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Deuteronomy 34:5 says Moses died, but the book then continues for several more verses.

NASB, Deuteronomy 34:5 - So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord.

How could Moses have written the first five books of the Old Testament when he died prior to the Israelites entering the 'Promised Land'?

  • He didn't. And neither did Joshua, or Samson, or Ruth, or Samuel, or David, or Solomon, or Job, or Esther, or even Christ himself (!) write the books (or chapters) detailing their (own) lives. A book can be named either after its author, or after its subject, or both. Clearly, four of the five books of the Pentateuch are about Moses, and the Law which God gave through him to the nation of Israel, hence their common title The Law of Moses. Moses did indeed write down the divine commandments (on stone), but not books or journals about himself doing that. – Lucian Aug 1 '17 at 4:08
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The New Bible Dictionary states:

For centuries both Judaism and Christianity accepted without question the biblical tradition that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. Ben-Sira (Ecclus. 24:23), Philo (Life of Moses 3. 39), Josephus (Ant. 4.326), the Mishnah (Pirqê Abôth 1. 1), and the Talmud (Baba Bathra 14b) are unanimous in their acceptance of the Mosaic authorship. The only debate centred in the account of Moses’ death in Dt. 34:5ff. Philo and Josephus affirm that Moses described his own death, while the Talmud credits Joshua with eight verses of the torah, presumably the last eight.

The debate concerning the last eight verses is found in Tractate Baba Bathra 15a:

Joshua wrote the book which bears his name and the last eight verses of the Pentateuch. This statement is in agreement with the authority who says that eight verses in the Torah were written by Joshua, as it has been taught: [It is written], So Moses the servant of the Lord died there. Now is it possible that Moses being dead could have written the words, 'Moses died there'? The truth is, however, that up to this point Moses wrote, from this point Joshua wrote. This is the opinion of R. Judah, or, according to others, of R. Nehemiah. Said R. Simeon to him: Can [we imagine the] scroll of the Law being short of one word, and is it not written, Take this book of the Law? No; what we must say is that up to this point the Holy One, blessed be He, dictated and Moses repeated and wrote, and from this point God dictated and Moses wrote with tears.

There is also a tradition in 2 Esdras 14:21–22, that the scrolls of the Pentateuch, burned in Nebuchadrezzar’s siege of Jerusalem, were rewritten by Ezra:

21 For thy law is burnt, therefore no man knoweth the things that are done of thee, or the work that shall begin. 22 But if I have found grace before thee, send the Holy Ghost into me, and I shall write all that hath been done in the world since the beginning, which were written in thy law, that men may find thy path, and that they which will live in the latter days may live.

This tradition was accepted by a number of the early church Fathers, e.g. Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Jerome, while still affirming the fundamental Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.

Sailhamer, in his book The Meaning of the Pentateuch, presents a theory that is basically in agreement with this tradition. He states:

The Pentateuch was not written as modern books are. It is a collection and arrangement of ancient written sources, many of which appear to have been fragmentary and already old by the time of Moses. Indeed, Moses may have had to translate some of them into Hebrew. The Pentateuch represents a literary strategy in which the author strives to teach a theological message. The Pentateuch that we now have is likely a late version of the “book of the law” written by Moses (Josh 1:8) Moses wrote it as a source of divine wisdom and meditation, not as a book of law. It was the later prophets who, after much meditation (“day and night”) on the words of Moses, produced the Pentateuch that we have today, the canonical Pentateuch.

The statement in Deutoronomy 34:10 that "No prophet ever again arose in Israel like Moses", leads Sailhamer to believe that the final redactor of the Pentateuch was a prophet late in Israel's history. He does not assert that this prophet was Ezra, although I think he would be a good candidate.

