AHC G The Penteteuch - Hebrew Catholics

Association of

Hebrew Catholics

New Zealand Branch

Introduction To The PENTATEUCH

(Numbering and emphasis are not in the original)

Click here for a printable copy of this paper


The following introduction has been taken, with approval of the publishers, from the Jerusalem Bible. It is a scholarly work, and requires careful reading. We recommend Sections I and V (b) for the general reader. Those interested in a more detailed explanation will find the whole introduction to be immensely informative.

Readers will be immediately aware of the profound respect shown towards the Hebrew culture in their commentary on the treasury of Sacred Scripture as presented here by the Dominican translators of the Jerusalem Bible. This is acknowledged and appreciated within the Hebrew Catholic apostolate.



I      Titles, divisions, contents

The first five books of the Bible together constitute a unity in themselves, and the group was known to the Jews as the ‘Torah’, or the ‘Law’. The earliest reliable witness to this title is to be found in the preface to the Book of Ecclesiasticus and whe the Christian era opened the term was already in common use (Luke 10: 26. Compare with 24: 44). For this first section of their Bible Hebrew-speaking Jews had another name: ‘The five-fifths of the Law'; those who spoke Greek used the corresponding term: ‘Pentateuchos’ (sc. biblos), ‘The five-volume (book)’, which in Latin was transliterated Pentateuchus (liber).

That this division into five books dates back to pre-Christian times is attested by the Septuagint. This Greek version of the Hebrew Old Testament designated the books according to their content and the Church adopted its terminology. Thus the book which opens with the story of the beginning of the world is called Genesis; the second, which starts with the departure of Israel from Egypt, is named Exodus; Leviticus contains the law of the priests of the tribe of Levi; the first four chapters of Numbers deal with the census; Deuteronomy is so styled from the Septuagint rendering of Deuteronomy 17: 18: ‘the second law’. The Jews, however, used and still use the initial Hebrew word of each book—or its first important word—to indicate the whole.

Genesis falls into two unequal parts. Chapters 1―11 deal with primordial history; they introduce us to the story of salvation, the theme that runs through the whole Bible. They search back into the origin of the world and survey the whole human race. They tell of the creation of the universe and man, of the Fall and its consequences, of the increasing human wickedness which earned the punishment of the Flood. The repopulation of the earth starts with Noah but our attention is directed ultimately to Abraham, father of the chosen people, by way of a series of narrowing genealogical tables. Chapters 12―50 deal with patriarchal history; they portray the great ancestors of Israel. Abraham is the man of faith; God rewards his obedience with a promise of posterity for himself, and, for his descendants, possession of the Holy Land (12: 1―25: 18). Jacob is the man of guile who supplants Esau his brother; by a trick he secures the blessing of his father Isaac and he proves himself more crafty than his uncle Laban. But all his cunning would have been useless if God had not preferred him to Esau before his birth or renewed the promise and covenant granted to Abraham (25: 19 to ch. 36). The career of Isaac, Abraham’s son and Jacob’s father, is described more in relation to these two than for its own sake; he is a relatively colourless figure. The twelve sons of Jacob are the ancestors of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The concluding chapters of Genesis (37―50) are entirely devoted to one of them: Joseph, the man of wisdom. The Joseph-cycle, so different from the foregoing narratives, bears no trace of God’s visible inter¬vention, nor does it contain any new revelation. Its absorbing purpose is to drive home the lesson that the virtue the of the wise man is rewarded and that Providence turns man’s shortcomings to advantage.

Genesis is complete in itself, the history of the ancestors. The three books that follow have for their common framework the life of Moses. They recount the formation of the chosen people and show how its social and religious law was constituted.

