Introduction to the Old Testament by John Edgar McFadyen

This eBook was produced by Anne Folland, Tiffany Vergon, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team INTRODUCTION TO THE OLD TESTAMENT By JOHN EDGAR McFADYEN, M.A. (Glas.) B.A. (Oxon.) _Professor of Old Testament Literature and Exegesis, Knox College, Toronto_ To My Pupils Past and Present PREFACE This _Introduction_ does not pretend to offer anything
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This eBook was produced by Anne Folland, Tiffany Vergon, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team



JOHN EDGAR McFADYEN, M.A. (Glas.) B.A. (Oxon.)

_Professor of Old Testament Literature and Exegesis, Knox College, Toronto_

To My Pupils Past and Present


This _Introduction_ does not pretend to offer anything to specialists. It is written for theological students, ministers, and laymen, who desire to understand the modern attitude to the Old Testament as a whole, but who either do not have the time or the inclination to follow the details on which all thorough study of it must ultimately rest. These details are intricate, often perplexing, and all but innumerable, and the student is in danger of failing to see the wood for the trees. This _Introduction_, therefore, concentrates attention only on the more salient features of the discussion. No attempt has been made, for example, to relegate every verse in the Pentateuch[1] to its documentary source; but the method of attacking the Pentateuchal problem has been presented, and the larger documentary divisions indicated.
[Footnote 1: Pentateuch and Hexateuch are used in this volume to indicate the first five and the first six books of the Old Testament respectively, without reference to any critical theory. As the first five books form a natural division by themselves, and as their literary sources are continued not only into Joshua, but probably beyond it, it is as legitimate to speak of the Pentateuch as of the Hexateuch.]

It is obvious, therefore, that the discussions can in no case be exhaustive; such treatment can only be expected in commentaries to the individual books. While carefully considering all the more important alternatives, I have usually contented myself with presenting the conclusion which seemed to me most probable; and I have thought it better to discuss each case on its merits, without referring expressly and continually to the opinions of English and foreign scholars.

In order to bring the discussion within the range of those who have no special linguistic equipment, I have hardly ever cited Greek or Hebrew words, and never in the original alphabets. For a similar reason, the verses are numbered, not as in the Hebrew, but as in the English Bible. I have sought to make the discussion read continuously, without distracting the attention–excepting very occasionally-by foot-notes or other devices.

Above all things, I have tried to be interesting. Critical discussions are too apt to divert those who pursue them from the absorbing human interest of the Old Testament. Its writers were men of like hopes and fears and passions with ourselves, and not the least important task of a sympathetic scholarship is to recover that humanity which speaks to us in so many portions and so many ways from the pages of the Old Testament. While we must never allow ourselves to forget that the Old Testament is a voice from the ancient and the Semitic world, not a few parts of it–books, for example, like Job and Ecclesiastes–are as modern as the book that was written yesterday.

But, first and last, the Old Testament is a religious book; and an _Introduction_ to it should, in my opinion, introduce us not only to its literary problems, but to its religious content. I have therefore usually attempted–briefly, and not in any homiletic spirit–to indicate the religious value and significance of its several books.

There may be readers who would here and there have desiderated a more confident tone, but I have deliberately refrained from going further than the facts seemed to warrant. The cause of truth is not served by unwarranted assertions; and the facts are often so difficult to concatenate that dogmatism becomes an impertinence. Those who know the ground best walk the most warily. But if the old confidence has been lost, a new confidence has been won. Traditional opinions on questions of date and authorship may have been shaken or overturned, but other and greater things abide; and not the least precious is that confidence, which can now justify itself at the bar of the most rigorous scientific investigation, that, in a sense altogether unique, the religion of Israel is touched by the finger of God.










































In the English Bible the books of the Old Testament are arranged, not in the order in which they appear in the Hebrew Bible, but in that assigned to them by the Greek translation. In this translation the various books are grouped according to their contents–first the historical books, then the poetic, and lastly the prophetic. This order has its advantages, but it obscures many important facts of which the Hebrew order preserves a reminiscence. The Hebrew Bible has also three divisions, known respectively as the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. _The Law_ stands for the Pentateuch. _The Prophets_ are subdivided into (i) the former prophets, that is, the historical books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, regarded as four in number; and (ii) the latter prophets, that is, the prophets proper–Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve (i.e. the Minor Prophets). _The Writings_ designate all the rest of the books, usually in the following order–Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles.

It would somewhat simplify the scientific study even of the English Bible, if the Hebrew order could be restored, for it is in many ways instructive and important. It reveals the unique and separate importance of the Pentateuch; it suggests that the historical books from Joshua to Kings are to be regarded not only as histories, but rather as the illustration of prophetic principles; it raises a high probability that Ruth ought not to be taken with Judges, nor Lamentations with Jeremiah, nor Daniel with the prophets. It can be proved that the order of the divisions represents the order in which they respectively attained canonical importance–the law before 400 B.C., the prophets about 200 B.C., the writings about 100 B.C.–and, generally speaking, the latest books are in the last division. Thus we are led to suspect a relatively late origin for the Song and Ecclesiastes, and Chronicles, being late, will not be so important a historical authority as Kings. The facts suggested by the Hebrew order and confirmed by a study of the literature are sufficient to justify the adoption of that order in preference to that of the English Bible.


The Old Testament opens very impressively. In measured and dignified language it introduces the story of Israel’s origin and settlement upon the land of Canaan (Gen.–Josh.) by the story of creation, i.-ii. 4_a_, and thus suggests, at the very beginning, the far-reaching purpose and the world-wide significance of the people and religion of Israel. The narrative has not travelled far till it becomes apparent that its dominant interests are to be religious and moral; for, after a pictorial sketch of man’s place and task in the world, and of his need of woman’s companionship, ii. 4_b_-25, it plunges at once into an account, wonderful alike in its poetic power and its psychological insight, of the tragic and costly[1] disobedience by which the divine purpose for man was at least temporarily frustrated (iii.). His progress in history is, morally considered, downward. Disobedience in the first generation becomes murder in the next, and it is to the offspring of the violent Cain that the arts and amenities of civilization are traced, iv. 1-22. Thus the first song in the Old Testament is a song of revenge, iv. 23, 24, though this dark background of cruelty is not unlit by a gleam of religion, iv. 26. After the lapse of ten generations (v.) the world had grown so corrupt that God determined to destroy it by a flood; but because Noah was a good man, He saved him and his household and resolved never again to interrupt the course of nature in judgment (vi.-viii.). In establishing the covenant with Noah, emphasis is laid on the sacredness of blood, especially of the blood of man, ix. 1-17. Though grace abounds, however, sin also abounds. Noah fell, and his fall revealed the character of his children: the ancestor of the Semites, from whom the Hebrews sprang, is blessed, as is also Japheth, while the ancestor of the licentious Canaanites is cursed, ix. 18-27. From these three are descended the great families of mankind (x.) whose unity was confounded and whose ambitions were destroyed by the creation of diverse languages, xi. 1-9.
[Footnote 1: Death is the penalty (iii. 22-24). Another explanation of how death came into the world is given in the ancient and interesting fragment vi. 1-4.]

It is against this universal background that the story of the Hebrews is thrown; and in the new beginning which history takes with the call of Abraham, something like the later contrast between the church and the world is intended to be suggested. Upon the sombreness of human history as reflected in Gen. i.-xi., a new possibility breaks in Gen. xii., and the rest of the book is devoted to the fathers of the Hebrew people (xii.-l.). The most impressive figure from a religious point of view is Abraham, the oldest of them all, and the story of his discipline is told with great power, xi. 10-xxv. 10. He was a Semite, xi. 10-32, and under a divine impulse he migrated westward to Canaan, xii. 1-9.

There various fortunes befell him–famine which drove him to Egypt, peril through the beauty of his wife,[1] abounding and conspicuous prosperity–but through it all Abraham displayed a true magnanimity and enjoyed the divine favour, xii. 10-xiii., which was manifested even in a striking military success (xiv.). Despite this favour, however, he grew despondent, as he had no child. But there came to him the promise of a son, confirmed by a covenant (xv.), the symbol of which was to be circumcision (xvii.); and Abraham trusted God, unlike his wife, whose faith was not equal to the strain, and who sought the fulfilment of the promise in foolish ways of her own,[2] xvi., xviii. 1-15. Then follows the story of Abraham’s earnest but ineffectual intercession for the wicked cities of the plain–a story which further reminds us how powerfully the narrative is controlled by moral and religious interests, xviii. 16-xix. Faith is rewarded at last by the birth of a son, xxi. 1-7, and Abraham’s prosperity becomes so conspicuous that a native prince is eager to make a treaty with him, xxi. 22-34. The supreme test of his faith came to him in the impulse to offer his son to God in sacrifice; but at the critical moment a substitute was providentially provided, and Abraham’s faith, which had stood so terrible a test, was rewarded by another renewal of the divine assurance (xxii.). His wife died, and for a burial-place he purchased from the natives a field and cave in Hebron, thus winning in the promised land ground he could legally call his own (xxiii). Among his eastern kinsfolk a wife is providentially found for Isaac (xxiv.), who becomes his father’s heir, xxv. 1-6. Then Abraham dies, xxv. 7-11, and the uneventful career of Isaac is briefly described in tales that partly duplicate[3] those told of his greater father, xxv. 7-xxvi. [Footnote 1: This story (xii. 10-20) is duplicated in xx.; also in xxvi. 1-11 (of Isaac).]
[Footnote 2: The story of the expulsion of Hagar in xvi. is duplicated in xxi. 8-21.]
[Footnote 3: xxvi. 1-11=xii. 10-20 (xx.); xxvi. 26-33=xxi. 22-34.]

The story of Isaac’s son Jacob is as varied and romantic as his own was uneventful. He begins by fraudulently winning a blessing from his father, and has in consequence to flee the promised land, xxvii.-xxviii. 9. On the threshold of his new experiences he was taught in a dream the nearness of heaven to earth, and received the assurance that the God who had visited him at Bethel would be with him in the strange land and bring him back to his own, xxviii. 10-22. In the land of his exile, his fortunes ran a very checkered course (xxix.-xxxi.). In Laban, his Aramean kinsman, he met his match, and almost his master, in craft; and the initial fraud of his life was more than once punished in kind. In due time, however, he left the land of his sojourn, a rich and prosperous man. But his discipline is not over when he reaches the homeland. The past rises up before him in the person of the brother whom he had wronged; and besides reckoning with Esau, he has also to wrestle with God. He is embroiled in strife with the natives of the land, and he loses his beloved Rachel (xxxii.-xxxv.).

Into the later years of Jacob is woven the most romantic story of all–that of his son Joseph (xxxvii.-l.)[1] the dreamer, who rose through persecution and prison, slander and sorrow (xxxvii.-xl.) to a seat beside the throne of Pharaoh (xli.). Nowhere is the providence that governs life and the Nemesis that waits upon sin more dramatically illustrated than in the story of Joseph. Again and again his guilty brothers are compelled to confront the past which they imagined they had buried out of sight for ever (xlii.-xliv.). But at last comes the gracious reconciliation between Joseph and them (xlv.), the tender meeting between Jacob and Joseph (xlvi.), the ultimate settlement of the family of Jacob in Egypt,[2] and the consequent transference of interest to that country for several generations. The book closes with scenes illustrating the wisdom and authority of Joseph in the time of famine (xlvii.), the dying Jacob blessing Joseph’s sons (xlviii.), his parting words (in verse) to all his sons (xlix.), his death and funeral honours, l. 1-14, Joseph’s magnanimous forgiveness of his brothers, and his death, in the sure hope that God would one day bring the Israelites back again to the land of Canaan, l. 15-26. [Footnote 1: xxxvi. deals with the Edomite clans, and xxxviii. with the clans of Judah.]
[Footnote 2: In one version they are not exactly in Egypt, but near it, in Goshen (xlvii. 6).]

