moses holding tablets

Jesus and Mosaic Authorship of the Torah

moses holding tablets

Yeshua (Jesus) reportedly said things like, “Moses wrote about me” (John 5:46) and “have you not read in the book of Moses?” (Mark 12:26). Many Christians argue that if Yeshua believed in Mosaic authorship of the entire Pentateuch (Torah, Five Books of Moses), we must believe it as well. The argument for Mosaic authorship might look like this:

1. Yeshua is omniscient.
2. He says Moses wrote some or all of the Torah and includes Genesis.
3. We have to agree with omniscience.

Or maybe it would look like this:

1. Yeshua existed before Moses and knew who wrote the Torah.
2. Yeshua’s statements indicate Moses is the author.
3. It is logical to agree with someone who was around when Torah was written.

I don’t believe either of these arguments. I’ll say why shortly. But first, let’s consider some alternative views about Yeshua’s sayings.

He Was Accommodating His Audience

Peter Enns, writing in The Bible and the Believer, lists a number of views held by some Protestant scholars who accept the documentary hypothesis and therefore do not believe Moses wrote all of the Torah. The documentary hypothesis, also called source theory or JEDP, is the belief that multiple sources were combined by an editor or by editors to make up what we now know as a single book called the Torah or Pentateuch. My favorite explanation of the documentary hypothesis is Richard Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible?.

Enns says some scholars would offer this explanation of Yeshua’s saying: he knew better about the origins of the Torah, but he also knew that his audience was unprepared to accept the truth. So he accommodated his audience. He expressed with his words the idea of Mosaic authorship only for practical reasons, to make points far more important than who wrote what.

He Was Not Being Literal

Another view, says Enns, is that Yeshua was not expressing some literal idea like “Moses wrote all five books.” He understood that Moses was the originator and core of the Torah traditions and referred to the whole by its originating part. That is, Yeshua knew Moses was the author of some things included in the Torah and, furthermore, that Torah springs from the traditions Moses set in motion.

“Moses” Was Shorthand for “Pentateuch”

Yet another idea, according to Enns, is that “Moses” was a sort of shorthand for the fuller phrase “Book of Moses.” The idea is that people called the final edition of the Torah the “Book of Moses,” which was not really a definitive statement of authorship. Since Moses was the originator and greatest authority behind the traditions that were finally included in the Pentateuch, the whole thing was called by his name.

What’s Wrong with the Above Arguments?

I listed above several arguments people might use to claim, “Yeshua believed Moses wrote and we must believe that as well.”

The problem with the first argument is that Yeshua was not omniscient. I do happen to believe Yeshua was divine and I have a book about it (see it here on amazon). So, I do believe that Yeshua existed before he was born as a human being. I do believe he shares the one and only divine nature with the Father (and the Spirit). I do believe that in his pre-existent state, he was omniscient and that he is now omniscient.

I do not believe Yeshua the fetus was omniscient. Nor Yeshua the toddler. Nor Yeshua the child. Nor Yeshua the man.

I would not use this as a definitive proof text, but Luke did say, “Yeshua increased in wisdom and in stature” (2:52).

Yeshua did not know e=mc2. He did not know what actors would portray him in future movies. He did not know English, not even King James English. And he did not know who wrote the Torah.

The argument that Yeshua existed before the time of his incarnation and that he was around when Torah was composed or compiled also holds no water. As Paul said it, he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself” (Phil 2:6-7). He did not retain his pre-incarnation knowledge.

The Non-Omniscient Yeshua and His “Moses” Sayings

Peter Enns says it with style:

Jesus’ view of the Pentateuch was formed by his cultural moment — in other words, Jesus thought Moses wrote the Pentateuch, which is a reflection of Jesus’ historical setting and therefore does not determine how the compositional history of the Pentateuch should be understood today.

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27 Comments

    1. I get what you are saying, Robby. The term “Oral Torah” though will not work for this historical phenomenon. It has been used as a term for the proto-rabbinic and rabbinic tradition. But oral and written sources certainly predate the Torah. Instead of calling these “Oral Torah,” I’d say we’re looking at sources and traditions predating the Torah.

