Did Moses write the Torah?


Orthodox Judaism and Biblical Christianity have disagreements about how the Torah (also known as the Law, the Pentateuch or the first five books of the Bible) should be interpreted but they agree that Moses was its author.  

‘And this is that you believe that all of this Torah that was given by Moses our teacher, peace be upon him, that it is all from the mouth of God. Meaning that it was received by him entirely from God.’  Maimonides – Principles of faith.

‘The Torah is the foundation of Judaism.   It is a foundation of our faith that every word of the Torah was dictated to Moses by God.  A person who denies the divine origin of even a single word in the Torah is considered a nonbeliever who has no portion in the World to Come.’  ‘Writing the Torah’ – Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.

‘For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.’  John 1.17.

‘Then Jesus said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.’  Luke 24.44.

The Bible says that in the last days of this age there will be an attack on the authority of Scripture (2 Timothy 3-4).  Peter prophesied: ‘Scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?  For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”  For they wilfully forget that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.’ 2 Peter 3.3. Specifically they will scoff at 3 things:

  1. That Jesus is coming again.  Instead they will believe an evolutionary idea that things continue as they always have done.
  2. That the heavens and earth were made by the Word of God.  
  3. That there was a universal flood which destroyed the world.

Today it is clear that this applies to much of the church as well as the non-Christian world. Number 1 on this list involves disbelief in the prophetic passages of the Bible which are found in the Hebrew Prophets, Jesus’ words about His second coming in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21), the Book of Revelation and the writings of Paul and Peter about last days.  Numbers 2 and 3 involve disbelief in Genesis.  

Today many Jews and Christians treat Genesis 1-11 (the account of the Creation, Fall, Flood and Tower of Babel) as mythological while trying to maintain a faith in the rest of the Bible.   The problem with this approach is that the rest of the Bible treats Genesis 1-11 as factual.    A major reason for the disbelief in the early chapters of Genesis is the widespread acceptance of Darwinian theory of evolution. I have already written on the issue of Creation versus evolution in previous editions of this magazine so I will not go into that here.  For those who have questions on this issue I recommend ‘The Answers Book’ by Ken Ham, available from us for £10.

There is another reason for this disbelief.  Most theological colleges teach that Moses was not the author of the Torah but that many different writers contributed to it and it was completed in the days of Ezra (about 900 years after Moses).  This is known as the ‘documentary hypothesis’ or the ‘JEDP hypothesis’. The foremost exponent of this view was Julius Wellhausen (1844–1918), who linked his views in with the evolutionary view of history.

This view teaches that instead of Moses writing the Torah, various anonymous authors compiled these five books (plus other portions of the Old Testament) from centuries of oral tradition, up to 900 years after Moses lived. It places great importance on the fact that two different names are used in the Torah for God – Elohim and YHVH / Yahweh or Jehovah.  From this fact it concludes that the passages which call God ‘Elohim’ were written separately from the passages that call him ‘Yahweh’.  These supposed narrators are designated as follows:

J stands for those biblical passages where the Hebrew letters YHWH / Yahweh  / Jehovah are used as the name of God supposedly written about 900–850 BC.

E stands for those passages where Elohim is used as the word for God supposedly written about 750–700 BC in the northern kingdom (Israel).

D stands for the supposed writer of Deuteronomy, believed to be the book found in the temple in Jerusalem in the days of King Josiah in 621 BC. (2 Kings 22:8).  Wellhausen taught that Deuteronomy was actually written at the time of Josiah.

P stands for the priests who lived during the exile in Babylon and allegedly composed a code of holiness (i.e. most of the Book of Leviticus) for the people at the time of Ezra around 530 BC.

Various editors R (from German ‘Redakteur’) supposedly put it all together.

If this view were correct then the Torah would be a pious fraud.  It would teach us that we should not bear false witness, while bearing false witness itself. It would claim to be written by Moses at the time of the generation that came out of Egypt, and came through the wilderness, when in fact it was written centuries later.

The Torah claims in many places that Moses was the writer:  ‘And Moses wrote this law and delivered it unto the priests, the sons of Levi, which bare the ark of he covenant of the Lord and unto all the elders of Israel’ Deuteronomy 31.9. See also Exodus 17:14; 24:4–7; 34:27; Numbers 33:2; Deuteronomy 31:22, 24.

Many times in the rest of the Old Testament, Moses is said to have been the writer – Joshua 1:7–8; 8:32–34; Judges 3:4; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6; 21:8; 2 Chronicles 25:4; Ezra 6:18; Nehemiah 8:1; 13:1; Daniel 9:11–13.  Nehemiah 8.1 is interesting because it states:  ‘And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spoke unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had commanded to Israel.’  According to the JEDP theory much of the Torah was written at the time of Ezra but here we see Ezra teaching the people from the book of the Law of Moses, not something written by himself and other priests.