Exodus is occupied with two primary themes: The Deliverance from Egypt, 1: 1―15: 21, and the Sinaitic Covenant, 19: 1―40: 38. A secondary theme, the Journey through the Wilderness, connects the two, 15: 22―18: 27. Moses leads the liberated Israelites to Sinai where God’s incommunicable name, ‘Yahweh’, had been revealed to him. Against the background of a majestic theophany God concludes an alliance with the people and proclaims his laws. Almost as soon as it is made this Covenant is broken: the people adore the golden calf. But God forgives the sin and renews the Covenant. There follows a list of ordinances controlling the practice of worship in desert conditions.

Leviticus, taken up almost entirely with legislation, breaks the thread of the narrative. Its contents are as follows: sacrificial ritual, ch. 1―7; ceremony of priestly investiture described in terms of the consecration of Aaron and his sons, ch. 8―10; ordinances relating to clean and unclean, ch. 11―15, concluding with the ritual for the great Day of Atonement, ch. 16; The ‘Holiness Code’, 17―26, a section which includes a liturgical calendar, 23, and which closes with Blessings and Curses, 26. By way of appendix, ch. 27 lays down the conditions for redeeming persons and animals and goods vowed to Yahweh.

Numbers resumes the account of the Desert Journey. A census of the people, ch. 1―4, and the offering of gifts on the occasion of the Dedication of the Tabernacle, ch. 7, form a prelude to the departure from Sinai. The second Passover is celebrated and leaving the holy mount, ch. 9―10, the people reach Kadesh after various halts on the way. From here an unsuccessful attempt is made to infiltrate into Canaan from the south, ch. 11―14. After a long stay at Kadesh the people set out once more and reach the plains of Moab opposite Jericho, ch. 20―25. The Midianites are defeated and the tribes of Gad and Reuben settle in Transjordania, ch. 31―32. Chapter 33 lists the encampments on the way from Egypt to Moab. Within this narrative material there are groups of enactments either supplementing the Sinaitic code or preparing for the time when the people will have settled in Canaan.

Deuteronomy has a distinct plan of its own. It is a code of civil and religious laws, ch. 12―26: 15, with a long discourse of Moses for its framework, ch. 5―11; and 26: 16 to ch. 28. The whole is preceded by a first Mosaic discourse, ch. 1―4, and followed by a third, ch. 29―30. This is followed in its turn by sections dealing with the last days of Moses: Joshua’s mission, the canticle of Moses, the blessings he pronounces, his death, ch. 31―34. The code of Deuteronomy is in part a resumption of the laws proclaimed in the desert. Its discourses commemorate the great events of the Exodus, of Sinai and of the early stages of the Conquest; they explain the religious meaning of these events and appeal for fidelity to the Law whose importance they emphasise.


II      How the Penteteuch came to be written

At least from the beginning of the Christian era Moses has been credited with the composition of this considerable body of literature; nor did Jesus or his apostles question this, John 1: 45; 5: 45―47; Romans 10: 5. Nevertheless, the most ancient available traditions never expressly claimed that the whole of the Pentateuch came from Moses’ hand. Even when the Pentateuch itself uses the expression ‘Moses wrote’ (as it very rarely does) it is referring only to particular passages. Now modern Pentateuchal study has revealed a variety of style, lack of sequence, and repetitions in narrative which make it impossible to ascribe the whole work to a single author. At the end of the 19th century, after years of laborious effort, one hypothesis succeeded in rallying the critics, thanks especially to the works of Graf and of Wellhausen. According to this theory the Pentateuch is an amalgam of four documents issuing from different places and times but all much later than Moses. Initially there were, it was held, two narrative sources: the Yahwistic (J) which, from the story of Creation onwards, uses the divine name Yahweh that was revealed to Moses, and the Elohistic (E) which uses Elohim, the common noun for God. The Yahwistic source was committed to writing in Judah in the 9th century, the Elohistic in Israel a little later. After the fall of the Northern Kingdom these two documents were combined (JE). After the time of Josiah the Deuteronomic source (D) was added (JED). The Priestly Code (P), made up for the most part of laws, though with a certain amount of narrative matter, was after the Exile joined to the existing compilation which it served to weld and bind together (JEDP). It should be noted that the literary analysis behind this hypothesis was allied with an evolutionary theory of the religious development of Israel.

