The term Pentateuch
is composed of the two Greek words, pente
, and teuchos
, which in later Alexandrine usage signified book
. It denotes, therefore, the collection of five books; or, the five books of the law considered as a whole.
1. In our inquiries respecting the authorship of the Pentateuch, we begin with the undisputed fact that it existed in its present form in the days of Christ and his apostles, and had so existed from the time of Ezra. When the translators of the Greek version, called the Septuagint, began their work, about 280 B.C., they found the Pentateuch as we now have it, and no one pretends that it had undergone any change between their day and that of Ezra, about 460 B.C. It was universally ascribed to Moses as its author, and was called in common usage the law, or the law of Moses.
2. That the authorship of the law in its written form is ascribed to Moses in the New Testament every one knows. |The law was given by Moses;| |Did not Moses give you the law?| |Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me;| |For the hardness of your heart he,| Moses, |wrote you this precept;| |Master, Moses wrote unto us;| |What is written in the law? how readest thou?| etc. Since now the whole collection of books was familiarly known to the people as the law, or the law of Moses, it is reasonable to infer that our Saviour and his apostles use these terms in the same comprehensive sense, unless there is a limitation given in the context. Such a limitation the apostle Paul makes when he opposes to the Mosaic law the previous promise to Abraham: |The covenant that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.| Gal.3:17, and compare the following verses. But in the following chapter Paul manifestly employs the words the law of the whole Pentateuch, to every part of which he, in common with the Jewish people, ascribed equal and divine authority: |Tell me, ye that desire to be under law| -- under a system of law, the article being wanting in the original -- |do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons; the one by a bond-maid, the other by a free woman,| etc., Gal.4:21, seq., where the reference is to the narrative recorded in Genesis, as a part of the law. So also in the following passage: |Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath-day,| Acts 15:21; the term Moses necessarily means the law of Moses, as comprehending the whole Pentateuch, for it was that which was read in the synagogues. Compare the words of Luke: |After the reading of the law and the prophets,| Acts 13:15. And in general, when Christ and his apostles speak of Moses or the law, without any limitation arising from the context, thus, |The law was given by Moses;| |They have Moses and the prophets,| etc., we are to understand them as referring to the Pentateuch as a whole, for such was the common usage of the Jewish people, and such must have been their apprehension of the meaning of the terms.
3. But it may be said, Christ and his apostles did not speak as critics, but only in a popular way. That they did not speak of the Pentateuch as critics, is certain. They had no occasion for doing so, since no Jew doubted either its divine authority or its Mosaic authorship. But when we consider, on the one side, with what unsparing severity our Lord set aside the traditions of the Pharisees as |the commandments of men,| and on the other, how he and his apostles ascribed equal divine authority to every part of the Pentateuch, as will be shown in the next chapter, and how unequivocally they sanctioned the universal belief that Moses was its author, we must acknowledge that we have the entire authority of the New Testament for its Mosaic authorship in every essential respect. This is entirely consistent with the belief that inspired men, like Ezra, and perhaps also prophetical men of an earlier age, in setting forth revised copies of the Pentateuch, that is, copies which aimed to give the true text with as much accuracy as possible, may have added here and there explanatory clauses for the benefit of the readers of their day. Such incidental clauses, added by men of God under the guidance of his Spirit, would not affect in the least the substance of the Pentateuch. It would still remain in every practical sense the work of Moses, and be so regarded in the New Testament.
Whether there are, or are not, in the Pentateuch, such clauses added by a later hand, and not affecting either its essential contents or its Mosaic authorship, is an open question to be determined by impartial criticism. At the present day editors carefully indicate their explanatory notes; but this was not the usage of high antiquity. At the close of the book of Deuteronomy, for example, there is immediately added, without any explanatory remark, a notice of Moses' death. We are at liberty to assume, if we have cogent reasons for so doing, that brief explanatory clauses were sometimes interwoven into the Mosaic text; as, for example, the remark in Gen.36:31, which is repeated in 1 Chron.1:43, a book ascribed to Ezra; Exod.16:35, 36, etc.