  1. OY Vey Maria, JEDP is heretical and is held to by liberal theologians which unfortunately include a growing number of those who are Jewish 🙁

    The JEDP theory says that the first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—were not written entirely by Moshe, who died in the 1400s B.C., but by different authors/compliers who lived after him. The theory is based on the fact that different names for G-d are used in different portions of these books, along with detectable differences in linguistic style. The letters of the JEDP theory stand for the four supposed authors: one who uses Jehovah for G-d’s name, one who uses Elohim, the author of Deuteronomy, and the “priestly” author of Leviticus. The JEDP theory goes on to propose that the different portions of Torah were compiled in the fourth century B.C., possibly by Ezra (since he wrote and composed other biblical writings during that time).

    What is the evidence for this view? First, it should be noted that these different names for G-d are often used within the same context. For example, Genesis chapter 1 uses the name Elohim while Genesis chapter 2 uses the name YHVH. The answer is simple. Moshe used G-d’s different names to emphasize a point. In Genesis 1, G-d is Elohim, the mighty Creator G-d. In Genesis 2, G-d is Yahweh, the personal God who created and relates to humanity. This doesn’t prove different authors. It’s one author using G-d’s various names to emphasize different aspects of His character. Let’s never forget that in Exodus 9:16 we find the word shem (name) which is the root of neshema (breath). Your breath is your character! ALL Hebrew names are words and reflect character!

    Regarding the different styles, there has been more hype than substance. An author writing over a forty-year period would be expected to change styles at various points. Also, we would expect an author to have different styles when writing history (Genesis), legal statutes (Exodus, Deuteronomy), and intricate details of the worship system (Leviticus). Proponents of JEDP take explainable and natural differences in Torah and invent an elaborate and unnecessary theory.

    The most powerful argument against the JEDP theory is the Bible itself. Yeshua said in Mark 12:26, “have you not read in the book of Moshe, in the passage about the bush, how G-d spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the G-d of Avraham, and the G-d of Yitschaq, and the G-d of Ya`aqob’?” Yeshua clearly noted that Moshe wrote the account of the burning bush in Exodus 3:1-3. Luke, in Acts 3:22, comments on a passage in Deuteronomy 18:15 and credits Moshe as the author. Rav Shaul’s writings also affirm this traditional belief in Mosaic authorship; for example, in Romans 10:5, Shaul implies that Moshe wrote Leviticus 18:5.

    Yeshua, Shaul and Luke all spoke of Moshe as the author of Torah. Even the religious scholars, consisting of the priests and scribes, did not deny this aspect of their teaching. Moshe was the accepted author of the Torah from the earliest times. Why? Because he was the author. In order for the JEDP theory to be true, Yeshua, Luke and Shaul must either be lying or deceived in their understanding of the TaNaK. The same would also be true of their original hearers! Further, the JEDP theory does not explain the affirmation of Mosaic authorship by many other TaNaK writers.

    So, there’s really no reason to accept the JEDP theory as anything more than a theory. It suggests an alternative view of biblical authorship but does not withstand the historical and internal evidence available today. Let’s not doubt the authorship of Moshe. Let’s read what he wrote and apply it to our lives today.

    1. M,

      You said: “The most powerful argument against the JEDP theory is the Bible itself. Yeshua said in Mark 12:26, ‘have you not read in the book of Moshe . . .'”

      Now this argument you make is the subject of this entire blog post. And not once do you react to my arguments in the post. This suggests two things to me:

      1. You did not read my post, but skimming it and being aware of my general position on the JEDP theory, you just wrote the usual arguments thrown up against it by people who are not open to considering it.

      2. Your mind was made up long ago. You are not open to a new thought on this topic. You prefer to make the same (old, tired, worn, stale) arguments every time you see someone posting arguments in favor of JEDP.

      Now, if “2” is wrong, then please educate yourself. If you are open to learning instead of telling others what they should believe, please pick up a copy of Richard Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible? and you will see how wrong your case against JEDP is.