Regarding the work of G. Ch. Aalders, the New Bible Dictionary states:

Of particular interest are his [Aalders] recognition of post-Mosaic and non-Mosaic elements in the Pentateuch (e.g. Gn. 14:14; 36:31; Ex. 11:3; 16:35; Nu. 12:3; 21:14–15; 32:34ff.; Dt. 2:12; 34:1–12) and his awareness of the fact that neither Testament ascribes the entire work to Moses, although both attribute substantial parts of it to him. The great legal codes, for instance, are credited specifically to Moses (e.g. Ex. 20:2–23:33; 34:11–26; Dt. 5–26; cf. Dt. 31:9, 24), as is the Israelites’ itinerary mentioned in Nu. 33:2. As far as the Gn. stories are concerned, Moses may or may not have been the one who compiled them from their written and oral forms...It is difficult to date the final redaction of the Pentateuch. Aalders’ suggestion that it took place some time within the reigns of Saul and David is credible, although some further allowance should probably be made for the modernizing of vocabulary and style.

Clearly, there are various theories of how the Pentateuch has reached its current form, or when and if a post-Mosaic redaction took place.

It seems reasonable to assume that the Pentateuch was redacted later in Israel's history. This would explain updates in vocabulary, place names, various apparent anachronisms, and the final verses of Deuteronomy, yet pose no serious challenge to the believer who is committed to Mosaic authorship.

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A book which is not finished at the time a writer dies does not alter his status as the author of the rest of the work. Some extra-Biblical examples: “Bill Budd” was written by Herman Melville; “A Moveable Feast” by Ernst Hemingway; “A Death in the Family” by James Agee. These were finished by someone other than the author; yet all are considered as written by the author. The integrity of what the author wrote is not questioned solely on the basis of an ending written by another person. A work which reasonably could have been finished by another does not open the door to ignore what the Bible says about the role of Moses in writing the first five books.

Tradition is that Moses was responsible for writing down what is found in the first five books of the Old Testament. This tradition is founded on what is written throughout the Old Testament. A few examples:

and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn, (1 Kings 2:3 ESV) [David speaking to Solomon]

All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. (Daniel 9:11 ESV) [Referencing Deuteronomy 28]

This tradition is also connected to actual events. Soon after entering the land, Joshua reaffirmed what had been written by Moses:

just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, “an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the LORD and sacrificed peace offerings. And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. (Joshua 8:31-32 ESV)

Tradition was more than doctrine that is typically associated with the Law. For example, the weeklong celebration at the end of the harvest year was commanded by Moses:

And they found it written in the Law that the LORD had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month. (Nehemiah 8:14 ESV)

One point is that the "tradition" of Moses was not a doctrine. It was a reality built on events that infused aspects of everyday living. The reality that Moses is assigned a role in recording some part of the Bible requires identifying those books. A claim the first five books were not from Moses leads to the question: if not the first five than what should be attributed to Moses?

The Bible continues with the New Testament which continues to testify about Moses writing the Law. A few examples:

For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, (Hebrew 9:19 ESV)

When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. (Acts 28:23 ESV) [Paul teaching in Rome]

For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? (1 Corinthians 9:9 KJV) [Citing Deuteronomy 25:4]

Jesus also stated that Moses was responsible for writing down what had been given:

He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said,“Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. (Mark 10:3-5 ESV also Matthew 19:7) [Citing Deuteronomy 24:1-4]

“Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. (Mark 12:19 ESV also Matthew 22:24, Luke 20:28) [citing Deuteronomy 25:5-6]

And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? (Mark 12:26 ESV) [Citing Exodus 3:6]

The Gospel states Moses wrote about Jesus:

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:45 ESV)

Jesus states Moses wrote about Him:

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44 ESV)

Therefore, even if the entire chapter of Deuteronomy 34 was written by someone else as an Epilogue, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy 1-33 are unaffected and can continue to be attributed to Moses. Also, as noted in another answer, Moses could have written Deuteronomy 34 as a prophetic description of his death. Since all Scripture is inspired by God, Moses could have actually written about events before they occurred.

