Moses and Deuteronomy : or, The present state of the question as to the date and authorship of the book of Deuteronomy online

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By moderator.

" Search the Scriptures." — John v. 39.






The following essay is a humble attempt to state briefly, compre-
hensively, and impartially the chief difficulties of the Deuteronomic
question, and the chief theories which have been framed for the
explanation of the difficulties. It was drawn up about a year ago,
not with any polemical purpose, nor yet with a view to publica-
tion, but solely for the satisfaction of the writer and a few of his
intimate friends who take a great interest in the general question,
but who have no connexion with existin;]; Deuteronomic contro-
versies or controversialists.

It is not without considerable hesitation and misgiving that
the writer commits his humble attempt to the press. The great
difficulty and complexity of the subject, the risk of falling into
error and one-sidedness, in even the most singleminded endeavour
to discuss it, and the still greater risk in the present excited state
of the ecclesiastical mind, of incurring grievous misunderstanding,
misconstruction and misrepresentation of motive — these were all
powerful dissuasives. On the other hand, the writer was moved
to publication by the strong conviction which possessed him that,
as a whvle, the Deuteronomic question is still but very imperfectly
understood in this country, even by men of education, and that
much good might be done by a short, succinct, and " all-round "
view of it contained in a small pamphlet — such a brief statement,
in fact, as a busy man might easily run over at tine close of a long
day's work. A hasty, though comprehensive, glance of this sort
may not greatly enlarge a man's knoidedge ; but it will bring
home to him the extent of his ignorance. Like the view
from the top of a high mountain, it shows to him, in a hazy
and indistinct way, the wide extent of the field that has to
be explored. It dues not qualify him to pass a judgment on the


subject, but it puts him on his guard against passing a rash^
narrow, and ignorant judgment. It teaches him humilit}^ care,
and caution. It impresses on him the wisdom of trusting chiefly,
in a matter of science and learning, to patient investigation and
" the long results of time."

The writer hopes that what he has written will be read with
" the combination of the open eye with the devout heart," and by
Christians of all denominations. The subject is entirely unsec-
tarian, and the interest in it is greatly enhanced by the approaching
issue of a revised translation of the Scriptures — the result of the
combined labours, for many j^ears, of the leading scholars of most
of the leading denominations of English-speaking Christians, both
in this country and in America. The new version would be re-
ceived with greatly increased satisfaction should the dark cloud
raised by these unsettling questions begin to " lift" previous to its
issue. The study of these que.stions must also form an excellent
preparation for the due appreciation of the superiority of an im-
proved translation. The new version and the new views may,
between them, stir men up to a more general, a more systematic,
a more critical, and a more profitable " searching" of the
" Scriptures."




' Only let critical researches into the origin and character of the sacred docu-
ments be conducted on the principle here laid down, which combines
reverence for spiritual truth with freedom of intellectual enquiry, and
we need have neither bitter recriminations between our divines nor ap-
prehensions for the faith, which is equally dear to all. It is indeed only
through the combination of the open ej'e, with the devout heart, that
the highest truth can be obtained." — Quartcrli/ Review, cxlvii. 336.

The writer has devoted a good deal of time and thought to
the question of the Authorship of Deuteronomy, using every
means and appliance at his command, and consulting im-
partially critics and commentators of every variety of view.
His object has oeen to know all that can with certainty be
known in explanation of an interesting but obscure Biblical
problem. He began his researches without any conscious
bias, unless it might be the natural hope that he might end
by finding that but little modification of the old accepted
doctrine was necessary in order to reconcile criticism and
tradition. He had no theory of his own upon the subject ;
neither did he expect that amongst the theories of the day
he should find any one that could be deemed entirely satis-
factory or capable of explaining the whole of the facts.

Still less did he dream of achieving the discovery of such
a theory himself, or even of making any solid contribution to
the solution of the question. It was a negative rather than a
positive result that he chiefly aimed at — the avoidance of mis-
leading error rather than the attainment of certain truth.

