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Obvious Questions Concerning Whether Or Not Moses Wrote the Pentateuch

Did Moses Write the Pentateuch?

The Pentateuch reads like a story “about” Moses, written in the third person, not a story written “by” Moses in the first person. In fact, whoever wrote the Pentateuch, they did not make any great effort to disguise the fact that even in their opinion, Moses “wrote” only select portions of the whole, such as the following:

  1. An account of the war against Amalek. “And the Lord said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book… for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” (Exod. 17:13-14).

  2. A list of places where the Israelites pitched their tents. “And Moses recorded their starting places according to their journeys by the command of the Lord” (Num. 33:2). (Even so, Numbers 21-33 differ in their descriptions of the route the Israelites followed from Mount Hor into Canaan.)

  3. The Book of the Law of God. “And Moses wrote this law… Moses… made an end of writing the words of this law in a book” (Deut. 31:9, 24). Unfortunately, we do not know what this original “law” may have consisted of. Perhaps its essence may be found in Deuteronomy 12-26, or parts thereof.

  4. The Song of Moses. “So Moses wrote this song and taught it to the sons of Israel” (Deut. 31:22; 32:1-43)

  5. The Book of the Covenant. “And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord. And he took the book of the covenant. And the Lord said unto Moses, Write thou these words; for after the tenor of these I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel” (Exodus 24:4, 7; 34:27). “The Book of the Covenant” is not the entire book of Exodus, but only chapters 19-24. Scholars believe it to be the most ancient legal collection in the Old Testament.

The belief that Moses wrote the whole Pentateuch arose later, after the Pentateuch itself was completed. Afterwards, this view of Moses being the author of the whole Pentateuch was attributed to Jesus also. Thus it became binding both in Judaism (in which it was stressed that the true author was God and Moses merely a scribe) and in Christianity. But doubts soon arose among both rabbis and church fathers, as early as the second century, as to whether Moses could have written the whole Pentateuch. These early Bible scholars ran across passages such as these:

Deuteronomy 34, which relates the death and burial of Moses, contains the statements, “but no man knows of his burial place unto this day,” v.6, “and there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses,” verse 10. The phrases “unto this day” and “not since in Israel,” imply that they were composed long after Mosesʼ day. In fact, notice the frequent occurrence of the expression “unto this day,” in places where it could have had no meaning, unless the “day” referred to was considerably later than the time of Moses or Joshua, Deuteronomy 3:14, 34:6; Joshua 4:9,5:9,7:26,8:29,9:27, 10:27,13:13,15:63, 16:10,14:14.

Other passages that raised obvious questions as to Mosesʼ authorship of the whole Pentateuch included:

“Moreover, the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaohʼs servants, and in the sight of his people” (Exodus 11:3).

“Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men that were upon the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3).

“These are that Aaron and Moses, to whom Jehovah said, Bring out the children of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their armies. These are they that spoke to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to bring out the children of Israel from Egypt: these are that Moses and Aaron” (Exodus 6:26-27)

“And if ye have erred and not observed all these commandments, which Jehovah hath spoken unto Moses, even all that Jehovah hath commanded you by the hand of Moses, from the day that Jehovah commanded Moses, and henceforward among your generations,” etc. (Num. 15:22-23)

In Deuteronomy, transactions, in which Moses himself was concerned, are detailed at full length, as by one referring to events long past. See Deuteronomy, chapters 1-3, especially such a passage as Deut. 3:4-11 (which ends with the verses, “For only Og, king of Bashan, remained of the remnant of the giants; behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; is it not in Rabbath of the children of Ammon?” — implying it is “still to be seen,” at a time long after Mosesʼ day).

Another such expression indicating a later date than that of Moses: “And the Canaanite was then in the land” (Gen. 12:6). “And the Canaanite and Perizzite dwelt then in the land” (Gen. 13:7). These words imply that, at the time when they were written, the Canaanite was no longer dwelling in the land, as its owner and lord. (The Israelites pushed out the Canaanites who were “then in the land, but only after Moses had died.)

