Moses and the Art of Writing
Some time ago, a young lady from a local university visited our offices at Apologetics Press and requested to speak to someone about a “new theory” she had been taught in her freshmen literature class. For the first time in her life, she was told that Moses could not have been the author of the first five books of the Old Testament. Supposedly, Jesus, Ezra, Paul, and others were wrong in ascribing these books to Moses (cf. Mark 12:26; Ezra 6:18; 2 Corinthians 3:15). This impressionable young freshman was beginning to think that what she had learned regarding the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch in her Sunday school classes and at the Christian school she had attended nearly all of her life was wrong.
The idea that Moses did not write the Pentateuch—a theory known as the Documentary Hypothesis—actually has been thrown into the faces of Christians for more than two centuries. And yet, amazingly, one of the first assumptions upon which this theory rests was disproved long ago. From the earliest period of the development of the Documentary Hypothesis, it was assumed that Moses lived in an age prior to the knowledge of writing. One of the “founding fathers” of the Documentary Hypothesis, Julius Wellhausen, was convinced that “ancient Israel was certainly not without God-given bases for ordering of human life; only they were not fixed in writing” (1885, p. 393, emp. added). Just a few years later, Hermann Schultz declared: “Of the legendary character of the pre-Mosaic narrators, the time of which they treat is a sufficient proof. It was a time prior to all knowledge of writing” (1898, pp. 25-26, emp. added). These suppositions most certainly had an impact on these men’s belief in (and promotion of) the theory that Moses could not have written the first five books of the Old Testament.
One major problem with the Documentary Hypothesis is that we now know Moses did not live “prior to all knowledge of writing.” In fact, he lived long after the art of writing was already known. A veritable plethora of archaeological discoveries has proven one of the earliest assumptions of the Wellhausen theory to be wrong.
- In 1949, C.F.A. Schaeffer “found a tablet at Ras Shamra containing the thirty letters of the Ugaritic alphabet in their proper order. It was discovered that the sequence of the Ugaritic alphabet was the same as modern Hebrew, revealing that the Hebrew alphabet goes back at least 3,500 years” (Jackson, 1982, p. 32, emp. added).
- In 1933, J.L. Starkey, who had studied under famed archaeologist W.M.F. Petrie, excavated the city of Lachish, which had figured prominently in Joshua’s conquest of Canaan (Joshua 10). Among other things, he unearthed a pottery water pitcher “inscribed with a dedication in eleven archaic letters, the earliest ‘Hebrew’ inscription known” (Wiseman, 1974, p. 705). According to Charles Pfeiffer, “The Old, or palaeo-Hebrew script is the form of writing which is similar to that used by the Phoenicians. A royal inscription of King Shaphatball of Gebal (Byblos) in this alphabet dates from about 1600 B.C.” (1966, p. 33).
In 1901-1902, the Code of Hammurabi was discovered at the ancient site of Susa (in what is now Iran) by a French archaeological expedition under the direction of Jacques de Morgan. It was written on a piece of black diorite nearly eight feet high, and contained 282 sections. In their book, Archaeology and Bible History, Joseph Free and Howard Vos stated:
The Code of Hammurabi was written several hundred years before the time of Moses (c. 1500-1400 B.C.)…. This code, from the period 2000-1700 B.C., contains advanced laws similar to those in the Mosaic laws…. In view of this archaeological evidence, the destructive critic can no longer insist that the laws of Moses are too advanced for his time (1992, pp. 103,55, emp. added).
The Code of Hammurabi established beyond doubt that writing was known hundreds of years before Moses.
As early as 1938, respected archaeologist William F. Albright, in discussing the various writing systems that existed in the Middle East during pre-Mosaic times, wrote:
In this connection it may be said that writing was well known in Palestine and Syria throughout the Patriarchal Age (Middle Bronze, 2100-1500 B.C.). No fewer than five scripts are known to have been in use: (1) Egyptian hieroglyphs, used for personal and place names by the Canaanites; (2) Accadian Cuneiform; (3) the hieroglyphiform syllabary of Phoenicia; (4) the linear alphabet of Sinai; and (5) the cuneiform alphabet of Ugarit which was discovered in 1929 (1938, p. 186).
Numerous archaeological discoveries of the past 100 years have proved once and for all that the art of writing was not only known during Moses’ day, but also long before Moses came on the scene. Although skeptics, liberal theologians, and college professors will continue to perpetuate the Documentary Hypothesis, they must be informed (or reminded) of the fact that one of the foundational assumptions upon which the theory rests has been shattered by archeological evidence.
Albright, W.F. (1938), “Archaeology Confronts Biblical Criticism,” The American Scholar, 7:186, April.
Free, Joseph P. and Howard F. Vos (1992), Archaeology and Bible History (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Jackson, Wayne (1982), Biblical Studies in the Light of Archaeology (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Pfeiffer, Charles F. (1966), The Biblical World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Sayce, A.H. (1904), Monument Facts and Higher Critical Fancies (London: The Religious Tract Society).
Schultz, Hermann (1898), Old Testament Theology (Edinburgh: T&T Clark), translated from the fourth edition by H. A. Patterson.
Wellhausen, Julius (1885), Prolegomena to the History of Israel (Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black), translated by Black and Menzies.
Wiseman, D.J. (1974), The New Bible Dictionary, ed. J.D. Douglas (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
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