Over the last two hundred years, critical scholars have claimed that the Pentateuch, or Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy), was not completed until the postexilic period (c. 587–538 BC). For example, as part of his argument in denying the historicity of Adam, Old Testament scholar and theistic evolutionist Peter Enns stated, “The Pentateuch was not authored out of whole cloth by a second-millennium Moses but is the end product of a complex literary process-written, oral, or both—that did not come to a close until the postexilic period.”1 This claim has had a massive impact on trust in the authority and accuracy of the Bible. Although this view is popular with many critical Old Testament scholars and among sceptics of the Bible, there are several lines of evidence that rule this out.
The geographical details in Numbers 33 assume the author had first-hand knowledge of those places.
First, the Torah (i.e., teaching) has historically been attributed to Moses (see Mark 12:26; Luke 16:29–31; John 1:45, 7:19–22; Romans 10:5; Hebrews 9:19), who led the people of Israel out of Egypt (Acts 7:40) and brought them to the Promised Land (Acts 7:45). Undoubtedly, Moses was the most-qualified candidate to write such a monumental work (including narratives, historical genealogies, law codes, speeches, and poetry), given he was educated in Egypt (Acts 7:22) during a time of great power and international prestige (1526–1486 BC).2 Although there is no clear statement in any book of the Torah indicating that Moses wrote every word of all five books, this is far from the end of the story.3 The Torah asserts that the legislation within it was given by God to Moses: “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel’” (Exodus 34:27). Deuteronomy 31:24 also implies that Moses at least wrote all of the legislation in Deuteronomy: “When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end.”4 The phrase “words of this law” refer to Deuteronomy chapters 5–28, the central covenant text, to which chapters 1–4 provide the prologue and chapters 29–34 the epilogue.5 It was not just legislation that Moses wrote about, as he also recorded historical material such as Israel’s defeat of the Amalekite army: “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Exodus 17:14). God even commanded Moses to record the steps by which he led his people Israel out of Egypt and to the Promised Land: “These are the stages of the people of Israel, when they went out of the land of Egypt by their companies under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the LORD, and these are their stages according to their starting places” (Numbers 33:1-2). The geographical details in Numbers 33 assume the author had first-hand knowledge of those places. Moses even wrote a song about Israel’s covenant history, which would serve as a witness against the nation in generations to come (Deuteronomy 31:19–22, cf. 32:1–43). When Moses is mentioned in the rest of the Old Testament, he is connected to the Torah (Joshua 1:7, 8:31; Judges 3:1–4; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Chronicles 23:18; Ezra 3:2; Nehemiah 8:1; Daniel 9:11; Malachi 4:4).
Rather than a redactor piecing together multiple strands of sources (i.e., the Documentary Hypothesis) in the postexilic period, the literary structure of the Torah shows it was intended to be read as a whole book.
Rather than a redactor piecing together multiple strands of sources (i.e., the Documentary Hypothesis)6 in the postexilic period, the literary structure of the Torah shows it was intended to be read as a whole book. For example, the Torah begins with a narrative (Genesis 1–48), which is followed by a poetic section (Genesis 49) and ends with an epilogue (Genesis 50). This pattern continues throughout the Torah with the exodus and Sinai-wilderness narratives concluding with poetic sections (Exodus 15; Numbers 23–24). The final book of the Torah also concludes with a poem (Deuteronomy 32–33) and is completed with an epilogue (Deuteronomy 34). These poems carry the main theme of the narrative. In all the poems (except Exodus 15), the main character (i.e., Jacob, Balaam, Moses) indicates that the fulfilment of these passages will take place in “days to come/the latter days” (Genesis 49:1; Numbers 24:14; Deuteronomy 31:29, cf. 4:30); Moses uses past events to foreshadow the future. The occurrence of this phrase indicates that in the composition of the Torah, there was a plan to form the final work into one book.7 The perspective of the postexilic composition of the Torah cannot explain this literary feature since its interest in Israel’s history would be looking backwards and not forwards. The likeliest possible date for the writing of the Torah would be when Moses was at Sinai or in the plains of Moab across from Jericho (Numbers 22:1, 26:63; cf. Deuteronomy 1:5), when the Israelites were about to enter Canaan (c. 1446–1406 BC). This would give Moses at least thirty-nine years to write the Torah.8
Moses, who was educated in Egypt, followed the historical convention of his day by not naming the foreign Kings of Egypt, the enemy of Israel.
Second, there are clear historiographical differences between the Torah and that of the later biblical writings (i.e., 1–2 Kings, c. 560–538 BC). For example, the book of Exodus does not name any of the Egyptian Kings (Pharaohs, Exodus 1:8, 2:15, 10:28, cf. Genesis 47:7). The reason for this is not theological but historiographical. At the time Moses wrote the Torah, it was the standard practice among Egyptian scribes not to write the names of foreign Kings.9 Moses, who was educated in Egypt, followed the historical convention of his day by not naming the foreign Kings of Egypt, the enemy of Israel. However, because later biblical writers followed different historiographical conventions, they recorded the names of Egyptian Kings (see 1 Kings 11:40; 2 Kings 23:29). The historiographical conventions that are used in the Torah cannot be explained by the theory of its composition in postexilic times.
