The first five books of the Bible contain many of its most famous stories, populated by vivid characters altogether human in their triumphs and failings--and an equally complicated deity. Many works of Western art and literature appeal to these stories, from Michelangelo's painting of Adam and Eve to a novel like William Faulkner's Go Down, Moses. The three great Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) are rooted here. So is much of Western political theory and constitutional polity, for a good half of these books contains legislation (torah) of various kinds, as indicated by the ancient title: the book of the Torah. Law and narrative together render the character of the ancient covenant community known as Israel, as well as the God who rules over that community.
In this revised and expanded version of his popular book of 1988, Mann engages literary criticism and theology in attending both to the composite nature of the Torah (or Pentateuch) and to its final, canonical shape. Mann's study provides a lucid introduction to the heart of the Hebrew Bible, suitable for students and general readers, but also of interest to biblical scholars.