“That the land spew not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spewed out the nations which were before you” (Lev. 18:28). This implies that the Canaanites were already “spewed out” or exterminated when these words were written. (That would have been after Mosesʼ death).

“These be the words, which Moses spoke unto all Israel on the other side Jordan, in the wilderness” (Deut. 1:1). “On the other side Jordan, in the land of Moab, began Moses to declare this law” (Deut. 1:5). On this, Bleek writes, “These words could only have been written by one who found himself on this side Jordan, and, therefore, after the death of Moses and the possession of the land of Canaan.” (Moses died when the Israelites were still living on the wilderness side of the Jordan. So, for someone to call the side with Moses and the wilderness, the “other side,” they would have had to have been speaking from the side that Israel settled on after Mosesʼ death.)

“And, while the children of Israel were in the wilderness.” Numbers 15:32 (Written when the people were no longer in the wilderness, and therefore, not by Moses.)

Again, names of places are often used familiarly, which could scarcely have been known to Moses, much less to the Israelites generally, at the time of the Exodus, some of which, indeed, are modern names, which, according to the story itself, did not even exist in the time of Moses. (For specific examples see Bishop Colenso, The Pentateuch and Book of Joshua Critically Examined, London: 1862, or, see more modern works that critically examine the Pentateuch.)

Exodus 30:13 and 38:24-26, mentions a “shekel after the shekel of the Sanctuary,” or, as some render the words, a “sacred shekel,” before there was, according to the story, any Sanctuary in existence, or any sacred system established in Israel. This appears to be an oversight, as is also the command to sacrifice “turtle-doves or young pigeons” in Leviticus 14:22, with express reference to their life in the wilderness, arising from a writer in a later age employing inadvertently an expression which was in common use in his own days, and forgetting the circumstances of the times which he was describing. These passages show also plainly the unhistorical character of the narrative, since in the first and last of them the phrases in question are put into the mouth of Jehovah Himself. The story, therefore, could not have been written by Moses, nor by one of his age, unless it be supposed that such a writer could be guilty of a deliberate intention to deceive. But it is quite conceivable that a pious writer of later days (when the Temple was standing) might have inserted such passages in a narrative already existing, which had been composed as a work of devout imagination, in the attempt to reproduce, from the floating legends of the time, the early history of the Hebrew tribes, for the instruction of an ignorant people.

“And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher?” (Joshua 10:13). First, if Joshua really wrote the book of Joshua, he would not have needed to refer to another book (the book of Jasher) for the details of such an extraordinary miracle in which he himself was primarily and personally concerned. Another story attributed to the “book of Jasher” is found in 2 Samuel 1:18: “Also he (David) bade them teach the children of Judah the use of the bow… Behold, it is written in the book of Jasher.” Here, then, we have a fact in the life of David recorded in this same “book of Jasher.” The natural inference is that this “book of Jasher,” which probably contained a number of notable passages in the history of Israel, was written not earlier than the time of David, and hence the story about the “sun standing still” probably wasnʼt even original to the book of Joshua which merely refers to the “book of Jasher” for it. (Warning, a phoney “Book of Jasher” exists, but it is obvious to scholars that it is a later forgery, the original “Book of Jasher” has long since ceased to exist except for those two quotations from it found in the books of Joshua and 2 Samuel.)

Obvious Questions Concerning The Story Of The Exodus As Recorded In The Pentateuch

And what about the numbers given in the Bible of “600,000” Hebrew warriors being part of the Exodus out of Egypt, along with uncounted Hebrew woman and children, and a mixed multitude of Egyptians and a host of animals?

W. M. Flinders Petrie was a Christian Egyptologist and archeologist, so well known you can easily google up his work and contributions in the net. Professor Petrie wrote a book that discussed the question of the Pentateuchʼs accuracy concerning the story of the Exodus. The book was titled Egypt and Israel (London:Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1911), and in it he pointed out, “There are two wholesale checks upon the total [possible] numbers [of Hebrews that might have wandered in the desert]. The land of Goshen recently supported 4,000 Bedouin living like the Israelites, or at present holds 12,000 cultivators. To get “600,000” Hebrew warriors with their families out of that district would be utterly impossible. Also on going south the Israelites had almost a drawn battle with the Amalekites of Sinai. The climate of that desert peninsula has not appreciably changed; it will not now support more than a few thousand people, and the former inhabitants cannot have exceeded this amount. How could the Israelites have had any appreciable resistance from a poor desert folk, if they outnumbered them as a hundred to one? Again, we are compelled to suppose that the Israelites were not more than a few thousand altogether. Thus we see that more cannot be got out of Goshen or into Sinai.”

