Leviticus and Homosexuality – Part 7: Not Written by Moses

Leviticus and Homosexuality – Part 7: Not Written by Moses September 11, 2020

WHERE WE ARE

Should we view homosexual sex as morally wrong because it is (allegedly) condemned in the book of Leviticus?  In Part 1 of this series I outlined a dozen reasons to doubt this viewpoint.  Here is the first reason:

1. God does NOT exist, so no prophet and no book contains truth or wisdom from God. 

In Part 2 of this series I explained my reason for skepticism in general (i.e. CYNICISM), and I explained my reasons for skepticism about supernatural claims.  In this Part 3 of this series I explained my reasons for skepticism about religion.  In Part 4  and Part 5 of this series I presented my reasons for skepticism about the existence of God.

Here is my second reason for doubting the idea that we should view homosexual sex as morally wrong because it is (allegedly) condemned in the book of Leviticus:

2. Leviticus is NOT the inspired Word of God.  (Leviticus is just another book written by ignorant and imperfect human beings).

Since most of my dozen reasons provide support for this second reason,  I did not attempt to make a comprehensive case against the divine inspiration of the book of Leviticus in Part 6 of this series, but did provide some reasons to doubt that Leviticus contains a message from God.

In this present post I will support my third reason for doubting the view that we should condemn homosexual sex as morally wrong because it is (allegedly) condemned in the book of Leviticus:

3. Leviticus was NOT written or authored by Moses.

 

A. MOSES PROBABLY DID NOT EXIST

There probably was no such person as Moses, in which case NO BOOK has ever been written by Moses, including the book of Leviticus:

The modern scholarly consensus is that the figure of Moses is a mythical figure, and while, as William G. Dever writes, “a Moses-like figure may have existed somewhere in the southern Transjordan in the mid-late 13th century B.C.”, archaeology cannot confirm his existence. Certainly no Egyptian sources mention Moses or the events of Exodus–Deuteronomy, nor has any archaeological evidence been discovered in Egypt or the Sinai wilderness to support the story in which he is the central figure. …

Despite the imposing fame associated with Moses, no source mentions him until he emerges in texts associated with the Babylonian exile. [i.e. around 600 BCE]   (from the article “Moses” in Wikipedia)

One important reason for doubt about the existence of Moses is doubt about the historicity of two key events that are closely related to the life of Moses: the Exodus from Egypt and the Conquest of Canaan.

Moses with the Ten Commandments, by Rembrandt (1659)

According to the Old Testament, Moses led a rebellion of Hebrew slaves in Egypt. The Hebrew slaves left Egypt and headed for the “promised land” (Palestine) under the leadership of Moses (the Exodus from Egypt). When they finally arrived (four decades later) on the outskirts of the “promised land,” Moses passed his leadership role on to his protege Joshua, and Joshua then led the descendants of the Hebrew slaves to conquer (i.e. mercilessly slaughter) the peoples who had previously settled in the “promised land” (the Conquest of Canaan).

The problem here is that the historical and archaeological evidence does NOT support the story of the Exodus from Egypt, nor the story of the Conquest of Canaan.  Thus, two key historical events tied to Moses by the  Old Testament appear to be legends, to be fictional events:

The consensus of modern scholars is that the Bible does not give an accurate account of the origins of the Israelites, who appear instead to have formed as an entity in the central highlands of Canaan in the late second millennium BCE from the indigenous Canaanite culture.  Most modern scholars believe that the story of the Exodus has some historical basis, but that any such basis has little resemblance to the story told in the Bible.  (from the article “The Exodus” in Wikipedia)

The prevailing scholarly view is that Joshua [the OT book that describes the Conquest of Canaan] is not a factual account of historical events. The apparent setting of Joshua is the 13th century BCE which was a time of widespread city-destruction, but with a few exceptions…the destroyed cities are not the ones the Bible associates with Joshua, and the ones it does associate with him show little or no sign of even being occupied at the time.
[…]
There is a consensus that the Joshua traditions in the Pentateuch are secondary additions. The spy story of Numbers 13–14; Deut. 1:34–7, in an earlier form only mentioned Caleb. E. Meyer and G. Hoelscher deny Joshua’s existence as a historical reality and conclude that he is the legendary hero of a Josephite clan.
[…]
According to archaeologist Ann E. Killebrew, “Most scholars today accept that the majority of the conquest narratives in the book of Joshua are devoid of historical reality”.    (from the article “Book of Joshua” in Wikipedia)

Because both of these key events are closely connected to the life of Moses by the Old Testament, this gives us a good reason to believe that the life of Moses is also a legend, that the story of Moses is a fictional story, and that Moses did not exist.  If Moses did not exist, then, clearly, Moses did NOT write the book of Leviticus.

