[b-hebrew] Author of the Torah

Heard, Christopher Christopher.Heard at pepperdine.edu
Fri Jul 29 21:06:00 EDT 2005


First, thank you for your kind consideration my comments re the "Torah
of Moses" in Joshua 8.

Second, on the matter of the similarities between the Masoretic Text and
the Samaritan Pentateuch, I believe that you are retrojecting the
existence of those text-types far too early. Technically, you are
"assuming facts not in evidence," namely, that the Pentateuch existed
before the death of Solomon. That cannot be demonstrated. As far as I
have been able to discover, the earliest surviving exemplars of the
pre-Samaritan text-type (e.g., 6Q1 and 4QEx^a) date to the Hasmonean
period at the earliest. Bruce Waltke, a rather conservative Christian
scholar, has dated the pre-Samaritan text-type to the 450s BCE, but no
earlier. The point of departure between the pre-Samaritan and proto-MT
text-types is no earlier than the time-frame for Ezra and Nehemiah, and
no later than the Hasmonean period. That's still a three-hundred-year
window, but the window doesn't extend back to the tenth century.
Rehoboam's and Jeroboam's competing kingdoms evidently have no real
bearing on the textual history of the Torah. More could be said about
this, but the best thing for me right now (since dinner time is
approaching!) is to refer you to works on the Samaritan Pentateuch and
its origins, e.g., by J.D. Purvis, _The Samaritan Pentateuch and the
Origin of the Samaritan Sect_ (Harvard Semitic Monographs 2; Harvard
U.P., 1968); B.K. Waltke, "The Samaritan Pentateuch and the Text of the
Old Testament," pp. 212-239 in _New Perspectives on the Old Testament_,
ed. J.B. Payne (Word, 1970); and the handbooks on textual criticism,
e.g., _Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible_ by E. Tov (I think the 3rd
edition is current now).

Third, on the matter of the referent of the word "torah":


The only question that remains is:
Why the different use of the term 'torah' in the book of Yehoshua and
the book of Nehemiah?

Well, as we all know, languages evolve and change and 1,000 years is
plenty of time to have this connotation linguistically added to the


Beyond this, words are polysemous. Most words cover a "semantic range"
rather than having a single univocal "meaning." The word "Torah" has
come to function as a proper noun naming the collection of books,
Genesis through Deuteronomy. I do not know when this usage first came
into currency. However, I do know that that is not the only possible use
of the word "torah." If an American says, "The speed limit is the law of
the land," that speaker has made a true but non-exhaustive statement;
the law does make provision for the speed limit, but is by no means
limited to the speed limit. The entire law code is much larger than the
small slice of it that pertains to the speed limit; and of course the
USA there are municipal laws, county laws, state laws, and federal laws,
any of which may be truly and accurately labeled "the law of the land"
by a speaker. The word "torah" is the same way. Its use as a proper noun
is just one of its functions. If we accept the testimony of the Torah
itself to Moses' writing activity, then the Book of the Covenant, the
Ritual Decalogue, and the Deuteronomic Code may each--independently and
individually--be truly and accurately labeled "the torah of Moses"
without having that phrase shade into the later use of the word "Torah"
as a proper noun naming a specific set of five books.

Also, please note that the word "torah" occurs at least a dozen times in
the Tanakh in the plural, frequently in a list with other words like
חקים [XQYM], משפטים [M$P+YM], מצות [MCWT], etc.

My point is that the word "torah" can easily refer in any particular
context to a smaller subsection of what we today call "the Torah" (note
the capitalization), or to divine instruction that is not necessarily
written down anywhere.

Fourth, on the point of third person narration vs. first person

Because the rule-book which was carried in the Ark was a word for word
of each and every word he said on that occasion. This could have been
style that was normally used when composing a legally binding document
or it
could have just been Moshe's preferred style of the day was to write in
way. Maybe he wanted the reader to have the impression that Moshe, their
prophet, was talking directly to them.

I don't think a literal reading of the Torah narrative will support the
idea that the Mosaic speeches in Deuteronomy were "the rule-book which
was carried in the Ark." According to the Torah, the "covenant" was
deposited in the Ark of the Covenant when it was constructed. This
narrative is presented in Exodus 40 and chronologically belongs when the
Israelites are still at Sinai, long before they are ever in the plains
of Moab where the "action" of Deuteronomy's narrative frame is set.
According to Deuteronomy 31, the book Moses wrote just before his death
was to be placed *beside*, not *inside*, the ark (which already had the
"covenant" inside it).

