In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Pentateuch

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Annotated Study Bibles
  • Dictionary Treatments
  • Old Testament Introductions
  • Bibliographies and Surveys of Scholarship
  • Collected Essays
  • Fragmentary, Supplementary, and Redaction Hypotheses
  • Tetrateuch, Pentateuch, Hexateuch, and Enneateuch
  • Form/Genre Criticism
  • Tradition History
  • Pentateuch and Law
  • Torah and Canon
  • Anthropology and Social Science
  • History and Israelite Religion
  • Diachronic Literary Studies
  • Synchronic Literary Studies
  • Theology

Biblical Studies Pentateuch
Thomas B. Dozeman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 September 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 September 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0092


The Pentateuch includes the first five books of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The literary category of the Pentateuch reflects the traditional Jewish grouping of these books together as the Torah. The thematic design of the five books of the Pentateuch can be divided into two unequal parts: Genesis and Exodus–Deuteronomy. Genesis traces the ancestral origins of Israel. It is composed in narrative, with no single character dominating the story. Genesis narrates the creation of the world (Genesis 1–11) and the ancestral origins of Israel (Genesis 12–50) through a series of genealogies that narrow from all humanity (2:4a, heaven and earth; 5:1, Adam; 6:9, Noah; 10:1, Noah’s sons; 11:10, Shem) to the Israelite ancestors (11:27, Terah; 25:12, Ishmael; 25:19, Isaac, 36:1, Esau; 37:2, Jacob). Exodus through Deuteronomy recounts the Israelite salvation from Egypt, the wilderness journey, and the revelation of law at the divine mountain. These books are a mixture of narrative and law, with Moses emerging as the central character. The story is framed by his birth (Exodus 2) and death (Deuteronomy 34) and recounts his leadership of the Israelites over two generation. Moses liberates the first generation of Israelites from Egypt (Exodus 5–14), leads them in the wilderness (Exodus 15–18; Numbers 11–21), and mediates divine law at the mountain of God. He repeats the revelation of law to the second generation on the plains of Moab (Deuteronomy).

General Overviews

Introductions to the Pentateuch vary in methodology, including a focus on classical source criticism (Rofé 1999, Campbell and O’Brien 1993), the exploration of new methods for interpreting the literary formation of the text (Blenkinsopp 1992, Ska 2006, Levin 2005), history of interpretation (Knight 1985), and a concentration on the present literary form (Whybray 1995, Mann 1988).

  • Blenkinsopp, Joseph. The Pentateuch: An Introduction to the First Five Books of the Bible. Anchor Bible Reference Library. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

    An influential introduction that reviews the history of modern interpretation, evaluates the present literary shape of the Pentateuch, summarizes the central literary features of the larger sections of the Pentateuch, and concludes with the identification of two bodies of literature in the formation of the Pentateuch: the Deuteronomic Canon and the Priestly History.

  • Campbell, Antony F., and Mark A. O’Brien. Sources of the Pentateuch: Texts, Introductions, Annotations. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993.

    An introduction to source criticism is followed by the distribution of the Pentateuchal text into the Priestly, Yahwistic, and Elohistic sources.

  • Knight, Douglas A. “Pentateuch.” In The Hebrew Bible and Its Modern Interpreters. Edited by Douglas A. Knight and Gene M. Tucker, 263–296. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985.

    A concise introduction to the history of modern interpretation and the main literary features of the Pentateuch.

  • Levin, Christoph. The Old Testament: A Brief Introduction. Translated by Margaret Kohl. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

    A concise synopsis of recent trends in Pentateuchal research to locate the primary formation of the literature to the exilic and postexilic periods.

  • Mann, Thomas W. The Book of the Torah: The Narrative Integrity of the Pentateuch. Atlanta: John Knox, 1988.

    The introduction focuses exclusively on the literary structure of the major sections of the Pentateuch, with a brief closing reflection on the meaning of Torah.

  • Rofé, Alexander. Introduction to the Composition of the Pentateuch. Translated by Harvey N. Bock. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999.

    A clear and careful presentation of historical-critical methodology, the documentary hypothesis, critics of the theory, and its influence in the interpretation of the Pentateuch.

  • Ska, Jean-Louis. Introduction to Reading the Pentateuch. Translated by Pascale Dominique. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2006.

    The most current introduction to the Pentateuch in English. Ska examines the literary context of the Pentateuch (Tetrateuch, Pentateuch, Hexateuch, Enneateuch), the basic structure of the five books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), and the literary problems of legal and narrative texts. The volume also includes a survey of past research, recent developments in Pentateuchal study, and an evaluation of the social context in which the literature was written.

  • Whybray, R. N. Introduction to the Pentateuch. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995.

    A brief introduction that defines the scope, composition, and authorship of the Pentateuch, before a summary of the major literary sections of the five books. The introduction concludes with a chapter on law and a hermeneutical reflection on the reading of the Pentateuch.

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