      1. My final answer Regis, comes from Ephesians 4:11-16 (OJB)
        And He gave some to be shlichim, and some nevi’im, and some gifted to be used in Kiruv efforts for Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach, and some supervising mashgichim ruchaniyim (spiritual overseers) who are ro’im and morim in the Kehillah, For the equipping of the Kadoshim for the work of avodas kodesh ministry, to the building up of HaGuf HaMoshiach Until we all attain to the achdus (unity) of the emunah and to the da’as (knowledge) of the Ben HaElohim, to the Bnei Chayil maturity, to the measure of the stature of the melo (plentitude) of Moshiach. In this way, we are no longer olalim (infants) tossed by waves and carried around by every wind of limmud (instruction), by the cunning of Bnei Adam, with craftiness leading to the scheming of remiyah (deceit) and madduchei shav (delusion); [YESHAYAH 57:20] But telling HaEmes in ahavah, let us grow up in every respect unto Him who is the Rosh, Moshiach, From whom all HaGuf HaMoshiach being fitly joined together and being united in an agudah binding by that which every joint contributes according as each part’s proper working process promotes the growth of HaGuf HaMoshiach in building itself up in ahavah.

        With the understanding that in every generation 2 Peter 2:1-3 (OJB) remains true
        But there were also nevi’ei sheker (false prophets) among Am Yisroel just as also there will be morei sheker among you. These false teachers will secretly bring in heretical doctrines of koferim baikkarim (deniers of fundamentals), producing machshelah (ruin), as these heretics even become meshummad, denying the Ribbono Shel Olam who redeemed them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow them in walking in darchei zimah (the ways of licentiousness), and because of them the Derech HaEmes will be libeled with lashon hora. And in their chomed (covetous) greed, they will exploit you with deceptive words. For them the Mishpat (Judgment) of old is not drei (idle) and their churban (ruin) does not slumber.

        As you should still well know V’zote HaTorah ahsher sahm Moshe leafnay b’nay Yeesrael ahl pee Adonai b’yahd Moshe (And this is the Torah that Moshe placed before the children of Israel, at the command of the L-rd, through Moshe’s hand) has been recited in every Synagogue, Schul, Temple way before Wellhausen was birthed!

        Yom tov chaver

      2. Come, now, Derek — Arguments against JEDP are no more “old, tired, worn, [or] stale” than the JEDP hypothesis itself! There is no issue to be considered here of any failure to be open-minded about learning new ideas. These JEDP viewpoints are not new ideas, nor based on new archeological discoveries. If anything, continuing archeological evidence examination has strengthened the arguments against it. JEDP is a fundamentally flawed hypothesis, philosophically opposed to the attitudes expressed by traditional Jews like Rav Yeshua, Rav Shaul, and a host of others across the Jewish timescape. It claims that all the ancient and modern witnesses of the veracity of the text are liars and deceivers, or deluded. Since the supporters of the JEDP fiction are all relatively recent compared with the antiquity of the texts in question, and they arguably have evidenced more delusionality about the evidence than the ancient witnesses, it is the JEDP folks who must be deemed unreliable.

  2. You make some good arguments, Derek. I have no problem with the possibility of multiple authors, what´s important is that Yeshua affirmed the truth of the Thora!

  3. M,

    Shouting and denouncing fails in at least two things:

    1. Making friends.

    2. Persuading anyone to change their mind.

    But, on the other hand, shouting and denouncing do accomplish two things:

    1. Making you feel better about yourself.

    2. Helping you find friends who share your desire to denounce.

    1. I wasn’t shouting at all! I am always a cool, calm, collective and civil person even when someone presents error.
      A mind changed against its’ will is of the same opinion still. It’s the Ruach’s function to changes hearts followed by minds, not mine.

      LOL

  4. ProclaimLiberty,

    You have yet, to date, to offer any evidence — literary or archaeological. You just keep saying, “You’re wrong. Evidence shows you’re wrong. Etc.”

