This was my final paper for a graduate-school class called Bible: Text and Context. It’s probably the nerdiest, most jargon-filled piece preserved here, but I just really love it.
The phrase “ספר התורה” (literally “the document of instruction”) serves an interesting dual purpose in its appearances within the Hebrew Bible. On a textual level, it is one of the identifying locutions of the Deuteronomic Historian. The appearances of the phrase link the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, and (Second) Kings to each other. The books of Nehemiah and Chronicles, understood as originating more recently than the Deuteronomic history, similarly employ the phrase to emphasize their link to the world-view of the earlier books. However, the phrase also functions on a metatextual level, acting on the text while it acts within the text. The employment of the phrase (and variations of it) within these texts subtly insists that the very texts in which the phrase appears be incorporated into the canonical version of the scripture.
Although neither word is particularly scarce in the Hebrew Bible, “ספר” and “התורה” only appear together in the construct state nine times, first appearing in Deuteronomy 31:26. Having delivered his final words of law and set out consequences for its followers should they be faithful or disobey, Moses transfers leadership to Joshua. Moses presents the Levites with “this book of Teaching (ספר התורה הזה)” to place alongside the Ark “as a witness against you.” Menahem Haran notes that ספר, when used in this way, refers to the physical artifact of the document, remarking “It is not the designation, or part of the designation, of the work as such, as a thing separate from its scroll.” Moses is not simply delivering information – he’s delivering a sacred object. Continue reading