The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69
The Origin of the Pentateuch. — Lecture I. — Moses' Share in it
The Origin of the Pentateuch.
Moses' Share in it.
x Orients Lux! "From the East comes Light." That is an utterance which expresses a very old, a very general, and a very deep belief of the European heart; the West has always turned to the East for wisdom,—to the East, with its philosophy, its ancient writings, and its lonely deserts, "where man is distant but God is near." There are few who can hear of the East without interest or even emotion.
And, of all the treasures of the East, the Old Testament is at once that which is best known, most valuable, and most loved. Long after study and reflection have dissipated all traces of belief in supernaturalism from our minds we still find pleasure in poring over the pages of the Old Testament, sacred now, not because of its miraculous inspiration, but from its primitive modes of speech, its intrinsic human wisdom, and its associations with our own childhood. When will the story of Joseph's sojourn in Egypt ever lose its pathos for us? When will the Book of Proverbs cease to afford wise counsel to young men, "to save them from the strange woman, whose house inclineth unto death?" And when will the 103rd Psalm no longer express the gratitude and adoration of the servants of God?
Whatever concerns the Old Testament therefore is sure to be a subject of interest to all thoughtful people, and whatever promises to render it more intelligible to us, and to open up its meaning to us better, will always find a ready welcome on the part of cultivated religionists. There is also another reason why reading people will gladly give their attention to any new discussion of this ancient Jewish literature. The Jewish race has filled a large, if not the largest part, in the history of humanity. Many of the foremost men in all departments of human activity page 6 have belonged by blood to this people—a people which, in spite of all the disabilities under which it has labored, has led the van of humanity, and has given even to the Aryan race itself, its religion, and its God—the people of Maimonides, Spinoza, and Montefiore. Yet, of the real origin and history of this gifted race we have hitherto known nothing; its national records have hitherto been a blank to all of us except the credulous; we have been shut up to the legendary accounts of the Pentateuch, which, of course, are, as they stand, quite worthless for all the purposes of history; and, of the actual rise of this important section of the human family, we have been wholly ignorant; and this although we have long since learned to distinguish between the false and the true in the case of all the other ancient nations that have affected our modern civilization. Whilst Niebuhr has taught us the early history of Rome, and Grote has bade us view with scepticism whatever precedes the writings of Thucydides in the case of Greece, in that of the Jewish race we have hitherto stood helpless in presence of their ancient legends and stories, unable to put any scientific interpretation upon them. Unless we were prepared to accept the narrative of their miraculous exodus from Egypt, we were obliged to regard the Jews, as, like the Melchizedec their books speak of, without father or mother either.
Nor was this the result of indifference to them and their history on the part of scholars; on the contrary, probably more time has been bestowed on the study of the antiquities of the Hebrew race than on that of all other early nations put together; nor can I say that there has been any lack of hardy assertion on the part of theologians in providing the Jews with a history, or in coining facts for it when they could not find any. Egyptian records have been twisted and wrenched beyond all recognition to make them say what orthodoxy demanded; but all to no purpose. The Sphinx was as silent on this as on all other subjects; not an Egyptian King would own himself a Pharoah in all the long succession of dynasties, and the Hebrews still remained without a natural history or a secular record of any kind. Poor Hebrews!
Within the last quarter of a century, however, a discovery has been made in Old Testament criticism, which has completely revolutionised that science and placed us on a standpoint from which the natural development of Hebrew history becomes perfectly clear. The recovery of the ancient Assyrian language, and the deciphering of the cuneiform inscriptions on the ancient Assyrian monuments, have shown that it is in Assyria, and not in Egypt, that the key to the Jewish history must be sought. A new impulse was thus given to the study of the Old Testament records, especially those of the Pentateuch, a study which, in consequence of its thoroughness, soon revealed the astounding page 7 fact that tradition had actually antedated the Pentateuch by nearly a thousand years; had assigned it to an author who had had nothing at all to do with it, and had, in consequence, made the antiquities of the Jewish race altogether unintelligible. Our lectures will show that the larger part of our present Pentateuch, although entitled in our Bibles the Five Books of Moses, had no existence at all until after the return of the Jews from captivity in Babylon; that Ezra, and not Moses, was the author of it; and that, if we would understand aright the course of Jewish national development, we must take our copy of the Old Testament, remove the Pentateuch from where it now stands at the beginning of the volume, and append it to the Second Book of Kings—that is to say, we must insert it between that work and the First Book of Chronicles. The position of the book will then show the date of its composition, and, what is still more important, this alteration in the arrangement will enable us to read the five books of Judges, Samuel, and Kings without any thought of the Pentateuch in our minds at all, and we shall then see that the records of the Jews present us with just as natural a development of a race from barbarism to civilisation as those of any other ancient nation whatever. The genesis of another family of the human race has thus been accurately mapped out.
