What Evidence Proves Moses Wrote the First Five Books of the Bible?
|By: Dr. Gleason L. Archer; ©1991|
|Many scholars claim that Moses couldn’t have written the first five books of the Bible for many reasons, one of which is that Moses wouldn’t have known how to write. But is that true? How about the other arguments that are raised? Are they any more valid?|
What Evidence Proves That Moses Wrote The First Five Books Of the Old Testament? The Authorship of the Pentateuch
Dr. John Ankerberg: The information in this program was taped live at The Ankerberg Theological Research Institute’s Apologetics Conference in Orlando, Florida. Each year we invite laymen, students and pastors to attend this conference and hear seven or eight of the best professors and apologists in Christianity teach on topics of vital interest to all of us.
Our instructor for this session is Dr. Gleason Archer. Dr. Archer is professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He holds degrees from Harvard College, Princeton Theological Seminary, Suffolk University Law School, and received his Ph.D. from Harvard Graduate School.
Dr. Archer has authored many books, including the two commentaries The Epistle to the Hebrews and The Epistle to the Romans, as well as his Survey of Old Testament Introduction, and The Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties.
Dr. Archer is fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic and German and has a working knowledge of well over a dozen more ancient and modern languages. He’s also a tenderhearted pastor and inspiring and seasoned teacher.
Dr. Archer’s topic for this session is: “What Evidence Proves That Moses Wrote the First Five Books of the Bible?” As you listen to this information, it will be my prayer that God will increase your faith and draw you closer to our Lord.
Dr. Gleason Archer: It is a delight to have you come together for this one of my favorite sermon subjects, the demonstration of the Mosaic authenticity of the Pentateuch.
I was first attracted to this when I was a college student and I was made acquainted with the approach of liberal higher criticism and, fortunately, I sat under the ministry of a pastor, Harold John Ockenga, who had had an excellent training at Princeton and Westminster Seminary and had done a doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh, and he was very well trained in the matter of the defense of the Scripture. And as I listened to him and I listened to the discussion, I came to realize that what we have in the liberal approach that has become so prevalent throughout much of higher education, both at the secular and at the theological level, both in America and in the rest of the English speaking world, French and German for that matter, the whole approach is called in question as to its legitimacy because of the fallacy of circular reasoning.
Now, what do I mean by that? If you make up in advance your conclusion and then you establish it as your premise, this is what is known in logic as petitio principi, or begging of the question. And very clearly, from the time of really the early part of the 18th century in Europe, there was as mood of excessive confidence in man’s ability to figure out all of the great questions of life and of the universe on the basis of his human reason. So this is what we call the so-called “enlightenment era” in which a respect for Holy Scripture was set aside in the interest of figuring out what must have happened or what was true on the basis of what generally does happen. In other words, it is a world view which does not allow for the unique or for the seldom-occurring type of episode. And this, of course, leads to a kind of screening that eliminates the honest consideration of evidence for that which is unique.
Well, as we come to a consideration of that which has replaced the former view of the inerrancy of Scripture, trustworthiness as the Word of God, we have to reckon that what we’re dealing with is a philosophical bias. It is somewhat like that which took place in the time of the Reformation when the various Catholic orders that were organized around the Inquisition, Spanish Inquisition, but inquisition elsewhere as well, would decide that anybody who did not believe in the things that the papacy was campaigning for, like making a contribution to the Basilica of St. Peter’s as a guarantee for ransoming the souls of your departed relatives that were then suffering agony in purgatory and as Tetzel claimed, being the representative of the pope: “At the moment you make that contribution in the offering box, then the soul of your dear one will escape from purgatory and get to heaven.” Well, this, of course, was the thing that precipitated the protest of Martin Luther when he nailed his 95 theses on the door of the sanctuary there in Wittenberg. But the Inquisition, when they would make an arrest of somebody for heresy, would assume that he was guilty and do everything to prove that he was guilty and not entertain any evidence whatever of his innocence.