Petrie added that, “During the Hebrewʼs sojourn in the wilderness, Moses judged all disputes, which might be possible among 600 tents, but not among 600,000 men; and only two midwives were employed, while there would have been 140 births a day on the greater number stated. The whole subject of Levites and firstborn [in the book of Numbers] cannot fit anything in the Exodus period. But it might well fit to the population when there were about 300,000 in Palestine. The dedication of the firstborn would be likely to arise in Palestine [i.e., not with Moses in the Sinai wilderness], since the Canaanites [the residents of Palestine prior to the Hebrews] sacrificed their firstborn; and the separation of a sacred caste [viz., the tribe of priests known as the ‘Levites’] would also be a gradual growth. We must look, then, to the time of the Judges as the source of these changes, and of the census document of Levi, which was incorporated afterward in the Book of Numbers.”

Even the Evangelical scholar F. F. Bruce [author of books advocating the reliability of the New Testament] has admitted that he agrees with a number for the Exodus as low as a couple thousand. So, thatʼs two Evangelical scholars who agree that the large numbers found in the Old Testament in connection with the Exodus are most probably incorrect. A third Evangelical who has recently wrestled with the large numbers in the Exodus story is David Mack Fouts of Dallas Theological Seminary (Hal Lindseyʼs alma mater), whose doctoral dissertation was titled The Use of Large Numbers in the Old Testament, with Particular Emphasis on the Use of ‘elep,’ 1992. Fouts admits that, “Textual analysis of the Hebrew word for ‘thousand’ reveals no significant lessening of the enormity of the numbers, a problem which remains despite the reading chosen.” Furthermore, “At no time in ancient history did the population of Palestine approach the numbers demanded by accepting the census figures of the Old Testament at face value.” How then can a fundamentalist believe in a Bible without error? His solution is that the Hebrews employed “literary hyperbole” in their recounting of the Exodus numbers, and other large numbers found in the Old Testament. “It was not uncommon for royal inscriptions at that time to inflate the number of troops killed or captured and the amount of spoil taken.” He then analyzes the majority of biblical passages containing large numbers, and notes similarities between those passages and the royal inscriptional genre” of other ancient Near East countries with respect to large numbers, figurative language, and military conquests.

Neither should we ignore the questions raised by the famed Anglican Bishop and mathematician, J. W. Colenso, author of The Pentateuch and Book of Joshua Critically Examined (London: 1862), who wrote, “My labors, as a translator of the Bible, and a teacher of intelligent converts from heathenism, have brought me face to face with questions, from which I have hitherto shrunk. I am not speaking of a number of petty variations and contradictions which may be in many cases explained by alleging our ignorance of all the circumstances of the case, or by supposing some misplacement, or loss, or corruption, of the original manuscript, or by suggesting that a later writer has inserted his own gloss here and there, or even whole passages, which may contain facts or expressions at variance with the true Mosaic Books, and throwing an unmerited suspicion upon them. However perplexing such contradictions are, when found in a book which is believed to be divinely infallible, yet a humble and pious faith will gladly welcome the aid of a friendly criticism, to relieve it in this way of its doubts. I can truly say that I would do so heartily myself.

“Nor are the difficulties, to which I am referring, of the same kind as those that arise from considering the accounts of the Creation and Deluge, or the stupendous character of certain miracles, as that of the sun and moon standing still, or the waters of the river Jordan standing in heaps as solid walls, while the stream, we must suppose, was still running, or the ass speaking with human voice, or the miracles wrought by the magicians of Egypt, such as the conversion of a rod into a snake, and the latter being endowed with life.

