THE TORAH OR BIBLE
Below are my amateurish attempts at providing a historical framework to Biblical stories, based on modern research.
THE TEXT SOURCES - THE TORAH
The most important text of Jewish faith is the Torah ("Instruction", "Teaching" or "Law") or Tanakh or sometimes Mikra.
It has a range of meanings: it can most specifically mean the first 5 books (Pentateuch or 5 books of Moses) of the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible. This is commonly known as the Written Torah.
It can also mean the continued narrative from all the 24 books, from the Book of Genesis to the Chronicles.
In Hebrew, the 5 books of the Torah are mostly in Hebrew and are identified by their incipits. The common English names for the books are derived from the Greek Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament or Septuagint, from Latin septuaginta, "70") which reflect the essential theme of each book:
- Bareshit, literally "In the beginning" - Genesis (from Greek Génesis, "creation")
- Shemot, literally "Names" - Exodus (from Latin exodus, "mass departure").
- Wayiqra, literally "And He called" - Leviticus (from Greek leuitikón, "relating to the Levites")
- Bamidbar, literally "In the desert" - Numbers (from Greek arithmoí, "numbers")
- Devarim, literally "Things" or "Words" - Deuteronomy (from Greek deuteronómion, "second law")
If in bound book form, it is usually printed with the rabbinic commentaries (perushim).
If meant for liturgic purposes, it takes the form of a Torah scroll (sefer Torah), which contains strictly the 5 books of Moses, kept in the Aron Kodesh (holy chest) or Heikhal (temple): the Torah Ark, a special cabinet in the Bet Knesset (house of assembly, house of prayer; synagogue from Greek synagoge, 'assembly') and carried outside it in a special case.
Torah cabinet - Torah scroll - Silver Torah case
The Christian version is the Old Testament ("Statement of Belief"), consisting of many distinct books by various authors produced over a period of centuries. Christians traditionally divide the Old Testament into 4 sections:
- The first 5 books or Pentateuch (Torah);
- The books telling the history of the Israelites, from their conquest of Canaan to their defeat and exile in Babylon;
- The poetic and "Wisdom books", dealing in various forms with questions of good and evil in the world;
- The books of the Biblical prophets, warning of the consequences of turning away from God.
A first curiosity is that this written material is known in the western world in early Koine Greek (also known as Alexandrian dialect, the form of Greek spoken and written during the Hellenistic period, the Roman Empire, and the early Byzantine Empire) names like Bible from biblos ("book"), Pentateuch ("5 books"), or Latin names like Old Testament (from Latin "testamentum", the publication of a will).
This is understandable since according to the legend, 72 Jewish scholars were asked by Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the Greek king of Egypt, to translate the Torah from Biblical Hebrew to Greek for inclusion in the Library of Alexandria, a work started in the 3rd century BC and completed by 132 BC.
Early translations into Latin - the Vetus Latina - were ad hoc conversions of parts of the Septuagint. In the 4th century AD came the Vulgate Latin translation by St. Jerome (347-420 AD), who culled his texts from a multitude of versions, his rejects known as Apocrypha (Greek for "secret" or "spurious, of doubtful authenticity").
Let us have a look at its narration using the King James Version, also known as the King James Bible or simply the Authorized Version, the English translation of the Christian Bible for the Church of England, begun in 1604 and completed as well as published in 1611 under the sponsorship of James VI, the source of the quotes below (from the King James Bible Online).
1. The Bareshit or Genesis
Its first verse is: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.".
Most religions include a cosmogony, the mythical description of how the world and its inhabitants were created by their God or Gods. Needless to say, such myths rarely contain any historical proof.
So let's start from where it gets down to more "mundane" matters.
, verses 26-32: And Methuselah lived after he begat Lamech seven hundred eighty and two (782) years. And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years (969): and he died. And Lamech lived an hundred eighty and two (182) years, and begat a son. And he called his name Noah. And Noah was five hundred years old (500): and Noah begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
Chapter 6, verses 7, 13-14, 18-19: And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons' wives with thee. And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female..
Chapter 7, verses 10, 12, 24: And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth. And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights. And the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred and fifty (150) days..
Chapter 8, verses 1, 4: And God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that was with him in the ark: and God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters asswaged. And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat..
Noah's Ark, animal pairs embarking - Mount Ararat (Büyük Agri Dagi), elevation 5,165 metres, is the highest peak in Turkey.