In any event, the big question is *not* why the bulk of Deuteronomy is
in first-person style, because it is mostly narratively reported speech
of Moses. What *is* important is the question why there is a
third-person narrative frame around this first-person speech if Moses
wrote the book, and why the rest of the Torah narratives are in this
third-person style. James wrote:


The rest of the Torah is largely written in prose style and it is normal
Moshe to write about himself in the 3rd person (compare the entire
gospel of
John, especially the closing verses).


First, how do you know that it was "normal" for thirteenth- or
fifteenth-century BCE authors to write about themselves in the 3rd
person? I will argue below that the gospel of John proves nothing, but
let's try to stay in more ancient times for a moment.

The story of Sinuhe (12th dynasty/20th century BCE) is written in
first-person narration throughout.

The story of the shipwrecked sailor (Middle Kingdom or earlier) is
written in first-person prose.

The story of the two brothers is written in 3rd-person prose. It
survives in several exemplars, apparently a popular story. There is a
scribe's name attached to at least one later papyrus, but no claim of
authorship. Certainly nobody thinks that either Anubis or Bata (the two
brothers) wrote the text.

The report of Wenamun (11th century BCE) is written in first-person

The story of the eloquent peasant (12th or 13th Dynasty, early 2nd
millennium BCE) is written in 3rd-person prose.

The "Complaints of Khakheperre-Sonb" (Middle Kingdom) is written in
first-person discourse.

The "Prophecies of Neferti" (20th century BCE) is written *mostly* in
first-person discourse, but with a third-person narrative introduction.

Now all of this certainly suggests to me that the "normal" practice in
second-millennium Egypt--if these surviving texts are at all a guide to
"normal" practice--is for people to write in 1st person when talking
about themselves. I have chosen to look at second-millennium Egyptian
texts here because these would form, theoretically, the literary context
in which Moses would have been raised as a child in Pharaoh's household.
In content, there are even some similarities between Moses' flight from
and return to Egypt and those of Sinuhe. I am not arguing that Moses is
a pale copy of Sinuhe, but that if Moses were in effect a literate
Egyptian, it is not implausible that he  
would record his own experiences in a style similar to that of Sinuhe.

My point is that we don't actually know what Moses would have considered
"normal" narration of a person's life experiences, though I think these
Egyptian examples tip the scales slightly toward expecting 1st-person
narration as "normal."

As for the gospel of John, the tradition of understanding that the
"disciple whom Jesus loved" is the author of the book has decent warrant
from John 21:24. Yet I would not consider that decisive, because there
is also a "we" in that verse, and an "I" in verse 25. Presumably the "I"
of v. 25 is one of the "we" of v. 24, and presumably both are different
from the "disciple whom Jesus loved" (unless he suddenly and
inexplicably decided to shift to 1st person in the last verse of the
book). The presence of 1st-person narration *in the very verse you
cited* should at least give us pause before thinking that 3rd-person
self-references were "normal" narration near the end of the 1st century
CE in prose narratives. Also, the 1st-person sections of the book of
Acts show that 3rd-person authorial self-references in the gospel of
John (if such there are) are by no means universal, and I would need
more comparative data before labeling it as "normal" or "conventional."

Moreover, the narratorial conventions of Roman-era prose hardly have
much evidential force for the narratorial conventions of the Torah.


Why was Yehoshua referring to the entire Torah when he said that Moshe
of him?

He was referring to prophecies regarding Abram's seed which would bless
mankind. These prophecies are to be found in Genesis *NOT* in


James, please specify what passages you think you're interpreting or
paraphrasing here. As far as I can tell, Jesus only said that "Moses" or
"the law of Moses" spoke about him on two occasions: Luke 24:44 and John
5:46. Both are quite generic and do not cite any particular passages. In
fact, I cannot find any place where Jesus speaks about himself in the
terms you do above (although Paul does so in Galatians 3).

In any event, I do not think these phrases can be appropriately used as
"authorship claims" for the canonical Torah. They are conventional ways
of introducing Torah quotations and allusions.

R. Christopher Heard
Assistant Professor of Religion
Pepperdine University
Malibu, California 90263-4352
http://www.iTanakh.org <http://www.iTanakh.org> 

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