“They are not such, again, as arise, when we regard the trivial nature of a vast number of conversations and commands, ascribed directly to Jehovah, especially the multiplied ceremonial minutiae, laid down in the Levitical Law.

“They are not such, even, as must be started at once in most pious minds, when such words as these are read, professedly coming from the Holy and Blessed One, the Father and ‘Faithful Creator’ of all mankind: ‘If the master (of a Hebrew servant) have given him a wife, and she have borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her masters, and he shall go out free by himself’ (Exod. 21:4), the wife and children in such a case being placed under the protection of such other words as these: ‘If a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand, he shall be surely punished. But, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.’ (Exod. 21:20,21)

“I shall never forget the revulsion of feeling, with which a very intelligent Christian native, with whose help I was translating these last words into the Zulu tongue, first heard them as words said to be uttered by the same great and gracious Being, whom I was teaching him to trust in and adore. His whole soul revolted against the notion, that the Great and Blessed God, the Merciful Father of all mankind, would speak of a servant or maid as mere ‘money,’ and allow a horrible crime to go unpunished, because the victim of the brutal usage had survived a few hours!

“But I wish, before proceeding, to repeat here most distinctly that my reason, for no longer receiving the Pentateuch as historically true, is not that I find insuperable difficulties with regard to the miracles, or supernatural revelations of Almighty God, recorded in it, but solely that I cannot, as a true man, consent any longer to shut my eyes to the manifest contradictions and inconsistencies that leave us, it would seem, no alternative but to conclude that the Pentateuch, as a whole, cannot possibly have been written by Moses, or by anyone acquainted personally with the facts which it professes to describe, and further, that the (so-called) Mosaic narrative, by whomsoever written, and though imparting to us, as I fully believe it does, revelations of the Divine Will and Character, cannot be regarded as historically true.

“The number ‘600,000 on foot, that were male beside children,’ is given distinctly in Exodus 12:37, at the time of the [Israelites] leaving Egypt; then we have it recorded again, thrice over, in different forms, in Exodus 38:25-28, at the beginning of the forty yearsʼ wanderings, when the number of all that ‘went to be numbered, from twenty years old and upward,’ is reckoned at 603,550; and this is repeated again in Numbers I :46; and it is modified once more, at the end of the wanderings, to 601,730, Numbers 26:51. Besides which, on each occasion of numbering, each separate tribe is numbered, and the sum of the separate results makes up the whole. Thus this number is woven, as a kind of thread, into the whole story of the Exodus, and cannot be taken out, without tearing the whole fabric to pieces. It affects, directly, the account of the construction of the Tabernacle and therefore, also the account of the institutions, whether of the priesthood or of the sacrifice, connected with it. And the multiplied impossibilities introduced by this number alone, independently of all other considerations, are enough to throw discredit upon the historical character of the general narrative.

“Now if the men in the prime of life, ‘above twenty years of age,’ Numbers 1:3, were more than 600,000 in number, we may reckon that the women in the prime of life were about as many, the males under twenty years, 300,000, the females under twenty years, 300,000, and the old people, male and female together, 200,000, making the whole number, together with the ‘mixed multitude,’ Exodus 12:38 [over 1,400,000 people, and thus, comparable to the total population in anyone of the following large metropolitan areas in the United States: Cincinnati, Columbus, Milwaukee, Kansas City, New Orleans, or San Antonio, based on 1988 estimates in the 1991 Information Please Almanac.- ED].

[The 600,000 Hebrew warriors alone being comparable to the total population in anyone of the following large metropolitan areas: Grand Rapids, Fresno, Oxnard-Ventura, El Paso, New Haven, Omaha, Toledo, Akron, Allentown-Bethlehem, Las Vegas, or Raleigh-Durham - ED.]

