The Critics vs. Moses

Critics claim that Moses’s books are clever forgeries. Here is our answer to the critics.
The Qumran Leviticus Scroll, notable in that it is written in Paleo-Hebrew letters (2nd century B.C.E.)
Shai Halevi on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Moses was ahead of his time. So far advanced, in fact, that Bible critics suppose and teach that he did not write the first five books of the Bible.

Liberal theologians believe that many authors wrote the first five books of the Bible—and centuries apart from each other. Critics believe that supposed later writers simply assigned Moses’s name to the books bearing his name. Their conclusion: Moses’s writings are a manufactured forgery.

We heartily disagree with the critics. Who is right: us or the critics?

All men and women must face the truth about Moses and the books he wrote down for us. Why? The truth, when fully known, shows Moses was actually ahead of our times.

Why make such a big deal about Mosaic authorship? Isn’t paying attention to the content of the books more important? The fact is, Moses’s authorship matters. The Bible claims to be a book of truth. In the book of Psalms it is written: “Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever” (Psalms 119:160, King James Version). We must hold this kind of faith about the Bible. All of it is true—even its most ancient parts. Any question about Moses’s authorship shatters the credibility of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. If the one man—Moses—did not record this very foundation of the Bible, the entire Bible is subject to question. Why? Both Old and New Testament writers affirm that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. If he did not, the Bible is not true.

Where would such a scenario leave us? There could be no spiritual absolute to guide the human experience. Men would be at liberty to decide on their own what is spiritual—what is right and wrong. Satan knows this. The critics know it. So must we.

Moses Under Attack

Baruch Spinoza, 1632-1677 (portrait 1665)
Public Domain

It was the Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) who introduced the idea that Ezra wrote the Pentateuch in the fourth century b.c.e., approximately 1,000 years after Moses’s death. Spinoza thought it was a possibility that Moses drafted some parts of the Pentateuch. Yet, he reasoned the books we see today must be attributed to Ezra, along with the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. Why? Spinoza was also one of the first men to claim that the Bible was merely the product of human spiritual development—starting from very primitive beginnings. He believed that there was no divine involvement with it. According to Spinoza, Moses and others would not have had the spiritual maturity necessary to author the books we have today.

Spinoza’s thinking drew a violent reaction. He was excommunicated from Judaism and was forced to leave Amsterdam.

Although Spinoza never systematized or clarified his conclusions, French physician Jean Astruc (1684-1766) did. Astruc believed that Moses used two parallel sources and 10 other fragments—written prior to his time—to draft Genesis and the first two chapters of Exodus. Following Astruc’s logic, since the writers of these sources and fragments are unknown, Moses was a plagiarist. It was Astruc who first floated the theory that the two primary sources used by Moses refer to God differently. According to Astruc, one source uses the Hebrew word Elohim, and the other, yhvh.

Astruc published his theories anonymously in 1753. His publication drew intense opposition. Yet a few scholars attached high value to his conclusions.

Documentary Hypothesis

Julius Wellhausen, 1844-1918
Public Domain

Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918), a German Semitic scholar and professor of theology, gave full momentum to Astruc’s speculations. Wellhausen’s name is associated with the Graf-Wellhausen theory, or the “documentary hypothesis.” He wanted to prove that the Pentateuch and the book of Joshua were added to significantly by priestly canonizers under Ezra at the time of the second temple. Wellhausen believed that their purpose was to perpetuate a lie that Moses authored the first five books of the Bible and that there was a place of central worship in Israel—first with the tabernacle and later Solomon’s temple. According to Wellhausen, there never was a tabernacle. No divine revelation took place at Sinai. Moses, if he existed, considered God to be a local thunder or mountain god.

