernacle is never mentioned in j. As opposed to j's prohibition of making molten gods, which attacks only the northern golden calves, e forbids the making of any "gods of silver and gods of gold" (Exod 20:23), thus applying to both the Israelite golden calves and the Judean golden cherubs. And in the e story of the golden calf, Moses smashes the tablets of the Decalogue, and there is no e account of a second set of tablets being made. This casts aspersions on the ark in Judah, which would thus either be empty or contain inauthentic tablets.

Both j and e relate a story of the establishment of Bethel (Gen. 28:10–22); and both kingdoms, Judah and Israel, had claims and interests in Bethel.

In addition to the interests of the Shiloh Levite priests detailed above, another sign that e derives from priestly origins is the fact that it includes a lengthy law code, the Covenant Code (Exodus 21–23). All other legal texts in the Hebrew Bible are found in priestly sources (d, p, and Ezekiel). j, however, lacks the law codes that are characteristic of priestly texts, and j shows no other manifest signs of composition in priestly circles.

Thus there is strong cumulative evidence for the origins of e and j in the northern and southern kingdoms, respectively.


The j and e texts were combined in an editorial process that sought to unify the two narrative strands into one flowing narrative, and this combined je text, when separated from p, does form a complete and nearly continuous narrative. The extent to which the Redactor of j and e, known as rje, was successful is measured by the fact that there is still debate over where and how to separate the two texts. When e and j are separated, neither flows continuously without gaps. This indicates that the Redactor of j and e was willing to cut some material to make the two sets of stories fit together more readily. For example, while the j source begins with the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2–3), the e text has no primeval history at all. The first e narrative is found in Gen. 20:1–18, a story about Abraham and Sarah at Gerar, deceiving King Abimelech into thinking that Sarah is Abraham's sister. The very beginning of the original e source is missing, and it is impossible to know whether it ever contained a creation story or an account of the flood, or whether it began with Abraham's movement to Canaan. The Redactor of je chose to begin the combined narrative with j's version of all of these events.

The most likely time frame for the unification of j and e would have been shortly after the destruction of the northern Israelite kingdom in 722 b.c.e. They were definitely combined prior to the composition of the Priestly source, as p's account follows the chronology and events of the combined j and e. The parallels of characters, events, and order between p and je are so close as to indicate that j and e were edited together and then were known to and followed by the composer(s) of p.


The Priestly source follows the combined je in its contents and order: creation, flood, Abraham's migration to Canaan, Abraham's parting from Lot, the Abrahamic covenant, Ishmael's birth by Hagar, divine destruction of the cities, birth of Isaac, Isaac's marriage to Rebekah, death of Abraham, Jacob's parting from Esau, Jacob's children, Jacob's being renamed Israel, Joseph in Egypt, Jacob in Egypt, enslavement in Egypt, the plagues, the exodus, the Red Sea, water from a rock in the wilderness, manna, revelation at Sinai, law code at Sinai, the scouts, rebellions in the wilderness, Peor, the death of Moses. Where p's narrative does not match je, the differences can be explained in terms of consistent concerns of p. Certain themes and characteristics of the je narratives are completely missing from the p source. In je, encounters between God and humans take place regularly, including such blatant anthropomorphisms as God's walking in the garden of Eden (j), making Adam's and Eve's clothes (j), closing Noah's ark (j), smelling Noah's sacrifice (j), wrestling with Jacob (e), standing on the rock at Meribah (e), and being seen by Moses at Sinai/Horeb (j and e). Such anthropomorphisms are absent from p. There are no angels in p, no dreams conveying divine meaning; in fact, the word "prophet" appears only once in p (Exod 7:1), and there it is used figuratively. p takes great pains to emphasize that the only legitimate communication between God and humans takes place through priests. And it is not through just any priest. It must be an Aaronid priest, at the Tabernacle, according to the proper rituals as described in the p legal sections. For example, in p's flood story, one pair of each kind of animal is brought into the ark (Gen. 6:19; 7:8, 9, 15); but in the j version, seven pairs of clean and one pair of unclean animals are brought (Gen. 7:2, 3). j has extra clean (sacrificial) animals because at the end of j's story Noah offers a sacrifice. There is no sacrifice in any p story until Aaron is inaugurated as High Priest, hence no extra animals on the ark for sacrifices in the p version. Similarly, p leaves out the sacrificial animals in its account of the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 17), and p leaves out the story of the near sacrifice of Isaac completely. And, above all, p leaves out the stories of the golden calf and of Moses' Cushite wife, both of which denigrate Aaron.

The Priestly text is replete with technical information missing from je, such as ages, dates, measurements, numbers, and precise instructions. p is particularly concerned with ritual and other matters pertaining to priests. Contrary to j, e, and d, in p only descendants of Aaron are priests, while all other Levites are designated as lower-level clergy. p also adds two major autumn holidays (Lev. 16:29–34; 23:23–32; Num. 29:1–11) to the standard list of three seasonal holidays contained in the other texts. p's perspective on the history of ancient Israel is often more concerned with justifying the sacral institutions of the Jerusalemite priesthood than with representing history for its own sake. For example, the creation in Genesis 1 justifies the institution of the Sabbath; the covenant with Abraham establishes the rite of circumcision (Gen. 17); and p's description of the events at Sinai center on the building of the sanctuary (Ex. 25ff.). The Tabernacle is of central importance to p, mentioned over 200 times. It is mentioned three times in e, and never in j or d; (for more on the Tabernacle, see below).

In p, the description of the flood is dramatic, a cosmic event in which "all the fountains of the great deep were split open, and the apertures of the skies were opened." After 150 days, the ark comes to rest on the mountains of Ararat, the precise date is given, and after months of recession of the water, God commands Noah to exit. Noah sends out a raven to determine that the earth has dried, and he and his family exit the ark with the animals. The event takes one year. j's version of the flood, however, begins with yhwh's being "grieved to His heart" over the state of humans. yhwh instructs Noah to come into an ark, and yhwh closes the ark for him. It rains forty days and forty nights. At the end, Noah sends out a dove three times to determine that the earth has dried. Then he builds an altar to yhwh and makes a sacrifice, "and yhwh smelled the pleasant smell." Anthropomorphisms of the deity are characteristic of j and completely lacking in p. The dates and measurements are important to p, much less so to j. j's language is simple; p's dramatic.

As with j and e, the most compelling types of evidence for dating the p text are its historical referents, linguistic classification, and references in and to other biblical books. All of these point solidly to a pre-exilic date, likely during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah (715–687 b.c.e.).

In addition to the Tabernacle, the ark, tablets, cherubs, Urim and Thummim, other historical referents in p demonstrate the pre-exilic interests of the author. p alone among the four source works of the Torah calls for hierarchical divisions among the clergy. This is a pervasive concern in p legal sections and in p narrative. p insists that only Levites descended from Aaron are priests, and all other Levites are second-level clergy, and specific tasks for each group are assigned. According to the report in 2 Chronicles, Hezekiah was the king who established these divisions and assigned these tasks (ii Chron. 31:2). Ezekiel's prediction of the priestly divisions had led 19th century scholars to place the authorship of p after Ezekiel, but Ezekiel distinguishes not the descendants of Aaron, but only the Zadokite Aaronids from other Levites. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the author(s) of p accepted Ezekiel's visions as legally authoritative. On the contrary, the p model of the tabernacle (see below) is structurally incompatible with Ezekiel's vision of the Temple. In any case, new linguistic evidence indicates that p was composed prior to Ezekiel (see below).

p's exclusion of non-Aaronid Levites from the priesthood and concern with the house of Aaron is reflected also in the source's treatment of Aaron himself in the Exodus stories. p places Aaron alongside Moses from the beginning in Exodus, identifies Aaron as Moses' older brother (Ex. 6:20; Num. 26:59). Neither je nor d identify Aaron (or Miriam) as Moses' sibling at all. e refers to Aaron as Moses' "Levite brother" (Ex. 4:14), which, if anything, indicates that they are not siblings in this source. (Why say "Levite" at all if they are siblings?) p provides for Aaron's consecration and for the consecration of his sons to the priesthood, depicts the Aaronid succession, including the death of his eldest two sons, his own death, his replacement by his third son Eliezer, and the eternal promise of priesthood through Eliezer's son Phinehas. j, e, and d instead understand all Levites to be priests. The other biblical work that clearly identifies only Aaronids as priests is the Chronicler's work; and the books of Chronicles praise Hezekiah as foremost among the kings of Israel and Judah. Only one other king compares with Hezekiah, according to Chronicles, and that is Solomon. Solomon is the first to give the Aaronid priests their exclusive hold on the Jerusalem priesthood, with the banishment of Abiathar. Thus, the biblical books that hold the same view of the priesthood as p focus on the two kings who formalized p's priestly distinctions: Solomon and Hezekiah. Since p had to have been written long after Solomon's time, the reign of Hezekiah is the provenance that appears to be reflected in the Priestly source.

p's demand for centralization of sacrifice further points to the reign of Hezekiah. According to both the books of Kings and Chronicles, Hezekiah was the king who initiated centralization. His centralization of worship at the Temple in Jerusalem placed all sacrifice under the auspices of the Aaronid priesthood. The d source also calls for centralization, but scholars almost unanimously recognize d as a product of the reign of Josiah (see below).

Later books refer to the p text, further demonstrating that p is pre-exilic. There are allusions to passages in p in the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The familiarity of the book of Jeremiah, dating from the late 7th/early 6th centuries, with the p source is evident by its negative use of p material. Jeremiah reverses p's language and takes an opposite point of view in what are visibly deliberate plays upon p's characteristic language. For example, Jeremiah says: "I looked at the earth, and here it was unformed and void, and to the heavens, and their light was gone" (Jer. 4:23). This is a clear reversal of Gen. 1:1–3 (p). In addition, the character of the texts in Ezekiel that are similar to p appear to depend on p, rather than the other way around. For example, Ezekiel 5–6, a genre known as a "covenant lawsuit," depends on the covenant text in Lev 26:3, 15. Ezekiel's review of the Exodus in Ezekiel 20 also is based on the story in the p version in Exodus 6 (compare Ezek. 20:28 and Ex. 6:8; Ezek. 20:5 and Ex. 6:3; Ezek. 20:33–34 and Ex. 6:6; Ezek. 20:8 and Lev. 26:21; Ezek. 20:13,16, 24 and Lev. 26:43). The allusions to p in Ezekiel accord with the other evidence for pre-exilic composition of p.