In a Response dated June 27th 1906 the Pontifical Biblical Commission put Catholic exegetes on their guard against this Documentary Theory and required them to maintain the ‘substantial’ Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch taken as a whole. The Commission, however, recognised the possibility of pre-Mosaic oral traditions and written documents; it granted, too, that modifications and additions subsequent to Moses may have been made. In a letter to Cardinal Suhard (January 16th 1948) the Commission more explicitly conceded the existence of sources and admitted a gradual growth of the Mosaic laws and of the historical narratives, a growth due to the social and religious conditions of later times.

And indeed the Documentary Theory in its classical form is once more in the melting-pot. Continued effort to give it further precision has served only to show that the task is impossible. Moreover, the literary problem is yielding to the historical: what oral or written sources lie behind the ‘documents’ is a question now more urgent than the problem when the text assumed its final form. The new approach is less artificial and literary; it is closer to realities and to the conditions of life. It is now beginning to appear that these sources are very ancient indeed. Archaeological progress and our growing knowledge of the history of the neighbouring civilisations have shown that many Pentateuchal laws and institutions had their non-biblical counterparts long before the dates assigned to the ‘documents'; they have shown also that not a few Penta¬teuchal narratives presuppose conditions different from, and more primitive than, those in which the ‘documents’ are said to have been written.

This is not to say that there is no longer a problem. There are phenomena which demand explanation: the duplicated passages for instance (‘doublets’), the repetitions and discrepancies in which the Pentateuch abounds and which strike the reader right from the opening pages of Genesis. Thus there are two narratives of Creation, 1―2: 4a and 2:4b―3: 24, two genealogies of Cain-Kenan, 4: 17f and 5: 12―17, two interwoven accounts of the Flood, ch. 6―8. The attempt to satisfy these data by a theory of assembled ‘documents’ scissored, reshuffled and recombined by some mechanical process of literary compilation must, it is true, be abandoned. Nevertheless, the facts point at least to the existence of certain ‘traditions’ which were at first used for recitation in the various sanc¬tuaries; circumstances of time and place, or the influence of some leading
personality, brought these traditions together into the groups we find assembled in the Pentateuch.

Similarity of vocabulary, outlook and ideas draws the texts together to form the groups which we find side by side in the Pentateuch. From these text groups we can deduce and distinguish the various streams of tradition. The Yahwistic tradition, so named because it makes use of the divine name Yahweh from the Creation narrative onwards, is lively and vivid in style, but under its picturesque presentation there lies a profound answer to man’s most urgent questions, and though God is described in human terms the author has a deep sense of the divine. This tradition originated in Judah; in its essentials it was put into writing perhaps in Solomon’s time. The Elohistic tradition, which uses the common noun Elohim for God, is further distinguished from the Yahwistic by a more measured style and a more exacting moral standard; it is also more careful to maintain the distance between man and God. It has no primordial history but starts from the time of Abraham. Probably more recent than the Yahwistic tradition, it is usually credited to the Northern tribes. The Yahwistic and Elohistic traditions have very few legislative texts; of the Priestly tradition, on the other hand, the law is the very centre. This tradition displays a particular interest in the regulation of the sanctuary, in the sacrifices and feasts, in the person and functions of Aaron and his sons. Besides the texts which deal with law or with institutions there are narrative sections but a legal and liturgical mind is discernible behind these also. The Priestly tradition delights in calculation and in genealogy; it is readily recognisable from its style which is usually abstract and repetitive. This tradition emanates from the priests of the Temple of Jerusalem; it took shape during the Exile with the help of ancient material but established itself only after the Return.