Wellhausen published his theory in 1875. His unusual work was well received and soon considered gospel by scholars! Using almost 5,000 textual references covering the entire Hebrew Bible, Wellhausen alleged that four major documents could be identified in the Pentateuch. Each had a unique character. According to Wellhausen, even though these sources were expertly woven together, they could be traced throughout the books. He relied heavily on his forerunners’ ideas. The earliest document was named J, taken from the first letter of yhvh (J corresponds with Y in the German). The next supposed source was named E, taken from the name Elohim. The third document was named D, referring to Deuteronomy; Wellhausen believed that King Josiah (seventh century b.c.e.) was the first to circulate this account of the final days of Moses. The last source was named P, for priestly code, which is chiefly concerned with descriptions of rituals and ceremonies. This code supposedly was developed by Ezra and the priests under him. Documentary theorists who came after Wellhausen added another source—R for Redactor, meaning drafter.

Essentially, Wellhausen conducted a highly prejudiced stylistic analysis of the Hebrew Bible. It defies sane logic.

Here’s how one supportive essay described the theory: “It is not a simple matter of one book being written by J, another by E and a third by P. The three accounts are so interleaved that any one book may have several sources. For example, in the story of the deluge, Genesis 7:1-5 and 7 are J, 8-9 are P, 10 is J, 13-16a are P, 16b-20 are J. To complicate matters more, the ‘Redactor,’ R, who carried out this remarkable scissors-and-paste work, puts in a line of his own at intervals! E appears for the first time in Genesis 20:1-18, the story of Abimelech. Of course, the entire book of Deuteronomy is D (but with possible editing by P!)” (Walter Murfin and David Beck, “The Bible: A True and Accurate Account of Creation?” 1998).

Let’s be honest: Isn’t it more reasonable to believe that Moses authored the books?

Influenced by Evolution

Wellhausen was a man greatly influenced by the times in which he lived. Darwin’s theory of evolution had been quickly assimilated into most fields of study. Study of the Bible did not escape.

The philosopher Georg Hegel (1770-1831) had had a major impact on German and European culture. Hegel believed that all history reflects the development from lower to progressively higher stages. German rationalists had declared there could be no such thing as divine revelation—that all knowledge comes through human reason. It is clear that Darwin, Hegel and German rationalism dominate Wellhausen’s work. Looking at Bible history, Wellhausen attempted to prove that Israel’s religion followed an evolutionary process from paganism to monotheism. For Wellhausen, it was the monotheists of Ezra’s time that pulled off the forgery in the Pentateuch—a cleansing of history, so to speak. He believed his distorted view was the true history of Israel. Unfortunately, Wellhausen’s hypothesis dominated Old Testament studies for an entire generation in Germany, England and America. Many young people investigating the Old Testament fell under his influence.

Conservative scholars and archaeologists such as William F. Albright have credibly attacked Wellhausen’s theories. Yet many scholars taken in by the theory have ignored proven facts in disagreement with their pet ideas. Shockingly, in some circles, the Wellhausen tradition remains very much alive. Gleason L. Archer, a professor of Old Testament studies, wrote: “In England and the United States … the rule of Wellhausen continues more or less supreme in most nonconservative schools and makes its influence felt in many of the more or less conservative schools of the old-line denominations. Therefore we must treat the documentary theory as still a live issue today even though liberal scholarship on the European continent has administered well-nigh fatal blows to nearly all its foundations” (A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, emphasis mine).

Archer’s comment gives us a real study in human nature. The Wellhausen theory is false, just as evolution is false, yet people still cling to it. What is it about mankind that causes us to hold on to cherished beliefs even when proven false?

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Defending Moses

Let’s make several points clear. First, there is no question that scribal additions were made to the Pentateuch. However, we need to emphasize that the scribal additions were made to clarify certain points of geography, culture or history—not to palm off an incredible forgery. Here is one example: Chapter 34 of Deuteronomy was obviously added to the end of the book. Why? Moses could not have recorded the historic events of his own burial and the mourning of the children of Israel. Jewish traditions tell us that Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezra more than likely added certain details to the Pentateuch and the other older books to help us understand the Bible more clearly.

