The New International Encyclopædia/Pentateuch

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Edition of 1905.  See also Torah on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

PENTATEUCH, pĕn′tȧ-tǜk (from Lat. Pentateuchus, Pentateuchum, Pentateuch, from Gk. πεντάτευχος, pentateuchos, consisting of five books, from πέντε, pente, five + τεῦχος, teuchos, tool, book, from τεύχειν, teuchein, to prepare). The name given by the Greek translators to the group of five books which tradition ascribed to Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Among the Jews these five books are known as Book of the Law, or The Five Parts of the Law. The division into five books (to which the division of the Psalms into five sections presents a parallel) was made before the Septuagint translation, apparently for liturgical purposes, though the division into 54 sections (known as parshioth or sidre) represents the more specifically Jewish division adopted for the distribution of the Pentateuch over the Sabbaths of the year. The division into books or into sections is arbitrary, and has merely conventional significance, for the Pentateuch is a continuous work. In the opinion of modern scholars the Book of Joshua must also be added as an integral part, and it is customary at the present time to speak of the Hexateuch (sixfold book) rather than the Pentateuch. This term Hexateuch, however, must not be understood as implying that the six books are sharply separated from those which follow. The theory regards that part of the Old Testament which extends from Genesis to the end of Kings as a unified historical compilation, brought to its present shape in the Greek period, and aiming to give a complete history of the Hebrews from the creation of the world to the Babylonian captivity in B.C. 586. The Hexateuch covers the portion of this history to the conquest of Canaan and the distribution of the territory among the tribes; the Pentateuch ends with the death of Moses.

Scholars who hold this view reject the opinion, traditionally held till the beginning of the nineteenth century, that the Pentateuch is essentially a law book and the work of Moses, They regard it as a compilation at which many different individuals have worked throughout a long period of time; various sources have been used in making the compilation, among them certain legal codes, originally independent, which have been incorporated and constitute the legal portions. For a statement of what these sources are believed to be and a history of the discussion by which the theory has been developed and strengthened until it has come to be accepted by well nigh all scholars, see the article Hexateuch. In addition to what is there said the following points may be here noted.

The difference in style and point of view between the Prophetic narrative (JE) and the Priestly document (P) is very marked. Both begin with the creation of the world and cover the same ground, but the Priestly compiler passes more rapidly over the histories of the earlier and later patriarchs, emphasizing only such incidents as have a bearing on the religious theory underlying his narrative. His chief interest is theological and ceremonial; his style stilted and formal. The Elohist and Yahwist, on the other hand are genuine story-tellers; events are told for their own sake, in a style flowing and attractive, which makes some of their narratives models of story-telling. In the Book of Exodus, likewise, historical incidents are rapidly passed over by the Priestly compiler till the revelation at Sinai is reached. Here, beginning with chapter xxv., his real object reveals itself — the formulation of the various ordinances, the construction of the tabernacle, its furniture, the organization of the priesthood, the distinction between Levites and priests, duties of both, ceremonies of consecration, sacrificial laws, festival regulations, and the like. The greater part of Leviticus and Numbers is taken up with sections of the Priestly Code introduced by the narrator at the point which he regarded as appropriate.

The chronological order of the codes (Book of the Covenant, Deuteronomic Code, Law of Holiness. Priestly Code) rests upon the detailed study of their contents and language. For example, in the Book of the Covenant there is no restriction of the Yahweh cult to a single sanctuary, which is the distinguishing mark of Deuteronomy and the other codes. A general demarcation between Deuteronomy and the two remaining codes is the lack of a distinction between Levites and priests in the former. The Code of Holiness recognizes the Aaronites only as priests; the Priestly Code is distinguished by a sharp division between Levites and priests. Besides these general indications there are many special ones which go to confirm the thesis.

The chief difficulties are introduced by the complicated and long continued editorial processes involved in the combination of the sources and the additions and modifications introduced in the course of time, which, while of minor importance, yet have a bearing on the problems involved. Thus the Book of Deuteronomy, which is more of an independent work than any other part of the Pentateuch, contains, besides the laws, a series of farewell discourses delivered by Moses and two poems — the so-called Song and Blessing of Moses (chaps. xxxii., xxxiii.). These must have been the work of writers who flourished subsequent to the promulgation of the codes. Such additions involve a long continued process which was not brought to a close till after the Exile, and which produced finally, not only the Hexateuch, but its continuation from the conquest of Canaan to the Exile. It is but natural that the details of this complicated editing should escape us and that some of the problems involved should be incapable of definite solution.

The combination of the codes, the historical narratives of the Hexateuch, and the additional sources used in the books from Judges to Kings, was effected under the influence of a theory which is already evident in the earlier compilers and becomes more fully and consistently adopted by the later schools of redactors. It was believed that the Hebrew clans had been selected as the chosen people of Yahweh, the one God of the universe, and a covenant made between the people and the deity at Mount Sinai. This covenant had been foreordained by a personal one between Yahweh (under other names, e.g. El-Shaddai) and the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and a promise for the future of the people had been given to Abraham and confirmed to the two other patriarchs. In close connection with the covenant at Mount Sinai a body of laws had been received directly from Yahweh and promulgated through Moses. As a direct consequence of these views the pious writers who put the Hexateuch into its final shape looked upon the entire history of Israel subsequent to the revelation at Mount Sinai as a constant falling away from the teachings given to the nation at the outset of its career. Even the progress from the crude religious notions of the early time to the lofty monotheism of the post-exilic prophets is represented as a retrogression, not an advance. The struggles, trials, and misfortunes of the nation are punishments sent by Yahweh for disobedience to his decrees. The leaders of the people, notably the kings, are viewed favorably or unfavorably according as they represent an approach to the supposed commands of Yahweh or a departure from them. The natural difficulties encountered in dispossessing the Canaanites, the equally natural rivalry and quarrels between the Hebrews and surrounding peoples (Moabites, Edomites, Philistines, Amalekites), even a distinct social advance, the establishment of a definite political organization in the shape of a kingdom, are all forms of punishment sent by Yahweh. These punishments culminated in the destruction of the two kingdoms in B.C. 722 and 586. The Exile, when Yahweh could no longer be appealed to in his legitimate sanctuary, was the grievous atonement for past sins.

For the literature, see the article Hexateuch.