The unity of the book of Genesis is unmistakable; yet a close inspection reveals it to be rather a unity of idea than of execution. While in general it exhibits the gradual progress of the divine purpose on its way through primeval and patriarchal history, in detail it presents a number of phenomena incompatible with unity of authorship. The theological presuppositions of different parts of the book vary widely; centuries of religious thought, for example, must lie between the God who partakes of the hospitality of Abraham under a tree (xviii.) and the majestic, transcendent, invisible Being at whose word the worlds are born (i.). The style, too, differs as the theological conceptions do: it is impossible not to feel the difference between the diffuse, precise, and formal style of ix. 1-17, and the terse, pictorial and poetic manner of the immediately succeeding section, ix. 18-27. Further, different accounts are given of the origin of particular names or facts: Beersheba is connected, e.g. with a treaty made, in one case, between Abraham and Abimelech, xxi. 31, in another, between Isaac and Abimelech, xxvi. 33. But perhaps the most convincing proof that the book is not an original literary unit is the lack of inherent continuity in the narrative of special incidents, and the occasional inconsistencies, sometimes between different parts of the book, sometimes even within the same section.

This can be most simply illustrated from the story of the Flood (vi. 5ff.), through which the beginner should work for himself-at first without suggestions from critical commentaries or introductions–as here the analysis is easy and singularly free from complications; the results reached upon this area can be applied and extended to the rest of the book. The problem might be attacked in some such way as follows. Ch. vi. 5-8 announces the wickedness of man and the purpose of God to destroy him; throughout these verses the divine Being is called Jehovah.[1] In the next section, _vv_. 9-13, He is called by a different name–God (Hebrew, _Elohim_)–and we cannot but notice that this section adds nothing to the last; _vv_. 9, 10 are an interruption, and _vv_. 11-13 but a repetition of _vv_. 5-8. Corresponding to the change in the divine name is a further change in the vocabulary, the word for _destroy_ being different in _vv_. 7 and 13. Verses 14-22 continue the previous section with precise and minute instructions for the building of the ark, and in the later verses (cf. 18, 20) the precision tends to become diffuseness. The last verse speaks of the divine Being as God (Elohim), so that both the language and contents of _vv_. 9-22 show it to be a homogeneous section. Note that here, _vv_. 19, 20, two animals of every kind are to be taken into the ark, no distinction being drawn between the clean and the unclean. Noah must now be in the ark; for we are told that he had done all that God commanded him, _vv_. 22, 18. [Footnote 1: Wrongly represented by _the Lord_ in the English version; the American Revised Version always correctly renders by _Jehovah_. _God_ in v. 5 is an unfortunate mistake of A.V. This ought also to be _the Lord_, or rather _Jehovah_.]

But, to our surprise, ch. vii. starts the whole story afresh with a divine command to Noah to enter the ark; and this time, significantly enough, a distinction is made between the clean and the unclean-seven pairs of the former to enter and one pair of the latter (vii. 2). It is surely no accident that in this section the name of the divine Being is Jehovah, _vv_. 1, 5; and its contents follow naturally on vi. 5-8. In other words we have here, not a continuous account, but two parallel accounts, one of which uses the name God, the other Jehovah, for the divine Being. This important conclusion is put practically beyond all doubt by the similarity between vi. 22 and vii. 5, which differ only in the use of the divine name. A close study of the characteristics of these sections whose origin is thus certain will enable us approximately to relegate to their respective sources other sections, verses, or fragments of verses in which the important clue, furnished by the name of the divine Being, is not present. Any verse, or group of verses, e.g. involving the distinction between the clean and the unclean, will belong to the _Jehovistic_ source, as it is called (J). This is the real explanation of the confusion which every one feels who attempts to understand the story as a unity. It was always particularly hard to reconcile the apparently conflicting estimates of the duration of the Flood; but as soon as the sources are separated, it becomes clear that, according to the Jehovist, it lasted sixty-eight days, according to the other source over a year (vii. 11, viii. 14).

Brief as the Flood story is, it furnishes us with material enough to study the characteristic differences between the sources out of which it is composed. The Jehovist is terse, graphic, and poetic; it is this source in which occurs the fine description of the sending forth of the raven and the dove, viii. 6-12. It knows how to make a singularly effective use of concrete details: witness Noah putting out his hand and pulling the dove into the ark, and her final return with an olive leaf in her mouth. A similarly graphic touch, interesting also for the sidelight it throws on the Jehovist’s theological conceptions is that, when Noah entered the ark, “Jehovah closed the door behind him,” vii. 16. Altogether different is the other source. It is all but lacking in poetic touches and concrete detail of this kind, and such an anthropomorphism as vii. 16 would be to it impossible. It is pedantically precise, giving the exact year, month, and even day when the Flood came, vii. 11, and when it ceased, viii. 13, 14. There is a certain legal precision about it which issues in diffuseness and repetition; over and over again occur such phrases as “fowl, cattle, creeping things, each after its kind,” vi. 20, vii. 14, and the dimensions of the ark are accurately given. Where J had simply said, “Thou and all thy house,” vii. 1, this source says, “Thou and thy sons and thy wife and thy sons’ wives with thee,” vi. 18. From the identity of interest and style between this source and the middle part of the Pentateuch, notably Leviticus, it is characterized as the priestly document and known to criticism as P.

Thus, though the mainstay of the analysis, or at least the original point of departure, is the difference in the names of the divine Being, many other phenomena, of vocabulary, style, and theology, are so distinctive that on the basis of them alone we could relegate many sections of Genesis with considerable confidence to their respective sources. In particular, P is especially easy to detect. For example, the use of the term Elohim, the repetitions, the precise and formal manner, the collocation of such phrases as “fowl, cattle, creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth,” i. 26 (cf. vii. 21), mark out the first story of creation, i.-ii. 4_a_, as indubitably belonging to P. Besides the stories of the creation and the flood, the longest and most important, though not quite the only passages[1] belonging to P are ix. 1-17 (the covenant with Noah), xvii. (the covenant with Abraham), and xxiii. (the purchase of a burial place for Sarah). This is a fact of the greatest significance. For P, the story of creation culminates in the institution of the Sabbath, the story of the flood in the covenant with Noah, with the law concerning the sacredness of blood, the covenant with Abraham is sealed by circumcision, and the purchase of Machpelah gives Abraham legal right to a footing in the promised land. In other words the interests of this source are legal and ritual. This becomes abundantly plain in the next three books of the Pentateuch, but even in Genesis it may be justly inferred from the unusual fulness of the narrative at these four points.
[Footnote 1: The curious ch. xiv. is written under the influence of P. Here also ritual interests play a part in the tithes paid to the priest of Salem, v. 20 (i.e. Jerusalem). In spite of its array of ancient names, xiv. 1, 2, which have been partially corroborated by recent discoveries, this chapter is, for several reasons, believed to be one of the latest in the Pentateuch.]

When we examine what is left in Genesis, after deducting the sections that belong to P, we find that the word God (Elohim), characteristic of P, is still very frequently and in some sections exclusively used. The explanation will appear when we come to deal with Exodus: meantime the fact must be carefully noted. Ch. xx., e.g., uses the word Elohim, but it has no other mark characteristic of P. It is neither formal nor diffuse in style nor legal in spirit; it is as concrete and almost as graphic as anything in J. Indeed the story related–Abraham’s denial of his wife–is actually told in that document, xii. 10-20 (also of Isaac, xxvi. 1-11); and in general the history is covered by this document, which is called the Elohist[1] and known to criticism as E, in much the same spirit, and with an emphasis upon much the same details, as by J. In opposition to P, these are known as the prophetic documents, because they were written or at least put together under the influence of prophetic ideas. The close affinity of these two documents renders it much more difficult to distinguish them from each other than to distinguish either of them from P, but within certain limits the attempt may be successfully made. The basis of it must, of course, be a study of the duplicate versions of the same incidents; that is, such a narrative as ch. xx., which uses the word God (Elohim) is compared with its parallel in xii. 10-20, which uses the word Jehovah, and in this way the distinctive features and interests of each document will most readily be found. The parallel suggested is easy and instructive, and it reveals the relative ethical and theological superiority of E to J. J tells the story of Abraham’s falsehood with a quaint naïveté (xii.); E is offended by it and excuses it (xx.). The theological refinement of E is suggested not only here, xx. 3, 6, but elsewhere, by the frequency with which God appears in dreams and not in bodily presence as in J (cf. iii. 8). Similarly the expulsion of Hagar, which in J is due to Sarah’s jealousy (xvi.), in E is attributed to a command of God, xxi. 8-21; and the success of Jacob with the sheep, which in J is due to his skill and cunning, xxx. 29-43, is referred in E to the intervention of God, xxxi. 5-12. In general it may be said that J, while religious, is also natural, whereas E tends to emphasize the supernatural, and thus takes the first step towards the austere theology of P.[2]
[Footnote 1: In this way it is distinguished from P, which, as we have seen, is also Elohistic, but is not now so called.] [Footnote 2: A detailed justification of the grounds of the critical analysis will be found in Professor Driver’s elaborate and admirable _Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament_, where every section throughout the Hexateuch is referred to its special documentary source. To readers who desire to master the detail, that work or one of the following will be indispensable: _The Hexateuch_, edited by Carpenter and Battersby, Addis’s _Documents of the Hexateuch_, Bacon’s _Genesis of Genesis_ and _Triple Tradition of the Exodus_, or Kent’s _Student’s Old Testament_ (vol. i.)]

J is the most picturesque and fascinating of all the sources-attractive alike for its fine poetic power and its profound religious insight. This is the source which describes the wooing of Isaac’s bride (xxiv.), and the meeting of Jacob and Rachel at the well, xxix. 2-14; in this source, too, which appears to be the most primitive of all, there are speaking animals–the serpent, e.g., in Genesis iii. (and the ass in Num. xxii. 28). The story of the origin of sin, in every respect a masterpiece, is told by J; we do not know whether to admire more the ease with which Jehovah, like a skilful judge, by a few penetrating questions drives the guilty pair to an involuntary confession, or the fidelity with which the whole immortal scene reflects the eternal facts of human nature. The religious teaching of J is extraordinarily powerful and impressive, all the more that it is never directly didactic; it shines through the simple and unstudied recital of concrete incident.

It is one of the most delicate and not the least important tasks of criticism to discover by analysis even the sources which lie so close to each other as J and E, for the literary efforts represented by these documents are but the reflection of religious movements. They testify to the affection which the people cherished for the story of their past; and when we have arranged them in chronological order, they enable us further, as we have seen, to trace the progress of moral and religious ideas. But, for several reasons, it is not unfair, and, from the beginner’s point of view, it is perhaps even advisable, to treat these documents together as a unity: _firstly_, because they were actually combined, probably in the seventh century, into a unity (JE), and sometimes, as in the Joseph story, so skilfully that it is very difficult to distinguish the component parts and assign them to their proper documentary source; _secondly_, because, for a reason to be afterwards stated, beyond Ex. iii. the analysis is usually supremely difficult; and, _lastly_, because in language and spirit, the prophetic documents are very like each other and altogether unlike the priestly document. For practical purposes, then, the broad distinction into prophetic and priestly will generally be sufficient. Wherever the narrative is graphic, powerful, and interesting, we may be sure that it is prophetic,[1] whereas the priestly document is easily recognizable by its ritual interests, and by its formal, diffuse, and legal style. [Footnote 1: If inconsistencies, contradictions or duplicates appear in the section which is clearly prophetic, the student may be practically certain that these are to be referred to the two prophetic sources. Cf. the two derivations of the name of Joseph in consecutive verses whose source is at once obvious: “_God_ (Elohim) has taken away my reproach” (E); and “_Jehovah_ adds to me another son” (J), Gen. xxx. 23, 24. Cf. also the illustrations adduced on pp. 13, 14.]

