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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Assumption of Moses


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A curious state of affairs exists with regard to the so-called ‘Assumption of Moses.’ The title is incorrectly applied to what is really the ‘Testament of Moses,’ a work which is extant in a more or less complete form in a Latin fragment discovered by Ceriani in a 6th cent. manuscript in the Ambrosian Library at Milan, and published by him in 1861, The true ‘Assumption’ survives only in quotations and references in the NT and early Christian writers; but from certain facts it appears that it was at a very early date appended to the ‘Testament.’ For example, in Ceriani’s Latin manuscript in 10:12 we have the reading ‘From my death [assumption] until His advent.’ Here the duplicate reading ‘assumption’ would appear to be an attempt to prepare for the account of the Assumption appended to the Testament. Moreover, as early as St. Jude’s Epistle, we find quotations from both works in close juxtaposition. Under these circumstances, the present article includes an account of both works.

Both works alike must have been written in the 1st cent. a.d., and the former, if not the latter, in Hebrew, between the years 7 and 29. A Greek version of both, of the same century, is presupposed by the quotations and parallels in Acts 7:36, Judges 1:9; Judges 1:16; Judges 1:18; Judges 1:2 Baruch, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. The author was a Pharisaic Quietist. His silence with regard to the Maccabaean rising and its leaders is most significant. There could be no severer censure on the political and bellicose Pharisees of his time. For him Eleazar and his seven sons had been the true heroes, and not Judas and his brethren. He expects the ultimate triumph of Israel, but this is to be brought about by Divine intervention and not by the sword, and the human conditions prerequisite are a stricter observance of the Law and a national repentance.

The work is of great value in the stress it lays on spiritual religion and quietism. In this and in its singular freedom from the Jewish doctrine of merit it affords a parallel to NT teaching. On the other hand, it is thoroughly Judaic in its exaltation of the person of Moses, which seems to be set up as a Jewish counterpart to that of our Lord, while the pre-existence of Moses and Jerusalem is expressly asserted in 1:14, 17.

1. Contents (historical and other allusions are explained in brackets).-i. In the 2500th year from the Creation, after the Exodus, Moses calls Joshua and appoints him his successor as minister of the people and of the tabernacle of the testimony, at the same time committing to his charge certain books which were to be preserved in the place which God had made from the beginning of the world (Jerusalem).-ii. After Joshua has secured to Israel their inheritance, the people are to be ruled for eighteen years (i.e. the fifteen judges, and the three kings, Saul, David, and Solomon) by chiefs and kings, and for nineteen years (the nineteen kings of Israel) the ten tribes shall break away. The two tribes maintain the Tern pie worship for twenty years (reigns), of which, however, four are evil and idolatrous.-iii. Then a king from the East (Nebuchadrezzar) shall come and burn their ‘colony’ (Jerusalem) and the Temple and remove the sacred vessels. The two tribes are carried into captivity, and confess their punishment to be just, as also do the ten tribes.-iv. At the end of the 77 years’ captivity, one who is over them (Daniel) will pray for them. A king (Cyrus) has compassion on them, and parts of the two tribes return, while the ten increase among the Gentiles in their captivity.-v. Even, the faithful two tribes sin, and are punished through the kings who share in their guilt (the Seleucids). They are divided as to the truth, and pollute the altar with their non-Aaronic priests, ‘not priests but slaves, sons of slaves’ (Jason and Menelaus).-viii. A ‘second visitation’ follows. The king of the kings of the earth (Antiochus Epiphanes) crucifies those who confess to circumcision, and compels them to blaspheme the law and beat idols, and persecutes them with tortures.-ix. Thereupon a man of the tribe of Levi, named Taxo (= Eleazar), exhorts his seven sons to fast for three days and on the fourth to go into a cave and die rather than transgress the commands of the Lord of lords.-vi. Next there are raised up kings bearing rule who call themselves priests of the Most High God (the Maccabees). They work iniquity in the Holy of Holies. They are succeeded by an insolent king not of the race of the priests (Herod), who will carry out secret massacres and rule for 34 years. His children are to reign for shorter periods. A powerful king of the West (Varus, governor of Syria) invades the land, burns part of the Temple, and crucifies some of the people.-vii. The times shall then be ended. Destructive and impious men (Sadducees) shall rule-treacherous, hypocritical, gluttons, oppressing the poor, and lawless. Though unclean in land and mind, they say, ‘Do not touch me, lest thou shouldest pollute me.’-x. Then God’s kingdom shall appear, and Satan shall be no more, and the angel who has been appointed chief (Michael) shall avenge them of their enemies. The earth is shaken, the sun and moon fail, and the sea and the waters dry up. The Gentiles are punished, and Israel is happy, and triumphs over the Eagle (Rome), is raised to the stars, and beholds his enemies in Gehenna and rejoices over them. Until this advent of God there shall he 250 times from Moses’ death.-xi. Joshua mourns that he is not able to take Moses’ place as guide and teacher, prophet and advocate. The Amorites will assail Israel when Moses is not among them.-xii. Moses replies by placing Joshua in his own seat, and assures him that all is foreseen and controlled by God.

