The Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, and its dating to the days of Moses and the exodus from Egypt has  been subject to challenge for over one hundred years. These are not small issues, but go to the heart of divine revelation and inspiration. We want to consider some of the evidences for Mosaic authorship and also for rejecting  the later dating of the record.

Moses, Joshua and the book of the law

After Moses had died, the responsibility of  leading the nation of Israel into the land  fell to Joshua by divine appointment (Josh  1:1–6). Moreover, Joshua is told: “Be thou strong  and very courageous, that thou mayst observe  to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the  right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper  whithersoever thou goest”. This law (Torah) given  by Moses’ command, was no mere spoken injunction  to Joshua, for God continues: “This book of the law  shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt  meditate therein day and night, that thou mayst observe to do according to all that is written therein:  for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and  then thou shalt have good success” (Josh 1:7–8).  Joshua must have been continually speaking about,  constantly thinking about, and always acting upon,  the principles of the book of the law. Is it too much  to suggest he was instructed to be “the word made  flesh” as a foreshadowing of the greater Yahoshua to come? Joshua is the first man told by God to order  his life by a book, and that, the “book of the law”  given by Moses under divine inspiration. And yet  we are solemnly told by scholars that this book did  not then exist; that Moses did not write it; that it  emerged piecemeal, not to be concluded till many  hundreds of years had passed.

Writing, gates, camels etc

The contention of the ‘Higher Critics’ in the late  1800s was that writing was unknown in the days  of Moses and, in fact, did not emerge for another  1000 years. When, in around 1901, Jacques de  Morgan discovered at Susa (in modern Iran) the  2.25 metre high stele on which was inscribed the  Code of Hammurabi (1792–1750 BC), it was very  clear that writing predated Moses’ era by hundreds  of years. The Louvre in Paris, where the stele now  rests, describes it as “a work of art, history and literature”.  Moses could write, and he did.

The expression “within thy gates”, occurring  over 20 times in Deuteronomy, is taken to refer to  the gates of the cities of the land. This could not  be a statement by Moses, is the assertion, since the  people did not inhabit the land of Canaan until after  Moses’ death. Here is ‘evidence’ that the Pentateuch  was written much later than the days of Moses. But  a careful reading of Deuteronomy makes it clear  that Moses is speaking in prospect of the inheritance  in the land which God would provide for them.  Note Deuteronomy 15:7 says: “If there be among  you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any  of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God  giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor  shut thine hand from thy poor brother”. The reference  looks forward to the time of inheritance, not  backward from some distant future.

A curious assertion, claimed to demonstrate  that Genesis and the Pentateuch were written  long after the events they describe, relates to that  smelly, cantankerous beast, the camel. Domesticated  camels, we are told, were unknown in Abraham’s  time, though we read in Genesis 12:16: “And he  (Pharaoh) entreated Abram well for her sake: and  he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants,  and maidservants, and she asses, and camels”.  At least one Egyptologist has declared, however,  that “the extant evidence clearly indicates that the  domestic camel was known (in Egypt) by 3000  BC” – many years before Abraham (Kitchen, K A (1980), The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. J.D.  Douglas (Wheaton, Il: Tyndale)).

Another ‘mistake’ in the books of Moses is  the reference to Philistines in Genesis 20 and  21 (Abraham) and Genesis 26 (Isaac). This is an  insertion, or evidence of a later author, since (so  the assertion goes) Philistines did not settle in the  area of Palestine until well after the days of Moses.  The Philistines are believed to have come mainly  from Crete and settled on the coasts of Canaan  around 1200 BC, but there may well have been  smaller settlements long before this, as the record  of Genesis implies. The record of Abraham and  Isaac’s involvement with the Philistines relates to  the village of Gerar, with no mention of the major  Philistine centres of Ashdod, Gath, etc., indicating  a smaller settlement. We have no grounds at all for  doubting the accuracy of these accounts.

J, E, D and P and the documentary hypothesis

During the 18th and 19th centuries, biblical scholars rejected the view of Moses as the author of the  Pentateuch and produced a theory of composition  of the books of Genesis to Deuteronomy by a series  of compilers over some centuries, not finalising the  work until after the Babylonian exile. The letters  designating the compiler, editor or redactor were:  J for the Jahwist (German) or Yahwist sources,  around 950–850 BC and so named because of sections  where the name Yahweh is used.

E for the Elohist sources around 750 BC named  for the use of Elohim in the text.  D for the Deuteronomist source, presumed to  derive from the Southern Kingdom around 650 BC.  P for the Priestly source, producing the priestly  laws and developed around the post-exile period.  No one would deny the considerable intellect  and scholarship of those such as Wellhausen who  promulgated this hypothesis. But where is the  physical evidence to support it? Where are the  scrolls or fragments which provide the proof for this  speculation? They do not exist. Its supporters simply  do not believe in the divine authorship of Scripture.

