Bible Commentary Index

Home Page



DID MOSES
WRITE THE TORAH
IN THE BIBLE?

The evidence that Moses did not write the Torah
taken from the Bible


Historical contradictions
in the story of Balaam
Kind David and his grandmother Ruth the Moabite
and politically motivated editing of the story of Balaam
In the book of Numbers in the Bible, Midianites become Moabites


     If the Bible came from a single source, and if the source was God, and if God told Moses and then Moses wrote the Torah in the Bible, it must be explained why we find that the story of Balaam and the Midianite women in the Book of Numbers in the Torah was edited for political reasons. King David and his grandmother Ruth were Moabites, and thus we find that certain stories about Moabites were edited for reasons of political expediency. As well the anti-Moabite laws in the Pentateuch and the laws banning 'half breeds' and mixed marriages indicate that there were sources in the Bible hostile to the monarchy David established in Judah. suggesting that these laws may have originated in the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the time of separation, and then became fused with the law books of Judah after the exile. Numbers appears to have been originally hostile to Moabites and thus hostile to David and his Moabite grandmother Ruth, and Boaz her Jewish husband, who apparently knew nothing of laws cursing Moab or laws banning mixed marriages. Deuteronomy was set in the territory of Moab, and Moses and the Israelites had friendly relations with Moab, suggesting that this composition was friendly to monarchy of David in Judah. Numbers may have been composed in Israel, and then the unfriendly portrayal of political relations between Moab and Israel can be understood in political terms in the original composition. In the book of Numbers it is suggested that both the Edomites and Moabites did not have friendly relations with the Israelites. Later the initial reference to Moabites is edited to refer to Midianites. There were political reasons for this revision of history, for in these manuscripts polemical arguments are justified by appealing to ‘historical injustices'. The Edomites, we are told, attacked them, and the Moabites plotted against them with Balaam, son of Beor. When Balaam failed to place a powerful curse on the Israelites, the Moabite women were sent in to seduce them, and Moses ordered a genocidal massacre of the Midianites in retaliation.

"Be hostile to the Midianites and strike them; for they have been hostile to you with their tricks, with which they have deceived you in the affair of Peor." (Numbers Chapter 25 verse 17)

     It is interesting to note that the Midianites are then held to blame for what the Moabites are said to have done (seducing Israel) and as you will see later in justifying the massacre of the Midianite nation Moses states that the Midianite women were responsible for what the Moabite women are ealier said to have done. This suggests possible later editorial revision, due to the conflicts in scripture regarding Israelite and Moabite relations (it would be easier to edit the story to refer to Midianites instead of Moabites, especially when it turns out that a Moabite half breed was king of Judah, and the genocidal massacre of Ruth and her entire nation would look particularly stupid). There are numerous examples to be found of these separate traditions surrounding such things as the relations between Israel and Moab. First, consider once again the account given in Deuteronomy:

"The descendants of Esau who live in Seir granted us passage, and so did the Moabites in Ar...ButKing Sihon of Heshbon refused to grant us passage." (Deuteronomy Chapter 2 verse 29)

"When you reach the territory of the Ammonites you must not harass them or provoke them to battle for I will not give you any Ammonite land as a possession." (Dueteronomy Chapter 2 verse 19)

"You avoided the territory of the Ammonites, thus fulfilling all that YAHWEH God had commanded." (Deuteronomy Chapter 2 verse 37)

"And YAHWEH said to me, 'Do not harass Moab or contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land for a possession.'" (Dueteronomy Chapter 2 verse 9)

     However a disparate tradition emerges in the Joshua.

"Moses allotted to the Gadites half of the country of the Ammonites as far as Aroer, which is east of Rabbah." (Joshua Chapter 13 verse 24)

"Moses allotted to the tribe of Mannessah, as their holding the lowlands of Moab east of the Jordan." (Joshua Chapter 13 verse 31)

     The book of Joshua is clearly a compilation of divergent and contradictory sources, and in this instance the source diverges from Deuteronomy and aligns with the politics of Numbers. According to the book of Joshua Israel deserved Moabite land because it was given to them by Moses as instructed by God. This is political polemic and war propaganda in the book of Joshua.

     The story of Balaam and the conflict with the Edomites and Moabites is unique to the Book Of Numbers. Any reference to Balaam is a reference to the book of Numbers. We are not being presented with history here, but rather with political polemics in competition which purport to describe events that had obviously taken place long before the time in which the authors lived.

     The account in Numbers describes the genocidal annihilation of the Midianites and the complete destruction of their country.

"They warred against Midian, as YAHWEH commanded Moses, and killed every male. They killed the kings of Midian with the rest of their slain ... and they also slew Balaam the son of Beor with the sword. And the people of Israel took captive the women of Midian and their little ones; and they took as booty all their cattle, their flocks, and all their goods. All their cities in the places where they dwelt, and all their encampments, they burned with fire ... Moses was enraged ... 'So you spared the women ... kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has had sexual intercourse with a man but keep the virgins for yourselves ... divide them up evenly.'" (Numbers Chapter 31 verse 7)

     There is a clear conflict in the account, in that it the Midianites were slaughtered for what the Moabites did, and the Midianite women are held accountable by Moses for what the Moabite women are said to have done several chapters earlier.

