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THE ASSUMPTION OF MOSES
In the Epistle of St. Jude we read (ver. 9): “Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses,9898 ’ An attempt has been made to read ’Ἰησοῦ instead of Μωϋσίως, and to refer the occurrence to Zech. iii. 2; but there is no authority whatever for such change of the text. durst not bring against him a railing judgment, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.” Hereupon two questions arise. Whence did the apostle derive the story to which he refers? And what was the occasion of the dispute? To the latter question a conjectural answer alone can be given. Taking into consideration the circumstances of the burial of Moses, we see that it was intended to be a secret transaction. The Lord, we are told (Deut. xxxiv. 6), “buried him in a valley of the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor; but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.” Doubtless there was a good reason for this secrecy. The, proneness of the Jews to idolatry, the likelihood that the 96body of their great leader might become an object of adoration, even as the brazen serpent drew their hearts away in later time, the tendency to follow the creature-worship and to pay that undue reverence to relics which they had seen in Egypt,—these considerations may have led to the concealment of the body of Moses. And the devil wished to frustrate this purpose. He saw an opportunity of using the mortal remains of Moses to draw away the Israelites from true religion. He would have no mystery about the burial. The people should be shown their leader’s resting place; of the result he had no doubt whatever. And Michael, the appointed guard of the grave, as the Targum says, resisted this evil attempt of Satan, and firmly carried out the purpose of God. Using the words which God Himself had employed when the wicked spirit endeavoured to withstand His act of clothing Joshua, the high priest, in festal garments (Zech. iii.), Michael answered, “The Lord rebuke thee.” And in the unknown spot the body rested; or, at any rate, it was seen no more till it appeared to the wondering three on the Mount of Transfiguration fourteen hundred years later.
The former question, as to the origin of the narrative to which St. Jude refers, is answered by Origen,9999 De Princ. iii. 2. 1: “In Genesi serpens Evam seduxisse describitur, de quo in Adscensione Mosis, cujys libelli meminit in Epistola sua Apostolus Judas, ‘Michael archangelus cum Diabolo disputans de corpore Mosis,’ ait a Diabolo inspiratum serpentem causam exstitisse prævaricationis Adæ et Evæ.” Opp. i. 138. The title of the work is given as Assumtio Moysis, sometimes as Ascensio or Receptio M., both being translations of the Greek ἀνάληψις Μ., and this not in the sense of ascension of body and soul, as in the case of Christ, but with the meaning that while his body was buried his soul was conveyed by angels to heaven. Moses himself in one passage (Assumt. x. 14) speaks of sleeping with his fathers, and in another dates an event from his reception (“a receptione mea,” x. 12). More indefinitely it is termed “Secreta M.” (Didym.), and βιβλία ἀπόκρυφα Μ. (Const. Apost.). who 97intimates that it is derived from a book which he calls the Ascension of Moses, Ἀνάληψις Μώσεως. That St. Jude should refer to a work current in his day, though not appertaining to the canon of Holy Scripture, is quite supposable, as there is good ground for .believing that in another place (ver. 14) he cites the apocryphal Book of Enoch. The existence of this Assumption or Ascension of Moses is testified by many other early writers. In the remarkable use of the word μεσίτης in the Epistle to the Galatians (iii. 19) some have seen a reference to, or evidence of acquaintance with, our book. Certainly the term is applied to Moses in the first chapter, where the dying lawgiver says: “Itaque excogitavit et invenit me, qui ab initio orbis terrarum præparatus sum ut sim arbiter testamenti illius.” Referring to this, and having the Greek original before him, Gelasius of Cyzicmn100100 Comment. Act. Syn. Nic. ii. 18. (Mansi, Concil. ii. p. 844.) The passage in Heb. ix. 15 is translated in Cod. Claromont.: “et ideo novi testamenti arbiter est,” where the Vulgate has “mediator.” gives the latter words of Moses as εἶναί με τῆς διαθήκης αὐτοῦ μεσίτην. But we cannot lay much stress on the use of that expression, as it is employed in this connection by Philo101101 Vit. Mos. iii. 19: οἷα μεσίτης καὶ διαλλακτής. Vol. ii. p. 160 M. and the Rabbinical authors, and was probably applied to Moses by writers antecedent to Christianity in agreement with Deut. v. 5, where he says: “I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to show you the word of the Lord.” It is also asserted 98that Clemens Romanus quotes our book when, speaking of Moses (xvii. 5), he says: “He, though greatly honoured, magnified not himself, but answered when the revelation was made to him at the bush, ‘Who am I, that Thou sendest me? I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.’ And again he saith: ‘I am as smoke from the pottery.’”102102 Ἐγὼ δέ εἰμι ἀτμὶς ἀπὸ κύθρας. Lightfoot’s references to Jas. iv. 14 and Hos. xiii. 3 are not satisfactory. The last clause is deemed by Hilgenfeld to be cited from the Assumption. This is possible, but the existing fragments do not contain it. The earliest reference which can be relied on is found in the works of Clemens Alexandrinus,103103 Strom. vi. 15 (p. 806, Potter), cf. i. 23, 153. who, describing the death of Moses, says it is probable that Joshua saw Moses in twofold form when he was taken up (ἀναλαμβανόμενον), one with the angels, and one honoured with burial in the valley. This curious opinion is shared by Origen,104104 In Libr. Jesu Nave, Hom, ii. 1: “Denique et in libello quodam, licet in canone non habeatur, mysterii tamen hujus figura describitur. Refertur enim quia duo Moses videbantur, unus vivus in spiritu, alias mortuus in corpore.” who asserts that in a certain uncanonical book mention is made of two Moses’ being seen, one alive in the spirit, the other dead in the body. Evodius,105105 Augustin. Ep. 158 (ii. p. 426, Ben.): “Quamquam et in apocryphis et in secretis ipsius Moysi, quæ, scriptura caret auctoritate, tunc cum ascenderet in montem ut moreretur, vi corporis efficitur ut aliud esset quod terræ mandaretur, aliud quod angelo comitanti sociaretur.” a contemporary of St. Augustine, has the same gloss, derived from the same source: “When he ascended the mountain to die, the power of his body brought it to pass, that there should be one body to commit to earth, 99and another to be the companion of his attendant angel.” Another legend, traced to the same origin,106106 Caten. in Pent. ap. Fabric. Cod. Pseud. ep. V. T. ii. p. 121. recounts how at Moses’ death a bright cloud so dazzled the eyes of the bystanders that they saw neither when he died nor where he was buried. Other writers give a different reason for the dispute with Michael from that suggested above, still, however, referring to the tradition contained in the Assumption. Thus Œcumenius107107 In Ep. Jud. p. 340. writes, that the archangel took charge of Moses’ body, but the devil claimed it as his own, being the body of a murderer in that he had killed the Egyptian; and an old Scholion 108108 Caten. in Ep. Cath. ed. Cramer, Oxon. 1840. on the passage in St. Jude adds: “that it was when Satan asserted this claim and blasphemed, Michael replied, ‘The Lord rebuke thee.”’ Epiphanius109109 Hæres. ix. p. 28. gathers from this book how the angels buried the body of Moses without washing it, for they had no need to wash it; nor were they defiled by contact with so holy and pure a body. Didymus of Alexandria,110110 In Ep. Jud. enarrat. (vi. p. 326, Galland. B. Patr.): “Licet adversarii hujus contemplationis præscribunt præsenti epistolæ et Moyseos Assumtioni propter eum locum ubi significatur verbum archangeli de corpore Moysis ad angelum (al. diabolum) factum.” who lived in the fourth century A.D., informs us that some persons in his day raised an objection against the Epistle of St. Jude, as also against the Assumption of Moses, on account of the passage concerning the dispute with Satan; just as, according to Jerome,111111 Catal. Script. Ecclesiast. the same Epistle was rejected for its reference to the apocryphal Book of Enoch. Mention is made of 100the Assumption in some catalogues of the books of Scripture. Thus in the Catalogue of Nicephorus it is placed, with the Book of Enoch, the Testaments of the Patriarchs, and some others, among the Apocrypha of the Old Testament; and reference is made to it in the so-called Synopsis of Athanasius. Apollinaris112112 Niceph. Catena, i. 1313, Lips. 1772. says: “It is to be noted that in the times of Moses there were also other books, which