So far as the Book of Genesis is concerned it is not difficult to recognise and follow the threads of the three traditions: Yahwistic, Elohistic, Priestly. Nor is it hard to trace the Priestly tradition in the closing chapters of Exodus, in the whole of Leviticus and in the greater part of Numbers; but it is difficult to decide which part of the remainder belongs to the Yahwistic tradition and which to the Elohistic. After the Book of Numbers all three traditions disappear; they are replaced by a single tradition: the Deuteronomic. This is characterised by a most distinctive style which is exuberant and rhetorical; certain clear-cut formulae frequently recur. Its doctrine, too, is characteristic—a doctrine it never tires of repeating: of all the nations Israel has been chosen as God’s people by an act of spontaneous divine favour; nevertheless a condition is attached to this choice and to the pact that seals it, namely that Israel must be faithful to the law of its God and to the prescribed worship that is to be offered in the one and only sanctuary. It may be that the substance of the Deuteronomic tradition basically represents Northern custom as introduced to Jerusalem by Levites after the fall of the kingdom of Israel. This body of law, rediscovered in the Temple during the reign of Josiah, was then promulgated within the framework of a Mosaic discourse. In the first years of the Exile there was issued another edition, new but on the same lines as its predecessor.

It is only in their final, written form that we come to know these traditions, but the important question is: How did they first originate? Now despite their distinctive characteristics the Yahwistic and Elohistic traditions tell much the same story: these two traditions, therefore, have a common origin. Further, they fit naturally into the period of the events narrated and not into the later time presumed for their committal to writing. It follows that they have their origin in the earlier period, the period of Israel’s growth into a nation. With certain modifications the same may be said of the legislative passages: Israel’s civil and religious law developed as the community developed, but law and people were born together.

Hence the basic elements of the Pentateuch—the substance of the traditions it records and the core of its legislation—reach back to the time when Israel became a nation. Now that period is dominated by one figure: Moses was the nation’s organising spirit, its religious leader, its earliest legislator. Earlier traditions that converge on him and memories of what happened under his leadership together went to make the national epic. The Mosaic religion set its enduring seal upon the faith and practice of the nation; the Mosaic law remained its standard. The modifications required by changing conditions interpreted Moses’ mind and invested themselves with his authority. The Bible’s witness to a certain measure of literary work on the part of Moses and of those around him cannot be set aside, but the question of the literary presen¬tation of the material is less urgent than that of its origin: it is much more important to recognise that the traditions which make up the Pentateuch have in Moses their head and source.


III      Relation of the narratives to history

From such traditions it would be unreasonable to expect the minute precision of a modern historian: they are not lifeless manuscripts but the living heritage of a nation whose spirit of unity they nourish and whose faith they sustain. But it would be equally unreasonable to refuse them any credence on the grounds that this precision is lacking.

The first eleven chapters of Genesis must be considered separately. They speak in popular style of the origin of the human race; in a simple, pictorial style suited to the mentality of unsophisticated people, they declare the funda¬mental truths on which the plan of salvation rests. These truths are: the Creation by God at the beginning of time, God’s special intervention in the making of man and woman, the unity of the human race, the sin of our first parents, the fall from divine favour and the penalties their descendants would inherit in consequence of the sin. All these are truths which have their bearing upon theological doctrine and which are guaranteed by the authority of scripture; but they are also facts, and the certainty of the truths implies the reality of the facts. It is in this sense that the first chapters of Genesis are called historical.

As for the patriarchal history, it is in the first place a family history: it gathers together the treasured memories of the fathers, of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob and Joseph. It is also a popular history: it likes to dwell upon personal anecdotes and piquant details and makes no attempt to situate its narratives in a wider historical context. And lastly, it is history written from a religious standpoint: each turning-point of the story is signalised by a divine intervention and the hand of Providence is seen in each event — an outlook theologically exact but disregarding the play of secondary causes. Moreover, it is for the purpose of demonstrating a religious thesis that the various facts are introduced, expounded and arranged: they are intended to prove that there is one God, one nation of his making, one country for it to dwell in by God’s gift; this God is Yahweh, the nation Israel, the country the Holy Land. Nevertheless, the narratives are historical. It is true that they have their own method of presentation but they deal with events that are real: they give a faithful picture of the origin and migrations of Israel’s ancestors, of their geographical and racial background, of their moral and religious way of life. The old suspicious attitude towards these narratives has had to be abandoned under pressure from the data recently provided by the historians and archaeologists of the Near East.