Nor is this the only important consequence resulting from the development of the new hypothesis. Almost every other great question involved in Old Testament criticism is affected by it and requires to be studied afresh. The age and authorship of the other books of the Old Testament have new light thrown upon them from this source—a fact which may, perhaps, in some cases, necesitate a revision of opinion with respect to them also. Nor is this all. The most startling outcome of the new view is found in the circumstance that it destroys the foundation of the evangelical theology which has oppressed and debilitated the minds of men so long, and which has imposed on Christians the study of the Jewish rites and ceremonies in all their wearisome minuteness of detail, by representing these as divinely appointed means for teaching to mankind the doctrines of the Gospel—divinely appointed types of the future Messiah. God, it is said, imposed them on the Jews by the mouth of Moses, because that nation was the favored race through which the Messiah was to come. The Temple ritual was to teach the Jews, and through them to teach all mankind, the doctrines of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the philosophy of the plan of salvation. It's a scathing commentary on this evangelical dogma that, although according to the orthodox view, the Jews had been the subjects of this divine teaching for no less than thirteen or fourteen centuries, they, nevertheless, with scarcely an exception, failed to recognize their Messiah when he did come; so unanimously, indeed, did they reject him that they could not possibly have done worse had they page 8 never received a day's instruction on the subject. In this nineteenth century, when the scholars do badly in any crisis in their school life we invariably blame the schoolmaster for the result, and most justly so, too; and I know a school inspector who would have disqualified the teacher, divine or otherwise, whose pupils should have failed so egregiously as the Jews did to learn the lesson set them, and this not after thirteen centuries but after thirteen months of teaching. It is strange, indeed, that evangelical divines should so long have been blind to the dishonor their blundering hypothesis reflects on the All-wise Administrator of the Universe. But as you will see this mass of error is now doomed to irremediable fall by the removal of the structure on which alone it has rested. If we can show that the elaborate Jewish ritual contained in the Pentateuch is just the work of Ezra and his fellow-priests after the return from the captivity in Babylon we shall do three good things—we shall explode the assumption that the Jews throughout their long national history were the subjects of a vicious system of education, we shall vindicate the honor of the Divine Teacher of us all, and we shall save the little Sunday School children of the future from the repulsive task of learning some very burdensome, some very useless, and some very stupid lessons.
Of course in the short time at our disposal this morning it will be impossible to indicate the full proof of the theory just propounded, all that we can do will be to sketch the line of argument adopted, and illustrate our contention with a few facts such as can be exhibited by brief description.
First then, the Books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, commonly called the Five Books of Moses or the Pentateuch, themselves contain many statements and allusions which unmistakably imply an authorship far later than that of Moses; they are statements that Moses could not by any possibility have written. Indeed, there is one very strong argument against the Mosaic origin of the Pentateuch, in the fact that the last chapter of it contains the particulars of the death of Moses. Now, I have heard of men preparing the inscriptions for their own tombstones, but I never yet heard of a man writing the account of his own death, not even by help of a miracle, that great resource of orthodox people. Our opponents try to get over this diffiulty by regarding this last chapter of Deuteronomy as a supplement to the book, a supplement written by a later band. But isn't this rather a dangerous admission for orthodox people to make, that the infallible narrative has been supplemented, nobody knows when, nobody knows by whom? Can we be sure of the rest of the book under the circumstances? Was it worth while writing a book by miracle if after all it differed so little from other books as to admit and require a supplement? Does it not look as if in early times people regarded the Pentateuch as page 9 any other book? If we are driven to acknowledge the presence of anonymous sections of unknown authority in the inspired book, might we not just as well give up the whole contention at once? An inspired book that contains, or even may contain, uninspired chapters is of no use at all as an authoritative guide; we are thrown back at once on our natural intelligence and reason to determine which part is authoritative and which is not, and so we may just as well be content with our reason in the first place. This one fact, therefore, that orthodox people are shut up to the alternative of either renouncing the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, or admitting that there are in the Bible sections of unknown and unauthoritative authorship really settles the whole controversy and makes the orthodox position utterly untenable.
