The end of Dueteronomy tells the death of Moses and what happened then:

34:5 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, 6 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. 7 Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated. 8 And the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.

9 And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses. 10 And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 12 and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. (ESV)

Moses did not write this because he was dead. So who did?

If you say the bible was written by people, maybe more than one, then Moses didnt write any of it so no problem. But some religous interpretations assume that God wrote the first five books through Moses. How do those methods explain this part?

3 Answers 3


From Adam Clarke's commentary,

*Most commentators are of opinion that Ezra was the author of the last chapter of Deuteronomy; some think it was Joshua, and others the seventy elders, immediately after the death of Moses; adding, that the book of Deuteronomy originally ended with the prophetic blessing upon the twelve tribes: 'Happy art thou, O Israel! who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord,' etc.; and that what now makes the last chapter of Deuteronomy was formerly the first of Joshua, but was removed from thence and joined to the former by way of supplement. This opinion will not appear unnatural if it be considered that sections and other divisions, as well as points and pauses, were invented long since these books were written; for in those early ages several books were connected together, and followed each other on the same roll. The beginning of one book might therefore be easily transferred to the end of another, and in process of time be considered as its real conclusion, as in the case of Deuteronomy, especially as this supplemental chapter contains an account of the last transactions and death of the great author of the Pentateuch." - Alexander's Heb. and Eng. Pentateuch.(taken from here)

The best answer is from Deut. 31:24,

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

They were then placed in the Ark of the Covenant(vs 26).

Joshua was anointed to be Moses's successor, and it appears from the writing that it was talking about Moses in the 3rd person past, not 1st person present, therefore Joshua is seen to have written the last part of Deuteronomy, followed by the Book of Joshua,

And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him, and did as the LORD commanded Moses

Since the fact that Moses's death was recorded, it is unlikely that he recorded his own death; yet modern interpretive scholarship must be rejected in that Moses, who wrote the Book(s) of the Law, and they were placed in the Ark of the Covenant, the most sacred place of keeping, since it was the manifest Presence of God amongst the Children of Israel, and accessable only by the high priest. It is therefore fitting, that the last chapter is eulogizing Moses(vs 10-12), before it is recorded officially that,(Josh. 1:1-2)

Now after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD it came to pass, that the LORD spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' minister, saying, 2Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel.

The best answer is that it must be attributed to Joshua.

  • 2
    "Modern critical scholarship...", "Some commentators..." -- who? These assertions mean nothing without citations of specific scholars, which is what we're looking for here. Show your work: support any and all assertions. The Joshua argument is a good one as it can be made from the text, but even so, do any experts agree with this argument? Cite them.
    – Dan
    Commented Jun 28, 2014 at 13:03
  • @Daи My bad-I edited my answer to include the Adam Clarke statement-does that address your concerns?
    – Tau
    Commented Jun 29, 2014 at 4:10
  • 1
    @Daи I haven't discovered any liguistic cues(nor would I be qualified to, in the original languages). Since numerous commentators haven't either(including Keil & Delitzsch), the best answer is the most straitforward, that Joshua wrote it. The text records God spoke to Moses, and God spoke to Joshua and the ministry of Moses fell on Joshua who was anointed to succeed him, giving him authority to speak(and write) on God's behalf.
    – Tau
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 8:36
  • 1
    I was curious, I think the Joshua argument is pretty good, but I'd like to read much more before being convinced. Even so, this has my upvote.
    – Dan
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 14:01
  • 1
    @Daи I also meant "contructive"... ;>)
    – Tau
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 14:05

One prevailing hypothesis today - the so-called "documentary hypothesis" - is that the Torah as a whole was edited and redacted from four primary sources from diverse authors, enumerated as "J", "E", "P", and "D". The introduction to the Torah in the Oxford Jewish Study Bible explains:

Each of these sources or documents is embedded in a (relatively) complete form in the current Torah, and is typified by vocabulary, literary style, and theological perspective. J and E are so called after the names for God that each of them uses in Genesis: J uses the name “Yahveh” (German “Jahwe,” hence “J”), translated in NJPS as “Lord,” though it is really a personal name whose exact meaning is unknown; E prefers to call the deity “Elohim” (translated “God”), an epithet which also serves as the generic term for God or gods in the Bible. P, which also uses “Elohim” (and other names, such as “Shaddai”), is an abbreviation for the Priestly material, and D refers to the Deuteronomist, primarily in Deuteronomy.

Admitting that the dates cannot be completely verified, the editors also comment:

Critical biblical scholarship, through the latter part of the 20th century, was quite confident in dating each of these Torah sources along with the legal collections that they incorporated. Thus, J was seen as the earliest collection, often dated to the period of David and Solomon in the 10th century BCE, followed by E, which was often associated with the Northern Kingdom. D was connected to the reforms of King Josiah in the late 7th century, and P was seen as deriving from the community in exile in Babylonia in the 6th century BCE.

Although the Documentary Hypothesis dates to the 19th century, Mosaic authorship of the Torah had been called into question at least since the 5th century, when Jerome, in editing his Latin translation of the Old Testament, speculated that the actual author might have been Ezra (also, as another answer points out, something that some modern scholars speculate).

Other hypotheses for the authorship of the Torah include the "Supplementary Hypothesis", wherein various editors of the Torah successively added additional material; and the "Fragmentary Hypothesis", wherein later editors linked together a large number of whole text (this Wikipedia article provides more information).

  • My comment doesn't warrant an answer in itself. I'll add to this solid answer that a good, accessible intro to the DocHyp is Richard Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible? Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 14:26

In jewish tradition, the end of Deutoronomy is attributed to either Joshua or Moses. I will explain why is it possible that Moses wrote about his own death, and in my opinion, it is more likely that Moses wrote it. Actually, the problem do not start with the death of Moses, but it starts earlier when the Torah says Moses gave the Torah to be helded aside the ark of covenant.

So if you look closely, everything that is written after that passage of giving the Torah to every tribe and to the Levites, could be known in advance. God told him how much time the Israelites will cry for his death, and Moses knew the speech he was going to give, and the blessings. There is nothing in the final passages that was hard to predict. Moses knew exactly how that day of his death will look like.

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