Torah

The Hebrew word for "Teaching" or "Instruction." After the Babylonian exile (6th c. BCE), the term was used by Jews to designate a written text containing commandments [mitzwoth] of God. By extension, Torah became the collective term for the five scrolls [Greek: Pentateuch] of Hebrew scripture that were traditionally ascribed to Moses. These scrolls were the textbooks for all Jewish education as well as the basic source for Jewish law. Scribes [sopherim] who copied & interpreted these scrolls eventually identified 613 distinct commandments credited to God.

During the period of the Jewish commonwealth (165 BCE - 70 CE) the Mosaic Torah was generally recognized as the basis of Jewish social order. Yet, there were frequent debates regarding how these commandments were to be interpreted or applied. These debates resulted in the formation of competing religious parties & rival schools of interpretation. A major issue was the extent to which customs, interpretations & other oral lore that was not found written in the Torah were to be considered normative. The Pharisees distinguished themselves from other Jewish parties by their insistence on observance of oral Torah that their teachers had transmitted. Because they regarded these oral principles as essential to the correct observance of the written Torah, teachers in the Pharisaic tradition often insisted that the oral Torah went back to Moses himself. But most of the extra-biblical regulations & traditions that have been transmitted by Jewish teachers since the 1st c. CE were preserved in the name of a teacher who was regarded as a preeminent authority [e.g., Hillel]. The purpose of this ascription is itself subject to debate. It is often hard to determine whether the tradant in whose name a tradition has been preserved was introducing a new interpretation, or was simply transmitting instruction that he had received or whether the saying was posthumously credited to him by some later source. While some Jews indiscriminately refer to all biblical & extra-biblical traditions as Torah, most modern scholars, Jewish or not, restrict that term to the study of the Mosaic Pentateuch itself.

The Latinate titles commonly used today for each of the five books of Torah are derived from the names found in the Greek Septuagint. The equivalent traditional Hebrew names, are derived from the opening words of each book.

Greek title Latin title English trans. Hebrew title English trans.
Genésis Genesis "Origin" Bereshith "In the beginning"
Exodos Exodus "Going out" Shemoth "Names"
Leueďtikon Leviticus "Book of Levi" Wayyiqra "And he called"
Arithmoi Numeri "Numbers" Bemidbar "In the desert"
Deuteronomion Deuteronomy "Duplicate Law" Debarim "Words"

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