In the New Testament, Jesus always upheld the Torah as given by God to Moses, while often disputing with the religious leaders of the day about its interpretation, e.g. Matthew 8:4; 19:7–8, 23.1-4; Mark 7:10; 12:26; Luke 24:27, 44; John 1.17, 5:46–47; 7:19.   Also the Book of Acts and the Epistles assume that Moses is the author of the Torah.  

Therefore rejecting Moses as the author of the Torah means rejecting much of the rest of the Bible.  A good refutation of Wellhausen’s theory of the origin of the Torah is to be found in the book ‘The Inspiration of the Pentateuch’ by M Phelan, available from Two Edged Sword Publication  PO Box 266, Waterlooville, Hants, PO7 5ZT.  (NB This is an academic book and not light reading!). Due to limited space I cannot give all the Mr Phelan’s reasons for affirming Moses as the author of the Torah but these are some of them:

  1. The Higher Critical Movement questioned whether the art of writing even existed in Moses’ day.  Evidence today points to the antiquity of the art of writing.  Mr Phelan refers to the library of the 7th century BC Assyrian king Ashurbanipal, which contained tablets of great antiquity even in his time, including the tablets of the Creation and the ancient account of the Flood, the Gilgamesh Epic.
  2. As evidence for the antiquity of the Pentateuch, he cites the Samaritan Pentateuch or Nablus Roll, which may be as old as the tenth century BC and the text it represents be even older. The Samaritan Pentateuch contains some differences to the Bible but it includes most of the Torah.  It is written in the ancient Hebrew script.  The way of writing Hebrew changed at the time of Ezra.  Therefore the evidence points to this document being older that the alleged ‘D’ and ‘P’ sources of the Torah, thus making it impossible that Deuteronomy was written in the time of Josiah and the priestly sections of the Torah in Ezra’s time.  
  3. The critics’ view is that the original Torah was lost with the destruction of the Temple and exile of the Jews to Babylon (around 600 BC) and rewritten by Ezra.  Evidence for this is supposed to be found in the ‘Fourth Book of Ezra’ an apocalyptic book written in the first century AD.  This is an esoteric book which was written at the same time as Gnostic heresies arose with false teaching about Jesus.  The Bible tells us that Ezra came from Babylon to Jerusalem to teach the returning exiles the Torah. It describes him as a ‘ready scribe in the Law of Moses’ who sought ‘the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgements.’  Ezra 7.6-10. This implies a familiarity with the Torah from his time in Babylon.  According to Jewish tradition Ezekiel had located a copy of the Torah in the Temple before it was destroyed in the days of King Jehoiakim.  He took it to Babylon, where Ezra had obtained it and then brought it back to Jerusalem.  
  4. Mr Phelan shows how there is a unity in the literary construction of the Torah and how dividing it into sources written by J, E and P creates the most ludicrous results with parts of verses supposedly written by one source in around 900 BC and other parts of the same verse written by another source in around 530 BC.  In a table giving a breakdown of Higher Criticism’s analysis of Genesis 25-35 individual verses are broken into three separate fragments on four occasions (e.g. Genesis 30.22).  
  5. The Higher Critical view also misses the point that there is a significance in the use of the two names of God in the Torah. Elohim (‘E’) denotes God as the mighty Creator and Sovereign.   Yahweh (‘J’) is the redemptive name by which God made Himself known to His people.  (NB In English translations of the Old Testament ‘God’ generally translates Elohim and ‘LORD’ translates Yahweh). In Genesis 39-41 when Joseph speaks to the Egyptians about God ‘Elohim’ is used but in the passages about God’s dealings with Joseph ‘Yahweh’ is used.
  6. Mr Phelan shows how Genesis is ‘interwoven with many structures, some of which overlap in the most complex ways’.  We could add to this the miraculous patterns of sevens which have been discovered in the Hebrew text of the Bible, Genesis in particular (See ‘The Miracle of Septenary Design in the Hebrew Scriptures’ by Ivan Panin). All of this bears witness to God inspiring a single author to write the book, not different editors cobbling it together over hundreds of years.  
  7. He devotes a chapter to Deuteronomy showing why it is impossible that this book could have been written in the time of Josiah, although he says it is most likely that the ‘book of the law’ discovered in the Temple in 2 Kings 22.8 is Deuteronomy.  Because of the apostasy of the days of the wicked king Manasseh the book had been neglected (as was the case with regard to the Bible in the Dark Ages of Christendom).  But that does not mean it was written in Josiah’s time.  If that were the truth it would be an obvious fraud since the book is presented as Moses’ last words to the generation that came through the 40 years wandering in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. Mr Phelan puts forward the view that Deuteronomy is framed as a treaty between and Israel which was to be the basis of the relationship between God and Israel from the time they entered the Promised Land.   