It is also true that source documents were consulted by Bible writers. Genesis 5 was clearly taken from genealogical records kept from the time of Adam (Genesis 5:1). In 2 Samuel 1:18, Saul’s son Jonathan’s skill with a bow was taken from the book of Jasher. The events of David’s life recorded in Chronicles were taken from source books written by Samuel, Nathan and Gad—all prophets (1 Chronicles 29:29). When a source book is used in the Bible, we are told the source. Nothing is hidden. In fact, there are at least 16 references to source books in the Bible (listed at the end of this article).

However, to stretch these facts into a fantastical theory of intentional forgery is preposterous!

History shows that Moses was one of the most educated men of his day. In the New Testament, the physician Luke recorded the following testimony of Stephen: “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds” (Acts 7:22). God had worked out events so that Moses escaped slaughter as a baby. He then worked it out so he was given the best education necessary for his important role—the welder of Israel into a nation. Living among Egyptian royalty, Moses certainly was taught math and science, along with the creative arts and culture of Egypt. Josephus affirms that Moses was a skilled military general. He was definitely not a caveman scratching out some narrow existence.

Mighty in Words

Stephen specifically mentioned that Moses was mighty in words. This means Moses had the talent to write powerfully. Some silly scholars have advanced the idea that writing was not known to the ancient Hebrews. Yet 20th-century archaeological discoveries show that the Hebraic peoples knew about writing well prior to Moses.

The truth is, Moses’s writing forever changed the face of the world’s view of religion. Moses did not absorb the idea of monotheism from the ancient religious cultures around him. Under the direct inspiration of God, Moses made a clean break from paganism.

In Genesis 10 and 11, Moses shows how the world had been corrupted by paganism. In these two chapters, he recounts the history of Nimrod and the Tower of Babel. Decades after the Flood of Noah’s time, it was Nimrod who taught men to turn from God and worship the creation rather than the Creator. Moses shows how, beginning with Abraham, the progenitor of Israel, the worship of the one true God was renewed and kept alive (Genesis 12-50). The book of Genesis is the only source book left for us of this important history of the patriarchs. Exodus shows how God used Moses to bring His people out of slavery and paganism. Leviticus represents the establishment of true worship of the true God. Numbers is a journal of the Israelites’ promised potential and the reasons they failed to attain it. Deuteronomy is a record of Israel’s final training to become the single greatest nation on Earth. This book contains a history lesson of the Israelites’ failure and prophecy of their future success. In the very near future, the physical descendants of ancient Israel will fulfill the purpose God intended for them. All the nations of this Earth will be taught to look to their example by the coming Messiah.

Moses’s writings have been the model for nation-building from their very beginning. Who can seriously doubt the powerful influence of Moses’s works? In the Pentateuch, Moses provides groundbreaking information on a full range of subjects necessary for national well-being. He addresses diet and other health matters such as sanitation and quarantine. He describes in detail how to preserve marriage and families—the backbone of nations. He established a legal system that protected individuals’ rights. Our modern legal system of judges comes from Moses. Moses’s writings directly influenced the Magna Carta and the U.S. Constitution. It is from Moses that we derive our concept of the rule of law.

Here is the point: Moses’s writings have cast a huge shadow into our time.

Josiah’s Lesson

The seal impression of Nathan-Melech, one of King Josiah’s officials
Eliyahu Yanai, City of David

Wellhausen believed King Josiah authored the book of Deuteronomy. This is clearly false. There is a vital lesson we must learn from the life of Josiah. As king, he could never have introduced a new book of the law at that time. Why?

Study the history in 2 Kings 21-23 and 2 Chronicles 33-35. Josiah’s grandfather was the evil King Manasseh. This king re-introduced paganism into Judah to a degree far worse than any of his ancestors. 2 Kings records: “For he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made an Asherah, as did Ahab king of Israel, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord said: ‘In Jerusalem will I put My name.’ And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he made his son to pass through the fire, and practised soothsaying, and used enchantments, and appointed them that divined by a ghost or a familiar spirit: he wrought much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him. … Manasseh seduced them to do that which is evil more than did the nations, whom the Lord destroyed before the children of Israel” (21:3-6, 9). Manasseh allowed much evil in Judah; he was the cause of the eventual destruction of Jerusalem, and of Judah’s captivity to Babylon decades later (verses 11-12; 23:26-27). As a punishment for his heinous crimes, God allowed Manasseh to be taken captive to Babylon by Esarhaddon (2 Chronicles 33:11).