Historical anachronisms

There are matters mentioned by the author which  indicate the writer lived at least in the period of the  kings. For example, in Genesis 36:31 we read: “And  these are the kings that reigned in the land of Edom,  before there reigned any king over the children of  Israel”. Clearly, we are told, this could not have been  written any earlier than the time of King Saul, the  first king, for until then, who knew anything about  the kings of Israel? Well, God did, and told Moses  who wrote it down. In Genesis 17:15–16 we read:  “And God said unto Abraham, as for Sarai thy wife,  thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall  her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a  son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall  be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be  of her”. Tellingly, in the very context of Genesis 36,  God repeated His promise to Jacob and declared:  “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a  nation and a company of nations shall be of thee,  and kings shall come out of thy loins…” (Gen  35:11). Moses has all this information at hand.  Having just recorded these words of promise in  chapter 35, why should we find it strange that in  the very next chapter he is inspired to note that the  Edomite kings began to reign over their dominion  before ever any of the promised kings reigned over  the children of Israel?  Other references to coming kings of Israel in  the Pentateuch are Deuteronomy 17:14–20 and  28:36; while Judah is nominated as the kingly tribe  in Genesis 49:8–12.

Moses the author of the Pentateuch

Throughout the record of the Pentateuch there are number of instance where Moses is either commanded to write or is noted as doing so

  1. Then Joshua and Israel fought against Amalek  at Rephidim.  Exodus17:14: “And the LORD said unto  Moses, write this for a memorial in a book,  and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will  utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek  from under heav
  2. When Moses brought down from the mount  “all the words of the LORD and all the judgments”.  Exodus 24:4–7: And Moses wrote all the  words of the LORD … And he took the book  of the covenant, and read in the audience of  the people.
  3. when Moses was “with the LORD forty days  and forty nights” and then came down from  mount Sinai with his face reflecting divine  glory.Exodus 34:27–29: “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.”
  4. when Moses recorded the journeys of the  children of Israel from the day they left Egypt.  Numbers 33:2: “And Moses wrote their goings  out according to their journeys by the commandment  of the LORD: and these are there  journeys according to their goings out.”
  5. when Moses was 120 years old on the border  of the land.Deuteronomy 31:9: “And Moses wrote this  law, and delivered it unto the priests the sons  of Levi … And Moses commanded them,  saying, at the end of every seven years, in the  solemnity of the year of release, in the feast of  tabernacles, when all Israel is come to appear  before the LORD thy God in the place which  he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before  all Israel in their hearing.”Deuteronomy 31:19–22: “Now therefore write  ye this song for you, and teach it the children  of Israel … Moses therefore wrote this song  the same day…”Deuteronomy 31:24: “And it came to pass,  when Moses had made an end of writing the  words of this law in a book, until they were  finished…”

When these passages are taken together, it is difficult  to escape the conclusion that all the record of  the Pentateuch was written by Moses at the divine  direction. The manner in which the rest of Scripture  refers to Moses’ writings confirms that conclusion.

Moses and the Old Testament record

Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, outside  the Pentateuch, the Mosaic authorship of these five  books known by the collective title ‘The Law’ or  ‘Torah’ is undoubted. It might be ignored or disobeyed  but no one disavows it as written by Moses  at God’s behest.

After the first early victories of Joshua and the  children of Israel, when Jericho and then Ai fell  before them, Joshua at Mount Ebal placed on record  the words of the law. The terminology is sure and  distinctive: “… As it is written in the book of the law  of Moses … And he wrote there upon the stones a  copy of the law of Moses … And afterward he read  all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings,  according to all that is written in the book of the  law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded,  which Joshua read not…” (Josh 8:31–34).

When Joshua’s life was drawing to a close, he  gathered all the leaders of the nation around him  to give them the solemn charge: “Be ye therefore  very courageous to keep and to do all that is written  in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn  not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left”  (Josh 23:6). Joshua does not qualify his terms. He  gives no caution about interpolations; he knows  nothing of Yahwists, Elohists or anything of the  sort. He knows Moses wrote it because he was there  and watched him do it! A river runs clearest at its  source, and Joshua had witnessed that great stream  of the books of Moses at its beginnings as the divine  mind melded with the mind of Moses to produce  “the book of the law of Moses” – in Numbers 12:8  we read: “With him will I speak mouth to mouth,  even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the  similitude of Yahweh shall he behold: wherefore  then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant  Moses?” If God spoke thus to Aaron and Miriam  for “speaking against Moses”, what would be His  estimation of the ‘Higher Critics’ who mutilate “the  book of the law of Moses”?

The pattern continues right through the Old  Testament. In the days of zealous young King  Josiah, out of the rubbish of the temple, “Hilkiah  the priest found a book of the law of the LORD  given by Moses”. The scroll was passed with trembling  hands to Shaphan the scribe, “And Shaphan  read it before the king” (2 King 22:10) who listened  eagerly, but finally with trepidation as he realised  how far short of the holiness of Yahweh the nation  had fallen. None questioned the provenance of this  book. None declared how much it was in need of  ‘proper editing’!

