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Introduction

The sanctity and authority that are attached to the Hebrew Scriptures derive from the conviction held by Jews that the contents of these works originated in a revelation from God. The process is known in Hebrew as nevu’ah and in English as “prophecy.” The Bible is largely a record of the communications that were vouchsafed to the people of Israel, mostly through the instrument of the prophets [Hebrew: navi (plural: nevi’im )]. The prophets were depicted as proclaiming their divinely commanded messages whenever the people required it. Often this involved castigating Israelite society for their failures to maintain their commitments as required by their covenant with God; but at other times, the prophets consoled their community with reassurances of a peaceful and glorious future if they would remain faithful to their spiritual mission. The greatest of the prophets was Moses. Jewish tradition held that God revealed to him the fi ve books of the Torah, a revelation that serves as the foundation for the covenant between God and the community of Israel. Much of the Torah consists of hundreds of commandments (613 of them, according to what was to become the standard Jewish enumeration), and this is consistent with the central role that Judaism has attached to the study and observance of laws, statutes and commandments [in Hebrew: mis.vah (plural: mis.vot ) as the preeminent unit of religious virtue.