The events described in Exodus and Numbers, and resumed in Deuteronomy, take up the story at a very much later period: they begin with the birth of Moses and end with his death. They cover the Exodus from Egypt, the halt at Sinai, the journey to Kadesh (the texts are strangely silent about Israel’s long stay there) and through Transjordania, the settlement in the plain of Moab. Unless we concede that these events really happened and that Moses is truly a figure of history, the subsequent history of Israel, its loyalty to Yahwism and its attachment to the Law will all defy explanation. At the same time, we cannot but recognise that the important contribution of these recollections to the nation’s way of life, and the echoes they found in its ritual, have endowed the narratives with the proportions of a national epic (e.g. the crossing of the Red Sea) or with the characteristics of a liturgical act (e.g. the Passover). Israel, therefore, now a nation, makes its appearance on the stage of world history. There is no mention of this in any of the ancient witnesses, if we except the obscure allusion on the stele of Pharaoh Meneptah, but what the Bible relates is in broad agreement with what the texts and the archaeologists tell us about the Hyksos invasion of Egypt (these invaders being for the most part Semites), about Egyptian administration in the Delta, and about political conditions in Transjordania.

Today it is the task of the historian to align these biblical data with the facts of general history. With the prudent reserve dictated by the insufficiency of biblical indications and the uncertainty of extra-biblical chronology, we may put Abraham’s stay in Canaan at about 1850 B.C. Joseph’s life in Egypt and that of the other sons of Jacob who subsequently joined him there we may date a little after 1700. The date of the Exodus is disputed: one theory, which once held the field and still has its supporters, favours the 15th century when the Eighteenth Dynasty ruled in Egypt; another puts the Exodus in the 13th century under the Nineteenth Dynasty. This second opinion seems to satisfy the histori¬cal facts better than the first, namely the residence in the Delta of the Nine¬teenth-Dynasty pharaohs and their colossal building operations and the loosen¬ing of Egypt’s hold over Syro-Palestine towards the end of the reign of Rameses II; it also agrees with the archaeological evidence on the setting up of the Edomite and Moabite kingdoms in Transjordania and on the cultural changes in certain Palestinian towns at the beginning of the Iron Age which would correspond with the proposed date for the occupation by the Israelites.

On such grounds we are inclined to date the Exodus in the reign of Meneptah (1224―1214) and the Oppression in that of Rameses II (1290―1224); or perhaps preferably, the Exodus in the second half of the long reign of Rameses II (1290―1224) and the beginning of the Oppression in the reign of Seti I (1310¬―1290).


IV      The Laws

In the Jewish Bible the Pentateuch is called the Law, the Torah, and indeed it embodies that whole complex of regulations moral, social and religious life which governed the nation’s religious life. To the modern mind the most remarkable feature of this legislation is its religious character. This quality is also to be found in certain other codes of the ancient East but we nowhere find a body of law in which the sacred so pervades the profane: in Israel it is God who dictates the law, it is man’s duty to God that the law prescribes, religious motives lie behind all the law’s injunctions. For the moral prescriptions that make up the Decalogue or for the ritual laws of Leviticus this may seem natural enough; what is more significant is that civil, criminal and religious enactments should be intermingled in the same corpus and the whole set out as the charter of the Covenant with Yahweh. It is only to be expected that the proclamation of these laws should be linked up with the narratives of what happened in the desert where that Covenant came into being.

