Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Pentateuch

The first five books of the Bible are collectively referred to as the Pentateuch, from the Greek for “five books.” In the Hebrew Bible, they are referred to as the Torah, from the Hebrew for “law.”

The Pentateuch is partly a book of laws. In the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy can be found the civil and ecclesiastical law given for the Israelite theocracy would be established in the Promised Land. Moral law also appears in these books, most famously in the Ten Commandments.



Some would say that “law” is too narrow an interpretation of “torah.” A better word might be “teachings” or “doctrine.” The contents of these books were meant to be taught and contain repeated instructions to remember and to teach the works of God to successive generations. Stories from these books have been told and retold for centuries.

These books contain more than law. They are history as well. In particular, they are a history of God’s interaction with creation and especially mankind. Genesis begins with creation and ends with Joseph, a key figure in history of the Israelites and, in some ways, a type of Christ. Abraham and his descendents are the main thread of Genesis in which we see God working to rebuild a relationship with sinful humanity. The remaining books with the Israelites eventual enslavement in Egypt to border of the Promise Land. The prophet Moses is the main figure of these books as God’s spokesman.

It can be easy to get lost in the details of these books. They are not as riddled with genealogies and “begats” as some suggest. Even so, sometimes there is a surprising amount of detail. The style in some sections can seem stilted to modern readers. Familiarity with Jewish traditions can bring some life into the sometimes dry descriptions of ceremonies.

Don’t let yourself be too bogged down by the details. Remember that they are important. As a believer, they are important because they are part of the inspired Word of Gods. As a reader seeking to understand these books, they are important because they were important to the people who wrote, copied, and even memorized these books for generations.

In addition, they are part of a larger story. It’s a good story, too. It is the story of the establishment of a people, and from those people a nation. All of this is part of a larger story of redemption: God working through history to rescue, redeem, and restore people who were enslaved to sin and sentenced to death for their wrongdoings. It is an exciting story and the Pentateuch contains important early chapters that help us understand the rest what comes later.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in
Deuteronomy
Exodus
Genesis
The Holy Bible
King James Bible
Leviticus
Numbers

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