At the end of ch. vii. and again at the end of ch. 12 the manuscript breaks off in the middle of a sentence. Chapters 8 and 9 are read between 5 and 6, as Charles suggests in his edition (pp. 28-30). They obviously refer to the Antiochian persecution, and are quite out of place after ch. 7, which describes the Sadducees who were contemporaries of the author. Burkitt argues (Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iii. 449) that ‘the Theophany in 10 comes in well after the story of the ideal saint Taxo in 9, but very badly after the description of the wicked priests and infers in vii.’ But ch. 7 is mutilated at the end, and we cannot argue from the last reference which happens to be preserved in it. He suggests that the author ‘filled up his picture of the final woes from the stories of the Antiochian martyrs.’ But surely he would not need to borrow his picture of the ideal saint of the last times (and his name) from the same period.

2. Date.-The date of composition is clearly fixed by the words in 6:7 ‘and he (Herod) shall beget children who succeeding him shall rule for shorter periods,’ As this is a prediction which was falsified by the event, for Antipas reigned forty-three years and Philip thirty-seven (while Herod reigned thirty-four), we must postulate a date earlier than thirty-four years from Herod’s death, i.e. a.d. 30. A date nearer to the deposition of Archelaus in a.d. 6, which would suggest the impending deposition of his brothers, would be still more suitable.

3. Author.-The author is generally supposed to have been a Zealot (so Ewald, Wieseler, Dillmann, Schürer, Deane, and Briggs). But, while well aware of the Maccabaean movement, he shows his aversion to Maccabaean methods by his silence in regard to the exploits of Judas and his brethren. His hero, Taxo, instead, of taking up arms, withdraws into a cave to die, with the words ‘Let us die rather than transgress.’ It is not militancy but God’s direct and personal intervention that will bring in the kingdom.

The same arguments prove that he was no Sadducee. His was no earthly ideal, but that of a heavenly theocratic kingdom (10:9f.). A Resurrection is not taught, it is true, but it is implied in the consummation of Israel’s happiness in these verses. The Sadducees are attacked, and in 7:3, 6 there is a play on their name and their claim to be just (צדיקים and צדוקים).

He was not an Essene. He is a strong patriot and keenly interested in the fortunes of the nation. The Law is of perpetual obligation and is itself sufficient. The Temple is built by God Himself (2:4) in the place He prepared from the creation (1:18). Its profanations are often mentioned (2:8, 9; 3:2; 5:3, 4; 6:1, 9). The sacrificial system is regarded as valid (2:6), and its cessation is a cause of lamentation (4:8). The altar is polluted only by injustice (5:4). The Essenes did not value the Temple sacrifices, and objected to animal sacrifice altogether. The future heavenly abode of the righteous, and the future punishment of Israel’s enemies in Gehenna, are distinctively Pharisaic ideas. The pre-existence of Moses in 1:14 is regarded as a unique distinction. The Essenes believed in the pre-existence of all souls alike.

We must conclude, therefore, that the author was a ‘Pharisee of a fast-disappearing type, recalling in all respects the Chasid of the early Maccabean times, and upholding the old traditions of quietude and resignation’ (Charles, 1897, p. liv).

