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The Books of Moses Revisited

By Paul Lawrence
April 2012 | Review by Kevin Bidwell

Synopsis

Who wrote the first five books of the Bible? Does it really matter who did? The Books of Moses Revisited explores this question by comparing the covenants of Exodus/Leviticus and Deuteronomy with the inter-state treaties of the late second millennium BC. Some compelling similarities come to light, both in the pattern adopted and in many small details. Lawrence clearly demonstrates this with many examples and diagrams, yet without assuming that readers possess a detailed knowledge of ancient history and linguistics. Despite the entrenchment of the widely held theory—the so-called Documentary Hypothesis—that the first five books of the Bible were the product of an anonymous editor living many centuries after Moses, this book argues that the first five books of the Bible bear many hallmarks of being late second millennium BC compositions and that Moses should not be ruled out as being the author. The book also explores how several ancient texts—the Egyptian Story of Sinuhe, the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, and Homer's Iliad and Odyssey—were transmitted in antiquity and suggests that a similar process also lies behind the transmission of the first five books of the Bible.

  • Publisher: Wipf & Stock
  • ISBN: 978-1-61097-417-2
  • Pages: 172
  • Price: 14.12
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Book Review

The Books of Moses Revisited

Paul Lawrence

Wipf & Stock,

172pages £14.12

ISBN: 978-1-61097-417-2

Star rating:4

 

This book challenges an entrenched academic, liberal proposition called the ‘Documentary Hypothesis’ (also known as the ‘JEDP Hypothesis’). This proposal rejects the idea that Moses is the author of the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). Since the 18th Century its proponents have suggested a combination of various sources and authors for these books, with an editor (redactor) who put it together in the First Millennium BC. These issues cannot be ignored by evangelicals. Such views are contrary to the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul and Peter (Mark 7:10; Acts 3:22-23; and 1 Cor. 9:9). Furthermore, historical sources such as the Apocrypha, the Mishna and Flavius Josephus (AD 37/38 -ca.100) uphold that Moses wrote these canonical books (pp 7-12). The crux of the matter concerns questions relating to the authority, inerrancy and the reliability of Scripture.

      Paul Lawrence contends that Moses wrote the Pentateuch in the ‘second half of the Second Millennium BC’ (p xv, 17). This research does not lead to blind or unfounded assertions and Lawrence does not naïvely imagine that liberals will easily abandon their assumed tradition. However, this book offers nine chapters of fruitful engagement relating to the historical background of the Old Testament scriptures. Therefore, serious minded Christians should be prepared to think through these arguments. This is in order that their confidence in God’s word is strengthened, their ability to defend the inspiration of Scripture is buttressed, and so that their love of ‘all Scripture’ (2 Timothy 3:16-17) gives eager attention to the Old Testament, as well as the New.

      The opening chapter maps out the overall direction of the book; chapter 2 focuses on ‘The World of Moses’; and chapter 3 zooms in upon ‘Genesis’. For those readers who are interested in covenant theology, they will particularly enjoy chapter 4 which handles the patterns in the biblical covenant documents which lie at the heart of Exodus/ Leviticus and Deuteronomy. The author observes that late Second Millennium Hittite treaties and the pentateuchal covenants have a common treaty format, one peculiar to that time period and not found later. This negates a First Millennium composition as espoused by JEDP hypothesis proponents (p 63-64). Chapter 5 is by far the most technical in the whole book where Lawrence spells out the details of these Near-Eastern treaties. Thankfully there is a chapter conclusion that helpfully summarises the matter (p 93-94).

      The conclusion of the matter, according to Lawrence in his final chapter, is that ‘there is no compelling reason to reject the traditional view, that Moses was the “author” of the Pentateuch’ (p 123). He helpfully asserts that ‘nothing in ancient literature resembles the “documentary hypothesis” ’and that ‘simplicity is a sign of truth’; the latter statement cannot be said of JEDP studies (p 124). Some conservative Old Testament scholars may differ with Lawrence’s precise dating in the late Second Millennium, but this subject is not the main thrust of the book. The question remains: ‘Who was the author of the first five books of the Bible?’. The title of this monograph declares that it was Moses and to this conclusion all biblical evangelicals should agree.

 

Kevin Bidwell,

Sheffield

 

 

 

 

 

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