Well, now, in the case of the higher critical school, which had its rise about the middle of the 18th century, we generally say with Jean Astruc’s observations concerning the first two chapters of Genesis, and that would be 1753, we have the emergence of a new attitude towards the Bible. That it is simply a work thought up by men apart from any divine inspiration and therefore it should be understood in the light of probabilities. Now, for example, if it is very improbable or outright impossible for Moses to lead a group of two million people or more through the wilderness of Sinai for 40 years before coming to the holy land, it could not have happened. In other words, the only things that ever happened are the customary things. There’s never anything unique. Well, of course, the critics tended to forget that there was only one time that they were born and so from the standpoint of uniqueness, then they didn’t exist.
But the thing that we have to reckon with as we come to this very pretentious school of thought, which still prevails in the English speaking world and which gets quite rattled by people who come up and say a very determined defense of the authorship/inspiration of Scripture, then they have some difficulty in making an adjustment when things that had been ruled out as impossible and were scientifically unacceptable which touch upon the field of archaeology, for example, then they find that when further archaeological discovery is made and, lo and behold, there was such a king as Belshazzar for the Chaldean empire. Even though the standard Greek and Roman authors had never mentioned him, and then they assume that because they had never mentioned him he never existed and this is a figment in the imagination of the author of the Book of Daniel, they found out that indeed there was a Belshazzar. Tablets were found in which his name appeared and in which he was to be prayed for at religious services. And this, of course, was something that was somewhat equivalent to what you have in the Anglican Church where at the church service all must pray for the king and the queen of England, whoever that may be. And so it has now been pretty well recognized, even by reluctant liberal scholars, that there was indeed a Belshazzar who was the number two king of the Chaldean empire at the time that his father Nabonidus was still the number one king but who was headquartered in a place called Tema in northern Arabia at the time of the Medo-Persian invasion that book place in 539 B.C.
Well, now, the thing that we have to reckon with is that all that we meet with in the standard liberal scholarly treatment of the books of the Pentateuch is the imposition of a philosophical bias upon the data of the first five books of the Old Testament. One, I think that was rather instructive in this process, was the emergence at the beginning of the 19th century by Wilhelm De Wette concerning Deuteronomy. He said, “Now, look, in Deuteronomy you have a document which insists that there be a centralization of worship in Jerusalem and this is very conveniently discovered by the high priest at the time the temple is being cleaned up and renovated. And here’s this old document, this old copy of the Pentateuch or, as he maintained, it was simply the fifth volume, Deuteronomy. And so this was brought to the king as a new discovery and the king says, “Oh, wonderful. Here we have something from the pen of Moses and it indicates that there should be a unity in the administration of the kingdom of Judah and rather than having sanctuaries in this place or that place, all the revenues should come into Jerusalem for the benefit of the Jerusalem priesthood and also to give a sense of unity around the central government of Judah. So this is concocted as a pious fraud in order to put through a program in which King Josiah and the high priest Hilkiah would both benefit.
So this is the kind of analysis that began to spring up during the latter part of the 18th century and the 19th century and by the time that Hegel came along with his dialectic that historical processes go according to initial thesis, and then there’s an antithesis and thirdly, there’s a synthesis, you should look for these movements in tracing the history of Israel’s religion and so on. Well, I won’t go into that in great detail but, of course, you see the assumption is that there was never any communication from a personal God to a prophet like Moses; this was simply the invention of a much later period centuries after the death of Moses himself.
But rather than go through the complicated history of the Documentary Hypothesis with its “J” or Jahwist and “E” or Elohist and “P,” priestly code and “D,” the Deuteronomic code, I would like to bring out some of the positive evidences of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and to alert you to the logical problems that the liberal scholar has to contend with if he is willing to look at the evidence.
First of all, the Pentateuch itself testifies to Moses as having composed it. The first clear indication of this is in Exodus 17 at verse 14: “And Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Write this for a memorial in a book that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek.'” Now Amalek, the Amalekites, had attacked, without any provocation or any good reason, they had attacked the congregation of Israel as they were moving past their territory and tried to slaughter and to plunder. And Joshua was given the responsibility of leading the defense forces of Amalek which eventually prevailed. So the Lord said, “Now, write this down as my decree concerning the Amalekites that they shall be blotted out at some future generation because of this unprovoked and brutal aggression.”