But, indeed, there is nothing to justify the hypothesis that the last chapter of Deuteronomy is a supplement, and not an integral part of the book; there is no evidence that it is so; the assumption is purely arbituary, and made simply to get out of this difficulty. If you turn to the chapter you will see that the commencement of it, the way in which Moses is spoken of, and the style throughout, are exactly similar to those of the preceding chapters of the book. We are bound to conclude, therefore, that whoever wrote the last chapter of the work wrote the preceding chapters also, and hence could not possibly have been Moses.
But again, not in this last chapter only, but throughout the Book of Deuteronomy, and indeed all through the Pentateuch, Moses is spoken of in the third person. The writer says: "This is the blessing wherewith Moses, the man of God, blessed the children of Israel before his death" (xxxiii. 1.); not," This is the blessing wherewith I blessed the children of Israel;" and similarly in a hundred places. I am aware that this argument does not amount to demonstration; that cases might be cited in which men have written of themselves in the third person; but take what has just been said in conjunction with such an expression as this, in which the writer of the Pentateuch speaks of Moses in a way that no man would speak of himself: "Now the man Moses was very meek above all the men which were on the face of the earth" (Numbers, xii. 3.). Is there any man, let alone any very meek man, who would speak of himself in that way?
But there are plenty of other expressions in the Pentateuch which indicate its post-Mosaic origin. Take this for instance from Genesis, xiii., 7: "And the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land." The Canaanite dwelt then in the land, did he? That certainly implies he is not in the land now at the time of writing; it would also seem to imply that it is many generations since he was in the land, many generations, i.e., page 10 since the Canaanite was destroyed or driven out of the land by the Israelites, under Joshua. How then could Moses he the writer of these words? Here again we are told by orthodox people that the words are an interpolation by a later writer, but what evidence is there of that? None whatever. As before, it's just a gratuitous assumption to get out of a difficulty. Orthodox people make up their minds that Moses shall be the writer of the Pentateuch, and in consequence find themselves put to all sorts of shifts to explain away the many indications of a later origin scattered throughout the books. But such a lame explanation as the one before us convinces nobody—the words I have qnoted are evidently an integral part of the Book of Genesis in which they occur, and hence Moses cannot have written that book at all events.
And now, to put the question beyond all doubt, here is another sentence supposed to have been addressed by Moses to the Israelites in the Wilderness, but evidently a sentence that Moses could not possibly have uttered at that time, since it again refers to this occurrence that did not take place till a good time after his death, viz.: the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites, which I mentioned just now. "That the land spue not you out also when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before ye"—Leviticus, xviii., 28. Why, how could Moses possibly have uttered such words as those? You might just as well represent Oliver Cromwell reminding his Puritan soldiers of their conquest of India.
And just once more. Not only was the Pentateuch not written by Moses, and not written for some generations after his time, it was not written until monarchical government had been set up by the Israelites; i.e., not till the time of Saul, or possibly much later. Listen to this from Genesis xxxvi., 31, "And these are the kings that reigned in the land of Edom before there reigned any king over the children of Israel." Evidently when these words were written the children of Israel had long been accustomed to the government of kings. After this a man must surely be very ignorant who talks of the Pentateuch having been written by Moses. Between the era of the Exodus and that of the establishment of the monarchy in Israel plenty of time had elapsed for the creation of all the legends we find in connection with the early history of the Israelites, and the Pentateuch itself teaches us that it was not written earlier. The natural origin of the stories of magical occurrences with which its pages are crowded is thus satisfactorily made out.