As noted above, p's account follows the chronology and events of the combined je so closely that it indicates that the composer of p was familiar with the rje text. This further fits with the evidence of p having been composed during the time of Hezekiah, whose reign in Judah covered the years following the fall of Israel. The combination of j and e resulted in a narrative in Judah that was derogatory toward Aaron, identifying him as the maker of the golden calf, and unacceptable to Jerusalem's Aaronid priests on various other grounds as well. p's tie with the Aaronid priesthood explains the motivation for composing p under the reign of Hezekiah, as an alternative to je. In virtually every p story it is possible to identify components that reflect an overall design of composition of p as an alternative to je. p follows the order of je, but promotes Aaron, denigrates Moses (e.g., for striking the rock at Meribah), leaves out the stories of the golden calf and Aaron's criticism of Moses' wife, eliminates anthropomorphisms of the deity, dreams, angels, and all references to prophets (except Aaron), depicting the Aaronid priesthood as the only legitimate channel to the deity. p eliminates all references to repentance and divine mercy, making sacrifice the sole method of atonement and forgiveness, and further eliminates all depictions of sacrifice prior to the consecration of Aaron and the Tabernacle; the Aaronid priesthood is the only divinely sanctioned authority to conduct sacrifices. Thus the differences between the p versions and the je versions of stories are not only observable but, in nearly every case, explainable. p's addition of Joshua alongside Caleb in the scouts story can be similarly explained: je establishes the merit of Joshua to be Moses' successor by his disassociation from the golden calf incident. p does not include the golden calf incident, since it denigrates Aaron, and so it establishes Joshua's merit by adding him to the scouts episode.


As with the other sources, d has its own character, distinctive vocabulary and phraseology, and it sometimes duplicates and sometimes contradicts stories and laws found in je and p. Its first 30 chapters are the farewell speech of Moses. The remaining four chapters contain the last acts of Moses and include two songs that he gives the people that picture their future. At the book's center is a law code (Deuteronomy 12–26). Chapters 1–11 and 27–30 frame the law code as an introduction and powerful conclusion.

There are signs that the law code (called Dtn) is very old, with at least parts of it deriving from the period before the first kings of Israel. For example, the laws of war in Deuteronomy 20–21 reflect the pre-monarchic period of general conscription, when the Israelite tribes were summoned to battle. The rise of the monarchy led to the replacement of the tribal musters by professional armies. Laws giving authority and legal jurisdiction to the Levites indicate composition by Levites. The law code and the chapters that frame it include signs of which Levite group produced the work. The fact that Aaron is largely ignored and negatively cast in Deuteronomy excludes the Aaronid priests as possible authors of this work. Diametrically opposed to the Aaronid view of Israel's priesthood that is found in p, Deuteronomy does not distinguish between descendants of Aaron and other Levites. d is negative with regard to Aaron, mentioning him only to report his death and to identify him as the maker of the golden calf. d also refers to the Cushite wife episode, which likewise was unfavorable to Aaron. Conversely, Moses is the favored hero of the d text, sympathetically portrayed as the great leader speaking words of wisdom to the Israelites as they are about to enter the promised land. The law code in Deuteronomy also never refers to the ark, the cherubs, or any other religious implements that were housed in the Jerusalem Temple, or to the office of the High Priest. Still, d demands centralization of worship, which excludes the Levites of the various high places outside of Jerusalem as its authors. The most likely provenance of this work is therefore among the Levites of Shiloh, the pre-Jerusalem center of Israelite religion, or their successors, the same group that produced the e source.

The frame and final form of Deuteronomy have long been recognized to be connected in some essential way with the reign of King Josiah in Judah (640–609 b.c.e.). Among the last acts of Moses, Moses is said to have written the "scroll of the torah," which is to be placed by the ark for future reference. The book of Joshua refers to the existence of this scroll three times (1:8; 8:31, 34; 23:6). Then the scroll is not mentioned again until it is reported to have been brought out from the temple by the priest Hilkiah and read to King Josiah (ii Kings 22:8). Josiah then implemented a series of religious reforms, aimed at centralizing worship at the Temple in Jerusalem, as Hezekiah had done before him. The components of the Josianic reform conform to the requirements of the Deuteronomic law code (Deuteronomy 12–26). Although p also demands centralization, in the description of Josiah's reform there is the explicit connection to Moses' scroll. Additionally, as part of his reform Josiah destroys the golden calf altar of Jeroboam at Bethel. ii Kings 23 describes this act in the same terms used in Deuteronomy for Moses' destruction of the golden calf of Aaron. Josiah's treatment of the Asherah of Jerusalem and other altars also reflects specific commands of the d law code. Further, there are numerous parallels of wording and action between the characterization of Moses in Deuteronomy and of Josiah in ii Kings: The words "none arose like…" are applied only to Moses and Josiah (Deut. 34:10 and ii Kings 23:25); both grind a golden calf – or its altar – "thin as dust," in both cases at a wadi (Deut. 9:21 and ii Kings 23:6; cf. also ii Kings 23:12 and Deut. 12:3); and Moses instructs the people to "Love yhwh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:5), and Josiah is described as "a king who returned to yhwh with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might" (ii Kings 23:25), an expression that occurs nowhere in the Hebrew Bible but these two passages. There are numerous other parallels (cf. Deut. 17:8–13 and ii Kings 22:13; Deut. 17:11, 20 and ii Kings 22:2; Deut. 31:11 and ii Kings 23:2).

Thus the bulk of Deuteronomy was composed and compiled during the 7th century b.c.e. Still, portions of Deuteronomy show signs of having been composed after the destruction and exile of Judah in 587 b.c.e., and added to the Josianic edition in a subsequent second edition: Deut. 4:25–31; 8:19–20; 28:36–37, 63–68; 29:21–27; 30:1–10, 14–20. Each of these passages is identified as an exilic addition by a combination of several factors: terminology, theme, grammar, syntax, literary structure, and comparative data. All refer to the themes of apostasy, destruction, exile, and dispersion. Their wording and themes match with demonstrably exilic portions of the books of Kings, such as i Kings 9:6–9; and ii Kings 21:8–15. Deuteronomy is thus a complex combination of texts that reflect composition and editing that fits with several historical periods.

j, e, p, and d are the largest recognized sources of the Pentateuch, though there are smaller sources. Four poems especially stand out as originally independent works which are probably the oldest sections of the Torah. They are the Blessing of Jacob (Genesis 49), the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15), the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32), and the Blessing of Moses (Deuteronomy 33).


The final editor, responsible for assembling the Torah from these sources is known as the Redactor, or r. His work had to have taken place after the Babylonian exile in order for him to have had all of the sources available to him. The separate stages of the editing of d (the law code, the Josianic edition, and the exilic edition) would have to have been completed by his time. The combination of jep and d required little more than moving the accounts of the promotion of Joshua and the death of Moses to the end of Deuteronomy. The portions of the Torah that are traceable to him favor the Aaronid priesthood as does p; and, in his organization of the text, he favored p, indicating his connection with the same group that had produced p centuries earlier. The relationship between r and p is further confirmed by the presence of passages that are similar to p, but which are supplemental and which appear to originate in a later period, specifically the time of the Second Temple. For example, Numbers 15:1–31 and Numbers 29–30 share substantial terminology and interests with the Priestly source, but these passages also duplicate much information that is already given in p (cf. Leviticus 1–7). A striking difference between these r passages and the p texts with which they overlap, however, is that the p texts constantly emphasize the required presence of the Tabernacle (see above), but the r passages never mention the Tabernacle. This is consistent with a Second Temple period date for r. The Tabernacle is associated only with the First Temple in biblical and rabbinic passages. p, coming from the First Temple period, mentions the Tabernacle more than any other subject. r never mentions it at all. r therefore appears to derive from the days of the Second Temple, a time when priests could no longer insist on the presence of the Tabernacle for sacrifice.

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah report that Ezra read the Torah publicly in Jerusalem in this period (5th century b.c.e.). That appears to have been the complete Torah, because the accounts in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah refer to passages from all of the main sources: j, e, p, and d. Ezra himself or someone from his circle is likely to have been the Redactor (r) of the Torah. Ezra is identified as a scribe, as one who was particularly concerned with the Torah, as an Aaronid priest (which fits with the sympathy with and similarity to p), and as the first person known to possess a scroll of the complete Torah (see Ezra 7:6, 10, 14).

Observable Signs of Editing

There are observable editorial devices employed by r, such as epanalepsis, reconciling phrases, framing devices, and supplemental passages.

Epanalepsis, or resumptive repetition, is an editorial device in which a line is repeated following an insertion of one text into the body of another. For example, in Ex. 6:12 Moses says, "How will Pharaoh listen to me, when I am uncircumcised of lips?" The narrative is then interrupted by a partial genealogy that culminates in Aaron's family. Then a transitional summary of what had been said prior to the interruption leads to the repetition in v. 30 of Moses saying "I am uncircumcised of lips, and how will Pharaoh listen to me?" The epanalepsis in this case has the character of an editor's mechanism for inserting a text into a pre-existing account and then returning to the flow of the story.

Due to the nature of the different source texts with their diverse interests and often blatant contradictions of detail, it was necessary for the Redactor occasionally to insert reconciling phrases to soften the resulting inconsistencies. These phrases are superfluous to the narrative, serving only to reconcile such inconsistencies. For example, in j and e, Jacob's travels from Haran to Canaan have him first arriving in Shechem, then returning to Bethel, where God had appeared to him years earlier. The p account pictures him coming from Paddan Aram directly to Bethel. His arrival at Bethel in p begins, "And God appeared to Jacob when he was coming from Paddan Aram" (Gen. 35:9), which conflicts with the preceding j and e texts that state that Jacob had already returned and dwelled in the land. r therefore added a reconciling phrase to these j and e accounts of Jacob's prior arrival at Shechem, stating, "which was in the land of Canaan when he was coming from Paddan Aram" (33:18b). The Redactor also added the word "again" to the p verse (35:9), rendering the p report of the divine appearance at Bethel an additional theophany to that of e.

The Redactor used three literary frames to unite the originally separate source texts into a sensible chronological flow. The first of these was the Book of Generations, which begins "This is the Book of Generations of humans" (Gen. 5:1) and was cut by the Redactor and arranged through Genesis at key points to delineate the genealogies from Adam to Jacob (Gen. 5:1–28, 30–32; 7:6; 9:28–29; 11:10–26, 32). In Exodus, r used the p version of the plagues that yhwh inflicted on the Egyptians to frame the j, e, and p stories of the plagues, the Exodus, and the crossing of the Red Sea. In the p source, each of the plagues on the Egyptians is followed by "But Pharaoh's heart was strengthened, and he did not listen to them, as yhwh had spoken" (Ex. 7:13, 22; 8:15; 9:12). r inserted similar phrases following plagues in the je stories as well (Ex. 8:11b; 9:35; 10:20, 27) to give unity to the entire section. The third framing device is derived from the "List of Stations," an originally independent text, now located in Numbers 33. This is the series of chronological-geographical notices of the stations of Israel's journey from Egypt to the border of Canaan. Rather than a summary of all of the places mentioned in the stories up to that point, this list was originally an independent document like the Book of Generations, which the Redactor used as a framework for the wilderness stories. He distributed the pieces of the list of the people's journeys through the text, setting each of his stories in its appropriate place, thus giving continuity to the books of Exodus (starting in chapter 12), Leviticus, and Numbers.

Each of the three texts from which the editorial frames are constructed has the character of p material. The plagues text is itself part of the Priestly source, and the other two resemble p in language and content, indicating that the Redactor of the final Torah favored p. For example, the Book of Generations refers to God as Elohim, not yhwh, and states that humans are created in God's image, as does p. The Priestly plagues narrative forms the governing structure for much of the book of Exodus, and the itinerary and language reflected in the List of Stations accords with the Priestly narrative as well.