    1. Well, Derek, my first reply to you on the DH included a citation of a documented refutation of JEDP by the editor of a traditional ‘humash. Nonetheless, a more thorough treatment can be found at: [http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2010/09/24/the-documentary-hypothesis.aspx#Article]. This article also references the philosophical sorts of arguments that have been my primary objections here (including your previous essays on the topic). Another article summarizing DH flaws may be found at: [http://apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=36].

      These articles are, of course, significantly longer than any summary of evidences against the DH that I might present here. What puzzles me is to understand what is your goal in presenting DH views. They do not actually encourage anyone toward better scholarship, but rather show only the degree to which skeptical scholars will go to contradict the testimony of the biblical text regarding its authorship, including the testimony of the apostolic text. Now, it can be instructive to show how readily some scholars can deceive themselves and be applauded for doing so, but I would not recommend spending a lot of time on such efforts.

  5. Personally, I have some skepticism regarding the documentary hypothesis. But I don’t have a problem with the possibility that the “Torah of Moses” may be more of an honorary title than a literal title. I do believe the primary author of Torah is Moses. However this doesn’t eliminate the possibility that there were redactions at certain points until the Chumash was collated in its final form.

    I appreciate the options Derek provides for us in this article for incorporating alternative views. It makes sense to me that Yeshua limited his omniscience in order to be 100% human during his sojourn on earth. This doesn’t negate his being 100% Deity in an eternal/positional sense.

    1. Typo correction:
      **until the chumashim were collated in their final form.
      (Sorry if my Hebrew grammar/spelling was/is still incorrect.)

  6. ProclaimLiberty,

    I have read Hertz and I have read Cassuto. I am an informed believer in the documentary hypothesis. I resisted it kicking and screaming for well over a decade because of religious peer pressure.

  7. Derek,
    When and by what means did Yeshua gain the knowledge that he was the Son of God? I asked this for clarification of His abilities or inability to know what God knows.

    1. Great question, Joe.
      If Yeshua was completely devoid of omniscience, then he wouldn’t understand or be aware of his own Deity.
      I don’t know how Derek will answer question this and look forward to his response.

      Trying to answer this for myself, it would seem to me that:
      1) he retained (or had access to) this particular aspect of his omniscience during his time in the flesh or
      2) Yeshua was given or “reminded” of this knowledge by the Father.

      John 17:5 indicates that Yeshua remembered his time with the Father “before the world was”. So it seems to me that he never lost or “emptied himself” (Phil 2:7) entirely. And in particular he did not empty himself of his pre-incarnate self-knowledge and identity.

      1. @Merrill — Your musing over Joe’s question is interesting, but you cannot invoke the notion of “omniscience”, meaning “all-knowing”, about Rav Yeshua, because of his own statement in Mt.24:36, that appears also in Mk.13:32, that the answers to his disciples’ questions about the timing of his return and the restoration of the kingdom were known only to the Father. Clearly, any knowledge he had was supplied to him via his own interaction with the Torah and with his heavenly Father. He did, after all, spend 40 days fasting in the desert at the beginning of his public ministry, which would have offered plenty of opportunity for him to identify with the “Son of Man” character in Daniel that he invoked obliquely about himself from time to time during that ministry. There is also no reason to doubt that he had experienced plenty of spiritual interaction beforehand as well. Thus I think we can take at face value Rav Shaul’s observation in Phil.2:7 about “emptying himself” before his neshamah was placed into the body that had been prepared for him.

        We might also muse over what sort of “glory” his neshamah shared with the Heavenly Father as cited in Jn.17:5, and whether this statement represents any sort of residual memory or if it was rather a recognition from Torah (or from Ps.82:6) that human neshamot (including his own) share a kind of divinity as a characteristic of their “imago dei”. As you may recall, Derek and I view the notions of divinity and deity differently, particularly regarding characteristics of Rav Yeshua.

        1. Thanks PL. I actually already have “mused” about these things. I posted my view on Derek’s FB page. So you’ll just have to get on FB and join the conversation there ;).

    2. That is a much discussed question, Joe. I have no problem believing that it was revealed to Yeshua early in his life that his identity was divine. I have no problem believing that his mind was able to comprehend more deeply than most the mystery of incarnation. I would think his human mind, though limited, was nonetheless extraordinarily intelligent.

