Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch : Argument for and against, Reasons for studying Pentateuch and hypothesis around Pentateuch

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The Pentateuch is the first five books of the Bible that conservative Bible scholars believe were mostly written by Moses. Even though the books of the Pentateuch themselves do not clearly identify the author, there are many passages that attribute them to Moses or as being his words. While there are some verses in the Pentateuch that would appear to have been added by someone later than Moses, for example, Deuteronomy34:5–8, which describes the death and burial of Moses, most if not all scholars attribute much of these books to Moses. Even if Joshua or someone else wrote the original manuscripts, the teaching and revelation can be traced from God through Moses. No matter who wrote the words that make up the books of the Pentateuch, the author of those words was God through His prophet Moses, and the inspiration of these five books of the Bible is still true.

One of the most important evidences for Moses being the author of the Pentateuch is that Jesus Himself refers this section of the Old Testament as the “Law of Moses” (Luke24:44).

The word Pentateuch comes from a combination of the Greek word penta, meaning “five” and teuchos, which can be translated “scroll.” Therefore, it simply refers to the five scrolls that make up the first of three divisions of the Jewish canon. The name Pentateuch can be traced at least as far back as AD200, when Tertullian referred to the first five books of the Bible by that name. Also known as the Torah, which is the Hebrew word meaning “Law,” these five books of the Bible are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Jews generally divided the Old Testament into three different sections, The Law, The Prophets, and The Writings. The Law or Torah consists of the first five books of Scripture that contain the historical background of creation and God’s choosing of Abraham and the Jewish nation as His chosen people. They also contain the instructions and law given to Israel at Mount Sinai. Scripture refers to these five books by various names.

The five books of the Bible that make up the Pentateuch are the beginning of God’s progressive revelation to man. In Genesis we find the beginning of creation, the fall of man, the promise of redemption, the beginning of human civilization, and the beginning of God’s covenant relationship with His chosen nation, Israel.

Following Genesis, we have Exodus, which records God’s deliverance of His covenant people from the bondage of slavery and the preparation for their possession of the Promised Land that He had set aside for them. Exodus records the deliverance of Israel from Egypt after 400 years of slavery as promised by God to Abraham (Genesis15:13). In it we find the covenant God makes with Israel at Mount Sinai, instructions for building the tabernacle, the giving of the Ten Commandments, and other instructions on how Israel was to worship God.
Leviticus follows Exodus and expands on the instructions for how a covenant people (Israel) were to worship God and govern themselves. It lays forth the requirements of the sacrificial system that would allow God to overlook the sins of His people until the perfect and ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ would provide redemption and completely at one for the sins of all of God’s elect.


Following Leviticus is Numbers, which covers key events during the 40 years that Israel wandered in the wilderness as well as additional instructions for worshiping God and living as His covenant people.
The last of the five books that make up the Pentateuch is Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is sometimes referred to as the “second law” or “repetition of the law.” It records the final words of Moses before the nation of Israel crosses over into the Promised Land

(Deuteronomy1:1). In Deuteronomy, we find God’s Law and standards that were given to Israel at Mount Sinai repeated and expounded upon by Moses. As Israel was to move into a new chapter of their history as God’s chosen nation, Moses is reminding them not only of God’s commandments and their responsibilities but of the blessings that would be theirs by obeying God and the curses that would come from disobedience.
The five books that make up the Pentateuch are generally considered to be historical books because they record historical events. While they are often called the Torah or the Law, in reality, they contain much more than laws. They provide an overview to God’s plan of redemption and provide a backdrop to everything in Scripture that would follow. Like all of the Old Testament, the promises, types, and prophecies contained in the first five books of Scripture have their ultimate fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ. They provide the important historical background needed to set the stage for the coming Redeemer.


Mosaic authorship is the Jewish and Christian tradition that Moses was the author of the Torah , the first five books of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. The books do not name any author, as authorship was not considered important by the society that produced them, and it was only after Jews came into intense contact with author-centric Hellenistic culture in the late Second Temple period that the rabbis began to find authors for their scriptures. The tradition probably began with the law-code of Deuteronomy, and was then gradually extended until Moses, as the central character, came to be regarded not just as the mediator of law but as author of both laws and narrative.


Importance of studying the Pentateuch
 The Pentateuch serves as a source of information concerning the origin of the Israelite nation.

 It also serves as a source of information concerning the origin of the world as a whole.

 It gives laws, rules and regulations which we as humans are expected to live by.

 It gives us an insight into the activities and character of God

 The Pentateuch further aids analysts ans students in achieving an insight into the relationship between God and the Israelite people.

 It serves as a prequel to the New Testament.