There are contradictions within the Torah that are almost all explained when the sources are separated. For example, there is a contradiction of whether Joseph is sold by Midianites or by Ishmaelites (Gen. 37:25–36; 39:1), but the Ishmaelites are in j, and the Midianites are in e. There is a contradiction as to whether Moses' father-in-law is named Reuel or Jethro (Ex. 2:16–18; 3:1; 4:18; 18:1); or whether the mountain of God is Sinai or Horeb. And these too fall into j and e, respectively. There are numerous other contradictions of detail between p and je. In the Priestly creation story (Genesis 1) God creates plants, then animals, then man and woman; but in the j creation account the order is man, then plants, then animals, then woman. In Gen 6:3, God limits the lifespan of humans to 120 years (j); but P reports many people living longer than this (Gen. 9:29; 11:10–23, 32). Benjamin's birthplace is Bethlehem in Gen. 35:16–19 (e), but it is Paddan Aram in 35:23–26 (p). In Numbers 11 (e) the people are tired of eating only manna, and so they are fed birds; but in Exodus 16 (p) it is reported that they had been getting birds along with the manna from the beginning. In j's version of the scouts story, Caleb alone stands against the spies who give a discouraging report of the promised land (Num. 13:30; 14:24), but in p's account, it is both Caleb and Joshua (14:6–9, 38). When the Israelites are seduced by foreign women at Peor, in j they are Moabite women (Num. 25:1), but in p they are Midianite (25:6; 31:1–16). Traditional explanations of each of these contradictions individually have never been able to account for the fact that the reconciliation of the contradictions works within the source lines that are determined on the basis of other evidence as well.

Linguistic Evidence

Especially since the 1970s, scholars working on linguistic analyses of Hebrew have made it possible to trace the stages in the development of Hebrew prose to which the source texts each belong (Milgrom 1970; Polzin 1976; Rendsburg 1980; Zevit 1982; and Hurvitz 1967, 1972, 1974, 1995). j and E belong to the earliest stages of Biblical Hebrew. p and d represent a later stage than j and e, but still a stage closer to j and e than to the Late Biblical Hebrew of post-exilic texts. Biblical scholarship had commonly regarded Ezekiel as a basis for p, but the linguistic evidence has now established the priority of P. Hurvitz (1982) who found that p is written in an earlier stage of Hebrew than the book of Ezekiel, which is exilic. This powerful linguistic evidence is consistent with the evidence of the historical referents of each source, and it accords also with the evidence of identifiable relationships among the sources. The consistency of the linguistic evidence with the hypothesis is now one of the strongest bodies of evidence. It has rarely been mentioned by opponents of the hypothesis and has thus far received no serious challenge.

Thus the Torah was composed by a number of different authors. Their originally separate works were combined in several editorial steps into a continuous, unified work. This process, from the composition of the earliest works to the final redactions, took approximately six centuries (from the 11th to the 5th century b.c.e.). This picture of the formation of the Torah from source documents is known as the documentary hypothesis.

Some of the arguments against the hypothesis include:

(1) No other works in the ancient world were composed in this complex way. The hypothesis was said to picture the Torah as a "crazy patchwork" of texts, and critics of the hypothesis said that no ancient works were composed this way. This was not a strong argument in itself since it did not entertain the possibility that the Torah's formation was unique. And, in any case, the argument was incorrect, as a number of works have in fact been shown to have been composed in this way, with examples coming from the Epic of Gilgamesh, Qumran, the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch and Tatian's Diatesseron.

(2) The literary design of the Torah has too much unity to have been composed in this way. This argument is based on structures of biblical texts, claiming that the design of large sections of the text is such that it rules out the combined composition that the hypothesis pictures. For example, chiasms were identified in the flood story and elsewhere that the hypothesis pictured as composite texts. In every case, however, the chiasms were found to be incorrectly or even artificially constructed.

(3) Doublets were a known feature of ancient Near Eastern literature, not a mark of multiple sources. This assertion is false. Since there was no long prose in the ancient Near East prior to these texts, they cannot have come out of any known tradition of double stories in prose literature or history. And in ancient Near Eastern poetry, the work that shows this sort of formation is the Epic of Gilgamesh, and this epic has been shown to have been composed from sources in the manner of the Torah.

(4) The hypothesis is circular. It is argued that biblical scholars have manipulated the passages to put all of the right terminology in the right places – and then claimed that the terminology is proof of the hypothesis. For example, the scholars divide the sources according to the occurrences of the name of God and then claim that the distinction in the divine name in the texts proves that they are distinct sources. However, those who make this argument have never taken account of the fact that all of these lines of evidence converge – thousands of occurrences of the words yhwh and Elohim, hundreds more occurrences of other characteristic terms, Hebrew that corresponds to the fitting periods, contradictions that are resolved, signs of editing that come at the junctures between sources – and that no scholar is capable of manipulating so many elements to work out.

(5) Alternative models. There are many variations on what the sources were and how they came to be connected. For example, supplementary hypotheses are based on the idea that some texts were never independent sources but rather were composed as expansions of other texts. Although critical scholars tend to agree on the identification of the p and d texts, the last few decades have seen a great deal of debate on the identification of j and e as separate sources. In particular, some doubt the existence of e as a source independent of j. Proponents of this view tend to greatly reduce the amount of material attributed to e, and the e narratives that remain are viewed as deliberate corrective supplements to j. The evidence for separate j and e texts as originally identified in the documentary hypothesis remains more compelling. There are five main types of evidence that demonstrate the separate existence of j and e: doublets, contradictions, terminology, consistent characteristics, and narrative continuity.

In another model, p is divided into two "schools" of authors: the Priestly School and the Holiness School. The narrative and legal texts are divided between these schools. At present, this new model has been proposed but not tested. The biggest objections to be evaluated are that it starts on an unproven premise (that Numbers 28–29 is p yet differs from other texts that are identified with p) and that it breaks up the continuity of p. The narrative flow is one of the stronger arguments for the documentary hypothesis, but the h-versus-p model breaks this flow frequently without any explanation.

Those who oppose the hypothesis – both from the traditional side and from the more radical side – have never responded to the evidence of the continuity of the sources, the linguistic evidence, or the convergence of the several lines of evidence.

history of scholarship

Questions about the unity of the Pentateuch and its Mosaic authorship go back at least to the third century c.e. In the 11th century Isaac Ibn Yashush said that the list of Kings of Edom (Genesis 36) must have been written long after Moses. In the 12th century, Ibn Ezra listed passages in the Torah that each seemed to go against authorship by Moses, but he just cautiously wrote in his commentary: "And if you understand, then you will recognize the truth." In the 14th century, Bonfils wrote about Ibn Ezra's passages, "This is evidence that this verse was written in the Torah later, and Moses did not write it." Christian scholars raised questions in those centuries as well. In the 17th century, Hobbes, Spinoza, and Isaac de la Peyrere all argued that the Torah could not have been written by Moses or any one person.

In the 18th century, H.B. Witter, J. Astruc, and J.G. Eichhorn each independently discovered the existence of more than one source in the Torah. They noted the convergence of the doublets with the divine name associated with each story. Eichhorn used the signs j and e for the two sources they found. Even after they divided the stories between the two sources, however, doublets continued to exist in the e texts. And these doublets contained striking differences in character, language, and content. One group of stories that referred to the deity as Elohim was particularly interested in priestly matters, so it came to be known as p. j, e, and p were found to flow through the first four books of the Pentateuch. The book of Deuteronomy, however, is written in an entirely different character and vocabulary. It contains doublets of sections from the first four books, as well as contradictions of detail. Deuteronomy came to be recognized as an independent fourth source, known as d. The date of d was the first to be established in biblical scholarship, based on the work of W.M.L. de Wette (1805). De Wette found that the laws of Deuteronomy specifically reflected details of King Josiah's reforms, as described in ii Kings.

In 1943, M. Noth showed that the biblical books of Deuteronomy through ii Kings were a continuous work. Pointing to such evidence as similarity of language, continuity of themes, and narrative flow, Noth showed that this was not a loose collection of writings but rather a thoughtfully arranged work drawing from a variety of sources. The Deuteronomistic History (Dtr.), as it came to be known, tells a continuous story of the history of the people of Israel in their land. The book of Deuteronomy was constructed so that its covenant would stand as the foundation of the history, characterizing the fate of the nation as dependent on how well they kept the commandments of Deuteronomy. The history of the kings of Israel in the books of Kings, as opposed to the history in the books of Chronicles, is constructed to culminate in the reign and reform of Josiah, the only king who receives a completely positive rating ("good in the eyes of yhwh") by the historian. The history is written with the same terms and phrases as the book of Deuteronomy. The construction of this history from Moses to Josiah is further made manifest by changes in major themes that occur after the Josiah narratives: the concern with centralization of sacrifice and the comparison of the Judean kings to David both cease after the Josiah pericope. It was thus first demonstrated by F. Cross and his students that the original, Josianic edition of the history (dtr tr.1) was updated and expanded in an exilic edition (dtr tr2).

The date of p has remained an extremely controversial issue of the documentary hypothesis. Reuss argued that the prophets do not quote or refer to p and that therefore the law was later than the prophets. Graf took this argument further, defending the thesis that the composition of extensive priestly laws and rituals could only be a late development, reflecting the hierocratic rule of the Second Temple period. Further consolidating and developing the arguments put forward by Graf, J. Wellhausen defended a post-exilic date for p along the following lines: First, he claimed that passumed the centralization of sacrifice, as proper worship and ritual can occur exclusively at the Tabernacle in the Priestly text. Wellhausen reasoned that in the period prior to Josiah's reform, cultic activities were conducted everywhere, and people who were not priests served in the various temples and high places. Josiah abolished the outlying cultic places and established the Temple in Jerusalem as the only place in which worship of yhwh could take place, and where only priests descended from Aaron could officiate. The priests who served in the high places and provincial temples came to be secondary cultic officials over time, and these were the "Levites" of p. Wellhausen pointed out that Ezekiel had predicted that in the future, only descendants of Zadok (David's Aaronid priest) would be considered legitimate (Ezek. 44:15–16). In p, only Aaronids are priests. Wellhausen concluded that p was written in the days of the Second Temple, when the Aaronid priests came to power, having taken Ezekiel's prophecy as their inspiration. Wellhausen claimed that the high priest described in p is a reflection of the head of the religious community in the Second Temple period.

Second, Wellhausen argued that the numerous sacred institutions in p demonstrate the power of the priests during the Second Temple period. This is the reason for the large number of sacrifices and gifts to the priesthood which are not mentioned in earlier literature, such as the daily and festival offerings (Num. 28–29); sin and guilt offerings (Lev. 4–5); tithe for the Levites (Num. 18:21–24); etc. Similarly, the laws of purity and impurity characteristic of p (e.g., Num. 19; Lev. 11, 12, 13–15, 21–22) result from the intensification of the hierocracy of the Second Temple period. Wellhausen also noted the increasing number of religious institutions in p that do not depend on living in the land, such as the Sabbath and circumcision, which, in effect, became the distinguishing markers of the Jews in exile. Additionally, the holiday of Yom Kippur (Lev. 23:17ff.; 23:23–32; Num. 29:1–11), which has no connection with the agricultural life of the people, appears in p as an expression of the supreme spirituality of Second Temple Judaism and the sense of sin inherent in a post-exilic community.