4. Going back now to the days of the Restoration under Zerubbabel and his associates, about 536 B.C., we find that the very first act of the restored captives was to set up |the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt-offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God.| The narrative goes on to specify that |they offered burnt-offerings thereon unto the Lord, even burnt-offerings morning and evening. They kept also the feast of tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt-offerings by number, according to the custom, as the duty of every day required; and afterwards offered the continual burnt-offering, both of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of the Lord that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a free-will offering unto the Lord.| Ezra 3:1-5. About ninety years afterwards, upon the completion of the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah, about 445 B.C., we find Ezra the priest -- |a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given,| Ezra 7:6 -- on the occasion of the feast of tabernacles bringing forth |the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel,| and reading in it |from the morning unto midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand.| In this work he was assisted by a body of men, who |caused the people to understand the law;| and the reading was continued through the seven days of the feast: |day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the law of God.| Neh. ch.8. It was not the book of Deuteronomy alone that they read. We might infer this from the extent of the reading, which was sufficient for all the preceptive parts of the Pentateuch. But here we are not left to mere inference. On the second day |they found written in the law which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month;| and that they should |fetch olive-branches, and pine-branches, and myrtle-branches, and palm-branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.| Neh.8:13-17. The precept concerning booths with boughs of trees occurs in Lev.23:40-43, a passage which they might naturally enough reach on the second day.
Ezra's assistants gave the sense not by labored expositions, but by interpreting the Hebrew in the Chaldee vernacular of the people. This would about double the time devoted to a given section. All that pertained to the structure of the tabernacle was superseded by the first temple, which served the returned captives as their model in the erection of the second. We may well suppose that this was omitted. There would then remain only four or five chapters in the book of Exodus. Thus the passage in question would naturally fall on the second day.
5. Jewish tradition ascribes to Ezra the work of settling the canon of the Old Testament, and setting forth a corrected edition of the same. Though some things included in this tradition are fabulous, the part of it now under consideration is corroborated by all the scriptural statements concerning him, nor is there any reasonable ground for doubting its correctness. Be this as it may, it is admitted that from Ezra's day onward the Pentateuch existed in its present form. We are sure, therefore, that |the book of the law of Moses,| out of which he read to the people, was the book as we now have it -- the whole Pentateuch, written, according to uniform Jewish usage, on a single roll. Ezra belonged to the priestly order that had in charge the keeping of the sacred books, Deut.31:25, 26, compared with 2 Kings 22:8, and was moreover |a ready scribe in the law of Moses.| His zeal for the reestablishment of the Mosaic law in its purity shines forth in his whole history. In his competency and fidelity we have satisfactory evidence that the law of Moses which he set forth was the very law which had been handed down from ancient times, and of which we have frequent notices in the books of Kings and Chronicles.
It is generally supposed that Ezra himself wrote the books of Chronicles. They were certainly composed about his time. To admit, as all do, that in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah the law of Moses means the Pentateuch as a whole, and to deny that it has the same meaning in the books of Chronicles, is very inconsistent. Certainly the book which Ezra set forth was the book which he found ready at hand, and therefore the book referred to in the Chronicles, and the Kings also. Any explanatory additions which he may have made did not affect its substance. It remains for the objector to show why it was not, in all essential respects, the book which Hilkiah found in the temple, 2 Chron.34:14, and to which David referred in his dying charge to Solomon, 1 Kings 2:3.
6. Passing by, for the present, the notices of the law of Moses contained in the book of Joshua, we come to the testimony of the book of Deuteronomy. We have seen that the Mosaic authorship of the book, as a part of the Pentateuch, is everywhere assumed by the writers of the New Testament. But, in addition to this, they make quotations from it under the forms, |Moses wrote,| |Moses truly said unto the fathers,| etc. Mark 10:3-5; Acts 3:22; Rom.10:19. If we examine the book itself, its own testimony is equally explicit. In chap.17:24 Moses directs that when the Israelites shall appoint a king, |he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites.| In the opinion of some, this language refers to the whole law of Moses, while others would restrict it to the book of Deuteronomy; but all are agreed that it includes the whole of the latter work, with the exception of the closing sections. By a comparison of this passage with chaps.28:58; 31:9, 24-26, the evidence is complete that Moses wrote this law, and delivered it to the priests, to be laid up by the side of the ark in the tabernacle. If this testimony needed any corroboration, we should have it in the character of the work itself. It is the solemn farewell of the aged lawgiver to the people whose leader he had been for the space of forty years. In perfect harmony with this are the grandeur and dignity of its style, its hortatory character, and the exquisite tenderness and pathos that pervade every part of it. It is every way worthy of Moses; nor can we conceive of any other Hebrew who was in a position to write such a book.
