1.1 Introduction

The 5 books of Moses were probably originally one single book and as Torah (law) they are the basis of the faith of the Jewish people. The Torah is, so to speak, the basic law of the holy covenant of God with His people and as such, a gift of God to Israel (and the world!).

Through Jesus’ argument with the Pharisees about the law, and also through Paul’s letters, it has often become associated with a rather negative connotation among Christians. We should free ourselves from that. The Jews, at any rate, rightly celebrate the “joy of the law.” For the laws are not meant to be God’s paternalism or oppression of man, but the conditions of his being made in the image of God and of his freedom. The Ten Commandments are the “fence of freedom” that stretches far around the habitable terrain and warns against falling into endangered territory. 

On the source problem: The obligatory Bible study of Westermann presupposes the view held today by the vast majority of theologians that the Pentateuch draws from various sources called Jahvist and Elohist after the use of the name of God, as well as from the so-called Priestly Scriptures and in some texts the so-called Deuteronomist. This represents a scientific theory and not a statement of faith. It can be helpful for the understanding of some texts, because with it many passages become easily understandable, which otherwise would be hardly explainable or would lead to problems. A good example for this is the report of the Flood Gen. 6f. However, it can also easily lead astray. 

For some theologians overshoot the mark considerably: If an Old Testament text is declared to be a patchwork quilt of a handful of different sources and redactional layers, then such an attempt to distinguish sources obscures more than it illuminates. This also applies to the assumption of additional sources such as N or L or the assumed Deuteronomistic revision of many OT texts. Puzzle-like attribution of individual verses to hypothetical individual sources borders on gimmickry at times. A sad example of a failed distinction of sources is the attempt to make Ps. 19 an Elohistic and a Yahvistic psalm. This only destroys its inner context, and the psalm loses its deeper meaning. Here, too, the scripture does not want to be mastered.

In any case, it remains to be said that a clear distinction must be made between faith on the one hand and scientific theories on the other. Scientific theories, also those of theologians, do change. That is no harm, but should not affect faith. Westermann, for example, has since corrected his initial view that the story of Joseph is composed of several sources, and now takes the view that it is from a single source. It is quite possible to have a controversial discussion about this without denying each other the right faith.  

Another example: In the 1960s, Bible Overview taught as a matter of course that there were only 11 minor prophets. The prophet Malachi was only formed from the last three chapters of Zechariah because of the number of twelve. Today, even among historical-critical theologians, Malachi is again regarded as an independent prophet. Even in scientific theology there is only water boiling. 

An often underestimated danger of the source-oriented approach, however, is that one unwittingly gets into literary-scientific waters from which it is difficult to get out. A biblical text is then viewed almost exclusively from a literary-historical point of view. The pastor becomes a scripture scholar and classical philologist who juggles with text modules in a virtuoso manner instead of interpreting Scripture. In this way, university theology widely views a biblical text only as a literary product and examines it for literary dependencies. However, the events reported in the Bible are real lived lives and actual encounters with God, and not literary dependencies. 

One should not simply demonize source discernment, it can be very helpful. However, one should be very vigilant that one does not get stuck in a lane from which it is difficult to get out again. 

Some theologians hold to the authorship of Moses for the entire Pentateuch. This is possible, but it is not based on a biblical statement, but on old Jewish-Christian tradition. There is no doubt that the core of the Pentateuch goes back to Moses himself, there is no question about that. But one can certainly have different opinions about whether this is also true for the whole Pentateuch. In any case, since this has no support in the Bible itself, it seems very bold to say that a denial of Moses’ overall authorship calls into question the credibility of the Bible. (Ellison, p. 22). 

Other theologians (e.g. Dohme, p. 10f) point out that in earlier times there was less “author literature” in the modern sense than so-called “tradition literature“: The interpretation and updating of texts by an author did not take place separately alongside the original texts, as is the case today, but was written into them, so that the books grew over centuries. 

In the Jewish-Christian tradition, the Psalms are regarded as the “Psalter of David”, although they also contain Psalms of Solomon, Asaph, Korah and Psalms without names. 

A very rough overview of the Pentateuch is given in the following overview:

Book Chapter Content Chapter Story
Genesis 1-12 Prehistory 1 Creation I
2.4 Creation II
3 Fall of Man
4 Cain and Abel
6 Flood
9 God’s Covenant with Noah
11 Tower of Babel
12-50 Fathers Story
12-25 Abraham’s Stories 12 Blessing nd covenant with Abram
18 Visit to Mamre
19 Sodom and Gomorrah
22 Sacrifice of Isaac
25-50 Jacob – Esau – History 27 First Birth Blessing
28 Heavenly Ladder
32 Wrestling at Jabbok
37-50 Joseph’s Narrative 46 Jacob in Egypt and Death
Exodus 1 Egypt 7 Plagues
12 passover
14 Red Sea 15 Mariam Song
16 Quails and Manna
(Continuation of the wilderness wandering: Num.10!) 
19 Sinai 20 Decalogue
21 Federal book
24 Law on the Tablets
25 Priests’ Law I
32 Golden Calf
34 Theophany and new tablets of the law
35 Priests’ Law I
Leviticus 1 Priests’ Law II 1 Victims
17 Sanctity Law
Numbers 1 Counting and order 
3 Priests’ Law III
10 Continuation of wandering in the wilderness. 13 Spys: Transition to the land
20 Taking the land in east bank 22-24 Balaam
Deuteronomy 1 Introductory Speeches 1 Review of the desert walk
5 Repetition
12-26 “Deuteronomistic law”
27 Closing Speeches: 27  Exhortations, blessings and curses
31 Conclusions of the Pentateuch 32 Song of Moses

Note: Often only the chapter numbers are given at the beginning of a section in order to make the list more clear. The indented individual chapters indicate only those biblical passages that are important for theology and practice.