, verses 26, 29-31: And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran
. And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah. And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan
; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.
, verses 1-11: Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee. And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing. And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came. And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him. And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD. And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south. And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land
75 y.o. Abraham's 955-mile journey from Ur to Canaan (red line)
, verses 7, 19, 21, 25-26: And these are the days of the years of Abraham's life which he lived, an hundred threescore and fifteen years (175). And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son: Abraham begat Isaac. And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau's heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old (60) when she bare them.
, verse 28: All these are the twelve tribes of Israel: and this is it that their father (Jacob) spake unto them, and blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them
In short, 75 y.o. Abram (Abraham), descendant of Noe (Noah), is made to leave Canaan with his wife Sarai (Sarah) for Egypt due to a famine.
His 130 y.o. grandson Jacob, later given the name Israel, also leaves for Egypt with his entire household of 70 due to a 7-year famine and is warmly welcomed by the Pharaoh. Later, the attitude of a succeeding Pharaoh becomes decidedly less friendly.
Polygamy was widely practiced by the ancent Jews, as was and is in other rural societies - manpower for the fields, and lack of other diversions . It was frowned upon much later in Rabbinic times, and eventually prohibited.
2. The Shemot or Exodus
, verses 1-5,7,11,22: Now these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt; every man and his household came with Jacob. Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan, and Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls: for Joseph was in Egypt already. And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses. And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive.
, verses 1-3, 5-6, 10-12, 15, 23-24: And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river's brink. And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river's side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it. And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews' children. And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she said, Because I drew him out of the water.
Abandoned infant Moses adrift on the Nile in a basket - Rescue by the Pharaoh's daughter
(It is debated whether the name "Moses" has a Hebrew or Egyptian etymology).
And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand. Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well. And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob
, verses 1-2, 8-10: Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
The burning bush
And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.
, verse 19: La'mech took two wives for himself. The name of the first was A'dah, and the name of the second was Zil'lah.
, verses 20, 27-31: And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand. And the LORD said to Aaron, Go into the wilderness to meet Moses. And he went, and met him in the mount of God, and kissed him. And Moses told Aaron all the words of the LORD who had sent him, and all the signs which he had commanded him. And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel. And Aaron spake all the words which the LORD had spoken unto Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed: and when they heard that the LORD had visited the children of Israel, and that he had looked upon their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped.
, verses 1-4: Then the LORD said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh: for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land. And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the LORD. And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them. And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers.
, verse 40: Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty (430) years.
, verse 51: And it came to pass the selfsame day, that the LORD did bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their armies.
, verses 17-18: And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt. But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.
, verses 17-18, 21-22: And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt. But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt. And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.
Moses causes the waters of the Red Sea to part - One of the various proposed routes for the Exodus
This 2nd book of the Torah was written over a period of some 200 years: modern scholars see its initial composition as a product of the Babylonian exile (6th century BC), with final revisions in the Persian post-exilic period (5th century BC). The overwhelming consensus among scholars is that the Exodus story is best understood as a myth and does not accurately describe historical events.
3. The Wayiqra or Leviticus
, verses 1, 7/8: And the LORD called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying...And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire...And the priests, Aaron's sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar
Model of the portable tabernacle in Timna Valley Park, Israel
, verses 35-36: This is the portion of the anointing of Aaron, and of the anointing of his sons, out of the offerings of the LORD made by fire, in the day when he presented them to minister unto the LORD in the priest's office...Which the LORD commanded to be given them of the children of Israel, in the day that he anointed them, by a statute for ever throughout their generations.
4. The Bamidbar or Numbers
Chapter 1, verses 1-2, 19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 31, 33, 35, 37, 39, 41, 43: And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying, Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, with the number of their names, every male by their polls; As the LORD commanded Moses, so he numbered them in the wilderness of Sinai.Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Reuben, were forty and six thousand and five hundred (46,500). Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Simeon, were fifty and nine thousand and three hundred (59,300). Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Gad, were forty and five thousand six hundred and fifty (45,650). Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Judah, were threescore and fourteen thousand and six hundred (74,600). Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Issachar, were fifty and four thousand and four hundred (54,500). Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Zebulun, were fifty and seven thousand and four hundred (57,400). Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Ephraim, were forty thousand and five hundred (40,500). Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Manasseh, were thirty and two thousand and two hundred (32,200). Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Benjamin, were thirty and five thousand and four hundred (35,400). Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Dan, were threescore and two thousand and seven hundred (62,700). Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Asher, were forty and one thousand and five hundred (41,500). Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Naphtali, were fifty and three thousand and four hundred (41,400).