7. The book of Deuteronomy contains a renewal of the covenant which God made with the children of Israel at Sinai. Chap.29:10-15. Moses himself distinguishes between the former and the latter covenant. |These are the words of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which he made with them in Horeb.| Chap.29:1. With each covenant was connected a series of laws; those belonging to the latter being mainly, but not entirely, a repetition of laws given with the first covenant. We have seen that Moses wrote the second covenant, and all the laws connected with it. From Exodus, ch.24, we learn that he wrote also the book of the first covenant containing, we may reasonably suppose, all of God's legislation up to that time. The inference is irresistible that he wrote also the laws that followed in connection with the first covenant. It is an undeniable fact that these laws underlie the whole constitution of the Israelitish nation, religious, civil, and social. They cannot, then, have been the invention of a later age; for no such fraud can be imposed, or was ever imposed upon a whole people. They are their own witness also that they were given by the hand of Moses, for they are all prefaced by the words, |And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying.| When we consider their fundamental character, their extent, and the number and minuteness of their details, we cannot for a moment suppose that they were left unwritten by such a man as Moses, who had all the qualifications for writing them. Why should not the man who received them from the Lord have also recorded them -- this man educated at the court of Egypt, and learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, who had already written |the book of the covenant,| and afterwards wrote the journeyings of the Israelites, Numb. ch.23, and the book of Deuteronomy? An express statement from Moses himself is not needed. The fact is to be understood from the nature of the case, and to call it in question is gratuitous skepticism.
8. The form of the Mosaic laws that precede the book of Deuteronomy is in perfect harmony with the assumption that Moses himself not only received them, but wrote them. They bear the impress of having been recorded not continuously, but from time to time, as they were communicated to him. In this way the historical notices which are woven into them -- the matter of the golden calf, Exodus, ch.32, the death of Nadab and Abihu, Leviticus, ch.10, the blasphemy of Shelomith's son, Leviticus, ch.24, and the numerous incidents recorded in the book of Numbers -- all these narratives find a perfectly natural explanation. Some of these incidents -- as, for example, the blasphemy of Shelomith's son -- come in abruptly, without any connection in the context; and their position can be accounted for only upon the assumption that they were recorded as they happened. In this peculiar feature of the Mosaic code before Deuteronomy, we have at once a proof that Moses was the writer, and that the historical notices connected with it were also recorded by him. The result at which we arrive is that the whole record from God's appearance to Moses and his mission to Pharaoh has Moses himself for its author. The authorship of the preceding part of the Pentateuch will be considered separately.
9. The above result in reference to that part of the law which precedes Deuteronomy, is confirmed by the testimony of the New Testament. In disputing with the Sadducees, our Lord appealed to the writings of Moses, which they acknowledged: |Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.| Luke 20:37. It was by recording the words of God, as given in Exodus 3:6, that Moses called the Lord the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The apostle Paul, again, referring to Lev.18:5, says: |Moses describeth| -- literally, writeth -- |the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.| Rom.10:5. Here also belong certain passages that speak of precepts in |the law of Moses,| as Luke 2:22-24, where the reference is to various precepts in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers -- Exod.13:2; 22:29; 34:19; Lev.12:2, seq.; Numb.3:13; 8:17; 18:15 -- John 7:22, 23, where the reference is to Lev.12:2; for with the New Testament writers |the law of Moses| means the law written by Moses. In like manner we find references in the Old Testament to the books of the law of Moses that precede Deuteronomy -- 2 Chron.23:18 compared with Numb.28:2, seq.; 2 Chron.24:6 compared with Exod.30:12, seq.; Ezra 3:2-5 compared with Numb.28:2, seq., and 29:12, seq.; Neh.8:15 compared with Lev.23:40.
10. The relation of the book of Deuteronomy to the earlier portions of the law deserves a careful consideration. And, first, in regard to time. All that portion of the law which precedes the sixteenth chapter of the book of Numbers was given in the first and second years after the exodus; consequently thirty-eight years before the composition of the book of Deuteronomy. The four chapters of Numbers that follow, chaps.16-19, are generally dated about twenty years later -- that is, about eighteen years before the composition of Deuteronomy. Only the last seventeen chapters of Numbers, which are mostly occupied with historical notices, were written in the preceding year.
