Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Testament of Moses

Introduction to the Text:

Although the Testament of Moses is cut off half-way through the manuscript, it is nonetheless helpful in reconstructing ideologies and worldviews from the Levant in the 1st century C.E., and even earlier if we assume the text had previous written and oral traditions preceding it’s composition. The testament claims to be “the prophecy which was made by Moses in the book of Deuteronomy”; however, while it takes up a similar tone, the testament incorporates material relevant to the Maccabean Period, indicative of the late date of the text.

Based on the previous information, it is evident that we should read the Testament of Moses as its own piece of literary work, self-sustaining and independent. What we will consider today is Moses’ role as a divinator in the Testament of Moses.

Divination, Prophecy, and Moses

Contrary to popular opinion, there is not really any distinction between magic and prophecy in the ancient world. Both are considered divination and imply access to divine knowledge (Hamori, 2015). The following will briefly examine some moments in which divination is relevant. Following the data, I will attempt to draw some sort of conclusion as to the nature of divination in the Testament of Moses.

1:5 notes that the book, that is the Testament of Moses, was actually the one made in the book of Deuteronomy. As noted previously, the account is obviously late. Additionally, the text specifically notes the prophecy occurring “after the Exodus”. By placing the prophecy within a historical period, albeit a mythologized historical period, we see divination as something which needs to be rooted in a particular period. In other words, one does not merely have access to divine knowledge; rather, the access must be within a specific period. In this situation, the period is following the exodus in Amman.

In 1:15, Moses claims he was created “to be the mediator of his covenant”. Although mediator does not necessarily imply divination, it is one possible interpretation. As a mediator and one who interpreted the words of God to Israel, Moses must have some sort of access to divine knowledge, a high sphere of wisdom.

3:12 suggests the Israelites will recognize Moses as their mediator for God’s commandments. They also recognize that he made prophecies known to them. Thus, in this occurrence, it apparent the community recognizes their lack of access to divine knowledge. Moses alone made information known through his prophecies.

11:8 may contain a reference to Moses’ divination. When we consider the ancient Near Eastern influence on the Palestinian region, it adds another dimension to Joshua’s statement that Moses’ sepulcher, or life, “is from the rising to the setting of the sun”. I wonder if there may be here an appropriation of the idea that the sun deity, whether, Ra or Šamaš, travels across the sky and then descends into the underworld. In Moses’ case though, by using this motif, two things become evident. First, Moses is associated with deities, and access to divine knowledge therein. Second, by describing Moses’ life as a sun setting, he is placed far about the rest of humanity, likely due to his access to divine knowledge of God’s will and commandments as the mediator.

In 11:16, Joshua refers to Moses as “the divine prophet for the whole earth”, a bold claim for any human. Yet, because Moses is characterized through a motif associated with the divine, it is not so surprising. Importantly, Joshua is not calling Moses a god, for to be “divine” can be read as a range (angels, demons, etc.) rather than an on/off switch. In this verse, though, we see how the text justifies the results of Moses’ divination, namely that he is “divine” and thereby has access to divine knowledge.

Drawing these observations, we realize an important fact about the characterization of Moses in the 1st century C.E.. In many respects, Moses is elevated to a position of a lower-deity, though not of divine essence. The author of the Testament of Moses successfully writes in a such a manner that permits and justifies Moses’ direct access to the divine by associating him with the divine; yet, the author is also careful to avoid turning Moses into a deity.

One point that would be interesting to explore in the future is how the representation of Moses’ divination in the Testament of Moses compares to the representation of Moses’ divination throughout the Pentateuch.

References

Duling, D. C.. “Testament of Solomon”. James Charlesworth ed. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume I. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1983.

Hamori, Esther J. Women’s Divination in Biblical Literature. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015.

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: The Testament of Moses

*I apologize for the delay in Pseudepigrapha Saturday. With Christmas, I was too busy. For those who actively read, please comment and let me know if you would appreciate and/or find it interesting if I expanded Pseudepigrapha Saturday to some more like Source Saturday. Source Saturday would draw from the Pseudepigrapha and other ancient literature.

The Testament of Moses:

The Testament of Moses (henceforth TMos) was composed during the Herodian period, most likely within a Palestinian locale. In short, it is a farewell address by Moses to Israel. Chapter Eleven narrates Joshua’s response, who claims that the Israel’s enemies will likely attack now when Moses is dead. Moses replies with confidence that God will allow Israel to succeed in accordance with his covenant promises. Unfortunately the only extant text is cut off in the middle of Chapter Twelve.

History, Literature, and Imagery:

In an article on TMos, part of Kenneth Atkinson’s argument is that it was composed in the Herodian period. Consequently TMos is a valuable source for understanding the cognitive environment in which people understood characters like Jesus and Moses. At the end of his article, he writes that “the Testament of Moses, once dated to the Herodian period, provides a valuable, yet largely neglected, source for understanding these NT doctrines as well as the roles of other intermediary figures during the Second Temple period” (476).

For New Testament studies, one valuable contribution of Atkinson’s analysis is that it places within Jesus’ life, and outside of New Testament literature, “that many Jews during the Second Temple period believed that a righteous figure must be completely pure and without sin in order to fulfill God’s eschatological plan”. In other words, it elucidates the ideas which authors of the New Testament and early Christianity may have held.

Bibliography:

Atkinson, Kenneth. 2006. “Taxo’s Martyrdom and the Role of the Nuntius in the “testament of Moses”: Implications for Understanding the Role of Other Intermediary Figures”. Journal of Biblical Literature 125 (3). The Society of Biblical Literature: 453–76.

Priest, J. “Testament of Moses”. J. H. Charlesworth, editor. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, volume I. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1983.