Lastly, Graf and Wellhausen argued that the Tabernacle, described in detail in p (Ex. 25–30; 35–40; Num. 1–4; 7–8), is a fictional creation of the Jerusalem priesthood of the Second Temple period and is only a reflection of the Jerusalem Temple. According to Graf and Wellhausen, the Tabernacle never existed; it was a fiction produced by a Second Temple author who wanted to establish a law code that was in the interests of the Temple priests of that time. The Priestly Tabernacle was thus a literary and legal fiction created by the post-exilic author(s) of p to support the rebuilt Temple and the reestablished priesthood in Jerusalem of their day.

Starting with the work of Y. Kaufmann, recent scholarship is increasingly demonstrating that it is impossible to explain the development of p against the background of the Second Temple period. The main premises of Reuss, Graf, and Wellhausen were mistaken. Prophets do quote p (cf. Jer. 4:23 and Gen. 1:1–3; Jer. 3:16 and p's expression "Be fruitful and multiply," as well as p's emphasis on the ark; Jer 7:22 and Lev 7:37f; Ezek 5:7 and Lev 26:3, 15; Ezek. 5:10 and Lev. 26:29; Ezek. 5:17 and Lev. 26:22, 25; Ezek. 20:28 and Ex. 6:8; Ezek. 6:3b–6a and Lev. 26:30, 31a; Ezek. 22:26 and Lev. 10:10). p does not assume centralized religion; it demands it (Lev. 17:3–4), reckoning bloodguilt to anyone who offers a sacrifice at a place other than the Tabernacle, with the punishment of being cut off from the rest of one's people. And the Priestly source emphasizes the ark, the tablets, the cherubs, and the Urim and Thummim in connection with the Tabernacle—all items described as having existed in the First Temple, but missing from the Second Temple. It does not make sense that the Tabernacle and its implements would figure so prominently in a text written after their destruction. Research on the Tabernacle by F. Cross, M. Haran, R. Friedman, and M. Homan argues that the Tabernacle was real, not a Second Temple fiction, and that it was pre-exilic. The linguistic evidence developed by Hurvitz and others (see above) confirms that p is in fact composed in the Classical Biblical Hebrew of the pre-exilic period.

Critical scholarship originated among European Protestant scholars and was perceived to be threatening to Jewish traditional beliefs and even, in some cases, to be antisemitic. Wellhausen's scholarship did indeed have an antisemitic (and anti-Catholic) component. Wellhausen openly expressed his hostility to the legal (i.e., Jewish) and priestly (i.e., Catholic) portions of the Torah. In his introduction he stated that when he learned of Graf 's hypothesis that the law was a late addition to the original spiritual religion of the prophets, he was ready to accept it "almost before I heard his reasons." But, despite this original opposition to the new scholarship regarding the authors of the Torah, Jewish scholars came to accept and even champion this research. This was due both to the weight of the evidence for the hypothesis and the improving relations between Jewish and Christian scholars in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Notable in this respect were (1) the development of biblical studies in Israeli universities, starting especially with Yehezkel Kaufmann in Jerusalem, and (2) the rise of a generation of American Jewish biblical scholars who were trained by Christian scholars at Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and Yale universities. The new scholarship came to be taught at the non-orthodox rabbinical schools as well and appears in the commentaries used in Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist synagogues. Even a small number of Orthodox scholars have acknowledged it or come to terms with some portion of it in ways that they judge to be reconcilable with tradition.


The Ten Commandments

According to the book of Exodus, God gives the commandments to the Israelites on Mt. Sinai/Horeb following the exodus from Egypt. Deuteronomy emphasizes that the covenant established on Sinai/Horeb is based on the revelation of the Ten Commandments (Hebrew aseret ha-debarim, "the ten words," or "the ten things," Exod 34:28; Deut 10:4). Unlike other sets of biblical laws that emphasize the role of Moses as a mediator (cf. Exodus 19; Ex. 20:22; 34:32; Lev. 17:1; Deut. 6:1), the Ten Commandments are attributed directly to the deity, speaking aloud from the sky (Ex. 20:1) in the first person (Ex. 2, 3, 5, 6; Deut. 5:6, 7, 9, 10). The Ten Commandments thus have a central place within the Torah; they are presented as the direct address of the deity, identified as a complete and separate covenant, and given a special name to distinguish them from other biblical laws. They continue to be of central importance to other biblical traditions as well: for example, they are reflected in the prophets (Hos 4:1; Jer 7:9) and the psalms (Psalms 50; 81).

There are three versions of the Ten Commandments that appear in the Torah: Exodus 20, which was an independent source, then later elaborated upon by the Redactor; the j version is in Exodus 34:14–28; and the d version in Deuteronomy 5. Although there are important differences among the versions in their language, content, and emphases, all of the Pentateuchal sources demonstrate the centrality of the law in the covenant between God and Israel that is forged at Sinai/Horeb.

In the 1950s, three scholars (E. Bickermann, G. Mendenhall, and K. Baltzer) independently recognized a formal similarity between the Israelite covenant and international legal documents of the ancient Near East. This contribution has aided immensely in understanding the covenant not only as religious, ethical, and ritual prescriptions for the Israelites, but as a legally binding contract between God and Israel as separate parties. The ancient Near Eastern treaty documents, with which the Sinai covenant bears striking parallels, were dictated by regional kings known as suzerains to the local city kings, their vassals, who were subject to them. The treaties formalized relations between the two parties, dictating precisely what was required of the vassal in order to sustain peaceful relations with its suzerain. They regularly included a specific group of formal elements:

1. The suzerain's introduction of himself by name.

2. An historical prologue, detailing the history of the relations between the parties; specifically, something that the suzerain had done for the vassal. The intention here was to demonstrate that the vassal was somehow in the suzerain's debt.

3. The prime stipulation of the treaty, which was that the vassal was to be loyal to this suzerain and have allegiance to no other.

4. Secondary stipulations, including the amount and type of tribute owed to the suzerain by the vassal, the obligation of the vassal to appear at the suzerain's court when summoned, and the necessity of the vassal to supply troops for the suzerain's military defense.

The Sinai covenant, especially in Exodus 20, contains the same key elements:

1. Introduction: I am yhwh your God

2. Historical prologue: who brought you out from the land of Egypt, from a house of slaves

3. Prime stipulation: you shall have no other gods

4. Secondary stipulations: you shall not make a statue; you shall not bring up the name of yhwh your God for a falsehood; remember the Sabbath; honor your father and your mother; etc.

Other similarities between the ancient Near Eastern suzerainty treaties and the Ten Commandments have been noted as well. Suzerainty treaties included an oath sworn by the vassal pledging allegiance to the suzerain and to the requirements of the treaty; cf. Ex. 24:3, 7, in which the Israelites pledge their obedience. Ancient Near Eastern treaties included a provision for the treaty document, requiring that it be deposited in a sacred place; cf. Ex. 25:16, 21; 40:20, in which the covenant text is deposited in the ark in the Tabernacle. Additionally, treaties were usually sealed with a feast shared between the two parties, preceded by a sacrifice. Blood from the sacrifice was sprinkled symbolically on both parties, representing death for the one who breaks the oath thus taken. Exodus 24 describes a feast shared by God and the elders of Israel, in which the blood of the sacrifice is sprinkled on the people, and on the altar that represents the deity. Lastly, treaties ended with a list of curses and blessings cited as sanctions relative to the observance of the treaties; cf. Deuteronomy 27–28.

Despite sharing a common form, style, and language with ancient Near Eastern suzerainty treaties, key elements of the Decalogue demonstrate the uniqueness of biblical Israel against its ancient Near Eastern background. First, there is the tradition that these laws came from God rather than any human ruler; in fact, the nation's suzerain is a deity, rather than a human overlord. That the laws of interaction among the human community and between the Israelites and their deity are embedded within the context of history is also unique. All of the laws in the Pentateuch are understood only within the context of Israelite history. Further, the implications of presenting yhwh as the suzerain to whom the Israelites owe their exclusive allegiance are that other deities are categorically eliminated from worship by ancient Israel. Some scholars see the origin of monotheism here, others monolatry. In either case, the religious prohibition of other gods in Israel is effected by the appropriation of politico-legal terminology.

Aniconism is another unique feature of biblical religion presented in the Ten Commandments. Whereas all contemporary cultures employed cultic representations as a means of communicating with the deity, the second commandment forbade the Israelites from doing so. Likewise, the institution of the Sabbath as a mandatory day of rest has no equivalent in the ancient world. Scholars have attempted to determine the origins of the concept and etymology of the term. The Torah itself offers two theological explanations (Ex. 20:11 and Deut. 5:10–12) for what appears to have originally been a social and humanitarian precept; for example, Ex. 16:22–30 presupposes the practice before the laws are even given. The fourth commandment seems to recall and reinforce a traditional observance.

The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 relate to two principal types of concerns: ethical and ritual. The first four commandments refer specifically to how Israel is to relate to its deity, detailing the ritual prescriptions against the worship of other gods, idolatry, invoking the holy name of yhwh in a false oath, and violating the Sabbath (which in Ex. 20:8–11 is given an explicitly religious explication, recalling God's creation of the universe; but cf. Deut. 5:12–15). The last six commandments (honoring one's parents, prohibitions against murder, adultery, theft, giving false testimony, and coveting) are ethical prescriptions which address the issue of harmonious social relations within the Israelite community. Notably, the j Decalogue in Exodus 34 is concerned solely with ritual matters.

Other Laws

In addition to the Ten Commandments, the Torah contains hundreds of supplemental laws concerning both ethical and ritual matters. By tradition, there are 613. They can be found scattered through the sources but are especially concentrated in the Priestly text (in particular the book of Leviticus) and in Deuteronomy. In addition, scholars speak of three distinct law codes set within the Pentateuchal sources: the Covenant Code embedded in the e source (Exodus 21–23), the Law Code of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 12–26), and the Holiness Code within the p text (Leviticus 17–26). The latter two of the three of the Codes end with lists of blessings and curses to be enacted depending on the obedience or disobedience of the Israelites to the Code. Twice the Torah instructs: "You shall not add onto it, and you shall not subtract from it." (Deut. 4:2; 13:1)

Just as in the Decalogue, laws in the rest of the Torah deal with both ethical and ritual matters. Ethical laws, detailing proper relations among humans within the Israelite community, include both civil and criminal matters. Civil matters frequently overlap with ritual law (see below). Criminal legislation is characterized to a large extent by the principle of justice: punishment should suit the crime. The famous case of "eye for an eye" stands on its own in the Covenant Code (Ex. 21:23–25). p elaborates it in Lev 21:23–25 and applies it principally to cases of murder and bodily injury (Lev. 24:19–21) but also invokes it in the case of restitution for the property of another (Lev. 24:18). Deuteronomy connects it with civil and criminal legislation, as in the law of the false witness (Deut. 19:19–21). It appears to be meant as a principle of justice, not as a literal action to be performed, because it includes "burn for a burn" in a case where there is no burning (Ex. 21:22–25).

