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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

- Introduction to the Torah

THE TERM TORAH, “TEACHINGS, INSTRUCTION,” derives from the root y‐r‐h, “to shoot (an arrow),” and thus etymologically refers to that which “hits the mark.” Jewish tradition, from the late biblical period on, uses “Torah” to refer to the first section of the Bible, the books Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These books are also called “The Five Books of Moses” or the “Pentateuch,” which derives (via Latin) from the Greek penta (five) teuchoi (books). As early as the 1st century CE, these five books were written on one long scroll, signaling that they are one unit. Unlike other canonical divisions, where there is significant debate within and between different religious traditions (see the essay on “Canonization,” pp. 2072–77), both Jewish and Christian traditions view the books Genesis through Deuteronomy in this order as a single unit, standing first in the Bible. The unanimity of tradition and the initial placement of these five books reflect their significant place within religious life. In Judaism, the Torah is accorded the highest level of sanctity, above that of the other books of the Bible.

Despite their traditional perception as a unity, it is not so obvious how these five books cohere. They certainly do not form a single book in the modern sense, with a single author; modern scholarship has persuasively argued that each of these books is composite, reflecting many traditions and sources (see below). While the plot progresses chronologically, from the creation of the world to the end of the wandering in the wilderness, a large part of this story is retold in Deuteronomy. Moreover, the story does not end here, but continues into the book of Joshua and beyond. While Moses is the central human character in much of the Torah, he is introduced only in ch 2 of Exodus, and is absent from all of Genesis. There are several major themes, including the early development of Israel as a people, the covenant between God and Israel, and the promise of the land; but none of these is present throughout the Torah and all continue beyond it. Theme alone does not define what the Torah is. In fact, if this final theme of promise of the land and its fulfillment is determinative, we should speak of the Hexateuch, the six books of Genesis through Joshua, rather than the Pentateuch or Torah.

The Hebrew terms torah and torat moshe (“the Torah of Moses”), already in use in late biblical literature to describe what is later called the Torah, offer a better clue to the natureand unity of these books. Torah is often understood as “law,” and indeed this is one of its frequent meanings in the Bible, as in Exod. 12.49 : “There shall be one law [Heb torah] for the citizen and for the stranger who dwells among you.” Law is a predominant genre of the Torah, which contains not only the Decalogue in Exod. ch 20 and Deut. ch 5 , but extensive legal collections in Exod. chs 21–23, Lev. chs 17–26 , and Deut. chs 12–26 , as well as selected laws within various narratives, such as the law of circumcision in the narrative about Abraham in Gen. ch 17 and the law concerning inheritance of the land by women in Num. ch 36 , embedded within a section about the possession of the land. Many narrative sections also contain material that is of legal significance. For example, the first creation story in Genesis culminates with the “creation” of the Sabbath (Gen. 2.2–3 ), though this would only be legislated in Exod. ch 16 , and then as part of the Decalogue, in Exod. 20.8–11 . Similarly, the story of the construction of the Tabernacle (Exod. chs 25–40 ), a temporary temple for God in the wilderness, is not narrated for its own sake, but as an introduction to the various laws of sacrifice, narrated at the beginning of Leviticus, the book that immediately follows these chapters.

Yet “law” is not the only possible translation of torah, and the Torah should not be typified as a book of law. The Heb term torah also means “instruction” or “teaching,” as in Prov. 1.8 , “My son, heed the discipline of your father, / And do not forsake the instruction [Heb torah] of your mother.” Teaching is not confined to law; indeed narratives or stories are as effective a medium of instruction. Given the predominance of narrative in significant portions of the Torah, especially in Genesis, the beginning of Exodus, and Numbers, it is best to understand the biblical term torat moshe, the earliest extant term for these five books, as “the instruction of Moses.” This instruction was realized through narratives and laws, which together elucidate the proper norms of living and the relationship between God and the world. That the Torah is more than a set of laws is made explicit in the comments of Rashi, the great Jewish medieval interpreter, who, quoting earlier sources, defends the fact that Torah begins with the stories of Genesis rather than with the laws of Exodus.

The terms torat moshe, and torat (ha)elohim/Yhvh, “God's/the LORD's torah, are found predominantly in various late biblical sections and books, such as Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles. These phrases suggest that the Torah was then understood to be a divine revelation mediated by Moses, as explicitly stated in Ezra 7.6 (cf. Neh. 8.1 ), “The Torah of Moses which the LORD God of Israel had given.” The Torah in the time of Ezra is more or less identical to the Torah as it now exists. It is significant, however, that these terms for it never appear in the Torah itself, suggesting that in the Torah, the word torah never refers to the Torah. In fact, the Torah does not explicitly suggest that it was compiled by Moses himself. (The phrase “the Torah” in passages such as Deut. 4.44 , “This is the torah that Moses set before the Israelites,” never refers to the complete Torah.)

After the books came to be viewed as authoritative, it was natural that they should be considered a coherent body of writing given by God through one special “author,” Moses. In several places, the Bible suggests that Moses stayed on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights (Exod. 24.18; 34.28; Deut. 9.9; 10.10 ). Clearly, this was too long a time for shortlegal collections such as Exod. chs 21–23 to have been conveyed to him, and thus traditions developed that Moses received the entire written Torah from God at that point; according to the classical rabbis, Moses simultaneously received the oral law, which served as the authoritative interpretation of the written law. In other words, the concept of the divinely inspired Torah expanded to include the Written Torah and all that would derive from it. The Written Torah, according to all rabbinic sources (which are followed by the early church), included events before the time of Moses—the book of Genesis, which thus represents God's authoritative narration to Moses of the early history of the world and of Abraham and his family—and the death of Moses. Some rabbinic sources suggest that the final chapter of the Torah, Deut. ch 34 , which narrates the death of Moses, was dictated by God to Moses, who wrote it with his tears. The view that the Torah is the divine word mediated by Moses was the standard view through the Renaissance.

This view is explicitly contradicted by the Torah's narrative, as was sometimes (though rarely) recognized in the Middle Ages. Thus, Abraham Ibn (son of ) Ezra, a 12th‐century CE exegete, noted that Gen. 12.6 states that “The Canaanites were then in the land.” The word “then” suggests that when the author of this passage wrote it, the Canaanites were no longer in the land. In other words, the text must have been written after the time of Moses, because during Moses' time the Canaanites were still in the land. A small number of other places that suggest authorship later than Moses were pointed out by a few medieval scholars, but these were not systematized into a thesis which could challenge the dominant view concerning Moses' authorship of the Torah.

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