“Moreover, according to Deuteronomy 7, the Hebrews were commanded to “utterly destroy seven nations greater and mightier” than them. “Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them.” Using the biblical number of Hebrew warriors, “600,000,” as an indication of Israelʼs “greatness and might,” try multiplying that by “seven.” You arrive at 4,200,000 as the warrior population of the seven “greater and mightier nations.” And you would have to double that number to include the women and children and elderly of the seven nations the Hebrews were told to “utterly destroy,” thus achieving the population of Tokyo, about 8,000,000. How can anyone believe that 8,000,000 people once lived in that arid, geographical area? There is no archeological evidence based on the sizes of ancient cities, or based on cemetery populations, that such a huge population existed at that time. Even the modern nation-state of Israel with scientific farming techniques, desalination plants, food importing, apartment buildings, sanitation, a lower infant mortality rate due to medical care, constant immigration, etc., has only attained a population for that general area of 4,371,478 (estimated as of mid-1989).]

“In the Israelitesʼ march out of Egypt, Exodus 12:37-38, the able-bodied warriors alone, all 600,000 of them, marching fifty men abreast, would have filled up the road for about seven miles — the whole multitude would have formed a dense column more than twenty-two miles long, so that the last of the body could not have been started till the front had advanced that distance, more than two daysʼ journey for such a mixed company as this.

“And the sheep and “very much” cattle, these must have formed another vast column, but obviously covering a much greater tract of ground in proportion to their number, as they would not march, of course, in compact order.

“What did this enormous multitude of cattle feed upon? The sheep and oxen could not live upon the manna that God sent to feed the Israelites in the desert after they had escaped the Egyptians, nor could the people drink manna; and Numbers 20:5 and Deuteronomy 8:15 show that the rock which miraculously spouted water in the desert did not follow them throughout the desert.

“Could they have been supported in the wilderness by insignificant wadies that a drove of a hundred oxen would have trampled down into mud in an hour? Even given the assistance of a small running stream of water that followed them wherever they went what would such a stream have been to [1,400,000 people]?

[Allowing only enough space per person as the size of a coffin for a full-grown man, we must imagine the Hebrew encampment to have been more than a mile and a half across in each direction, with the Tabernacle in the center. Therefore the refuse and ashes of Tabernacle sacrifices would have had to be carried out for a distance of three-quarters of a mile, as stated in Leviticus 4:11-12 and 6:10-11, “And the skin of the bullock, and all his flesh, with his head, and with his legs, and his inwards, and his dung, even the whole bullock, shall he (the Priest) carry forth without the Camp, unto a clean place, where the ashes are poured out, and burn him on the wood with fire. Where the ashes are poured out, there shall they be burnt (referring to the refuse that was not burnt up in the original offering).” - ED]

“Granted that the Hebrew people might faint and perish in the desert if each was only granted a coffinʼs worth of space, letʼs try enlarging the camp to twelve miles across, that is, about the size of London [in 1851], as it might well be, considering that the population was as large as that of London, and that in the Hebrew tents there were no first, second, third, and fourth stories, no crowded garrets and underground cellars! In that case, the offal of the Tabernacle sacrifices would have to be carried a distance of six miles.

“Where, in the wilderness, did all the bulls, sheep, lambs, rams, goats, turtle-doves, pigeons, oil, flour, and first-fruits, come from that the 1,400,000 Israelites were commanded to give to the Priests to sacrifice? If indeed, such supplies of wood for such a multitude of burnt offerings, and burning of sacred wastes outside the Camp, and for cooking enough food to feed hundreds of thousands could have been found at all in the wilderness.

“And now let us ask, for all these multifarious duties, during the forty yearsʼ sojourn in the wilderness, for all the burnt-offerings, meat-offerings, peace-offerings, sin-offerings, trespass-offerings, thank-offerings, etc., of a population of 1,400,000, besides the daily and extraordinary sacrifices, how many Priests were there? The answer is very simple. There were only three, Aaron (till his death) and his two sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, Numbers 3:10.

“The very pigeons, to be brought as sin-offerings for newly born children, would have averaged, according to the story, more than 250 a day.

“Can it be believed that such a system was really laid down by Jehova Himself, which, if properly carried out by pious Israelites according to the Divine Command, would have involved immediately absurd impossibilities like the above, and required instant modification?

