The Torah of Torahs: A Proposed Biblical Theological Typology

The Torah of Torahs: A Proposed Biblical Theological Typology

The Torah of Torahs: A Proposed Biblical Theological Typology 150 150 Andrew Hicks

The importance of 5 has long been appreciated in Biblical studies as a potentially significant typological number. The source of the 5 from which any typological reflection is, of course, the five books of the Torah (also known as the five books of Moses or Pentateuch): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. It has also been widely appreciated that the book of Psalms is mimicking the five books of the Torah and providing a kind of poetic Pentateuch. The next most obvious set of 5 in the Hebrew Bible would be the five Megillot scrolls in the final section of the tri-part canon of the Hebrew Old Testament. Found in various orders depending on the codex consulted the books were used for liturgical readings in cycles of annual festivals: Song of Songs (Passover), Lamentations (9th of Av), Esther (Purim), Ruth (Shauu’ot), and Ecclesiastes (sukkot).

In the New Testament typological fives can be found as well. The first book of the New Testament, Matthew, seems to have structured his narrative around 5 large speeches or discourses of Jesus. Matthew’s Moses-typology of Jesus is further strengthened by this structure as well. Another less appreciated, but still possible typological five, is what I’m calling the “core” of the New Testament since it begins and contains the largest percentage of the New Testament: the four gospels and Acts. The reasoning for this is far less straightforward than any of the other perceived fives, but nonetheless possible.

Further justification is certainly needed to prove the New Testament Core as a Christian Pentateuch. While I do not claim to be able to fully exhaust the possibilities I do offer these humble suggestions as fodder:

  • Matthew’s use of a genealogy to begin his account of Jesus is important. The first part of the opening line of his Gospel say a lot: “an account of the genealogy of Jesus…” The word here for genealogy is the same word from which the LXX translators got the name for the first book of the Greek Pentateuch: Genesis. The exact Greek phrase is used in Matthew 1:1 as in Genesis 2:4 and 5:1: “This is the book of the origin of…” Matthew is also perhaps signaling to the well-known toledot formula that some argue structure the book of Genesis. A genealogy that begins with Abraham and traces through his lineage is also unmistakably a tip of the hat to Genesis whose content revolves around Abraham and his offspring. W. Bacon has shown it is also possible to view this “Christian Pentateuch” of Matthew’s gospel in larger sections:Preamble: The Birth Narrative (1-2)First Book: Discipleship (3-7)Second Book: Apostleship (8-10)Third Book: Hiding of the Revelation (11-13)Fourth Book: Church Administration (14-18)Fifth Book: Judgment (19-25)

    Epilogue: Passion and Resurrection (26-28)

  • As Rikki E. Watts has shown in his book Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark the author of the second gospel is greatly dependent on Isaiah’s writings and theology for the contours of his account. He is especially influenced by Isaiah’s prophecy of the New Exodus. In fact, it seems this New Exodus theme forms the general structure for Mark’s gospel: Galilee Ministry (1:1-8:21), Journey to Jerusalem(8:22-10:52), and In Jerusalem(11:1-16:8). The Exodus connection also makes great sense of some of Mark’s oddest little features:

Jesus’s wandering around Galilee and Judea especially in “deserted places” = desert wandering of Israel

The unnamed mountains that Jesus transfigures on (9:2-8) = Mt. Sinai

“on the Mountain” calling the 12 Disciples reflecting the renewal of the community of Israel = Mt. Sinai

“on the Mountain” and subsequent use of the divine name: “I AM” (6:45-52) = Mt. Sinai

Frequent use of “by the sea” pointing to the purpose of Israel’s deliverance (1:16; 3:7) = the crossing of the sea of Reeds

