Our first topic of the year is one that I have been asked about, directly or obliquely, a number of times in comments and correspondence: Did Moses write every word (or most of) the Pentateuch (Torah) or are the critics correct that the Pentateuch is essentially a patchwork quilt of at least four documents (popularly called J,E,D, and P – the “Documentary Hypothesis“)?
It shouldn’t surprise you that my answer to the above question is “no” (to all parts). I really don’t think the two alternatives that people who ask the question present for consideration adequately represent the situation, and so, a coherent solution. I’m no fan of JEDP (I think it has serious circular-reasoning problems), but I don’t think Moses wrote all the Pentateuch either, as parts of it are demonstrably late. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
To start us off, I offer this short (only four pages) essay written by Jacob Milgrom, an expert in Jewish law (thirty years in the field, over 250 scholarly articles to his credit, along with some hefty commentaries in various books of the Torah, especially Leviticus and Numbers). Milgrom wrote this essay for the believing Jewish community as you will readily discern. Although I wouldn’t say some of the things he says in the essay, it’s a good start for introducing the fact that the question above about Mosaic authorship is a legitimate one. Most students of the Bible, especially those of the evangelical persuasion, are simply unaware that the issue isn’t “liberals versus Bible believers.” The question arises from the biblical text itself. But picking up on that requires a very close knowledge of the Old Testament text — that part of the Bible scarcely read (and quickly when it is) much less truly studied. Milgrom’s article, written for the lay person, will give you a couple clear cases in point that most readers would never spot and think about. And they are the tip of the iceberg. The question is a real one.
So, please have a look. I’ll look forward to your comments. I’ll come back to the article in the next post and add some other material to get us started in how we need to think about this issue. Naturally, it will relate to how we think about inspiration (and perhaps inerrancy). Dig in!
In reading Milgrom’s essay I couldn’t help but be reminded of the phrase “seat of Moses” used in the New Testament to describe the authority of the Pharisaical Rabbi’s. Jesus said, paraphrased, do as they say because they sit in the seat of Moses, but don’t do as they do because they are hypocrites.
This seems to me to pretty strongly imply that even Jesus recognized not only the static forever fixed authority of a one time revelation given at a point in the distant past, but also an ongoing revelatory or at least didactic authority that was present in the religious hierarchy, linking the Rabbi’s of his day back to the authority of Moses.
It also strikes me that this has a great deal of similarity to the Catholic idea of the Magisterium of the Chruch.
interesting comments; they seem reasonable, though the Catholic church would probably seek to roots its magisterium idea in Paul’s reference to oral teaching (as distinct from written, inscripturated material – 2 Thess 2:15; and of course that needs to be juxtaposed with the idea of the priesthood of every believer). But there’s little doubt in my mind that catholic authorities would see some continuity with Jewish oral traditions that became codified.
do you think that this issue relates to the concept of ‘binding and loosing’?
no; I can’t tell what you are angling for – ?
sorry for the ambiguity, in Matthew 16 and 18 Jesus gives the apostles the authority of ‘binding and loosing’. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. I grew up in the Charismatic Church and in that tradition binding and loosing was viewed as the authority of each believer to inhibit negative spiritual powers or to release positive spiritual powers. This could range from ‘binding’ an evil spirit from working in a person’s life to ‘loosing’ blessings on a person etc.
Since exploring outside the charismatic movement I’ve run into two other interpretations of binding and loosing. #1 is that binding and loosing was the authority of the apostles to bring people in to the Church and to cast people out of the Church and as such was primarily about Church discipline. #2 is that binding and loosing referred to rabbinical authority in the practice of allowing or forbidding a given practice under the Law of Moses. In this view binding and loosing was essentially the right to interpret and apply the law authoritatively.
Generally I have tended to think the latter view the most credible. As a result I was wondering if you thought this would be connected to the idea of a living authority that continued(s) revelation through extension (and application) of the original.
That would of course depend on what you think “binding and loosing” in Matthew 16 & 18 is referring to, so perhaps I should have started there 🙂
yes, it would depend on the last issue, as you note. I think the potential for *similarity* is there since I view the binding and loosing as operating in conjunction with Scripture already embraced as authoritative (so the “application” idea presents overlap). However, there is no hint in the NT that an apostolic *office* was supposed to continue, or that people suspected it would continue. The apostles stressed (to church leadership) the importance of studying the Scripture for that reason, so in practical terms, I see no way to establish (via exegesis) apostolic continuity (though that doesn’t stop many people from asserting it or presuming it).