 

B. LEVITICUS WAS PROBABLY WRITTEN LONG AFTER MOSES 

Old Testament scholars agree that one of the sources of the Torah (the five books traditionally ascribed to Moses) is the “Priestly source”:

The Priestly source (or simply P) is perhaps the most widely recognized source underlying the Torah. It is both stylistically and theologically distinct from other material in the Torah, and includes a set of claims that are contradicted by non-Priestly passages and therefore uniquely characteristic: no sacrifice before the institution is ordained by Yahweh (God) at Sinai, the exalted status of Aaron and the priesthood, and the use of the divine title El Shaddai before God reveals his name to Moses, to name a few. In general, the Priestly work is concerned with priestly matters – ritual law, the origins of shrines and rituals, and genealogies – all expressed in a formal, repetitive style.  (from the article “Priestly source” in Wikipedia) 

Old Testament scholars agree that Leviticus was based on a source that they call “P” for “Priestly source”:

The entire composition of the book of Leviticus is Priestly literature. Most scholars see chapters 1–16 (the Priestly code) and chapters 17–26 (the Holiness code) as the work of two related schools, but while the Holiness material employs the same technical terms as the Priestly code, it broadens their meaning from pure ritual to the theological and moral, turning the ritual of the Priestly code into a model for the relationship of Israel to God… The ritual instructions in the Priestly code apparently grew from priests giving instruction and answering questions about ritual matters; the Holiness code (or H) used to be a separate document, later becoming part of Leviticus, but it seems better to think of the Holiness authors as editors who worked with the Priestly code and actually produced Leviticus as we now have it.   (from the article “Book of Leviticus” in Wikipedia)

And most Old Testament scholars date P to around the time of the Babylonian Exile:

Good cases have been made for both exilic and post-exilic composition, leading to the conclusion that it has at least two layers, spanning a broad time period of 571–486 BCE.   (from the article “Priestly source” in Wikipedia) 

In the last decades of the 20th century, some Jewish scholars have argued for an earlier date for P:

While most scholars consider P to be one of the latest strata of the Pentateuch, post-dating both J and D, since the 1970s a number of Jewish scholars have challenged this assumption, arguing for an early dating of the Priestly material. Avi Hurvitz, for example, has forcefully argued on linguistic grounds that P represents an earlier form of the Hebrew language than what is found in both Ezekiel and Deuteronomy, and therefore pre-dates both of them. These scholars often claim that the late-dating of P is due in large part to a Protestant bias in biblical studies which assumes that “priestly” and “ritualistic” material must represent a late degeneration of an earlier, “purer” faith. These arguments have not convinced the majority of scholars, however.   (from the article “Priestly source” in Wikipedia, emphasis added)

So, it appears that most protestant OT scholars date P to between 600 BCE and 400 BCE, but some Jewish scholars date P earlier, namely in the 1st Temple period:

The period in which the First Temple presumably, or actually, stood in Jerusalem, is known in academic literature as the First Temple period  (c.1000–586 BCE).  (from the article “Solomon’s Temple” in Wikipedia)

If there actually was an historical Moses, then he probably lived around 1250 BCE, so if the author of Leviticus used P as a source, and if P was written between 600 BCE and 400 BCE, as most OT scholars have concluded, then obviously Moses did NOT write Leviticus.

But what if P was written in the 1st Temple period, like some Jewish scholars argue?  In that case the earliest P could have been written would be about 1000 BCE, but that is still 250 years after the time of Moses.  So, even on the early dating of P, it is clear that Moses did NOT write Leviticus.

Furthermore, the chapters in Leviticus that we are most interested in are considered to be from a specific source within P called “the Holiness code”:

The Holiness Code is a term used in biblical criticism to refer to Leviticus  chapters 17–26, and is so called due to its highly repeated use of the word Holy (Hebrew: קדוש‎ qəḏōš). Critical biblical scholars have regarded it as a distinct unit and have noted that the style is noticeably different from the main body of Leviticus. Unlike the remainder of Leviticus, the many laws of the Holiness Code are expressed very closely packed together, and very  briefly.

