Oswald T. Allis

 


 

THE MOASIC TRADITION AND THE CONSEQUENCES OF REJECTING IT

Until comparatively recent times, the practically universal view among both Jews and Christians was that "Moses wrote the Pentateuch." Josephus, the Jewish historian, in speaking of the sacred books of the Jews declares: "and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death."[3] That these words refer to the Pentateuch, that they attribute it to Moses, and that they represent the accepted opinion of Jewish scholars of the past is undeniable. The acceptance of this belief in the Christian Church is shown by the fact that in Luther's translation of the Bible each of the books of the Pentateuch is entitled a "book of Moses," and that a similar statement appears in the 1611 Version of the English Bible. The question whether a tradition which is so ancient and so universal is correct is important in itself. But it becomes especially important when we consider the three matters closely connected with it which have already been alluded to: (I) the basis of this tradition, (II) the consequences of rejecting it, and (III) the methods used by the critics to disprove the Mosaic authorship.

I. The Basis of the Mosaic Tradition Is Four-fold

a. The Claims of the Pentateuch Itself

The quotation from Josephus given above states that the Pentateuch contains "his [Moses'] laws." This is borne out by the statements of the document itself. As to the Decalogue, it is expressly declared that all the arrangements for that most impressive scene at Mount Sinai when the Law was given were made by Moses, and that the Ten Words were uttered in his presence (Ex. 20:19f.); later he was told to write them (34:27). Regarding the laws of Ex.21–23., we are expressly told that "Moses wrote all the words of Jehovah" (24:4); and the document containing them is clearly the "book of the covenant" referred to in verse 7. All of the laws regarding the erection of the tabernacle and its worship recorded in Ex. 25–31 are given in the form of personal communications to Moses; and the account of the construction of the tabernacle and of its erection is accompanied by the oft–repeated refrain, "as Jehovah commanded Moses."[4] In Leviticus the words, "Jehovah spake (said, called) unto Moses" (or less freq., "unto Moses and Aaron"), occur about 35 times, 19 of which are at the beginning of a chapter; and 26:46 and 27:34 definitely connect the giving of these laws with Sinai. Numbers closely resembles Leviticus in this respect. Nearly half of the chapters begin in the same way; and the last verse of the book brings us down to the time when Israel was encamped in Moab. Deuteronomy is largely made up of elaborate discourses declared to have been delivered by Moses, the primary aim of which is to rehearse the laws already given and apply them to the new conditions under which Israel will shortly live, and to exhort the people to loyalty and obedience. Chap. 31:9, 24 tells us that Moses wrote the law in a book; and vs. 26 tells us that he commanded the Levities to place this book beside the ark. The meaning and scope of the word "law" in these statements is a matter of dispute, but the natural inference would be that it at least included all the legal portions of the Pentateuch.What applies to the laws is also true to some degree of the historical portions of the Pentateuch. Of the events of his own day we are told that Moses was commanded to write God's judgment upon Amalek "in a book" (Ex. 27:14). It is also stated that Moses wrote the itinerary recorded in Num. 33. And there is force in the argument that the writer of this itinerary would naturally he the author of the narrative which describes the history of which it is only a summary.[5] We are also told that Moses gave as a parting legacy to Israel the Song and the Blessing recorded in Deut. 32-33. The fact that these chapters are expressly attributed to Moses favors the correctness of Josephus' phrase "and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death."[6] They show that Moses was interested in the past history of his people (32:7, 8); and the author of Deut. 33 might well be the recorder of Gen. 49.[7] It is true that the Book of Genesis nowhere claims to have been written by Moses. But an account of the origin of mankind or at least of the ancestors of Israel such as is given there is required to make the other four books intelligible. Furthermore, the "and" (or, now) with which Ex. 1:1 begins is an indication that this book is a continuation and only in Genesis do we find the history recorded which Exodus continues.[8]

b. The Testimony of the Rest of the Old Testament

References to Moses are about as numerous in Joshua as in all the other books of the Old Testament taken together. They show that Joshua derived his authority from Moses and appealed constantly to what Moses had commanded. These references serve to define the task assigned Joshua after the death of Moses. Chap. 1:7 is typical: "Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee" We speak at times of Joshua as Moses' successor. But such an expression is misleading. Moses was the Law–giver: it was the duty of all who came after him to keep that law and instruct others to do so. In his farewell to Israel Joshua passed on to the elders (23:6) the obligation to obey the law of Moses, which had been solemnly laid upon him. This involved "all that is written in the book of the law of Moses." Moses had, strictly speaking, but one successor: the One who said of Himself, "A greater than Moses is here."Occasional references to Moses are found in 14 other books. In Judges 3:4 it is declared that certain nations were left in the land after the death of Joshua for the purpose of testing whether Israel "would hearken unto the commandments of Jehovah, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses." The books of Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, all refer to the law of Moses.The prophets only occasionally mention Moses by name. They refer more frequently to "the law." But that by this they mean "the law of Moses" is indicated by the fact that his is the only name ever connected with the law, Aaron being merely his mouthpiece.[9] The final word of the last of the prophets is "Remember the law of Moses my servant." Just what is covered by the word law may be a matter of dispute, but that the Old Testament attributes the law of God which was Israel's most precious possession to Moses and to no one else is so obvious that detailed discussion is here unnecessary.

