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The Covenant and the Torah


  • Torah is often translated “law” but can be defined more broadly as “instruction” or “teaching.” It may denote the Mosaic law, the Pentateuch, or the Hebrew Scriptures.
  • The Torah was the covenant charter for how to live as the people of God. Disobedience could be remedied through repentance and the cultic means of atonement.
  • Torah reveals Yahweh’s righteousness to the nations (Deuteronomy 4:5-8).
  • Leviticus: the Greek title leuitikon means “levitical” or “pertaining to the Levites” (priests), while the Hebrew title vayyiqra means “and he called.” Leviticus focuses on the priestly call to be holy or set apart.
  • Deuteronomy: the Greek title deuteronomion means “second law,” while the Hebrew ‘elleh hadevarim means “these are the words.” Deuteronomy represents itself as Moses’ final speech to the Israelites about to enter the promised land.

ANE Covenants

  • Parity treatises and Suzerainty treatises.
  • Suzerain treatises: title or preamble, historical prologue, stipulations, blessings or curses, witnesses. Example: “Treaty between the Hittites and Egypt.”

ANE Law Codes and Law Forms

  • Cuneiform legal collections from Mesopotamia: Code of Ur-Nammu (2064–2046 BCE), Code of Lipit-Ishtar (1875–1864 BCE), Laws of Eshnunna (1800s BCE), Code of Hammurabi (1792–1750 BCE). We also have the fourteenth century BCE Hittite Laws and the twelfth century BCE Middle Assyrian Laws.
  • Law codes embedded in the Pentateuch: Ethical Decalogue (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5), Covenant Code (Exodus 20:19-23:33), Ritual Decalogue (Exodus 34:11-26), Deuteronomic Code, Holiness Code (Leviticus 17-26), Priestly Code (portions of Exodus, Numbers, and Leviticus)
  • Casuistic Laws: case law (“if you do x, the consequence will be y”)
  • Apodictic Laws: absolute commands or prohibitions (“thou shall not!”)

The Priestly Cult

  • The holy deity dwells among the people in the portable tabernacle and later the temple, so one must be in a state of ritual purity (i.e. clean) to enter increasingly sacred spaces. In many cases, a prescribed length of time or a ritual washing could remove the condition of being “unclean.”
  • Sacrifices: Burnt offering, Grain or Drink offering, Peace offering, Sin offering, and Guilt offering. The intent could range from offering thanksgiving, showing one’s dedication to God, making restitution for mistreating sacred objects or personal property, or expiating unintentional transgressions.
  • The sin offering cleansed the sin that defiled the sanctuary (cf. Jacob Milgrom) and perhaps the worshiper.
  •  On the “Day of Atonement” (Yom Kippur), sin offerings were made for the priests and people and a ritual scapegoat was driven out to the wilderness.

The Dietary Restrictions

  • Leviticus 11:3-8 and Deuteronomy 14:4-8.
  • Medical or hygienic reasons?
  • Revulsion towards certain types of creatures?
  • Ethical injunctions such as reverence for life or not imitating certain creatures?
  • Boundaries to separate the social body of Israel from other peoples in the land of Canaan? See especially Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Polution and Taboo.

Specifics in the book of Deuteronomy

  • Structure: title or preamble (1:1-5), historical prologue (1:6-4:49), stipulations that are general (i.e. Decalogue) and specific (5-26), blessings or curses (27-28), witnesses (29-33), and epilogue (34-35).
  • The Shema (“hear!”) (6:4-9): commands exclusive monolatry and is the justification for the practice of the Tefillin (phylactery) wrap and the use of Mezuzah (parchment with biblical texts in a case placed on the doorpost). It is also cited in the New Testament (Mark 12:29-30; Romans 3:30; 1 Corinthians 8:6; James 2:19).
  • The centralization of worship as opposed to many altars. One God, one people, and one designated place of worship.
  • Example of changing laws: accused murderers fled to cities of refuge rather than altars to be protected from vengeance.

Christian Approaches to the Old Testament Law

  • Theonomy: enforcing the Mosaic Law in a modern theocracy.
  • Marcionism: viewing the Mosaic Law as completely irrelevant to Christians. Marcion differentiated the God of strict justice from Jesus’ loving heavenly Father.
  • Division between moral, civil, and ritual laws.
  • Salvation-historical approach.


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