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Books of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)

The Pentateuch: the books of the law; the Torah

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Books of the Law (a.k.a. the Torah & the Pentateuch:

These are the five foundational books of the Hebrew Scriptures:

bullet Genesis describes:
bullet God's creation of the earth, its life forms and the rest of the universe in 6 days. God rested on the 7th day.
bullet Various Christian authorities have estimated the year of creation between 6000 BCE and 3963 BCE. That is, the Earth, the Solar System and the rest of the universe are between about 6 and 8 millennia old. This compares with the consensus of scientists who estimate the Earth's age at about 4.5 billion years.

bullet Many modern-day conservative Christians accept the date of 4004 BCE -- the estimate prepared by Bishop James Ussher, a 17th century Irish archbishop.

bullet Ancient Jewish scholars placed creation at 3761 BCE; this became the basis of the Jewish Calendar.

bullet Scientists and religious progressives generally agree that the universe started with a "big bang" circa 15 billion years ago, and that the Earth coalesced about 4.5 billion years ago. It may help visualize the difference between these beliefs by noting that the ratio between 4.5 billion years and 6,008 years is almost the ratio of the full length of a football field to the thickness of a piece of paper.


There is an important translation error found in many versions of the Bible at Genesis 1:28: For example, the Jewish Publication Society's Tanakh, the King James Version, American King James Version, American Standard Version, English Revised Version, and Webster's Bible Translation all translate Genesis 1:28 as similar to: "...

Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth ..."

The English word "replenish" implies that people on the Earth had existed prior to the creation of Adam and Eve, that the human race had largely or completely died out, and that the Adam and Eve's task was to refill the Earth once more with humans. The Hebrew word translated as "replenish" is "male'" or "mala.' It has several meanings: to fill, refill, or replenish, to be fenced, and to satisfy. From the context, it is obvious from the creation story and the rest of Genesis that "to fill" is the correct meaning. The American Standard Bible, Bible in Basic English, Douay-Rheims Bible, Darby Bible Translation, GOD'S WORDŽ Translation, World English Bible, and Young's Literal Translation all use the word "fill." It seems that the translators of the King James Version and others simply made an error in translation.

bulletThe first humans, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden, committed an act of disobedience towards God by eating some magical fruit. It somehow altered their mental capacities so that they suddenly advanced mentally and became able to differentiate between good and evil. That is, they developed a moral sense for the first time. Most conservative Christians regard this as the fall of mankind, when sin first entered the world -- an event of overwhelming importance without which Jesus' role would be meaningless. Some liberal Christians regard this as as a myth describing the elevation of two imaginary proto-humans, Adam and Eve, to full human status.

bulletAdam and Eve had three sons, Cain, Abel, and Seth. Eve presumably had daughters, or the human race would have died out at the second generation. However, women had such a low status among the author(s) of Genesis that they were not even mentioned.

bulletCain murdered Abel. It is not surprising that the first recorded murder in the Bible was over a religious dispute. People have been committing violent acts, murder, mass murder and genocide ever since on the same grounds.

bulletGod issued a second judgment on humanity: the genocide of almost the entire human race by drowning. Only Noah and his family survived the great worldwide flood.

bullet God called Abraham, a resident of Ur of the Chaldees. He traveled to Haran and thence to Canaan. God issued to him and his descendents the Abrahamic Covenant, which guaranteed that his descendants would rule over the land.
bullet Genesis discusses the experiences of Abraham's son Isaac, his grandson Jacob, and great-grandson Joseph who became the Prime Minister of Egypt.

bulletJacob and about 70 males in his family moved from Canaan to Egypt in the 17th century BCE because of a widespread famine.

bullet Exodus describes:
bullet Absolutely nothing about the several generations between the death of Joseph at the close of Genesis and the birth of Moses at the beginning of Exodus. During this short interval, the Hebrews are reported as having experienced an unprecedented growth, becoming a group of over 600,000 males and their families totaling millions of persons.