are now apocryphal; as evident from the Epistle of St. Jude, where he teaches about the body of Moses, and where he cites as from ancient Scripture the passage, ‘Behold, the Lord cometh,’” etc. In the Acts of the Second Nicene Council113113 Comm. Act. Conc. Nic. ii. 20: ἐν βιβλῳ Ἀναλὴψεως Μώσεως Μιχαὴλ ὁ ἀρχάγγελος διαλεγόμενος τῷ διαβόλῳ λέγει· ἀπὸ γὰρ πνεύματος ἁγίου αὐτοῦ πάντες ἐκτίσδημεν. καὶ πάλιν λέγει· ἀπὸ προσώπου τοῦ Θεοῦ ἐξῆλδε τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτοῦ, καὶ ὁ κόσμος ἐγένετο. To this the philosopher answers: Περὶ δὲ τῆς ῥηθείσης Ἀναλήψεως Μωϋσέως, περὶ ἥς ἀρτίως εἴρήκατι, οὐδὲ ἀκήκοάποτε εἰ μὴ νῦν, ὅθευ αἰτῶ ὑμᾶς σαφεστέραν μοι τῶν λεχδέντων παραστῆσαι τήν εύετασιν. Mansi, Concil. ii. 857. These and other passages from ancient writers are cited by Volkmar, Hilgenfeld, and Fritzsche in their editions of the book. some passages are cited from the Analepsis which are not now extant. Thus we read that in the dispute with Satan, Michael said: “Of His Holy Spirit we all were formed;” and again: “From the face of God went forth His Spirit, and the world was made:“ Another fragment of the same Acts114114 C. xviii. p. 28. already mentioned gives the chief contents of the work: “Moses the prophet, when he was about to depart from life, as it is written in the Book of the Assumption of Moses, called Joshua unto him, and spake, saying: ‘God looked upon me before the foundation 101of the world, that I should be the mediator, of His covenant.’” The Apostolical Constitutions mention among those writings that are without the canon “The apocryphal Books of Moses,”115115 Βιβλία ἀπόκουφα Μωϋσέως. referring doubtless to our work. It seems also certain that it was well known to the Rabbinical writers, who raised a crop of legends on itsfoundation.116116 Volkmar, Mose Prophetie u. Himmelfahrt, p. 10.
Thus we see that the Assumption of Moses was a book known and quoted up to the twelfth or thirteenth century of our era. But from that time till some twenty years ago it has been wholly lost. Commentators on St. Jude were forced to content themselves with a vague reference to this unknown composition; and the words of Dean Stanley in Dr. Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible (art. “Moses”), written in 1863, accurately represent the amount of acquaintance with the subject possessed by most people. Speaking of the passage in Jude, he concludes thus: “It probably refers to a lost apocryphal book mentioned by Origen, the Ascension or Assumption of Moses. All that is known of this book is given by Fabricius, Codex Pseudep. V. T. i. 838–844.” The fragments, however, printed by Fabricius are very insignificant, and quite insufficient to give any idea of the character and contents of the work. But Dr. Stanley was unconsciously inaccurate when he made the statement just mentioned. Already in 1861 A. M. Ceriani, the learned librarian of the Ambrosian Library at Milan, had published a Latin version of a large portion of the Assumption which he had found in a palimpsest of the 102sixth century.117117 Monumenta Sacra, tom. I. Fasc. i., Mediol. 1861. It is curious that nearly forty years previously Amedeus Peyron had edited from the same manuscript some hitherto unknown orations of Cicero,118118 Ciceronis Orationes, Stutg. et Tübing. 1824. but the “Assumption” remained still undiscovered. It was therefore with the utmost satisfaction that the learned world received the news that fresh fragments of this apocryphal work had been suddenly disinterred. The MS., indeed, was without title, corrupt and imperfect, and in places illegible; but these circumstances only augmented the interest which was centred upon it. Here was a nodus which demanded solution at the hands of scholars. “Liber enim,” as Erasmus says,119119 Ep. 1203, vol. iii. p. 1420. “prodigiosis mendis undique scatens, crux est verius quam liber.” That it was the same book as the old Analepsis Mos. was proved by its containing the passage in the Acts of the Nicene Council quoted above. The discovery appears to have passed almost unnoticed in England, but in Germany it stirred the minds of savants with an excitement as great as that lately aroused by the “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.” Professors set themselves the task of correcting, explaining, and supplying the gaps in the very imperfect publication of Ceriani. First Hilgenfeld, with the aid of other scholars, put