In a question of this sort this result, as it appeared to
him, is about the utmost that is attainable, at least, at an
early stage of the investigation, by any one who is not a
specialist. And even this is not little. Next to the power of


establishing the true theory is that of detecting and avoiding
false theories, and refusing to close the investigation till
sufficient light has been obtained. This power cannot be
expected but as the result of patient dispassionate and im-
partial study of the whole question from every point of view.
Even then it may not be attained ; so apt is a man to be
misled by his sympathies and preconceptions, and by the con-
fident dogmatism of out and out patisans, on one side or the

Such misleading may be said to be courted, and to be
altogether inevitable in every case where the inquirer sets
out with a very strong prejudice or prepossession in favour of
the establishment of any one particular conclusion ; for, from
the first, he looks at the evidence with the eye of an advocate
rather than with that of a judge ; he commits himself to a
view before he has any adequate knowledge of the arguments
for and against — and once committed to it he sticks to it to
the last against all counter-evidence short of absolute demon-

Instances of such rash self-committal — tending from the
high authority of the parties to a decided committal of the
Scriptures themselves, in the eye of the uninstructed, to one par-
ticular untenable interpretation — were, as every one knows,
very common in the early days of every modern science which
has a bearing on the interpretation of Scripture, astronomy,
geology, and biology. Take the first two, astronomy and geology.
As these two sciences, one after the other, struggled into light,
they established conclusions which were at variance with the
traditional interpretation of Scripture. In general, therefore,
the authorized interpreters of Scripture set themselves at once
without due inquiry or consideration to deny and denounce
the conclusions in question as contrary to the teaching of
Scripture, and therefore untrue. If anytliing could have acted
as a sufficient warning and deterrent against such rashness, it
would have been the infatuated condemnation of Galileo for
maintaining the Copernicau truth, that the sun and not the


earth is the centre of the solar system — an act, the rashness of
"which has been made only more glaring and compromising by
recent laboured attempts to explain it away.* But the warn-
ing was little heeded. When after another century and a-
half, geologists began to unfold like undreamt of truths
regarding the earth, as astronomers had done regarding the
heavens, a like blind and shortsighted course was taken.
Geologists were denounced as not only wrong, but wicked.
The literal interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis was
declared to be the only true interpretation, and figurative in-
terpretations devised with the view of reconciling Scripture
and science were scouted as utterly inadmissible, even by such
a man as Bishop Horsley.'*' But science only requires time
to ensure the general acceptance of its demonstrated truths.
In the long run no authority or prejudice can withstand the con-
sensus of competent judges. Thus the once banned and pro-

* " It is of course a matter of life and death to modern Ultramontanes to
show that the Popes were never officially committed to the condemnation of
Galileo's teaching, and Gebler, as we have seen, acquiesces in their verdict.
But it is in fact based on the merest ex post facto special pleading, as was con-
clusively shown in a pamphlet on the Pontifical Decrees Against the Motion of
the Earth, published in the year of the Vatican Council, 'by a Priest of the
Province of Westminster.' The author first explains that the magical clause
' Sanctissimus conjirmavit,' &c., said to be providentially wanting to the decree,
is wanting only because it did not come into use till ■ many years after the
condemnation of Galileo, while on the other hand there is abundant evi-
dence that the decree of 1616 — reaffirmed and enforced in 1632— was, and was
intended and known to be, a strictly Papal judgment, emanating from
Paul V. himself, who had expressly applied his mind to the doctrinal question
at issue. It is further shown that the theory thus solemnly condemned aa
'false, pernicious, heretical, and wholly opposed to Holy Scripture,' and or-
dered to be 'utterly abolished' {ut prorsxis tolleretur) by Paul V., and which
Galileo was required by his successor Urban VIII., on the strength of that
decree, to ' abjure, curse, and detest' as ' an error and heresy,' had been for
seventy years before the Church as a tolerated hypothesis, and was now for-
mally and deliberately adjudicated upon because scientific men were coming to
believe that it would or might turn out to be true."— Sat. Review, 1247, p. 357.