This sort of thing doesn’t concern me too much: it’s only if someone were to say that the entire ‘priestly’ material should be dated much later, rather than seeing certain elements of it developing. Where do you draw the line, and how? Also, wouldn’t the person who ‘changed’ the tithe stipulation in, say Numbers, worry about future generations finding an inconsistency with Deut./ Leviticus?
agreed – it’s the inflexibility of the “entirety” dogma that I think deserves rejection. In future posts, I’ll try to sketch some guidelines / parameters that it seems are resident within Scripture to some extent.
A thought: could it be that the different stipulations in Numbers and Leviticus are just indicative of each other (they’re not that far apart, after all)? And then the new recipient in Deut. is different because they’re about to enter the land and will be far more widespread. Just wondering how certain we can be that something was changed a long time later, rather than just within the pre-conquest community.
I think some thinks have the sort of ambiguity you describe. However, if you find a couple clear instances, that opens the door for more serious consideration of later adaptation. I’ll be chiming back in soon and heading down this road.
Some interesting thoughts….Milgrom raises some good points which are worth considering, especially in light of how the Christian community (i.e., Protestants) view Jewish oral law (and comparable to their view of Catholic tradition). Mosaic authorship is deeper than simply saying/acknowledging that Moses used a scribe (or even a group of them!). At the end, it sounds as if MIlgrom says all the sources trace back to the Mosaic authorship (including oral), which I have to wrap my mind around. I’m not yet a big fact of oral tradition, though I’m admittedly ignorant in this area.
I think his main idea is that the decisions of spiritual authorities (in the Bible and afterward) were/are “authorized” AS Mosaic if they could be seen as deriving from the Torah.
I see any “gloss” or “editing” as inspired myself, so from that angle it doesn’t bug me if Moses didn’t write everything we have today.
Inerrant is a separate issue. I don’t know where I stand on that issue simply because of things like the contradictions the author noted.
It’s a human/Divine work and the human part is maybe more than just scientific ignorance
and each writer having his own vocabulary and such. I guess I am not certain exactly where I stand on that issue.
How about you?
I think “contradiction” is a bit premature. If in fact data were changed “in view of the authority of Moses” for different times and situations, that isn’t creating a contradiction; it’s applying inspired material to a specific (changing) historical context. Conflicts without such contexts would amount to contradictions, but it seems to me there is an application / editorial agenda behind these things — e.g. the “contradictory” rules for observing Passover (cp. Exod 12 and Deut 16); the two contexts were quite different.
In regards to applying inspired material to a changing context, are you saying that in the biblical examples (Nehemiah’s amana, etc) when Torah is adapted to a new historical context the ‘newly formed’ law (derived from Torah) is in itself considered inspired and from God/Moses going forward to the ancient Hebrew mind?
I do find the idea of contradictions being built into revelation intriguing; was Milgrom suggesting that this could be one way God ensures His will is done in every age, despite of the unchanging codes? I would like to read your opinion on this point as well in future posts. Great read.
First part: I’d say that Milgrom is saying when Nehemiah did this that was the result. And because of that, that was the method mimed by the Jewish religious leadership, which itself became codified. Though Jews have a higher view of Talmud as having authority than non-Jews (other than Catholics) are accustomed to, they would not view the product of applying the Torah on the same level as the Torah (but it still had authority).
I read an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, of all places, during Hanukkah, about the “Law of Moses.” In it, the author, not a scholar, argued that what made the Torah so special wasn’t the Ten Commandments, as they and other parts of the Law were similar to the moral/legal codes of other ANE cultures. He hearkened back to when Yahweh called Abraham to sacrifice his son… that wasn’t unique either, as gods had expected that behavior since time immemorial. It was that God interrupted Abraham’s sacrifice, and offered an animal substitution for the blood of a human. He argued that was the start of conscience, which I reject. But I would be interested in your take on that perspective. Would you consider Yahweh offering himself as a substitute in that moment (the words of Abraham) and sending a goat one of the unique characteristics of ancient Hebrew religion?
I would add this — the law code set against the backdrop of a national covenant between a god and his people (as in the OT) is quite different from other law codes. There were rites of substitution in other ANE religions (the most famous is probably the “substitute king” ritual of Assyria).