Of course, the nation of Judah was subject to Assyrian oppression at the same time. Even though Manasseh repented of his idolatrous lifestyle in old age, most of Judah embraced paganism.

Josiah’s father, Amon, continued in Manasseh’s evil lifestyle. After he reigned just two years, his own servants assassinated him (verses 21-24). Judah’s leaders then put Josiah on the throne. He was only 8 when he ascended the throne. He received a nation in shambles. His grandfather had outlawed the national worship taught in Leviticus. Manasseh had martyred those who had opposed him (2 Kings 21:16), and Jewish tradition holds that he even had the prophet Isaiah sawn in half.

Considering the lawless state of the nation, it would have been unimaginable for such a young king to implement some unknown law. Yet Josiah set in motion a program of massive reforms in Judah. Under his reign, Judah blazed in one final burst of glory. How did he do this? He implemented an already existing book of the law—the Pentateuch.

Book of the Covenant

Under Manasseh and Amon, Solomon’s temple had fallen into disrepair. In the 18th year of his reign, Josiah set about to repair the temple. During the renovation, Hilkiah, the high priest at the time, found “the book of the Law in the house of the Lord” (2 Kings 22:8). This is an important fact. It is not by coincidence that Hilkiah found the book in the temple. In fact, he most likely found it in the holy of holies. Why? Moses had directed the Levites to keep the five books he authored with the ark of the covenant. Study Deuteronomy 31:24-26. Hilkiah found a copy of Moses’s books that had been originally given to the Levites. Hilkiah’s “book of the Law” was not some new book drafted by Josiah.

Hilkiah made sure the law was given to Josiah. “And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the Law, that he rent his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest … ‘Go ye, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us’” (2 Kings 22:11-13). Josiah took immediate action after hearing Moses’s words.

One of Josiah’s first acts was to renew the covenant established at Sinai. He gathered all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem to the temple. He had all the words of the book of the covenant read to the people present (2 Chronicles 34:30). He then required the people to agree to obey God according to the law (verse 32). Josiah re-instituted the sacrificial system and, beginning with the Passover, re-established the keeping of the levitical holy days (Leviticus 23). He turned the whole nation back to God. “Moreover them that divined by a ghost or a familiar spirit, and the teraphim, and the idols, and all the detestable things that were spied in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might confirm the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord. And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him” (2 Kings 23:24-25).

Josiah used a well-established code of law and system of worship to revive Judah. Josiah did not originate the law; he merely implemented it. His accomplishments are truly inspiring. They show what can be achieved when men believe the revelation God has given and apply it.

Wellhausen attempted to prove that Israel never had a central system of worship until the time of Josiah. How absurd! Moses recorded God’s requirements for a place of central, monotheistic worship in Israel in Deuteronomy 12. Joshua built such a place at Mount Ebal, just north of Shechem (Joshua 8:30). This great man of God did exactly as Moses instructed (Deuteronomy 27:1-8). Study these verses carefully. Joshua’s altar was no insignificant, tiny place. The altar itself was massive—written on it were all the words of the book of the Law. All nations could read what God had revealed! And archaeological altar remains at Mount Ebal point to the existence of Joshua’s altar (a subject for a future article).

Let’s also not forget that at the time of Eli and Samuel, Shiloh was a new center of worship for the nation. Samuel’s family went to Shiloh to worship (1 Samuel 1:3). Plenty of archaeological evidence of this early biblical worship has been found at Tel Shiloh.

This is no dull, boring study. It is thrilling history and prophecy. The modern-day descendants of ancient Israel are soon to experience a Josiah-like reform. How will it be accomplished? The modern nations of Israel will be given a right understanding of the books of Moses.