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All the books of the Pentateuch have traditionally been attributed to Moses, who is the leading character in four of them, excluding Genesis. It is thought that only Moses could have known the events in those four books, and also that God must have told him what to write in the Book of Genesis. Then, as early as 1520, the German theologian Andreas Rudolf Bodenstein von Carlstadt wrote a pamphlet arguing that Moses did not write the Pentateuch (see The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Volume 1, page 819). In 1574, A. Du Maes, a Roman Catholic scholar, suggested that the Pentateuch was composed by Ezra, using old manuscripts as a basis.

Both von Carlstadt and Du Maes were aware that certain passages in the Pentateuch appear to attest to Mosaic authorship. Taken in isolation, they show how Moses could indeed have written the first five books of the Bible. However, hermeneutic scholars place greater store by inadvertent clues, because these can not be fabricated. This answer deals with those inadvertent clues and how they appear to show that Moses did not write the Pentateuch.

Deuteronomy

Tradition attributes the authorship of the Book of Deuteronomy to Moses, with Joshua writing the last few verses that form an obituary to Moses, but this is at best very unlikely. Not only could Moses not have written Deuteronomy 34:5-12, but Joshua could not have written Deuteronomy 34:10, which was written during the time of Israel and long after the time of Moses:

Deuteronomy 34:10: And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face,

Once we recognise that part of the book was written during the time of Israel, we are free to notice other features that place the entire book in the monarchic period. The Book of Deuteronomy was written in rather later Hebrew, with a similar style to the Book of Kings, which can only have been written towards the end of the monarchic period. The similarities are so obvious as to lead scholars to refer to an entire set of Old Testament books as the 'Deuteronomic History': (Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings). Since Moses could not have written the Deuteronomic History, he could not have written Deuteronomy.

The book forms a close literary unit with the Book of Joshua, which would not be surprising if Joshua at least assisted in the writing of Deuteronomy, but Joshua then appears to have been written by the same author as Judges, and so on.

Scholars attribute the Book of Deuteronomy, or most of it, to an anonymous author now known as the Deuteronomist, writing during the seventh-century-BCE reign of King Josiah in Jerusalem. Edward F. Campbell Jr. says in 'A Land Divided: Judah and Israel from the Death of Solomon to the Fall of Samaria', published in The Oxford History of the Biblical World (edited by Michael D. Coogan), page 216, that virtually all scholars agree the Book of Deuteronomy, or at least a good part of it (chapters 5-26 and 28 are often nominated), was the ‘book of law’ supposedly found in the temple during renovations in the time of King Josiah.

Numbers

In the Book of Numbers, there are two separate versions of the ‘Spies drama’, blended together in verses 13:1-14:38 and sufficiently similar to appear to the casual reader to be just one rather complex account. This leads to the conclusion that there were two separate authors and that the accounts were skilfully blended together by a later redactor.

Numbers 24:14 refers to an earlier Book of the Wars of the Lord, that tells of what Moses did in the Red Sea. That the book existed at the time Numbers was written can not be doubted. But there could not already have been another account of this event during the time of the Exodus from Egypt, and the fact that readers of Numbers seem to have been expected to know this book militates against Moses being the author of the Book of Numbers.

Leviticus

The Book of Leviticus is primarily a book of laws and codes relating to sacrifices, the Levite priesthood and ritual purity. It has its own, very unique style, making no attempt to place the telling of the laws in any context during the forty years of wandering. There is no good reason to attribute the book to Moses.

Exodus

Lester L. Grabbe says, in Ancient Israel, page 84, that the vast bulk of the Pentateuchal text describing the Exodus and related events seems to be late, even Exilic or early post- Exilic. The lack of historicity in the Exodus account is, more than anything else, what counts against authorship by Moses.

Genesis

Traditions attributes the Book of Genesis to Moses, but this is a view that few scholars would now support. It is too obviously the product of more than one author, writing at different times and places. The Sources Theory says that Genesis was written by three main authors, who are anonymous but are now known as the Yahwist, the Elohist and the Priestly Source. It has become recognised that the Sources Theory oversimplifies the origins of Genesis (and the Pentateuch more generally) but it remains the best hypothesis we currently have regarding the authorship of the book.