Ritual laws, pertaining to the proper conduct of the Israelites toward the deity, are also found among the several legal sources of the Pentateuch, with some notable differences in the laws between the sources. For example, dietary laws detail the foods that are fit for sacrifice in Deut. 14:3–21 and Leviticus 11, and sacrificial offerings and tithes to the priesthood appear in Lev. 7:28–34 and Deut. 18:3; in Num. 15:18–21 and Deut. 18:4; in Lev. 23:9–20 and Deut. 26:1–10; and one should note especially the differences between Num. 18:21–32 and Deut. 14:22–29; 26:12–15.

However, the distinction between ethical and ritual laws that seems clear in the Decalogue breaks down somewhat in the other legal texts of the Pentateuch. The Covenant Code begins by listing social/ethical laws in Exodus 21 and the first part of 22 and then intersperses ritual legislation (Ex. 22:21, 29–31; 23:13ff.). The p laws (including h) usually keep ritual law separate but also sometimes intersperse ethical and ritual laws. Notably, Leviticus 19, which is a centerpiece of the commandments concerning holiness, mixes laws about justice, sexual practices, consulting the dead, mixing plant species, mixing animal species, caring for the blind and deaf, respecting parents, and respecting the Sabbath. In a notable merger of the ethical and the ritual, it prohibits the blending of plants that are separate in nature, and it commands the Israelites to leave gleanings and corners of their fields for the poor and oppressed. It condemns idolatry, but it commands Israelites to be kind to aliens, who may be idolators. And near its midpoint it includes the ultimate expression of ethical law: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Meanwhile, the religious laws in Deuteronomy, many of which overlap with p legislation, are formulated from a more communal/social perspective. For example, sacrifice in Deuteronomy is not performed for its "pleasing odor" to the deity or for "food of God" (cf. Lev. 1:9, 13, 17; 21:6, 8, 17, 21); the emphasis instead is on offerings consumed by the offerer in the sanctuary and shared with the poor, the Levite, the alien resident, the orphan, and the widow. d is generally more concerned with secular matters (e.g., the judiciary: Deut. 16:18–20; 17:8–13; the monarchy: 17:14ff.; the military: Deuteronomy 20; family and inheritance: 21:18–23; 22:13–29; 24:1–4; 25:5–9; loans and debts: 15:1–18; 24:10–13) than p, omitting altogether certain cultic institutions and offenses punishable by death in p (e.g., d has no warning against blasphemy, an extremely serious sin discussed in the Covenant Code (Ex. 22:27) and in p (Lev. 24:15–16; Num. 30)).

The overlap between ethical and ritual spheres of activity in both d and p is due to the primacy of the concept of holiness. The need for obedience to even the most secular of ethical laws is based ultimately in Israel's responsibility to attain and maintain a status of holiness in order for the deity to remain within the community. It should be noted that there are differences between p (including h) and d in their conception of the attainment of holiness. In p holiness is a status toward which the people are enjoined to strive (Lev. 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:26) and is contingent upon physical proximity to the divine presence and the preservation of the divine presence within the community by means of obedience to the Priestly laws and the proper performance of ritual. In d holiness is a result of God's choice of Israel and devolves automatically upon every Israelite, who consequently must not profane it by defilement (cf. Deut. 7:6; 14:2, 21 in which the people are called "holy" in the present tense; cf. the related p passages in which only God is called holy in the present, not the people: Lev. 11:41, 45; 19:2; 20:26 (D. Wright, 1992; M. Weinfeld 1972)). However, in both cases the ethical is grounded in the ritual, and the two are often indistinguishable within the legislation.

Laws pertaining to the Sabbath provide a good example of this. In p it is a requirement to observe the Sabbath day because God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. In effect, in resting on the seventh day the community reenacts the culmination of creation. Deuteronomy and the Covenant Code supply a different reason for the Sabbath: the Israelite must rest on the Sabbath to provide a respite for himself, his family, his community, and his servants (Deut. 5:14; Ex. 23:12). In this way, the Sabbath is given an ethical rationale. d further supplies a religious motivation for keeping the Sabbath, one derived not from creation, but rather from the Exodus (Deut. 5:15).

Both sources also contain laws concerning the Sabbatical year. However, Leviticus 25 highlights the need for the land to rest, while Deuteronomy 28 makes no mention of not working the land, emphasizing instead the release of debts. Similarly, the cities of refuge in p serve as sacred, Levitical cities. The manslayer is required to live there until the death of the high priest, which results in the ritual expiation of the manslayer's bloodguilt. In D they serve the purpose of protecting the manslayer from the blood avenger (Deut. 19:6), and no set period of time is prescribed for habitation there.

There are numerous other differences and contradictions between the laws of d and p. For example, Deut. 14:21 prohibits only Israelites from eating anything that has died a natural death, commanding them to give it to the stranger or sell it to a foreigner. On the other hand, Lev. 17:15 states that "any living being, whether a citizen or an alien, who will eat carcass or a torn animal shall wash his clothes and shall wash with water and will be impure until evening and then will be pure."

Laws pertaining to festivals differ among the sources as well. The laws of Passover are identical in p (Ex. 12:1–14) and the Covenant Code; in both sources the Passover sacrifice is of sheep, and the ceremony is performed in the house, centering on the sprinkling of the blood on the lintel and door-posts. d details instead a public sacrifice of both sheep and cattle, with no mention of any domestic ceremony (Deut. 16:1–8). In the case of the autumn festival (known in later Judaism, though not in the Torah, as Rosh Ha-Shanah) and Yom Kippur, however, p is unique. No other source contains any mention of these holidays, while p details laws and ordinances pertaining to them.


Story and History in Genesis

For the later periods of Israelite history, we often have outside information from other ancient Near Eastern texts or from archaeological material that can confirm or disconfirm the historical information we draw from the Bible. Because we do not have this for the time period in which Genesis is set (the beginning of time through most of the second millennium b.c.e.), many scholars will say that there is no history in the book of Genesis. This is simply not the case. There is much historical information that can be gleaned from the stories of Noah's family, Abraham, and the sibling rivalry of Isaac's sons, for example. They are valued literature, and they contain information that is useful to the historian.

There are two ways in which story and history intersect in the book of Genesis. The first is in the idea of historical memory. An example of this is the story of Abraham's migration from Mesopotamia to the promised land. Although it is doubtful that we will ever find evidence for the existence of a historical Abraham, we do know from other sources that there were great migrations of people from Mesopotamia to the area of Canaan in the Late Bronze Age (second millennium b.c.e.). It is conceivable that, generations later, the authors who wrote the stories about the southwesterly movement of Abraham's family had a historical memory of their ancestry deriving from Mesopotamia. In fact, through Genesis the Israelite authors make no secret of the cultural debt they owe to Mesopotamia; the story of the Tower of Babel, for example, names the city of Babylon (Babel) as the center from which people originally spread throughout the world.

The second way we can gain historical information from the book of Genesis is to view some of the stories as analogies of later historical situations. That is, if we understand them in terms of when they were written, we learn more about the historical context of the authors (early to mid-first millennium b.c.e.) than about the earlier period in which they are set. The authors use the stories to explain their present circumstances, to explain the world in which they lived and how it was configured.

Other stories in Genesis also reflect the authors' historical contexts, and especially the relationship between Israel and her neighbors. In the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), Abraham's nephew Lot and his family are warned to escape. They are instructed not to look back, but Lot's wife disobeys and turns into a pillar of salt. Lot and his daughters hide in the hills, thinking they are the sole survivors on earth. The daughters, believing that the responsibility for re-populating the earth lies with them, devise a plan to inebriate their father and take turns sleeping with him so that they might each conceive a child. Their plan works, and the end of this bizarre story is that the daughters name their sons "Moab" and "Ben-ammi." The author explains that these are the ancestors of the Moabites and Ammonites – nations neighboring Israel in the first millennium b.c.e. Rather than a side-note for the sake of gratuitous sex and incest, this narrative is an explanation by the author of his or her own historical context: the story acknowledges the Israelites' kinship with the Moabites and Ammonites but casts aspersions on their ancestry by linking their eponymous ancestors' births to incest.

The story of Jacob and Esau is the best example of authors formulating a story to explain their contemporary historical circumstances. Rebekah's twin sons begin fighting in the womb, and when she seeks an oracular explanation she is told, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples will be dispersed from inside you, and one people will be mightier than the other people, and the older the younger will serve." The delphic subtlety of this oracle is easily overlooked. In biblical Hebrew, the subject may either precede or follow the verb, so the matter of who will serve whom here is left open.

Esau is born first, meriting him both the birthright (inheritance) and the preeminent blessing of his father Isaac. But he sells his birthright to Jacob for a pot of red lentil stew, earning himself the nickname "Edom" (red). When it comes time for Isaac to die, he commands Esau to hunt game and prepare a feast, after which he will bless Esau. Rebekah overhears, disguises Jacob so as to deceive her blind husband, and prepares a feast for Jacob to bring before Esau returns. Thinking that Jacob is Esau, Isaac blesses Jacob with abundance and tells Jacob that he will be his brother's superior. When Esau returns, the deception is discovered, but Isaac can neither change the blessing he has already granted nor offer Esau a blessing of similar status. The best he can offer in Esau's blessing is that Esau will one day "break his yoke from your neck."

The analogy with the author's own historical moment is transparent: Rebekah is told that her twins are "two nations," and Esau's nickname is Edom. Jacob will later have his name changed to Israel. This is the story of the struggle between the nations of Israel and Edom. Under King David in the 10th century b.c.e., Israel defeated the older kingdom of Edom and dominated it for over a century, becoming larger and more prosperous. Edom finally broke Israel's yoke from its neck in the mid-ninth century b.c.e. Some time later, this history became an integral part of the stories of Israel's forefathers Isaac and Jacob, which both foreshadow and justify the historical events of the author's world.

The Exodus

The story of the Exodus, God's physical salvation of the Israelites from slavery, is the foundational event for Israelite nationhood and for Jewish history. Yet recent scholarship casts doubt on the historicity of this central event. Because the events were recorded so long after they occurred, and because we lack direct archaeological and extra-biblical textual evidence that the Exodus happened in the way the Torah describes it, many mainstream scholars would deny that an Exodus occurred at all. The lack of Egyptian records for any of the events described in the biblical story is compounded by the absence of any archaeological evidence for a mass movement of people out of Egypt to Canaan, who spent 40 years in the Sinai wilderness along the way. There is, however, a great deal of circumstantial evidence from Egyptian textual and archaeological sources in support of parts of the biblical narrative. The Bible itself also yields historical memories and other clues to the veracity of the basic Exodus story.

