Q&A: The Benefits of Moses' Egyptian Background for the Writing of the Pentateuch

The Benefits of Moses' Egyptian Background for the Writing of the Pentateuch

Did Moses use any written documents as sources for the content of the Pentateuch?

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Answer

The question when you think about the five books of Moses in the German Bible and other traditions, the five books of Moses—and we have to think about him as a literary scholar writing this magisterial, this awesome piece of literature, five books—you have to remember his background. And we think we don't know much about him, but when you start parsing and examining what we have available to us, we do know quite a bit. This is a young man who is raised among the royalty, the nobility of Egypt. During the New Kingdom era. This is like the you know, this is a time of imperial splendor. I mean, this is an age of great learning, of great art, great culture. And Moses is part of that. It's part of his life and knows especially what goes on in Mesopotamia, the great cultural connection to Mesopotamia. This is where you have the law codes, you have these traditions of, great traditions of law and order, the code of Hammurabi, the Sumerian law codes, all that preceded his time, that come hundreds of years before he is even born. And he has access to that; we know there is Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultural relations, connections. So, he has access to these texts and resources.

And so when he, inspired by the Spirit, starts bringing together the story of origins, he has the Sumerian flood story Mesopotamian flood stories. He has all of these texts, these traditions, but here he is penning, or inking, or whatever form that he used, he has a unique perspective, and it's the one perspective from the one and only God, that there was in fact a flood, so the Mesopotamian traditions were partially right. There was a universal flood. There was a creation account of how God created everything from the beginning . But now, because of his revelation that he had of Yahweh as the creator God, and this revelation of Yahweh is one of glory and splendor and grace and law, he has the right take on, this is what really happened.

So, yes, he has accesses to resources as a scholar in Egypt. But that particular revelation, that special revelation that he has been given gives him a unique take because God, yes, does send a flood, but it's a moral underpinning to the flood. It's not, you know, all of a sudden God's angry at man and they just send a flood. No, there is a reason for it, and it fits into his plan of redemption. So, that's the background to the written resources that Moses has at his disposal, is a very clear background, the Egyptian context, and so there's a sense of trustworthiness to what we have in front of us.

Answer by Dr. Thomas Petter

Dr. Thomas Petter is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.