4. The Latin text.-The Latin text presents a difficult task to the critical reconstructor of the original Hebrew text. To begin with, Ceriani’s manuscript is a palimpsest, in which whole verses are at times indecipherable. In the next place, it is not the original Latin translation but a copy, in which the Latin itself has been corrected and corrupted. Thus in 5:6 we have six lines of duplicate rendering, and there are dittographies also in 6:3; 8:5; 11:13. In 11:2 the copyist has misread ‘eum’ as ‘cum,’ and corrects ‘Monses’ into ‘Monse’ accordingly. The version, however, is very literal, and, in spite of corruptions and carelessness, its Greek source is occasionally evident; and the original Hebrew idiom is frequently preserved, Greek words like clibsis (= θλῖψις, 3:7) and heremus (= ἐρῆμος, 3:11), and even a reading like finem in 2:7, which presupposes ὅρον in Greek [corrupt for ὅρκον], suffice, to prove translation from the Greek; while corrupt passages like 4:9; 5:5; 10:4; 11:12 (see Charles’ text) require re-translation into the original Hebrew in order to explain the corruption. In 7:3 we have a play on the name Sadducees (צדוקים)

‘dicentes se esse justos (צדיקים)’

which is possible only in Hebrew. An Aramaic original postulated by Schmidt, Merx, and others is not necessitated by the order in 1:10; 3:2 (see Charles, 1897, pp. xxviii-xlv).

5. The original ‘Assumption of Moses.’-The subject-matter of the extant work (preserved largely in Ceriani’s Latin manuscript ) proves it to be a Testament of Moses, as it deals with the dying predictions and charges of Moses as related to Joshua, quite in the manner of the Testaments of The Twelve Patriarchs (q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ). It nowhere describes his ‘Assumption,’ and only in an interpolation (10:12) refers to it. The opening words have been thus restored by Charles to fill the gap in the manuscript -‘Testamentum Moysi | Quae praecepit an̄o vi|tae eius Cmo et xxmo.’ Throughout the work Moses is to die an ordinary death (e.g. 1:15; 3:13; 10:12, 14). In a Catena quoted in Fabricius (Cod. Pseud. Vet. Test. ii. 121, 122), and again in Section xiii. of Vassiliev’s Anecdota Graeco-Byzantina (pp. 257-258), we find references to a natural death or Moses, which may be derived from the original ending of the ‘Testament.’ In Vassiliev’s work the words that follow seem to be derived from the true ‘Assumption,’ while Josephus (Ant. iv. viii. 48) seems to be aware of the new claims put forth for Moses’ Assumption, while explaining the Scripture statement of his death as a precaution against deification of the national hero: νέφους αἰφνίδιον ὑπὲρ αὐτοῦ στάντος, ἀφανίζεται κατά τινος φάραγγος. Γέγραφε δʼ αὐτὸν ἐν ταῖς ἱεραῖς βίβλοις τεθνεῶτα, δείσας μὴ διʼ ὑπερβολὴν τῆς περὶ αὐτὸν ἀρετῆς πρὸς τὸ θεῖον αὐτὸν ἀναχωρῆσαι τολμήσωσιν εἰπεῖν.

The fragments of the true ‘Assumption of Moses’ preserved in various sources are as follows.-We read in Judges 1:9 : ‘But Michael the archangel, when, contending with the devil, he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke thee.” ’ Clem. Alex. quotes this verse in Adumbrat. in Ep. Judae (Zahn’s Supplement. Clementin., 1884, p. 84), and adds: ‘Hic confirmat Assumptionem Moysi.’ Didymus Alex. in Epist. Judae Enarratio, and the Acta Synodi Nicaen. ii. 20 also refer to St. Jude’s words as a quotation from ‘Moyseos Assumptio’ or Ἀνάληψις Μωυσέως. The Devil’s claim which Michael thus rebutted was (1) that he was lord of matter (ὄτι ἐμὸν τὸ σῶμα ὡς τῆς ὕλης δεσπόζοντι [Cramer’s Catena in Ep. Cath., 1840, p. 160: also Matthaei’s edition of Sept. Epp. Cathol., Riga, 1782, pp. 238, 239]); (2) that Moses was a murderer.

The answer to the second claim is not given, but the answer to the first is in fuller form than in St. Jude, in Acta Synodi Nicaen. ii. 20: ἀπὸ γὰρ πνεύματος ἁγίου αὐτοῦ πάντες ἐκτίσθημεν, thus claiming all creation as the handiwork of God’s Holy Spirit. Origen (de Princip. iii. 2. 1) adds a reproach uttered by Michael to the serpent: ‘a diabolo inspiratum serpentem causam exstitisse praevaricationis Adae et Evae.’