The documents already discussed constitute the chief sources of the book of Genesis; but there are occasional fragments which do not seem originally to have belonged to any of them. There were also collections of poetry, such as the Book of Jashar (cf. Josh. x. 13; 2 Sam. i. 18), at the disposal of those who wrote or compiled the documents, and to such a collection the parting words of Jacob may have belonged (xlix.). The poem is in reality a characterization of the various _tribes; v_. 15, and still more plainly _vv_. 23, 24, look back upon historical events. The reference to Levi, _vv_. 5-7, which takes no account of the priestly prerogatives of that tribe, shows that the poem is early (cf. xxxiv. 25); but the description of the prosperity of Joseph (i.e. Ephraim and Manasseh), _vv_. 22-26, and the pre-eminence of Judah, _vv_. 8-12, bring it far below patriarchal times–at least into the period of the Judges. If _vv_. 8-12 is an allusion to the triumphs of David and _vv_. 22-26 to northern Israel, the poem as a whole, which can hardly be later than Solomon’s time–for it celebrates Israel and Judah equally–could not be earlier than David’s; but probably the various utterances concerning the different tribes arose at different times.

The religious interest of Genesis is very high, the more so as almost every stage of religious reflection is represented in it, from the most primitive to the most mature. Through the ancient stories there gleam now and then flashes from a mythological background, as in the intermarriage of angels with mortal women, vi. 1-4, or in the struggle of the mighty Jacob, who could roll away the great stone from the mouth of the well, xxix. 2, 10, with his supernatural visitant, xxxii. 24. It is a long step from the second creation story in which God, like a potter, fashions men out of moist earth, ii. 7, and walks in the garden of Paradise in the cool of the day, iii. 8, to the first, with its sublime silence on the mysterious processes of creation (i.). But the whole book, and especially the prophetic section, is dominated by a splendid sense of the reality of God, His interest in men, His horror of sin, His purpose to redeem. Broadly speaking, the religion of the book stands upon a marvellously high moral level. It is touched with humility-its heroes know that they are “not worth of all the love and the faithfulness” which God shows them, xxxii. 10; and it is marked by a true inwardness-for it is not works but implicit trust in God that counts for righteousness, xv. 16. Yet in practical ways, too, this religion finds expression in national and individual life; it protests vehemently against human sacrifice (xxii.), and it strengthens a lonely youth in an hour of terrible temptation, xxxix.


The book of Exodus–so named in the Greek version from the march of Israel out of Egypt–opens upon a scene of oppression very different from the prosperity and triumph in which Genesis had closed. Israel is being cruelly crushed by the new dynasty which has arisen in Egypt (i.) and the story of the book is the story of her redemption. Ultimately it is Israel’s God that is her redeemer, but He operates largely by human means; and the first step is the preparation of a deliverer, Moses, whose parentage, early training, and fearless love of justice mark him out as the coming man (ii.). In the solitude and depression of the desert, he is encouraged by the sight of a bush, burning yet unconsumed, and sent forth with a new vision of God[1] upon his great and perilous task (iii.). Though thus divinely equipped, he hesitated, and God gave him a helper in Aaron his brother (iv.). Then begins the Titanic struggle between Moses and Pharaoh–Moses the champion of justice, Pharaoh the incarnation of might (v.). Blow after blow falls from Israel’s God upon the obstinate king of Egypt and his unhappy land: the water of the Nile is turned into blood (vii.), there are plagues of frogs, gnats, gadflies (viii.), murrain, boils, hail (ix.), locusts, darkness (x.), and–last and most terrible of all–the smiting of the first-born, an event in connexion with which the passover was instituted. Then Pharaoh yielded. Israel went forth; and the festival of unleavened bread was ordained for a perpetual memorial (xi., xii.); also the first-born of man and beast was consecrated, xiii. 1-16. [Footnote 1: The story of the revelation of Israel’s God under His new name, Jehovah, is told twice (in ch. iii. and ch. vi.).]

Israel’s troubles, however, were not yet over. Their departing host was pursued by the impenitent Pharaoh, but miraculously delivered at the Red Sea, in which the Egyptian horses and horsemen were overwhelmed, xiii. l7-xiv. The deliverance was celebrated in a splendid song of triumph, xv. 1-21. Then they began their journey to Sinai–a journey which revealed alike the faithlessness and discontent of their hearts, and the omnipotent and patient bounty of their God, manifested in delivering them from the perils of hunger, thirst and war, xv. 22-xvii. 16. On the advice of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, God-fearing men were appointed to decide for the people on all matters of lesser moment, while the graver cases were still reserved for Moses (xviii.)[1]The arrival at Sinai marked a crisis; for it was there that the epoch-making covenant was made–Jehovah promising to continue His grace to the people, and they, on their part, pledging themselves to obedience. Thunder and lightning and dark storm-clouds accompanied the proclamation of the ten commandments,[2] which represented the claims made by Jehovah upon the people whom He had redeemed, xix.-xx. 22. Connected with these claims are certain statutes, partly of a religious but much more of a civil nature, which Moses is enjoined to lay upon the people, and obedience to which is to be rewarded by prosperity and a safe arrival at the promised land, xx. 23-xxiii. 33. This section is known as the Book of the Covenant, xxiv. 7. The people unitedly promised implicit obedience to the terms of this covenant, which was then sealed with the blood of sacrifice. After six days of preparation, Moses ascended the mountain in obedience to the voice of Jehovah (xxiv.).
[Footnote 1: This chapter is apparently misplaced. In Deut. i. 9-18 the incident is set just before the _departure from_ Sinai (cf. i. 19). It may therefore originally have stood after Ex. xxxiv. 9 or before Num. x. 29.]
[Footnote 2: Or rather, the ten words. In another source, the commands are given differently, and are ritual rather than moral, xxxiv. 10-28 (J).]

At this point the story takes on a distinctly priestly complexion, and interest is transferred from the fortunes of the people to the construction of the sanctuary, for which the most minute directions are given (xxv.-xxxi.), concerning the tabernacle with all its furniture, the ark, the table for the shewbread, the golden candlestick (xxv.), the four-fold covering for the tabernacle, the wood-work, the veil between the holy and the most holy place, the curtain for the door (xxvi.), the altar, the court round about the tabernacle, the oil for the light (xxvii.), the sacred vestments for the high priest and the other priests (xxviii.), the manner of consecration of the priests, the priestly dues, the atonement for the altar, the morning and evening offering (xxix.), the altar of incense, the poll-tax, the laver, the holy oil, the incense (xxx.), the names and divine equipment of the overseers of the work of constructing the tabernacle, the sanctity of the Sabbath as a sign of the covenant (xxxi.).

After this priestly digression, the thread of the story is resumed. During the absence of Moses upon the mount, the people imperilled their covenant relationship with their God by worshipping Him in the form of a calf; but, on the very earnest intercession of Moses they were forgiven, and there was given to him the special revelation of Jehovah as a God of forgiving pity and abounding grace. In the tent to which the people regularly resorted to learn the divine will, God was wont to speak to Moses face to face, xxxii. 1-xxxiv. 9. Then follows the other version of the decalogue already referred to–ritual rather than moral, xxxiv. l0-28–and an account of the transfiguration of Moses, as he laid Jehovah’s commands upon the people, xxxiv. 29-35. From this point to the end of the book the atmosphere is again unmistakably priestly. Chs. xxxv.-xxxix, beginning with the Sabbath law, assert with a profusion of detail that the instructions given in xxv.-xxxi. were carried out to the letter. Then the tabernacle was set up on New Year’s day, the divine glory filled it, and the subsequent movements of the people were guided by cloud and fire (xl.).

The unity of Exodus is not quite so impressive as that of Genesis. This is due to the different proportion in which the sources are blended, P playing a much more conspicuous part here than there. Without hesitation, more than one-fourth of the book may be at once relegated to this source: viz. xxv.-xxxi., which describe the tabernacle to be erected with all that pertained to it, and xxxv.-xl., which relate that the instructions there given were fully carried out. The minuteness, the formality and monotony of style which we noticed in Genesis reappear here; but the real spirit of P, its devotion to everything connected with the sanctuary and worship, is much more obvious here than there. This document is also fairly prominent in the first half of the book, and its presence is usually easy to detect. The section, e.g., on the institution of the passover and the festival of unleavened bread, xi. 9-xii. 20, is easily recognized as belonging to this source. Of very great importance is the passage, vi. 2-13, which describes the revelation given to Moses, asserting that the fathers knew the God of Israel only by the name El Shaddai, while the name of Jehovah, which was then revealed to Moses for the first time, was unknown to them. The succeeding genealogy which traces the descent of Moses and Aaron to Levi, vi. 14-30, and Aaron’s commission to be the spokesman of Moses, vii. 1-7, also come from P. This source also gives a brief account of the oppression and the plagues, and the prominence of Aaron the priest in the story of the latter is very significant. In E the plagues come when _Moses_ stretches out his hand or his rod at the command of Jehovah, ix. 22, x. 12, 21; in P, Jehovah says to Moses, “Say unto _Aaron_, ‘Stretch forth thy hand’ or ‘thy rod,'” viii. 5, 16.

The story to which we have just alluded, of the revelation of the name Jehovah, is also told in ch. iii., where it is connected with the incident of the burning bush. Apart from the improbability of the same document telling the same story twice, the very picturesque setting of ch. iii, is convincing proof that we have here a section from one of the prophetic documents, and we cannot long doubt which it is. For while one of those documents (J), as we have seen, uses the word Jehovah without scruple throughout the whole of Genesis, and regards that name as known not only to Abraham, xv. 7, but even to the antediluvians, iv. 26, the other regularly uses Elohim. This prophetic story, then, of the revelation of the name Jehovah to Moses, must belong to E, who deliberately avoids the name Jehovah throughout Genesis, because he considers it unknown before the time of Moses. This very fact, however, greatly complicates the subsequent analysis of the prophetic documents in the Pentateuch; because, from this point on, both are now free to use the name Jehovah of the divine Being, and thus one of the principal clues to the analysis practically disappears.[1] Considering the affinity of these documents, it is therefore competent, as we have seen, to treat them as a unity.
[Footnote 1: Naturally there are other very important and valuable clues. e.g, the holy mount is called Sinai in J and Horeb in E.]

The proof, however, that both prophetic documents are really present in Exodus, if not at first sight obvious or extensive, is at any rate convincing. In one source, e.g. (J), the Israelites dwell by themselves in a district called Goshen, viii. 22 (cf. Gen. xiv. 10); in the other, they dwell among the Egyptians as neighbours, so that the women can borrow jewels from them, iii. 22, and their doors have to be marked with blood on the night of the passover to distinguish them from the Egyptians, xii. 22. Again in J, the people number over 600,000, xii. 37; in E they are so few that they only require two midwives, i. 15. Similar slight but significant differences may be found elsewhere, particularly in the account of the plagues. In J, e.g., Moses predicts the punishment that will fall if Pharaoh refuses his request, and next day Jehovah sends it: in E, Moses works the wonders by raising his rod. In Exodus, as in Genesis, J reveals the divine through the natural, E rather through the supernatural. It is an east wind, e.g., in J, as in the poem, xv. 10, that drives back the Red Sea, xiv. 21a (as it had brought the locusts, x. 13); in E this happens on the raising of Moses’ rod, xiv. 16. Here again, as in Genesis, we find that E has taken the first step on the way to P. For this miracle (in E) at the Red Sea, which in J is essentially natural, and miraculous only in happening at the critical moment, is considerably heightened in P, who relates that the waters were a wall unto the people on the right hand and on the left, xiv. 22.