In Exod. 2:10, Moses is named by the Egyptian princess: "And she called his name Moses, and she said, 'Because I drew him from the water.'" The author is here offering a Hebrew etymology for Moses' name – from the mouth of an Egyptian princess. Given the unlikelihood that the princess would know Hebrew, much less give the child a Hebrew name, this would seem to be an argument against the story's historicity. However, unlike the story's author, modern scholars are aware that the name is not Hebrew but Egyptian: from an Egyptian word meaning "is born," as in the name Rameses, meaning "Ra (the sun god) bore him." The fact that Moses has an Egyptian name, and that this is unknown to the author of the text who supplied him with a Hebrew etymology, actually argues for the ancient tradition of a leader named Moses, long before the story was written in the form we have it. Additionally, the fact that Moses and other Israelite leaders such as Phinehas and Hophni bear Egyptian names is evidence that some Israelite ancestors did live for a time in Egypt.

Historians place the exodus in the early 13th century b.c.e. Although there is no Egyptian evidence for an exodus of Israelite slaves at this time, there were Semitic slaves working there from centuries earlier, and there was in fact a Semitic dynasty originating in Canaan, that took over and ruled Egypt from the mid-16th century to the 14th. Some historians have suggested that the expulsion of these Semitic rulers, the Hyksos, forms the background for the exodus story. In 1308, Seti i took back Egypt for the Egyptians and kicked out the Hyksos. This would accord with the reference to a new pharoah who did not know Joseph (Ex. 1:8); Semitic rulers of Egypt might have been more generous to fellow Semites living there than the new Egyptian rulers would be toward Semites who still lived in Egypt after the expulsion of the Hyksos.

The Israelite slaves are described as building store-cities for Pharaoh called Pithom and Rameses (Ex. 1:11). According to Egyptian records, Rameses ii (1279–1212) commissioned the building of a new capital called "Pi-Rameses" on the eastern delta, which is where Jacob's family settles and their descendants remain until the time of the Exodus (Gen. 46:28–34; 47:1–10; Ex. 8:18; 9:26).

Other Egyptian records state that there were officials who were designated to distribute grain rations to the 'Apiru who were transporting stones to the great pylon of Rameses. The term 'Apiru, known from Ugaritic, Hittite, and Mesopotamian records as well as Egyptian ones, seems to have designated outlaws or refugees who lived in bands outside of organized society and functioned as an unskilled labor force in Egypt. Scholars debate the etymology of the term as well as its proper pronunciation (it could be rendered Hapiru or Habiru). Its similarity to the term "Hebrew" ('ibri) is intriguing.

Other Egyptian records have similar indirect bearing on details of the Exodus story. One record indicates that Pharaoh Seti i had built a tight network of strongholds along the coast of the northern Sinai, and some scholars have suggested that this might be the "Way of the Philistines" referred to in Ex. 13:17, a route that the Israelites avoid taking (albeit for a different reason in the story). Papyri Anastasi provide reports of Egyptian frontier officials stationed in the border zone between Egypt and Sinai, revealing tight Egyptian control over the eastern frontier at the end of the 13th century. Neither Egyptians nor foreigners could enter or leave without a special permit. The papyri also record the entry of many foreigners, such as an entire tribe from Edom, seeking food during times of drought. The Elephantine Stele, a monument dating from 1180 b.c.e. found on the island of Elephantine, describes an Egyptian faction rebelling against the pharaoh. They had bribed some Asiatics (Semites) who were in Egypt to aid in their rebellion, paying them in silver, gold, and copper (cf. Ex. 3:21–22; 11:2; 12:35–6). The pharaoh foiled the plot and drove the Asiatics out of Egypt.

To this may be added elements of Israelite religion and culture that reflect some sort of acquaintance with Egypt. The dimensions of the biblical Tent of Meeting and its courtyard correspond to those of the battle tent of Rameses ii. Whatever the explanation of this correspondence, it suggests minimally some kind of experience with Egyptian culture.

Beyond the evidence from Egypt is the application of historical method to the Bible itself. The historian asks about a report: What is the likelihood that someone fabricated it? Who had an interest in fabricating it? In the case of the Egyptian bondage and exodus, one asks why Israel would have made up a story of being descended from slaves. One would be more skeptical if they had told a story of being descended from gods or kings or heroes. Similarly, there is the extreme unlikelihood of Israel fabricating the report of Moses' father-in-law being a Midianite priest. Why would anyone make that up?

The element of the story that frequently generates the most skepticism is the census, claiming tremendous numbers of Israelites in the wilderness (600,000 males). The numbers are unlikely. Some try to reduce them by taking the word for thousand (Hebrew 'elep) to mean rather "clan." But the sums of the tribes listed in the text add up if the word means thousands, and they do not if it means "clans" – rendering this understanding impossible. It is better to recognize that the census numbers are not historical, but at the same time to recognize that this has nothing to do with whether the exodus was historical.

Thus there is no direct evidence for the story described in the book of Exodus. It is not necessary, nonetheless, to dismiss the entire account as fictional. The task of the modern historian is to examine the cumulative value of different types of evidence to reconstruct history. Details of the biblical story should be examined against extra-biblical evidence and weighed accordingly. While it is unlikely that the Exodus occurred in the way the Torah describes, there is a substantial amount of evidence that suggests the origin of at least some Israelites in Egypt.

The Tabernacle

The Tabernacle (miskan; also known as the "Tent of Meeting," 'ohel mo'ed; and the "tent of testimony" miskan ha'edut) is the central concern of the Priestly narrative and laws. Key events in the P story are set at the Tabernacle, and entire chapters are devoted to the record of the Tabernacle's construction and contents. In a revelation at Sinai, Moses is instructed to build the Tabernacle (Exodus 26), and once it is constructed and consecrated (Exodus 40) it becomes the place of communication between God and Moses for the remainder of Moses' life. The Priestly legal sections require the presence of the Tabernacle for the fulfillment of numerous laws and especially for sacrifice, which according to p can be performed only at the Tabernacle (Lev. 1:3, 5; 3:2, 8, 13; 4:5–7, 14–18; 6:9, 19, 23; 14:11; 16:1–34; 17:1–9; Num. 5:17; 6:10; 19:4). The P legal sections emphasize repeatedly that execution of these laws at the Tabernacle is the rule forever (Ex. 27:21; 28:43; 30:21; Lev. 3:17; 6:11; 10:9; 16:29, 34; 17:7; 24:3, 8; Num. 18:23; 19:10).

As mentioned above, a crucial element of the Graf-Wellhausen model for a postexilic date for p was the idea that the Tabernacle never really existed but was rather a fiction, invented by the Priestly author as a means to write laws applying to the Second Temple. However, the sheer detail of the Tabernacle's description – its construction, the fabrics, wood, and precious metals involved – suggests otherwise. There is no comparably detailed description of anything else in the Priestly work, nor is there any justification for going into such intricate detail in a work of pure fiction. Furthermore, evidence collected by scholars since the beginning of the 20th century also undermines the arguments for the Tabernacle as fictional. Parallel institutions of tent shrines in the Semitic world, from ancient Phoenician to modern Islamic examples, have been described (see Cross 1961: 217–19, and references; and 1973, p. 72). Of particular interest is the pre-Islamic qubbah, a small, portable red-leather tent. The biblical Tabernacle is likewise protected by a red-leather covering (Exod 26:14).

Cross (1961) argued that the Priestly description of the Tabernacle refers to the tent that David erected to house the ark in Jerusalem (ii Sam. 6:17 = i Chron. 16:1). Haran (1965) argued that it is the Tabernacle of Shiloh, which the Priestly writers believed to have been carried there from Sinai. There are passages that depict the place of worship at Shiloh as a tent. The structure is also called a house (byt) in Judg. 18:31; i Sam. i:24, and a temple (hykl) in i Sam. 1:9; 3:3. It is called the Tent of Meeting in i Sam 2:22b, but some have argued that this half verse is a gloss, since its language is so similar to the p passage in Ex. 38:8 but is embedded in a context that is not Priestly, and it does not appear in the Greek or 4qsama. However, Ps. 78:60 agrees with this identification of the Shiloh structure, referring to it as a tent, and the p source in Josh. 18:1; 19:51 also speaks of a tent at Shiloh. It is possible to reconcile these accounts by postulating a sanctuary building at Shiloh that housed the Tabernacle.

The book of Chronicles consistently locates the Tabernacle in the Temple of Solomon (i Chron. 16:33 (mt); 23:32; 2 Chron. 24:6; 29:5–7), and the book of Lamentations speaks of the destruction of the Tabernacle along with the Temple (Lam. 2:6–7). This idea of locating the Tabernacle inside the Temple has been questioned due to the lateness of Chronicles as a source, and the assumption that Chronicles simply follows the p conception of the Tabernacle. However, writing in the period of the Second Temple, which did not contain the Tabernacle, it would not have served the Chronicler to develop p's perspective that sacrifice and other ritual practices can be performed nowhere other than at the Tabernacle. Furthermore, there is evidence that references to the Tabernacle in Chronicles were based on the Chronicler's preexilic source. Halpern (1981) has demonstrated that a substantial number of terms, phrases, and concerns in the Chronicler's history are found consistently through the accounts of the kings of Judah, ceasing completely after the reign of Hezekiah. This suggests that the Chronicler used a source text that recounted the history of the Judean monarchy down to the time of Hezekiah. The Tabernacle is one more item that is treated frequently and with importance down to the time of Hezekiah and then is not mentioned thereafter.

Adding further evidence to the idea that the Tabernacle existed and was housed inside Solomon's Temple, R.E. Friedman (1980) has approached the matter of the Tabernacle's historicity from the perspective of the measurements given for its construction. If the frames overlap with each other, conforming to the description of the materials in Exodus 26, the Tabernacle was 10 cubits high, 20 cubits long, and 8 cubits wide on its exterior. These dimensions correspond to the size of the space under the wings of the cherubs in the holy of holies in Solomon's Temple (i Kings 6:20; ii Chron. 3:8). Additionally, a temple discovered at Arad shares the same dimensions (Aharoni 1973).

Thus the Tabernacle may have stood under the wings of the cherubs in the Solomonic Temple, or it may have been stored elsewhere in the Temple while the corresponding space under the cherubs' wings symbolized its presence. This would accord with the report in i Kings 8:4 (= ii Chron. 5:5) that the Tabernacle was brought to the Temple at the time of Solomon's dedication, and with the other reports of the Tabernacle's presence in the Temple in the books of Chronicles, Lamentations, and Psalms. Psalm 61:5, for example, states "I shall abide in your tent forever, I shall trust in the covert of your wings." A rabbinic source likewise understands the Tabernacle to be stored inside the first Jerusalem Temple.

The evidence for the existence of the Tabernacle in the First Temple in Jerusalem, coming from this variety of archaeological, biblical, and rabbinic sources, both contributes to our knowledge of history and bolsters the case for the preexilic composition of p.

central values

Despite the variety of the Torah's sources and the great number and diversity of its laws, the Torah has remarkable unity. People have read and studied it meaningfully as a whole for millennia without being aware of its having been constructed from multiple sources. Even today, those who are aware of the Torah's literary history are able to read the final product and appreciate its unity as a work. This is due to several factors, which all derive from central values of the Torah:


Containing the world's earliest history-writing, the Torah tells its stories in chronological sequence. Each episode fits into a logical progression of events so that it is told against the background of everything that has come before it. This gives it a natural sense and unity that it would not have if it were merely a book of collected stories. This may seem obvious to us today, but no work before the Torah's sources had ever done this.