Third, in 1979 at a tomb on the west side of the Hinnom valley in Jerusalem, archaeologists unearthed, among other things, two silver scrolls (99% silver content, 1% copper), known as the Ketef Hinnom scrolls, that were probably worn as amulets around the neck. After the scrolls were unrolled, they disclosed a written text in very skilfully scratched paleo-Hebrew characters (cf. Jeremiah 10:9, 17:1). The epigraphers eventually discovered that the scrolls recorded part of the Aaronic blessing in Numbers 6:24–26 (and possibly some lines from Deuteronomy 7:9):
The LORD [YHWH] bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
The seventh century BC date for the scrolls makes them the earliest known artifacts from the ancient world that document part of the Old Testament.
What is interesting to note “is the fact that the words of the blessing, including the sacred personal name of God, were written on silver. This sheds light on Psalm 12:6: ‘The words of the LORD [= YHWH] are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace...’ thus shows this verse to be literally true as well as spiritually.”10 Although critical scholars originally tried to date the scrolls to the Inter-Testamental period (c. 400 BC) after detailed high-resolution images were taken of the scrolls, it was shown that they belong to the preexilic period.11 The palaeographic evidence shows that the scrolls should be dated towards the end of the seventh century BC. This fits well with the corresponding archaeological data.12 The scrolls were found with other goods made of gold and copper, which means that they must have been buried in the tomb well in advance of the first Babylonian invasion of Judah (c. 597 BC). The scrolls were found outside the city walls in the Hinnom Valley and would have been taken as plunder had they been found. The seventh century BC date for the scrolls makes them the earliest known artifacts from the ancient world that document part of the Old Testament. What does this mean for the composition of the Torah? Different scholars have acknowledged that “the presence of the Priestly Blessing in this late preexilic context does not in and of itself prove that the biblical context in which the blessing appears in the MT had already been consolidated.”13 Nevertheless, the text of Numbers 6:23–27 existed by the end of the seventh century BC and therefore “makes it impossible to assume that the Priestly Benediction was crystallized during the Post-Exilic period.”14
Fourth, there is further evidence outside of the Bible that demonstrates Moses could have written the Torah. In his 2016 book, The World’s Oldest Alphabet—Hebrew as the Language of the Proto-Consonantal Script, Dr. Douglas Petrovich argues that it was not the Phoenicians who invented the first alphabet but rather a group of Hebrew sojourners in Egypt (Lahun, Wadi el-Ḥôl) and Sinai (Serâbît el Khadîm & Wadi Nasb) spanning the period from Joseph to Moses (1850–1446 BC). If Dr. Petrovich is correct, then the Israelites played a central role in establishing one of the great pillars of civilisation: the alphabet. Petrovich identified and translated proto-consonantal Hebrew (PCH) inscriptions of the Egyptian New Kingdom (1560–1069 BC) that were written by shepherds, miners, craftspeople, and vintners. This not only confirms that Moses could have written down the Torah in the Hebrew language but that the Israelites were able to read and write (see Deuteronomy 6:9).
In his translations of the inscriptions, Petrovich discovered the name Moses, as well as several other Old Testament figures that have never been found outside the Bible. On Sinai 361, part of two fragments of an inscribed stone, the inscription reads, “Our bound servitude had lingered. Moses then provoked astonishment. It is a year of astonishment because of the Lady.”15 Although Sinai 361 is not dated, it is found among other inscriptions in the mines at Serâbît el Khadîm of the Egyptian New Kingdom. The pottery found in those mines was used during the reigns of Thutmose III (the Pharoah who chased Moses out of Egypt) and Amenhotep II (the Pharoah of the exodus16)—so the pottery dates the inscription (c. 1446 BC). Sinai 361 refers to a year of astonishing events, and one person is named: Moses (Petrovich found that no other grammatical option was even feasible—only Moses as a proper noun). All the events described on the inscription refer to the historical period of what we see taking place just before the Israelite exodus from Egypt. The presence of the name Moses on a fifteenth-century BC inscription seriously undermines the idea that the Torah was composed in the postexilic period. If not, it would have to be proposed (as in Documentary Hypothesis) that for nearly 1000 years the name of a leading biblical figure was guessed at correctly by those who are alleged to have redacted the Torah in the postexilic period. The inscription on Sinai 361 “may stand as the single most important PCH inscription of the entire Bronze Age.”17 If Petrovich’s translation of these inscriptions is accurate, then they strongly confirm the reliability of the Old Testament accounts of the Israelite sojourn into Egypt under Jacob, the Israelite exodus from Egypt and writing of the Torah under Moses.18
Why is Mosaic authorship of the Torah important? Well, one reason is that Jesus believed it was.19 Jesus told the Jewish leaders of his day that it is Moses who will hold them accountable for their unbelief in what he wrote (John 5:45–47) and that it is he who will be their accuser before God. For the accusation to hold up, however, the document or witnesses need to be reliable (Deuteronomy 19:16–19), and if Moses did not write the Torah, how then can the Jews be held accountable by him and his writings? The simple fact is that scholars who reject the Mosaic authorship of the Torah are as unwilling as the Jewish leaders (John 5:40) in not wanting to listen to the words of Jesus on this subject.