Then, as it respects general design. At Horeb the entire constitution of the theocracy was to be established. This part of the law is, therefore, more formal and circumstantial. It gives minute directions for the celebration of the passover; for the construction of the tabernacle and its furniture; for the dress, consecration, duties, and perquisites of the priesthood and Levitical order; for the entire system of sacrifices; for the distinction between clean and unclean animals; for all those duties that were especially of a priestly character, as judgment in the case of leprosy, and purification from ceremonial uncleanness; for the order of journeying and encamping in the wilderness, etc. In a word, it gives more prominence to the forms of the law, and the duties of those to whom its administration was committed. Not so on the plains of Moab. The theocracy had then been long in operation. The details of its service were well understood, and there was no need of formal and circumstantial repetition. The work of Moses now was not to give a new law, but to enforce the law of Horeb, with such subordinate modifications and additions as were required by the new circumstances of the people, now about to take possession of the promised land and change their wandering life for fixed abodes. He had to do, therefore, more prominently not with the administrators of law, but with the people; and accordingly his precepts assume a hortatory character, and his style becomes more diffuse and flowing.
The personal relation of Moses to the people was also greatly changed. At Horeb he had the great work of his life before him, but now it is behind him. He is about to leave his beloved Israel, whom he has borne on his heart and guided by his counsels for forty years. Hence the inimitable tenderness and pathos that pervade the book of Deuteronomy.
When now we take into account all these altered circumstances, we have a full explanation of the peculiarities which mark the book of Deuteronomy as compared with the preceding books. Were these peculiarities wanting, we should miss a main proof of its genuineness. Nevertheless the book is thoroughly Mosaic in its style, and the scholar who reads it in the original Hebrew can detect peculiar forms of expression belonging only to the Pentateuch. As to alleged disagreements between some of its statements and those of the earlier books, it is sufficient to remark that upon a candid examination they mostly disappear; and even where we cannot fully explain them, this furnishes no valid ground for denying the genuineness of either portion of the law. Such seeming discrepancies are not uncommon when a writer of acknowledged credibility repeats what he has before written. Compare, for example, the three narratives of the apostle Paul's conversion which are recorded in the book of Acts.
The question as to the extent of meaning which should be given in Deuteronomy to the expressions, |a copy of this law,| |the words of this law,| |this book of the law,| is one upon which expositors are not agreed, nor is it essential; since, as we have seen, the Mosaic authorship of the former part of the law rests upon broader grounds.
In Deut.27:3, 8, it seems necessary to understand the expression, |all the words of this law,| which were to be written upon tables of stone set up on mount Ebal, of the blessings and curses -- ver.12, 13 -- contained in this and the following chapter. But elsewhere, chs.17:18; 31:9, 24-26, we must certainly include at least the whole of Deuteronomy. If we suppose that it was Moses' custom to write out the precepts of the law with the historical notices pertaining to them in a continuous roll, which was enlarged from time to time, and that he added to this roll the book of Deuteronomy, then the words in question must be understood of the entire body of precepts from the beginning. But if, as seems to be intimated in Deut.31:24, he wrote Deuteronomy in a separate book, (|in a book,| without the article,) the words naturally refer to Deuteronomy alone. This work, as containing a summary of the law -- a second law, as the word Deuteronomy signifies -- might well be spoken of as |this law,| without any denial of an earlier law; just as the covenant made with the people at this time is called |this covenant,| ch.29:14, without any denial of an earlier covenant. The reverent scholar will be careful not to be wise above what is written. It might gratify our curiosity to know exactly in what outward form Moses left the Law with the historical notices woven into it; whether in one continuous roll, or in several rolls which were afterwards arranged by some prophet, perhaps with connecting and explanatory clauses; but it could add nothing to our knowledge of the way of salvation. In either case it would be alike the law of Moses and the law which Moses wrote, invested with full divine authority.