Obviously there is an issue which has to be considered.  The events recorded in Genesis through to Deuteronomy took place over a long period of time (around 2500 years if we take it literally).   Could one man, Moses, be the author of book chronicling events over such a long period of time?  Are the events of the pre-Flood period described in Genesis and the supernatural events of Exodus mythological or real?  

Much depends on whether we believe the first verse of the Bible ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ If God is Creator He can do what He wants with His creation and can overrule the natural sequence of events and perform miracles. The creationist view gives reason to believe that the earth is ‘young’ (not millions of years old, but thousands) and that the fossil record can be explained by the worldwide Flood and the changes it brought to the earth. Changes in the conditions on earth after the Flood explain other problems like the great ages of the pre Flood patriarchs. But how could Moses have written about events which took place so long before he lived?  There are three possible explanations:

  1. God dictated the events Moses had not experienced and he wrote them down.
  2. It is mythological material cobbled together from other sources by later editor.
  3. Moses was the editor of material made available to him by those who lived earlier. All of it was inspired by God who preserved it supernaturally and enabled Moses to bring it all together.

Mr Phelan shows how the third view makes sense of the text.  Genesis clearly has sections and these sections are divided by the phrase ‘These are the generations …’.  The Hebrew word for generation is ‘toledoth’.  The first reference to this is Genesis 2.4:  ‘These are the generations (toledoth) of the heavens and the earth.’ Remaining references are 5.1-2, 6.9, 10.1, 11.10a, 11.27b, 25.12, 25.19, 36.1, 36.9 and 37.2.  The phrase generally refers back to the previous section not forwards to the next one.  In other words it is the concluding signature of the one who recorded the information.  In the case of Genesis 2.4 it is God Himself who gave this information to Adam since no one else was present at Creation. In Genesis 5.1-2 the toledoth refers back to the previous chapter and is Adam’s contribution.  The genealogy which follows in the rest of chapter 5 includes names of people who were born during Adam’s lifetime, but died long his death.  Since the chapter contains information Adam could not have known it is likely to be Noah’s contribution (Gen 6.9).  Genesis 10.1 is Shem’s contribution which describes Noah’s death and the generations which followed. (Remember there are no chapter and verse divisions in the original text!)

Since Genesis 1-9 contains details such as the ages of the pre Flood patriarchs and the dimensions of the ark, it is more likely that this was written down than passed on by word of mouth.  Such information could have been carried onto the ark on clay tablets and then passed on from Shem to Abraham. Jewish tradition says that Shem knew Abraham and the dates given in the Bible show that he lived long enough to have done so. This information would have been passed on from Abraham to Isaac and then to Jacob and the accounts of their lives added.  This would then have been passed on to Joseph and preserved in Egypt along with Joseph’s account of his life, thus completing the material contained in Genesis.  Moses was brought up as a prince in Egypt and according to Acts 7.22 ‘was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians’. It is not unreasonable to assume that this information was passed on to him and that he put it together in the form we now have it in.

Admittedly the Bible itself does not tell us that this is how Genesis was written, but it is a reasonable assumption.  What the Bible does tell us is that Moses was the author of the Torah, bringing together the history of Genesis which occurred before his life, the events of the Exodus which he experienced himself, the giving of the Commandments at Sinai and the rest of the laws given by God.  The scripture tells us that ‘The Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend’ (Exodus 33.11).    It describes how Moses went into the tabernacle ‘before the Lord to speak with him … until he came out.  And he came out and spoke unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded (Exodus 34.34).’

The Book of Leviticus opens with the words ‘And the Lord called unto Moses and spoke unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying ‘Speak unto the children of Israel and say unto them ….’ (Leviticus 1.1).  The Book of Numbers records the wilderness journey of Israel and the events which took place there:  ‘And Moses wrote their goings out according to their journeys by the commandment of the Lord (Numbers 33.2).’  In Deuteronomy 31.9 we read ‘And it came to pass when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished.’

Jesus affirmed Moses’ writings when He said, ‘If you believed Moses, you would also believe Me; for He wrote about Me.’  (John 5.46).  He also said to the religious leaders of His day, ‘You do err, not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God (Matthew 22.29).’  That can certainly be said to the religious leaders of our day too.