c. The Testimony of the New Testament

The New Testament makes it quite clear that Jesus did not dispute the Old Testament canon as accepted by the Jews, but fully accepted it as the Word of God. He challenged only their misinterpretation of it and failure to follow its teachings (e.g., Lk. 20:37, Jn. 7:19). This is made especially clear by Luke 24:27, 44, which indicates that Jesus recognized as already in existence the divisions of the Old Testament as later defined by Josephus, and that the "writings" of Moses (Jn. v.47, cf. Lk. 16:29, 31) to which He referred were the Pentateuch. He quoted the Decalogue (Ex. 20:12, Deut. 5:16) with the words "Moses said" (Mk. 7:10) and added a quotation taken from Ex. 21:17 and Lev. 20:9. When the Pharisees raised the question of easy divorce (Mt. 19:3), He appealed first to Gen. 2:24; and then, when the appeal was made to Moses' "command" (Deut. 24:1-4), He declared that Moses permitted divorce because of the hardness of their hearts. When the question of levirate marriage (Deut. 25:5) was placed in a ridiculous light by the Sadducees for the purpose of making the resurrection seem absurd, Jesus appealed to the words uttered at the Bush (Ex. 3:6) which in Mk. 12:26 are referred to "the book of Moses" and in Mt. 12:31 ascribed directly to "God." That Paul held the same view is indicated by Acts 28:23. Such passages as Rom. 10:19, 1 Cor.9:9, 2 Cor. 3:15, indicate clearly the viewpoint of the New Testament on this question, which is that "Moses" and "law" are equivalent expressions.

d. The Voice of Tradition

Since the higher critics do not deny the antiquity and practical universality of the tradition that the Pentateuch is Mosaic,[10] but rather affirm that their own view is essentially a modern discovery, it is not necessary to prove this in detail. A few facts, however, may be noted. The earliest extra-canonical witness to the Old Testament canon is Ecclesiasticus (written about 250 B.C.). There we read, "He [Jehovah] made him [Moses] to hear his voice and brought him into the dark cloud, and gave him commandments before his face, even the law of life and knowledge, that he might teach Jacob his covenants and Israel his judgments."[11] Second Maccabees speaks of the "commandment of the law which was given . . . by Moses" (7:30). Philo, who was an older contemporary of Josephus, attached such importance to the books of Moses that he assigned the Pentateuch a unique place among the Old Testament books. In the Talmud it is declared that any departure from the teaching that Moses wrote the Pentateuch would be punished by exclusion from Paradise.[12] Among Christian scholars, one of the first to refer to the "five books of Moses" is Melito, Bishop of Sardis (cir. 175 AD.). In all of the lists of the Canonical Scriptures given by the Church Fathers the Five Books of the Law are given a unique position; and they are frequently called the "books of Moses."[13] The simplest explanation of this tradition is that it represents the teachings of the Bible itself.

II. The Consequences of the Rejection of the Claim that the Pentateuch Is Mosaic are Very Serious

a. The first consequence is the rejection of all the positive external evidence, both Biblical and extra-Biblical, as to the authorship of the Pentateuch. This is to be done, not on the authority of older and better evidence, as no such evidence has been produced. It is to be done in the interest of a theory, the correctness of which has never been proved. And since this rejection of external evidence necessarily involves and includes the rejection of the testimony of the New Testament and, most important of all, the testimony of Jesus as recorded in it, the question of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch becomes a matter of very vital concern to the New Testament Christian. Unless he is prepared to treat it as of no importance whether Jesus is correctly quoted in the New Testament, or whether He accommodated Himself to Jewish prejudices and accepted traditions which He knew to be false, or whether He was in such a sense a man of his age" that He was as ignorant as were His contemporaries of the "facts" which the critics claim to have discovered, the Christian of today must regard the question of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch as no less important than it was held to be before the rise of the higher criticism first called it into question, and then positively rejected it.

b. The second consequence of the rejection of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch is the admission that the account of the " 'Mosaic" age given us in it is a fundamentally erroneous one. Moses is the outstanding figure. He is mentioned more than 500 times in Exodus to Deuteronomy. But, if all the legal codes of the Pentateuch date from long after Moses' time, and if the history is late and unreliable, Moses becomes a decidedly elusive figure; and it becomes difficult if not impossible to account for the prominent role assigned him. His reputation is vast, but the deeds which serve as the basis for it are no longer to be regarded as his. He becomes a kind of legal fiction.

c. The third consequence of the acceptance of this theory is the adoption of a low view of the authority and credibility of the Bible as a whole. For, as will appear in the course of the discussion, it is only by rejecting or amending the statements of Scripture that the evidence cited above can be overthrown.

