The Bible Educator

Edited by the Rev. E. H. Plumptree, M.A.,


The Pentateuch.

By The Very Rev. E. Payne Smith, D.D., Dean of Canterbury.

THE books of the Old Testament were divided by the Jews into three classes, entitled The Law, The Prophets, and The Writings. Of these the latter, called by our Lord " the psalms " (Luke xxiv. 44), were used chiefly for liturgical purposes in the Temple service, or for private edification. The other two formed the regular course of Sabbath reading in the synagogues (Acts xv. 21), for which purpose the Pentateuch was divided into sections, each of which was followed by a passage from the Prophets selected as best explanatory of its meaning. Read together in this systematic way, we find the two constantly associated by our Lord, who usually calls them "the law and the prophets" (Matt. v. 17; vii. 12; xxii. 40), but occasionally "Moses and the prophets" (Luke xvi. 29, 31; see also xxiv. 27; John v. 46; Acts xv. 21).

Each of these classes holds a distinct place in the development of God's purposes of mercy to mankind. Taking the first few chapters of Genesis as introductory to the whole, and intended to explain to us man's present position in the world, the rest of the Old Testament gives us the history of the various stages in the preparation for the fulfilment of God's promise of restoration for mankind. That promise was the sole comfort of our first parents on their expulsion from Paradise. Deprived of all besides, they carried with them at least the hope that their fall was not irretrievable; for with their sentence the Almighty had also given them the assurance that the woman's seed should crush the serpent's head. With the working out of this promise the rest of the Bible is concerned. In the Pentateuch we have the formation of the Jewish nation, from the call of Abraham to its consolidation by the law given on Mount Sinai, and the discipline it underwent in the wilderness. In the Prophets, under which title the Jews understand both the historical books called The Early, and the prophetical writings called The Later Prophets, we see that nation settled in Palestine, long struggling there for existence, but slowly growing in power, till Samuel, Saul, and David raised it to empire; then gradually declining, and finally going into captivity, to return only as a dependency upon the Persian monarchy. In this stage the promise of a Deliverer assumed form and substance, and what was at first scarcely more than an indefinite hope, grew into settled shape under the more full and exact teaching of Isaiah and his fellows. The third class, or Writings, to a great extent contemporaneous with the works of the later prophets, differs from them in being chiefly subjective and emotional. It gives us the thoughts and feelings of pious Jews, their voices of praise and of distress, of hope and of doubt, as the purposes of God slowly unfolded themselves. To this class the Jews also attach the later histories, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel (so considered by the Jews), Chronicles; the narratives of Ruth and Esther; the poem of Job; the didactic books, and generally whatever is not contained under the two former heads, regarding the whole collection probably as illustrative of the great purpose of Jewish history rather than as directly occupied with it. As mentioned above, the Psalms form the most important portion of The Writings, and occasionally are used as equivalent to the whole collection.

The Pentateuch is so called from a Greek word signifying The five-fold book, or Book in five volumes. The names of the several books. Genesis, Exodus, etc., are also Greek, while in the Hebrew they are distinguished solely by the opening words of each. Thus Genesis is called In the beginning; Exodus, These are the names, or simply The names; and so on. Though finally adopted by the Jews, who in the days of the Rabbis called the Pentateuch The five fifth parts of the Law, this division is probably not original. A threefold division is more naturally suggested by the contents. Genesis being occupied with the early history of the world, the three next books with the wanderings in the wilderness, while Deuteronomy consists of discourses delivered by Moses shortly before his death. The earlier Jewish division is into fifty-four sections called Parshiyoth, each subdivided into smaller paragraphs called Sedarim. But whenever adopted, the fivefold division has had great influence upon the arrangement of the rest of the Scriptures, for the Psalms are also divided into five books, and five of " The Writings " — namely, Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther — were classed together under the name of Megilloth or Rolls, and attached to the Pentateuch, which in many editions of the Hebrew Bible they immediately follow. The proper name of the Pentateuch is The Torah. or Law so " the book of the law " (Deut. xxxi. 26; 2 Kings xxii. 8; 2 Chron. xvii. 9, &e.); "the law of Moses" (2 Chron. xxv. 4; Neh. viii. 1, &c.); less frequently it is called " the book of the covenant " (2 Kings xsiii. 2, 21; 2 Chron. xxxiv. 30). In the New Testament it is called " the law," and in the Epistle to the Romans is usually distinguished from natural law by the addition of the article.