The Torah's account is grounded in its monotheism, thus connecting all its stories to its single focal point: the relationship between one God and the human community. Israel's was the first enduring monotheism, and the Torah is the work that established this concept at the heart of the religion of Israel and promoted it in Christianity and Islam. Scholars differ as to the point in history at which Israel became properly monotheistic, and as to which of the Torah's sources are properly monotheistic – as opposed to monolatry, which is the worship of one God while not denying that other gods exist. There can be little doubt that p and d are fully grounded in a belief in only one God. The creation and flood stories p depict a single deity in control of all the forces of the universe. Both p and d expect there to be only one place of sacrifice and worship, which is arguably the most compatible of all laws with monotheism: one God, one sanctuary, one altar. Deuteronomy declares as explicitly as any monotheistic statement in the Bible: "He is God. There is no other outside of Him" (4:35, 39). And it goes on to say in one of the most famous lines in the Torah and in Judaism ever since: "yhwh is one" (6:4). Some take this to mean merely "yhwh alone," but "alone" is an exceedingly rare meaning of biblical Hebrew 'ehad. Even in one of the oldest layers of Deuteronomy, the Song of Moses asserts: "there is no god with me" (32:39). In j and e and in some of the earliest poetry there is more room for scholarly disagreement, since j refers to the benei elohim (Gen. 6:1–4), and the Song of the Sea asks "Who is like you among the gods?" (Ex. 15:11). Some take the first commandment of the Decalogue to be monolatry rather than monotheism because it says "You shall not have other gods before my face [or: in my presence]" (Ex. 20:3), seemingly not denying the existence of other gods. However, one must be cautious in this judgment because the issue may be linguistic rather than theological. It is difficult to construct a commandment to be monotheistic without referring to the divine beings who are being denied. In any case, by the conclusion of the Torah, the full work is manifestly monotheistic, with that doctrine coming to dominate the passages that may or may not have originally been monotheistic themselves. And this has both the religious value of establishing that doctrine and the structural value of binding the Torah into unity.


The three covenants provide a structure in which all the laws and stories can fit and be understood. The Noahic covenant guarantees the security of the cosmos. The Abrahamic covenant promises that Abraham's descendants will have the land, independence (their own kings), and that yhwh will be their God. The Sinai (or Israelite, or Mosaic) covenant provides for security and well-being in the land. Every law can be understood as one of the covenant's requirements. Every story can be interpreted in terms of one or more of the covenants. Israel's salvation from Egypt is understood as fulfilling the promises of the Abrahamic covenant. Israel's rebellions in the wilderness can be understood as issues of compliance with the terms of the Sinai covenant. This contributes to the coherence and connection of all the Torah's components to one another.

All the Families of the Earth

The Torah is remarkable in that it establishes its concern in its first chapters as being the wellbeing of the earth. The ancient Israelite authors chose to begin their story not with Abraham or the exodus or Sinai, but rather with the birth of the earth and the skies above it. The authors set the story of their people in the context of God's relations with all humankind. The first 11 chapters are a story of the obstacles to that relationship. Then the deity turns to a single man, Abraham, and establishes a special relationship with him, and God tells him what the end result of this is to be: blessing for all the families of the earth. These are among God's first words to Abraham, God's first words to Isaac, and God's first words to Jacob. Each Israelite is commanded to love his or her neighbors as oneself. In case there would be any misunderstanding, they are commanded repeatedly to care for the alien (ger) as for themselves. The first occurrence of the word torah in the Torah is the command: "There shall be one torah for the citizen and for the alien" (Ex. 12:49). Despite hostilities from Esau's descendants the Edomites, Israelites are forbidden to abhor an Edomite. Despite everything that the Egyptians have done, Israelites are forbidden to abhor an Egyptian. The Torah thus ends with the people of Israel poised at the border of the promised land, with the choice to bring blessing or curse to themselves and the opportunity to bring blessing on all the nations and families of the earth.

With these four values – and sheer literary skill – the Redactors of the Torah constructed a logical, unified, and, above all, meaningful work of prose and poetry, law and history, that became the foundation and heart of the Jewish religion and the Jewish people ever after.


The earliest concept of a "Book of the Torah" as a sacred scripture is found at Josiah's reform, and refers to the book of Deuteronomy (ii Kings 22–23, and see above). The addition of the redacted works of Genesis through Numbers was accomplished by the mid-5th century b.c.e., when the Pentateuch was recognized by the postexilic community as the "Book of the Torah of Moses" (Neh. 8:1–2). The "Book of the Torah" introduced by Ezra (Ezra 7) already contained passages from Leviticus (cf. Neh. 8:14, 15, 18b with Lev. 23:39ff) and Numbers (cf. Neh. 13:1–2 with Deut. 23:4–5). Thus, after Genesis through Numbers was added to Deuteronomy, the term "Torah" acquired a broader application, referring to the entire Pentateuch. Though the canonization of the full Tanakh took place many centuries later, the text, status, and authority of the Torah was established at this relatively early stage; that is, in the biblical world itself.

[Richard Elliott Friedman and

Shawna Dolansky Overton (2nd ed.)]

the traditional view

The traditional view of the Pentateuch is in the most striking and most extreme contrast to the critical theories adumbrated above. Whereas the critical theory depends upon the assumption that the Pentateuch (in particular) is a composite work consisting of different documents, composed at different times and edited into a composite whole, the traditional view is fundamentally based upon the belief that the whole of the Pentateuch, the *Torah proper, is a unitary document, divinely revealed, and entirely written by Moses, with the exception of the last eight verses of Deuteronomy, which record the death of Moses and, according to one opinion, were written by Joshua (bb 15a; according to the other they were written by Moses at the dictation of God "with tears" (dema), but Elijah Gaon of Vilna renders the word "mixed up"). In other words, on the death of Moses the whole of the Pentateuch was complete, having been divinely revealed. Nor can any rigid doctrine be laid down as to the exact manner of communication of this revelation. Only human terms can be employed to convey the fact of revelation; that is the wider meaning of the well-known phrase, "the Torah speaks in human language" (dibberah torah ki-leshon benei adam) and this, the only method available, is obviously inadequate to convey the mystery of mattan torah ("the giving of the Torah"), of the confrontation of Moses with God. The almost radical explanation of Ibn Ezra (in Ex. 20:2) as to the differences between the two versions of the Decalogue (Ex. 20 and Deut. 5), in which he maintains that the variations in wording and spelling are unimportant, is as an acceptable doctrine as the talmudic explanation of the alternative openings of the fifth commandment by saying: zakhor ve-shamor be-dibbur eḥad ne'emru ("remember [the Sabbath day] and keep [the Sabbath day] were uttered simultaneously"). All that can be said with certainty is that, as explicitly stated in Numbers 12:6–8, the manner of the divine communication to Moses differed from that to any other prophet, whereas the other prophets received their messages while their normal cognitive faculties were in a state of suspense, Moses alone received that communication while in full possession of all his normal cognitive faculties, "mouth to mouth, even apparently and not in dark speeches" (Num. 12:8), or, even more explicitly: "And the Lord spoke unto Moses face to face as a man speaketh to his friend" (Ex. 33:11). "Mouth to mouth" and "face to face" illustrate the inevitable anthropomorphism involved in using human terms to convey the mystery of divine communication. The unitary belief is clearly expressed by Maimonides. His formulation of the eighth of the 13 Principles (commentary to Sanh. 10 (11): 1; for the complete text see jqr, 19 (1907), 53f.) is: "That the Torah has been revealed from heaven: This implies our belief that the whole of the Torah found in our hands this day is the Torah that was handed down by Moses and that it is all of divine origin. By this I mean that the whole of the Torah came to him from before God in a manner which is metaphorically called 'speaking'; but the real nature of the communication is unknown to everybody except to Moses to whom it came. In handing down the Torah, Moses was like a scribe writing from dictation the whole of it, its chronicles, its narratives, and its precepts." In his code Maimonides defines the person who denies the Torah as he "who says even of one verse or of one word that it is not of divine origin, or that Moses wrote it on his authority" (Yad, Teshuvah 3:8 based on Sanh. 99a). It is stated more succinctly in the prayer book formulation of the eighth of the 13 Principles of Faith of Maimonides: "I believe with a perfect faith that the whole Torah now in our possession is the same that was given to Moses our teacher."

Traditional Judaism rejected not only the Higher Criticism, i.e., the documentary theory, but also the Lower Criticism – textual criticism. With the sole exception of insignificant plene and defective spelling, the masoretic text is regarded as the only authoritative and authorized text of the Pentateuch. Insofar as textual criticism is concerned, one is on solid ground in maintaining the accuracy of the masoretic texts. The Sif. Deut. 356 states that "three scrolls were found in the Temple… In one of them they found written… in the other two they found written… the sages discarded the reading of the one and adopted that of the two: and ultimately one approved text was deposited in the Temple archives" (mk 3:4; Kelim 15:6), and a special group of readers, who were paid from the Temple funds, checked the text from time to time (tj, Shek. 4:3, 48a). With loving care and sacred devotion the subsequent generations of scribes jealously guarded every letter of the text. Detailed regulations were laid down in order to ensure that the copying of the scrolls should be free from human error (see *Sefer Torah). There has been nothing like it in the history of literature or religion, and in this respect the masoretic text stands indisputably in a class by itself. It could not under any circumstances be expected that those who did not accept the supreme sanctity of the revealed word of the Torah, whether they were Alexandrian Jews who had come under the influence of Greek philosophy, or the sects of the Dead Sea who rejected the halakhah of the Pharisees, should have the same approach of noli me tangere with regard to the handing down of every letter of the Torah. To them there was no harm in adding, diminishing, or amending for the sake of greater clarity or preconceived theological doctrines. In addition, the texts found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are a thousand years earlier than the textus receptus of Ben *Asher of 975, substantially confirm the accuracy of the present text and can be said on the whole to have demolished the ingenious emendations of two centuries of textual critics. One is therefore justified in regarding the traditional text as the most exact and authoritative. As Lieberman comments, "the sacred text of the Bible was handled by Jews, whose general reverence and awe in religious matters need not be stressed." To the sphere of the establishment of the correct text belongs the system of keri and ketiv (words written in one way but read in another), *tikkunei soferim, dates on certain letters, and special signs (for this, see Lieberman in bibl.).