Support for Mosaic authorship

 Support from the Pentateuch: Throughout the Pentateuch it becomes clear that Moses is recording what happens. Exodus 24:4 states that “Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said” and that shortly thereafter he took the “Book of the Covenant and read it to the people” (Ex 24:7). Moses also wrote down the Ten Commandments (Ex 24:27-28). Other passages shed light on the fact that Moses kept record of what was going on (Ex 17:14; Num 33:2), and there are clear references that Moses was the author of Deuteronomy (Deut 31:9, 19, 22, 24).

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 Support across the Bible: The Bible refers to Moses as the authority behind the books of the Law. The books are referred to as the “Book of Moses” (5 times), the “Law of Moses” (22 times), the “Book of the Law of Moses” (4 times), the “Word of the Lord by Moses” (1 Time), and the contents of the books are attributed to Moses over 32.

 Jewish and early Christian support: The Jewish talmud refers to the first five books of the Bible as the “Book of Moses.” Furthermore, the Mishna and the early Jewish historian Josephus both accepted the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.

 Support from Jesus: Jesus divided the Old Testament into three sections in Luke 24:27, 44: Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Also, in Mark 10:4-8, Jesus quoted Gen. 2:24 as coming from Moses. In Mark 7:10, Jesus quoted the Ten Commandments as coming from Moses. In Mark 10:3 Jesus refers to Deut. 24:1f as being from Moses, and in Matt. 8:4 Jesus quoted Lev. 14 as coming from Moses.

Did Moses write everything?

“Although biblical scholarship is deeply divided on the issue of how the Pentateuch was composed, there is widespread agreement that the Pentateuch, as it now stands, is an edited work and not a piece of literature that was penned… by one individual,” (Alexander, p. 61-62). This conclusion stems from the fact that the Pentateuch occasionally refers to other pre-existing documents that were written down prior to the writing of Genesis through Deuteronomy (e.g. Gen 5:1; Ex 17:14, 24:7, 34:27; Num 21:14-15, 33:2; Deut 31:9, 22, 24). The idea that Moses wrote all of the Pentateuch also becomes difficult when it is realized that he could not have described his own death and burial in Deut 34.
“While the long-standing tradition of Mosaic authorship is based upon clear statements that Moses was responsible for writing substantial parts of the Pentateuch, the weight of evidence suggests that Moses probably did not compose the Pentateuch as we now have it… This is not to say that the Pentateuch’s claims concerning Moses’ literary activity should be rejected. On the contrary, such assertions ought to be respected and given serious consideration, which unfortunately all too rarely happens”
We do know that Joshua was Moses’ assistant (Ex. 33:11), which quite likely included scribal and editorial duties. He was also the God-appointed successor to Moses (Num. 27:18-21), a prophet whom the Lord spoke to directly (Dt. 34:9, Jos. 1:1-9), and a leader the people obeyed just as they obeyed Moses (Jos. 1:17). We know that Joshua was with Moses when he spoke to God on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 24:13) and in the tent of meeting (Ex. 33:11). We also know that Joshua also contributed to the “Book of the Law of God” (Jos. 24:26). Although not recorded, it is likely that the death of Moses was recorded by Joshua.

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Arguments against Mosaic authorship

As we have seen, the traditional view is that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. This view was almost universally accepted until the 17th century. At that time doubts began to be cast upon the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. Today a large number of Old Testament authorities doubt that Moses had anything to do with the writing of the first five books of Scripture.

 Wrong Assumptions: The higher critical theories that cast doubt upon the reliability of the early chapters of Genesis have been shown to be unreliable. These theories were born in an age of ignorance regarding early civilization. Many assumptions that were once held have now been shown to be untrue.

 No Writing In Moses Day: For example, the higher critical theories originally assumed that writing was not in use in the days of the Patriarchs. Consequently, they concluded Moses could not have written the Pentateuch because writing had not been invented at that time. We now know that writing was practiced centuries before the time of Moses and that he certainly had the capability to write the first five books of the Old Testament.

 Written In Third Person: Another accusation against Mosaic authorship concerns the way Moses is portrayed in the Pentateuch. It is argued that Moses could not be the author of these books because he would not write about himself in the third person. In the Law, Moses is always referred to in the third person. For example, we read:
“Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3 ).Supposedly, no writer would describe himself in such terms.”

 Not Persuasive: This argument against Mosaic authorship is not very persuasive. Many ancient authors wrote about themselves in the third person such as Julius Caesar in the Gallic Wars. We also have a biblical example of this occurring. Ezra, who wrote the book that bears his name, wrote in both the first and third person in his book.

 Did Moses Write About His Death?:It is also contended that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch because he could not have written his own obituary ( Deuteronomy 34:5-8 ). How could he have written about his own death before he died?
 Perhaps Written By Joshua: However, it is not necessary to assume that Moses wrote the last part of Deuteronomy that contained his obituary. It could easily have been written by Joshua.



The idea that Moses could not or did not write the first five books of the Old Testament does not fit the facts. The main arguments raised by the critics have shown to be fallacious. The traditional point of view, that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, should be upheld.



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