+ They who seek or achnit figurative expositions of such expressions as
these seem to be not sufficiently aware that it is one thing to write a hiatory/
and quite another to compose riddles. — Ilorslcy, Sermon xxiii.


scribed dogmas of astronomy and geology are now accepted
truths. To doubt or disbelieve them argues a man either too
ignorant or too eccentric for serious argument. Yet the
lesson of caution which this triumph of science was so well
fitted to teach interpreters, was but very imperfectly learnt.
Scarcely had opposition to the latter of the two sciences,
geology, died out, when other two sciences — biology, with its
doctrine of evolution, and " the higher criticism," with its
unsettling theories regarding the composition and authorship
of the Books of Scripture, and of Deuteionomy in particular,
drew down on themselves a succession of almost equally blind
and ill-considered attacks. Again, instead of patiently and
confidently abiding the result of investigation and discussion,
men made haste to condemn and denounce, and to proclaim
that if those views were true, the Scriptures must be false.

This was the first and natural impulse. Already, how-
ever, while these later new views are still under discussion,
and are at best but plausible hypotheses, time has done much
to modify the intolerant attitude of their most earnest op-
ponents, especially as regards evolution. Theologians, who
at first thought the evolution theory altogether irreconcilable
with the Scriptural account of creation, now take an entirely
different view of the whole question ; and no longer hold that
any particular mode of creation — whether by progressive evo-
lution, or by separate acts — is necessarily implied in the
Scripture narrative. The evolution difficulty is in fact fast
coming to be regarded by theologians with as much calm in-
difierence as the astronomical and geological difficulties.

It is somewhat different with the critical theories, which
to the people of this country may be said to be comparatively
-new. Though it is very long since the existence of the diffi-
culties on which the theories are based was first pointed out,
and though the difficulties and the theories have been dis-
cussed fully and freely in Germany, for at least the last
sixty or seventy years, and in England by a few critics,
■^uostly on one side, for the last twenty, it is not too much to


say that it is only within the last two or three years that
even the theological world has awoke to the gravity and
importance of the subject, especially as regards Deuteronomy.
English critics and commentators on the orthodox or traditional
side have, as a rule, for some reason or other, scarcely ever
grappled with the subject. Not only have they in most cases
made no contribution of their own to the solution of the ques-
tion ; but they have generally, either by altogether ignoring the
difficulty, or by slurring it over, so misrepresented the nature
of it, as to mislead the ignorant and tantalize the studious.

This sort of treatment cannot be longer pursued without-
discrediting a commentator's authority, not only on this but
on all cognate subjects, and, what is more serious, exciting
an unwarrantable prejudice against the Scriptures, as if those
who knew the sacred writings best, deemed them unfit to bear
the light of science. Times have greatly changed of late.
By the publication of Professor Eobertson Smith's articles in
the " Encyclopaedia Britannica," and the controversies and
legal proceedings consequent thereon, the gravity of the ques-
tion has been made fully known to the whole reading public,
at least in this northern part of the island. It is now the
plainest policy to look the difficulty in the face, extenuating
nothing, and courting rather than shunning investigation and
discussion. The writer believes that if this course is boldly
taken, and it is made plain that the question is entirely an
open one, a far more satisfactory state of feeling would soon
prevail in regard to it. It would come to be calmly and
quietly discussed, and looked at from every point of view, and
then, as was the case with those similar questions of former
days, in course of time, more than one sufficiently satisfactory
solution for it might be evolved by believing and reverent
scholars. Above all, men would come to see that Christianity
is not bound " to answer with its life " for the accuracy of
any one solution.

The writer, therefore, hopes that he may be able to do a
humble but real service to the calm and deliberate elucidation


of Bible truth, by endeavouring to state in the plainest and
most direct way, the actual state of the important question
as to the date and authorship of Deuteronomy.