forth a critical edition120120 In his Novum Testamentum extra Canon., Lips. 1866. Afterwards in Messias Judæurum, Lips. 1869; and in his Zeitschr. for 1868, etc. containing a corrected text, which threw much light on the many dark places, and afforded a readable whole. A year or two later he took the pains to translate the Latin 103into Greek, no very difficult task, as the version had been most slavishly rendered from the original, retaining everywhere Greek phraseology and often Greek words. This he published with valuable notes. Then Volkmar121121 Handbuch d. Einl. in d. Apokr. vol. iii., and separately under the title of Mose Prophetie und Himmelfahrt, Leipz. 1867. printed a neat little edition with a German translation and commentary. This was followed by that of Schmidt and Merx,122122 Archiv. für wissensch. Erforsch. des A. T., Halle 1868. whose conjectures and corrections are remarkable rather for audacity than probability. Fritzsche,123123 Libri Apocryph. Vet. Test., Lips. 1871. He says in his preface: “Arduum sane et magni erat negotii hunc libellum mirum quantum corruptum emendare; feci tamen quod potui. Omnia virorum doctorum consilia, vel etiam commenta et opinionum monstra referre nihil attinuit.” P. xxxiv. the last editor, speaks somewhat slightingly of his predecessors’ labours, but has largely availed himself of them. In his very useful edition he prints on one page the text as originally published by Ceriani, and on the opposite side gives an amended text with the lacunæ mostly supplied, and with copious critical notes. The work has never, I believe, been published in England. A useful dissertation on the book, which combines the latest information, is appended to Dr. Gloag’s Introduction to the Catholic Epistles.
There is another work which is sometimes confounded with the Assumption, but is entirely different in scope and treatment. This is an Apocalypse of Moses in Greek, written by a Christian, and belonging to the class of Adamaic books, wherein is given a history of Adam’s life and death as revealed to Moses. It has been published by Tischendorf and Ceriani.104
Whether the Assumption was originally written in Hebrew cannot now be determined.124124 Merx, Schmidt, and Colani assert strongly that the work was written originally in Aramaic, which they think will account for most of the obscurities of the Latin text. See Revue de Théologie, 3e. ser. vol. vi, p. 68. If its birthplace was Palestine, it is most probable that it was composed in Hebrew or Aramaic. It is evident that it was known only in a Greek form to those early writers who mention it; and it is also certain from internal evidence that the old Latin version which has survived was made from the Greek and not the Hebrew. The use of such words as “prophetiæ,” “scene testimonii,” “allophyli,” proves this incontestably. The Latin of the translation is beyond measure barbarous and anomalous, the vulgar dialect of country peasants, and resembling the old Itala rather than any classical form which we possess. It appears, too, to have been transcribed by an ignorant writer, who has accordingly introduced many blunders of his own manufacture. As the MS. came originally from the Abbey of Bobbio, near Pavia, whence also issued the famous Muratorian Canon (the language of which is very similar to that of the Assumption), it was probably copied by one of the inmates of that establishment, “stronger,” as Colani says, “in caligraphy than Latin.” Of the place and date of the original composition we can form only conjectures. We might do more if we had the whole before us; but, unfortunately, both the beginning and the end are missing. At the commencement probably only a few lines are lost, but at the conclusion a very serious deficiency is to be lamented. Nicephorus 105states that the original work consisted of 1400 stiches, assigning similar dimensions to the Book of Revelation. We are thus led to the conclusion that little more than half has been preserved, and important passages, wherein some guide to the chronology would naturally have been introduced, are lost or mutilated beyond hope of replacement. Our data, therefore, are much limited, and we possess but scanty foundations on which to construct a theory. With regard to the locality of the treatise, we may at once exclude Alexandria from being its birthplace. The author shows no trace of the Alexandrian school; he never allegorizes, never