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THE LAW, OR THE FIVE BOOKS OF MOSES.
ANTIQUITY AND LITERARY CHARACTERISTICS OF THESE BOOKS.
The first five books of the Old Testament,-Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy,---are commonly called by Christians the Books of Moses, which may mean either books by Moses, or books concerning Moses. Whether it was originally intended to express by this title the opinion that they were written by him, or merely to denote that they contain the original records of his mission as the Lawgiver of the Jews, may be doubtful. In the latter sense, equally with the former, the term is evidently appropriate ; for all these books, except Genesis, are intirely occupied with the history of his divine mission, and the detail of his actions and laws; to which Genesis is a very natural and suitable, indeed, we might say, a necessary, introduction, as containing the history and traditions of the fathers of the Jewish nation, back to the very earliest twilight of human knowledge and thought. But that Moses was himself the author of these books, is not necessarily implied in the title, Books of Moses. The books themselves nowhere state that he was. And it is a difficult matter of opinion to decide whether he was or not.
The Jews themselves call these books simply The Law, or more fully, The Five FIFTH-PARTS OF THE LAW. Pentateuch expresses in Greek the same idea of a "book in five parts.” And the prevailing opinion among learned Jews of the present day is, that they were not written by Moses, but by Ezra, more than 900 years later. The Jewish idea, indeed, is that an earlier Pentateuch had been written, but was lost in their captivity, and that Ezra wrote a new Law by divine inspiration; that he was miraculously guided in every word he wrote down, from the sublime account of the Creation to the minutest ceremony of the Law, and to the most trifling actions and even the most shocking and barbarous sentiments that appear in the history. *
Probably the Jews would not so readily give up the literary antiquity of these books, unless they relied on the notion of their inspiration as giving them greater authority than they lose by their later composition. But an unprejudiced critic may take as one of his elements of judgment, when endeavouring to come to an opinion as to the antiquity and authorship of the Pentateuch, this Jewish story of its having been lost before the time of Ezra, and having been re-written by him (though it seems hardly credible that every copy of so treasured a book should have been lost); while the common sense of the matter, and the plainest features of the books themselves, forbid him to give any weight to the Jewish fiction of their supernatural reproduction, as stated in the apocryphal story.
* See the apocryphal book, 2 Esdras xiv. 20, 21, 22, which makes Esdras (or Ezra) hear a “voice out of a bush” (how evident an imitation of the calling of Moses !), to which he replies, “Behold, Lord, I will go as thou hast commanded me, and reprove the people which are present; but they that shall be born afterward, who shall admonish them ? * * * For thy Law is burnt, therefore no man knoweth the things that are done of thee, or the works that shall begin. But if I have found grace before thee, send the Holy Spirit into me, and I shall write all that hath been done in the world since the beginning, which were written in thy Law, that men may find thy path, and that they which will live in the latter days may live.”
While some critics, accordingly, refer the origin of the Pentateuch to the pen of Ezra, others ascribe it to the time when the Jews were captive in Babylon, others again to the time of Josiah or some of the later Jewish kings, others to the time of David, and others to the time and to the pen of Moses himself.
There are certainly great difficulties in the way of supposing these books to have been written, exactly in their present form, by Moses himself. But so extreme a theory will not be maintained by any thinking man. Of course there are some parts which Moses could not write; that, for instance, which describes his own death. Occasional short passages, too, have the manifest appearance of being added afterwards by way of explanation. Thus, in Gen. xii. 6, in the history of Abram, the words, “ And the Canaanite was then in the land," must plainly have been the addition of a transcriber or editor after the time when the Canaanites were expelled. There is a similar addition in Gen. xiii. 7. So the more modern name of a place is sometimes inserted after speaking of it under its ancient name; as in Gen. xxiii. 2, where we read, “Sarah died in Kirjath-arba (the same is Hebron), in the land of Canaan.” The manner of this insertion seems, indeed, a proof of the antiquity rather than the modernness of the rest of the passage. If not originally written till the place was known as Hebron, the narrator would more naturally have said, “ Sarah died in Hebron (the same was Kirjath-arba in the days of Abram)." But if, while it was still Kirjath-arba, the historian wrote, “Sarah died in Kirjath-arba," then it is easy to see how, when the place had come to be called Hebron, the writers of new copies might think proper