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The Pentateuch – Introduction (Second part)

The word “Pentateuch” comes from the greek “Pentateuchos libros”. This Greek expression means “a book divided into five parts.” This designation indicates the nature of the Pentateuch. It is one book divided into five parts. This characteristic is clearly indicated by the name of the Pentateuch in the modern editions of the Hebrew Bible: “Torah chamisha chumsheh” i.e. “the five-fifths of the Torah”

Pentateuch as one book. The Pentateuch tells the story of the origins of the world (Gen 1-11) and the story of the patriarchs of Israel (Gen 12 – Dt 34). It ends with death of its main character: Moses (Deut 34). Until the sixteenth century, Moses was considered the undisputed author of the Pentateuch. Therefore Moses was the guarantor of the unity of the Pentateuch. Even if the modern exegesis has questioned the mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, it can easily considered single book.

However the unity of the Pentateuch no longer consists of its mosaic authorship. It consists, instead, of the links between a book and the other. It will suffice to read the first and the last words of each book of the Pentateuch to realize this.

The Pentateuch as a book divided into five parts. The Pentateuch consisted of five parts: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The book’s names are not the original ones, because they come from the Greek translation of the Bible. In the Hebrew Bible, instead, the titles of the books are the first words of each book.

Genesis – in Heb. Bereshit – (cf. Gen 1:1) – “In the beginning”
Exodus – in Heb. Shemot – (cf. Ex 1:1) – ” … the names”
Leviticus – in Heb. wajjiqra (cf. Lev 1:1) – “[The Lord] called”
Numbers – in Heb. Bemidbar (cf. Num 1:1) – “… in the wilderness”
Deuteronomy – in Heb. Devarim (Dt 1:1) – “… the words”

In fact, in antiquity the first and the last word of a book constituted the “title” and the end. In fact, the rolls of parchment that, even today, contain the text of the Pentateuch are not interrupted by the mention of the books’ titles.

At the central part of the roll was usually found the most important part of the text. The most important book of the Pentateuch is that of Leviticus. So this book is placed at the center of the Pentateuch. It describes the different elements of the Israelite worship: sacrifices, vows, calendars, etc. Its centrality is essential due to the importance that the cult had the eyes of the Jews of the sixth century B.C. The sixth century is the date of the final redaction of the Pentateuch.

The hebrew name of the Pentateuch – Torah – means not only “law”, but also “teaching, instruction” (from the hebrew verb jara’ – “to teach”). In fact, God instructed Israel through the laws delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai. (To be continued)

Simone Venturini


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