We have already said that the basic elements of the legislation date back to the Mosaic period; but since laws are only made to be applied, these had to be adapted to changing conditions of place and time. This explains why, in the groups we are about to consider, we find ingredients of great antiquity side by side with formulations or provisions which reflect the problems of a later age. Besides this, Israel was necessarily indebted to neighbouring cultures. There are some astonishing similarities between some of the clauses in the Code of the Covenant or in Deuteronomy and those in the Mesopotamian Codes, in the Collection of Assyrian Laws and in the Hittite Code. The likenesses are to be explained not by direct borrowing but by the influence of alien constitutions, or else by the existence of a common law partly shared by the peoples of the Near East in ancient times. Furthermore, after the Exodus, Canaanite practice exerted a strong influence on the formulation of laws and on the pattern of ritual worship.

The Decalogue, or the ‘Ten Words’ inscribed on the tablets at Sinai, lays down the fundamental law ― which is at once moral and religious ― of the Covenant. It is recorded in two places, Exodus 20: ―17 and Deuteronomy 5: 6―18, with not inconsiderable textual differences; these two texts derive from a primitive, shorter form against the Mosaic origin of which there is no cogent argument.

The (Elohistic) Code of the Covenant, Exodus 20: 22―23: 19, is the code of a community of shepherds and peasants and therefore suiited to Israel while still evolving towards nationhood and beginning to adopt an agricultural way of life. Compared with the Mesopotamian Codes which are of greater antiquity and reveal points of contact, the Code of the Covenant differs from them by its lack of complexity and by its preservation of certain archaic features. It comes down to us in a somewhat developed form as is shown by its interest in beasts of burden, in farming, in viticulture, in houses — all of which presupposes that the period of semi-nomadism was at an end; moreover, its two modes of expressing laws (imperative and hypothetical) point to the fact that the collection is composite. The Code as we have it possibly dates back to the time of the Judges.

The (Yahwistic) Code of Renewal of the Covenant, Ex 34:― 14―26, is sometimes called, somewhat inappropriately, the Second or Ritual Decalogue. It is a series of religious injunctions expressed in the imperative mood. It is contemporaneous with the Code of the Covenant but has been touched up under the influence of Deuteronomy.

Leviticus was not given its final form until after the Exile but it contains elements of the greatest antiquity: for example, the food laws, ch. 11, and the regulations governing legal purity,

ch. 13―15, are the legacy of a primitive age; similarly the ceremonial for the Day of Atonement, ch. 16, preserves an ancient purification ceremony overlaid by a highly developed concept of sin. Chapters 17―26 constitute a body of law commonly referred to as the Law of Holiness, this appears to have been drawn up in the closing years of the Monarchy.

The Deuteronomic Code (Dt 12―26) dates back to the same period. Its many ancient ingredients are assembled in rather haphazard fashion but it witnesses to a development in social and religious custom (e.g. the laws relating to the one and only sanctuary, to the altar, to tithes, to slaves); it also reveals that the religious outlook has undergone a change (cf. its tone of warm appeal and the note of exhortation in so many of its injunctions).


V The religious lesson


The religion of the Old Testament, like that of the New, is a historical religion: it is based on a divine revelation made to definite individuals at definite times and in definite circumstances, on the intervention of God in history at specific moments of our human story. The Pentateuch, which tells this tale of God’s dealings with the world, is the foundation stone of the Jewish religion; it became the canonical book par excellence, the Law of Israel.

In the Pentateuch the Israelite found the meaning of his destiny. Not only did he find, in the opening chapters of Genesis, an answer to the questions he shared with every man: the meaning of the world and of life, the problem of suffering and death, but he also found an answer to his own particular question: How is it that Yahweh, the only God, is the God of Israel; that among all the nations of the earth Israel should be his people?

The Pentateuch answers: because to Israel the divine promise was made. The Pentateuch is the Book of Promises: the promise made to Adam and Eve after their fall (the ‘Proto-evangel’, or first good news of the salvation to come), the promise of a new order of things made to Noah after the Deluge and, above all, the promise to Abraham and again to Isaac and Jacob, a promise that was to affect all their descendants. Israel was to occupy the land, the Land of Promise, where the patriarchs had lived. The promise indeed has this for its immediate object but its significance is deeper and its implications wider: by this promise a relationship is set up between Israel and the God of her Fathers, a relationship of special privilege and, indeed, unique.

