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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Pen´tateuch is the title given to the five books of Moses. The Jews usually call the Pentateuch the law.

In considering the Pentateuch, the first question which arises is—Who was its author? It is of great importance to hear, first, what the book itself says on this subject. The Pentateuch does not present itself as an anonymous production. It is manifestly intended and destined to be a public monument for the whole people, and it does not veil its origin in a mysterious obscurity; on the contrary, the book speaks most clearly on this subject.

According to , Moses was commanded by God to write the victory over the Amalekites in the book. This passage shows that the account to be inserted was intended to form a portion of a more extensive work, with which the reader is supposed to be acquainted. It also proves that Moses, at an early period of his public career, was filled with the idea of leaving to his people a written memorial of the Divine guidance, and that he fully understood the close and necessary connection of an authoritative law with a written code. It is, therefore, by no means surprising that the observation repeatedly occurs, that Moses wrote down the account of certain events (;;; ). Especially important are the statements in; . In; the whole work is expressly ascribed to Moses as the author, including the poem in Deuteronomy 32. It may be made a question whether the hand of a later writer, who finished the Pentateuch, is perceptible from (comp.; ), or whether the words in are still the words of Moses. In the former case we have two witnesses, viz. Moses himself, and the continuator of the Pentateuch; in the latter case, which seems to us the more likely, we have the testimony of Moses alone.

Modern criticism has raised many objections against these statements of the Pentateuch relative to its own origin. Many critics suppose that they can discover in the Pentateuch indications that the author intended to make himself known as a person different from Moses. The most important objection is the following: that the Pentateuch, speaking of Moses, always uses the third person, bestows praise upon him, and uses concerning him expressions of respect. The Pentateuch even exhibits Moses quite objectively in the blessing recorded in .

To this objection we reply, that the use of the third person proves nothing. The later Hebrew writers also speak of themselves in the third person. We might adduce similar instances from the classical authors, as Caesar, Xenophon, and others. The use of the third person, instead of the first, prevails also among Oriental authors. In addition to this we should observe, that the nature of the book itself demands the use of the third person, in reference to Moses, throughout the Pentateuch. This usage entirely corresponds with the character both of the history and of the law contained in the Pentateuch. If we consider that the Pentateuch was destined to be a book of divine revelation, in which God exhibited to his people the exemplification of his providential guidance, we cannot expect that Moses, by whom the Lord had communicated his latest revelations, should be spoken of otherwise than in the third person. In the poetry contained in , Moses speaks in the name of the people, which he personifies and introduces as speaking. The expressions in ,; , belong entirely to the context of history, and to its faithful and complete relation; consequently it is by no means vain boasting that is there expressed, but admiration of the divine mercy glorified in the people of God. In considering these passages we must also bear in mind the far greater number of other passages which speak of the feebleness and the sins of Moses.

It is certain that the author of the Pentateuch asserts himself to be Moses. The question then arises, whether it is possible to consider this assertion to be true—whether Moses can be admitted to be the author? In this question is contained another, viz. whether the Pentateuch forms such a continuous whole that it is possible to ascribe it to one author? This question has been principally discussed in modern criticism. In various manners it has been tried to destroy the unity of the Pentateuch, and to resolve its constituent parts into a number of documents and fragments. Eichhorn and his followers assert that Genesis only is composed of several ancient documents. This assertion is still reconcilable with the Mosaical origin of the Pentateuch. But Vater and others allege that the whole Pentateuch is composed of fragments; from which it necessarily follows that Moses was not the author of the whole. Modern critics are, however, by no means unanimous in their opinions. The latest writer on this subject, Ewald, in his history of the people of Israel, asserts that there were seven different authors concerned in the Pentateuch. On the other hand, the internal unity of the Pentateuch has been demonstrated in many able essays. The attempts at division are especially supported by an appeal to the prevailing use of the different names of God in various portions of the work; but the arguments derived from this circumstance have been found insufficient to prove that the Pentateuch was written by different authors.

The inquiry concerning the unity of the Pentateuch is intimately connected with its historical character. If there are in the Pentateuch decided contradictions, or different contradictory statements of one and the same fact, not only its unity but also its historical truth would be negatived. On the other hand, if the work is to be considered as written by Moses, the whole style and internal veracity of the Pentateuch must correspond with the character of Moses. Considerate critics, who are not under the sway of dogmatic prejudices, find that the passages which are produced in order to prove that the Pentateuch was written after the time of Moses, by no means support such a conclusion, and that a more accurate examination of the contents of the separate portions discovers many vestiges demonstrating that the work originated in the age of Moses.

In the remote times of Jewish and Christian antiquity, we find no vestiges of doubt as to the genuineness of the Mosaical books. The Gnostics, indeed, opposed the Pentateuch, but attacked it merely on account of their dogmatical opinions concerning the Law and Judaism in general; consequently they did not impugn the authenticity, but merely the divine authority of the Law. Heathen authors alone, as Celsus and Julian, represented the contents of the Pentateuch as being mythological, and paralleled them with Pagan mythology.

In the Middle Ages, but not earlier, we find some very concealed critical doubts in the works of some Jews—as Isaac Ben Jasos, who lived in the eleventh century, and Aben Ezra. After the Reformation, it was sometimes attempted to demonstrate the later origin of the Pentateuch. Such attempts were made by Spinoza, Richard Simon, Le Clerc, and Van Dale; but these critics were not unanimous in their results.

In the period of English, French, and German deism, the Pentateuch was attacked rather by jests than by arguments. Attacks of a more scientific nature were made about the end of the eighteenth century. But these were met by such critics as John David Michaelis and Eichhorn, who energetically and effectually defended the genuineness of the Pentateuch. These critics, however, on account of their own false position, did as much harm as good to the cause.

A new epoch of criticism commences about the year 1805. This was produced by Vater's Commentary and de Wette's Beiträge zur Einleitung in das alte Testament. Vater embodied all the arguments which had been adduced against the authenticity of the Pentateuch, and applied to the criticism of the sacred books the principles which Wolf had employed with reference to the Homeric poems. He divided the Pentateuch into fragments, to each of which he assigned its own period, but referred the whole generally to the age of the Assyrian or Babylonian exile. Since the days of Vater a series of the most different hypotheses has been produced by German critics about the age of the Pentateuch, and that of its constituent sections. No one critic seems fully to agree with any other; and frequently it is quite evident that the opinions advanced are quite arbitrary, and destitute of any sure foundation.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Pentateuch'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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