Tora! Tora! . . . Torah!

By Wayne Jackson

Some years ago there was a movie that chronicled the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. The title of the production was, “Tora, Tora, Tora.” “Tora” is a Japanese term meaning “tiger.” The expression was a code signal back to Tokyo, signifying that the stab-in-the-back mission was complete. That wordplay is not an inappropriate title for this article, which addresses certain hostile attacks currently being perpetrated upon the first five books of the Bible, known in Jewish circles as the Torah, or, more commonly, the Pentateuch.

For those who have any respect for the testimony of Scripture at all, the issue is clear. Moses was the author of the first five books of the Torah (which means “the law”). Concerning this matter the following points may be noted.

Ancient Testimony

  1. This is the most ancient view of the authorship of the Pentateuch. Customarily, the Jews divided the Old Testament Scriptures into the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Holy Writings. The earliest known writings of the Jewish rabbis unanimously attributed the Pentateuch to Moses. Too, the Hebrew historian Josephus declares that the books of the Old Testament “are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses” (Against Apion 1.8). Philo, the Jewish scholar of Alexandria, offered similar testimony.
  2. Numerous pagan writers, e.g., Hecataeus, Manetho, Lysimachus, Juvenal, and Tacitus credit Moses with composing the laws which distinguished the Hebrews from other nations. Here is an example from Tacitus, the Roman writer known for a number of celebrated historical works. In his Histories, he wrote:


    “Moyses, wishing to secure for the future his authority over the [Jewish] nation, gave them a novel form of worship [as set forth in Exodus and Leviticus], opposed to all that is practised by other men” (5.4).
  3. There are affirmations from within the Torah that Moses was the author (see Exodus 17:14; 24:4-8; 34:27; Numbers 33:1-2; Deuteronomy 31:9,22,24-26; Deuteronomy 31:30-32:43). In the book of Leviticus, the phrase “as the Lord commanded Moses,” or its equivalent, is found some 30 times.

    Moreover, the expression “law of Moses” is found scattered throughout the balance of the Old Testament (cf. 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 23:25; 2 Chronicles 23:18; Ezra 3:2; Daniel 9:11,13).
  4. The New Testament clearly credits Moses as an Old Testament writer (cf. Matthew 8:4; Mark 12:26; Luke 16:31). To deny the Mosaic authorship of this body of Old Testament literature is to fly directly in the face of Jesus Christ, who said: “For if you believe Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you believe not his writings [plural], how shall you believe my words?” (John 5:46-47).

Current Criticism

Whereas rational critics used to atttibute the Torah to the post-Babylonian Captivity period, it is now fashionable to date this body of literature in the time of David. A couple of recent articles have argued for this baseless theory. In the February, 2001 issue of BibIe Review, a journal rank with skepticism, author Gary Rendsburg contends that “the traditional Jewish and Christian belief in Moses’ participation in the creation of the first five books of the Bible [is] not historically accurate.” The article asserts that “the Torah was written in the Tenth Century B.C.E. [before current era].”

Additionally, Jeffery Sheler, a regular writer for U.S. News & World Report, made the following remarks in the March 9, 2001 issue of that journal.

“It was during the reign of David, and possibly of his successor, that much of the Old Testament was written, including the Torah, the first five books of the Bible and traditionally ascribed to Moses; the authors more than likely were priests of the royal court who sought to legitimize David’s dynasty by foreshadowing it in Scripture.”

Archaeological Evidence

In addition to the biblical argument cataloged above, there are archaeological evidences that argue for the Mosaic authorship of the Torah.

  1. The cultural customs described in the Pentateuch have been confirmed by numerous examples of archaeological discovery. These books fit the patriarchal period, not the era of Israel’s monarchy. Even liberal scholars (e.g., E.A. Speiser, Frank Cross, and W.E. Albright), became persuaded that the Torah narratives were ancient and reliable (see Edwin Yamauchi, Wycliffe Bible Dictionary, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998, p. 1290).
  2. The material in Exodus through Deuteronomy reveals a technical knowledge of both Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula, in terms of geography, plants, animals, etc. For example, the author notes that at Elim (the second stopping place beyond the Red Sea) there were 12 springs of water and 70 palm trees (Exodus 15:27). By way of contrast, the writer’s knowledge of Canaan appears to have been derived from ancestral traditions. For instance, Shechem has to be identified as a “city in the land of Canaan” (Genesis 33:18). The reference seems to reflect the perspective of one writing from a detached vantage point. Such an identification would hardly have been necessary for a Palestinean writer of David’s era.
  3. Gleason Archer has noted that there is a larger proportion of Egyptian loan words in Genesis and Exodus than is found anywhere else in the Old Testament. Such suggests that the author had a greater familiarity with the Egyptian tongue than a writer of Canaan would have possessed. Furthermore, some of the words employed in the Pentateuch were obsolete by David’s time (Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Chicago: Moody, 1964, pp. 102-03,107).

Conclusion

These points reflect but a brief sketch of the evidence that supports the biblical claim of the Mosaic authorship of the Torah. The issue is not insignificant. It relates to matters such as the credibility of scriptural testimony and the integrity of Jesus Christ himself.

The sensational theories of the modern critics — who are ever seeking to revise the ancient narrative to make it conform to their low view of Scripture — are scarcely worthy of concern. The Bible has withstood the back-stabbing diatribes of infidelity for centuries. It will continue to endure as its critics fade into obscurity.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.