Historical Evidence of Post-Mosaic Authorship

Author's Bias: Interpretation: conservative | Inclination: dispensational | Seminary: none

Higher criticism has shown that the Pentateuch contains a number of references to events, locations, and comments that point to non-Mosaic authorship. These inconsistencies can be categorized into two groups:

1) a-Mosaica, awkward if ascribed to Moses, and

2) p-Mosaica, likely written after (post) Moses

A- Mosaica- awkward if ascribed to Moses

There are portions of the Pentateuch that speak of Moses in the third person. Deuteronomy has many examples of this third person perspective such as "Moses spoke", "he commissioned", etc.:

See example verses

Writing in the third person does not conclusively deny Mosaic authorship. Another possibility of this literary style is the use of scribes under the direction or Moses.

Based on ancient extrabiblical evidence, it is also possible that Moses himself wrote in the third person as exemplified by other ancient writers (Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, 1st century AD; Xenophon, Anabasis, 5th century BC; Julius Caesar, Gallic War, 1st century BC). (1) While the presence of A-Mosaica does suggest that Moses did not directly write some portions of the Pentateuch, it is not sufficient proof alone, and this does not deny the essential Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.

Yet there are portions of the Pentateuch that is difficult to understand if Moses did author these portions such as references to his humbleness or recount of his death and obituary:

See example verses

In the case of Deuteronomy 34, tradition believes that Joshua, an inspired author, added the obituary of Moses. This is consistent with the fact that Joshua worked closely with Moses for over 40 years in which he served as military leader, served as assistant, accompanied Moses part way up Mount Sinai for the first set of laws, and assisted at the Tabernacle of Meeting (Ex 17:8-14; 24:13; 32:15-17; and 33:7-11).

Post Mosaica- likely written after Moses

Some of the verses identified as p-Mosaic are the consequence of scriptural glosses. The term gloss originated from the Greek term glossa, which literally means "tongue" or figuratively as "language".

In the course of studying the works of Greek authors, Greek grammarians used the term glossa when identifying a word that needed explanation and the explanation itself. Thus glosses explained any word that was difficult to understand.

Usually these glosses pertained to: a) foreign words, b) provincial words, c) obsolete words, d) technical words, or e) words used in an unusual form or sense.

Hebrew glosses (see What is the Masorah?) were often short notes on questionable spelling or reading. These glosses would indicate a removal, transposition, or restoration of a consonant.

In some cases, the gloss indicated a removal or insertion of a whole word. Their purpose was to render the correct reading and understanding of the original Hebrew.

These Hebrew glosses were later collected and formed the basis of Rabbinical glossaries or lexicons that eventually were published such as the Greek lexicon of Hesychius (5th century AD). Today’s Bible study tool, lexicon, is based on this concept.

Greek and Latin glosses were more extensive annotations reflecting exegetical and critical study. Historical, geographical, and biographical information may also be included.

Like Hebrew glosses, they were collected and formed the basis for later commentaries. The Glossa Ordinaria (started in the early 9th century AD) is one such example.

There isn’t any question that glosses have ended up as textual additions; but, there is large debate of what are glosses, how the glosses got there, and who authored them.

The Old Testament has some examples of textual changes. Ezra, author of the book of Ezra, was a Jewish scholar - priest and scribe (sopher).

Ezra, and Sopherim who followed him, namely (by tradition) Nehemiah, Zechariah, and Haggai, began to make emendations (see What is an Emendation? to the Text (alterations with the intent of recovering the original meaning) approximately during 440 BC – 331 BC.

They desired to a) update the script, b) correct errors that had crept into manuscript copies, c) clarify the original intent of the Canon, and d) demonstrate extreme reverence to God.

For example, they altered the script from its angular paleo-Hebrew form to the square Aramaic form and changed the spelling by inserting certain consonants to express long vowels (called mattes lectionis) to aid in reading the Text.

In another example, the name of God, Yahweh, was too sacred to read aloud, so it was replaced with Adonai in 134 verses. These changes were handed down to a later group of scribes, the Masoretes, who introduced the written vowel system and copied with extreme fidelity as custodians of the Text.

The Mosoretes refer to the emendations of the Sopherim as Tiqqune Sopherim, which was a list of eighteen alterations. At some point, this list of eighteen became twenty-six. The Sopherim were careful to account for their alterations and kept a record of these glosses called the Masorah, which were critical notes in the margins between or along side the Text. Masoretic scholarship continued the tradition of the Masorah until 1425 AD.

In the case of the New Testament, the scribal tradition was not as disciplined as the Mosoretes. Most of the suspected textual changes are believed to be the result of copyists including some of the glosses into the Text itself, possible completion of Old Testament quotes, and possible inclusion of parallel passages. While these changes introduced variant readings of the Text, these variations only account for .5% of the entire New Testament; thus, the New Testament is considered 99.4% pure with no part of the .6% representing any part of doctrine.

One possible clue of scriptural glosses is the presence of anachronisms, which is a term describing the misplacement of some event(s) or person(s) in the wrong historical setting. There are portions of the Pentateuch that contains geographical or historical information that could only be known after Moses. The following are often cited examples of this p-Mosaica:

Anthropologic anachronisms

Canaanites - Genesis 12:6

Edomite Kings - Genesis 36:31-39

Philistines - Genesis 21:32-34; 26:1-8, 14-18

Geographic anachronisms

Ur of the Chaldeans - Genesis 11:31

Dan - Genesis 14:14

Across the Jordan

Temporal anachronisms

Until This Day / As This Day

The presence of post Mosaic additions does not deny the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. Many of the additions were explanatory notes of the passage authored by Moses. Furthermore these additions do not upset the doctrine of biblical inspiration. Biblical inspiration refers to the final product rather than to the manner of writing. The Holy Spirit superintended the work of editors so that the final words of the Text, though obtained by different methods, are the words intended by God. It was this final Text (including editorial insertions) that Jesus Christ pronounced perfect (Matt 5:18 and John 10:35). (2)


1. McDowell J, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers (1999), p.516-517.

2. Walvoord JF and Zuck RB, eds., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, Wheaton, Il: Victor Books (1985), p.266.

Series: Did Moses author the Pentateuch?
Examples of some discrepancies in the Pentateuch

Series: Did Moses author the Pentateuch?
Parallel or Duplicate Accounts (Doublets)

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