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Testament of Moses

First Century A.D.

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John J. Collins writes: "In 1861 Antonio Ceriani published a fragmentary Latin manuscript which he had found in the Ambrosian Library in Milan and which he identified as the Assumption of Moses. The identification was based on chapter 1 verse 14, which corresponds to a quotation from the Assumption of Moses by Gelasius (Ecclesiastical History II.17.17). Gelasius elsehwere (II.21.7) refers to the dispute between Michael and the Devil in the Assumption of Moses. This episode is not found in the manuscript published by Ceriani, but is often referred to in patristic sources and even already in the New Testament in Jude, verse 9. (The allusion is not identified in Jude but is specified in Clement, Origen and other patristic sources.) The Latin manuscript does not refer to the death of Moses or his subsequent assumption at all and, since it is primarily a prophecy delivered before death, it is more properly described as a testament. In fact the Stichometry of Nicephorus and other lists mention a Testament (Diatheke) of Moses immediately before the Assumption, and the dominant opinion of scholars is that Ceriani's text corresponds to the Testament rather than the Assumption. In view of the citations in Gelasius, some have suggested that the Testament and the Assumption were combined in a single book. The surviving Latin text is incomplete, and may have concluded with an account of the assumption of Moses. Origen (De Principiis III.2.1) uses the title 'Ascension of Moses' for the document which contains the dispute between Michael and the Devil, i.e. the Assumption of Moses." (Outside the Old Testament, p. 145)

Raymond F. Surburg writes: "The book purports to give an address delivered by Moses to Joshua. In it there is a description of how Moses, when he is about to die, delivers to Joshua the sacred writings. Moses reveals to his successor prophecies which he is instructed to record but to hide until the appointed time concerning the Hebrew nation. A panorama of the history of the Jews up to the author's time is described. He tells how one tribe shall say to another: 'Lo, is not this that which Moses did once declare unto us in prophecies? Yea, he declared and called heaven and earth to witness against us that we should not transgress the commandments of the Lord, of which he was the mediator to us.' There are references to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., the persecution of Antiochus, the rule of the Hasmoneans, the divisions between Pharisees and Sadducees, and the reign of Herod. The book ends on an optimistic note, for the promise of a happy future is given." (Introduction to the Intertestamental Period, p. 139)

Emil Schürer writes: "Opinion is very much divided regarding the date of the composition of this book. Ewald, Wieseler, Drummond and Dillman refer it to the first decade after the death of Herod; Hilgenfeld calculates that it may have been written in the course of the year 44-45 A.D.; Schmidt and Merx say some time between 54 and 64 A.D.; Fritzsche and Lucius trace it to the sixth decade of the first century A.D.; Langen thinks it must have been shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus (chap. viii. being erroneously interpreted as referring to this event); Hausrath prefers the reign of Domitian; Philippi, the second century of our era (the latter fixing on this date solely with the object of his being able to ascribe the authorship to a Christian, and of reversing the relation in which our book and ver. 9 of the Epistle of Jude stand to each other; see in particular, pp. 177, 182); while Volkmar (in accordance with his well-known predilection for the time of Barcocheba) thinks the date would be some time in the course of the year 137-138 A.D. Almost the whole of the critics just mentioned base their calculation upon the well-nigh illegible fragments of numbers in chap. vii. But surely one may fairly question the propriety of trying to found anything whatever upon lines so mutilated as those are; and if we had no other data but these to help us to fix the date in question, we would have nothing for it but to abandon the attempt altogether. Still I cannot help thinking that there are two such data at our disposal. (1) Toward the end of chap. vi. it is plainly stated that the sons of Herod are to reign for a shorter period (breviora tempora) than their father. Now it is well known that Philip and Antipas reigned longer than their father; and one cannot help seeing the embarrassment to which those words have led in the case of all those critics who refer the composition of our book to a latish date. They are capable of being explained solely on the assumption that the work was written toward the commencement of the reign of the last-mentioned princes. (2) It is as good as universally admitted that the concluding sentences of chap. vi. refer to the war of Varus in the year 4 B.C. When therefore chap. vii. goes on to say: Ex quo facto finientur tempora, surely there can hardly be room for any other inference than this, that the author wrote subsequent to the war of Varus. In that case the enigmatical numbers that follow in this same chapter cannot be supposed to be a continuation of the narrative, but are to be regarded as a calculation added by way of supplement after the narrative has been brought down to the date at which the author was writing. Only, considering how mutilated those numbers are, every attempt to explain them must prove a failure. Consequently the view of Ewald, Wieseler, Drummond and Dillmann with regard to the date of the composition of our book is substantially correct." (The Literature of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus, pp. 78-79)

