Tetrateuch, Exateuch, Enneateuch or Pentateuch? (First Part)

The Pentateuch, in its canonical form, namely the form officially accepted by Jews and Christians, is composed of five books. However, over time, scholars have proposed other theories.

Tetrateuch: the supporters of this theory (Ivan Engnell 1906-1964 and Martin Noth 1902-1968) think that the first part of the Hebrew Bible was originally made of Genesis, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Only four books, then, hence the name “Tetrateuch” (“book divided into four parts”). The reason for this division is the singularity of the Deuteronomy that, as we have seen, is a kind of summary of the other parts of the Pentateuch. A summary that could also serve as an introduction to the next part of the Bible: Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings. As a whole, this work – from Deuteronomy to 2 Kings – is called by scholars “Deuteronomistic History” that is, the history of the Jewish people narrated from the theological perspective and the language used in Deuteronomy.

Hexateuch: the theory was formulated for the first time by Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), for which the Pentateuch would be the introduction to a work that included the books of Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings . The author of this work would be Ezra. The word “Hexateuch” means a set of six books, ie Genesis through Joshua. Modern scholars who gave substance to this theory were August von Ewald (1803-1875), Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) and above all Gerhard von Rad (1901-1971). The main reason for this division is  the contents of the so-called “small historical creed” of Israel (cf. Dt 6:21-23; 26:5-9; Joshua 24:2-13 ). The creed describes very briefly the history of the Jews. Therefore, the end of the Pentateuch is Joshua, precisely where it is said of the entry of Jews into Canaan.

Enneateuch: David Noel Freedman (1922-2008) proposes, instead, that the first part of the Bible contains the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings. It is, thus, a set of nine books (obviously considering Samuel and Kings as individual books and not divided into two parts). Hence the word Enneateuch, i.e. “a book divided into nine parts.” The central theme of this work – called by Freedman Primary history – is the “ground”. After an introduction (Gn 1-11), the land is promised to the fathers (Gn 12-50); Jews then walked towards it (Exodus-Deuteronomy); In Joshua the land was conquered; in Judges the land is defended; in the books of Samuel the land becomes a real kingdom. Then it splits, in the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom and finally the earth is destroyed.

What is the value of these proposals and why, in the end, prevailed only the division into five books, i.e. our Pentateuch? (To be continued)

PS: If you want access to a full course on the Pentateuch write to: press@simoneventurini.it

Simone Venturini


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