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Why Moses Did Not Write the Torah

At left: "Moses Breaking the Tablets" by Gustave Doré (d. 1883). Click image to enlarge.

The Torah -- the first five books of the Hebrew Bible -- was traditionally held to be the work of Moses, as dictated by God. But starting with some rabbinic voices in the 11th and 12th centuries, doubts were raised. Among the details that challenged the notion that Mosaic authorship:

 

  • The Edomite kings listed in Genesis 36 did not live until after Moses was dead
  • Moses is referred to in the 3rd person in several passages
  • There are places named that Moses could not have known (he never entered the Promised Land)
  • The Hebrew of the text includes terms that were developed long after Moses' death
  • Moses' death is included in Deuteronomy.
  • Camels are listed in Abraham's retinue, but camels were domesticated around 1000, long after Abraham (1550 BCE) and even Moses (1250 BCE)
  • The text mentions Philistines in the time between Abraham and Moses, but the Philistines did not enter the coastal areas of Canaan until around 1200 BCE (after Moses).
  • The text says, "At that time the Canaanites were in the land" (Gen 12:6), which implies the author writes in a time when they were no longer there -- but they were clearly there when Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan after Moses' death.
  • Statements such as "before any king ruled over the Israelites" (Gen 36:31) imply a time in the writer's mind when kings had ruled over the Israelites -- but none ever did in Moses' lifetime.
  • In Deuteronomy 34, the writer says, "There never arose another prophet in Israel like Moses." It didn't seem to make sense that Moses' -- or even God, in Moses' time -- would write such words.

Other details were noticed as well. Certain parts of the Torah use words for places and things that are different from other parts. For instance, some stories (Exodus 3, 17, and 31; Deuteronomy everywhere but once) used "Horeb" as the name for the mountain where Moses receives the Law, while other parts of the story (Exodus 16, 19, 31, 34; Leviticus and Numbers throughout; and Deuteronomy 33) use the name "Sinai". Some stories throughout use the name "Amorites" for the original dwellers of Canaan, while others use the word "Canaanites". Moses' father-in-law is named as Jethro in most stories, but in others he is named Reuel.