Conclusion

This answer briefly shows how Moses could not have written the Pentateuch, either as a whole or even significant parts of the series. Were more space available, I could have continued writing and providing more supporting evidence, but I believe this is not needed here. As to who most probably wrote the Pentateuch, I leave that to other answers.

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  • In the answer by C. Kelly above, Scriptures are quoted to verify the biblical account that Moses wrote the book of the law (e.g. Deut 21:34). I don't understand why your answer discards the testimony of the Bible and uses extra-biblical literature to answer a question which - according to the name of the website - is supposed to be answered by using biblical hermeneutics ... – Marisa Apr 13 '16 at 8:39
  • Hi @Marisa, this is an extremely broad topic, and there is available a huge body of scholarly discussion that relates directly to the OPs question. What Dick has done is to give us a sampling of that discussion as he understands it, and he does point out (in broad strokes) how these discussions relate to the text at several points. This is an acceptable way to go about answering here, so not "not an answer" in my option. – Susan Apr 13 '16 at 19:23
  • @Susan. Thanks Susan, I just didn't get how Dick's conclusion said that Moses didn't write even a part of the Pentateuch when the Bible gives a number of verses which says he did. I understand how someone might discard the testimony of Scripture if they don't believe it's inspired. But even then, if biblical hermeneutics is about interpreting the Bible by having recourse to Scripture, how can we discard the things which Scripture says, as Dick did above by saying Moses didn't write even a part it? I accept I could be wrong, I'm still learning. These were just my initial thoughts ... – Marisa Apr 15 '16 at 14:51
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    @Marisa Would you please ask about this on Biblical Hermeneutics Meta? I see where you are coming from (and indeed disagree with Dick on this for some of the same reasons you are objecting) but at the same time there are reasons why this is a valid answer post for this site. Explaining that might take more space than comments here, so let's do it on meta. – Caleb Apr 16 '16 at 15:33
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With all due respect to the scholars and textual critics, who conclude Moses cannot have written the Pentateuch, there are clues to the authorship within both the writings themselves and later writers which deserve to be brought to attention, as these are the BASIS of the tradition which holds Moses as the author, and which can be actually interpreted without resort to the advanced theories of scholars removed by several millennia from the time when the books were written.

The Pentateuch itself asserts Mosaic authorship.

Exodus 17:14 – Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua…" [also Ex 34:27]

The Lord was convinced He was addressing Himself to Moses, or else the author has written pure fantasy.

Exodus 24:4,7 – And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord. … Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.”

Moses is stated to have written the book of the Law by the author of the book. So either the author was lying, or, as the people then understood well, the book was in fact the word of the Lord, and ought to be obeyed, regardless of who gave it to them. This general attitude toward the Law was the same in later writers who spoke of Moses and the Law. It wasn't really Moses that mattered at all to them, but the God who gave His word to them through Moses. This is called the doctrine of inspiration, and corresponds exactly to the traditional view of Mosaic "authorship". [Deuteronomy 21:34 attests in similar fashion that Moses wrote that book.]

Exodus 31:18 – And when He had made an end of speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.

Of course, it is traditionally held that a portion of Exodus was not written by Moses, but by God Himself, and in stone. So we will gladly concede the point that Moses must have copied some of his book from God's book, and need not have written every word originally. It is also widely accepted that the description of Moses' death was written by Joshua or Aaron or some other later witness.

Numbers 33:2 – Now Moses wrote down the starting points of their journeys at the command of the Lord.

Here Moses is only said to have written down the points along the journey. I can't find any specific references to passages in Numbers from any writers asserting it as the words of Moses. So perhaps the author of Numbers was someone else. But my search for textual evidence has been very cursory.

Deuteronomy 21:34 – So it was, when Moses had completed writing the words of this law in a book, when they were finished…

Other Old Testament writers assert Mosaic authorship

Joshua 8:32 – And there, in the presence of the children of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written.

Nehemiah 8:14 – And they found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month [referring to Leviticus 23:34, which says]

Leviticus 23:33,34 – Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,  “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days to the Lord.’”