But now I am going to look in quite another direction for my next argument, and I wish you to turn your attention for a moment from Hebrew literature to that of England. Students of English literature are well acquainted with the works of a poet, by name Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote, amongst other pieces, a page 11 series of merry stories in verse, called "The Canterbury Tales." But these poems can only be read intelligently by scholars—the ordinary English reader can make little of them, they read to him almost like a foreign language, and are in places quite unintelligible. Some of the words he recognizes, but others have a different spelling or different endings from what he has been accustomed to, whilst many of the words he has never seen before at all, or thinks he has not, and it is only after he has got a special grammar that he succeeds in laboriously digging out the sense. And yet the poem is an English poem, written in the English language. Now how is this? Why should not an ordinary English reader make out the meaning of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales as easily as he understands Sir Walter Scott's "Marmion?" Both may be described as ballad poetry. Why do we find any greater difficulty in reading the stories of Chaucer than in perusing those of Scott? Why, because 431 years have elapsed between the birth of Chaucer in Edward III.'s reign, and the birth of Scott in George III.'s reign; and in those four and a quarter centuries the English language has so altered in its words, its spelling, and, above all, its word endings or I inflexions, that the older poet has now become a foreign writer to the majority of his own countrymen. His poems can now only be read by help of a special dictionary and grammar, almost as if they were written in French or Latin. The lapse of 431 years has made all that difference in the language. And if a perverse critic were to put a copy of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and a copy of Scott's "Marmion" into the hands of the most ordinary reader now-a-days and assure him that both works were written in the nineteenth century, the reader would not have the slightest difficulty in satisfying himself that the critic was wrong, and that a long interval of time had elapsed between the composition of the two poems. And, again, if the same critic were then to put into the hands of the same ordinary reader a copy of Byron's "Childe Harold" and the same work of Scott, and insist upon it that the work of Byron was written many centuries before "Marmion," the reader would not hesitate a moment in denying the assertion, but would point to the; similarity of the language as an incontestable proof that both; poems were written in the present age. But now remember that a great conservative influence had come into operation during those 431 years I spoke of just now—the influence of the printing press. The English language alters very little now from generation to generation, because the production of books by the machinery of the printing press has stereotyped the language. A standard of language is thus set up to which all strive to conform, and so the ordinary influence of the lapse of time fails of its effect upon the language, and if any changes in it do occur they are necessarily very few. If then the lapse of 481 years has page 12 made so vast an alteration in the structure of the English language, in spite of the conservative influence that has been at work upon it, so that only specialists can now read Chaucer with any facility, how very much greater would the change have been had the printing press not yet been invented!
Thus, then, in the case of a book written in our own language, it is easy to determine the approximate date of its composition by the character of the language it contains. No one would suppose for a moment that an English book written in Edward III.'s reign was the production of a writer living now, or vice versa. But how about ancient literature? Is it possible in the case of a dead language to distinguish the different stages of its development, and to make these throw light on the date of composition of any work written in that language? Undoubtedly it is; and but little difference of opinion arises amongst scholars in connexion with this test where no theological dogmas are at stake, This, of course, is a subject not easy to make plain to a popular audience, but still I think it may be done, and the argument from language is of such great worth, that I shall try to present it.
