Where did Moses get His Information? Part 1

The first five books of the Bible are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, and are traditionally attributed to Moses (see the articles Did Moses Write the Torah? Part 1, Part 2). Most of the events in the last four books happened during Moses’ life, and he was, in fact, the key person during those events.

Exodus chapter 2 records Moses’s birth, so obviously he wasn’t an eyewitness to the events in Exodus chapter 1, which lead up to his birth. Moses’ knowledge of these events can be explained fairly easily by assuming his mother, other family members or friends taught him Hebrew history and customs. Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses1, and took him to live in the royal court. It’s likely Pharaoh’s daughter told the story of how she came to adopt a Hebrew slave, so Moses likely heard the story numerous times. Apparently Moses felt some connection with the Hebrew people, or he wouldn’t have killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave2.

The books of Leviticus and Numbers both occur during the 40 year Exodus. There’s no real reason to deny Mosaic authorship, and since Moses was the leader of the Israelites, he obviously had first-hand experience with the events in both of those books.

Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the LORD, and these are their stages according to their starting places. (Numbers 33:2 ESV)

There are arguments against attributing Deuteronomy to Moses. The very first sentence of the book of Deuteronomy seems to be written by someone else. Perhaps Moses had a scribe, it was added by a later editor, or Moses could have also been referring to himself in the third person.

These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness east of the Jordan—that is, in the Arabah—opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab. (Deuteronomy 1:1 NIV)

There’s an even more serious problem with the end of Deuteronomy, when the Israelites are about to enter the Promised Land. Moses had sinned during the Exodus, and God had told him he would not be entering the Promised Land.

And the LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. (Deuteronomy 34:4-6 ESV)

How could the end of Deuteronomy have been written by Moses if he was dead at the end? One theory is that God gave Moses the ability to prophesy about his own death. This is certainly within God’s powers, but Christians should be cautious about declaring something a prophecy (or miracle), when there is a simple, natural explication available. God seems to use natural causes when they’re sufficient to  achieve his goals.

The simple solution is someone else finished writing the book of Deuteronomy, and it was added to the book after Moses’ death. Joshua seems to be a likely candidate, since he was Moses’ successor in leading the Israelites. Some people argue Deuteronomy 34 should actually be part of the book of Joshua. One Rabbi in the Talmud supports the Joshua theory:

Is it possible that after Moses died, he himself wrote: “And Moses died there”? Rather, Moses wrote the entire Torah until this point, and Joshua bin Nun wrote from this point forward…. (Menachot 30a:6)

How the information in Exodus 1 and Deuteronomy 24 was written is easily explained. How the book of Genesis was written is a bit more difficult to explain, since it goes back about 2,500 years before Moses. I’ll be posting an article about that next week.

Footnotes

  1. Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him. Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” (Exodus 2:1-10 ESV)
  2. One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. (Exodus 2:11-12 ESV)
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  1. […] is part two of a series, Where did Moses get His Information?. In part one, I briefly discussed how Moses could have written Exodus 1 (ESV) since it took place […]

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