[According to T. H. Robinson, author of Prophecy and the Prophets in Ancient Israel, 3d ed. (fIrst published London, 1923), “The testimony of the earliest Hebrew prophets is unanimous in disputing that the Divine ordinance of sacrifice was given to Moses in the wilderness. Amos implies that it did not exist, 5:25; Jeremiah states that it was not due to Yahwehʼs command, 7:22. There are frequent statements of the futility of sacrifice in the Prophetsʼ own day, cf. Isa. 1:11, Jer. 6:20, Hos. 4:13, 5:6, 8:11, Am. 4:4, Mi. 6:6-8.”]

“The Hebrews could not all have gone outside the Camp, a distance of six miles, for the common necessities of nature, as commanded in Deuteronomy 23:12-14. There were the aged and infirm, women in childbirth, sick persons, and young children, who could not have done this. And, indeed, the command itself supposes the person to have a ‘paddle’ upon his ‘weapon,’ and, therefore, must be understood to exclude females, children and elderly males, or rather, apply only to the ‘600,000 warriors.’ But the very fact, that this direction for ensuring cleanliness (“for Jehovah thy God walks in the midst of thy Camp; therefore shall thy Camp be holy; that He see no unclean thing in thee, and turn away from thee”) would have been so limited in its application, is itself a very convincing proof of the unhistorical character of the whole narrative.

[At the very least, it is reasonable to assume that the total number of people involved in the Exodus would have been double the number of Hebrew warriors, or “600,000” times two, since we would have to include women, children, elderly, and the “mixed multitude.” That would make at least 1,200,000 people. Bombay, India, one of the most densely populated cities on earth, has 120,000 people per square mile ( 1989 estimate). If the Exodus encampment was as densely populated as Bombay, India, it would have had to extend over an area of at least ten square miles. That the Hebrews could survive in the desert packed together as densely as the populace of Bombay is extremely doubtful. A much less densely populated “encampment” spread out over a much larger area than ten square miles would be a minimum requirement. Yet the larger the encampment, the more miles the (three) priests would have had to walk to dispose of the refuse from the vast multitude of sacrifices. And the more miles the Hebrew warriors would have had to walk to take care of each and every call of nature, “outside the camp.” - ED]

“How could Moses have ‘called all Israel, and spoken unto them,’ Deut. 5:1, or, how could Joshua have ‘read the words of the Law before all the Congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them,’ Josh. 8:34-35, so that all Israel, hundreds of thousands, might have heard? Under favorable circumstances, many thousands, perhaps, might hear the voice of a speaker. But imagine the whole population of London (the London of 1862 when Colenso was writing) being addressed at one time by one man.

“How could more than half a million warriors, ‘the whole Assembly,’ ‘all the Assembly,’ ‘all the Congregation,’ Lev. 8:1-4, Exodus 12:6, 16:2-3, Num.1:2, be ‘gathered together unto the door of the Tabernacle?’ (‘All the Assembly’ is not to be confused with smaller groups, like the ‘elders,’ or ‘princes,’ which are clearly distinguished from ‘all the Congregation,’ or ‘all the Assembly,’ Num. 10:3-4 and 16:19, 25.)] Presumably this was to witness a ceremony taking place in a tent eighteen paces long and six wide, which could only have been seen by a few standing at the door. Supposing, then, that ‘all the Congregation’ of adult males in the prime of life had given due heed to the Divine Summons, and had hastened to take their stand, side by side, as closely as possible, in front of the whole end of the Tabernacle, in which the door or entrance was, they would have reached, allowing eighteen inches between each rank of nine men, for a distance of more than 100,000 feet-in fact, nearly twenty miles.

“While it is conceivable that a later writer, imagining such scenes as these, may have employed such exaggerated expressions as occur in the above passages, it cannot be believed that an eye-witness, with the actual facts of the case before him, could have expressed himself in such extravagant language. [I have plenty of obvious and embarrassing examples of the Bibleʼs extravagant language, but will save them for another article. - ED]

“But how thankful we must be, that we are no longer obliged to believe, as a matter of fact, of vital consequence to our eternal hope, each separate statement contained in the Pentateuch, such, for instance, as the story related in Numbers 31, where we are told that Israelite [warriors] slew all the males of the Midianites, took captive all the females and children, seized all their cattle and flocks, and all their goods, and ‘burnt all their cities, and all their goodly castles,’ without the loss of a single man, and then, by command of Moses, butchered in cold blood all the women and children, except ‘all the women-children, who have not known a man by lying with him’ (v. 18). These last they were to ‘keep alive for themselves.’ How is it possible to quote the Bible as in any way condemning slavery, when we read here, Numbers 31, verse 40, of ‘Jehovahʼs tribute’ of slaves, 32 persons, who were given to Eleazar the Priest, while 323 were given to the Levites, verses 46-47?