Take, then, as an example, the literature and language of ancient Greece. A school boy learns his Greek grammar, we will suppose, thoroughly, and after that he finds that by the help of a Greek dictionary he can make out the meaning of an ordinary Greek writer, such as Xenophon, pretty well. The inflexions of the words in Xenophon's "Anabasis" correspond exactly with the inflexions he has been learning in his grammar, and he comes to the conclusion that after all it isn't difficult to read Greek. After a time, however, his teacher puts a copy of Homer's "Iliad" into his hands, and tells him to prepare twenty lines of that against next day, but the poor boy comes back to school next day without a line prepared. He hasn't been able to make out a single sentence of the Homer. How is that? What is the great difference between the Xenophon and the Homer? The boy has found out that not only are many of the words in Homer quite new and strange to him, but that some words he has seen before are not used in the sense he has been accustomed to, and that most of the word-endings are so different in form from anything he has learnt in his grammar, that he will need to learn a new grammar before he will be able to make any sense out of his Homer. Later on, he discovers also that the inflexions in Homer are the inflexions of his grammar book in the process of formation, that, in fact, he has got into an earlier stage of the language, and therefore into a much older book than any he has hitherto been reading, and that not only has he to learn his grammar over again, but he can, if he likes, purchase a dictionary expressly prepared for this particular author alone. And after this you will never persuade that boy that Homer is not much earlier author than Xenophon; the drudgery of the new page 13 grammar and the new dictionary will be too well impressed upon him. Now, what is the difference in age between the Greek of Xenophon and that of Homer? It is not very easy to say. Xenophon wrote about the year 400 B.C., and the writings of Homer first assumed their present written form in the reign of the tyrant Pisistratus, who died 527, B.C. That would give at the most only 150 years of interval between the two books, a time hardly adequate to produce such great differences as we observe in the language of the two authors. We must suppose, therefore, either that portions of the poems had been reduced to writing before, or that the antique form of the words and the ancient spelling had been perpetuated in the memory of the rhapsodists who used to go about reciting the ballads. We may thus add even a couple of centuries to the age of the poems, and even then the interval between the Greek of Homer and that of Xenophon will be a shorter one than that between the time of Chaucer and that of Scott, yet the difference of language between the two Greek authors is so marked as to require a special grammar and special dictionary to make the earlier one intelligible. There is no difficulty, therefore, when two ancient authors have lived at an interval of two or three centuries, in determining the fact from the diversity which exists in the language they employ in their writings; even a schoolboy can distinguish it.
Well then, bearing these facts in mind, let us return to the Old Testament. As the age of Xenophon was the classical age I of Greek literature, so was the century of the Babylonish Captivity the productive age of the Hebrew mind. Amongst the books written at that time by Jewish authors are the Books of Kings. These are by some anonymous author; nevertheless, in the judgment of orthodox and heretical scholars alike,: they date from this era. Now between the era of the Captivity, and the time when Moses is supposed to have lived and written, nearly a thousand years elapsed, not four or five centuries only, as in the case of the two previous literatures we have been considering, but something very nearly approaching twice that period. If then in the case of Chaucer, and the still more analogous case of Homer, the difference in language is so great between the authors in question and those of classical times, that a scholar requires special grammars and special dictionaries to read the earlier ones, what must the peculiarities of the Hebrew of the Pentateuch be when compared with the language of the later Hebrew writers, such as the anonymous author of the Book of Kings? Why, the difference must be so great as almost to constitute two different languages; anyway the variation from the classical style must be twice as great as appears in the works of Chaucer and Homer. It must not only be such as no scholar can mistake, but such that even the merest tyro in Hebrew cannot but be conscious of, such page 14 indeed that even theological prejudice cannot gainsay it; so that, if Moses wrote the Pentateuch, the inflections and vocabulary, and language generally, must be of that extremely antiquated character that nothing can be made of it by the student without special study, a special grammar, and a special dictionary, adapted to the Mosaic writings alone; or, the interval between the Captivity and the Exodus, corresponds exactly to that between the present time and the reign of Alfred the Great, in English History; and you might as well ask an average Englishman to read a page of the Saxon of Alfred the Great, as expect a Hebrew scholar, acquainted only with the literature of the Captivity, to read a page of Pentateuch Hebrew, if Moses really wrote the Pentateuch.
But now what is the fact? Why, that a man may read a chapter in the Hebrew of the Book of Kings, and a chapter in the Hebrew of the Pentateuch, and hardly be conscious of any difference at all in the character of the language. The one author is just as easy and just as difficult as the other; and as far as the testimony of grammar and dictionary goes, there cannot be much difference in the date of composition of the two books. In the Book of Kings you may find a few more Aramaic forms than you find in the Pentateuch; but, generally speaking, in both works the inflections are the same; to a large extent the vocabulary is the same; and the tone of thought and degree of culture are about the same. As far as I am aware, no one has ever written a Hebrew Grammar, or a Hebrew Lexicon, specially adapted to the Pentateuch; no one has ever felt the need of them; for all that appears from the language, the thousand years of interval has never existed; nor has it ever existed, except in the imagination of ignorant ages. Moses had been dead and buried many centuries before the Pentateuch appeared. Indeed it is very doubtful if the Hebrews, a pastoral nation, and slaves to the Egyptians, had a written language at all in the time of Moses.
