Moses Established the Written Tradition of the Pentateuch
by Richard A. Michaels
In the sacred tradition of the Church, the understanding that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch is indisputable. Most obviously, one need only to review what Our Lord Himself says about Moses; the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor confirms Moses as deliverer of the Law and, of course, a real person – not a legendary personification of an eponym in Hebraic history; not an exemplar of popular history used as a pseudonym for someone else=s work or some group=s work; not especially a pseudepigraphic or apocryphal entity cloaked under the name, AMoses.@
The question of how his writings or speeches were arranged, redacted and formalized by the worshiping community of ancient Israel and latter Judaism is a speculative pursuit which does not affect the authority of Moses or the integrity of the law entrusted to him by God Himself. How the long history of the Pentateuch evolved is an established tradition begun by Moses. What appendixes came later do not threaten Mosaic foundations.
There can be no doubt that God chose Moses to be His prophet, spokesman and representative, even His friend.1 The call of Moses and his astonishing intimacy with God is a great mystery. His unique historical and religious stature and the abundance of grace that saturated his person permeates the whole Old Testament. He towers over all other great personalities portrayed in Scripture. So pervasive is Moses= influence on the development of Israel=s faith and the subsequent emergence of the Christian faith, that St. Paul juxtaposes him with Our Savior in the letter to the Hebrews. And this is all done under the authority, inspiration and direction of the Holy Spirit.
Moses= name is mentioned in connection with essential Christian doctrines, having their lineaments in the commandments, ordinances, testimonies, statutes, laws and covenants contained in the Torah. Moses drew the contours of the faith in order to contain its full content.2 He is responsible for standardizing the proper worship of God even for the Christian Church at the theophany on Mount Sinai. Our own sacraments can be seen under the veil of Mosaic rituals concerning the ark, Tabernacle, and later, Solomon=s Temple. Presented in typological relief, we recognize our Church in the style and content of the worship of ancient Israel.3
Moses is referred to about nine hundred times in the Bible. Jesus speaks of him as the author of the law about twenty-five times. In his debates with the religious leaders in Jerusalem, He defers directly to Moses= authority:
ADo you think that I will accuse you to the father; it is Moses who accuses you, on whom you set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words. Did not Moses give you the law?@ (Jn.5:45-47; 7:19, RSV)
St. John also mentions that Moses gave the law in his gospel.4 Christ revealed it; the Apostles confirmed it; and the Church proclaims it in every variant of her self-expression and through every aspect of her tradition. From where we view things, no further evidence for Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch is needed. But other assurances, including the historical kind, can be added here. There is an abundance of material available to the serious student of Biblical studies that supports the legitimacy of the Church=s claims.
It is ironic that much of modern, historical and scientific biblical research questions and, for the most part, rejects the traditional understanding of Mosaic authorship; those most scrupulous in demanding historicity as the measure of authenticity doubt the real identity of the person largely responsible for the preservation of that history. Moses is, after all, the central personality and the inspiration for the Exodus event; all early Hebrew history after the era of the Patriarchs involves and revolves around Moses, the creator, curator and catalyst of Israel=s identity.
The absence of Moses as a person and a personality cannot make the Scriptures more intellectually objective and secure, only more dubious. One rather trusts a tradition of exegesis that rests on real historical events and persons than on the hypotheses of various scholars, however eminent those scholars may be. Without the man, there is no message. Without the Incarnate Word speaking the words in the Gospels, there is no absolute, unimpeachable and authoritative foundation for the saving message contained in the Gospels. Jesus Himself validates and authenticates His own word. To edit out Moses as the personal author of the Pentateuch breaks the thread of salvation history and makes the Old Testament merely a collection and a collage of disparate words and scenes from ancient history having to do with a minor nation of semites caught in the corridor between Egypt and Mesopotamia.
Such exegesis means exit Jesus. To doubt the real person of Moses or of any biblical person is to endanger and, at least, obscure the faith which rests on Persons, first of all on the Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity and then on the human persons providentially chosen by God to advance His plan to save the creation He willed into existence and maintains in love.
Contrary to the scholastic philosophy of the Western Christian tradition, the Orthodox faith does not believe natural human reason was unaffected by Adam=s ancestral sin. Hence, the Church does not believe natural reason, autonomous and free, can objectively and dispassionately discern and disseminate the truth. Man not only has a soul that reasons, he also has a spirit which communes with God; the answers that come from dialectic through logical deduction are no substitute for the instant cognition that comes from a direct knowledge of and encounter with God. Intellectual perspiration cannot explain what only pious inspiration can grasp. Clear thinking is dependent on clean living; a pure heart is the prerequisite for sharp intellectual perceptions.
For this reason, we cannot test the credibility of Mosaic authorship on the textual examination alone, carried out by even the finest Biblical critics and scholars. The mere application of even the most gifted intelligence to the inspired words of Scripture cannot relate completely and authoritatively what graced-filled hearts are prompted to reveal by God concerning His own words, His own Scriptures.
This is why we turn to the saints and the tradition of piety and study practiced by the Holy Fathers in our evaluation of the Bible. It is comforting to behold how the writings of the Holy Fathers often compliment the historical criteria for the real authorship of the books of the Bible; those whose names appear as the authors in the Bible.
The lenten sermons of St. Basil the Great on the Genesis account of creation called the “Hexaemeron,” have been referred to as an inspired masterpiece by St.Photius, St. Jerome and St. Gregory Nazianzus. In it St. Basil frequently identifies the book of Genesis as having been composed by Moses.
We recognize that in the Church the same Holy Spirit both inspires the writing of the Scriptures and the interpretation of them. It is not conceivable that the Spirit of Truth, whose mission it is to “guide