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The Jews and the Mosaic Law

By Isaac Leeser (1843).

Chapter 2

Who Wrote the Pentateuch?

Before we adduce further proofs in favor of revelation, it will be necessary to enquire, if Moses actually wrote the books, which bear his name; and granted he did write them, if he be then entitled to belief, or in other words, if what Moses relates in his history did take place, at the time, place, and in the manner, he himself says it did happen.

First: "Did Moses write the five books (Pentateuch), which are designated by his name?" To this question we unhesitatingly answer, yes; for the following reason: If any man presents a book to the public, and alleges that he is the author of the same, he deserves, without doubt, to be believed, unless some other person should claim the authorship, and bring conclusive proof, that he, and not the ostensible editor, is the true author. Now we find, that Moses tells us, that he was commanded by God, whose messenger he purports to be, to write down all the transactions of his time, as they happened; for we read in Exodus, chap. 34. v.27: "And the Eternal said unto Moses, Write thou these words; for according to these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel."

Here we find Moses announcing, that he had received an absolute injunction from the Deity, to write down the events of his time, and the laws which were communicated to him.

And in Deuteronomy (chap. 31. v.24) we read that Moses relates his having completed the task thus imposed upon him by God; for there it is said:

"And when Moses had finished to write down the words of this law in a book, to their very conclusion;

25. Then Moses commanded the Levites, the carriers of the ark of the covenant of the Eternal, as follows:

26. Take this book of the law, and place it at the side of the ark of the covenant of the Eternal your God, and it shall be there as an evidence against thee (the whole nation of the Israelites)."

It is thus proved by the internal evidence of the books themselves, that they were written and compiled by Moses; and even the account of the travels of the Israelites owes its origin to the same author, as he carefully noted down all the journeyings of the people under his charge, as he himself tells us in the 33rd chapter of the book of Numbers.

How can it now be doubted, that Moses was the writer of the books in question? — Suppose a modern antiquarian were to attempt to demonstrate, that Caesar was not the author of his Commentaries; or that Demosthenes did not deliver those splendid orations, which were for the last two thousand years supposed to be his: would not such an attempt be considered, by most men at least, as an evidence of insanity in the person who makes the attempt? — For how could he hope to convince the world of their error, except by prostrating at the same time all dependence upon history? The reason for this assertion is simply the following: if you deny, that a book, which bears the name of any author, was written by the reputed author, you admit, that this book contains in this respect at least an untruth; and if it cannot be relied upon in so material a point, it ought not to carry any weight with it in other matters; for since the author has been convicted of not paying a strict regard to truth, how can you determine, (if you rely solely upon the internal evidence of the book itself,) what is true and what is not true? Not to come to the dilemma you must admit, that the pretended author was the real author; for to deny this, as had been said, would throw discredit upon the whole book. — The same is the case with every historical writing extant; and we are constrained to credit the authenticity of authorship, or else no monument of art, no building, no painting, in short nothing whatever, would be believed to be the work of the artist, to whom it is generally ascribed; and all history would be a mere romance, written perhaps like some fairy tale, to amuse children and frighten the ignorant. Nothing, of which we had not ocular proof, would then be believed by us, and nothing considered a reality, of which we had no perception with our senses. But where is the man to be found, who is willing to carry this principle to so great an extent? And yet I see no point, where to stop with any degree of safety. There are very few, who do not repose confidence in history, and believe things, though they never did come under their own observation. Many have never seen the emperor Napoleon, few have ever seen Sir Walter Scott; nevertheless they firmly believe that the former fought many battles in Europe, Asia and Africa, in which he is reported to have been present; and that the latter wrote the life of Napoleon, and that moreover he is the author of that great number of books, of which he has avowed himself the author. It cannot indeed be well comprehended, how a single man, unaided, could possibly write so much, independently of the composition of so many works; but for all that, they believe, that Sir Walter did write all those books, the authorship of which he claims, chiefly because no other person has claimed the authorship and proved a superior title to the reputed author, although they themselves have never seen him write a single word.

But, some one may ask;

"If I am to believe the identity of books, which have been written so many centuries ago, what safeguard have I against being imposed upon by any book, which is given out as being the work of any author of antiquity?"