And then in Exodus 24:4 we read that Moses wrote all the words of Yahweh. And, of course, I’m using Yahweh instead of Jehovah because Jehovah is a historical mistake. It’s imposing the vowels of the term of Adonai or Lord upon the actual personal name of Yahweh as is given in the call of Moses by God in Genesis Chapter 3. Moses wrote all the words of Yahweh and in verse 7 of Exodus 24 he took the book of the covenant and read it in the audience of the people. Now, obviously it would have been difficult for him to read something that wasn’t written. But back in those earlier days of higher critical speculation, it was reasoned that Moses is presented as the leader of a band of slaves and therefore the chances are he wasn’t even literate; he couldn’t read or write. And it was too early for that kind of thing to have been a possibility for the Hebrews. And so this, of course, has been later exploded as utterly unsound because we now have evidences of literacy that extend even to the slave miners who worked at Serabit el Khadim, or ancient Dophkah down in the Sinai Peninsula where the Egyptian government for a long time had maintained a turquoise mine. Turquoise was a highly desirable item for the Egyptian culture and they had slaves that carried on the mining there. And some of them or most of them were Semites.
And around 1905 the discovery was made under Sir Flinders Petrie that in these galleries where you had standard Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions there was also a group of inscriptions that seemed to be pictographic but were not really Egyptian. And so the question remained as to how these were to be interpreted until finally, oh, about 1920, it was figured out that these pictographs were actually an alphabet that had taken some of the symbols that were used in writing the Egyptian language but which added up to an alphabet approximately equivalent to that which you have in Finish and in Hebrew. So they were able to identify, for example, the picture of a bull’s head that would be like an upside down “U” and then with a crossbar across the top so you would have a couple of horns sticking out. Well, that was the letter Aleph because Aleph means a bull. And then you had another kind of a formation which looked a little bit like the plan of a house that elaborated into the second letter of the alphabet, Beta. Well, Beta means a house. So you see, this kind of evolving of an alphabetic system dating to the time of the 17th century B.C. and therefore before Moses was ever born was a skill which was practiced by the lowest class of society. Of course, these miners were of the lowest class. Very often they were worked until they died under terrible heat conditions and hardship in these mines. They didn’t amount to anything; they were just slaves. But these slaves, even, were able to set up inscriptions on the wall in which, for example, the foreman of a particular work gang would be told how many pounds of turquoise they were supposed to produce within the coming months and then they would also have votive inscriptions to the goddess whom they were worshipping, and her name was Baalot, that is, she was the wife of Baal or Baal. Of course, these were pagan Semites but the striking thing about it is that that language of the Sinaitic inscriptions is very, very closely related to Hebrew and Hebrew, of course, is the dialect of the Canaanite branch of Semitic languages.
So that the claim that Moses and the Israelites were illiterate becomes all the more ridiculous when you remember that according to the records, they had been in the land of Egypt, sojourning in Goshen, for well over four centuries and the Egyptians were about the most literate people on earth. They even had inscriptions on their toothbrushes, not necessarily indicating whose it was but they loved their language and the doorposts and everything. The beautiful Egyptian hieroglyphs were in great use and commonly understood by the rank and file of the people. And to say that the Hebrews were so dumb as to live in the midst of a literate people like that and never learned the art of reading and writing is the height of absurdity.
So we have this reference, then, in Exodus 34, “And Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Write these words for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.'” This is an episode which took place after the apostasy of the golden calf.
And then in Numbers 33:1-2, “These are the journeys of the children of Israel. And Moses wrote their goings out according to their journeys.” In other words, he kept a journal of where they went from place to place during those 40 years of wandering.
Deuteronomy 31:9, though, is very important. “Moses wrote this Law, this Torah, and delivered it unto the priests.” In other words, one of the last things that Moses did before he was taken from the earthly scene was to complete the writing out of the Pentateuch and this, then, was laid up before the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle.
