The Mosaic Law and the Theology of the Pentateuch -- By: John H. Sailhamer

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 53:2 (Fall 1991)
Article: The Mosaic Law and the Theology of the Pentateuch
Author: John H. Sailhamer


The Mosaic Law and the Theology of the Pentateuch

John H. Sailhamer

I. Introduction

The purpose of this article is to raise the question of the role of the Mosaic Law in the theology of the Pentateuch. By “theology of the Pentateuch,” I mean the major themes and purposes that lie behind its final composition.

1. The Final Composition of the Pentateuch

Much has been written in recent years about the final composition of the Pentateuch.1 In an earlier paper, I attempted to demonstrate the influence of prophetic hope and eschatology in its composition.2 The Pentateuch, I argued, represents an attempt to point to the same hope as the later prophets, namely, the New Covenant.3 “The narrative texts of past events are presented as pointers to events that lie yet in the future. Past events foreshadow the future.”4 Along similar lines, though working from quite different assumptions, Hans-Christoph Schmitt has argued that the Pentateuch is the product of a unified compositional strategy that lays great emphasis on faith.5 According to Schmitt, the same theme is found within the composition of the prophetic books, like Isaiah, and ultimately can be traced into the NT, e.g., the Book of Hebrews.

Schmitt’s approach differs from many critical approaches in that he treats the Pentateuch as one would the later historical books, that is, as the product of an intentional theological

redaction or composition. One must start from the final form of the book and ask what each part of the whole contributes to its theological intention. Schmitt argues that each major unit6 of narrative in the Pentateuch shows signs of a homogeneous theological redaction. A characteristic feature of this redaction is the recurrence of the terminology of “faith” (e.g. האמין ב).7 At crucial compositional seams throughout the Pentateuch, Schmitt is able to find convincing evidence of a “faith theme,” that is, a consistent assessment of the narrative events in light of the rule of “faith” (האמין ב).8 According to Schmitt, this redaction represents the final stages in the composition of the Pentateuch—later even than the so-called priestly redaction. According to Schmitt, it does not reflect an emphasis on keeping the ...

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