The Law of Moses, also called the Mosaic Law or in Hebrew: תֹּורַת מֹשֶׁה, Torat Moshe, refers primarily to the Torah or first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Traditionally believed to have been written by Moses, most academics now believe they had many authors.
The Law of Moses or Torah of Moses (Hebrew תֹּורַת מֹשֶׁה, Torat Moshe, Septuagint Greek: νόμος Μωυσῆ, nomos Moyse, or in some translations the "Teachings of Moses" ) is a biblical term first found in the Book of Joshua 8:31-32, where Joshua writes the Hebrew words of "Torat Moshe תֹּורַת מֹשֶׁה" on an altar of stones at Mount Ebal. The text continues:
The Hebrew word for the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, Torah (which means "law" and was translated into Greek as "nomos" or "Law") refers to the same five books termed in English "Pentateuch" (from Latinised Greek "five books," implying the five books of Moses). According to some scholars, use of the name "Torah" to designate the "Five Books of Moses" of the Hebrew Bible, is clearly documented only from the 2nd Century BCE. In modern usage, Torah can refer to the first five books of the Tanakh, as the Hebrew Bible is commonly called, to the instructions and commandments found in the 2nd to 5th books of the Hebrew Bible, and also to the entire Tanakh and even all of the Oral Law as well. Among English-speaking Christians the term "The Law" can refer to the whole Pentateuch including Genesis, but this is generally in relation to the New Testament where nomos "the Law" sometimes refers to all five books, including Genesis. This use of the Hebrew term "Torah", 'Law', for the first five books is considered misleading by 21st-century Christian bible scholar John Van Seters, because the Pentateuch "consists of about one half law and the other half narrative." The adjective "Mosaic" means "of Moses."
The "Law of Moses" in ancient Israel was different from other legal codes in the ancient Near East because transgressions were seen as offenses against God rather than solely as offenses against society (civil law). This contrasts with the Sumerian Code of Ur-Nammu (c. 2100-2050 BCE), and the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (c. 1760 BCE, of which almost half concerns contract law). However the influence of the ancient Near Eastern legal tradition on the Law of ancient Israel is recognised and well documented. For example the Israelite Sabbatical Year has antecedents in the Akkadian mesharum edicts granting periodic relief to the poor. Another important distinction is that in ancient Near East legal codes, as in more recently unearthed Ugaritic texts, an important, and ultimate, role in the legal process was assigned to the king. Ancient Israel was set up as a theocracy, rather than a monarchy.
According to the Hebrew Bible, Moses was the leader of early Israel out of Egypt; and traditionally the first five books of the Hebrew Bible are attributed to him, though most modern scholars believe there were multiple authors. The law attributed to Moses, specifically the laws set out in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, as a consequence came to be considered supreme over all other sources of authority (any king and/or his officials), and the Levites were the guardians and interpreters of the law.
The Book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 31:24–26) records Moses saying, "Take this book of the law, and put it by the side of the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD." Similar passages referring to the Law include, for example, Exodus 17:14, "And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven;" Exodus 24:4, "And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD, and rose up early in the morning, and built an altar under the mount, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel;" Exodus 34:27, "And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words, for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel;" and Leviticus 26:46 "These are the decrees, the laws and the regulations that the LORD established on Mount Sinai between himself and the Israelites through Moses."
The Book of Kings relates how a "law of Moses" was discovered in the Temple during the reign of king Josiah (r. 641–609 BCE). This book is mostly identified as an early version of the Book of Deuteronomy, perhaps chapters 5-26 and chapter 28 of the extant text. This text contains a number of laws, dated to the 8th century BC kingdom of Judah.
Another mention of the "Book of the Law of Moses" is found in Joshua 8:30-31 .
The content of the Law is spread among the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, and then reiterated and added to in Deuteronomy (deutero-nomy is Latinised Greek for "Second reading of the Law"). This includes:
The content of the instructions and its interpretations, the Oral Torah, was passed down orally, excerpted and codified in Rabbinical Judaism, and in the Talmud were numbered as the 613 commandments. The Law given to Moses at Sinai (Hebrew Halakhah le-Moshe mi-Sinai הלכה למשה מסיני) is a halakhic distinction.