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Did Moses Write the Books of Moses? Part 3: The Fundamentalist Response

By the early 20th century, the documentary hypothesis (DH) had become the leading explanation for the multiple points of view found in the Pentateuch. Not everyone has been happy with this development. The fundamentalist website "Got Questions?" dismisses the DH simply because of its conclusion that Moses was not the sole author of the five books that have traditionally been attributed to him, and questions the sincerity of anyone who would take the DH seriously: "Liberal theologians have, through the years, tried to weaken the Word of God, and one way they do that is by casting doubt on the historicity and authorship of the Pentateuch."

Terry Mortenson of Answers in Genesis—whom we have seen beforecalls the DH "one of the major attacks on the Bible in the past three hundred years". Mortenson, too, cannot accept any scholarship that doesn't conclude Moses was the sole author of the Pentateuch.

Mortenson goes into more detail than "Got Questions?", beginning his response with a chart showing a number of Bible passages referring to Moses as the author of the Penteteuch. Mortenson concludes, "So to attack the Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Old Testament then is to attack the truthfulness of the rest of the biblical writers and Jesus Himself." Mortenson also uses a passage from the New Testament book of Acts to demonstrate Moses' education level.

Then, in a section titled "Fallacious Reasoning of the Skeptics", Mortenson outlines nine ways in which he believes the reasoning of the scholars who developed the DH is faulty. But rather than disputing Spinoza's, Astruc's, or Wellhausen's interpretation of the text, Mortenson simply accuses them of harboring biases that prevent them from seeing the truth. These range from the general, "they were implicitly deistic or atheistic in their thinking," to the more specific, "they arbitrarily assumed...that the Hebrews were incapable of using more than one name for God," to the allegation that the DH is "based on evolutionary ideas"—this is Answers in Genesis, after all.

The fundamentalists' arguments all come down to their firm belief that if the Pentateuch was written by anyone other than Moses, the Bible could not be trusted. This, in turn, is based on the numerous passages referring to Moses as the author. A few examples:

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

Joshua 8:31 "...just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the Israelites, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses..."

Nehemiah 13:1 "On that day they read from the book of Moses in the hearing of the people..."

Matthew 8:4 "Then Jesus said to him, 'See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.'"

Mark 12:26 "And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'?"

Those last two are particularly important to fundamentalists, becuase in their view these passages represent Jesus as affirming Moses was the sole author of the Pentateuch.

The greatest weakness of the fundamentalists' argument is that it ignores the cultural differences in the meaning of authorship in ancient times and today.

New Testament scholar Raymond Brown identified five levels of authorship in the biblical world.

(1) actual inscription; (2) dictation; (3) supplying of ideas to a “secretary”; (4) composition by a disciple whose ideas are guided by his master’s words and spirit; (5) writing in the tradition which a man was famous, e.g., Moses and law, David and poetry, etc.

We see examples of these throughout the Bible. For example, the book of Jeremiah was not written by Jeremiah himself, but by his scribe Baruch (see Jeremiah 36:4).

The first 39 chapters of the book of Isaiah deal with the life and teachings of the prophet for whom the book is named, who became prominent shortly before the Babylonian captivity. Isaiah is always referred to in the third person, indicating the words were written down by his disciples (see Isaiah 8:16) rather than the prophet himself. Moreover, beginning in chapter 40, Isaiah is never mentioned again. What's more, the prophecies from chapter 40 to the end of the book all relate to a later generation, the captives in Babylon who are about to return to Judah. These chapters are almost certainly the writings of the disciples in the tradition of their master.

The New Testament letters of Paul often contain a personal note from Paul which he says was written by his own hand (see 1 Corinthians 16:21, Galatians 6:11, 2 Thessalonians 3:17, Colossians 4:18, Philemon 19). This is a strong indication that the rest of the letter was written by a secretary to whom Paul either dictated or merely supplied an outline.

The gospel of John is attributed to Jesus' disciple by that name; however, most scholars question where a fisherman could have studied the complex, abstract philosophy found within that gospel. In modern times it has been suggested that the gospel in its final form was written by a group of John's disciples. The end of the gospel, in fact, states this explicitly. John 21:24 states (emphasis mine), "This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true." By separating the "we" from "his testimony", this verse acknowledges this relationship between the writers of the gospel and the author of the material.

Beyond that, we often see later writings attribute older writings to a more prominent author who is associated with similar writings. So, for example, Mark 1:2-3 says, "As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, 'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,"'" even though the first half of that qoute is actually from Malachi, not Isaiah.

Likewise, although 73 of the Psalms are explicitly attributed to David, Psalm 2 and Psalm 95 are not among them. Nevertheless, Acts 4:25 attributes a quote from Psalm 2 to "our ancestor David," and Hebrews 4:7 attributes Psalm 95:7-8, a reference to the Exodus, to God "speaking through David much later".

None of these are intended to make a decisive claim about who put the pen to the papyrus to write those words. In the same way, New Testament references to Moses should not be taken as evidence that he wrote the final published version of the Torah.

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