And then we read in verse 11 of the same chapter, “When all Israel has come to appear before Yahweh thy God, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing.” Now, of course, this implies that the law has all been written out. It’s capable of being read and that it should be read at regular intervals so that people will remember the guidelines that God has given for their nation, their theocracy.
Now, it’s rather interesting to observe that Julius Wellhausen, who put the final systematization of the Documentary Hypothesis before the public, in his landmark volume Prologomena Zur Geschichte Israels, says nothing about any of these verses which I have just cited. He just ignores them completely in the interest of his evolutionary view that the religion of Israel began with animism and fetishism and idolatry and then somehow gradually evolved into monolatry and then monotheism by the time of Amos in the 850s B.C. In other words, something that didn’t take place until about six centuries after the Exodus. You see, you can’t allow data to interfere with your theory if you’re a good Teutonic scholar. You just have to have everything go according to the Hegelian dialectic. But unfortunately, this is not the way truth is established, by foisting a theory upon the evidence.
And then in other Old Testament books we find references to Mosaic authorship that begin with the Book of Joshua. Joshua 1:8 says, “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth.” Of course, when you read Hebrew, you had to do it out loud because all you had were consonants there and you had to supply the vowels and so this meant that they didn’t read silently; they read at least soto voce, the way some people do even today. “And you are to meditate thereon that you may observe to do according to all that is written therein.” Clear statement, then, that the book of the law, the Torah, was in good shape to be read right after the death of Moses. Well, the higher critical school says this is a plain old lie, wasn’t there, couldn’t have been written and so the whole thing is spurious.
Then in the 8th chapter of Joshua, verse 31, it is stated, “As it is written in the book of the law of Moses, you shall build an altar of unhewn stones.” In other words, you weren’t supposed to carve the stones of the altar because the tendency was if you did that, you would put on human figures or idolatrous figures that might have involved worship and therefore be a violation of the second commandment.
And then in verse 32, the verse that comes right after that in Joshua 8, we read: “And Joshua wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses.” So this must have been a very extensive series of steely in which the Pentateuch was inscribed.
And then you have in 1 Kings 2:3 a statement that refers to Solomon: “And keep the charge of Yahweh according to that which is written in the law of Moses.” And here is David giving his final charge to his son Solomon prior to his decease. And so on. You can go through may areas of data concerning the written form of the Torah in a period long before that which was allowed by the higher critical theorists.
Now, more importantly I suppose, would could say in the New Testament there is a very strong affirmation of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. The Lord Jesus says in Matthew 19:8, “Moses, for the hardness of your heart, suffered you to put away your wives.” He’s talking about this issue of divorce. And then in John 5:46, 47 Jesus says, “For if you believed Moses you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you believe not his writings, how will you believe my words?” John 7:19 says, “Did not Moses give you the Law and yet none of you practices the Law?” So here we have a very serious problem for the higher critic. He has to say that the modern 18th century, 19th century, 20th century scholar really knows more about the Bible than the Lord Jesus did. He just needed to have a little instruction by Wellhausen and He would have gotten all straightened out.
And then in Acts 3:22 the apostles say, “Moses indeed said, ‘A prophet shall the Lord God raise up to you.'” Quoting from Deuteronomy 18:15. And in Romans 10:5, “For Moses writes that the man who does righteousness…” and then he quotes from Leviticus 18:5. So it’s hard to see how anybody can embrace the Documentary theory without attributing falsehood or error to Christ and the Apostles.
And in Mark 12:26 we have a clear statement that God uttered to the historical Moses the words of Exodus 3:6 concerning the interview at the burning bush.