Daniel 9:11,13 – As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us…

New Testament writers assert Moses as author of the Law

Mark 12:26 – "But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?"

In this interesting quote, the Lord Jesus refers to the book of Moses, which can only mean Exodus here, where God relates himself to the patriarchs written about in the book of Genesis. This doesn't imply Mosaic authorship of Genesis, but Moses was keenly aware of all that Genesis taught about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The more likely explanation of the book of Genesis is, not that it was written later, but much earlier, or rather, was transmitted orally until someone like Moses, a royally-educated man, finally put it down in writing. So Moses may not have composed Genesis at all. Since we're not told in the text, the tradition will have to suffice, or be replaced with modern-day theories.

John 1:17 – For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

John 1:45 – Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

Here, John and Philip assert Mosaic authorship of the Law (the Pentateuch), or at least some parts of it.

John 7:19 – Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law?”

Jesus also believed Moses as the lawgiver. In order to dismiss Moses' authorship, we must conclude Jesus had no correct knowledge of the matter. I have no doubt, many of the textual critics consider themselves to have greater knowledge of the matter than the Lord, but I do not have the conviction that their theories are completely fireproof.

Acts 7:37 – “This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.’”

Here St. Stephen also has settled the matter of Mosaic authorship, at least of Deuteronomy, and quotes this Mosaic prophecy of the Christ to the Pharisees of his day, and dying a martyr's death for his, um, hermeneutical approach.

1 Corinthians 9:9 – For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” [Deut 25:4]

Here the Apostle Paul seems content to accept Moses as the author of Deuteronomy.

Romans 10:5 – For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.” [Leviticus 18:5]

2 Corinthians 3:15 – But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.

Hebrews 9:19 – For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people. [Exodus 24]

The book itself is described in the event recorded therein. This could mean "the scroll that was at that time already written", which would refer to an earlier chapter in the completed book of Exodus, or it could be some kind of addition added by a hypothetical deuteronomist at a much later date. The reader is encouraged to think and judge for himself which is the more likely explanation.

It's not JUST tradition...

The contention that the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch is merely traditional needs to be qualified: This tradition is based on exegesis of the Scriptures themselves. To say Moses was not the author of at least most of the Pentateuch, is entirely conjecture. However academically brilliant this conjecture, it contradicts the Scriptures of which it speaks. I suppose such textual criticism is acceptable as a type of hermeneutic. But it seems to be rather destructive of the Scriptures as Scripture, leaving them to be discarded as mere tales and myths which have been shot full of holes by modern intellects. And I suppose this criticism is even more persuasive to some than the Scriptures, not to mention doctrine, theology, and bandwagons full of Jewish and Christian scholars of the past and present. So I will not quote or name them. But this tradition wasn't just a pronouncement of some venerable Rabbi, council, creed or pope; it is entirely based on the Bible from which this forum derives its very name.

How could Moses have written the Pentateuch?

At this point, we should think about the question of "how" in the original question. Moses was the most highly educated Jew ever to walk the earth. He was educated in the Palace of Egypt, and likely had learned several languages. How, as it pertains to his ability, is a moot point. How could he know what to write? Well, his intellect was certainly used by God in the task. Anyone who writes has to think and compose words to represent the thoughts. Moses could do that. If, as he claims, God told him what to write, well, there's your answer to any other matters of how, not based on conjecture, but on what HE WROTE (see quotes above).

Or perhaps the question really only means, "How could Moses have written ALL of them, every word?" I don't think it is necessary that he wrote every word, as I've already argued. But I ascribe to the doctrine that all scripture is inspired by God, stated plainly in in Exodus 24:4*ff* and II Timothy 3:16. So I don't really care if there were ten or twenty authors involved; it's still God's holy word. The verses above only ascribe the Laws and the books to Moses. He may have had assistants and co-authors and translators and a whole team of editors. I'm not bothered that he gets the full credit, because he ascribes the ultimate credit to God. Your doctrine may differ, in which case this hermeneutic may not work for you. No offense is intended.

What If Moses did not write the Pentateuch?