These three great documents constitute the principal sources of the book of Exodus; but here, as in Genesis, there are fragments that belong to a more primitive order of ideas than that represented by the compilers of the documents (cf. iv. 24-26); there is, besides the two decalogues, a body of legislation, xx. 23-xxiii. 33; and there is a poem, xv. 1-18. _The Book of the Covenant_, as it is called, is a body of mainly civil but partly religious law, practically independent of the narrative. The style and contents of the code show that it is not all of a piece, but must have been of gradual growth. The 2nd pers. sing., e.g., sometimes alternates with the pl. in consecutive verses, xxii. 21, 22. Again, while some of the laws state, in the briefest possible words, the official penalty attached to a certain crime, xxi. 12, others are longer and introduce a religious sanction, xxii. 23, 24, and a few deal definitely with religious feasts, xxiii. 14-19, obligations, xxii. 29-31, or sanctuaries, xx. 23-26. In general, the code implies the settled life of an agricultural and pastoral people, and the community for which it is designed must have already attained a certain measure of organization, as we must assume that there were means for enacting the penalties threatened. A remarkably humanitarian spirit pervades the code. It mitigates the lot of the slave, it encourages a spirit of justice in social relations, and it exhibits a fine regard for the poor and defenceless, xxii. 21-27. It probably represents the juristic usages, or at least ideals, of the early monarchy.

_The Song of Moses_, xv. 1-18, also appears to belong to the monarchy. The explicit mention of Philistia, Edom and Moab in _vv_. 14, 15 imply that the people are already settled in Canaan, and the sanctuary in _v. 17b_ is most naturally, if not necessarily, interpreted of the temple. The poem appears to be an elaboration of the no doubt ancient lines:

Sing to Jehovah, for He hath triumphed gloriously; The horse and his rider He hath thrown into the sea (xv. 21).

The religious, as opposed to the theological, interest of the book lies entirely within the prophetic sources. Here the drama of redemption begins in earnest, and it is worked out on a colossal scale. From his first blow struck in the cause of justice to the day on which, in indignation and astonishment, he destroyed the golden calf, Moses is a figure of overwhelming moral earnestness. Few books in the Old Testament have a higher conception of God than Exodus. The words of the decalogue are His words, xx. 1, and the protest against the calf-worship (xxxii.-xxxiv.) is an indirect plea for His spirituality. But the highest heights are touched in the revelation of Him as merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth, xxxiv. 6–a revelation which lived to the latest days and was cherished in these very words by the pious hearts of Israel (cf. Pss. lxxxvi. 15; ciii. 8; cxi. 4; cxlv. 8).


The emphasis which modern criticism has very properly laid on the prophetic books and the prophetic element generally in the Old Testament, has had the effect of somewhat diverting popular attention from the priestly contributions to the literature and religion of Israel. From this neglect Leviticus has suffered most. Yet for many reasons it is worthy of close attention; it is the deliberate expression of the priestly mind of Israel at its best, and it thus forms a welcome foil to the unattractive pictures of the priests which confront us on the pages of the prophets during the three centuries between Hosea and Malachi. And if we should be inclined to deplore the excessively minute attention to ritual, and the comparatively subordinate part played by ethical considerations in this priestly manual, it is only fair to remember that the hymn-book used by these scrupulous ministers of worship was the Psalter-enough surely to show that the ethical and spiritual aspects of religion, though not prominent, were very far from being forgotten. In xvii.-xxvi. the ethical element receives a fine and almost surprising prominence: the injunction to abstain from idolatry, e.g., is immediately preceded by the injunction to reverence father and mother, xix. 3,4. Indeed, ch. xix. is a good compendium of the ethics of ancient Israel; and, while hardly to be compared with Job xxxi., still, in its care for the resident alien, and in its insistence upon motives of benevolence and humanity, it is an eloquent reminder of the moral elevation of Israel’s religion, and is peculiarly welcome in a book so largely devoted to the externals of the cult.

The book of Leviticus illustrates the origin and growth of law. Occasionally legislation is clothed in the form of narrative–the law of blasphemy, e.g., xxiv. 10-23 (cf. x. 16-20)–thus suggesting its origin in a particular historical incident (cf. I Sam. xxx. 25); and traces of growth are numerous, notably in the differences between the group xvii.-xxvi. and the rest of the book, and very ancient heathen elements are still visible through the transformations effected by the priests of Israel, as in the case of Azazel xvi. 8,22, a demon of the wilderness, akin to the Arabic jinns. Strictly speaking, though Leviticus is pervaded by a single spirit, it is not quite homogeneous: the first group of laws, e.g. (i.-vii.), expressly acknowledges different sources–certain laws being given in the tent of meeting, i. 1, others on Mount Sinai, vii. 38. The sections are well defined–note the subscriptions at the end of vii. and xxvi.–and marked everywhere by the scrupulous precision of the legal mind.

There is no trace in Leviticus of the prophetic document JE. That the book is essentially a law book rather than a continuation of the narrative of the Exodus is made plain by the fact that that narrative (Ex. xl.) is not even formally resumed till ch. viii.


_(a) For worshippers_, i.-vi. 7. Laws for the burnt offering of the herd, of the flock, and of fowls (i.). Laws for the different kinds of cereal offerings–the use of salt compulsory, honey and leaven prohibited (ii.). Laws for the peace-offering–the offerer kills it, the priest sprinkles the blood on the sides of the altar and burns the fat (iii.) For an unconscious transgression of the law, the high priest shall offer a bullock, the community shall offer the same, a ruler shall offer a he-goat, one of the common people shall offer a female animal (iv.). A female animal shall be offered for certain legal and ceremonial transgressions; the poor may offer two turtle doves, or pigeons, or even flour, v. 1-13. Sacred dues unintentionally withheld or the property of another man dishonestly retained must be restored together with twenty per cent. extra, v. 14-vi. 7.

_(b) For priests_, vi. 8-vii. 38. Laws regulating the daily burnt offering, the cereal offering, the daily cereal offering of the high priest, and the ordinary sin offering, vi. 8-30. Laws regulating the guilt offering, the priests’ share of the sacrifices, the period during which the flesh of sacrifice may be eaten, the prohibition of the eating of fat and blood (vii.).


This section is the direct continuation of Exodus xl., which prescribes the inauguration of Aaron and his sons into the priestly office. Laws regulating the consecration of the high priest and the other priests–washing, investiture, anointing, sin offering, burnt offering, with accompanying rites (viii., cf. Exod. xxix.). The first sacrificial service at which Aaron and his sons officiate–the benediction being followed by the appearance of Jehovah’s glory (ix.). The first violation of the law of worship and its signal punishment, x. 1-7. Officiating priests forbidden to use wine, x. 8-11. Priests’ share of the meal and peace offerings, x. 12-15. An error forgiven after an adroit explanation by Aaron (law in narrative form), x. 16-20.


This section appropriately follows x. 10, where the priests are enjoined to distinguish between the clean and the unclean. Laws concerning the animals which may or may not be eaten–quadrupeds, fish, birds, flying insects, creeping insects, reptiles–and pollution through contact with carcasses (xi.). Laws concerning the purification of women after childbirth (xii.). Laws for the detection of leprosy in the human body, xiii. 1-46, and in garments, xiii. 47-59. Laws for the purification of the leper and his re-adoption into the theocracy, xiv. 1-32. Laws concerning houses afflicted with leprosy, xiv. 33-57. Laws concerning purification after sexual secretions (xv.). The laws of purification are appropriately concluded by the law for the great day of atonement, with regulations for the ceremonial cleansing of the high priest and his house, the sanctuary, altar, and people (xvi.). Two originally independent sections appear to be blended in this chapter-one (cf. _vv._ 1-4) prescribing regulations to be observed by the high priest on every occasion on which he should enter the inner sanctuary, the other with specific reference to the great day of atonement.

IV. LAW OF HOLINESS (xvii.-xxvi.)

This section, though still moving largely among ritual interests, differs markedly from the rest of the book, partly by reason of its hortatory setting (cf. xxvi.), but especially by its emphasis on the ethical elements in religion. It has been designated the Law of Holiness because of the frequently recurring phrase, “Ye shall be holy, for I, Jehovah, am holy,” xix. 2, xx. 26–a phrase which, though not peculiar to this section (cf. xi. 44), is highly characteristic of it. Animals are to be slaughtered for food or sacrifice only at the sanctuary xvii. 1-9; the blood and flesh of animals dying naturally or torn by beasts is not to be eaten, xvii. 10-16. Laws regulating marriage and chastity with threats of dire punishment for violation of the same (xviii.). Penalties for Moloch worship, soothsaying, cursing of parents and unchastity (xx.), with a hortatory conclusion, xx. 22-24, similar to xviii. 24-30.

Ch. xix. is the most prophetic chapter in Leviticus, and bears a close analogy to the decalogue, _vv_. 3-8 corresponding to the first table, and _vv_. 11-18 to the second. The holiness which Jehovah demands has to express itself not only in reverence for Himself and His Sabbaths, but in reverence towards parents and the aged; in avoiding not only idolatry and heathen superstition, but dishonesty and unkindness to the weak. The ideal is a throroughly moral one. A modern reader is surprised to find in so ethical a chapter a prohibition of garments made of two kinds of stuff mingled together _v_. 19; no doubt such a prohibition is aimed at some heathen superstition–perhaps the practice of magic.

Laws concerning priests and sacrifices (xxi., xxii.). The holiness of the priests is to be maintained by avoiding, as a rule (without exception in the case of the high priest), pollution through corpses and participation in certain mourning rites, and by conforming to certain conditions in their choice of a wife. The physically deformed are to be ineligible for the priesthood (xxi.). Regulations to safeguard the ceremonial purity of the sacred food: imperfect or deformed animals ineligible for sacrifice (xxii.). In ch. xxiii., which is a calendar of sacred festivals, the festivals are enumerated in the order in which they occur in the year, beginning with spring–the passover, regarded as preliminary to the feast of unleavened bread; the feast of weeks (Pentecost) seven weeks afterwards; the new year’s festival, on the first day of the seventh month; the day of atonement; and the festival of booths. There are signs that the section dealing with new year’s day and the day of atonement, _vv_. 23-32, is later than the original form of the rest of the chapter dealing with the three great ancient festivals that rested on agriculture and the vintage. Of kindred theme to this chapter is ch. xxv.–the sacred years–(_a_) the sabbatical year: the land, like the man, must enjoy a Sabbath rest, _vv_. 1-7; _(b_) the jubilee year, an intensification of the Sabbatical idea: every fiftieth year is to be a period of rest for the land, liberation of Hebrew slaves, and restoration of property to its original owners or legal heirs, _vv_. 8-55. In xxiv. 1-9, are regulations concerning the lampstand and the shewbread; the law, in the form of a narrative, prohibiting blasphemy, _vv_. 10-23, is interrupted by a few laws concerning injury to the person, _vv_. 17-22.

The _laws of holiness_ conclude (xxvi.) with a powerful exposition of the blessing which will follow obedience and the curse which is the penalty of disobedience. The curse reaches a dramatic climax in the threat of exile, from which, however, deliverance is promised on condition of repentance.

Ch. xxvii. constitutes no part of the Law of Holiness–note the subscription in xxvi. 46. It contains regulations for the commutation of vows (whether persons, cattle or things) and tithes-commutation being inadmissible in the case of firstlings of animals fit for sacrifice and of things and persons that had come under the ban.