In Yahweh’s call of Abraham his choice of Israel was already-foreshadowed. By an act of free choice, by a loving plan conceived from creation’s beginning and pursued despite all man’s waywardness, Yahweh formed a nation and made that nation his.

Choice and promise were confirmed by a covenant. If the Pentateuch is the Book of Promises, it is also the Book of Covenants. There is already a covenant with Adam, though there is no explicit mention of it; there is a covenant with Noah, with Abraham and — through the mediation of Moses — with the whole nation. It is not a pact concluded by two equals, since God has no need of pacts and the initiative lies wholly with him; nevertheless, God acknowledges its force and, in a certain sense, is committed to it by reason of the promises he makes. But in return he demands loyalty from his people: if Israel withholds this fidelity, if she sins, the bond may be broken that God’s love has made.

It is God himself who defines the terms of this fidelity by legislating for the nation he has chosen. His law makes known their duties to his people, regulates the nation’s life as God would have it, and by sustaining the Covenant paves the way for the fulfilment of the promises.



The Promise, the Choice, the Covenant, the Law — these are the golden threads, the warp and woof of the Pentateuch. They run through the rest of the Old Testament also, for the Pentateuch is not the end of the story: it tells of promise but not of fulfilment, since it ends before the entry into the Promised Land begins. Of its very nature it was no closed book because in the first place it is a book of trust in a promised future: when Canaan was conquered the promise might seem to be fulfilled, Joshua 23: 14, but fulfilment was destined to be thwarted by the nation’s sins and the promise remained a promise to comfort the exiles in Babylon. In the second place it is a book of an urgent and lasting law which was to endure in Israel as an ever-present witness against her, Deuteronomy 31: 26.

So it was until the coming of Christ, the one who gives this long story of salvation all its meaning because to him it was slowly making its obscure way. In Galatians 3: 15―29 especially, St Paul brings out the significance of that story. The covenants of the old regime were the rehearsals for Christ’s new Covenant in which the Christians, made by their faith heirs to Abraham, are by Christ made partakers. As for the Law, its function was to keep the promises intact; it was therefore like the guardian who takes the child to school — to Christ in whom those promises are fulfilled.

The Christian is no longer under the guardian, no longer bound by the Law’s observances; but he is not emancipated from its religious and moral teaching, for Christ did not come to do away with the Law, he came to bring it to perfection, Matthew 5: 17. The New Testament does not cancel the message of the Old but carries that message forward. In the great events of patriarchal and Mosaic times and in the Desert feastdays and ritual (the sacrifice of Isaac, the crossing of the Red Sea, the Passover, etc.) the Church sees the great realities of the New Law (the sacrifice of Christ, baptism, the Christian Easter). But this is not all: there is no fundamental difference between the religious response to which Israel was invited by the narratives of the Pentateuch, or impelled by its commands, and the response demanded by our Christian faith. There is a message here, too, for every Christian soul; each in its journey to God treads Israel’s path: it breaks with the old way of life, it suffers a time of testing, it emerges purified.

What method should we follow in reading the Pentateuch? Start by taking the narratives, and in order. In Genesis we shall notice how the lovingkindness of the creator contrasts with the ingratitude of his sinful creature; from the subsequent story of the patriarchs we shall learn that trustful faith has its reward; the Book of Exodus sets forth our own redemption in outline; Numbers shows us God instructing and admonishing his children in their time of trial and thus preparing his gathering of the elect. After this we may read Leviticus, either side by side with the concluding chapters of Ezekiel or after we have finished reading Ezra and Nehemiah; it is true that the one sacrifice of Christ has abrogated the Temple ceremonial but Leviticus also legislates for the purity and sanctity of those who serve God — and this is a lesson for all times. Deuteronomy may profitably be read with Jeremiah, who of all the prophets is closest to this book in time as in spirit.



The End.

[Site Under Construction]