Did Moses really write the Pentateuch?
by Anna Kitko, Ratio Christi Regional Director for Tennessee and South Carolina
Quick Summary: There is significant internal and external evidence for Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Bible in spite of and contrary to what the Documentary Hypothesis postulates.
On March 14th, Engage Media Partners will release Patterns of Evidence: the Moses Controversy in theaters across the US. The follow-up to Patterns of Evidence: Exodus, The Moses Controversy takes a fascinating look at the first five books of the Bible. Find a showing near you!
Tradition holds that the first five books of the Old Testament; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, were written by Moses during his time with the Israelites on their way to the promised land. Moses, having both education and divine incentive, wrote down what God had instructed of him. Critical scholarship, on the other hand, teaches that the Torah was actually compiled much later. It went through periods of building and redaction over several hundred years with multiple anonymous authors.
So the question becomes, where and why does tradition disagree with critical scholarship? Well, let’s take a look at the evidence for Mosaic Authorship…
At A Glance:
Pentateuch: The first five books of the Old Testament, also called “Torah.”
Documentary Hypothesis: The theory that Genesis through Deuteronomy was written by a number of anonymous writers sometime well after the Babylonian exile.
JEDP: The four sources of the Documentary Hypothesis; Jahwist (J), Elohist (E), Deuteronomist (D), and Priestly (P).
Internal Evidence: The blatant stuff….
1. The Pentateuch refers to itself as having been written by Moses. Seems a little obvious but it is an important thing to note. Why would subsequent authors building on each other, well after Moses lived, feel the need to all decide to pick “Moses” as their pen names? Why not Abraham or Noah? Why not say who you are? Or better yet King Solomon! He’s wise and likes writing things down! You see what I mean?
2. Other OT books refer to the Pentateuch as having been written by Moses. So were they all lying too? What’s the point of making an authorship reference at all here if it was not Moses?
3. Jesus and his disciples refer to the Pentateuch as having been written by Moses. So was Jesus mistaken? Was he lying? Did the omniscient King of the cosmos misspeak? I think you are getting an idea of where I’m going with this.
Incidental Evidence: Little eccentricities in the text itself…
1. The climate and weather references are specific. Why would a post-exilic author know about crop sequencing in Egypt? And why would they reference it at all?
2. The flora and fauna references are indigenous to Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula but not Palestine. Take acacia trees as an example. Their wood furnished the Tabernacle, yet those trees are only found in Egypt and parts of the Sinai Peninsula. So too the skins that were used are from the dugong which is non-native to Palestine. The lists of clean and unclean animals include those like the “pygarg” and “ostrich.” These would be interesting choices for authors to have made-up hundreds of years after Moses, and having lived in an area not containing pygargs or ostriches.
3. There are geographical references to Egypt that are oddly specific. Casual references are made to the verdant nature of “Zoar.” This is an area in lower Egypt which makes no sense if your audience was in Palestine and had never seen Egypt, let alone Zoar. “Kirjath-arba,” the Pre-Israelite name for Hebron, and the founding of “Zoan,” an Egyptian city, are equated. However, that makes no sense to an audience that lived hundreds of years after those places had been renamed.
4. Why would a post-exhilic author spend 15 chapters explaining the importance and nuances of a tent? How and why exactly would an author living well after the first temple period spend any amount of time on the tabernacle to this depth of specifics?
5. There are Egyptian “loanwords,” or words that are not found in Hebrew or Aramaic, used exclusively in the Pentateuch. Yes, you read that correctly. It seems the author of the Pentateuch had a firm grasp of both the Egyptian and Hebrew languages, and used both.
6. There are no references to “Jerusalem” in any of the Pentateuch, but there are references to “Salem.” That makes sense if it was written by Moses because the term had not been coined. It does not make sense for a writer hundreds of years later to not make a reference to the most important city in the world to them.
7. The Pentateuch fails to include Levitical additions instituted by David, Solomon, and Ezra. Which makes perfect sense if Moses is the author. It does not if it was written by someone after the time of David, Solomon, and Ezra.
External Evidence: Was Moses even literate?
1. Every people group in Mesopotamia prior to the time of Moses kept written records of their histories and religions. The idea that the Israelites are somehow an exception to this rule and only began doing so hundreds of years later is quite an assumption.
2. The Tell el-Amarna tablets record communications between Canaan and Egypt during the age of Moses and Joshua. This demonstrates that not only were the Egyptians literate but so were the people groups that Moses and Joshua encountered. Interestingly enough, the correspondence on these tablets records a nomadic group moving through Canaan conducting raids on strategic military sites. The name of this group? “Ha-bi-ru.” Interesting.
3. Serabit el-Khadim turquoise mines have inscriptions in a dialect of Hebrew. These inscriptions dating to the 2nd millennium BCE means that the lowest educated workers were proficient in reading and writing well before the time of Moses and Joshua.
4. The library at Ras es-Shamra contains religious writing in a closely related Hebrew dialect dating to 1400 BCE. And it’s in the same form as Hebrew poetry we find in the Psalms.
5. Moses was a prince in the most literate empire in the fertile crescent. The idea that he couldn’t handle writing down the traditions of his people, along with what he personally experienced, is quite a stretch of the imagination.
Conclusion? Well, you decide. But I’m going to be over here with the popcorn waiting for critical scholarship to explain exactly why roughly four millennia of human history (and the Messiah Himself!), saying it was Moses, somehow got it wrong.
 Exodus 17:14; 24:4; 34:27; Numbers 33:1-2; Deuteronomy 31:9
 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6; 21:8; Ezra 6:18; Nehemiah 13:1; Daniel 9:11-13; Malachi 4:4
 John 5:46-57; 7:19; Acts 3:22; Romans 10:5
 Exodus 9:31-32
 Deuteronomy 14:5; Leviticus 11:16
 Genesis 13:10; 33:18; Numbers 13:22
 Exodus 25-40
 Genesis 14; Deuteronomy 12:5
Anna Kitko is a Christian Apologist who specializes in Cults and New Religions. Her writing ranges from solving biblical difficulties to training people how to avoid coercive persuasion from aberrant Bible-based groups. She is an avid reader of Christian history and loves to point out ancient heresies being re-packaged and re-distributed in our culture. In addition to being a Regional Director for RC, she personally directs the chapter at University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Anna can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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