Special importance attaches to the Law of Holiness, known to criticism as H (xvii.-xxvi.). In its interest in worship, it marks a very long advance on the Book of the Covenant (Exod. xxi.-xxiii.), and it would seem to stand somewhere between Deuteronomy and the priestly codex. It is profoundly interested, like the former, in the ethical side of religion, and yet it is almost as deeply concerned about ritual as the latter. But though it may be regarded as a preliminary step to the priestly code, it is clearly distinguished from it, both by its tone and its vocabulary: the word for idols, e.g. (things of nought), xix. 4, xxvi. 1, does not occur elsewhere in the Pentateuch. It specially emphasizes the holiness of Jehovah; as has been said, in H He is the person _to whom_ the cult is performed, while the question of _how_ is more elaborately dealt with in P. There are stray allusions which almost seem to point to pre-exilic days; e.g. to idols, xxvi. 30, Moloch being explicitly mentioned, xviii. 21, xx. 2; and the various sanctuaries presupposed by xxvi. 31 would almost seem to carry us back to a point before the promulgation of Deuteronomy in 621 B.C.; but on the other hand the exile appears to be presupposed in xviii. 24-30, xxvi. 34. This code, like all the others in the Old Testament, was no doubt the result of gradual growth–note the alternation of 2nd pers. sing. and pl. in ch. xix.–but the main body of it may be placed somewhere between 600 and 550 B.C. The section bears so strong a resemblance to Ezekiel that he has been supposed by some to be the author, but this is improbable.

It is easy to see how the minuteness of the ritual religion of Leviticus could degenerate into casuistry. Its emphasis on externals is everywhere visible, and its lack of kindly human feeling is only too conspicuous in its treatment of the leper, xiii. 45, 46. But over against this, to say nothing of the profound symbolism of the ritual, must be set the moral virility of the law of holiness–its earnest inculcation of commercial honour, reverence for the aged, xix. 32, and even unselfish love. For it is to this source that we owe the great word adopted by our Saviour, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” xix. 18, though the first part of the verse shows that this noble utterance still moves within the limitations of the Old Testament.


Like the last part of Exodus, and the whole of Leviticus, the first part of Numbers, i.-x. 28–so called,[1] rather inappropriately, from the census in i., iii., (iv.), xxvi.–is unmistakably priestly in its interests and language. Beginning with a census of the men of war (i.) and the order of the camp (ii.), it devotes specific attention to the Levites, their numbers and duties (iii., iv.). Then follow laws for the exclusion of the unclean, v. 1-4, for determining the manner and amount of restitution in case of fraud, v. 5-10, the guilt or innocence of a married woman suspected of unfaithfulness, v. 11-31, and the obligations of the Nazirite vow, vi. 1-21. This legal section ends with the priestly benediction, vi. 22-27. Then, closely connected with the narrative in Exodus xl., is an unusually elaborate account of the dedication gifts that were offered on the occasion of the erection of the tabernacle (vii.). This quasi-historical interlude is again followed by a few sections of a more legal nature–instructions for fixing the lamps upon the lampstand, viii. 1-4, for the consecration of the Levites and their period of service, viii. 5-26, for the celebration of the passover, and, in certain cases, of a supplementary passover, ix. 1-14. Then, with the divine guidance assured, and the order of march determined, the start from Sinai was made, ix. 15-x. 28. [Footnote 1: In the Greek version, followed by the Latin. This is the only book of the Pentateuch in which the English version has retained the Latin title, the other titles being all Greek. The Hebrew titles are usually borrowed from the opening words of the book. The Hebrew title of Numbers is either “And he said” or “in the wilderness”; the latter is fairly appropriate–certainly much more so than the Greek.]

At this point, the old prophetic narrative (Exod. xxxii.-xxxiv.), interrupted by Exodus xxxv. 1-Numbers x. 28, is resumed with an account of the precautions taken to secure reliable guidance through the wilderness, x. 29-32, and a very interesting snatch of ancient poetry, through which we may easily read the unique importance of the ark for early Israel, x. 33-36. The succeeding chapters make no pretence to be a connected history of the wilderness period; the incidents with which they deal are very few, and these are related rather for their religious than their historical significance, e.g. the murmuring of the people, the terrible answer to their prayer for flesh, the divine equipment of the seventy elders, the magnanimity of Moses (xi.), and the vindication of his prophetic dignity (xii.). Before the actual assault on Canaan, spies were sent out to investigate the land. But the people allowed themselves to be discouraged by their report, and for their unbelief the whole generation except Caleb (and Joshua)[1] was doomed to die in the wilderness, without a sight of the promised land (xiii., xiv.). The thread of the narrative, broken at this point by laws relating to offerings and sacrifices, xv. 1-31, the hallowing of the Sabbath, xv. 32-36, and the wearing of fringes, xv. 37-41, is at once resumed by a complicated account of a rebellion against Moses, which ended in the destruction of the rebels, and in the signal vindication of the authority of Moses, the privileges of the tribe of Levi, and the exclusive right of the sons of Aaron to the priesthood (xvi., xvii.). Again the narrative element gives place to legislation regulating the duties, relative position and revenues of the priests and Levites (xviii.) and the manner of purification after defilement (xix.).
[Footnote 1: Caleb alone in JE, Joshua also in P.]

These laws are followed by a section of continuous narrative. Moses and Aaron, for certain rebellious words, are divinely warned that they will not be permitted to bring the people into the promised land–a warning which was followed soon afterwards by the death of Aaron on Mount Hor. Edom haughtily refused Israel permission to pass through her land (xx.). Sore at heart, they fretted against God and Moses, and deadly serpents were sent among them in chastisement, but the penitent and believing were restored by the power of God and the intercession of Moses. Then Israel turned north, and began her career of conquest by defeating Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan (xxi.). Her success struck terror into the heart of Balak, the king of Moab; he accordingly sent for Balaam, a famous soothsayer, with the request that he would curse Israel (xxii.). Instead, however, he foretold for her a splendid destiny (xxiii., xxiv.). But the reality fell pitifully short of this fair ideal, for Israel at once succumbed to the seductions of idolatry and impurity,[1] and the fearful punishment which fell upon her for her sin was only stayed by the zeal of Phinehas, the high priest’s son, who was rewarded with the honour of perpetual priesthood, xxv. 1-15. Implacable enmity was enjoined against Midian, xxv. 16-18.
[Footnote 1: Moabite idolatry, and intermarriage with the Midianites– ultimately, it would seem, the same story. JE gives the beginning of it, _vv_. 1-5, and P the conclusion, _vv_. 6-18.]

From this point to the end of the book the narrative is, with few exceptions, distinctly priestly in complexion; the vivid scenes of the older narrative are absent, and their place is taken, for the most part, either by statistics and legislative enactments or by narrative which is only legislation in disguise. A census (xxvi.) was taken at the end, as at the beginning of the wanderings (i.), which showed that, except Caleb and Joshua, the whole generation had perished (cf. xiv. 29, 34). Then follow sections on the law of inheritance of daughters, xxvii. 1-11, the announcement of Moses’ imminent death and the appointment of Joshua his successor, xxvii. 12-23, a priestly calendar defining the sacrifices appropriate to each season (xxviii., xxix.), and the law of vows (xxx.). In accordance with the injunction of xxv. 16-18 a war of extermination was successfully undertaken against Midian (xxxi.). The land east of the Jordan was allotted to Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh, on condition that they would help the other tribes to conquer the west (xxxii.). Following an itinerary of the wanderings from the exodus to the plains of Moab (xxxiii.) is a description of the boundaries of the land allotted to the various tribes (xxxiv.), directions for the Levitical cities and the cities of refuge (xxxv.), and, last of all, a law in narrative form, determining that heiresses who possessed landed property should marry into their own tribe (xxxvi.).

Even this brief sketch of the book of Numbers is enough to reveal the essential incoherence of its plan, and the great divergence of the elements out of which it is composed. No book in the Pentateuch makes so little the impression of a unity. The phenomena of Exodus are here repeated and intensified; a narrative of the intensest moral and historical interest is broken at frequent intervals by statistical and legal material, some of which, at least, makes hardly any pretence to be connected with the main body of the story. By far the largest part of the book comes from P, and most of it is very easy to detect. No possible doubt, e.g., can attach to i.-x., 28, with its interest in priests, Levites, tabernacle and laws. As significant as the contents is the style which is not seldom diffuse to tediousness, e.g., in the account of the census (i.), the dedication gifts (vii.), or the regulation of the movements of the camp by the cloud, ix. 15-23. Ch. xv., with its laws for offerings, sacrifices and the Sabbath, ch. xvii., with its vindication of the special prerogatives of the tribe of Levi, and chs. xviii., xix., which regulate the duties and privileges of priests and Levites, and the manner of purification, are also unmistakable. Chs. xxvi.-xxxi., as even the preliminary sketch of the book would suggest, must, for similar reasons, also have the same origin. To P also clearly belong xxxiii. and xxxiv. with their statistical bent, and xxxv. and xxxvi. with their interest in the Levites and legislation. Besides these sections, however, the presence of P is certain–though not always so easily detected, as it is in combination with JE–in some of the more distinctively narrative sections, e.g. in the account of the spies (xiii., xiv.), of the rebellion against the authority of Moses and Aaron (xvi.), of the sin of Moses and Aaron, xx. 1-13, and of the settlement east of the Jordan (xxxii.). About such narratives as the death of Aaron, xx. 22-29, or the zeal and reward of Phinehas, xxv. 6-18, there can be no doubt.

With the exception of a few odd verses, all that remains, after deducting the passages referred to, belongs to the prophetic narrative (JE). The radical difference in point of style and interests between JE and P occasionally extends even to their account of the facts. The story of the spies furnishes several striking illustrations of this difference. In JE they go from the wilderness to Hebron in the south of Judah, xiii. 22, in P they go to the extreme north of Palestine, xiii. 21. In JE Caleb is the only faithful spy, xiii. 30, xiv. 24, P unites him with Joshua, xiv. 6,38. In JE the land is fertile, but its inhabitants are invincible, in P it is a barren land. The story of the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram is peculiarly instructive (xvi.). It will be noticed that Dathan and Abiram are occasionally mentioned by themselves, _vv_. 12, 25, and Korah by himself, _vv_. 5, 19. If this clue be followed up, it will be found that the rebellion of Dathan and Abiram is essentially against the authority of Moses, whom they charge with disappointing their hopes, _vv_. 13, 14. On the other hand, the rebellion headed by Korah is traced to two sources:[1] it is regarded in one of these as a layman’s protest against the exclusive sanctity of the tribe of Levi, _v_. 3, and, in the other, as a Levitical protest against the exclusive right of the sons of Aaron to the priesthood, _vv_. 8-11. Perhaps the most striking difference between JE and P is in the account of the ark. In JE it goes before the camp, x. 33 (cf. Exod. xxxiii. 7), in P the tabernacle, to which it belongs, is in the centre of the camp, ii. 17, which is foursquare. [Footnote 1: Two strata of P are plainly visible here.]

Much more than in Genesis, and even more than in Exodus have J and E been welded together in Numbers–so closely, indeed, that it is usually all but impossible to distinguish them with certainty; but, here, as in Exodus, there are occasional proofs of compositeness. The apparent confusion of the story of Balaam, e.g. (xxii.), in which God is angry with him after giving him permission to go, is to be explained by the simple fact that the story is told in both sources. This duplication extends even to the poetry in chs. xxiii. and xxiv. (cf. xxiv. 8, 9, xxiii. 22, 24).

There is not a trace of P in the Balaam story. All the romantic and religious, as opposed to the legal and theological interest of the book, is confined to the prophetic section (JE); and it greatly to be regretted that more of it has not been preserved. The structure of the book plainly shows that it has been displaced in the interests of P, and from the express reference to the “ten times” that Israel tempted Jehovah, xiv. 22, we may safely infer that much has been lost. But what has been preserved is of great religious, and some historical value. Of course, it is not history in the ordinary sense: a period of thirty-eight years is covered in less than ten chapters (x. II-xix.). But much of the material, at least in the prophetic history JE, rests on a tradition which may well have preserved some of the historical facts, especially as they were often embalmed in poetry.