The years rolled on; the dark days of exile came  to an end; the exiles returned and faithful Ezra  stepped forward, “a ready scribe in the law of Moses,  which the LORD God of Israel had given” (Ezra  7:6). Here was a man who “had prepared his heart  to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and  to teach in Israel statutes and judgments” (Ezra  7:10). He did so hand in hand with Nehemiah:  “And all the people gathered themselves together  as one man into the street that was before the water  gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which Yahweh had  commanded to Israel” (Neh 8:1). So Ezra read, the  Levites explained, and the people rejoiced. Note  that this verse does not record how they brought  before the nation the tattered compilations of J, E,  D and P. That level of folly would have to wait nigh  on 2500 years to emerge.

Moses in the New Testament

Our Lord and his apostles are decisive in the matter  of Moses as the author of the Pentateuch. John  declares: “For the law was given by Moses …” (John  1:17). In the same chapter, Philip excitedly says to  Nathanael: “We have found him, of whom Moses  in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of  Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (v45). Jesus in John 5  declared to the hostile rulers: “Do not think that I  will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth  you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had  ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for  he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings,  how shall ye believe my words?” (v45–47). After the  resurrection, on the road to Emmaus, two disciples  were transfixed by Scripture exposition such as they  had never heard before: “And beginning at Moses  and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in  all the scriptures the things concerning himself ”  (Luke 24:27). Then, shortly after they knew it was the Lord who had spoken (v32), “They said one to  another, did not our heart burn within us, while he  talked with us by the way, and while he opened to  us the scriptures?”

When the time came for the apostles and others  to take up the work, Moses’ position as the writer  of the books of the Pentateuch is likewise unquestioned.  Just a few examples:

yy Peter to the people after healing the lame man:  “For Moses truly said unto the fathers, a prophet  shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of  your brethren, like unto me…” (Acts 3:22 quoting  Deut 18:18).

yy James at the Jerusalem Conference: “For Moses  of old time hath in every city them that preach  him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath  day” (Acts 15:21).

yy Paul: “For Moses describeth the righteousness  which is of the law, That the man which doeth  those things shall live by them” (Rom 10:5  quoting Lev 18:5). “For it is written in the law  of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of  the ox that treadeth out the corn…” (1 Cor 9:9  quoting Deut 25:4). “He that despised Moses’  law died without mercy under two or three witnesses”  (Heb 10:28 quoting Deut 17:2–6).

The Law in the prophets

We have reviewed just a few of the direct references  to Moses as the author of “the book of the law of  Moses”. The clear and simple acceptance by all  the scriptural characters of this work as stemming  from the man Moses is unmistakable. This is that  Moses of whom the Psalmist wrote: “Thou leddest  thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and  Aaron” (77:20); and “He made known his ways unto  Moses…” (103:7).

But it is possible to comb through the prophets  and identify the references and allusions to the  books of Moses. This has been done by Stanley  Leathes who produced a book The Law in the  Prophets published by Eyre and Spottiswoode,  London, in 1891. He describes his task as “an  attempt to discover how far the writings of the  prophets afford indications, from similarity of  thought and language, of their personal acquaintance  with what is traditionally known as “The law  of Moses” in the Pentateuch. Unless I am mistaken,  the evidence here presented is of a convincing and  conclusive character. It seems impossible to resist it.”  This work was very favourably reviewed by  Brother FG Jannaway in The Christadelphian of  1892. The full text can be readily located on the  Internet, and we commend it to readers who are  interested in expanding on this subject.

Genesis – one book, indivisible

Those troubled by the views of critics who want to  pull apart the books of Moses, including Genesis,  might be interested in an analysis of the book reported  in Omni Magazine, August, 1982. The report  is worth reproducing:

“Theologians … have often debated whether  Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, was  the handiwork of a single author or of many writers.  An exhaustive computer analysis conducted  in Israel now reveals an 82% probability that the  ancient book had just one author. After feeding the  20,000 Hebrew words of Genesis into a computer,  researchers at Technion, a university in Haifa, found  many sentences that ended in verbs and numerous  words of six characters or more. Because these  idiosyncratic patterns appear again and again, says  project director, Yehuda Radday, it seems likely that  a sole author was responsible.”

Conclusion

Moses wrote the Pentateuch. His authorship is constantly  declared. The record of the Old Testament  confirms it. The prophets were intimately familiar  with the text which influenced their own writings.  Jesus and his apostles also confirmed it and unreservedly  accepted the Mosaic authorship of “the  law of Moses” – the term used by the Jews in those  times to refer to the Pentateuch. While we certainly  acknowledge that the record of Moses’ death was by  a later hand (possibly Joshua), we can be confident  that the books of Moses were from his hand guided  by divine direction and inspiration. We believe with  Christ “that all things must be fulfilled, which were  written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets,  and in the psalms concerning me” (Luke 24:44).