13 August 2011

The Assumption of Moses

The Assumption of Moses (otherwise called the Testament of Moses) is a Jewish apocryphal pseudepigraphical work. It is known from a single sixth-century incomplete manuscript in Latin that was discovered by Antonio Ceriani in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan in the mid-nineteenth century and published by him in 1861.

The two titles of this manuscript are due to different identifications with lost texts. The Stichometry of Nicephorus and some other ancient lists refer to both a Testament of Moses and an Assumption of Moses, apparently as separate texts.

Ceriani, and recently Tromp with him, identified the manuscript with the Assumption of Moses (which is also called the Ascension of Moses) due to a match of verse 1:14 with a quotation included in the Historia Ecclesiastica of Gelasius of Cyzicus. This apocryphal work, entitled השמִ תריטפ in Hebrew, and ᾽Ανάληψις or ᾽Ανάβασις Μωυσέως in Greek, is also mentioned by other ancient writers, including Athanasius (in his Synopsis Sacræ Scripturæ) and Origen.

Charles, in his edition of 1897 suggests that the manuscript shall be identified with the Testament of Moses because the extant text does not describe any assumption of Moses to heaven, but simply contains the last exhortations of Moses (thus his testament). Charles furthermore suggests that these two separate texts were later united to form a single work.

Some ancient writers, including Gelasius (verse 2,21,17) and Origen (De principiis, III,2,1), cite the Assumption of Moses with reference to the dispute over the body of Moses, referred to in the Epistle of Jude 1:9, between the archangel Michael and Satan.

This dispute does not appear in Ceriani's manuscript; this could lend support to the identification of the manuscript with the Testament of Moses, but could also be explained by the text's incompleteness (it is believed that about a third of the text is missing).

An alternative explanation is that Jude is compounding material from three sources:
  1. general Jewish traditions about Michael as gravedigger for the just as Apocalypse of Moses
  2. contrast with the accusation by Michael of Azazel in the Book of Enoch
  3. contrast with the angel of the Lord not rebuking Satan over the body of Jeshua in Zechariah 3.
This explanation has in its favour three arguments:
  1. Jude quotes from both 1 Enoch 1:9 and Zechariah 3
  2. Jeshua in Zechariah 3 is dead - his grandson is serving as high priest. The change from "body of Jesus" (Greek spelling of Jeshua) to "body of Moses" would be required to avoid confusion with Jesus, and also to reflect the historical context of Zechariah 3 in Nehemiah concerning intermarriage and corruption in the "body" of the priesthood.
  3. The example of Zech.3 provides an argument against the "slandering of heavenly beings", since the Angel of the Lord does not do in Zechariah 3 what Michael is reported to do in 1En1.
The text is in twelve chapters and purports to be secret prophecies Moses revealed to Joshua before passing leadership of the Israelites to him.
  • In Chapter 1 Moses, before dying, chooses Jesus (Jeshua/Joshua) of Nun as successor and leaves him the books he shall preserve to the end of days when the Lord will visit his people. The role of Moses as mediator is highlighted.
  • Chapters 2–5 contain a brief outline of Jewish history up to Hellenization under Antiochus IV. This is narrated in the form of foretelling.
  • Chapter 6 predicts easily recognizable figures, including the Hasmonean and Herod the Great with his sons. The history follows up to the partial destruction of the Temple.
  • Chapter 7 is about the end of days, but the manuscript is too fragmented to fully understand the text.
  • Chapter 8 narrates a great persecution of Jews at the hands of hypocrites. Some scholars read this as an eschatological prophecy, while others, like Charles, interpret this as events that happened before the Maccabee rebellion. Charles also suggests that chapters 8 and 9 were originally located between chapters 5 and 6.
  • In Chapter 9 the narrative follows with a description of a Levite man named Taxo and his seven sons, who, rather than give in to hellenizing influences, seal themselves into a cave.
  • Chapter 10 contains an eschatological hymn: At the end of the times God will arise, punish the Gentiles, and exalt Israel. Before the coming of God a messenger (Latin nuntius) with sacerdotal tasks is prophesied, who will avenge Israel.
  • Chapters 11 and 12 conclude the text with Moses exhorting Jesus (Joshua) of Nun not to fear, as history fully provides for God's covenant and plan.
Due to the vaticinia ex eventu, most scholars date the work to the early 1st century BC, contemporary with the latest historical figures it describes. Some others, however, do date it to the previous century and suggest that the 1st-century references in chapters six and ten were later insertions.

Based on the literal translation of idioms within the text, it is generally accepted that the extant Latin version is a translation from Greek, with the Greek itself probably a translation from Hebrew or at least a text with considerable Semitic influence.

There are no theological peculiarities to help us attribute the text to any specific Jewish group. The main theme is the apocalyptic determinism of a history that unfolds according only to God's plan, regardless the acts of either the Israelites or the Gentiles. Another theme is the figure of Moses, who is shown as a mediator and intercessor between God and humanity.

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