The word Pentateuch comes from Greek and means simply “five books” and includes Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (called the Torah in Hebrew meaning teaching, instruction, or law). For most of Jewish and Christian history it was believed these books were written by Moses, and this chapter near the end tells us why. Before we get there and take a little uninvented look at the topic, let’s take a brief look at some history in biblical criticism regarding this topic.
It wasn’t until the mid-1600s, and a Jewish Philosopher named Spinoza that anyone thought to question whether Moses actually wrote these books. This shocked his Jewish community, and along with his philosophy, did not make him popular; he was excommunicated. But once the genie was out of the bottle, it never went back in. The primary motivation causing Spinoza to deny Mosaic authorship goes back to his very convoluted philosophy which wouldn’t allow for things like God’s creation of the universe ex-nihilo (out of nothing), or seas parting, or God revealing and making himself a people by his supernatural divine power. The industry of biblical criticism learned well what Spinoza practiced: a question-begging anti-supernatural bias. Having been influenced by the growing skeptical philosophy of his day, he assumed miracles couldn’t happen. His strange notion of whatever God was wouldn’t allow it. In effect, he rejected the God of the Bible before he ever got to the Bible because philosophy was his Bible, i.e., his ultimate authority.
Having become a Christian as a freshman in college at Arizona State University (44 years ago!), I decided to take a class having something to do with the Bible. I was excited to learn about this Bible I was recently introduced to, and taking a class seemed like a good way to learn more about it. Little did I know I would get my introduction to biblical criticism, and how scholars treated the Bible as just another human book. I’m very stubborn, so it didn’t cause me to doubt the divine inspiration of Scripture. Rather it ticked me off. As green and ignorant as I was as an 18- or 19-year-old, it was apparent to me these critics were completely arbitrary. Knowing nothing about the logical fallacy of question begging, it was clear to me even then that their God-less assumptions made their “biblical criticism” unpersuasive, to say the least. I learned from that class, and much more in seminary, how non-Christian biblical scholars treated the Pentateuch.
Since they “know” Moses didn’t write it, scholars came up with creative and speculative explanations for who might have. The two dominant ways are the documentary hypotheses, and the JEDP theory. These cholars assume the Bible is merely a human document because their worldview demands it. They can’t prove that, nor do they even try, or does it even occur to them they should. To them it’s obvious what those fundamentalist Christians and Catholics believe is crazy, and intellectually unworthy of true scholars. That’s faith; they believe they’re doing “science.” All the while they’re blindly begging the question, majorly!
Most non-Christian biblical critical scholars, and most are not Christian, believe there are some historical events in the first five books of the Bible, but what has come down to us is mostly oral tradition written down during or after the Babylonian exile of the Jews in the 500s BC. It’s comparable to Homer’s Iliad, an epic poem about the Trojan War written in the late 8th or early 7th century BC. There was likely a war between the Greeks and the Trojans, but Homer, if he wrote it, added a religious subtext of the fictitious gods to some possible historical events. Likewise, non-Christian scholars will say there may have been something to do with Egypt and the Hebrews, but we’re not sure exactly what, and whatever came down to the Jews in Babylon, they in effect took what little history was there, and invented the rest. Or something like that.
That’s quite a claim, but is it true? If it is, the Bible is not what it claims to be, and it’s basically a farce. If we look at Deuteronomy 31 with uninvented eyes, I believe we’ll come to a different conclusion. Moses as the author of the first five books of the Bible is far more plausible than speculative theories based on anti-supernatural bias.
As in the rest of the books of the Pentateuch, the chapter is written in the third person, so we read: “Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel . . .” Or, “Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel . . .” This implies someone else wrote it, and those of us who believe Moses was the author of the Pentateuch don’t think it was he alone who wrote every word, but that he was the primary author. The real author is God, of course, but the man Moses was its physical author. We read:
9 So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the Levitical priests, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel.
The Lord then said:
19 “Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for me against them.
22 So Moses wrote down this song that day and taught it to the Israelites.
24 After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end, 25 he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord:
We are confronted with two choices. Either Moses wrote “in a book the words of this law from beginning to end,” or he didn’t. If he didn’t, everything written in the first five books of the Bible, which all Jews considered “the law,” are myths, fairy tales, or outright lies. They are not history, and thus we can’t trust them as truth. If the non-Christian critical scholars are right, then who cares what these books say. I’m not interested. I have better things to do than waste my time on what are essentially lies. If we trust Jesus and the Apostles, however, then Moses indeed “wrote down this law,” and as Jesus tells us quoting from Deuteronomy 8:
“It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
“It is written” means God said it, that settles it! I think I’ll pass on the biblical critic’s question begging and go with Jesus on this.