SPECIAL TOPIC: MOSES' AUTHORSHIP OF THE PENTATEUCH

A. The Bible itself does not name the author (as is true of many OT books).  Genesis has no "I" sections like Ezra, Nehemiah, or "we" sections like Acts.

B. Jewish tradition

1. Ancient Jewish writers say Moses wrote it

a. Ben Sirah's Ecclesiasticus, 24:23, written about 185 b.c.

b. The Baba Bathra 14b, a part of the Talmud which gives traditional authorship of OT books

c. Philo of Alexandria, Egypt, a Jewish philosopher, living about 20 b.c. to a.d. 42

d. Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian, living about a.d. 37-70

2. YHWH reveals truth to Moses

a. Moses is said to have written for the people

(1) Exodus 17:14

(2) Exodus 24:4, 7

(3) Exodus 34:27, 28

(4) Numbers 33:2

(5) Deuteronomy 31:9, 22, 24-26

b. God is said to have spoken through Moses to the people

(1) Deuteronomy 5:4-5, 22

(2) Deuteronomy 6:1

(3) Deuteronomy 10:1

c.  Moses is said to have spoken the words of the Torah to the people

(1) Deuteronomy 1:1, 3

(2) Deuteronomy 5:1

(3) Deuteronomy 27:1

(4) Deuteronomy 29:2

(5) Deuteronomy 31:1, 30

(6) Deuteronomy 32:44

(7) Deuteronomy 33:1 

3. OT authors attribute it to Moses

a. Joshua 8:31

b. 2 Kings 14:6

c. Ezra 6:18

d. Nehemiah 8:1; 13:1-2

e. 2 Chronicles 25:4; 34:12; 35:12

f. Daniel 9:11

g. Malachi 4:4

C. Christian tradition

1. Jesus attributes quotes from the Torah to Moses

a. Matthew 8:4; 19:8

b. Mark 1:44; 7:10; 10:5; 12:26

c. Luke 5:14; 16:31; 20:37; 24:27, 44

d. John 5:46-47; 7:19, 23

2. Other N.T. authors attribute quotes from the Torah to Moses

a. Luke 2:22

b. Acts 3:22; 13:39; 15:1, 15-21; 26:22; 28:23

c. Romans 10:5, 19

d. 1 Corinthians 9:9

e. 2 Corinthians 3:15

f. Hebrews 10:28

g. Revelation 15:3

3. Most early Church Fathers accepted Mosaic authorship.  However, Ireneaus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Tertullian all had questions about Moses' relationship to the current canonical form of Genesis (cf. D. 2. on page 3).

D. Modern Scholarship

1. There have obviously been some editorial additions to the Torah (seemingly to make the ancient work more understandable to contemporary readers, which was a characteristic of Egyptian scribes):

a. Genesis 12:6; 13:7; 14:14; 21:34; 32:32; 36:31; 47:11

b. Exodus 11:3; 16:36

c.  Numbers 12:3; 13:22; 15:22-23; 21:14-15; 32:33ff

d. Deuteronomy 3:14; 34:6

2. Ancient scribes were highly trained and educated.  Their techniques, however, differed from country to country:

a. In Mesopotamia, they were careful not to change anything, and even checked their works for accuracy.  Here is an ancient Sumerian scribal footnote from about 1400 b.c.: "the work is complete from beginning to end, has been copied, revised, compared, and verified sign by sign."

b. In Egypt they freely revised ancient texts to update them for contemporary readers.  The scribes at Qumran (i.e., Dead Sea Scrolls) followed this approach. 

3. Scholars of the 19th century theorized that the Torah is a composite document from many sources over an extended period of time (Graff-Wellhausen). This theory was based on:

a. the different names for God

b. apparent doublets in the text

c. the literary form of the accounts

d. the theology of the accounts

4. Supposed sources and dates

a. J source (use of YHWH from southern Israel) – 950 b.c.

b. E source (use of Elohim from northern Israel) – 850 b.c.

c. JE combined – 750 b.c.

d. D source – 621 b.c. (The Book of the Law, 2 Kgs. 22:8, discovered during Josiah's reform while remodeling the Temple was supposedly the book of Deuteronomy, written by an unknown priest of Josiah's time to support his reform.).

e. P source (priestly rewrite of OT, especially ritual and procedure) – 400 b.c.

5. There have obviously been editorial additions to the Torah.  The Jews assert that it was

a. The High Priest (or another of his family) at the time of the writing

b. Jeremiah the Prophet

c. Ezra the Scribe – IV Esdras says he rewrote it because the originals were destroyed in the fall of Jerusalem in 586 b.c.

6. However, the J. E. D. P. theory says more about our modern literary theories and categories than evidence from the Torah (R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 495-541 and Tyndale's Commentaries, "Leviticus," pp. 15-25).

7. Characteristics of Hebrew Literature

a. Doublets, like Genesis 1 & 2, are common in Hebrew.  Usually a general description is given, followed by a specific account. This may have been a way to accent truths or help oral memory.

b. The ancient rabbis said the two most common names for God have theological significance:

(1) YHWH – the Covenant name for deity as He relates to Israel as Savior and Redeemer (cf. Ps. 19:7-14; 103).

(2) Elohim – deity as Creator, Provider, and Sustainer of all life on earth (cf. Ps. 19:1-6; 104).

c. It is common in non-biblical near eastern literature for a variety of styles and vocabulary to occur in unified literary works (cf. R. K. Harrison, pp. 522-526).

8. There is an emerging theory that there were scribes (in different parts of Israel) working on different parts of the Pentateuch at the same time under the direction of Samuel (cf. 1 Sam. 10:25).  This theory was first proposed by E. Robertson's The Old Testament Problem.

E. The evidence from Ancient Near Eastern literature implies that Moses used written cuneiform documents or Mesopotamian style (patriarchal) oral traditions to write Genesis.  This in no way means to imply a lessening of inspiration, but is an attempt to explain the literary phenomenon of the book of Genesis (cf. P. J. Wiseman's New Discoveries in Babylonia about Genesis).  Beginning in Genesis 37, a marked Egyptian influence of style, form, and vocabulary seems to indicate Moses used either literary productions or oral traditions from the Israelites' days in both Egypt and Mesopotamia.  Moses' formal education was entirely Egyptian!  The exact literary formation of the Pentateuch is uncertain. I believe that Moses is the compiler and author of the vast majority of the Pentateuch, though he may have used scribes and/or written and oral (patriarchal) traditions.  His writings have been updated by later scribes.  The historicity and trustworthiness of these first few books of the OT have been illustrated by modern archaeology.

 

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