The Assumption finally ‘takes place in the presence of Joshua and Caleb, and in a very peculiar way. A twofold presentation of Moses appears: one is Moses “living in the spirit,” which is carried up to heaven; the other is the dead body of Moses, which is buried in the recesses of the mountains’ (Charles, p. 106). So Clem. Alex., Strom. vi. 15 Origen. hom. in Joshua 2:1; Euodius, Epist. ad. Augustin. 253, vol. ii. p. 839 (Ben. ed. 1836). This ‘twofold presentation’ would appear to be due to an attempt to reconcile Deuteronomy 34:5 f. with the Jewish legend. Cf. Josephus, quoted above.

6. Value for New Testament study

i. Parallels in phraseology.-These are confined to five passages: (a) Stephen’s speech in Acts 7:36, where the words ‘in Egypt and in the Red Sea and in the wilderness forty years’ are the same as in Ass. Mos. 3:11. Cf. also Acts 7:38-39 with Ass. Mos. 3:12.-(b) Judges 1:16 : cf. Ass. Mos. 7:7 ‘complainers’; 7:9 ‘and their mouth will speak great things’; 5:5 ‘respecting the persons of the wealthy.’ Judges 1:18 ‘in the last time’ = Ass. Mos. 7:1 ‘the times shall be ended.’-(c) With 2 Peter 2:13 cf. Ass. Mos. 7:4 ‘lovers of banquets at every hour of the day,’ and with 2:3 cf. 7:6 ‘devourers of the goods … saying that they do so on the ground of Justice (or mercy).’

The signs of the end in sun, moon, and stars in Ass. Mos. 10:5 resemble those in Mark 13:24-25, while the phrase in 8:1 ‘there will come upon them a second visitation and wrath, such as has not befallen them from the beginning until that time,’ is nearer Matthew 24:21 than Daniel 12:1 and Revelation 16:18.

There is also the well-known reference to the lost ‘Assumption’ In Judges 1:9 generalized in 2 Peter 2:10-11)-‘Yet Michael the archangel,’ etc.

ii. Parallels in doctrine and ideas

(a) The parallels with the NT doctrine of Christ are remarkable. Moses appears to fill the place which would be taken by Christ in Christian belief, as a Divinely appointed mediator, bound by no limitations of time or space, interceding on behalf of God’s people. His pre-existence and mediatorship are asserted in 1:14. He was ‘prepared before the foundation of the world (cf. Matthew 25:34) to be the mediator of His (God’s) covenant’ (cf. Galatians 3:19). Christ, too, was ‘before all things’ (Colossians 1:17, John 1:1; John 8:58; John 17:5), and was the Mediator of a new and better covenant (Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 12:24). Baldensperger sees in 11:17 a definite attack on Christian views. The body of Moses would know no local sepulchre, nor would any dare to move his ‘body from thence as a man from place to place.’ This seems to imply the Jewish view that not only was Christ buried, and His body moved from the cross to the grave, but that His disciples had removed it from the sepulchre (Matthew 28:13). In 11:9 Joshua says: ‘Thou art departing, and who will feed this people [cf. the commission to Peter in John 21:15-17], or who is there who will have compassion on them, and … be their guide by the way (cf. Matthew 9:36), or who will pray for them, not omitting a single day?’ cf. 11:17 (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25. But not only is Moses regarded as shepherd, compassionate guide, and intercessor; in 11:16 he is described as ‘the sacred spirit who was worthy of the Lord (cf. Wisdom of Solomon 3:5; Wisdom of Solomon 7:22), manifold and incomprehensible, the lord of the word, who was faithful in all things (Hebrews 3:5), God’s chief prophet throughout the earth, the most perfect teacher in the world.’ Cf., in regard to Christ, John 3:2 ‘Thou art a teacher come from God,’ 6:68 ‘Thou hast the words of eternal life.’ For the ‘manifold Spirit,’ cf. 1 Corinthians 12:11-13, and for Christ as Spirit, 2 Corinthians 3:17 ‘the Lord is that Spirit.’ In 12:6 Moses is ‘appointed to pray for their (Israel’s) sins and make intercession for them’ (cf. Hebrews 7:25). Moses also was the appointed revealer of God’s hidden purpose (1:12, 13). God had ‘created the world on behalf of his people’ (a common Jewish view; contrast Hebrews 1:2, Colossians 1:18, Romans 11:36, John 1:3 -where Christ is the final cause of creation). ‘But he was not pleased to manifest this purpose of creation from the foundation of the world in order that the Gentiles might thereby be convicted’ (by their own false theories). Cf. Romans 16:25-26 ‘… the preaching of Jesus Christ … the revelation of the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal, but now is manifested … unto all the nations unto obedience of faith.’ In Ephesians 1:9-10 the mystery of God’s will, ‘according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in him,’ is not Israel but Christ as the goal of all creation. In Ephesians 3:4-11 it includes the bringing in of the Gentiles into the scheme of final restoration. In 1 Corinthians 2:7, Ephesians 3:9, Romans 16:25 the purpose precedes the creation of the world.