With regard to the tikkunei soferim, Lieberman comes to the conclusion, after a close examination of the relevant sources, that they represent a later stage than that of the keri and the ketiv. This latter system modified the reading without altering the text, whereas the tikkunei soferim actually changed letters but only in order to remove indelicate, gross anthropomorphic, and unworthy expressions from the text, and their number is minute. It has been suggested that the very fact of the difference between the keri and the ketiv is evidence of the authenticity of the text, which was regarded as so inviolable that instead of being altered to remove difficulties, the emendations were, so to speak, relegated to the margin. The rabbis had a profound and extensive knowledge of every word, jot, and tittle of the Bible. The statement of the Talmud (Kid. 30a) that the soferim were so called because they counted (soferim) every letter of the Torah (and the passage proceeds to give the statistical results of that counting) expresses only the mechanical aspect of their intense preoccupation with the sacred text. Every word, every expression, and every deviation from the norm was made the subject of profound study. That study, however, went far beyond linguistic research; the Pentateuch was the textbook from which the whole corpus of halakhah had to be derived. They were therefore perfectly and acutely aware of the contradictions, real and apparent, in the text. But they resolved those contradictions by a complicated, but largely logical system of interpretations (see *Hermeneutics). Nor were differences in style unnoticed by them. The Midrash (Deut. R. 1:1) has a beautiful passage on the "healing which comes to the tongue" of the person who occupies himself with Torah, which is directly based on the unique style of Deuteronomy.

The justification on scientific and scholarly grounds of the theory of the unitary nature of the Pentateuch maintained by traditional Judaism is not nearly as satisfactory as that of the textual criticism of the text. Generally speaking, traditional scholars have not faced up to the challenge of the Documentary Hypothesis, and instead of accepting its challenge and answering it, have taken refuge in theological dogmatism. Almost the only attempt to face up to its challenge was that of David *Hoffmann in his brilliant Die Wichtigsten Instanzen gegen die Graf-Wellhausensche Hypothese and his biblical commentaries. He not only attempts to demolish the critical theory, but maintains, on grounds of scholarship, the doctrine of the unity of the Pentateuch. Other and more popular attempts, for example those of J.H. Hertz (see bibl.), constitute special pleading and suffer from the fact that they tend to create the false impression that the growing number of scholars who call into question the validity of the Wellhausen theory and its followers – such as J. Robertson (The Early Religion of Israel), J. Orr (The Problem of the Old Testament), W.L. Baxter (Sanctuary and Sacrifice), Y. Kaufmann (Toledot ha-Emunah ha-Yisre'elit, 1937), and U. Cassuto (The Documentary Hypothesis, 1961; Commentary on the Book of Genesis, 1961–64; A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, 1967)–ipso facto maintain the traditional view of the unity of the Pentateuch, an assumption which is at variance with the facts.

On the other hand, the documentary theory, or at least the evidence that the Pentateuch is not a unitary document, has been so convincing to many Orthodox scholars that various attempts have been made to adopt a syncretistic view which combines an acceptance of this theory with that of the implications which derive from the belief in the unitary nature of the Pentateuch, upon which traditional Judaism is based. The most determined exponent is L. Jacobs, who quotes approvingly the following statement of J. Abelson: "The correct perspective of the matter seems to be as follows: the modern criticism of the Bible on the one hand, and faith in Judaism on the other hand, can be regarded as two distinct compartments. For criticism, even at its best, is speculative and tentative, something always liable to be modified or proved wrong and having to be replaced by something else. It is an intellectual exercise, subject to all the doubts and guesses which are inseparable from such exercises. But our accredited truths of Judaism have their foundations more deeply and strongly laid than all this. And our faith in them not only need be un-injured by our faith in criticism, but need not be affected by the latter at all. The two are quite consistent and can be held simultaneously." An even more striking attempt at such a syncretism which makes possible a complete acceptance of the critical theory with a somewhat mystic view of the belief in the unitary theory has been made by a strictly Orthodox modernscholar, M. Breuer (see bibl.).

[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]

add. bibliography:

Y. Aharoni, "The Solomonic Temple, the Tabernacle, and the Arad Sanctuary," in: H.A. Hoffman, Jr. (ed.), Orient und Occident, Cyrus Gordon Festschrift (1973); K. Baltzer, The Covenant Formulary (1971); F.M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (1973); idem, "The Priestly Tabernacle," in: ba, 10 (1947), 45–68; idem, "The Priestly Tabernacle," in: Biblical Archaeology Review, 1 (1961): 201–28; idem and D.N. Freedman, Studies in Ancient Yahwistic Poetry (19752); S.R. Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (18919); O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction. tr. P. Ackroyd (1965); D.N. Freedman, Divine Commitment and HumanObligation (1997); R.E. Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? (1987); idem, The Hidden Book in the Bible (1998); idem, The Exile and Biblical Narrative (1981); idem (ed.), The Poet and the Historian (1984); idem, "The Tabernacle in the Temple," in: ba, 43 (1980); idem, "Pentateuch," in: D.N. Freedman (ed.), The Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992); B. Halpern, The Emergence of Israel in Canaan (1983); idem, "Sacred History and Ideology: Chronicles' Thematic Structure – Indications of an Earlier Source," in: R.E. Friedman (ed.), The Creation of Sacred Literature (1981), 35–54; M. Haran, "The Priestly Image of the Tabernacle," in: huca, 36 (1965), 191–226; idem, "Behind the Scenes of History: Determining the Date of the Priestly Source," in: jba, 100 (1981), 321–33; A. Hurvitz, "The Evidence of Language in Dating the Priestly Code," in: Revue Biblique, 81 (1974), 24–56; idem, A Linguistic Study of the Relationship Between the Priestly Source and the Book of Ezekiel (1982); A.W. Jenks, The Elohist and North Israelite Traditions (1977); A.S. Kapelrud, "The Date of the Priestly Code," in: Annual of the Swedish Theological Institute, 3 (1964), 58–64; Y. Kaufmann, The Religion of Israel, tr. and ed. Moshe Greenberg (1960; Heb. ed., 1937); J. Levenson, "Who Inserted the Book of the Torah?" in: Harvard Theological Review, 68 (1975), 203–33; B. Levine, "Late Language in the Priestly Source: Some Literary and Historical Observations," in: Proceedings of the Eighth World Congress of Jewish Studies (1983), 69–82; S. McEvenue, The Narrative Style of the Priestly Writer (1971); G.E. Mendenhall, Law and Covenant in Israel and the Ancient Near East (1955); J. Milgrom, Cult and Conscience (1976); idem, Studies in Levitical Terminology (1970); idem, "Priestly Terminology and the Political and Social Structure of Pre-Monarchic Israel," in: jqr, 69 (1978), 65–81; S. Mowinckel, Erwagungen zur Pentateuch Quellenfrage (1964); M. Noth, A History of Pentateuchal Traditions (1972; Ger. ed., 1948); M. Paran, "Literary Features of the Priestly Code: Stylistic Patterns, Idioms and Structures" (Heb.; Ph.D. diss., Hebrew University, 1983); R. Polzin, Late Biblical Hebrew: Toward an Historical Typology of Biblical Hebrew Prose (1976); G. Von Rad, The Problem of the Hexateuch (1966); G. Rendsburg, "Late Biblical Hebrew and the Date of p," in: Journal of the Ancient Near East Society, 12 (1980):, 65–80; R. Rendtorff, Das uberlieferungsgeschichtliche Problem des Pentateuch (Beihefte zur Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 147) (1977); J.H. Tigay (ed.), Empirical Models for Biblical Criticism (1985); J. Van Seters, In Search of History (1983); M. Weinfeld, "The Covenant of Grant in the Old Testament and in the Ancient Near East," in: jaos, 90 (1970), 184–203; idem, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School (1972); J. Wellhausen, Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels (1885; repr. 1973; Ger. ed., 1883); W.M.L. De Wette, Dissertatio critica qua a prioribus Deuteronomium Pentateuchi libris diversam, alius cuiusdam recentioris auctoris opus esse monostratur (1805; repr. in Opuscula Theologica (1830)); D.P. Wright, The Disposal of Impurity: Elimination Rites in the Bible and in Hittite and Mesopotamian Literature (1987); G.E. Wright (ed.), "The Lawsuit of God: A Form-Critical Study of Deuteronomy 32," in: B. Anderson and W. Harrelson (eds.), Israel's Prophetic Heritage (1962); Z. Zevit, "Converging Lines of Evidence Bearing on the Date of p," in: Zeitschrift fuer die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 94 (1982), 502–9; idem, "The Priestly Redaction and Interpretation of the Plague Narrative in Exodus," in: jqr, 66 (1975), 193–211.

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Pentateuch (Gk., penta, ‘five’, + teuchos, ‘book’). The first five books of the Hebrew Bible, also known as Torah (for Hebrew names see each book): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Pentateuch contains the history of the Jewish people from the creation of the world until the death of Moses. Traditionally it was believed to be a single document revealed by God to Moses and written down by him. According to the ‘documentary hypothesis’, it is composed of four major sources: J (Jahwistic) which uses in Genesis the tetragrammaton as the divine name; E (Elohistic) which refers to God as Elohim until Exodus; P, the Priestly source; and D, the Deuteronomic. J and E, which have been combined by a later editor are thought to have been written during the period of the united kingdom (i.e. 10th cent. BCE), while Deuteronomy was produced in the 7th cent., and the Priestly source is dated to the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. However, the precision of these claims has more recently come under attack. Greater emphasis is placed on kinship and sanctuary traditions which have been more deliberately and creatively drawn together. The entire Pentateuch is divided into fifty-four sections (Sedarot) and one section is read each week in the synagogue, concluding on Shemini Atzeret. The text is written on a Scroll which is dressed and kept in the Synagogue Ark. The Pentateuch, as the written law of the Jewish people and the ultimate source of the oral Law, is often known as the Torah, and thus the Scroll as the Torah Scroll.

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Pentateuch (Gk. Five scrolls) First five books of the Bible, traditionally attributed to Moses, and in Judaism referred to collectively as the Torah (Law). The Pentateuch comprises the five Old Testament books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Composed over a very long period (possibly 1000 years or more), they were probably collected in their present form during the Babylonian Captivity of the Jews during the 6th century bc.

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Pen·ta·teuch / ˈpentəˌt(y)oōk/ the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). Traditionally ascribed to Moses, it is now held by scholars to be a compilation from texts of the 9th to 5th centuries bc. Jewish name Torah. DERIVATIVES: Pen·ta·teuch·al / -ˌt(y)oōkəl/ adj.

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Pentateuch the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), relating the early history of the world and of the Hebrews up to the death of Moses, and including the Jewish law. Traditionally ascribed to Moses, it is now held by scholars to be a compilation from texts of the 9th to 5th centuries bc, incorporating older oral traditions.

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Pentateuch the first five books of the O.T. XVI (in earliest use pl.). — ecclL. pentatcuchus — ecclGr. pentáteukhos, sb. use of adj., f. PENTA- + teûkhos implement, vessel, (later) book.

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Pentateuch (pĕn´tətyōōk) [Gr.,=five books], first five books of the Old Testament. In the Hebrew Bible these books are called the Torah.

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Pentateucharchduke, chibouk, duke, Farouk, fluke, gook, kook, Luke, nuke, peruke, puke, rebuke, Seljuk, snook, souk, spook, spruik, stook, tuque, zouk •gobbledegook • sail-fluke •Marmaduke • Pentateuch

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