This, I confess, is a weighty objection, the more so, as forged books have very often been ascribed to writers, who perhaps had never even heard the names of those very works, said to be theirs. But let us examine the matter a little more closely, and see if the danger of being imposed upon be really so great as might perhaps appear at first sight. Let us for instance suppose; that a book should be published, purporting to have been written by Julius Caesar, and giving an account of the civil war, which under Caesar agitated the whole Roman empire; that further, this book should give an account of the events of the time, similar to that, which is contained in the book, commonly ascribed to Caesar, on the same subject, — let us say, till his arrival in Greece; but in speaking of the battle of Pharsalus, in which Pompey was conquered, suppose it to state, that Caesar's army was routed by that of Pompey, after which the latter held a triumphant entry into Rome, and that it was not till after a long war, that Caesar conquered in a hard fought battle, in which Pompey was slain. What would every one's opinion be in finding such an account in a work said to be written by Caesar? Surely, that Caesar could not be the author, because the whole chain of events, which preceded Caesar's death, belie the (fictitious) account just given, and the great dictator would not in all probability have committed any thing to writing, which he, as an eye-witness and the principal actor, must have known to be untrue. — Or if the book in question should say, that the German warriors in Caesar's army were equipped after the fashion of Numidian horsemen — or if it were written in the monkish Latin of the middle age: in all these cases the book would no doubt be pronounced a forgery, without the slightest diversity of opinion; for circumstances, generally and upon the best possible evidence, admitted as facts, prove that Caesar could not have written it, for he must have been intimately acquainted with the history, manners and language of his time. — But if, on the contrary, a book were found at present, written in the easy style of Caesar, and giving such an account of events as would appear plausible, and not contradicted by well established histories of that period, and if there should be a clause in the work stating, that C. Julius Caesar the Dictator had written it: could then any reasonable doubt be entertained of its authenticity? And I am free to assert, that most persons would regard the book as genuine, and they would require more proof, than the mere dictum of any man, to establish the contrary.

The foregoing illustration it is hoped will have satisfactorily shown, that we may with a great degree of safety rely upon the identity of books of antiquity. I will not advance another position, which from its very nature is incontrovertible, namely: "that what is once true must ever be so." If for instance it is true now, that Caesar wrote the first seven books on the Gallican War, the same must be true two thousand years hence, for what is once past, is past, and nothing can undo the past.

I must ask pardon of my readers for this long digression, which was considered necessary for the proof, or at least elucidation, of the assertion, "that Moses was the author of the books he professes to have written." — Almost every man admits the truth of profane history, at least so far as to believe, that the different books of all ages were written by those men, who claim to be the authors, unless perhaps it might be established, that there be some other claimants, who have superior titles to the reputed authors. The details of history are also admitted, unless their falsity can be proved.

Let us now ask all those, who deny the truth of our religion, why will you give credence to profane history, and not even believe, that our blessed legislator was the author of his own books; or rather that it was he who wrote them by the command of the Most High, if any one did? But you will say, "the books are of so great antiquity, that it may be fairly doubted, whether Moses wrote them, especially as we have no contemporary writer to prove the fact!" Is that your objection? Well let us examine it a little more closely and ask: if Moses did not write them, who then was the author? Were the seventy elders, who made the translation, commonly called the Septuagint, for Ptolemy Lagos, the authors? — No, for they were only the translators into Greek of this book — a book previously existing in Hebrew, and so much renowned for its wisdom, that a Grecian king desired a transcript of it in his own language. — But was it Ezra? No, for he could not be the compiler even, much less the author, as he speaks of the books as already in existence, nay as existing even before his time, and as being well known to the enlightened part of the people. — So he cannot be the man. — But was it Joshua, the immediate successor of Moses? Oh no, for to him it was commanded (Josh.i.8.): "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, and thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do all, which is written therein, for then wilt thou be prosperous and then wilt thou be wise." If the Pentateuch then was existing before Joshua, he cannot be the author of it; much less Ezra, who lived near a thousand years later. We must therefore come to the conclusion, that Moses — being the immediate predecessor of Joshua, and as the Jews had no legislator before him — must be the author de facto of the books that bear his name. This he was in the time of Joshua, and what was true then, is true now; and, therefore, since Moses was the real author in those days, he must now also be considered as such, and this so long as the blue vault of heaven shall remain extended over this beautiful earth!

May God enlighten our minds and fortify us in his law, Amen!

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