  • Luke begins and ends his Gospel in the temple as many have noted. At the beginning of his Gospel there is much anticipation by those participating in the temple cult. At the end the disciples are rejoicing and surely experiencing the temple in a new profound way. The connection to the temple easily parallels to Leviticus which is concerned with the proper administration of persons and elements in the tabernacle, the predecessor of the temple. Also 2 of the total 3 uses of the word “Levite” in the New Testament occur in Luke’s writings (cf. Luke 10:32; Acts 4:36; and also see John 1:19) Although one of them is in Acts and another in John which surely weakens any potential parallel.
  • Connections between John and Numbers may seem an odd proposal at first blush, but there are more than you might think. Jesus’s curious declaration before that famous memory verse is a prime example: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14 NRSV). The bronze serpent story to which Jesus is referring occurs only in Numbers (21). This “lifting up” that the Son of Man must complete is mentioned three other times in the Gospel (8:28; 12:32, 34). The rituals for a woman suspected of adultery are also found in Numbers 5 which parallels with the (possibly unoriginal to John) story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11). Other potential parallels are the manna in Numbers 11 and Jesus the bread of life in John 6:35, the water from the rock in Number 20 and Jesus the one offering rivers of eternal life (John 4:13-15; 7:37-39), Moses is commissioned to care for Israel so they are not like sheep without a shepherd in Numbers 27:17 and Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:1-21), and three separate times in John 20 (20:19, 21, 26; see also 3 John 15 )Jesus tells his disciples “peace be with you” perhaps paralleling the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:22-27.
  • I think the ending of Acts (Acts 28:23-31) is purposefully mimicking the ending of the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy 34:1-12). See this chart I’ve made of potential parallels below:
End of Pentatuech – Deuteronomy 34 Ending of NT Pentateuch – Acts 28:23-31
“Joshua” – vs. 9 “Jesus” – vss.. 23, 31.
Moses is the one who has been “commanded” by YHWH and there has never arisen after him a prophet like him who knew YHWH face-to-face – vs. 9-10 “The customs of our ancestors” – v. 17

“The law of Moses” – vs. 23

Paul as one “teaching” about the Lord Jesus Christ – v. 31

Rehearsal of God’s covenant promise “to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” – v. 4 “The hope of Israel” – v. 20
Moses dies without any, but YHWH present and is buried in an unknown location – v. 5-6 Some have argued that Luke’s readers would have been aware of Paul’s death and the circumstances surrounding it and instead presents a picture that goes right up before his death, but for rhetorical effect leaves it undetailed. To this day the circumstances and locations associated with Paul’s last days are highly debated and perhaps completely unknowable with any amount of certainty. 
Summary statement of Moses’s vigor right up to the end  – vs. 8

Summary statement of Moses’s great status vss. 10-12

Summary statement of Paul’s great teaching and proclamation of the kingdom in “boldness and without hindrance” – vss. 30-31

It is beyond the scope of my time, abilities, or concern in the present article to detail any further possible parallel between any of the different torah typologies that I have argued for, but I suspect there could be some fruitful endeavor for the one willing to put in the work. Instead I want now to point out that one accepts all of my proposed torah typologies then we have a total of five “torahs” in scripture. Hence we have a canonical “torah of torahs.” Here they are placed in parallel columns:

Torah Psalms Megillot Matthew’s Gospel The New Testament Core
Genesis Book 1: 1-41 Song of Songs The Sermon on the Mount (5-7) Matthew
Exodus Book 2: 42-72 Ruth The Missionary Discourse (10:1-11:1) Mark
Leviticus Book 3: 73-89 Lamentations The Parable Discourse (13:1-53) Luke
Numbers  Book 4: 90-106 Ecclesiastes The Ecclessial Discourse (18:1-35) John 
Deuteronomy Book 5: 107-150 Esther The Apocalyptic Discourse (24:1-25:46) Acts

Again, I can not say with any amount of certainty, but I suspect that comparing the elements in each row could be a beneficial endeavor. There are some factors that would complicate this that would have to be dealt with. For example, the order of the Megillot used for this chart is a common one in printed versions of the Hebrew Bible. It is the order that the NJPS follows in their TaNaKH translation. It is based on the liturgical readings that each book corresponds to in the annual cycle: Song of Songs is read on Passover in April, Ruth is read on Shavu’ot in May-June, Lamentations is read on the Ninth of Av in July-August, Ecclesiasties is read on Sukkot in September-October, and Esther is read on Purim in March. An alternative order for the Megillot based on some ancient manuscripts is Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and Esther. This order is based on presumed chronological order based on traditional authorship attributions: Ruth written by Samuel, Song of Songs written by a young Solomon, Ecclesiastes written by an old Solomon, Lamentations written by Jeremiah, and Esther written by Mordecai after the Babylonian exile. It is intriguing to note that Esther is last in both arrangements. It is unclear what, if any, meaning to make of that. 

Perhaps I will be able to explore this intriguing proposal of mine in more depth in the future, but for now I believe my proposal holds in theory. At the very least, some more study is needed to detail the parallels, articulate the implications, and answer any objections. Further, some research into the literature is needed to see who may have picked up on part or even potentially all of this proposal in the past in addition to any observations that indirectly though beneficially support my proposal. Also it is necessary to see if any further typological fives can be discerned in other nooks and crannies of the canon. I imagine the typological fives I have pointed out here would be the most abundantly obvious and grand ones, but if there are any other of any size or importance they would surely have to be included in the discussion.

The “torah of torahs” is an intriguing idea that will perhaps bear much fruit in theological reflection on the canon of scripture. Time will tell.

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