“Who is it that really dishonors the Word, and blasphemes the Name of God Most High? — he who believes, and teaches others to believe, that such acts, as those above recorded, were really perpetrated by Moses under express Divine sanction and command, or, he who declares that such commands as these could never have emanated from the Holy and Blessed One, the All-Just and All-Loving, the Father of the spirits of all flesh?”

End Of Colenso Quotations

Further Reading

William H. Stiebing, Out of the Desert? Archaeology and the Exodus/Conquest Narratives (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1989).

Neil Asher Silberman, “Who Were the Israelites?: Recent Discoveries Suggest That the Military Conquest of the Promised Land as Described in the Book of Joshua Simply Never Happened,” Archaeology, vol. 45, no.2 (March/ April 1992), pp. 22-30.

Also see the works of the moderate Christian archeologist, William G. Dever, the son of a fundamentalist preacher. After starting his education at a small Christian liberal arts college in Tennessee he went to a Protestant theological seminary that exposed him to critical study of the Bible, a study that at first he resisted. In 1960 it was on to Harvard and a doctorate in Biblical theology. For thirty-five years he has worked as an archaeologist, excavating in the Near East, and is now professor of Near Eastern archaeology and anthropology at the University of Arizona. In his book, What Did the Bible Writers Know and When Did They Know It?, he writes, “While the Hebrew Bible in its present, heavily edited form cannot be taken at face value as history in the modern sense, it nevertheless contains much history.” He adds: “After a century of exhaustive investigation, all respectable archaeologists have given up hope of recovering any context that would make Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob credible ‘historical figures.’” He writes of archaeological investigations of Moses and the Exodus as having been “discarded as a fruitless pursuit.” He is not saying that the Biblical Moses was entirely mythical, though he does admit that “.the overwhelming archaeological evidence today of largely indigenous origins for early Israel leaves no room for an exodus from Egypt or a 40-year pilgrimage through the Sinai wilderness. A Moses-like figure may have existed somewhere in southern Transjordan in the mid-late13th century B.C., where many scholars think the Biblical traditions concerning the god Yahweh arose. But archaeology can do nothing to confirm such a figure as a historical personage, much less prove that he was the founder of later Israelite region.” About Leviticus and Numbers he writes that these are “clearly additions to the ‘pre-history’ by very late Priestly editorial hands, preoccupied with notions of ritual purity, themes of the ‘promised land,’ and other literary motifs that most modern readers will scarcely find edifying much less historical.” Dever writes that “the whole ‘Exodus-Conquest’ cycle of stories must now be set aside as largely mythical, but in the proper sense of the term ‘myth’: perhaps ‘historical fiction,’ but tales told primarily to validate religious beliefs.”
Deverʼs conclusions about what archaeology tells us about the Bible are not very pleasing to fundamentalists or conservative Evangelicals, and I gather that Dever and his colleagues of high standing likewise dismiss fundamentalists and hard-core conservative Evangelicals who want to consider themselves scholars without accepting that which good scholars must do: engage in extensive critical analysis. Those testifying for Deverʼs book (on the back cover) are: Paul D. Hanson, Professor of Divinity and Old Testament at Harvard University; David Noel Freedman, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at the University of Michigan; Philip M. King, Professor at Boston College and author of Jeremiah; William W. Hallo, Professor of Assyriology and Babylonian Literature at Yale University; and Bernhard W. Anderson, Professor of Old Testament, Boston University and Professor Emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary. Like Dever, these are not a bunch of radical revisionists, but moderates in the field of Christian archeology. Deverʼs latest book is, Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? Conservative and fundamentalist Christians who interpret the Bible literally will gain no encouragement after reading it.

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