Well, now let’s go to some of the internal evidence in the Pentateuch. I think one of the most striking ones has to do with the geographical factor that’s involved. Now, if you look at the 13th chapter of Genesis, you find something of great significance along this line. Remember, in the 13th chapter Abraham and Lot had to face the fact that their flocks and herds had become so numerous that they couldn’t feed in the same range land and they had to decide where they were going to go. And so Abraham says to Lot, “Okay, we cannot any longer keep our flocks and herds together. You choose what parts you want to go to with your animals and I’ll take a different area.” And so “Lot lifted up his eyes”──this is in Genesis 13:10──”and he saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere before Yahweh destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the garden of Yahweh, like the land of Egypt, as you go to Zoar.” Now, isn’t that interesting? According to the higher critics, this was not composed until, oh, maybe 9th century, 8th century B.C., after the Israelites had been living in Palestine for many centuries. But then, this author for some reason feels that his readership need to have explained to them how the Jordan Valley looked, which would be rather surprising. It would be like a person who has come from a family that’s been living in Chicago for 10 or 15 generations having to have explained to them that Chicago is located beside Lake Michigan. Because the Jordan Valley was part of Israelite domain for many centuries before the critics will allow the composition of this book. But now, how does he explain it? He says, “It looks like a very fertile area in Egypt known as Zoar.” Now let’s do a little elementary thinking here. If this comparison is used in order to explain what the Jordan Valley looked like, with which type of landscape or terrain would the readership have been most acquainted? It would have to be Egypt. Because here you have the district of Busiris in the delta of Egypt that is referred to for the point of comparison.
Second question: At what other period in the history of Israel would such as comparison have been pertinent or valuable than at the time it was supposed to have been…the transition was supposed to have been made, that is, at the threshold of the conquest of the Holy Land. See, later on, there would be no reason or occasion to make a comparison with an Egyptian scene. It would have been irrelevant. Oh, maybe some people would have gone down to Egypt and seen what it looked like, but they wouldn’t say, “Oh, what I’m trying to explain to you is how the Jordan Valley looked” in terms of this. So there’s only one reasonable conclusion that a person can draw and that is that this must have been composed at a time when the Israelite reading public were more familiar with the way things were in Egypt than they were with the way things were in Palestine.
But there’s more. You also have a reference to the time of the rebuilding of Hebron, and this is very significant because in a so-called “priestly” passage, the “Priestly Code” were supposed to have been begun in the time of Ezekiel in the 7th century B.C. But here we have in this so-called “P” passage, Genesis 23:2, the reference to Hebron by its pre-Israelite name Kirjath-arba. And its founding date is explained to the author’s public in Numbers 13:22 with reference to the building of the city of Zoan in Egypt. Well, it seems as if they must have known when Zoan was built, but they didn’t know when Hebron was built. And Hebron, mind you, was the provincial capital of the tribe of Judah for many centuries, well, until the time of the return from Exile. And so there’s only, again, one reasonable conclusion to draw──that the public for whom the Pentateuch was written were familiar with what went on with Egypt but not familiar with what went on in Canaan.
Similarly, you have a very interesting reference to a city that belonged to Shechem which is in the land of Canaan. Shalem, a city of Shechem, is in the land of Canaan. Now, this is found in Genesis 33:18. Well, now, Shechem was one of the most prominent cities in the 12 tribes. It was the leading city of the tribe of Ephraim. Why would the people of Egypt have to be told that Shechem was in their country if they had been living in it for six or seven centuries? So, again, the possibility of sustaining this theory is just not there if you’re going to be an intelligent, intellectually respectable thinker.
Another important factor is that the atmosphere of the Books of Exodus through Numbers is that of the desert. It’s not of an agricultural people settled in their ancestral lands for nearly a thousand years, as Wellhausen supposed, because there is a tremendous emphasis upon a large tent or tabernacle as the place of worship, which would be altogether out of place for authors living centuries after the temple of Solomon had been built──a temple which differed from the tabernacle in many important details. But it would be perfectly relevant for a nomadic people constantly on the march through the desert, the materials of which were to be made of the type of thing that would be available to them in the desert: its central location in the midst of the encampment; the exact location of the twelve tribes as they pitched their tents on its four sides as set forth in Numbers 2. And this has a perfect appropriateness to the generation of Moses, but it doesn’t have any whatever to any later generation.