The great question debated in modern times, concerning the Pentateuch, has been that of its authorship. Are there reasonable grounds for believing that Moses was the writer, or must its composition be referred to a later date? Let us clear the subject first.

Its Mosaic authorship, then, by no means implies that Moses made use of no earlier documents: on the contrary, the book of Genesis is on the very face of it a compilation. Nor does it imply that we have the Pentateuch exactly as it left the hands of Moses. The Jews, from whom we received the book, have always asserted the contrary, affirming that Ezra and the men of the Great Synagogue re-edited (as we should say) the more ancient books in the Bible, and after the fashion of those days inserted in the text many explanations and remarks, which in the present day would take the form of notes. Nor, again, does it imply that Moses made use of no other hand in its composition. The book of Jeremiah is none the less Ms, though for some reason he penned no single word of it, but left that entirely to the scribe Baruch. One of the most ancient versions, the Peshito Syriac, affirms that Moses made similar use of Joshua, and that the latter not merely arranged, but also completed the Pentateuch, referring certainly to the account of the death of Moses, which must have been added by a later hand, but not excluding the idea that he had a substantial share in the composition of the Book of Deuteronomy. Similarly, the Talmud says that Joshua wrote the last eight sections of this book. But while we find Joshua associated with Moses at a very early date in the preservation of these records, the writing of the earlier portion of them is expressly assigned to the lawgiver himself. In Exod. xvii. 14, God says to Moses, "Write this as a memorial in the book, and put into the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly wipe out the remembrance of Amalek." Elsewhere we find Moses penning similar records (Exod. xxiv. 4; xxxiv. 27; Numb. xxxiii. 2); finely the complete book of the Law is entrusted to the keeping of the Levites, who were to lay it up by the ark, and read it every seventh year to the people (Deut. xvii. 18; xxxi. 9 - 11). The statement, then, of the Pentateuch itself is that Moses, learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, carried the art of writing with him into the wilderness, and himself kept a contemporaneous record of events; but it does not certainly appear whether Joshua could at first write or not; for the matter is entrusted to his ears — i.e., to his memory. But at the end of the long sojourn in the wilderness, though not till then, the Levites generally could read and write; and as Joshua was connected with Moses in the keeping pf the records at so early a, date, we may feel sure that Moses had taken no less pains with him than with the Levites generally. There is little doubt, moreover, that Aaron and others of the higher nobles, equally with Moses, possessed a knowledge of this art. The word translated " officers " in Exod. v. 6 — 19 literally signifies " scribes," so that the Hebrews even then had a learned class. But it would not be till towards the close of the long sojourn at Kadesh-barnea, that the aged Moses would devolve upon Joshua duties long performed by himself.

But it is objected that this carries back the art of writing to a too early date. For while in the Book of Genesis we find no trace of writing, except it be in Judah's signet-ling, engraved probably with some device, in the Pentateuch not merely can Moses write, and the priests (Numb. v. 23), but ordinary people (Deut. vi. 9; xi. 20; xxiv. 1, 3). Equally common is the reference to the art of writing in the book of Joshua (viii. 32; X. 13; xviii. 9; xxiv. 26), and then we hear no more of it till the time of David, when the prophets appear as a learned class; and finally it is early in the reign of Ahab that its use becomes general. There is, however, one curious exception to this statement. Miserable as was the state of Israel during the days of the Judges, it was not a time of such entiree ignorance as is supposed; for the young man of Succoth, whom Gideon caught, "wrote down" for him the names of the threescore and seventeen chief men of that city (Judg. viii. 14).

Granting, however, the exceptional prevalence of the art of writing in the days of Moses, can it be satisfactorily accounted for or not?

Now, first, Moses and the Israelites had long dwelt in Egypt, where not merely hieroglyphics, but the cursive hieratic character had been in use for centuries before the exodus. Not merely inscriptions on temples, but papyri now in our museums prove the existence of a learned class, who wrote not only works on history, philosophy, and theology, but even novels; so that students of Egyptian literature now readily admit that a knowledge of writing was widely diffused in the age of Moses among the more cultivated part of the people. As regards the great mass, the matter has indeed been sometimes overstated. The giving a wife, on dismissal, a writing of divorcement, the inscribing of texts upon door-posts, and other similar commands, imply only the existence of a literary class. In Spain, to this day, people make use of others to write their letters and contracts, and can find such persons ready with table and writing materials in the market-places. As late as the time of Ezekiel we still find the professional scribe, in attendance upon higher officers, dressed in a linen tunic, and with his inkhorn at his belt (Ezek. ix. 2, 11). Observe also that it is not till the end of the sojourn in the wilderness, after the halt of thirty-eight years' duration at Kadesh-barnea, that we find commands implying a general use of writing; and nothing is more probable than that a man so wise and far-seeing as Moses should have trained the priests and Levites in the learning which he undoubtedly possessed, especially as they would remain with him at head-quarters, while the rest of the tribes were more or less scattered over the wilderness of Paran, in search of pasture for their cattle.