The book of Numbers throws some light on the importance of ancient poetry as a historical source. It cites a difficult fragment and refers it to the book of the wars of Jehovah, xxi. 14, it confirms the victory over Sihon by a quotation from a war-ballad which is referred to a guild of singers, xxi. 27, it quotes the ancient words with which the warriors broke up their camp and returned to it again, x. 35, 36, and it relieves its wild war-scenes by the lovely Song of the Well, xxi. 17, 18. Probably other episodes in the books of Numbers, Joshua and Judges (e.g. ch. v.) ultimately rest upon this lost book of the wars of Jehovah. The fine poetry ascribed to Balaam, which breathes the full consciousness of a high national destiny, may belong to the time of the early monarchy, xxiv. 7, perhaps to that of David, to whom xxiv. 17-19 seems to be a clear allusion. The five verses that follow Balaam’s words, xxiv. 20-24, are apparently a late appendix; the mention of Chittim in _v_. 24 would almost carry the passage down to the Greek period (4th cent. B.C.), and of Asshur in _v_. 22 at least to the Assyrian period (8th cent.), unless the name stands for a Bedawin tribe (cf. Gen. xxv. 3).

Historically P is of little account. This is most obvious in his narrative of the war with Midian (xxxi.), in which, without losing a single man, Israel slew every male in Midian and took enormous booty. It is suspicious that the older sources (JE) have not a single word to say of so remarkable a victory; but the impossibility of the story is shown by the fact that, though all the males are slain, the tribe reappears, as the assailant of Israel, in the days of Gideon (Jud. vi.-viii.). The real object of the story is to illustrate the law governing the distribution of booty, xxxi. 27–a law which is elsewhere traced, with much more probability, to an ordinance of David (I Sam. xxx. 24). From this unhistorical, but highly instructive chapter, we learn the tendency to refer all Israel’s legislation, whatever its origin, to Moses, and the further tendency to find a historical precedent, which no doubt once existed, for the details of the legislation. It is from this point of view that the narratives of P have to be considered. The story of the fate of the Sabbath-breaker is simply told to emphasize the stringency of the Sabbath law, xv. 32-36, the particular dilemma in ix. 6-14 is created, as a precedent for the institution of the supplementary passover, the case of the daughters of Zelophehad serves as a historical basis for the law governing the property of heiresses (xxxvi.). In other words, P is not a historian; his narrative, even where it is explicit, is usually but the thin disguise of legislation.

As in Genesis and Exodus, almost every stage in the development of the religion of Israel is represented by the book of Numbers. Through the story in xxi. 4-11 we can detect the practice of serpent-worship, which we know persisted to the time of Hezekiah (2 Kings xviii. 4); and the trial by ordeal, v. 11-31, though in its present form late, represents no doubt a very ancient custom. P throws much light on the usages and ideas of post-exilic religion. But it is to the prophetic document we must go for passages of abiding religious power and value. Here, as in Exodus, the character of Moses offers a brilliant study–in his solitary grandeur, patient strength, and heroic faith; steadfast amid jealousy, suspicion and rebellion, and vindicated by God Himself as a prophet of transcendent privilege and power (xii. 8). Over against the narrow assertions of Levitical and priestly prerogative (xvi., xvii), which reflect but too faithfully the strife of a later day, is the noble prayer of Moses that God would make all the people prophets, and put His spirit upon them every one, xi. 29.


Owing to the comparatively loose nature of the connection between consecutive passages in the legislative section, it is difficult to present an adequate summary of the book of Deuteronomy. In the first section, i.-iv. 40, Moses, after reviewing the recent history of the people, and showing how it reveals Jehovah’s love for Israel, earnestly urges upon them the duty of keeping His laws, reminding them of His spirituality and absoluteness. Then follows the appointment, iv. 41-43–here irrelevant (cf. xix. 1-l3)–of three cities of refuge east of the Jordan.

The second section, v.-xi., with its superscription, iv. 44-49, is a hortatory introduction to the more specific injunctions of xii.-xxviii., and deals with the general principles by which Israel is to be governed. The special relation between Israel and Jehovah was established on the basis of the decalogue (Ex. xx.), and with this Moses begins, reminding the people of their promise to obey any further commands Jehovah might give (v.). But as the source of all true obedience is a right attitude, Israel’s deepest duty is to love Jehovah, serving Him with reverence, and keeping His claims steadily before the children (vi.). To do this effectively, Israel must uncompromisingly repudiate all social and religious intercourse with the idolatrous peoples of the land, and Jehovah their God will stand by them in the struggle (vii). In the past the discipline had often indeed been stern and sore, but it had come from the hand of a father, and had been intended to teach the spiritual nature of true religion; worldliness and idolatry would assuredly be punished by defeat and destruction (viii.). And just as deadly as worldliness is the spirit of self-righteousness, a spirit as absurd as it is deadly; for Israel’s past has been marked by an obstinacy so disgraceful that, but for the intercession of Moses, the people would already have been devoted to destruction,[1] ix. 1-x. 11. True religion is the loving service of the great God and of needy men, and it ought to be inspired by reverent fear. Obedience to the divine commands will bring life and blessing, disobedience will be punished by the curse and death, x. 12-xi. [Footnote 1: Ch, x. 6-9 is an interpolation; _vv_. 6, 7 a fragment of an itinerary relating the death of Aaron, and _vv_. 8, 9 the separation of the tribe of Levi to priestly functions.]

This hortatory introduction is succeeded by the specific laws which form the main body of the book (xii.-xxvi., xxviii.). Roughly they may be classified as affecting (_a_) religious (xii.-xvi.), (_b_) civil (xvii.-xx.), and (_c_) social (xxi.-xxv.) life, the religious being made the basis of the other two.

(_a_) As the true worship is jeopardized by a multiplicity of sanctuaries, these sanctuaries are declared illegal, and their paraphernalia are to be destroyed; worship is to be confined henceforth to one sanctuary (xii.), and every idolatrous person and influence are to be exterminated (xiii.). The holiness of the people is to be maintained by their abstaining from the flesh of certain prohibited animals[1] xiv. 1-21, and the sacred dues such as the tithes, xiv. 22-29, and firstlings, xv. 19-23, are regulated. Religion is to express itself in generous consideration for the poor and the slave, xv. 1-18, as well as in the three annual pilgrimages to celebrate the passover, the feast of weeks, and the feast of booths, xvi. 1-17.
[Footnote 1: This section is not altogether in the spirit of Deut. and is found with variations in Lev. xi. If it is not a late insertion in Deut. from Lev., probably both have borrowed it from an older code.]

(_b_) Besides the local courts there is to be a supreme central tribunal, xvi. 18-20, xvii. 8-13. No idolatrous symbols are to be used in the Jehovah worship; idolatry is to be punished with death, xvi. 21-xvii. 7. The character and duties of the king are defined, and his obligation to rule in accordance with the spirit of Israel’s religion, xvii. 14-20; the revenues and privileges of the Levitical priests are regulated and the high position and function of the prophets are defined in opposition to the representatives of superstition in heathen religion (xviii.). Following the laws affecting the officers of the theocracy are laws–which finely temper justice with mercy–concerning homicide, murder and false witness[1] (xix.). A similar combination of humanity and sternness is illustrated by the laws–whether practicable or not–regulating the usages of war, xx., with which may be taken xxi. 10-14. [Footnote 1: Kindred in theme is xxi. 1-9, dealing with the expiation of an uncertain murder.]

(_c_) The laws in xxi-xxv. are of a more miscellaneous nature and deal with various phases of domestic and social life–such as the punishment of the unfilial son, the duty of neighbourliness, the protection of mother-birds, the duty of taking precautions in building, the rights of a husband, the punishment of adultery and seduction, the exclusion of certain classes from the privilege of worship, the cleanliness of the camp, the duty of humanity to a runaway slave, the prohibition of religious prostitution, the regulation of divorce, the duty of humanity to the stranger, the fatherless and the widow, and of kindness to animals, the duty of a surviving brother to marry his brother’s childless widow, the prohibition of immodesty, etc.

By two simple ceremonies, one of thanksgiving, the other a confession of faith, Israel acknowledges her obligations to Jehovah[1] (xxvi.), and the great speech ends with a very impressive peroration in which blessings of many kinds are promised to obedience, while, with a much greater elaboration of detail, disaster is announced as the penalty of disobedience (xxviii.). In chs. xxix,, xxx., which are of a supplementary nature, Moses briefly reminds the people of the goodness of their God, and warns them of the disaster into which infidelity will plunge them, though–so gracious is Jehovah–penitence will be followed by restoration. In a powerful conclusion he sets before them life and death as the recompense of obedience and disobedience, and pleads with them to choose life.
[Footnote 1: Ch. xxvii., which, besides being in the 3rd person, interrupts the connection between xxvi. and xxviii., can hardly have formed part of the original book. It prescribes the inscription of the law on stones, its ratification by the people, and the curses to be uttered by the Levites.]

The speeches are over, and the narrative of the Pentateuch is resumed. In a few parting words, Moses encourages the people and his successor Joshua, who, in xxxi. 14, 15, 23, receives his divine commission, and finally gives instructions for the reading of the law every seven years, xxxi. 1-13. Verses 16-30 (except 23) constitute the preface to the fine poem known as the _Song of Moses_, xxxii. 1-43, which celebrates, in bold and striking words, the loving faithfulness of Jehovah to His apostate and ungrateful people.[1] This poem, after a few verses in which Moses finally commends the law to Israel and himself receives the divine command to ascend Nebo and die, is followed by another known as the _Blessing of Moses_ (xxxiii.). In this poem, which ought to be compared with Gen. xlix., the various tribes are separately characterized in language which is often simply a description[2] rather than a benediction, and the poem concludes with an enthusiastic expression of joy over Israel’s incomparable God. The book ends with an account of the death of Moses (xxxiv.). [Footnote 1: The song must be much later than Moses, as it describes the effect, _v_. 15ff., on Israel of the transition from the nomadic life of the desert, _v_. 10, to the settled agricultural life of Canaan, and expressly regards the days of the exodus as long past, _v_.7. It is difficult to say whether the enemy from whom in _vv_. 34-43, the singer hopes to be divinely delivered are the Assyrians or the Babylonians: on the whole, probably the latter. In that case, the poem would be exilic; _v_. 36 too seems to presuppose the exile.] [Footnote 2: These descriptions–to say nothing of _v_.4 (Moses commended _us_ a law)–are conclusive proof that the poem was composed long after Moses’ time. Reuben is dwindling in numbers, Simeon has already disappeared (as not yet in Gen. xlix). Judah is in at least temporary distress, and the banner tribe is Ephraim, whose glory and power are eloquently described, _vv_.13-17. Levi appears to be thoroughly organized and held in great respect, _vv_. 8-ll. The poem must have been written at a time when northern Israel was enjoying high prosperity, probably during the reign of Jeroboam II and before the advent of Amos (770 B.C.?).]

Deuteronomy is one of the epoch-making books of the world. It not only profoundly affected much of the subsequent literature of the Hebrews, but it left a deep and abiding mark upon Hebrew religion, and through it upon Christianity.

The problem of its origin is as interesting as the romance which attached to its discovery in the reign of Josiah (621 B.C.). Generally speaking, the book claims to be the valedictory address of Moses to Israel. But even a superficial examination is enough to show that its present form, at any rate, was not due to Moses. The very first words of the book represent the speeches as being delivered “on the other side of the Jordan”–an important point obscured by the erroneous translation of A.V. Now Moses was on the east side, and obviously the writer to whom the east side was the other side, must himself have been on the west side. The law providing for the battlement on the roof of a new house, xxii. 8, shows that the book contemplates the later settled life of cities or villages, not the nomadic life of tents; and the very significant law concerning the boundary marks which had been set up by “those of the olden time,” xix. 14, is proof conclusive that the people had been settled for generations in the land.