Then the references to desert crop up here, there and everywhere; for example, in Leviticus 16 at verse 10 at the ceremony of the scapegoat. The scapegoat is to be sent off into the desert bearing away from the congregation the sins of Israel.
And then there are instructions that are given about sanitary regulations. You’re supposed to go out into the desert and you have to have a little paddle in order to take care of a “BM.”
And then the exact order of march is specified in Numbers 10:14-20 in a way that would have had meaning or appropriateness only while Israel was concentrated in one large nomadic group and was in the process of migration.
Then there are significant relationships to Egyptian that are to be found in the vocabulary of the Pentateuch in a unique way which you do not find in the later books or the other books of the Old Testament. In other words, there is a greater percentage of Egyptian words in the Pentateuch than is to be found in the rest of the Old Testament. This was something that was brought out by the research of Dr. Robert Dick Wilson of the Princeton Seminary back in the old days when they were taking the Bible seriously. For example, you have the exclamation or the summons: ‘abrek (‘b rk) referred to in Genesis 41:43 which is translated, “Bow the knee,” coming from the Hebrew abrek which means to bend or bow the knee. It may have been, however, the Egyptian expression ‘b rk, which would mean, “O, heart, bow down.” We don’t know, of course, which. I suspect it was the latter since this was a command to the public to show reverence to Joseph as he would drive down the main avenue of the capital in his chariot. And so we would expect that the command, which is, by the way, the only time it occurs in the Old Testament Hebrew, would be Egyptian.
Now, other things that are very significant. You have a term for a span. Now, that would be how wide you go between the tip of your thumb and the tip of your farthest finger. That is in Hebrew zeret. And this is plainly a derivative from the Egyptian word for a hand, drt. And then they use an Egyptian measure for grain. They use ephah, which is the tenth of a homer, and this comes from the Egyptian word, ‘pt. And correspondingly there’s hnw, which is about five quarts of liquid in volume, coming from the Egyptian hin. And gome’, papyrus, from the Egyptian kmyt and so on. There are lots of words that appear in the vocabulary of the Pentateuch which show an Egyptian background.
The viewpoint, then, of the Book of the Pentateuch is really not Palestinian. The flora and fauna referred to in the book are either Egyptian or Sinaitic but never distinctively Palestinian. Thus, the shittim or Acacia tree, which is indigenous to Egypt in the Sinai Peninsula but to be found in Palestine is the distinctive desert tree and that’s the kind of wood that they were supposed to use for the tabernacle furniture. The skins which were to be used as the outer covering of the tabernacle were to be taken from the tahash and the tahash was a kind of dugong which is found in the seas and brooks adjacent to Egypt and Sinai but not to be found in Palestine.
And even the lists of clean and unclean animals which is contained in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 include some which may be peculiar to Sinai, but none which are peculiar to Canaan. The wild ox or antelope, which is tee’ o in Hebrew, mentioned in Deuteronomy 14:5, is a native of upper Egypt and Arabia but you do not find it in Palestine. And so on. There are a lot of details like this but they are very significant because they indicate in an indirect way where the composition of the book must have taken place.
Now, this is scientific, objective methodology which is the way all investigation should be carried on, not according to the imposing of a theory of the evolutionary development of Israel’s religion. One of the interesting things that has emerged even from modern Israeli scholarship has been pointed out very strongly by Yehezkel Kaufmann, an eminent professor at Hebrew University who is now deceased, but he said after careful research he “cannot find any evidence to indicate in the text a time when Israel was not monotheistic.” Explain it how you would. Even back in the time of Abraham there’s no indication whatever that Israel believed in the real existence of any other god but Yahweh Elohim.
And so this, in a sense, is testimony from an adverse witness because in most respects Yehezkel Kaufmann was a documentarian. But you see, when you say that from the beginning they are monotheistic, then by implication you destroy the whole evolutionary theory as it had been propounded by Eichhorn and De Wette and Graf, Kuenen, and Wellhausen, because they maintained that the monotheism which appears in the Pentateuch was inserted later and the Hebrews didn’t get monotheistically thinking until the time of the prophet Amos.