    3. @Joe — Before you can obtain a reasonable guess about your question regarding Rav Yeshua’s epistemology (i.e, how did he know what he knew?), you might want to learn a bit more about the specific meanings of the terms “son of man” and “son of G-d” in Hebrew usage within the Jewish culture. Most important to learn is that they were not honorary titles applicable only to Rav Yeshua. Rather they were descriptive generic phrases meaning “human being” and “godly person”, respectively. However, they had additional applications, where, for example, we see in Daniel that a “son of the gods” appeared in the fiery furnace with the three Hebrew captives, presumably protecting them supernaturally from the heat and flame. Thus such a term indicated a supernatural god-like being in that specific instance, in an Aramaic text.

      It is not surprising to see Babylonians expressing what they observed in such terms, but that does not become a suitable linguistic template for its usage in ancient Hebrew thought. Hence the “sons of God” in Gen.6:4 can be recognized as men who still pursued the knowledge of G-d in a world growing darker and more violent. It is a mistake to think they were angels or supernatural beings.

      Returning to Daniel’s book for another look at the term “son of man”, we see another special application of this reference to a human being in a passage in Dan.7:13, where someone appearing to be human is brought within “the clouds of heaven” before “the Ancient of Days” (i.e., a reference to the Eternal G-d, HaShem). It is this mysterious character who became the subject of messianic speculation and anticipation during the next few centuries, and whom Rav Yeshua invoked as an oblique reference to his own ministry and identity. It is not unlikely that Rav Shaul had this image in mind as well when he described Rav Yeshua in Phil.2:8-9. Consequently, for all Rav Yeshua’s unique role in human history, these descriptions of him were not unique titles or assertions of his identity, but they were meaningful descriptions of his character and goals.

      1. PL and Joe,

        I do not agree in the slightest that Yeshua’s use of Son of Man meant “human being” or “godly person.” Neither do a lot of New Testament and Second Temple Judaism scholars. I’ve written extensively about this in Yeshua in Context and Divine Messiah (both available as eBooks on amazon).

        To say that Yeshua did not use the ambiguity of the Son of Man phrase to hint at his divine identity (while being free from the charge of blasphemy because of the ambiguity of the term) is, it seems to me, to lack all subtlety in reading Yeshua’s sayings. He meant the term as a pointer to his unique identity as the Divine Messiah, the one whose throne is beside the Eternal’s in heaven, a la Daniel 7.

        1. But Derek — the son of man in Dan.7 was a human or at least someone appearing in human form (a godly person was a son of God). Consequently Rav Yeshua’s invocation of the Dan.7 term about himself was nonetheless suggesting a human, however special his position relative to HaShem as a messianic agent of redemption (ben-Yosef) or as a messianic king (ben-David) or even as a Melchitzedekian priest (also a ben-Yosef sort of role). If you want to perceive Rav Yeshua in his Jewish context, the primary assumption about a term like “son of man” must be its meaning as a human being. The burden of proof must fall upon anyone who wishes to infer anything more than that to show sufficient reason to do so. The resurrection is not such a reason, because resurrection will come to all humans who are found written in the book of life. The Dan.7 reference is also not such a reason, because other humans such as prophets also have been depicted as summoned to stand before HaShem. Jewish thought places even ordinary humans into some surprisingly supernatural venues at times; how much more someone special like Rav Yeshua?

          1. ProclaimLiberty,

            It’s not as if I am alone out here on a limb disagreeing with you by noting that the figure in Daniel 7 is “like a human,” but not exactly “just a human.”

            I might mention Daniel Boyarin’s, The Jewish Gospels.

  8. Pingback: Contribute to the Dialogue: Yeshua and Omniscience - Derek Leman

  9. My take is that Jesus and Paul, etc. were 1st century Jews and fully accomodated to their original hearers/readers. This is so they would understand them.

    On Jesus’s claims, they are hints towards messiahship cloaked in plausible deniability. The gospels are like mystery stories, who do YOU think he is?

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