Daniel Affirms Moses

Does the Pentateuch apply to us today? Does it really factor into our future? A right understanding of Daniel leads us to an emphatic yes to both questions. Yet Daniel is the second-most scrutinized section of the Bible after the Pentateuch. Why? The detailed and accurate prophecies contained in the book have caused both believer and skeptic alike to adhere to the theory the book is from a time later than the sixth century b.c.e. Many believe that Daniel was most likely written at the time of the Maccabees—168-165 b.c.e. The most vicious critics consider Daniel a forgery. Radical critics believe that six authors put Daniel together. The more pious critics believe that Daniel wrote some of the book—but its final form came in the second century b.c.e. Sound familiar? They have to point to no later than the second century—because this is the date of the earliest-discovered texts from the book of Daniel, found by archaeologists. (Really, though, given Daniel’s prophecies of the later Roman Empire, that date-of-writing would have “ideally” been set even later.)

We do not subscribe to any late-date hypothesis for the book of Daniel. In fact, the evidence shows that the book is from Daniel’s lifetime.

Daniel is one of the most important books of the Hebrew Bible. We must believe what Daniel has recorded without doubt. It is full of history and prophecy. It contains the vital keys to understanding the time sequence for all end-time prophecies. Even more, Daniel shows us that the prophecies in Moses’s books are being fulfilled right now.

Notice first that Daniel affirms Moses’s authorship. During a period of intense fasting, Daniel prayed, “To the Lord our God belong compassions and forgivenesses; for we have rebelled against Him; neither have we hearkened to the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in His laws, which He set before us by His servants the prophets. Yea, all Israel have transgressed Thy law, and have turned aside, so as not to hearken to Thy voice; and so there hath been poured out upon us the curse and the oath that is written in the Law of Moses the servant of God; for we have sinned against Him. And He hath confirmed His words, which He spoke against us, and against our judges that judged us, by bringing upon us a great evil; so that under the whole heaven hath not been done as hath been done upon Jerusalem. As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us; yet have we not entreated the favour of the Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and have discernment in Thy truth” (Daniel 9:9-13).

Recognize the significance here. Daniel indicated that he was very aware of the writings of Moses. But, according to the scholars, the five books of Moses were not completed until the time of Ezra. Yet Ezra did not begin his important work until after the Jews returned to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity. The details of Daniel’s prayer prove that he had access to the books and studied them carefully—while the Jews were in captivity. Because of Moses, he fully understood why Judah suffered severely by the hand of God. Notice in verse 11 that Daniel specifically mentions the curse is poured upon us. What does he mean here?

We’ll answer this, and several questions the critics raise against Daniel, next time.

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Sidebar: Lost Books

Bible authors referred to source material when they wrote their manuscripts. Below are books referenced in the Hebrew Bible that have since been lost.

The Book of the Wars of the Lord (Numbers 21:14)

The Book of Yashar the Upright (Joshua 10:13; 2 Samuel 1:18)

The Records of the Chronicles of King David (1 Chronicles 27:24)

The Words of Nathan the Prophet (1 Chronicles 29:29)

The Words of Gad the Seer (1 Chronicles 29:29)

The Prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite (2 Chronicles 9:29)

The Visions of Iddo the Seer (2 Chronicles 9:29; 12:15)

The Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah (1 Chronicles 9:1; 2 Chronicles 27:7; 35:27; 36:8)

The Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel (2 Chronicles 16:11; 25:26; 28:26; 32:32)

The Book of the Kings of Israel (2 Chronicles 20:34; 33:18)

The Decree of David, King of Israel, and the Decree of Solomon His Son (2 Chronicles 35:4)

The Words of Samuel the Seer (1 Chronicles 29:29)

The Words of Shemaiah the Prophet (2 Chronicles 12:15)

The Words of Jehu the son of Hanani (2 Chronicles 20:34)

The Deeds of Uzziah by Isaiah the Prophet (2 Chronicles 26:22; 32:32)

The Chronicles of Hozai (Seers; 2 Chronicles 33:19)