But, secondly, the art of writing is of the very highest antiquity among the Semitic nations themselves. All the words connected with the art, " to write," " book," "ink," are Semitic, and not Egyptian, and as Ewald remarks (Gesch. Isr., i. 77), are common to all branches of the family, so that they must have been their common property before the original stock broke up into distinct branches. The names of the letters too are Semitic, and were carried by Cadmus — i.e., the Oriental — and the Phoenicians to Greece, whence all European nations have received them. Weber has even shown that the Hindoos borrowed their alphabet from the Semites, thus carrying back the invention of letters to a most remote antiquity. But though the Phoenicians taught the art of writing to the nations of Europe, they did not invent the alphabet; for the names are all derived from pastoral occupations, and not from maritime affairs. Aleph, the Greek Alpha, is an ox; Gimel, a camel; Vau, a tentpeg; Cheth, a cattle-fence; Lamed, an ox-goad; and though Nun is a fish, and Tzade a fish-hook, no letter is named from any part of a ship. It is certain, too, that the Canaanites at a very early age possessed the art of writing. The Kheta, generally understood to be the Hittites, appear in early Egyptian monuments as a nation of scribes. In exact accordance with this we find a Hittite town, captured by Joshua, called Ku-jathsepher, " Book-town," or as the LXX. render it, " the city of scribes " (Josh. xv. 15). In verse 49 it is called Kirjath-sannah, which First renders " city of writing;" while its other name Debir probably means " parchment," or the city where that material was prepared. There is little doubt that the Canaanites, as far as civilization and the arts which minister to refinement and luxury are concerned, had attained to a far higher level than the Israelites; yet the latter carried with them into the wilderness the art of engraving on jewels, of embroidery, and of working in gold and silver. Settled in the land of Goshen, on the confines between Egypt and the Semitic races, and aided at first by all the influence of Joseph, the powerful minister of a monarch of the twelfth dynasty, when Egypt was in the very height of prosperity, it is unreasonable to suppose them destitute of arts which undoubtedly flourished in both the regions between which Goshen lay. Nor must we measure the state of civilization to which they had attained in Egypt by the semi-barbarism into which they relapsed in Palestine, and from which Samuel rescued them.

There is therefore no antecedent improbability in Moses being able to write such a history as the Pentateuch; nor in the priests and Levites generally forming a learned caste at the end of the long sojourn in the wilderness.

The ground, therefore, is now clear for direct evidence; and of this the most important is the fact, that the whole of the rest of the Old Testament constantly implies the existence of the Pentateuch, and from time to time refers to it. So fully is this the case in the book of Joshua, that it is not denied, but traversed by the assertion that it really is a part of the Pentateuch, and was compiled at the same time. But it is even more remarkable that in the book of Judges, which describes the miserable state of things resulting from the Israelites having only partially conquered the laud; when there was no settled government or unity among the tribes; when the Mosaic constitution was practically in abeyance, and the country so overrun by marauders that Deborah's words describe almost its normal state, that " the highways were unoccupied, and the travelers walked through byways" — even in this book we find all the main points of the law presupposed. There is an ark in a tent at Shiloh, to which men go for counsel; the Levites are dispersed throughout the land; the ephod is the priestly garment; the people are circumcised; the theocratic idea, chiefly urged in Deuteronomy, is so fully recognised that Gideon refuses to be king; and whatever remains of a national organisation still exist are all in accordance with the Mosaic institutions. With Samuel came a reform, and from him, as Ms second founder, the nation started upon a path of rapid upward progress. But everything now, and when David consolidated the new order of things, was too expressly modelled upon the institutions of Moses for the existence of at least the first four books of the Pentateuch to be doubted. Either, therefore, Samuel compiled the Pentateuch to suit his purpose, or he found it laid up among the archives of Shiloh, and derived from the study of it there those ideas which guided him in his course as Israel's greatest statesman. As regards Deuteronomy, its authorship will be considered in the introduction to that book.

