Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Summary of Testament of Moses Seminar (13 April)

Here are some of the points that were raised during our discussion of the Testament of Moses ("Milan manuscript," "Latin Moses fragment") during the seminar on 13 April. The major methodological issue that arose in class discussion was how to balance the need to avoid harmonization of the data (i.e., oversimplifying to make the data fit together) with the need to apply Occam's Razor ("entities must not be multiplied" or "the simplest solution is to be preferred"). This dilemma arises both with the question of whether the Latin Moses fragment is sectarian (if so, which sect, or is it one we otherwise don't know?) and whether it should be identified with any of the lost ancient Moses books already known to us.

The question of the purpose of the of Latin Moses fragment came up a number of times. This important issue was outside the scope of the paper, so we devoted some class time to it. It was suggested that chapters 11-12 might offer some insight, in that they dealt with the question of leadership after Moses' death and they taught that the individual leader is not important, nor is the piety of the people, but rather the important thing is divine election and support. The potential inference is that the community was suffering a from a lack of leadership or a recently lost leader and this work was intended to encourage them. It was also pointed out that works that include an ex post facto review of future history frequently bring out their central concerns in the part of the review that culminates in the writer's present as eschatological end time. Chapters 8-9 fit this description and portray a time of persecution and an ideology of nonviolent passive resistance, perhaps hinting at the life situation of the writer. All this, of course, is speculative.

There is some reason to believe that the Latin Moses fragment is "sectarian" in the sense that it thinks its own group is right and righteous even in contrast to other Jewish groups (note, e.g., the hostility toward apparently Jewish rulers in chapter 7). But it is difficult to link the writer's group to one particular group or sect such as the Essenes/Qumran sectarians, Pharisees, or Samaritans. Kenneth Atkinson has argued that the Psalms of Solomon were written by an otherwise unknown Jewish sectarian group, and the Testament of Moses may have been produced by still another unknow sect.

Is the Latin Moses fragment to be identified with either the Testament of Moses or the Assumption of Moses? In Jude and the Relatives of Jesus Richard Bauckham concludes that the Latin Moses fragment is the same as the Testament of Moses, which is also quoted in Jude 9. In The Provenance of the Pseudepigrapha I argue that, although the Testament of Moses is indeed quoted in Jude 9, the Latin Moses fragment is not to be identified either with the Testament of Moses or the Assumption of Moses, but rather it was a third work. This does multiply entities a bit, but I think in a way required by the evidence (in that what seems to be the description of the first part of the Testament of Moses in the Palaea Historica does not correspond well at all to the surviving material in the Latin Moses fragment). And I noted in class that we do know of a good number of Moses pseudepigrapha going back to antiquity. These include:
  • The lost Archangelic Book of the Prophet Moses described in On the Origins of the World from the Nag Hammadi Library (NHC II 102, 7-9).

  • The Eighth Book of Moses, a magical treatise that otherwise has nothing to do with Moses and which is found in Greek Magical Papyrus (PGM) xiii in two versions. The end of this papyrus also mentions the "Hidden Book of Moses Concerning the Great Name," which may be another lost Moses work.

  • The Sword of Moses (Harba di-Moshe) is a Hebrew and Aramaic magical treatise that likewise has nothing in particular to do with Moses.

  • The Greatness of Moses (Gedullat Moshe) is a Hebrew account of Moses' travels to paradise and hell.

  • The Apocalypse of Moses is the title of a Greek version of the Latin Life of Adam and Eve. [26 April: I had the languages reversed and have now corrected them.] It is about Adam and Eve rather than Moses.

  • The Colloquy of Moses on Mount Sinai is a Syriac work about Moses.
The Latin Moses fragment cannot be identified with any of the above, but they do establish that there have been a number of Moses pseudepigrapha from antiquity on.