Posted By MSH on February 6, 2012
In my last post on the Mosaic authorship issue, my goal was to produce data from the text that explains why the idea that Moses may not have written all or even most of the Pentateuch could be coherent. I haven’t laid out my thoughts on Mosaic authorship yet; I’m just laying the groundwork for establishing the fact that a view that departs from a traditional “Moses wrote everything in the Pentateuch” view can indeed be text-based, even apart from the JEDP (Documentarian) model (which I largely don’t buy — we’ll eventually get to why).
More specifically, in the last post we saw where Moses was described in the Pentateuch as the subject of a 3rd masc singular verbs (“Moses did XYZ”) vs. when the 1st person singular was used, as though Moses himself was writing (“I did XYZ”). The ratio was 7:1, with the 3rd person instances far outnumbering the 1st person. The conclusion was that it is reasonable to suppose that someone other than Moses wrote some of that third person material — i.e., they are not all self-referential. Put more bluntly: Why would Moses use the third person in a self-referential way seven times more often than using the simpler first person to indicate he was the author? I think that’s not only a fair question; it’s a good one.
In this post I want to explore person and number a bit more precisely (stop yawning).
Think of the book of Acts. The book is addressed to someone named Theophilus (Acts 1:1), just as the Gospel of Luke (1:3). There is therefore virtually unanimous agreement that Luke was the author of both. However, Luke was apparently only an eyewitness for the events of the book of Acts. This conclusion derives from the fact that he was Paul’s traveling companion, as indicated by Paul’s notes in Col 4:14; 2 Tim 4:11; and Philemon 24, as well as the author of Acts’ use of “we” when recalling events in Paul’s missionary journeys. It is this first person use that draws my attention at this point.
Under the assumption that Luke wrote Acts, one would expect there to be a number of 1st person usages in Acts 13-28, the space devoted to Paul’s ministry. If we do a search for the 1st person plural (“we did XYZ”) verb forms in Acts …
… we learn that there are roughly 82 instances in Acts 13-28 (110 overall). Here are the results. However, these 1cpl forms do not all read as though Luke is including himself in the group (e.g., the “we” may refer to conversation in another group Luke is writing about, such as Gentiles or Jews). If one looks through the search results, there are close to 50 instances where the writer uses the 1cpl verb form to include himself. (See the underlined instances in yellow highlighting). So, to put things in general terms, we have 50 good indications in sixteen chapters of Acts that are consistent with Luke as author of the book.
One wonders how many of these we might find in the Pentateuch — a much larger corpus.† I decided to look through the books of Exod-Deuteronomy, the books that encompass the lifetime of Moses — and, more specifically, the travels of Israel out of Egypt to Canaan under the leadership of Moses.† Here’s what the search looked like (I just changed the title of the book in the search range for each search):
The results are interesting. The numbers below represent the total number of occurrences of 1cpl verb forms in these four books — but remember, we’ll have to look through all of them to see which ones *specifically* show us the writer (presumably Moses in context) is including himself.
1cpl verb (total) in Exodus: 35
1cpl verb (total) in Leviticus: 3
1cpl verb (total) in Numbers: 64
1cpl verb (total) in Deuteronomy: 59
Here are the results in another PDF.† Once again I have gone through them and used yellow highlighting to mark the ones that clearly have the writer including himself in what is being written. Be advised that I exclude instances that are introduced by the THIRD person, as that reads like someone else is writing ABOUT Moses and then has Moses saying something in the first person. What we’re looking for is the kind of thing we saw in Acts with Luke — that is what we should expect from a known author’s narrative — first person and use of the first person to include himself since he was present. In other words, can we find 1st person self-references that aren’t introduced by the third person? I looked through these quickly, so if you want to make an argument for others, let me know.
Cutting to the chase, it was very difficult to find anything like we saw in Luke. It only happens when you get to Deuteronomy, and those “hits” are made somewhat questionable by Deut 1:1 (see my notes in the file).
So, I propose again — in view of the data, it seems reasonable to think that a lot of the Pentateuch was not composed by Moses. For me though (as you will see in the second PDF), there is evidence that suggests an original body of Mosaic first person narrative that was later woven into the larger book of Deuteronomy. And, as I noted at the very beginning of this series, the phrase “law of Moses” need not work only one way (as Moses being the author). The phrase seems entirely appropriate of the Pentateuch (or Exod-Deut) as meaning that the work is about Moses or intimately associated with him, so I don’t see any scriptural inconsistency in its use (only our own misuse). The fact that we moderns have misunderstood the phrase “law of Moses” does not mean it is an “errant” or illegitimate one. The problem is with our lack of precision, not the phrase.