A total of 591,650 male Jews aged 20 y.o. or more. Also considering female, infirm and under 20 Jews, the whole must have numbered almost 2,000,000 people.
5. The Devarim or Deuteronomy
Chapter 1, verses 3-8: And it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month, that Moses spake unto the children of Israel, according unto all that the LORD had given him in commandment unto them;After he had slain Sihon the king of the Amorites, which dwelt in Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, which dwelt at Astaroth in Edrei: On this side Jordan, in the land of Moab, began Moses to declare this law, saying, The LORD our God spake unto us in Horeb, saying, Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount: Turn you, and take your journey, and go to the mount of the Amorites, and unto all the places nigh thereunto, in the plain, in the hills, and in the vale, and in the south, and by the sea side, to the land of the Canaanites, and unto Lebanon, unto the great river, the river Euphrates. Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them.
THE JEWISH PRIESTHOOD
According to the Genesis, Aaron and his tribe of Levi were entrusted with the role of priests for the community of Israel.
Over time, their office came into ideological conflict with lay scholars of the Torah, who held that they did not need priests to explain it. Eventually, this created the split between the Parišayya ("Farisees") and the Sédûqîm ("Sadducees"). Authoritative Bible teachers were addressed as rabi ("My Master") by their students, from the word rav literally meaning "great one".
Hence the terms rabbi, rabbinic, etc. After the final diaspora (from the Greek verb diaspeiro,"scatter"), rabbis were the only remaining Biblical scholars/teachers, who over time collected their teachings in the Talmud.
THE TEXT SOURCES - THE TALMUD
The Talmud is the central text of Rabbinic Judaism and the primary source of Jewish religious law (halakha) and Jewish theology. The Talmud has two components:
- The Mishnah, a written compendium of Rabbinic Judaism's Oral Torah
- The Gemara, an elucidation of the Mishnah and related Tannaitic writings (ca. 10-220 AD) that often ventures onto other subjects and expounds broadly on the Hebrew Bible.
The oldest full surviving manuscript of the Talmud, known as the Munich Talmud, dates from 1342.
The Talmud contains 613 mitzvot (commandments) regulating Jewish life.
Among them are the kashrut, a set of dietary laws dealing with the foods that are permitted to eat and how those foods must be prepared according to Jewish law. Food that may be consumed is deemed kosher ("fit for consumption"), including:
- The prescription of draining blood from the carcasses of slaughtered animals - blood is the first body fluid to putrefy in hot climates.
- The admissibility as food source of mammals that both chew their cud (ruminate) and have cloven hooves, and the exclusion of animals with one characteristic but not the other (the camel, the hyrax, and the hare because they have no cloven hooves, and the pig (because it does not ruminate and eats filth).
The kashrut rules are mirrored in the Islamic halal ("permissible"). As often happens with religious "taboos", they result fron age-long tribal experiences.
The first page of the Babylonian Talmud,
the Berakhot ("Blessings")
The majority of Biblical scholars believe that the written Torah books were a product of the Babylonian captivity (c. 6th century BC), based on earlier written sources and oral traditions, and that it was completed with final revisions during the post-Exilic period.
The Babylonian captivity or exile is the period in which a number of people from the ancient Kingdom of Judah were captives in Babylonia: after the battle of Carchemish (605 BC), King Nebuchadnezzar (605/604-562 BC) of Babylon besieged Jerusalem for 7 years, with a deportation in his 23rd year. The dates, numbers of deportations, and numbers of deportees given in the Biblical accounts vary.
Nebuchadnezzar's deportations are dated 597-587/586 BC, and 582/581 BC.
The legendary history of David and Solomon in the 10th century BC tells little about the origins of Judah. There is no archaeological evidence of an extensive, powerful Kingdom of Judah before the late 8th century BC.
The United Monarchy - Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar - The separate Kingdoms of Judah (orange) and Israel (blue)
After the fall of Babylon to the Persian king Cyrus the Great in 539 BC, exiled Judeans were permitted to return to Judah.
Further historical events are summarised in the CHRONOLOGY table below.