In the wake of my earlier post on the Law of Moses, where Milgrom’s essay puts forth the issue of disagreements within the contents of the Torah and introduces the idea of later appliaction or adaptation of the Torah, I thought it would be good to survey where the phrase occurs — indeed, where the Hebrew word Torah occurs in the same verse as the name Moses. To that end, here is a PDF of those search results, along with very brief comments of my own — sort of initial musings about what “law” might be referred to. (The results only reflect the Old Testament since the search terms were Hebrew — before hitting the New Testament it would sure be nice to see how the OT uses the phrase).
Here are some preliminary observations / thoughts as we (still) are saddling up to the Mosaic authorship of the Torah issue.
1. There isn’t a single verse in the OT where the “law” references anything in the book of Genesis. For sure the patriarchal stories are known in Exodus through Deuteronomy, but they are never associated with the “law of Moses.”
2. There is no verse in the OT that (key word) unambiguously uses the phrase “law of Moses” comprehensively — i.e., referring to the five books of the Pentateuch. Same goes for other references to the law in connection with Moses. As you read you’ll note that there are a few that *could* speak of the Pentateuch (or Exodus through Deuteronomy, since there is nothing to link the phrase to Genesis). But it isn’t clear; just a possibility.
3. You’ll notice that several of my notes refer to the issue of the date of Deuteronomy (and, more peripherally, to the date of that book and its chronological relationship to the book of Joshua). This introduces what for me is a key issue: Was any part (or all) of Deuteronomy post-Mosaic in its origin? Those who hold JEDP are categorical in this regard — Deuteronomy was composed and edited during the reigns of Hezekiah and (especially) Josiah. That means the story of its discovery by Hilkiah the priest (2 Kings 22; 2 Chron 34) needs to be viewed in some respect as either fiction or “fictional license” on the part of of the writer of 2 Kings. If the book was created in its entirety after the lifetime of Moses, the story is basically fiction. If Deuteronomy was part genuine Mosaic material + part application of the Mosaic material by someone who wasn’t Moses, then “fiction” is too strong and inaccurate. I would argue that (if this is the case), whoever wrote the 2 Kings account probably knew Deuteronomy was late but wanted to make clear that the laws in it were tied to Moses (either as a historical and iconic figure or in terms of actual material written by Moses). The scribe is thus doing due diligence to make sure everyone knows that when the laws of Deuteronomy conflict with the laws of Exodus (e.g., the Passover rules), the later laws are still derivative from and consistent with the spirit of the original exodus laws.1
4. Note that the “book of the law” that is identified with Deuteronomy does *not* contain Deut 31-34 (see the phrase used in Deut. 31:2426).
5. The instances where “law” is referred to are, in the majority of instances, identifiable (specific passages or sections; e.g., the decalogue, or the curses in Deut 27-28). That is, the association of some law or laws with Moses is very often (nearly always might be fair) specific, not aimed at identifying whole books as the source of the reference.
I’ll let you mull all this over before we hit the New Testament in the next post. Again, by way of summary explanation, my goal in this post is singular: to ascertain what can and cannot be said about how the OT itself uses the phrase “law of Moses,” and whether Moses is ever associated with all five books. We’re looking only at OT for now, and this is a first step.
- I postulate this only as an illustration, as my later posts and discussion on changes in the laws between Exodus and Deuteronomy will show. For me, there are several law changes that suggest lateness, but only one (in my mind thus far) that only has coherence if it truly originated later (as in, a scribe living well after Moses made the change). But this one “certain” case makes the notion of others very possible. The problem with a lot of these is that one can argue Deuteronomy was written the way it was as foreshadowing a time when certain laws would be altered — but then the question is whether that is coherent — why would Moses or God do that — and why is Moses seemingly always referenced in the third person to boot. Anyway, we’ll get to that stuff eventually. ↩
Lots of material for discussion, to say the least! It seems to me that if at least some of the Pentateuch weren’t written by – or based on records from the time of – Moses, the historicity of the accounts can be called into question.
I suppose that with some of this stuff you can’t really say either way if it’s late or not – only trust that’s in accordance with God’s purposes.
I actually *wouldn’t* say historicity is automatically rendered questionable. Though it seems logical to us that chronological distance between an account and the events that the account describes = the content is unhistorical, this doesn’t logically hold. Ultimately, we don’t know how many steps in between what we have and the event there actually were (in terms of source materials used). We just have what we have. We also tend to undervalue oral tradition, which was a big deal in the ancient world, even after literacy arose, since only the educated elite learned writing — others had to depend on oral tradition until the accounts were put into writing. “Oral literacy” just isn’t part of our cultural experience, so it gets factored out of the equation from the get go. For me, chances are equal that something gets missed or mistaken in oral and written transmission. I don’t see one as superior to another.
On that note, I think it’s a shame you’ve removed Merrill’s ‘Kingdom of Priests’ from your recommended reading. I learnt a lot from that book.
where was it removed from? (serious question – hard to remember when I last touched things and why; boy I need a assistant!).
The ‘Israelite History and Religion’ section on the ‘Recommended Books’ page of your main site.
got it; I need to do some more updating there.
You ask a good question on that PDF file: What biblical evidence is there that include Genesis and Leviticus?
Well, a) if Leviticus is not a law of Moses, why include it in the Torah?
b) Are you being too narrow as to what “law” includes? After all, you have scattered everywhere in Leviticus and the rest of Numbers that have God telling Moses to speak to the nation or to the priests to do XYZ. Why isn’t that considered law as well?
Also, in Kings where it refers to “Book,” what do you suppose that means there? The same “book” is referred to by Ezra as well. In Ezra’s time we know the Book is the Torah. So what is it Kings?
Hey, I thought those are some pretty good question I asked 🙂
you do ask good questions.
And you give good answers, soooo……… 😀