Did Moses Write the Torah? A Brief Positive Case for Mosaic Authorship, Part 2

Did Moses Write the Torah? A Brief Positive Case for Mosaic Authorship, Part 2

Part 1 of this two-part series cited two reasons to believe the traditional view that Moses authored the first five books of the Bible (Pentateuch or Torah). Mosaic authorship, as noted, has been largely abandoned in academic circles. What does this mean? Is the Bible’s authenticity in jeopardy?

While the Torah probably did not come into its final form until the sixth century BC, there are at least five good lines of internal evidence suggesting that Moses authored the Torah. Now we will look at the final three of those reasons.

  1. Historical Attestation of Laws, Customs

The laws and customs described in Genesis are clearly anchored in the early second millennium BC. Recall from part 1 that Moses is thought to have lived about the fifteenth century BC. In the words of biblical scholar Gleason Archer:

Notably in the legal documents discovered at Nuzi and dating from the fifteenth century we discover references to the customs of begetting legitimate children by handmaidens (as Abraham did with Hagar); to the validity of an oral deathbed will (like Isaac’s to Jacob); to the importance of the possession of the family teraphim for the claiming of inheritance rights (which gives point to Rachel’s theft of Laban’s teraphim in Gen. 31). From other sources comes confirmation of the historical accuracy of the transaction in Gen. 23 whereby Abraham purchased the cave of Machpelah.1

  1. Tabernacle Construction

The detailed descriptions of the Tabernacle strongly suggest a date for Exodus long before the days of Solomon. Starting in Exodus 25, a reader finds fifteen whole chapters concerning the planning and building of the Tabernacle—including the making of the priestly garments, as well as all of the accoutrements that go with religious worship. As we wade through this material a question to ponder is this: Why, if this material first arose ca. 950 BC (at the earliest, according to most modern critics), during a time when there was much talk in Israel of building a temple, would a writer fabricate a narrative giving such longwinded and exact descriptions of the building of a soon-to-be obsolete structure? However, if Moses composed the text, these verses in Exodus become easily and adequately explained.

  1. Textual Authentication

The Pentateuch itself, at least implicitly, tells us that Moses wrote the entire Torah. Quite a few passages within the Torah list Moses as their author. For example, we are told that Moses “wrote down all the words of YHWH” (Exodus 24:4). Then we see that Moses took “The Book of the Covenant” and read it to the people of Israel (Exodus 24:7). What does the “Book of the Covenant” refer to? The NET Bible helpfully answers this question:

The noun “book” would be the scroll just written containing the laws of chaps. 20–23. On the basis of this scroll the covenant would be concluded here. The reading of this book would assure the people that it was the same that they had agreed to earlier. But now their statement of willingness to obey would be more binding, because their promise would be by a covenant of blood.2

So, we can affirm that Moses wrote at least Exodus 20–23. Still later, we read that “the LORD said to Moses, ‘Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel” (Exodus 34:27, NASB). The context of this passage concerns Israel’s great sin in abandoning YHWH and worshipping the golden calf—whereupon Moses, after coming down from the mountain and seeing what Israel was doing, “threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain” (Exodus 32:19, NASB). This reminds us of the book of Leviticus, which explicitly tells us that its laws came from YHWH through Moses (cf. Leviticus 1:1; 4:1; 6:1; 8:1; etc.). Finally, Deuteronomy explicitly states that “Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel” (31:9, ESV). It is reasonable to infer from these texts that, according to the Torah itself, Moses wrote the whole Torah.

There can be little doubt that Moses was highly qualified to compose the Pentateuch (in general) and Genesis (in particular). On this point Archer buttresses the case with several reminders:

  1. Moses had a fine education as an Egyptian and was likely at least as literate as a person from any other country in the Fertile Crescent.
  2. Moses would have received a knowledge of the oral law from his Israelite ancestors, the patriarchs.
  3. Moses would have acquired a personal knowledge of the climate, agriculture, and geography of Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula, which is evidenced in the biblical books he authored.3

Why Mosaic Authorship Matters

We have seen five lines of internal evidence for the Mosaic authorship of the Torah. This evidence is surely enhanced by the sort of science-faith integration promoted by RTB. When skeptics question what the Bible states, at least in this case these lines of evidence contribute to our overall case for the truthfulness of Christianity and the reliability of the Bible.

  1. Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, and rev. ed. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007), 123–24.
  2. Exodus 24:7, footnote a, New English Translation.
  3. Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982), 51.