The negative conclusion is that the book is not, in its present form, from the hand of Moses, but is a product, at least several generations later, of the settled life of the people. But it is at once asked, Do the opening words of the book not commit us expressly to a belief in the Mosaic authorship, in spite of the resultant difficulties? Is it not explicitly said that these words are his words? The answer to this question lies in the literary freedom claimed by all ancient historians. Thucydides, one of the most scrupulous historians who ever wrote, states, in an interesting passage, the principles on which he composed his speeches (i. 22): “As to the various speeches made on the eve of the war or in its course, I have found it difficult to retain a memory of the precise words which I heard spoken; and so it was with those who brought me reports. But I have made the persons say what it seemed to me most opportune for them to say in view of each situation; at the same time I have adhered as closely as possible to the general sense of what was actually said.” This statement represents the general practice of the ancient world; the conditions of historical veracity were satisfied if the speech represented the spirit of the speaker. And this, as we shall see, is eminently true of the book of Deuteronomy, which is an eloquent exposition and application of principles fundamental to the Mosaic religion. If, on the other hand, it be urged that the book contains deliberate assertions that it was written by Moses–e.g., “when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book,” xxxi. 24, cf. 9–the simple reply is that this very phrase, “all the words of this law,” is elsewhere used of a body of law so small that it can be inscribed upon the memorial stones of the altar to be set up on Mount Ebal, xxvii. 3.

We are free, then, to consider the date of Deuteronomy by an examination of the internal evidence. The latest possible date for the book, as a whole, is determined by the story of its discovery in 621 B.C. (2 Kings xxii., xxiii.). There can be no doubt that the book then discovered by the priest Hilkiah, and read by the chancellor before the king, was Deuteronomy. It is called the book of the covenant (2 Kings xxiii. 2), but it clearly cannot have been the Pentateuch. For one thing, that was much too long; the book discovered was short enough to have been read twice in one day (2 Kings xxii. 8, 10). And again, the swift and terrible impression made by it could not have been made by a book so heterogeneous in its contents and containing romantic narratives such as the patriarchal stories. Nor again can the discovered book have been Exodus xxi.-xxiii., though that is also called the book of the covenant (Exod. xxiv. 7); for some of the most important points in the succeeding reformation are not touched in that book at all. It is clear from the narrative in 2 Kings xxii. ff. that the book must have been a law book; no other meets the facts of the case but Deuteronomy, and this meets them completely. Point for point, the details of the reformation are paralleled by injunctions in Deuteronomy–notably the abolition of idolatry, the concentration of the worship at a single sanctuary (xii.), the abolition of witchcraft and star-worship, and the celebration of the passover. Some of these enactments are found in other parts of the Pentateuch, but Deuteronomy is the only code in which they are all combined. 621 B.C. then is the latest possible date for the composition of Deuteronomy.

It is possible, however, to fix the date more precisely. The most remarkable element in the legislation is its repeated and emphatic demand for the centralization of worship in “the place which Jehovah your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put His name there,” xii. 5. Only by such a centralization could the Jehovah worship be controlled which, at the numerous shrines scattered over the country, was being stained and confused by the idolatrous practices which Israel had learned from the Canaanites. This demand is recognized as something new, xii. 8. In the ninth and eighth centuries, when the prophetic narratives of Genesis were written,[1] these shrines, which were the scenes of an enthusiastic worship, are lovingly traced back to an origin in patriarchal times. As late as 750-735 B.C., Amos and Hosea, though they deplore the excesses which characterized those sanctuaries, and regard their worship as largely immoral, do not regard the sanctuaries themselves as actually illegal; consequently Deuteronomy must be later than 735. But the situation was even then so serious that it must soon have occurred to men of practical piety to devise plans of reform, and that the only real remedy lay in striking the evil at its roots, i.e. in abolishing the local shrines. The first important blow appears to have been struck by Hezekiah, who, possibly under the influence of Isaiah, is said to have removed the high places (2 Kings xviii. 4), and the movement must have been greatly helped by the immunity which the temple of Jerusalem enjoyed during the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib in 701 B.C. But the singular thing is that no appeal was made in this reformation to a book, as was made in 621, and as it is natural to suppose would have been made, had such a book been in existence. Somewhere then between Hezekiah and Josiah we may suppose the book to have been composed.
[Footnote 1: See below]

The most probable supposition is that the reformation of Hezekiah gave the first impulse to the legislation which afterwards appeared as Deuteronomy. But in the terrible reign of his son Manasseh, the efforts of the reformers met with violent and bloody opposition. Judah was under the iron heel of Assyria, and, to the average mind, this would prove the superiority of the Assyrian gods. Judah and her king, Manasseh, would seek in their desperation to win the favour of the Oriental pantheon, and this no doubt explains the idolatry and worship of the host of heaven which flourished during his reign even within the temple itself. It was just such a crisis as this that would call out the fierce condemnation of the idolatrous high places which characterizes Deuteronomy (cf. xii.) and create the imperative demand for such a control of the worship as was only possible by centralizing it at Jerusalem. During this period, too, such a book may very well have been hidden away in the temple by some sorrowing heart that hoped for better days. It is improbable in itself (cf. xviii. 6-8), and unjust to the narrative in 2 Kings xxii., xxiii., to suppose that the book was written by those who pretended to find it. It was really lost; had it been written during the earlier part of Josiah’s reign, there was nothing to hinder its being published at once. In all probability, then, the book was in the main written and lost during the reign of Manasseh (_circa_ 660 B.C.). It has been observed that in some sections the 2nd pers. sing, is used. in others the pl., and that the tone of the plural passages is more aggressive than that of the singular; the contrast, e.g., between xii. 29-31 (thou) and xii. 1-12 (you) is unmistakable. We might, then, limit the conclusion reached above by saying that the passages in which a milder tone prevails probably came from Hezekiah’s reign, and the more aggressive sections from Manasseh’s.

This date agrees with conclusions reached on other grounds concerning other parts of the Pentateuch. The prophetic narratives J and E were written in or before the eighth century B.C., the priestly code (P) is, broadly speaking, post-exilic.[1] Now if it can be proved that Deuteronomy knows JE and does not know P, the natural inference would be that it falls between the eighth and the sixth or fifth century. But this can easily be proved, for both in its narrative and legislative parts, Deuteronomy rests on JE. As an illustration of the former, cf. Deuteronomy xi. 6, where only Dathan and Abiram are the rebels, not Korah as in P (cf. Num. xvi, 12, 25); as an illustration of the latter, cf. the law of slavery in Exodus xxi. 2ff. with that in Deuteronomy xv. 12-18, which clearly rests upon the older law, but deliberately gives a humaner turn to it, extending its privileges, e.g., to the female slave. [Footnote 1: See below.]

Again in many important respects the legislation of Deuteronomy either ignores or conflicts with that of P. It knows nothing, e.g., of the forty-eight Levitical cities (Num. xxxv.); it regards the Levite, in common with the fatherless and the widow, as to be found everywhere throughout the land, xviii. 6. It knows nothing of the provision made by P for the maintenance of the Levite (Num. xviii.); it commends him to the charity of the worshippers, xiv. 29. Above all it knows nothing of P’s very sharp and important distinction between priests and Levites (Num. iii., iv.); any Levite is qualified to officiate as priest (cf. the remarkable phrase in xviii. 1, “the priests the Levites”). Deuteronomy must, therefore, fall before P, as after JE.

A not unimportant question here arises: What precisely was the extent of the book found in 621 B.C.? Certainly the legislative section, xii.-xxvi., xxviii., possibly the preceding hortatory section, v.-xi., but in all probability not the introductory section, i. i-iv. 40. These three sections are all approximately written in the same style, but i. i-iv. 40 has more the appearance of an attempt to provide the legislation with a historical introduction summarizing the narrative of the journey from Horeb to the borders of the promised land. Certain passages, e.g. iv. 27-31, seem to presuppose the exile, and thus suggest that the section is later than the book as a whole. The discrepancy between ii. 14, which represents the generation of the exodus as having died in the wilderness, and v. 3ff. hardly makes for identity of authorship; and the similarity of the superscriptions, i. 1-5, and iv. 44-49, looks as if the sections i.-iv. and v.-xi. were originally parallel. Whether v.-xi. was part of the book discovered is not so certain. Much of the finest religious teaching of Deuteronomy is to be found in this section; but, besides being disproportionately long for an introduction, it repeatedly demands obedience to the “statutes and judgments,” which, however, are not actually announced till ch. xii.; it seems more like an addition prefixed by one who had the commandments in xii.-xxvi. before him. Ch. xxvii., which is narrative and interrupts the speech of Moses, xxvi, xxviii., besides in part anticipating xxviii. 15ff., cannot have formed part of the original Deuteronomy. On the other hand, xxviii. was certainly included in it, as it must have been precisely the threats contained in this chapter that produced such consternation in Josiah when he heard the book read (2 Kings xxii.). The hortatory section that follows the legislation (xxix., xxx.), is also probably late, as the exile appears to be presupposed, xxix. 28, xxx. 1-3. On this supposition, too, the references to the legislation as “this book,” xxix. 20, 21, xxx. 10, are most naturally explained.

The publication of the book of Deuteronomy was nothing less than a providence in the development of Hebrew religion. It was accompanied, of course, by incidental and perhaps inevitable evils. By its centralization of worship at the Jerusalem temple, it tended to rob life in other parts of the country of those religious interests and sanctions which had received their satisfaction from the local sanctuaries; and by its attempt to regulate by written statute the religious life of the people, it probably contributed indirectly to the decline of prophecy, and started Israel upon that fatal path by which she ultimately became “the people of the book.” But on the other hand, the service rendered to religion by Deuteronomy was incalculable. The worship of Jehovah had been powerfully corrupted from two sources; on the one hand, from the early influence of the Canaanitish Baal worship, practically a nature-worship, which set morality at defiance, xxiii. 18; and on the other, from her powerful Assyrian conquerors. Idolatry not only covered the whole land, it had penetrated the temple itself (2 Kings xxiii. 6). The cause of true religion was at stake. There had been sporadic attempts at reform, but Deuteronomy, for the first time, struck at the root by rendering illegal the worship–nominally a Jehovah, but practically a Baal worship–which was practised at the local sanctuaries.

Again Deuteronomy rendered a great service to religion, by translating its large spirit into demands which could be apprehended of the common people. The book is splendidly practical, and formed a perhaps not unnecessary supplement to the teaching of the prophets. Society needs to have its ideals embodied in suggestions and commands, and this is done in Deuteronomy. The writers of the book legislate with the fervour of the prophet, so that it is not so much a collection of laws as “a catechism of religion and morals.” Doubtless the prophets had done the deepest thing of all by insisting on the new heart and the return to Jehovah, but they had offered no programme of practical reform. Just such a programme is supplied by Deuteronomy, and yet it is saved from the externalism of being merely a religious programme by its tender and uniform insistence upon the duty of loving Jehovah with the whole heart.

The love of Jehovah to Israel–love altogether undeserved, ix. 5, and manifested throughout history in ways without number–demands a human response. Israel must love Him with an uncompromising affection, for He is one and there is none else, and she must express that love for the God who is a spirit invisible, iv. 12, by deeds of affection towards the creatures whom God has made, even to the beasts and the birds, xxv. 4, but most of all to the needy–the stranger, the Levite, the fatherless and the widow. Again and again these are commended by definite and practical suggestions to the generosity of the people, and this generosity is expected to express itself particularly on occasions of public worship. Religion is felt to be the basis of morality and of all social order, and therefore, even in the legislation proper (xii.-xxviii.), to say nothing of the fine hortatory introduction (v.-xi.), its claims and nature are presented first. The book abounds in profound and memorable statements touching the essence of religion. It answers the question, What doth thy God require of thee? x. 12. It reminds the people that man lives not by bread alone, viii. 3. It knows that wealth and success tend to beget indifference to religion, viii. 13ff., and that chastisement, when it comes, is sent in fatherly love, viii. 5; and it presses home upon the sluggish conscience the duty of kindness to the down-trodden and destitute, with a sweet and irresistible reasonableness–“Love the sojourner, for ye were sojourners in the land of Egypt,” x. 19.


