The first part of the Bible is called the Torah, which means the Law. It is also called the Pentateuch which means the five books. These books are also called the Books of Moses. They include Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The events described in these books, from the calling of Abraham to the death of Moses, probably took place sometime in the second millennium before Christ (2000–1200 BC).
The Book of Genesis contains the pre-history of the people of Israel. It begins with the story of the creation of the world, the fall of Adam and Eve and the subsequent, quite sinful, history of the children of Adam. It then tells of God’s call and promise of salvation to Abraham, and the story of Isaac and Jacob, whom God named Israel, ending with the settlement of the twelve tribes of Israel—the families of the twelve sons of Jacob—in Egypt, during the time of Joseph’s favor with the Egyptian Pharaoh. In traditional Church language, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are called the patriarchs.
The Book of Exodus relates the deliverance of the people of Israel by Moses from the slavery in Egypt to which they were subjected after the death of Joseph. It tells of the revelation of God to Moses of His divine name of Yahweh—I AM WHO I AM (3.14). It gives the account of the passover and the exodus, and the journey of the Israelites, led by God, through the desert. Also, in this book is the narrative of God’s gift of the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai, and the other laws which God gave to Moses concerning the moral and ritual conduct of His People.
The Book of Leviticus is a further book of laws, primarily concerned with the priestly and ritual offices of the people which were conducted by men taken from the tribe of Levi.
The Book of Numbers concerns itself primarily with a census of the people. It also contains laws given by God to Moses, and further narratives about the movement of God’s People through the wilderness to the land which God promised them.
The Book of Deuteronomy, which means the “second law,” is again primarily a law code in which is told again the story of the Ten Commandments and the institution of the Mosaic laws of moral and ritual conduct. It ends with Moses’ blessing of the people, and his vision of the promised land into which Joshua would lead God’s People after his death, the account of which ends the Books of Moses.
Scholars tell us that the Law was not written by the personal hand of Moses and that the books show evidence of being the result of a number of oral and written traditions transmitted among the People of Israel, containing material of later periods. Nevertheless, in the Tradition of Israel and of the Christian Church, the Law remains essentially connected with Moses, the great man of God to whom “the Lord used to speak . . . face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex 33.11).
The Ten Commandments
- I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me.
- You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above. or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them: for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
- You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
- Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work: but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth. the sea. and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore, the LORD blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.
- Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.
- You shall not kill.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his man servant, or his maidservant, or his ox. or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.