Did Moses write the Torah (also called the Pentateuch), the first five books of the Bible, including Exodus? And is there any evidence outside the Bible for his authorship of the Torah? Mainstream scholarly opinion among archaeologists is that the great Hebrew leader could not have written the Torah because the Hebrew language had not yet been developed. Such a view is a major attack by archaeologists on the Bible’s reliability, and all Christians need to be equipped with answers.
The Bible teaches that Moses could write. God said to Moses: “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua” (Exodus 17:14). Christ himself spoke of Moses being able to write when he declared: “
For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46). Bible-believing Christians should confidently affirm that under God’s direction,1 Moses was the author of Exodus and the entire Torah. Mainstream archaeologists argue that Exodus 17 and John 5 must be wrong.
Timothy Mahoney’s latest documentary Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy reveals that the question over Moses authorship of the Torah is not just an academic exercise that is bandied about by scholars. It’s a serious worldview matter, one which has ramifications far deeper than a scholarly controversy. Ultimately, the question of the ability of Moses to write the Torah impacts the credibility of the Bible as a whole. Furthermore, the souls of scholars and those they influence can be at stake over Mosaic authorship. More about these bigger-picture issues will be discussed later.
Going against the grain of mainstream archaeology (as he did in his first documentary “Patterns of Evidence: Exodus”), Mahoney’s latest film is an attempt to confirm the Bible’s teaching that Moses indeed wrote the Torah and was an eyewitness to the events recorded in Exodus. Mahoney politely but firmly challenges scholars who claim Moses couldn’t have written about the events depicted in the book of Exodus. The final showing of the film in US theaters is tomorrow, Tuesday, March 19—see The Moses Controversy.
Development of Hebrew
In denying Moses’s authorship, mainstream archaeologists argue that a Hebrew script or writing system did not exist at the time of Moses and that the book of Exodus was actually written hundreds of years after the events described in that book. They claim that alphabet-based writing was developed 200 years after Moses died, so Moses could not be the author of Exodus, much less the entire Torah. With their attack on scriptural authority, these scholars claim that the books attributed to Moses, from Genesis to Deuteronomy, are a collection of oral stories passed down over multiple generations. By the time the Hebrew language was developed, their argument continues, these oral stories had become embellished and unreliable.
So Mahoney’s task was to see if there was an alphabetic writing system available to Moses to write the Torah. Mainstream scholars have so totally abandoned the idea that a Hebrew alphabetic script existed for Moses to write down God’s words and then share them with others, that they are unwilling to consider evidence to the contrary. Perhaps this compelling documentary will open the eyes of academics willing to be open-minded on the matter.
Mahoney points to a discovery in the Egyptian Sinai of inscriptions in Semitic-like letters called the Proto-Sinaitic, perhaps the first alphabet. (The first alphabet is usually attributed to the Phoenicians.) The inscriptions date to the time of the captivity of the Jews (like Moses) in Egypt, reports Mahoney. They were not Egyptian hieroglyphics. This “Proto-Semitic” alphabet, argue a few more open-minded experts interviewed in Mahoney’s film, may have been used by Moses to write Exodus (and translated into Hebrew later). Mahoney says that Moses lived during a time when he could have had access to a language with an alphabet, as opposed to hieroglyphics that were used in Egypt where he had become a prince. The idea of Moses being able to write and record the events of his day has become very controversial and, for some naysayers, even emotional—hence the use of the word “controversy” in the film’s title.
While this Proto-Semitic alphabet does not closely resemble the Hebrew alphabet, Mahoney points out that the English of John Wycliffe’s time (the 1300s) is quite different from the English we have today. In an eye-opening segment, a rabbi admits that he could read the ancient inscriptions from Sinai since he had the ability to read Hebrew. Mahoney refers to the newly discovered alphabet as a kind of “Hebrew 1.0.” He interviews some scholars out of the mainstream who concur that there was, in fact, an alphabetic language available to Moses.
In an intriguing segment, Mahoney shows illustrations of how the “H” in the Proto-Semitic found at Sinai is intermediate between an image from Egyptian hieroglyphics and the “H” of the Hebrew alphabet.
The Relevance of the Issue
Archaeological questions surrounding Moses can have worldview consequences. Mahoney interviews an archaeologist who acknowledges that he believed in the Bible’s inerrancy when he grew up in a Christian home and attended Bible college. Later in his schooling, however, the man took courses in which secular archaeologists attacked the Bible’s historicity. Over time, he gave up the Christian faith, for he viewed the Old Testament as historically wrong. He is now an agnostic, he admitted on film. Two other world-renowned archaeologists acknowledged to Mahoney during off-camera discussions that they followed the same pattern: they grew up in Christian homes and believed in the Bible’s accuracy, but their studies in archaeology led them to reject Old Testament history and they eventually left Christianity.
This example serves as a warning to unwary Christian parents who are considering sending their children to secular or compromising Christian colleges. They no doubt will be challenged about the Bible’s history (including the Genesis account of origins) and perhaps have their beliefs shaken. In the film, Mahoney admits to his own previous “crisis of faith” when the history of the Bible he believed seemed to be at odds with evidence presented in the classroom that contradicted the history of the Old Testament.
When mainstream archaeologists doubt that Moses had the ability to write, they are essentially calling Jesus Christ a liar. Christ acknowledged (John 5:46) the writings of Moses. Doubts about the account of the captivity of Jews in Egypt and their Exodus, as all witnessed by Moses, call into question the authenticity of the Bible.
Now, Mahoney’s findings, of course, don’t scientifically prove that Moses wrote the Torah. However, it does dispel the notion that Moses could not have written the Torah, as contended by most archaeologists. He argues that a paradigm shift in thinking is needed, but the mainstreamers he interviews are shown to be very reluctant to change their presuppositions.
Mahoney suggests that the genius of the first alphabet may have been a gift from God. The alphabet came at a time when God’s Word could be written down and distributed, as opposed to the use of complex hieroglyphics which were very difficult to read, except by the elite of ancient times. Those without years of specialized teaching (the overwhelming majority of the population) could never be able to learn the highly complex hieroglyphics. But the newly developed alphabet made writing and reading more accessible to people.
Mahoney’s biblical worldview comes through very clearly in his films. He accepts the historicity of the book of Exodus and its authorship by Moses. Mahoney’s two documentaries are wonderful resources to help Christians be confirmed that their faith is based in real history, regardless of what mainstream archaeologists contend.
Editor’s note: Our title of Moses Supposes is a nod to the song from the classic movie musical “Singing in the Rain” (1952). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKlub5vB9z8