The Composition of the Pentateuch as a Historical and a Hermeneutical Problem

Konrad Schmid (Zurich)


The Pentateuch dates back to the first millennium BCE, comprising texts that were written down mainly between the 9th and the 4th century BCE. To reconstruct its literary genesis is a task that has occupied biblical scholarship for more than 250 years. Despite some major divergences, certain contours of its composition have taken shape in the field of Pentateuchal research. However, the question of how a composite text such as the Pentateuch can be read and understood has been less in the focus of scholarship. This question is not only relevant from a hermeneutical perspective, but is crucial for establishing a suitable methodology for reconstructing the composition of the Pentateuch: Only by clarifying the historical hermeneutics of the compositional process of the Pentateuch can a critical framework for a historically informed textual analysis be gained. Of course, both directions of investigation – reconstructing earlier layers in the Pentateuch and determining the hermeneutics of its composition – are mutually interdependent, however a synthesis is not only necessary but also possible.