Martin McNamara writes: "The original form of this work probably originated about the same time as the Book of Daniel. It was once thought that the date to be assigned to the composition was A.D. 7-30 since chapter 6 clearly speaks of Herod and his sons. It is highly probable, however, that this section is interpolated and was inserted when a second edition, so to speak, of The Testament of Moses was brought out in the first half of the first century A.D. The Testament of Moses is based on Deut 31-34 and contains Moses' parting words to Israel together with an account of his death." (Intertestamental Literature, p. 96)

James C. VanderKam writes: "The fact that the predictions extend well into the first century CE means that the Testament of Moses as we have it was not written before that time. It has been suggested, however, that a book, dating from early Maccabean times, was later supplemented by splicing chapters 6-7 into the predictive survey in order to bring it up to date. The strongest argument for this thesis is that these two chapters seem to destroy the sequence of the survey. Yet it is possible to read the book as it stands as an orderly account and to understand chapters 7-9 as stereotypical depictions of the great evil at the end. These depictions draw on themes from the Maccabean crisis but are not meant to be descriptions of it. If so, then the entire book, which does not (in the surviving form of the text) claim to be revealed by an angel, can be read as an apocalypse from the first century BCE. It was written under the impress of events in Herod's time and immediately after; its purpose was to reassure the readers that God foreknew everything that would happen, that he is faithful to the covenant, and that he will have compassion on his people. No less an authority than Moses himself stands behind the message." (An Introduction to Early Judaism, pp. 114-115)

James Charlesworth writes: "The date of the composition has been a subject of considerable controversy. Most critics today correctly place the original sometime in the opening decades of the first century A.D. (cf. J. J. Collins, no. 1151); but J. Licht ('Taxo, or the Apocalyptic Doctrine of Vengeance,' JJS 12 [1961] 95-103) and G. W. E. Nichelsburg, Jr. (no. 471, pp. 28-31, 43-45, 97; no. 1168; cf. 1169, p. 6) have argued for a date during the early stages of the Maccabean revolt, allowing for interpolations and re-editing in the Herodian period. Given the incomplete, often illegible state of the extant text and our fragmentary knowledge of early Judaism it has been impossible to reach a scholarly consensus regarding the text's provenance or relationship to a Jewish sect, if any. Scholars have generally concluded that the original language is Hebrew (Charles, APOT 2, p. 410; Ferrar, Assumption of Moses, p. 8; D. H. Wallace, 'The Semitic Origin of the Assumption of Moses,' TZ 11 [1955] 321-28; cf. idem, no. 1182)." (The Pseudepigrapha and Modern Research, pp. 163-164)

Leonhard Rost writes: "As early as 1868, M. Schmidt and A. Merx described the author as an Essene, but they were unable to gain acceptance of their hypothesis. The discovery of the Qumran manuscripts proved them correct to the extent of confirming that the author belonged to the Qumran milieu (R. Meyer, O. Eissfeldt). There are particularly close connections with the Damascus Document and the War Scroll. The association with Qumran means that the work was composed in Palestine. Since the Temple appears to be still standing, whereas Herod is dead and his sons appear to be ruling, the date must fall in the first third of the first century C.E." (Judaism Outside the Hebrew Canon, p. 148)

John J. Collins writes: "In its present form the Testament of Moses must be dated around the turn of the era, since there is a clear allusion to the partial destruction of the temple in the campaign of Varus in 4 BC (TMos 6:8-9). The document shows no awareness of the final destruction of AD 70. Scholarly opinion is divided as to whether chapters 5-6, which develop the course of history through the first century BC were part of the original document or a later insertion. These chapters clearly refer to the Hasmoneans, Herod and the campaign of Varus. Yet the final persecution, in chapter 8, is strongly reminiscent of the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes. R. H. Charles attempted to resolve this anomaly by re-arranging the chapters so that 8-9 stood before 5-6. This proposal is unacceptable since the logic of the book demands that the divine intervention in chapter 10 should follow directly on the most sever persecution and especially on the episode of Taxo and his sons. The specificity of the account of the persecution in chapter 8 suggests that this is an account of the author's time, rather than a stereotyped eschatological scenario. In this case we must assume that chapters 5-6 were inserted to update the book. The account of the persecution then becomes an eschatological scenario in the revised document. Support for the theory of a second redaction can be found in 10:8 where the phrase 'the wings of the eagle' is an addition, and may allude to the pulling down of the golden eagle over the temple gate shortly before the campaign of Varus (Josephus, Ant. XVII.6.3 (155-7))." (Outside the Old Testament, p. 148)

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