Thank you for this post. Admittedly, I have not considered the ‘living’ Word as being oral and able to be applied to different eras/circumstances in ways that are actually meaningful. I appreciated Milgrom’s footnote about the U.S. legal system. I know individuals who state that what was written by the founding fathers must be kept intact regardless of cultural growth. Others, follow Halvini’s concept. I, like kennethos above, must ruminate on this a bit. But, I think getting people to think is part of your plan.
you’re welcome; I’ll be chiming back in soon.
So, do you agree with Dr. John Hobbin’s affirmation of this statement?
“As Franz Rosenzweig put it, what Wellhausen and the others call R (for Redactor) we confess to be Moses (actually, Rosenzweig said Rabbi, but its the same thing2)”
Basically, that Moses in the Jewish mind was both a real person, and a hermeneutical construct.
The third line of your post I’d agree with in principle, but only because any redactor would be attempting to honor Mosaic material and intent. I affirm the historicity of Moses and Mosaic content, but redaction is inescapable, so this sort of approach (and I think Milgrom’s article is in the same spirit) is useful and (I think) reflective of certain biblical passages / instances (Milgrom hits a couple).
What this points out is that it is not necessary to reject Mosaic authorship of Torah material in order to acknowledge redaction. But I want to get into the text itself and start showing how the text itself suggests this approach.
This subject fascinates me more than most any other. I look forward to both following it and perhaps contributing some thoughts and links to it in the near future. For the moment though and I know that this is quite off subject, although related to a pivotal person contained herein would you by chance know whether or not Yale Press is slated to publish Milgroms final commentary any day soon (already!)? I remember reading Hershel Shanks little but notable notice within his obituary for Jack in an issue of B.A.S. that it was Jack Milgrom who took up Moshe Greenbergs unfinished task of completing the final volume for the Anchor Bibles commentary on Ezekiel. Shanks mentioned that ALL the material was completed by Jack before he passed on, so I have been wondering why such a delay by Yale in putting it through to press? I have Milgroms three Leviticus comm.s plus Greenbergs two, so Ive been rather anxious in hoping to see Jacks treatment of the especially Priestly part of Ezekiel, namely that enigmatic part which seems to have never found fulfillment: its blueprint Temple. That, and also the seeming redactional relationship between it and the Priestly material in the Pentateucal.
I don’t know, but I can check. Send me an email about this as a reminder.
GASP! WHAT? WHY, I NEVER…!
Moses didn’t write every single word of the Penta…Pentect…the first five books of the Bible (I have spelling. We should just do away with it)???
Hey, I love your thinking, Michael, sir. It’s so refreshing to see someone deal with the subjects in an honest approach.
It’s, like, what ever happened to common sense and simple logic, you know, when we approach Scripture? We treat very little else in life with the lack of common sense and simple logic that we do in how we approach Scripture. As if we don’t have to use any of the normal faculties of life when reading God’s word: it’s exempt. And that just shuts down good thinking, simple logic and the reality of the way in which God has given us His word. Challenging? Yes. Going to dethrone God if we find out that Moses didn’t write all of the Pentateuch? No. (Well, maybe. My gosh, this is big!!)
If you haven’t had the chance, check out Dr. Dennis Bratcher’s site. http://www.crivoice.org/index.html. Another good thinker. He does believe in JPED, however, but it’s thinking and honest approach toward Scripture that over-rides those issues.
Thank you very much, again, Michael, for an enjoyable, refreshing and engaging blog!
Keith R. Starkey
I hear you; had to chuckle. Thanks.
I reckon reckognizing the differences in the text is still a far cry from claiming the Hebrew religion “evolved,” correct? Moses and his predecessors did not create new facets of the religion, the later work just expounded and clarified what was already revealed. Likewise, the more I know about the OT, the more I see there is very little in the way of new ideas in the NT. It is mostly OT principals expressed in different ways. If I am understanding Milgrom correctly, what the NT authors did is a continuation of what has been done from the very beginning with what God revealed on Mt. Sinai.
Does that sound like the right tract, or should I be harkening to Provers 17:28 & 18:2 a little better?
I don’t know of anyone who would deny progress in revelation (i.e., development of biblical theological ideas over time amid biblical books). BUT, that would be affected by (chronologically) when you think certain books were composed, edited, supplemented, etc.
It would be hard to find an idea in the NT that isn’t informed by the OT, or that doesn’t build on the OT.
Getting down to the core of his argument, it seems that Milgrom believes Revelation is nothing more but intuition. I have heard this argument before, but only from people that have a more apophatic philosophy; that really, Revelation is a bottom-top experience and not a top-bottom one.