But Samuel's task, arduous and almost hopeless as it must appear to any one who studies the state of Israel during the triumphant domination of the Philistines after the battle of Eben-ezer (1 Sam. iv.), would have been impossible had he possessed no groundwork of which to rebuild the shattered institutions of his people. The history sets him before us as a general fighting for the very existence of the nation, as a judge administering the law uprightly, as a statesman founding a system of national education, and consolidating the institutions of the country upon the Mosaic basis. To such a one an appeal to the Pentateuch would have been a source of enormous strength, if the nation already acknowledged it as the national code; but a forgery, and that upon so large a scale, would have been as useless as impossible. Nor can we understand the intense grief of the people at the destruction of Shiloh, the slightest allusion to which in after-times called up the most passionate emotions (Ps. lxxviii. 60 - 64; Jer. xxvi. 6, 9), unless it had long been the national sanctuary.

The question, however, of forgery will be best settled by internal evidence; for only in the midst of books, and with the stores of a largo library at his command, can a forger hope to give his work local colouring, and keep it true to the habits, manners, and facts of a past ago. Samuel, writing for an emergency in the fallen state of the nation, would have made his work refer to that emergency. He would have written for a temporary and not for a permanent purpose. The Philistine supremacy would ever hare been kept in view. And who, besides, would forge a book like the Judges, which tells how, for four hundred years, the Israelites all but entirely failed in the mission for which Moses had formed them? The time of rest and plenty promised by-Moses never came till the days of David.

We proceed then to the internal evidence, simply repeating that from the time of Samuel the existence of the Mosaic institutions is undeniable.

Now in the present day our knowledge of Egypt, and of ancient history generally, has been so enlarged that no scholar any longer doubts the personal existence of Moses, or the fact of the Exodus. The discussion, therefore, is narrowed to a single point. Is the Pentateuch a contemporaneous record, or one written long afterwards, giving us a traditional and not an historic account of what took place? The entire discussion occupies an immense range of ground, involving a close examination of every point contained in the five books. But there are certain salient points upon which it really depends, and which briefly are as follow: —

First, there is the connection with Egyptian history. Upon this point it must suffice to give the results arrived at by those who have made Egypt the object of special study. They produce ample proof that Abraham's descent into Egypt, the sale of Joseph as a slave, his subsequent appointment as chief governor of the land, the history of Moses, and the Exodus, all fit into Egyptian history; and supposed difficulties of manners and customs disappear upon a more exact knowledge of the records preserved for us upon the magnificent buildings erected by those ancient dynasties, and in the papyrus rolls written in their days.1

But an oven more convincing argument is drawn from the words used in the Pentateuch. Premising that the writer of the Pentateuch was employing a language certainly moulded in Palestine — for he uses the term seawards as meaning westwards, whereas the sea is to the north of Egypt, and other similar expressions drawn from the physical conformation of the country — he, nevertheless, whenever Egyptian matters are concerned, employs words capable of explanation only by referring them to Egyptian roots. In the history of Joseph, besides the proper names, such as Potiphar, one devoted to the palace; Potipherah, one devoted to the sun (he was priest of Holiopolis, the Sun-town); Asenath, favorite of Neith, the Egyptian Minerva; Zaphnath-paaneah, the food of life; besides these, the words for the river, the meadow, or rather the reed-grass upon which the kine fed; the cry Abrek, translated in our version "Bow the knee," but really meaning " Rejoice thou," and others, are distinctly Egyptian. So, too, are the customs. The cupbearer hands the king the newly expressed juice of the grape (Gen. xl. 11), for the Egyptians did not drink fermented wine till the days of Psammetichus; he balances the cup on his open hand, instead of holding it (ibid.); the wheat bears seven ears on one stalk; then we have the Egyptians eating separately, their dislike to shepherds, Joseph's dinning bowl of silver, the ceremonies of embalming and mourning, and much besides. No foreigner could have been so constantly accurate, oven if he had possessed an adequate knowledge of the more remarkable of these customs. But it is when we come to the Exodus that the narrative abounds with Egyptian words. The name of Moses is itself Egyptian, and means drawn out. He calls his son Gershom. Now Gesenius, in attempting to explain this name by Semitic roots, could do so only by accusing the writer of a double error. In Egyptian it means one who dwells in a foreign land. Then the ark, the bulrushes, the pitch, the flags, the river's brink, the word used for the princess washing (Exod. ii. 5 1 — in fact, every detail in the history of Moses' infancy is pure Egyptian. When we come to the plagues the ease is equally strong. A Palestinian would have devised plagues such as he was acquainted with in his own country. Really they are natural occurrences of Egypt, only greatly intensified. Thus the river, which under certain circumstances turns to a dark red colour, is in the plague changed into blood. The very names for the rest were unknown in Palestine, but are pure Egyptian. The frogs, lice, flies, ashes of the furnace, the boils and blains, the breaking out of the boils, the flax and spelt (rendered rie in our version), the bolling of the one and the growing up of the other, arc all words belonging to the Egyptian language. So are the names of the treasure-cities, Pithem and Raamses, the taskmasters, the magicians, and even the words for the passover and leaven.

