The Torah of Moses is a unique collection of writings that either refers to the first five books of the Bible, the whole of the Jewish Bible, or, generally speaking, the "teaching" or "instruction" of the religion of Israel. In this article the first meaning will principally be used.

Because the first five books cover most of the laws related to the religion of Israel and to the current Jewish faith, it is also called the Law. In Greek these books are called the Pentateuch, because they are five (penta) and they are set apart as an order or collection (teuch) of books. The five books are Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.

The first five books of the Bible tell the story of the faith of the true religion, beginning with the creation and ending with the relationship that the God of the Bible makes with a particular people called Israel. There is no other work of such scope in the ancient civilized world, either in terms of length, complexity of sources, or subject matter.

There are older religious canons that have endured even to modern times (such as the Vedas for Hindus), but the Torah is more systematic and coherent in its present form. For modern Jews it is the oldest and most important part of the Bible, and Jews and Christian alike view it as the introduction to the whole Bible.

According to Deuteronomy, the Torah refers to the teaching copied by Moses on Mount Sinai in response to the divine command. The teaching was inscribed on stone tablets and deposited in the Ark of the Covenant, and so it was something like a written contract uniting Israel’s God and God’s Israel.

However, only half of the Pentateuch is legal code. The rest consists of narrative stories and rhetorical exhortations so that the reader can read it as an interesting and persuasive book and not simply as a compendium of religious law.

The story line, or plot, can be summed up in the following broad outline: the history of the human race (Genesis 1–11), the history of Israel’s origins and ancestry (Genesis 12–50), the history of Israel in Egypt before the Torah (Exodus 1–18), the collection of laws for Israel (Exodus 19–Numbers 10), Israel’s response to the Torah laws (Numbers 11–36), and Moses’s fi nal exhortation to Israel to follow the Law contained in the Torah (Deuteronomy 1–34). Moses is important but is not present in all of the material. The reason for calling it the "Torah of Moses" is that Moses is its chief character and is also considered by religious tradition to be its author.

Writings as early as 400 b.c.e. assign the authorship of the Pentateuch to Moses, as do later Jewish and Christian authorities, like Josephus, Philo, the Mishnah, the fathers of the church, and the Talmud. This belief continued almost unanimously until the time of the Renaissance when its authorship was questioned.

Ancient authorities had a different notion of authorship than moderns: For them it was sufficient to consider as author the one who provided the initial impulse and served as inspiration for the writing more than the one who actually finished the job.

For them the author was the one who bore responsibility for the creative enterprise, not the scribe or editor. Today, however, few modern scholars regard Moses as the only—or even the main author—of the Pentateuch. No passage in the Bible says so in such terms, although certain parts are specifically stated as his writings.

Later readers probably felt that if Moses wrote some of the pieces, he probably wrote them all: After all, he spent more than 40 days on Mt. Sinai learning about the Torah’s Law. A good parallel to Moses and the Pentateuch is Solomon and Solomonic literature, that is, a famous person comes to be associated with a particular type of literature so that the popularity of both is increased.

In the legal material there are 613 commandments that define the relationship that Israel is to have with its God. These laws pertain to ethical, religious, and civil matters. They date from the earliest days of Israel’s founding as a nation to the later stages of the Bible’s formation. There may be several sources of material for the five books, and these arise from various perspectives and dates.

Scholars claim to discern the outlines of these documents in the Torah, but often there is not agreement about the seams and interpretations. Other scholars have noticed the similarity between the Torah’s covenant and the ancient treaties that the Hittites’ rulers imposed upon their client vassal peoples.

The centrality of the Torah of Moses is evident in the later parts of the Bible. It becomes the basis for the legitimacy and inspiration for these books even before they are included in the canon. The writings of the New Testament, especially those of Jesus (Christ) of Nazareth and Paul, and the Mishnah and the Talmud also claim their authority from the Torah.

This is especially seen in the rabbinic doctrine of the "oral Torah", that is, the words of Moses that were not written down in the Bible. The purpose of this new canon (Mishnah and Talmud) is to unlock the secrets of the written Torah of Moses.