In doing so, he will avoid, as far as possible, details and
doubtful points, and try to fix attention on the chief difficulties
as to the Mosaic authorship of the main part of Deuteronomy
— those which after the most careful pondering of all explana-
tions which have been offered, still stand out to his mind
substantially unreduced, and calling for further explanation.

The difficulties divide themselves naturally into three
classes, corresponding to the three books or sets of books in
which they occur, viz. : — Difficulties arising

I. From the book of Deuteronomy itself.

II. From] the books which precede Deuteronomy in the

III. From the books which follow it in the canon.

In other words, there are difficulties in reconciling the Mosaic
authorship of Deuteronomy.

I. — With certain chronological and historical statements
in Deuteronomy.

II. — With the style of the book of Deuteronomy, and with
the provisions of some of the laws which are recorded, as given
by Moses, in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.

III. — With the history and the ceremonial or ritual
practice of Israel as recorded in Judges, and the books of
Samuel and Kings, &c.

Taking these three sets of difficulties in their order, it
will be found that they increase in force, but decrease in

I. — The difficulties of the first class are obvious on a little
reflection, especiall}'' to the Hebrew reader ; but most, if not
all, of them when taken by themselves appear capable of


reasonable explanation with the lights which we now possess,
and making allowance for alterations by editors and copyists.

II. — The second class are not nearly so obvious, demand-
ing, as they do, for their appreciation very careful comparison
of book with book, law with law, style with style, &c.

III. — The difficulties of the third class are still less obvi-
ous than those of the second ; for to have any due conception
of their weight and force demands an intimate acquaintance and
careful comparison of Deuteronomy with many of the subse-
quent historical and prophetical books of the Bible ; demands, in
short, a minute and accurate knowledge, a firm and comprehen-
sive grasp of the history, the polity, and the language of Israel.

I. — The difficulties in the way of accepting the Mosaic
authorship of Deuteronomy, contained in Deuteronomy itself,
are of two classes : —

1. Those passages which plainly bear to have been written
after the time of Moses, and after the people had settled in

a. The very first passage in the book, "These are the
words which Moses spake to the whole of Israel on the other*
side of Jordan," &c.

The writer of this passage, according to the literal mean-
ing, wrote on the west or Canaan side of Jordan ; and Moses
spoke " the words" on the east or Moab side. Therefore, in-
ferentially, Moses was not the writer.

h. The passage which gives an account of the death and
burial of Moses — xxxiv., 5 and 6.

c. The passage (xxxiv. 1) where the Lord is said to have
showed Moses "all the land of Gilead unto Dan" — Dan, it is
maintained, was not known as Dan at that time, but as Laish
(Judges xviii. 27-29).

2. Other passages, which though not distinctly anacliron-

* " On this iiide" in the authorised version.


isms, yet in their natural meaning, imply that a considerable
time had elapsed between the period at which the events hap-
pened and that at which they were recorded.

a. Thus, iii. 14, " Jair the son of Manasseh took all the coun-
try of Argob unto the coasts of Geshuri and Maachathi, and
called them " after his own name, Bashan-havoth-jair, unto
this day." The time that elapsed between the taking of the
Bashan cities, or " Jair's livings," and the date of Moses
speech was at most only a few months. Moses could hardly
have used such an expression as " to this day" in such a case-

h. Again, xxxiv. 6, " No man knoweth of his sepulchre unto
this day ;" and verse 10, " And there arose not a prophet since
in Israel like unto Moses."

c. " The Horims also dwelt in Seir beforetime ; but the
children of Esau succeeded them, when they had destroyed
them from before them, and dwelt in their stead, as Israel did
unto the land of his possession, which the Lord gave unto
them" (ii. 12). The natural inference from the words in
italics is that the whole passage was written after Israel had
" destroyed " the Canaanites and " dwelt in their stead."

d. " Only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of
giants ; behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron ; is it not
in Rahbath of the children of Ammon ? "(iii. 11) The natural
inference here is that the writer was " referring to an anti-
quarian curiosity" instead of something which had been
quite recently in use, and probably seen, as Og himself had
been seen and slain by the people whom Moses was now