bullet The terrible suffering of the Hebrews who were reduced to slavery, working in the Nile delta area.

bullet God's call to Moses to lead his people out of Egypt and into Canaan. Many conservative Christians place the Exodus from Egypt during the 15th century BCE. The Scofield Bible dates it at 1491 BCE. Other estimates have placed it in the 13th century BCE. here is a growing consensus among archaeologists that the lack of archeological evidence of the four decades that the Exodus lasted shows that the event never happened.

bullet God "hardened the heart" of the Pharaoh so that he would make every effort to keep the Hebrews in Egypt as slaves.

bullet God sent a series of terrible plagues to Egypt, culminating with another genocide. This one killed every first born (human and animal) in Egypt who had not been protected by a ritual animal sacrifice and specific blood ritual about which only the Hebrews had been informed.

bullet The Pharaoh finally allowed the Hebrews to leave. They were guided by a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night.

bullet The Hebrews became trapped between the Red Sea and the advancing Egyptian army. God parted the water so that the Hebrews could walk across the sea bed on dry land. The pursuing soldiers drowned.

bullet Three months later, Moses and his flock had completed a major detour to Mount Sinai. God delivered the Law to Moses , including the Ten Commandments and the Civil Law. A description was also given to Moses of the Tabernacle, a portable worship structure, that the Hebrews were to build.

bullet Leviticus describes:
bullet How the priest is to perform the ritual sacrifice of male animals, the spreading of its blood on the altar, its skinning, chopping into pieces, and burning on the altar. Burnt offerings were used to make atonement for (literally "to cover") the people's sin.

bullet The descriptions of a number of other types of offerings for different purposes.

bullet Moses anointed (literally "set apart") Aaron and his sons to serve as priests. Two of his sons, Nadab and Abihu, made an error in the ritual. God killed both of them in the temple.

bullet The Holiness Code is introduced. This includes practices that the people were to follow: foods to avoid, the ritual of circumcision on male infants, the purification of a woman who has given birth, sexual activities to avoid, how to treat your neighbors, etc.

bullet Rituals for the Day of Atonement when the combined sin of the nation was to be atoned for.

bullet The importance and eternal nature of the Sabbath day of rest every Saturday was emphasized.

bullet A number of permanent annual seasonal feasts were created: of Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of Weeks, the New Year, Day of Atonement and Feast of Booths.

bullet Every 7th year was to be a Sabbath Year: the land is to lie fallow, and male Hebrew slaves are to be set free. However, female slaves were owned as property forever.

bullet Every 50 year was to be a Jubilee Year: the land is to lie fallow, and the ownership of all purchased land was to revert to its original owner.

bullet A series of promises and warnings were given to Israel.

bullet Numbers describes:
bullet A census was taken of the adult males.

bullet Some members of the tribe of Levi was chosen to form the priesthood

bullet The tribes stayed about a year at Mount Sinai, then left.

bullet Twelve spies went into Canaan to determine its fertility and to assess the difficulty of invading it. Most of them concluded that it would be impossible for Israel to drive the Canaanites out of their land. Many Israelites rebelled against Moses.

bullet Because of this lack of faith, God required Israel to wander, mostly aimlessly, for 40 years through the desert, a distance of 735 km (457 miles). They averaged 0.013 miles per hour or 0.02 km/hr. 1

bullet 250 leaders of Israel challenged Moses' leadership, wishing to introduce an element of democracy into the group. God opened up the earth and killed all of them.

bullet There was a lack of water during their travels. God commanded Moses to speak to a rock in order to create a spring. In anger, he struck the rock instead. Because of his disobedience, God decided that Moses would be punished by never being allowed to enter into the promised land of Canaan.

bullet Israel arrived on the East bank of the Jordan River, attacked its inhabitants and seized the land. Conservative Christians accept this description as literally true. Some liberal Christians and archaeologists note that there is no physical evidence to suggest that the ancient Israelite's slavery in Egypt, the Exodus, and the invasion of Canaan ever happened. Rather, the Israelites arose as a small group of Canaanites who were isolated from the rest, grew in size over a long period of time, and lived in peace with the Canaanites.