(b) Justification and good works.-The Rabbinic doctrine of man’s merit is entirely absent. Cf. 12:7 ‘Not for any virtue or strength of mine, but in His compassion and long-suffering, was He pleased to call me.’ Cf. Titus 3:5, 2 Timothy 1:9.

(c) Day of repentance.-Jerusalem is to be the place of worship till ‘the day of repentance in the visitation wherewith the Lord shall visit them in the consummation of the end of the days’ (1:18). This repentance in Malachi 4:6 and Luke 1:16-17 is to be brought about by Elijah. It is the theme of John the Baptist (Mark 1:4) and of Christ (1:15). It is to usher in the ‘visitation,’ or the establishment of the theocratic Kingdom by God Himself in person.

(d) Michael is regarded as the chief antagonist of Satan and of Israel’s foes. In 10:2 he is appointed chief, and ‘will forthwith avenge them of their enemies.’ Cf. Revelation 12:7.

(e) Gehenna is still the place, not where the wicked and immoral suffer, but into which Israel’s foes, the Gentiles, are cast. The dividing line between the future blessed and accursed is a national and not a moral one.

(f) Messianic Kingdom.-There is no Messiah. In 10:7 we are told ‘the Eternal God alone … will … punish the Gentiles.’ The Kingdom will come upon a general repentance (1:17) 1750 years (10:12) after Moses’ death, i.e. between a.d. 75 and 107. The ten tribes share in the promises (3:9) and in the final restoration (10:8) Israel is finally exalted to heaven (10:8f.) and beholds its foes in Gehenna (10:10).

Literature.-(a) Chief editions of the Latin text.-A. Ceriani, Monumenta sacra et profana, i. i. [1861] 55-64; A. Hilgenfeld, NT extra Canonem receptum2, 1876, pp. 107-135; G. Volkmar, Mose Prophetie und Himmelfahrt, Leipzig, 1867; Schmidt-Merx, ‘Die Assumptio Mosis …’ (Archiv f. wissen. Erforsch. des AT [Note: T Altes Testament.] , ed. Merx, 1868, i. ii. 111-152); O. F. Fritzsche, Libri Apocryphi V.T., 1871, pp. 700-730; R. H. Charles, The Assumption of Moses … the unemended Text … together with the Text in its … critically emended Form, London, 1897; C. Clemen, The Assumption of Moses, Cambridge, 1904. (b) Chief critical inquiries.-Rönsch, Zeitschrift für wissenschaftliche Theologie , xi. [1868] 76-108, 466-468, xii. [1869] 213-228, xiv. [1871] 89-92, xvii. [1874] 542-562, xxviii. [1885] 102-104; F. Rosenthal, Vier apoc. Bücher, 1885, pp. 13-38; E. Schürer, History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] ii. iii. 73-83; W. Baldensperger, Das Selbstbewusstsein Jesu, 1888, pp. 25-31; W. J. Deane, Pseudepigrapha, 1891, pp. 95-130; E. de Faye, Les Apocalypses juives, 1892, pp. 67-75; R. H. Charles, op. cit. xiii-lxv; C. Clemen, in Kautzsch’s Apok. und Pseud., ii. [1900] 311-331; F. C. Burkitt, in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iii. 448-450; R. H. Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, Oxford, 1913, ii. 407-424.

A. LI. Davies.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Assumption of Moses'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/a/assumption-of-moses.html. 1906-1918.

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