III. The Method Employed by the Critics Is Responsible for These Radical Consequences

a. It is characteristic of this method that it is divisive and destructive of the unity and harmony of Scripture. The slightest variations in diction, style, viewpoint or subject matter are seized upon as indicative of difference in author, date, and source. Differences are frequently magnified into contradictions. A book which is full of contradictory statements cannot speak with the authority of truth and cannot be in a unique and special sense the Word of the God of truth.

b. It is characteristic of this method that it largely rejects the claim of Scripture that the children of Israel were in a unique sense the object of divine guidance. The tendency is to substitute for the uniqueness of God's dealings with Israel, the uniqueness of Israel herself, her special genius for religion.

c. It is characteristic of this method that it minimizes or rejects the redemptive supernaturalism of Biblical history and endeavors to reconstruct it in terms of naturalistic evolution. The miraculous element is viewed with suspicion and regarded either as evidence of the late date and unre-liability of a narrative, or as proof that it represents a primitive and unscientific account of phenomena in which a modern writer would see only the operation of natural processes.In view, therefore, of the strength of the Mosaic tradition, the serious consequences of rejecting it, and the drastic methods made use of by those who do this, the question whether Moses wrote the Pentateuch should be of vital concern to everyone who has any knowledge of the Bible or any interest in it.


[3] Against Apion, I, 8.
[4] Used about 2o times in Ex. 39-40.
[5] W. H. Green, Higher Criticism of the Pentateuch, p. 38.
[6] That Josephus regarded Moses as the author of Genesis is shown by the sentence which follows the one just quoted: "This interval of time was little short of three thousand years." (Against Apion, I, 6)
[7] The use of the divine name, "Most High" (32:8) is reminiscent of Gen.14 (cf. Num. 24:16), just as "Rock" (32:4, 13, etc.) is connected with Ex. 17 (cf. Gen. 49:4, "the stone of Israel"). The word "separate" (id.) suggests Gen. 5:5, 32 (P) and 25:23 (J). The reference to Sodom and Gomorsah (32:32) recalls Gen. 18-19 (J). The remark of the Jewish commentator Rashi on the Blessing is worthy of notice: "Thou wilt find in the case of all the tribes, that the blessing of Moses is drawn from the fountain of the blessing of Jacob" (cf. Waller in Ellicott's Bible Commentary).
[8] The fact that, except in Deuteronomy, Moses is regularly spoken of as "Moses" or in the third person is not a strong argument against the Mosaic authorship. Historians both anclent and modern in writing of events in which they figured prominently have employed the same objective style of writing. Julius Caesar and Josephus are two notable examples from the past. Furthermore, whatever be the force of the argument the critics are in no position to use it. For the book in the Pentateuch which they have been most emphatic in denying to Moses is Deuteronomy; and this is the very one in which he constantly uses the first person. The old argument that Moses could not have spoken of himself as the meekest of men (Num.12:3) overlooks the force of the word "suddenly" (vs. 4). It was because Moses' meekness prevented him from dealing severely with so serious a situation as the challenging of his God­given authority by his own sister and by his elder brother who was high priest that Jehovah "spake suddenly" and dealt severely. It is also to be noted that the Hebrew word rendered "meek" has also the meaning "afflicted." In view of the situation described in chap. 11, especially vss. 10-15, the latter rendering would be very suitable here. The attitude taken toward him by his nearest relations may well have seemed to Moses the "last straw."
[9] This is not only admitted but positively asserted by the critics. Pfeiffer tells us: "No Hebrew law, whether oral or written, was regarded as binding unless of Mosaic origin, and the ritual prescriptions of EL 40-48 were never enforced as such, even though they had a profound influence on the practices of the Second Temple" (Introduction, p.210). Yet, like all Wellhausians, Pfeiffer does not hesitate to disregard this tradition completely. This leaves the critics with a strange anomaly to account for. The laws laid down in Ezekiel are, as Pfeiffer points out, numerous and precise. But we never read of the "Law of Ezekiel." The name of Ezekiel appears only twice in the book which bears his name, and nowhere else in the Bible. The name of Moses occurs about 800 times! How is this anomaly to be explained, if little or nothing in the Pentateuch can confidently be assigned to Moses?
[10] For a summary account of objections and objectors to the Mosaic tradition, cf. W. H. Green, Higher Criticism, pp.47-52; Holzinger, Hexateuch, pp.25-40.
[11] Ecclus. 45:5. The first reference to the canon of the Old Testament as consisting of "the Law and the Prophets, and the other books of our fathers" is found in the Prologue of Ecclesiasticus written perhaps 50 years later by the grandson of the author.
[12] Cf. A. Westphal, Les Sources, p.25, who refers to the Talmudic tract Sanhedrin.
[13] Cf. R. D. Wilson, Studies in the Book of Daniel, Sen-es II, pp.12-41.


Concise Theology. J.I. Packer.Tyndale House Pub., Inc. Wheaton, IL. 1993. Revelation. Pages 3-5.