bullet A second census was taken of male adults.

bullet Joshua was selected as the next leader of Israel

bullet Deuteronomy describes:
bullet While in the Plains of Moab, Moses reviewed the recent history of Israel with the generation that had been born since the tribes had left Sinai. He described God's promises and involvement; he described Israel's lack of faith and their rebellion.

bullet The role of the priests and parents to teach the law

bullet The genocide against the Canaanites. All men, women, children, infants, and newborns in the cities and surrounding land were to be exterminated without exception.

bullet The ban of inter-marrying with the Canaanites; this instruction seems to have been redundant, because all of the Canaanites were to be killed on sight.

bullet That God could be relied upon to bring regular rains to assure fertility of the land, as long as the people obeyed the Him.


Moses discussion of God's Palestinian Covenant. It deeded all of Canaan to them. This included parts of present-day Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt and areas currently controlled by the Palestinians. It includes Damascus, Sidon, Tyre, Jerusalem, Gaza and a section of the Nile River. Although future sin by Israel might result in them being temporarily driven from the land, they could feel certain that it would eventually belong to them.

Although this contract between God and the ancient Israelites is commonly called the Palestinian Covenant, the name is an anachronism. The area involved was not called Palestine until the Roman era; it was derived from the Roman name for the Philistines -- a group who probably originated in Crete and perhaps from Cyprus. It is also a confusing term because it is easily confused with the modern Palestinian National Covenant created by the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1964.

bullet Moses died. God buried him in an undisclosed location.

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Authorship of the Pentateuch

Jesus and the Gospel writers said that the Law was given by Moses, and the uniform tradition of the Jewish scribes and early Christian fathers was that Genesis was written by Moses.

Conservative Theologians generally believe that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, the first 5 books of the Bible. The Hebrew Scriptures state this. Jesus Christ believed this to be true. Some conservative Christians believe that he wrote all of the Pentateuch, except for Deuteronomy 34, which describes his own death and burial. Moses is believed to have written the books after the Israelite's Exodus from Egypt, but before they entered Canaan. This would date the writing to the 40 year period when the Israelites were wandering through the desert, circa 1450 BCE. There are about two dozen verses in the Hebrew Scriptures and one dozen in the Christian Scriptures which state that Moses was the author. Since conservatives believe in the inerrancy (freedom from error) of the Bible, the matter of authorship is settled and not open to discussion or debate.

Liberal Theologians: Over the past six centuries, a number of theologians have challenged the belief that Moses is the author. Richard Simon wrote a book during the 17th Century titled Critical History of the Old Testament. He analyzed the books attributed to Moses and found different writing styles, different names used for God, and groups of laws that seem to have patched together from various original sources. Jean Astruc during the 18th century and Julius Wellhausen during the 19th century further developed these thoughts.

A consensus has been reached among liberal and mainline theologians. They now accept the Documentary Hypothesis. They have concluded that most of the Pentateuch was written by four authors or groups of authors: "J" (who used Jehovah as the name for God). "E" (who used Elohim); "D", the authors of the book of Deuteronomy and "P" who wrote the "priestly" sections which deal with ritual, liturgy and the dates and genealogical passages. The writings were then edited into a single document by one or more redactors ("R"). The interleaving of the J and P accounts of the Noachian flood is one clear example of multiple authorships. To the writings of J, E, and P was added additional material obtained from other Mid-Eastern sources; The two creation stories in the Book of Genesis are examples.

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Related essay in this web site:

bullet Books of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)
bullet Who wrote the Pentateuch? (Books of Moses)
bullet Archaeology and the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)
bullet Stories from the Hebrew Scriptures (Creation, Adam and Eve, the Flood...)

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The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Wandered in the Desert for 40 years," Facebook, at:
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Copyright 1998 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2018-OCT-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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