"While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and YAHWEH was angry against Israel ... Those who died by the plague were 24,000."(Numbers Chapter 25 verses 1 and 9)

"Be hostile to the Midianites and strike them; for they have been hostile to you with their tricks, with which they have deceived you in the affair of Peor." (Numbers Chapter 25 verse 17)

     This suggests that the material may have been edited with a reference to 'Moabites' replaced by 'Midianite' since this would introduce fewer conflicts between the varying accounts given of Moabite relations in the separate manuscripts, and with the book of Ruth in the canon, indicating that Moabites were not slaughtered and wiped out in a genocidal massacre, and with King David himself a half breed Moabite, you can see how such a story would have to be edited. And one must always keep in mind the sensitive political nature of a criticism of Moabites given that David, and his descendants, who were the monarchs of Judah, were descendants of Moabites, making editorial revision of the story of Moabite massacres to refer to Midianite massacres politically expedient, even if it did introduce a bizarre contradiction into the manuscripts. (But then the entire Bible is found to be edited in the most bizarre fashion, so this is nothing new in and of itself.)

"And Moses said to them, "Have you spared all the (Midianite) women? "Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against YAHWEH in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of YAHWEH.""(Numbers Chapters 31 verse 15)

     As I mentioned previously, the story of Balaam and the conflict with the Moabites (and their proxies the Midianites) is a tradition unique to the book of Numbers. There is a cursory reference to Balaam found tacked onto the end of Deuteronomy, a conflation from a separate source in an attempt to ‘harmonize' the Deuteronomy account of events with the conflicting version found in Numbers. We are expected to accept that Moses, as portrayed in Deuteronomy, knew all about the conflict with Balaam, despite the lack of any mention of these events previously in the speeches of Moses.

"No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of YAHWEH; even to the tenth generation none belonging to them shall enter the assembly of YAHWEH for ever; because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came forth out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.You shall never seek their peace or their prosperity all your days." (Deuteronomy Chapter 23 verse 3)

     Thhis would include Ruth, the Moabite, and King David the half breed Moabite-Judean. As well Deuteronomy is set in the territory of Moab, Moses was buried in Moab, and David had friendly relations with the Moabites, as you would expect, even sending his parents to live with the King of Moab. An attempt is made to reconcile these inconsistencies in Deuteronomy by recapitulating the version of events in Numbers and offering an alternative excuse. The Ammonites and Moabites did not ‘offer food and water' and so were cursed. No mention is made of this in the account of events in Deuteronomy, and this is a transparent attempt to justify the contradictory version of events in Numbers without seriously violating the integrity of the Deuteronomy narrative, where no mention is made of 'food and water' or Balaam. If we accept that Moses is just now mentioning the attempt to starve out the Israelites, then perhaps we might also accept that Moses is just now reminding us of the incident involving Balaam. This attempt to link Deuteronomy with Numbers is clearly unsuccessful, for in the Numbers account the conflict with the Moabites is far more serious than a simple matter of 'food and water.' The entire book of Deuteronomy takes place and Moab and Deuteronomy strictly forbids any conflict with the Moabites in earlier chapters. This attempted 'harmonization' was self defeating and useless.

     It is obvious that the anti-Moabite laws did not originate with Moses. One must explain the pro-Moabite book of Ruth. Neither Ruth or King David should have been accepted according to this explicit ban in Deuteronomy, and it is obvious that what we are seeing here are writings produced by divergent traditions. David was also doubly banned, having been born not only from a Moabite, but as the result of a mixed marriage. The anti-Moabite diatribes were obviously politically motivated invective, and more than likely composed in the northern Kingdom of Israel. We also find that, in violation of this law, Boaz was concerned for the welfare of Ruth, a Moabite, when the law stated that you must never be concerned for the welfare of a Moabite 'forever'. the prophet Isaiah also violated this law.

"Give the exiles shelter, do not betray the fugitives; let the exiles from Moab find a home with you and a shelter from the oppressor." (Isaiah Chapter 16 verse 3)

     Again this conflicts with the so called instructions from Moses saying you must never, ever help a Moabite.

     We are told that the Midianites were wiped out, the Israelites 'Killed every male', including every male baby, and kept only a few female virgins alive for the purposes of raping them. However Midianites continued to exist well into the days of the Judges, and appear again and again in the 'historical' books. Moabites, who were the original targets of the genocidal polemic also continued to thrive long after this time, as should be obvious when reading the Bible. During the time that this parable was told this fact would have been self evident, as it still should be today. In no way could the belief arise that here we were reading 'an historical account of the events surrounding the Exodus.' The narrative in Numbers was clearly not historical, but rather political polemic, and the setting for the story was actually long, long after the time of Moses. It spoke to a certain political situation that existed during the history of the nation with characters such as Moses being used as proxies for the religious and political leadership of the day, and authorizing their war policies, which included plundering and the raping of virgins. If there is supposed to be a 'moral' to the story as it is told, it would be that when you go to war against those Midianites you must be sure to kill as many of them as you can, and carry off their plunder, with a thorough genocidal massacre held up as the ideal outcome of the conflict.

Bible Commentary Index

Home Page