11. It being established that Moses wrote the whole law with the historical notices appertaining to it, we naturally infer that he must have written the book of Genesis also, which is introductory to the law. For this work he had every qualification, and we know of no other man that had the like qualifications. On this ground alone the Mosaic authorship of the book might be reasonably assumed, unless decided proofs to the contrary could be adduced. But we find, upon examination, that the book of Genesis is so connected with the following books that without the knowledge of its contents they cannot be rightly understood. The very first appearance of God to Moses is introduced by the remark that he |remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.| In addressing Moses he calls the children of Israel |my people,| Exod.3:6-10; and sends Moses to Pharaoh with the message, |Let my people go.| All this implies a knowledge of the covenant which God made with Abraham and his seed after him, by virtue of which the Israelites became his peculiar people. It is not simply as an oppressed people that God undertakes to deliver them and give them possession of the land of Canaan, but as his people. Again and again does Moses describe the promised land as |the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them.| With the book of Genesis these declarations are plain; but without it they are unintelligible. The Abrahamic covenant, which is recorded in the book of Genesis, is not a subordinate, but an essential part of the history of the Israelites. It underlies the whole plan of redemption, and upon it the Mosaic economy, as a part of that plan, is erected. Why should any one suppose that Moses, who recorded the establishment of this economy with all its details, omitted to record the great transactions with the patriarchs which lie at its foundation? There are other references to the book of Genesis in the law of Moses. The institution of the Sabbath is expressly based on the order of creation recorded in the first two chapters; and when the people leave Egypt they carry with them the bones of Joseph, in accordance with the oath which he had exacted of them. Gen.50:25, compared with Exod.13:19.
To the Mosaic authorship of Genesis it has been objected, that it contains marks of a later age. But these marks, so far as they have any real existence, belong not to the substance of the book. They are restricted to a few explanatory notices, which may well have been added by Ezra or some prophetical man before him, in setting forth a revised copy of the law. See No.3, above. The passages which can, with any show of probability, be referred to a later age, are, taken all together, very inconsiderable, and they refer only to incidental matters, while the book, as a whole, bears all the marks of high antiquity.
To the Mosaic authorship of this book it has been objected again, that it contains the writings of different authors. This is especially argued from the diversity of usage in respect to the divine name, some passages employing the word Elohim, God, others the word Jehovah, or a combination of the two terms. Whatever force there may be in this argument, the validity of which is denied by many who think that the inspired writer designedly varied his usage between the general term God and the special covenant name Jehovah, it goes only to show that Moses may have made use of previously existing documents; a supposition which we need not hesitate to admit, provided we have cogent reasons for so doing. Whatever may have been the origin of these documents, they received through Moses the seal of God's authority, and thus became a part of his inspired word.
Several writers have attempted to distinguish throughout the book of Genesis the parts which they would assign to different authors; but beyond the first chapters they are not able to agree among themselves. All attempts to carry the distinction of different authors into the later books rest on fanciful grounds.
12. That the Pentateuch, as a whole, proceeded from a single author, is shown by the unity of plan that pervades the whole work. The book of Genesis constitutes, as has been shown, a general introduction to the account which follows of the establishment of the theocracy; and it is indispensable to the true understanding of it. In the first part of the book of Exodus we have a special introduction to the giving of the law; for it records the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, and their journey to Sinai. The Mosaic institutions presuppose a sanctuary as their visible material centre. The last part of Exodus, after the promulgation of the ten commandments and the precepts connected with them, is accordingly occupied with the construction of the tabernacle and its furniture, and the dress and consecration of the priests who ministered there. In Leviticus, the central book of the Pentateuch, we have the central institution of the Mosaic economy, namely, the system of sacrifices belonging to the priesthood, and also, in general, the body of ordinances intrusted to their administration. The theocracy having been founded at Sinai, it was necessary that arrangements should be made for the orderly march of the people to the land of Canaan. With these the book of Numbers opens, and then proceeds to narrate the various incidents that befell the people in the wilderness, with a record of their encampments, and also the addition from time to time of new ordinances. The book of Deuteronomy contains the grand farewell address of Moses to the Israelites, into which is woven a summary of the precepts already given which concerned particularly the people at large, with various modifications and additions suited to their new circumstances and the new duties about to be devolved upon them. We see then that the Pentateuch constitutes a consistent whole. Unity of design, harmony of parts, continual progress from beginning to end -- these are its grand characteristics; and they prove that it is not a heterogeneous collection of writings put together without order, but the work of a single master-spirit, writing under God's immediate direction, according to the uniform testimony of the New Testament.