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In Judaism, the Torah in its strictest sense is the collection of five books; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. It is also referred to as the Pentateuch (Greek: "five books") or Chumash (a Hebrew word, meaning "a collection of five"). According to Jewish tradition, these books were given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai.

The book of Deuteronomy is different than the previous books; thus sometimes the first four books of the Bible are known as the Tetrateuch. The first six books of the Bible as a unit (The Torah immediately followed by the book of Joshua) is sometimes referred to as the Hexateuch, as the book of Joshua picks up directly where Deuteronomy leaves off.

Jews also use the word Torah, in a wider sense, to refer to all authoritative Jewish religious teachings. This includes Tanach, the Mishna, the two Talmuds, the accepted midrashic literature, and the works of all Rabbis who are accepted as such by Orthodox Judaism.

The Samaritans have their own version of the Torah, which contains many variant readings. Many of these agree with the Septuagint against the Massoretic Text[?], leading many scholars to believe that parts of the Samaritan text may have once been common in ancient Palestine, but rejected by the Massoretes[?].

Traditional view of inspiration

The traditional Jewish perspective has been that the entire Torah was verbally dictated by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. This dictation included not only the "quotes" which appear in the text, but every word of the text itself, including phrases such as "And God spoke to Moses..."

The rabbis held that not only are the words giving a Divine message, but the words were also indicators of a far greater message that extends beyond them. They held that even as small a mark as a kotzo shel yod, the serif of the Hebrew letter yod (which happens to be the smallest letter), was put there by God to teach scores of lessons. This is regardless of whether that yod appears in the phrase "I am the Lord thy God," or whether it appears in that oft repeated "And God spoke unto Moses saying."

In a similar vein, Rabbi Akiva, who died in 135 A.D., is said to have learned a new law from every et in the Torah--the word et is meaningless and is used to mark the direct accusative subject of a sentence. In other words, the Orthodox view is that "And God spoke unto Moses saying..." is no less important than the actual statement.

One kabbalistic interpretation is that the Torah constitutes one long name of God, and that it was broken up into words so that human minds can understand it. While this is effective since it accords with our human reason, it is not the only way that the text can be broken up. For Orthodox Jews, the Torah is that rush of letters and sounds that can mean so many different things.

Christianity also believes that the Torah is the word of God; however most Christians do not necessarilly hold that it was "dictated" to Moses all at once. Further, traditional Christianity holds that while the Torah's quotes from God should literally be understood as quotes from God Himself, the rest of the text is not a direct quote, but rather human words written by a prophet under divine inspiration. Thus the entire Torah is held to be a holy revelation, but not all of it is seen as a quote.

The Christian belief that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine has a very close analogy in the traditional Christian view of Scripture.


The Torah does not contain a complete and ordered system of legislature, but rather, a general philosophical basis, and a great number of particular laws, which are often reminiscent of the existing customs in the Ancient East, but have important conceptual varations from them. This means that in the legislative sense, the written Torah was intended as a complement to an existing oral legal tradition.

After the destruction of Jerusalem as the center of Jewish cultural life and the beginning of the Jewish diaspora, it was decided to write down this oral tradition in the form of the Mishnah and the Talmud. Therefore, most Jews follow the traditional explication of these laws that can be found in this later literature. Karaites, who reject the oral law, and adhere solely to the laws of the Torah, are a major exception.

Modern day scholars hold that the text of the Torah appears to be redacted[?] together from a number of earlier sources; this is known as the Documentary hypothesis, also called the "JEDP" theory.

See also: Tanakh, Bible, Moses

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