Posted By MSH on January 26, 2012
In my last post concerning the authorship of the Pentateuch, I listed two observations that led me to propose what for me is a fundamental question. Here is a summary of those observations and the question:
1. There isn’t a single verse in the OT where the “law” references anything in the book of Genesis. For sure the patriarchal stories are known in Exodus through Deuteronomy, but they are never associated with the “law of Moses.”
2. There is no verse in the OT that (key word) unambiguously uses the phrase “law of Moses” comprehensively — i.e., referring to the five books of the Pentateuch. The same is true for other references to the law in connection with Moses.
Question: The above raises the possibility that at least some (many scholars would say “the entirety”) of the Pentateuch was written by someone other than Moses, and that the final form of the Pentateuch was referred to as the “law of Moses” mainly because so much of it (Exodus through Deuteronomy) has Moses as the central character.
In this post I want to draw your attention to some other features of the text of the Pentateuch that also suggest an author besides Moses.
If we assume Moses wrote the Pentateuch, it would be natural to assume that he would use the 1st person most of the time (e.g., “I said”). While an author writing about history in which he participated could certainly use the 3rd person (e.g., “he said”) as self reference, it is far more natural to not do so. So, while I do not disallow the use of the 3rd person by an author as self reference, and don’t think it is an argument against Mosaic authorship per se, I would expect that to occur a minority of times in a historical narrative, and that the 1st person would predominate. This seems completely reasonable. So what do we find in the Pentateuch?
The Verbs of the Pentateuch: Grammatical Person and Number
This is the most basic search we could do for 3rd person references. The author would (normally) use the 3rd person to refer to someone other than himself doing something. Here is the search using the Andersen-Forbes syntactical database in Logos (Libronix) Bible software (the older version, 3.0):
The results are striking — 6,631 instances.
If we subtract the number of occurrences in Genesis (2,087), isolating the 3rd person verb references to only Exodus through Deuteronomy, the material covering the lifetime of Moses, we are down to 4,544.
When we search for 1st person verb forms, the results are dramatically less: 994 total 1st person verbs in the Pentateuch.
If we subtract the number of occurrences in Genesis (383), isolating the 1st person verb references to only Exodus through Deuteronomy, the material covering the lifetime of Moses, we are down to 611 occurrences of first person verbs.:
Consequently, we have the following proportions:
3rd person: 1st person verbs in all the Pentateuch: 6,631 to 994 (just under 7:1).
3rd person: 1st person verbs in Exodus-Deuteronomy: 4,544 to 611 (just over 7:1).
I think it’s reasonable to say that’s disproportional to what an author would do when writing historical narrative about events through which he lived.
We can be a little more focused, though.
Here is a search that asks for the number of instances where a 3rd person verb has Moses himself as the subject. That is, instance of where the author writes “and Moses did XYZ.”
The search informs us that there are 282 instances where Moses is the subject of a 3rd person verb in the Pentateuch — where the writer refers to Moses in the 3rd person as doing or saying something. All of them are naturally in Exodus through Deuteronomy.
Another search we can do is to look for instances where the subject of a 3rd person verb (any subject) does or says something with respect to Moses (i.e., Moses is the indirect object or the focus of address). These instances would have the writer saying something was done or said to Moses — as opposed to something being done or said “to me” (first person) if Moses was the author.
Again, it is obvious that the results will only range from Exodus through Deuteronomy. There are 187 occurrences where something is said or done to Moses (third person) — that is, where the writer saying something was done or said to Moses — as opposed to something being done or said “to me” (first person) if Moses was the author.
Now, you might be asking, “Why does Mike take the opportunity on his blog to bore people with things like grammatical person and number?” It’s pretty simple, actually. I want readers to realize four things:
1. It is reasonable to think that at least some of the Pentateuch, perhaps substantial portions of it, were written by someone other than Moses.
2. It is unreasonable to think that it’s “unbiblical” to think the above thought.
3. If we are going to discuss who wrote the text of the Pentateuch, then we ought to derive our arguments from the text of the Pentateuch.
4. The authorship of the Pentateuch is a whole lot more complex than saying, “Hey, I know this Bible verse over here that uses the phrase ‘law of Moses’ so that settles it.”
Not even close.