The Torah was commanded to us by Moses, right? Well, maybe not, but that does not stop up from chanting these words as we redress the scroll. Part of the beauty and wonder of our approach to Jewish tradition is blending the mythic and historic, the literal and interpretation, and enhancing keva – fixed practice – with kavannah – intention.
As we studied the book of Deuteronomy this past shabbat we simply accepted that some verses from chapter 6 went into the black box of the Babylonian exile and came out “the Sh’ma”, as did a lot of the rabbinic practice that appeared in the Mishnah in the third century C.E. We read in the book of Kings that a priest of King Josiah of Judah “found” a book of law that mirrored Josiah’s own political and religious priorities, which were immediately instituted. Yet this knowledge does not temper the reverence with which we regard these texts.
The “discovery” of Deuteronomy in the early 600’s prompted us to want to know about the history of the other books or Torah, history that I could not give in sufficient detail. So, as any good teacher does when she can’t answer her students, I did some research. Here is the current state of scholarship on this topic.
The oldest texts are likely the J texts, which may date back to the unified monarchy of David and Solomon in the 10th century B.C.E. The E texts are at least a century younger and likely a contribution of the northern kingdom of Israel. The Priestly texts are the youngest and attributed to the Babylonian exile as well as early in the period after the return in 539 CE. This P source is also credited with a significant redaction role.
This is certainly interesting and useful information to think about. But it doesn’t do so much for our emotional or spiritual lives, I suspect. So, as we celebrate the treasure of our Torah on Shabbat morning, singing Torah tziva lanu Moshe! is a pretty good interpretation.