[b-hebrew] Author of the Torah

Heard, Christopher Christopher.Heard at pepperdine.edu
Fri Jul 29 15:08:55 EDT 2005

(By the way, my mail program seems not to use standard quoting  
characters. I am not sure why and I will investigate, but I apologize  
for any confusion.)

On Jul 29, 2005, at 10:55 AM, Gene Gardner wrote:
> > I do believe that Moses wrote the majority of the
> > Torah.

Okay, but the question "Why?" remains to be answered. As Jim  
observed, albeit incompletely and with his own inimitable rhetorical  
flourishes, the only things Moses is credited *in the text of the  
Torah itself* with writing down are:

(1) The book of the covenant, giving כל־דברי יהוה [KL-DBRY  
YHWH, "all the words of YHWH"] the most expansive possible reading  
reasonable in the context of  Exod 24:4 (although the phrase might  
refer to something more immediate in the text, and much shorter,  
namely the prohibition against going up the mountain per Exod 24:2).

(2) The ritual decalogue, according to Exod 34:27-28 (Jim missed this  

(3) The Israelites' itinerary from Egypt to Mount Hor, according to  
Num 33:2 (Jim missed this one).

(4) The laws written in the book of Deuteronomy, according to Deut  
31:9, 24.

(5) The "song of Moses," according to Deut 31:22.

(6) In Exod 17:14, God tells Moses to write down the (self-defeating)  
words, 'I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under  
heaven.'" The narrator declines to mention whether Moses actually did  
so, though readers who assume that Moses did follow this instruction  
may surely be indulged.

In brief, the point of this recitation is that out of 37 occurrences  
of the verb כתב [KTB, "to write"], only eight or nine have  
reference to Moses. The canonical form of the Torah, read as a  
continuous narrative, ascribes to Moses *some* writing activity. Even  
if we were to accept these narrative claims as reliable historical  
testimony, we would still not be justified in inferring from those  
claims that Moses also wrote the claims themselves, that is, that he  
wrote the stories about him writing things down. In fact, I would  
regard the third-person narrative technique to be quite strong  
evidence that Moses did not write the Torah, not even the book of  
Deuteronomy in its canonical form. Again, for the sake of this  
analysis, assume that Moses wrote everything that Deuteronomy says he  
wrote; the book is still presented in its canonical form within a  
third-person narrative frame that distinguishes the author from Moses  

There is other internal evidence that distinguishes the author(s) of  
the Torah from Moses, but for now I will just stick to direct  
statements about Moses' writing activity. The simple fact is that the  
Torah does not contain any claim that Moses wrote it. The Torah does  
contain claims that Moses wrote a few texts that are incorporated in  
or served as some sort of source for the canonical Torah (and  
important ones at that--the Book of the Torah isn't just a  
"scribbling," Jim!), but even the most credulous possible reading of  
these texts cannot support a claim for Mosaic authorship of the  
canonical Torah as a whole, but only for a select few sources lying  
behind the canonical Torah.

As for external evidence, like Jim, I don't put much stock by  
traditional authorship ascriptions that are first attested centuries  
after the text is likely to have been composed. There are, however, a  
few lines in other parts of the Tanakh that probably ought to be  

(a) Joshua 8:31-32 refers to "the book of the law of Moses" and to  
Joshua writing out a copy of "the law of Moses, which he had  
written." The reference would appear to be to the book Moses is said  
to have written according to Deuteronomy 31:9, 24, because Joshua is  
carrying out instructions for the recopying of the law given by Moses  
(Deuteronomy 27:8) and the quotation given in Josh 8:31 is a slightly  
altered version of a phrase from Deuteronomy 27:5 (influenced by  
27:6). The text of Joshua gives readers no reason to believe that  
"the book of the law of Moses" corresponds to the canonical Torah.  
Indeed, the (narrative) fact that Joshua writes the law on stones  
suggests a relatively short text, especially since he first builds an  
altar, then copies "the book of the law of Moses" *while the  
Israelites stand there and wait*, then reads *every word* of the law  
to the people. I don't think he could accomplish all that on one  
occasion if "the book of the law of Moses" were the canonical Torah  
(or even the canonical book of Deuteronomy).

(b) I suppose that "the book of the law of Moses" mentioned in Joshua  
23:6 is either the source text or the copy-on-stones mentioned in (a).

(c) References to "the law of Moses" in 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6;  
21:8; 23:25; 2 Chron 23:18; 25:4; 30:16; 33:8; 34:14; Ezra 3:2; 7:6;  
Neh 8:1, 14; 9:14; 10:29; Daniel 9:11, 13 certainly show that Moses  
was regarded as a great lawgiver--but we knew that already. In my  
judgment, these verses do not have much evidentiary force in  
determining authorship of the canonical Pentateuch, chiefly because  
we cannot demonstrate that the "law of Moses" referenced in these  
passages is identical to the canonical Torah. Moreover, only a few of  
these passages mention writing or a book; several have phrases more  
like "the law given through/by Moses" or "the law that the Lord  
commanded Moses," etc., which removes these data even further from  
the status of evidence for an authorship claim.

As far as New Testament quotations of the Torah, introduced using  
Moses' name, are concerned, I regard these simply as standard methods  
of introducing Torah quotations, not as "authorship claims." In any  
event, Jesus only refers to Moses *writing* on two occasions, as far  
as I can tell; one involves the levirate marriage law from  
Deuteronomy 27 and the other is the enigmatic phrase in John 5:45  
"Moses ... wrote about me." These are far from being explicit claims  
that Moses wrote the canonical Torah.

R. Christopher Heard
Assistant Professor of Religion
Pepperdine University
Malibu, California 90263-4352

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