These anachronisms, real or apparent, present no serious
difficulty ^vhe7i taJcen hy themselves. Apart from possible in-
dividual explanations, there is nothing unnatural in the sup-
position that a later inspired writer, or writers, should have
re-edited the Book, contributing explanatory notes, and after
the manner of the time, inserting them in the text instead of
putting them in the margin — nay, that such writer, or writers,
should have compiled both the beginning and the end of the


book, or the whole historical setting of the Central Law
Book (ch. V. 1 to xxvi. IG).*

II. — The difficulties of the second class, or those which we
encounter in attempting to reconcile the law as given in Deuter-
onomy with the law as given in Exodus, Leviticus, and Num-
bers, are not in themselves very serious matters. They are
considerably more serious, however, in their combined, or
cumulative, than in their individual aspect ; and then they
are much less easily disposed of than the first class, because
they are of a more systematic character, and inhere in the
substance of the work.

They consist of discrepancies which more or less pervade
the whole of the Law Books :

1. The provisions of the Laws :

2. The tone of the Laws :

3. The style and diction of the Books :
all differ to some extent.

1. The chief differences in the legal provisions are almost
all connected with the priests and the Levites — their position
with respect to each other, and the tithes and dues or perqui-
sites by which they were maintained.

a. The emoluments of the priests are to some extent dif-
ferent from those which are assigned to them in the previous

1). The emoluments of the Levites are different, their habi-
tations also, and their general position.

c. But what differs most, and is most significant, is the
relative position of priests and Levites in Deuteronomy and
in the former books.

In the former books the priests are " the sons of Aaron ;"
in Deuteronomy they are " the sons of Levi," or the Levites.

* " It is indeed possible that some, or perhaps all of the archaeological and
topographical remarks, which are interwoven in several places, e. g. ii. 10-12,
20-23 ; iii. 9, are insertions made by a later reviser, perhaps a much later reviser,
after the book was complete." — Speaker's Commentary, Deuteronomy, p. 799.


In the former books, the priests are the servants of Jehovah
— they " stand before Him to minister unto Him." The
Levites are the servants of the priests, ^iven to them to
minister unto them. In short, in Leviticus " there is a
sharp distinction drawn" between the priests and the Levites ;
in Deuteronomy there is no distinction whatever. All priests
are Levites, and all Levites may become priests.

There is apparently no danger now", as there was in the
days of Korah, of the earth opening her mouth and swallow-
ing up a Levite who " sought the priesthood."

2. The tone of the laws in Deuteronomy, it seems to be
admitted on all hands, is different from that of the laws in
the previous books — being more advanced, more humane,
more merciful, more spiritual.

3. Then the style of Deuteronomy differs undoubtedly
from the style of the former books of the Pentateuch, in a way
that gives the impression that the book is the work of a dif-
ferent writer, and of a somewhat different age. It is more
rounded, more flowing and sustained, more cultivated, more
modern — displaying, if with reverence it may be spoken, more
literary art.

The diction also, though not differing much from that of
the previous books, is nevertheless marked by certain fre-
quently recurring phrases which are not to be met with in
those books.

Explanations of all these discrepancies have been offered
by the learned Hengstenbergs, Hiivernicks, and Keils of Ger-
many ; and also by learned and able critics and commenta-
tors in this country. It cannot be said, however, that any
one of these explanations is altogether satisfactory. Most of
them are hypothetical or conjectural — drawn from what is
probable rather than from what is known.

1. With regard to the discrepancies in the legal provisions,

A. It is argued generally that these are such as, from the
nature of the case, are likely to be found in a summary of
the law deliveied in a short parting address. On such an oc-


casion it was only to be expected that the great lawgiver

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Online LibraryUnknownMoses and Deuteronomy : or, The present state of the question as to the date and authorship of the book of Deuteronomy → online text (page 1 of 5)