According to most versions of the documentary hypothesis, the Holiness Code represents an earlier text that was edited and incorporated into the Priestly source and the Torah as a whole, although some scholars, such as Israel Knohl, believe the Holiness Code to be a later addition to the Priestly source. This source is often abbreviated as “H”.  A generally accepted date is  sometime in the seventh century BC, when it presumably originated among the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem.  (from the article “Holiness code” in Wikipedia, emphasis added)

Again, if the author of Leviticus used H as a source, and if this source did not come into existence until the 7th century BCE, then Moses did NOT write Leviticus.

 

C. OTHER BOOKS IN THE TORAH WERE PROBABLY NOT WRITTEN BY MOSES

The tradition that Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament is wrong concerning the other four books according to the consensus of Old Testament scholars, so the tradition claiming that all five books were written by Moses has no credibility.

The book of Deuteronomy was based on a source called D:

The Deuteronomist source is responsible for the core chapters (12-26) of Book of Deuteronomy, containing the Deuteronomic Code, and its composition is generally dated between the 7th and 5th centuries BCE.  More specifically, most scholars believe that D was composed during the late monarchic period, around the time of King Josiah, although some scholars have argued for a later date, either during the Babylonian captivity (597-539 BC) or during the Persian period (539-332 BC).  (from the article “Composition of the Torah” in Wikipedia)

So, Old Testament scholars agree that D was composed sometime between 640 BCE (the start of King Josiah’s reign) and 332 BCE (the end of the Persian period).  If Moses was an actual historical person, then he lived around 1250 BCE, hundreds of years before D came into existence.  Clearly, Moses did NOT write the book of Deuteronomy, based on the conclusions of OT scholars.

Genesis and Exodus both make use of the P source, and so like the book of Leviticus, they could not have been written before the P source came into existence.  Most protestant OT scholars date P to between 600 BCE and 400 BCE, but some Jewish scholars date P earlier, namely in the 1st Temple period (c.1000–586 BCE), in either case P did not exist until long after the time of Moses, so Moses could NOT have written either Genesis or Exodus.

What about Numbers? Both Exodus and Numbers make use of the Yahwist (J) source:

The Book of Exodus belongs in large part to the Yahwist, although it also contains significant Priestly interpolations.  The Book of Numbers also contains a substantial amount of Yahwist material, starting with Numbers 10–14.  (from the article “Composition of the Torah” in Wikipedia)

Traditionally, scholars viewed J as the earliest of the sources used in composing the Torah. It was believed to have come into existence in the Solomonic period (about 950 BCE).  That would be about 300 years after the time of Moses.  So, on this traditional view, Numbers and Exodus could NOT have been written by Moses.

More recently, some scholars have argued that J is from a later period of history:

Van Seters and Schmid both forcefully argued, to the satisfaction of most scholars, that the Yahwist source could not be dated to the Solomonic period (c. 950 BCE) as posited by the documentary hypothesis.  They instead dated J to the period of the Babylonian captivity (597-539 BCE), or the late monarchic period at the earliest.  (from the article “Composition of the Torah” in Wikipedia)

So, according to Van Seters and Schmid, the earliest date for J would be after about 850 BCE, and was more likely after 600 BCE.  Clearly even their earliest date for J would be 400 years after the time of Moses.

Whether we use the traditional date for J of around 950 BCE or the newer dating of after 600 BCE, it is clear that Moses did NOT write the book of Exodus and did NOT write the book of Numbers.

 

D. OLD TESTAMENT SCHOLARS REJECT MOSAIC AUTHORSHIP OF LEVITICUS 

Old Testament scholars agree that Leviticus was not written by Moses:

The composition of the Torah (or Pentateuch, the first five books of the bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) was a process that involved multiple authors over an extended period of time.  While Jewish tradition holds that all five books were originally written by Moses sometime in the 2nd millennium BCE, by the 17th century leading scholars had rejected Mosaic authorship.  (from the article “Composition of the Torah” in Wikipedia)

Given that Old Testament scholars also agree that Leviticus was not written by Moses, it is likely that Leviticus was NOT written by Moses.

CONCLUSION

  • Moses probably did not exist.  
  • Even if Moses did exist, Leviticus was probably written long after Moses.
  • According to Old Testament scholars, the four other books in the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) were NOT written by Moses.
  • According to Old Testament scholars Leviticus was NOT written by Moses.

Based on these facts, it is probably NOT the case that Moses wrote the book of Leviticus.

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