Who wrote the five books of Moses?
From the latter days of the Kings of Israel, the tradition had been established that certain writings had come from the hand of Moses himself:
When they brought out the money that was brought into the house of Yahweh, Hilkiah the priest found the book of the law of Yahweh given by Moses. (2Ch 34:14 WEB) [Referring to the famous “D” source we mentioned earlier]
By the time of Jesus, the tradition was firmly established, and continued for centuries after, that the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) had been written by Moses directly, as these scriptures imply:
But about the dead, that they are raised; havent you read in the book of Moses, about the Bush, how God spoke to him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? (Mar 12:26 WEB) [Referring to Exodus 3:6]
For Moses writes about the righteousness of the law, The one who does them will live by them. (Rom 10:5 WEB) [Referring to Leviticus 18:5]
But over the centuries, scholars who read the “books of Moses” carefully found a few puzzling verses that didn’t make sense coming from the pen of Moses. Here are some of the more famous examples:
So Moses the servant of Yahweh died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of Yahweh. He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab over against Beth Peor: but no man knows of his tomb to this day. (Deu 34:5-6 WEB)
[There are several problems here. Moses is referred to in the third person, which is rather a strange way to write about yourself. Secondly, how can Moses write in the past tense about his own death? Finally, when saying that no one knows the location of Moses’ tomb “to this day” – it implies that Moses death and burial is an event in the distant, even legendary past.]
Now the man Moses was very humble, above all the men who were on the surface of the earth. (Num 12:3 WEB)
[The problem here is obvious. Does a humble man praise his own humility? In the third person??]
When Abram heard that his relative was taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued as far as Dan. (Gen 14:14 WEB)
[This one is a bit harder to notice. Abraham pursued an army till he reached the city of Dan. The problem is, in Abraham’s day, AND IN MOSES’ DAY, the city was not called “Dan”. It was called “Laish”. In the scripture below, in Judges, the Bible explains that the tribe of Dan, AFTER the death of Moses, captured the city of Laish and renamed it to “Dan”]
They called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father, who was born to Israel: however the name of the city was Laish at the first. (Jdg 18:29 WEB)
Jair the son of Manasseh took all the region of Argob, to the border of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and called them, even Bashan, after his own name, Havvoth Jair, to this day.) (Deu 3:14 WEB)
[This one also requires a little cross-checking. In the middle of a speech out of Moses’ own mouth in Deuteronomy 3, Moses mentions Jair capturing a region across the Jordan and calling it Havvoth Jair. The problem is, as we read about in the scripture below, Jair was a judge, who lived long after Moses, and his conquest took place after Moses was dead. Furthermore, Deuteronomy tells us that the city is called Havvoth Jair “to this day”. This means that the writer of this verse is looking back, not only on Moses, but on the time of the JUDGES as being in the distant, legendary past. Here’s the verse in Judges:]
After him arose Jair, the Gileadite; and he judged Israel twenty-two years. He had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkey colts, and they had thirty cities, which are called Havvoth Jair to this day, which are in the land of Gilead. (Jdg 10:3-4 WEB)
They took his land in possession, and the land of Og king of Bashan, the two kings of the Amorites, who were beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise; (Deu 4:47 WEB)
[What’s the problem here? It’s describing the Amorites as being “beyond the Jordan” – to the East. This only makes sense for a writer living IN ISRAEL, on the WEST side of the Jordan – a place Moses never reached.]
Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. The Canaanite was then in the land. (Gen 12:6 WEB)
[This explanatory comment makes no sense unless when the writer was writing, the Canaanites were no longer in the land… in other words, AFTER the time of the Judges.]
These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the children of Israel. (Gen 36:31 WEB)
[But this implies that the writer is familiar with the time when kings DID reign over Israel! So we are looking at a comment written after Moses, after the conquest, after the Judges, and after the beginning of the Monarchy]
The obvious conclusion is that at least one of the writers who contributed to the five books of Moses lived in the middle to late monarchal period of Israel or Judah, many centuries after the time of Moses. Let me be careful, however, add some qualifications:
1. These later writers or editors might be using or editing much older sources.
2. Nothing in this argument prevents us from believing that these later writers or editors were spiritually inspired.
All it argues against is the tradition that Moses, and ONLY Moses, wrote the first five books of the Old Testament.
The next clue about the authorship of these books comes from examining the mysterious parallel accounts of the same events that they contain. More on that later.