The book of Joshua is the natural complement of the Pentateuch. Moses is dead, but the people are on the verge of the promised land, and the story of early Israel would be incomplete, did it not record the conquest of that land and her establishment upon it. The divine purpose moves restlessly on, until it is accomplished; so “after the death of Moses, Jehovah spake to Joshua,” i. 1.

The book falls naturally into three divisions: (_a_) the conquest of Canaan (i.-xii.), (_b_) the settlement of the land (xiii.-xxii.), (_c_) the last words and death of Joshua (xxiii., xxiv.). This period seems to be better known than that of the wilderness wanderings, and, especially throughout the first twelve chapters, the story moves forward with a firm tread. On the death of Moses, Joshua assumes the leadership, and makes preparations for the advance (i.). After sending men to Jericho to spy and report upon the land (ii.), the people solemnly cross the Jordan, preceded by the ark (iii.); and, to commemorate the miracle by which their passage had been facilitated, memorial stones are set up (iv.). After circumcision had been imposed, v. 1-9, the passover celebrated, v. 10-12, and Joshua strengthened by a vision, v. 13-15, the people assault and capture Jericho (vi.). This initial success was followed by a sharp and unexpected disaster at Ai, for which Achan, by his violation of the law of the ban, was held guilty and punished with death (vii.). A renewed assault upon Ai was this time successful.[1] (viii.). Fear of Israel induced the powerful Gibeonite clan to make a league with the conquerors (ix.). Success continued to remain with Israel, so that south (x.) and north, xi. 1-15, the arms of Israel were victorious, xi. 16-xii. [Footnote 1: The book of Joshua describes only the southern and northern campaigns; it gives no details concerning the conquest of Central Palestine. This omission is apparently due to the Deuterouomic redactor, who, in place of the account itself, gives a brief idealization of its results in viii. 30-35.]

Much of the land remained still unconquered, but arrangements were made for its ideal distribution. The two and a half tribes had already received their inheritance east of the Jordan, and the rest of the land was allotted on the west to the remaining tribes. Judah’s boundaries and cities are first and most exhaustively given; then come Manasseh and Ephraim, with meagre records, followed by Benjamin, which again is exhaustive, then by Simeon, Zebulon, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali and Dan (xiii.-xix.). Three cities on either side of Jordan were then set apart as cities of refuge for innocent homicides, and for the Levites forty-eight cities with their pasture land, xx. 1-xxi. 42. As Israel was now in possession of the land in accordance with the divine promise, xxi. 43-45, Joshua dismissed the two and a half tribes to their eastern home with commendation and exhortation, xxii. 1-8. Incurring the severe displeasure of the other tribes by building what was supposed to be a schismatic altar, they explained that it was intended only as a memorial and as a witness of their kinship with Israel, xxii. 9-34.

The book concludes with two farewell speeches, the first (xxiii.) couched in general, the second xxiv. 1-23, in somewhat more particular terms, in which Joshua reminds the people of the goodness of their God, warns them against idolatry and intermarriage with the natives of the land, and urges upon them the peril of compromise and the duty of rendering Jehovah a whole-hearted service. The people solemnly pledge themselves to obedience, xxiv. 23-28. Then Joshua’s death and burial are recorded, and past was linked to present in the burial of Joseph’s bones (Gen. 1. 25) at last in the promised land, xxiv. 29-33.

The documentary sources which lie at the basis of the Pentateuch are present, though in different proportions, in the book of Joshua, and in their main features are easily recognizable. The story of the conquest (i.-xii.) is told by the prophetic document JE, while the geographical section on the distribution of the land (xiii.-xxii.) belongs in the main to the priestly document P. Joshua, in common with Judges, Samuel (in part) and Kings, has also been very plainly subjected to a redaction known to criticism as the Deuteronomic, because its phraseology and point of view are those of Deuteronomy. This redactional element, which, to any one fresh from the study of Deuteronomy, is very easy to detect, is more or less conspicuous in all of the first twelve chapters, but it is especially so in chs. i. and xxiii., and it would be well worth the student’s while to read these two chapters very carefully, in order to familiarize himself with the nature of the influence of the Deuteronomic redaction upon the older prophetico-historical material. Very significant, e.g., are such phrases as “the land which Jehovah your God giveth you to possess,” i. 11, Deuteronomy xii. 1: equally so is the emphasis upon the law, i. 7, xxiii. 6, and the injunction to “love Jehovah your God,” xxiii. 11.

The most serious effect of the Deuteronomic influence has been to present the history rather from an ideal than from a strictly historical point of view. According to the redaction, e.g., the conquest of Canaan was entirely effected within one generation and under Joshua, whereas it was not completely effected till long after Joshua’s death: indeed the oldest source frankly admits that in many districts it was never thoroughly effected at all (Jud. i. 27-36). A typical illustration of the Deuteronomic attitude to the history is to be found in the statement that Joshua obliterated the people of Gezer, x. 33, which directly contradicts the older statement that Israel failed to drive them out, xvi. 10. The Deuteronomist is, in reality, not a historian but a moralist, interpreting the history and the forces, divine as well as human, that were moulding it. To him the conquest was really complete in the generation of Joshua, as by that time the factors were all at work which would ultimately compel success. The persistency of the Deuteronomic influence, even long after the priestly code was written, is proved by xx. 4-6, which, though embodied in a priestly passage, is in the spirit of Deuteronomy (cf. Deut. xix.). As this passage is not found in the Septuagint, it is probably as late as the third century B.C.

P is very largely represented. Its presence is recognized, as usual, by its language, its point of view, and its dependence upon other parts of the Pentateuch, demonstrably priestly. While in the older sources, e.g., it is Joshua who divides the land, xviii. 10, in P not only is Eleazar the priest associated with him as Aaron with Moses (Exod. viii. 5, 16), but he is even named before him (xiv. 1, cf. Num. xxxiv. 17). It is naturally also this document which records the first passover in the promised land, v. 10-12. The cities of refuge and the Levitical cities are set apart (xx., xxi.) in accordance with the terms prescribed in a priestly chapter of Numbers (xxxv.). The prominence of Judah and Benjamin in the allocation of the land is also significant. The section on the memorial altar, xxii. 9-34, apparently belonging to a later stratum of P, is clearly stamped as priestly by its whole temper–its formality, _v_, 14, its representation of the “congregation” as acting unanimously, _v_. 16, its repetitions and stereotyped phraseology, and by the prominence it gives to “Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest,” _vv_. 30-32. That this document in Joshua was partly narrative so well as statistical is also suggested by its very brief account of Achan’s sin in ch. vii., and of the treachery and punishment of the Gibeonites, ix. l7-2l–an account which may well have been fuller in the original form of the document.

The most valuable part of Joshua for historical purposes is naturally that which comes from the prophetic document, which is the oldest. It is here that the interesting and concrete detail lies, notably in chs. i.-xii., but also scattered throughout the rest of the book in some extremely important fragments, which indicate how severe and occasionally unsuccessful was the struggle of Israel to gain a secure footing upon certain parts of the country.[1] Many of the difficulties revealed by a minute study of i.-xii. make it absolutely certain that the prophetic document is really composite (JE), but owing to the thorough blending of the sources the analysis is peculiarly difficult and uncertain. That there are various sources, however, admits of no doubt. The story of the crossing of the Jordan in chs. iii., iv., if we follow it carefully step by step, is seen to be unintelligible on the assumption that it is a unity. In iii. 17 all the people are already over the Jordan, but in iv. 4, 5, the implication is that they are only about to cross. Ch. iv. 2 repeats iii. 12 almost word for word. In iv. 9 the memorial stones are to be placed in the Jordan, in iv. 20 at Gilgal. In vii. 25_b_, 26_a_, Achan alone appears to be stoned, in _v_. 25_c_ the family is stoned too. A similar confusion prevails in the story of the fall of Jericho (vi.). In one version, Israel marches six days silently round the city, and on the seventh they shout at the word of Joshua; on the other, they march round seven times in one day, and the seventh time they shout at the blast of the trumpet.
[Footnote 1: Cf. xv. 14-19, 63; xvi. 10; xvii. 11-18; xix. 47.]

Enough has been said to show that the prophetic document, as we have it, is composite, though there can seldom be any manner of certainty about the ultimate analysis into its J and E constituents. There is reason to believe that most of the isolated notices of the struggle with the Canaanites scattered throughout xiii.-xxii. and repeated in Judges i. are from J, while ch. xxiv., with its interest in Shechem and Joseph, and its simple but significant statement, “They presented themselves before _God_ (Elohim),” xxiv. 1, is almost entirely from E.

It used to be maintained, on the strength of a phrase in v. 1–“until _we_ were passed over”–that the book of Joshua must have been written by a contemporary. But the true reading there is undoubtedly that given by the Septuagint–until _they_ passed over-which involves only a very slight change in the Hebrew. On what, then, do the narratives of the book really rest? The answer is suggested by x. 12, 13, where the historian appeals to the book of Jashar in confirmation of an incident in Joshua’s southern campaign. Doubtless the whole battle was described in one of the war-ballads in this famous collection (cf. Jud. v.), and it is not unreasonable to suppose that other narratives in the book of Joshua similarly rest upon other ballads now for ever lost. The capture of Jericho, e.g., may well have been commemorated in a stirring song which was an inspiration alike to faith and patriotism.

If, however, it be true that the book of Joshua has thus a poetic basis, it is only fair to remember that its prose narratives must not be treated as bald historical annals; they must be interpreted in a poetic spirit. There is the more reason to insist upon this, as a later editor, by a too inflexible literalism, has misinterpreted the very passage from the book of Jashar to which we have alluded. What the precise meaning of Joshua’s fine apostrophe to sun and moon may be, is doubtful–whether a prayer for the prolongation of the day or rather perhaps a prayer for the sudden oncoming of darkness. The words mean, “Sun, be thou still,” and if this be the prayer, it would perhaps be answered by the furious storm which followed. But, in either case, the appeal to the sun and moon to lend their help to Israel in her battles is obviously poetic–a fine conception, but grotesque if literally pressed. This, however, is just what has been done by the editor who added x. 14, and thus created a miracle out of the bold but appropriate imagery of the poet. Similarly it is not necessary to suppose that the walls of Jericho fell down without the striking of a blow on the part of Israel, for this too may be poetry. It may be just the imaginative way of saying that no walls can stand before Jehovah when He fights for His people. That this is the real meaning of the story, and that there was more of a struggle than the poetical narrative of ch. vi. would lead us to believe, is made highly probable by, the altogether incidental but very explicit statement in xxiv. 11, “The men of Jericho _fought_ against you.”

With its large geographical element the book of Joshua is not particularly rich in scenes of direct religious value; yet the whole narrative is inspired by a sublime faith in the divine purpose and its sure triumph over every obstacle. In particular, the story of the Gibeonites suggests the permanent obligation of reckoning with God in affairs of national policy, ix. 14, while Gilgal is a reminder of the duty of formally commemorating the beneficent providences of life (iii., iv.). The story of Achan reveals the national bearings of individual conduct and the large and disastrous consequences of individual sin. The valedictory addresses of Joshua are touched by a fine sense of the importance of a grateful and uncompromising fidelity to God. But perhaps the greatest thing in the book is the vision of the heavenly leader encouraging Joshua on the eve of his perilous campaign, v. 13-15, a noble imagination, fitted to remind those who are fighting the battles of the Lord that they are sustained and aided by forces unseen.