Now, if these were my opinions alone I should hardly have ventured to mention them to you. But listen to the words of Dr. Samuel Davidson, formerly professor of Biblical literature in Lancashire Independent College, and one of the ablest Hebrew scholars that English dissent has ever produced, who wrote one of the volumes in "Horne's Introduction to the Scriptures," and was turned out of his professorship for his share in that book. This writer says: "There is no important difference between the language of the Pentateuch and that of the other books written shortly before the return of the Israelites from captivity in Babylon." But a greater than Davidson may be quoted to the same effect. Undoubtedly the greatest of all modern Hebrew scholars is the German Hebraist Gesenius, whose Hebrew lexicon is used by all students who are able to grapple with it. And what does Gesenius say? This is what page 15 Gesenius says: "If there was an interval of nearly one thousand years between these writings, as there must have been on the supposition that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch, a phenomenon would be presented to which nothing in the whole history of language is parallel, viz., that the living language of a people, and the circle of their ideas, should remain unaltered for so long a time."
Of course this assertion of the critics, that the grammar and vocabulary of the Pentateuch palpably betray its late origin, has not escaped the notice of orthodox scholars, who have divided themselves into two groups in their replies: some boldly denying the fact that there is any lack of diversity between the language of the Pentateuch and that of the other historical books, and others admitting the truth of the statement we have made, but endeavouring to account for it by the argument that, in the East forsooth, nothing changes—neither customs, nor circumstances, nor civilization, nor language!! The two classes of orthodox critics thus neutralize one another, and might be left to fight the matter out between them; but, as the great majority of persons interested in theological questions have no Hebrew, and so feel themselves unable to form an opinion on what is plainly an argument sufficient to settle the question of authorship if it could be grappled with, I will endeavour to throw a little further light on the subject, only asking your very dose attention to what I shall say.
Critics of all schools are agreed that the most important difference between the Hebrew of the Pentateuch and that of the Captivity consists in the use of the third personal pronoun feminine, i.e., the Hebrew word for the English pronoun she. I may say that the Hebrew pronoun for our word he is h—u, as we may spell it, and the ordinary Hebrew word for our pronoun she, is, strangely enough, h—i pronounced hè. So that in classical Hebrew hu is he, and hi is she. Now, in eleven instances this distinction is observed in the Pentateuch also, but in all the other cases in which the feminine pronoun she occurs the word hu is employed in the Hebrew, i.e., the masculine form is used to express both the masculine and feminine pronouns, only one form is employed for both; just as in English we only use one form, thou, by which to address either man or woman. And that slight peculiarity in the use of one pronoun is the greatest I difference that the Hebrew has got to show for one thousand years of change, when only 431 years has wrought such a revolution in our English language that the words of Chaucer look and read like a foreign language by the side of the English of to-day. But that is not all. Even in classical Hebrew, when the two pronouns for he and she are written down, the difference in the written characters is so slight that by lengthening a stroke in one letter of the feminine pronoun it at once page 16 becomes the masculine form—hi becomes hu. So that it is quite possible that the use of the masculine form for both genders in the Pentateuch may be due to nothing more than the carelessness of some early transcribers, who made one stroke a little too long. And this appears to have been the opinion of the Masoretes, a school of commentators, who added the vowel points to the Hebrew letters in the sixth century of the Christian era; for they appended to hu, the vowel point for hi, whenever it stood for the feminine pronoun.
Well, that is about the only peculiarity there is in the grammatical forms of the Pentateuch, and any person can now see for himself whether I was justified in echoing the statement of all the greatest scholars, that the language of the Pentateuch is substantially the language of the Captivity; whilst to suppose that the book was written one thousand years before the Captivity is to outrage not only the whole science of philology but common sense as well. It would be superfluous to say more on this branch of our subject.