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Assumption of Moses

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

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An extra-canonical apocalyptic work of the Old Testament. The Assumption or Ascension of Moses ('Avanti is Mwvo ws ) is a prophecy of the future relating to Israel, put into the mouth of Moses, and addressed to Joshua just before the great lawgiver died. Founded upon the book of Deuteronomy, it is brief and unpoetical. But it seems to have been large at first, for according to Nicephorus it consisted of 1400 stichs. It contains a brief history of Israel from Moses to the Messianic age. The most striking feature in this work is the writer's scathing condemnation of the priesthood before, during, and after the Maccabean period, and an unsparing depreciation of the Temple services.

This book was lost for many centuries till a large fragment of it was discovered and published by Ceriani in 1861 (Monuments sacra I. i. 55-64) from a palimpsest of the 6th century. Very little was known about the contents of this book prior to this discovery. One passage found in this fragment is quoted in the Acta synodi Nicaenae, ii. 18. Most of the other references relate to the strife of Michael and Satan about the body of Moses, and ascribe it to the Ascensio Mosis, i.e. 'AvarlIPcs Mc vo ces. Various other works have been attributed to Moses, such as the Petirath Moshe, the 1 31 4 13Xos Aoywv ,uucrrcK&v Mwuetws, The Exodus of Moses (in Slavonic), &c. See Charles, Assumption of Moses, pp. xiv. - xvii.; Schiirer, Gesch. des jiid. Volkes, iii. 220-221.

1 Date

2 Author

3 The Latin Version a Translation from the Greek

4 The Greek a Translation from the Hebrew

5 Some views of Author


The book has been assigned to most dates between the death of Herod the Great and that of Bar-Cochba. But this text precludes any date after A.D. 70. The true date appears to lie between 4 B.C. and A.D. 30. Herod is already dead (vi. 6), hence it is after 4 B.C.; and Herod's sons are to rule for shorter periods than their father, hence it must have been composed before these princes had reigned thirty-four years - i.e. before A.D.30. But there are grounds for assuming that A.D. 7 is probably the earlier limit (see Charles, op. cit. lv. - lviii.).


The author was not an Essene, for he recognizes animal sacrifices and cherishes the Messianic hope. He was not a Sadducee, for he looks forward to the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom (x.). Nor yet was he a Zealot, for the quietistic ideal is upheld (ix.), and the kingdom is established by God Himself (x.). He was clearly a Pharisaic Quietist, 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. His object is to protest against the growing secularization of the Pharisaic party through its adoption of popular Messianic beliefs and political ideals. But his appeal was in vain, and so the secularization of the Pharisaic movement culminated in due course in the fall of Jerusalem.

The Latin Version a Translation from the Greek

That our Latin text is derived from the Greek there can be no question. Thus Greek words are transliterated, as " chedrio " from KEBp6 w, " heremus "from €pmios; Greek idioms are reproduced, as " usque nos duci captivos," _ fws rou npas aixuaXwrw05vac, and retranslation into Greek is frequently necessary in order to correct the misrenderings of the translator or the corruptions already inherent in the Greek. Finally, fragments of the Greek version are still preserved.

The Greek a Translation from the Hebrew

That the Greek was in turn derived from a Semitic original was denied by Hilgenfeld, Volkmar and others. But Ewald, Schmidt-Merx, Colani, Carriere, Hausrath, Dalman, Rosenthal and Burkitt decide in favour of a Semitic. R. H. Charles (op. cit. xxxviii. - xlv.) is of opinion that it is possible to prove that the Greek goes back not to an Aramaic but to a Hebrew original, on the following grounds: (I) Hebrew idiomatic phrases survive in the text. Thus circumibo (ii. 7) = " I will protect," i.e. =lox (cf. Deut. xxxii. to), and in sacerdotes vocabuntur = Ets LspE%s KX, 1 O, rovrac, INN! o'Ins Sy (cf. I Chron. xxiii. 14, and Isa. xlviii.2), =" they will call themselves priests." (2) Frequently it is only through retranslation that we can understand the source of corruptions in the text. (3) In some cases we must translate not the Latin but the Hebrew presupposed by it. Thus in i. 7, successor =&6,Soxos =mein, must be rendered " minister." The Book may be the lost Testament of Moses. - The present book is possibly the long lost OcaOiKra Mwvaiws mentioned in some of the ancient lists, for it never speaks of the assumption of Moses, but always of his natural death (i. 15, iii. 13, x. 14). About a half of the original Testament is preserved in the Latin Version. The latter half probably dealt with questions about the Creation (see Fabric. Cod. pseud. V. T., ii. 844; Acta synodi Nicaenae, ii. 20). With this " Testament " the " Assumption," to which almost all the patristic references and that of Jude are made, was subsequently edited.

Some views of Author

Our author's views on Moses are remarkable. He writes that Moses was prepared from before the foundation of the world to be the mediator of God's covenant with his people (i. 14, iii. 12). During his life he was Israel's intercessor with God (xi. I I, 17). Praying on their behalf as a " great angel " (xi. 17), " a sacred spirit who was worthy of the Lord manifold and incomprehensible " (xi. 16). Apparently his relation to Israel did not cease with death, as he was to be their intercessor in the spiritual world (xii. 6). His death was an ordinary one (i. 15, iii. 13, X. 12, 14), but no single place was worthy to mark the place of his burial, for his sepulchre was from the rising to the setting sun, and from the south to the confines of the north - yea, the whole world was his sepulchre (xi. 8). On the doctrine of good works our author's views are allied to Old Testament conceptions rather than to the rabbinic doctrine of man's righteousness, which bulks so largely in Jewish literature from A.D. 50 onwards. So far from representing man's righteousness as involving merit over against God, our author represents the greatest hero of Israel as declaring " Not for any virtue or strength of mine, but in His compassion and long-suffering was He pleased to call me " (xii. 7.) LITERATURE. - Editions of the Latin text: Ceriani Monumenta sacra et profana, I. i. 55-6 (1861); Hilgenfeld, Nov. test. extra canonem receptum, 107-135 (1876); Volkmar, Mose Prophetie and Himmelfahrt (1867); Schmidt and Merx, Die Assumptio Mosis (Merx, Archiv. f. wissensch. Erf. des A. Ts. I. ii. 111-152; 1868); Charles, The Assumption of Moses (translation, with notes and introduction, 1897); Clemen, in Kautzsch's Apocr. and Pseud., II. 31133 1. Critical inquiries. - For a full account of these see Schiirer iii. 222; Charles op. cit. xxi-xxviii. (R. H. C.)

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Assumption of Moses'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​a/assumption-of-moses.html. 1910.
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