Plainly, therefore, the account of the Exodus was written by one thoroughly conversant with the Egyptian language, manners, and customs. But there was no communication between Palestine and Egypt after the Exodus till the time of Solomon, Recent systematic travels in the wilderness of Sinai prove also that the geographical statements of the Pentateuch are so exact, that the writer must have had thorough local knowledge of its features. Where, except in Moses himself, shall we find one who combines both these branches of knowledge?

Can it then, finally, be argued that the Pentateuch was compiled out of contemporaneous documents? This theory would grant the substantial accuracy of the narrative, and even the Mosaic authorship of large portions of it.

It may be enough, therefore, upon this point to make two observations.

First, the Egyptian words occur indiscriminately in Jehovistic passages (those which call the Deity Lord) and Elohistic (those in which he is called God). It is inconceivable that two writers living in different ages, and with so little in common as each to ignore the name by which the other called the Deity, should both have had such exact knowledge of Egypt, and of the Peninsula of Sinai.

But, secondly, if the Pentateuch had been a compilation, there would have been some indications of arrangement in it. A compiler is by nature an arranger, and what moves him to his work is a sense of incompleteness and disorder in the records of the past; but no traces of such arrangement are discoverable in the Pentateuch. Laws moral, social, political, ritualistic, follow in no order, except that of time, interspersed with historical narratives. The Pentateuch is a succession of unconnected pieces, and apparently, with the exception of notes incorporated into the text by the men of the Great Synagogue, they have come down to us as they were written from time to time by Moses, and laid up in the ark.

No scholar now doubts the vast abilities of Moses, or that he was the leader of the Exodus, and the organiser of the Israelites in the wilderness. Their departure from Egypt, and their conquest of Canaan, are as historically certain as the enterprise of William the Conqueror and the battle of Hastings. And while it would be too much to affirm that the Pentateuch is in all points just as it left his hands, yet we may safely assert that the balance of proof is decidedly in favour of its Mosaic authorship, and of the substantial authenticity of our present text.

For the benefit of our readers we have attached to this article a specimen of Phoenician writing, engraved from a seal now in the British Museum, and brought originally from Mesopotamia. The symbols upon it belong to an Assyrian form of worship, the owner having been a priest. The letters containing his name are aRranged in five columns, and must be read downwards as follows; —


B R   R  
N D   B  


L is a preposition signifying ownership. We may render the inscription therefore thus, " This is the seal of Akdban, soN of Gebrod, a prince who sacrifices to the (is priest of) Merod." The word SARSA, which forms the third fine, is the same as that applied to Potipharin Gen.xxxvii. 36,andfully explained there in the margin. In the Hebrew it is spelt Saris.

The topmost letter of the first column is Lamed, the ox-goad, our L. The second is Aleph, the ox, and represents the head of that animal roughly drawn, with the two horns and ears. It is our A. The third. Caph, means the hollow of the hand. It is the Greek Kappa and our K, only turned downwards. Our letter still very nearly resembles the old form, the straight line at the back having been added to distinguish it from the crescent moon. Next follows Daleth, a door, but apparently very little like one. But stop: these letters are older than houses, and we must not introduce modern notions into such ancient matters. It is the door of a tent, and therefore triangular (the Greek Delta is an exact triangle). So the next letter, Beth, a house, is really a tent, with the cord by which it was secured, and at the end of it the peg to fasten it in the ground. The last letter in the column, Nun, a fish, had in the earliest writing a wriggling shape like that of an eel, but like our N it has had its lines stiffened. The last letter I will notice is the fourth in the fourth line. Its name is Qoph, or Koph, and represents the back of the head and neck. It very well exemplifies the way in which that which originally was a picture came to be represented by a mere conventional form.



1) Those who wish to make a special study of this subject, will find a valuable introduction to it in Canon Cook's " Essays on Egyptian History and Egyptian Words," attached to Vol." I. of the Speaker's " Commentary."