At this point, it is helpful to ask the question the OP didn't ask: What if the Pentateuch was not written by Moses? This is not a hard question at all. Iff Moses did not write1 the Pentateuch, whoever did included quite a number of falsehoods, lies and fictions, sufficient to deceive all the Jews of Moses' day, Joshua, Nehemiah, and numerous other OT writers, and ALL the NT writers, including Jesus, and all the brilliant scholars and interpreters up until 1520 [see Dick's answer]. If Moses did not write at least a portion of the books of the Pentateuch, then the entire doctrine of Inspiration held by said writers (most notably Moses and Paul) is also false. For verses like Dt 21:34, for example, ("So it was, when Moses had completed writing the words of this law in a book...") would be false, and an inspired book could not contain such false statements. If there is nothing God-inspired in the Pentateuch, then the Bible as a whole is not inspired, and thus, both the Jewish and Christian faiths are based on fictions and fantasy. Then tthere is no reliable authority for what we believe at all, except of course the individual, who may hold any theory at all. And, of course, if these scriptures are full of fictions and lies, well I submit that the very art and science of hermeneutics (and most of what is written in this forum) is all a very sad self-delusion.

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1 By which I include what he himself wrote, or penned from what was handed down to Him, whether in oral tradition or written by God, or what his assistants and successors may have added. The point here is not that Moses wrote every word, but that what was written by him was the majority, the gist, and the substance of what has been handed down to us from God.

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    Most of this is pretty good but towards the end, esp. the final "What if…" paragraph, makes some flying leaps of logic that I don't think are necessarily supportable from the text and detract from the quality of the rest of the answer. – Caleb Apr 16 '16 at 15:35
  • @Caleb, I appreciate the feedback. And I do want the logic to be sturdy. I consider logic a hallmark of Christian exegesis and interpretation. Can you point out the particular logical errors? I am much obliged. – C. Kelly Apr 17 '16 at 12:25
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The Book of the Law (Mosaic origin) was not the same as the Pentateuch. It was the job of the priests to teach the Law not as history but as something to live by, which meant applying organization, editorials comments, updating names, and connecting the seams. Since the source material originates with Moses it can be considered Mosaic. For an extensive exploration of this idea, see John Sailhamer's The Meaning of the Pentateuch.

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1. Question Restatement

If Moses died before the "Books of the Law" were finished being written - how could he have written them?


2. Hebrew, ספר

Note: At the time, a "Book of Books", (i.e. a Bible), would have been represented in plurality, (not singular). See Hebrew Instances of "Books", (סְפָרִ֜ים, בַּסְּפָרִ֖ים, etc.).

In this context, ספר / Book, is singular - as is the Greek Septuagint counterpart "βιβλίον / Book".

At the very least, the text asserts that Moses wrote one book - with all of the words of this law:

Deuteronomy 31:9 & 31:24 - each (πάντας) of the accounts/words (τοὺς λόγους / ῥήματα) of this law (τοῦ νόμου τούτου) into a book, (εἰς βιβλίον).

This means that there is no textual basis to assert that Moses wrote all five books, or that five existed at the time.


3. Proposed Answer - Tradition

Only tradition asserts that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, in their entirety - but Scripture says something different :

The text itself only claims that Moses wrote the Book of the Law - not all five books.

Instead, the texts indicate that Moses gave the Book of the Law to the Priests, giving them responsibility for it - who certainly could have amended the work after Moses died.


4. Moses Gave the Book, (סֵ֤פֶר/Singular) of the Law to the Priests:

NASB, Deuteronomy 31:9 - So Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel.

Deuteronomy 31:26-27 - “Take this book of the law, (סֵ֤פֶר, Singular) and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you. 27 For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness; behold, while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against the Lord;


5. Documentary Hypothesis - The Priestly Source

Because of the different writing styles, and names for God - it is hypothesized that the 5 books were indeed written by different people:

Wikipedia, Documentary Hypothesis - The documentary hypothesis describes the Priestly source as using the title Elohim as the general name for God in the primeval period (Genesis 1-11).

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