indulges in mystic speculations, but keeps to pure history, whether he is relating the past or predicting the future. His standpoint is unadulterated Judaism, and there is good reason, as will be seen, for classing him among the Zealots. Hilgenfeld considers that the author was a Jew sojourning at Rome; but his arguments are very far from decisive, and we shall have most critics with us in determining that the work was written in Palestine. The author shows such accurate acquaintance with the parties of the Jews in Palestine, and the events which happened there, that it can scarcely be doubted that he is writing amid the scenes and characters which, under the disguise of prophecy, he depicts, either in Galilee or in the country east of Jordan, where the party of Zealots was strongest. As to the date of the composition, scholars have long had important differences, Wieseler fixing it at 2 B.C., and Volkmar at 135–138 A.D. Between these two extreme dates many variations occur; thus Ewald assigns it to A.D. 6, Hilgenfeld to A.D. 44, Merx to 106A.D. 54–64. Fritzsche traces it to the sixth decade of the first century A.D., and Langen (mistaking the application of chap. viii.) assigns it to a period shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. Most of these critics found their opinions upon the unintelligible fragments of numbers in chap. vii. But it is absurd to employ the hopelessly mutilated text for this purpose; and, in truth, we can only be certain of these facts, that the book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, of which no mention is made, and before the death of Herod’s two sons, Philip and Antipas, probably towards the commencement of their reign; for the author predicts for the sons a shorter reign than their father’s, which could be said truly of Archelaus alone, for Antipas reigned 43 years, Philip 37, and Herod the Great only 34 years.125125 Archelaus reigned only nine years, and was then banished by Augustus. The passage of the MS. above referred to is the following: “et . . . roducit natos . . . ecedentes sibi breviora tempora donarent.” As treated by Fritzsche the passage reads: “et producet natos, qui succedentes sibi breviora tempora dominarent.” The concluding clauses of chap. vi., which speak of the arrival of a powerful western chieftain who should take captives, and burn the house, and crucify some, point to the war of Varus, B.C. 4;126126 Josephus, Antiq. xvii. 10. and when the writer goes on (chap. vii.): “ex quo facto finientur tempora,” it is natural to conclude that he wrote after this little war. If we knew accurately the date of St. Jude’s Epistle, we might have another criterion; but too much stress must not be laid upon the supposed quotation from the Assumption, as the passage referred to is not extant, and both Jude and pseudo-Moses may have used some 107tradition current among the Jews of the period.127127 Some German writers have assigned a very late date to our book, and then have used this assumption as an argument for attributing the Epistle of St. Jude to post-apostolic times. See Volkmar, Mose Prophetie und Himmelfahrt. On the whole, we shall not be far wrong if we attribute the composition to the early part of the first Christian century, i.e. between A.D. 6, the time of the banishment of Archelaus, and A.D. 33, the date of Philip’s death.128128 See Wieseler’s article in Jahrh. für deutsche Theol. xiii. 622 ff., 1868. Of the contents of this article I have gladly made some use in my paper. See also Schürer, p. 79. Before offering a sketch of the contents of the little work, I will transcribe a few lines of the manuscript with a view of showing its corruptions, and the difficulties that stand in the way of interpreters. I should premise that the MS. is a palimpsest of the fifth or sixth century, written in two columns to the page, each line containing from twelve to eighteen letters without division of words, and with very rare punctuation. The following is the commencement of the existing fragment: “. . . qui est bis millesimus et quingentesimus annus a creatura orbis terræ nam secus qui in oriente sunt numerus . . . mus et . . . mus profectionis fynicis cum exivit plebs post profectionem quæ fiebat per moysen usque amman trans iordanem profetiæ quæ facta est a moysen in libro deuteronomio.” This passage is thus manipulated by the latest editors: “[Anno Moyseos centesimo et vigesimo] qui est bis millesimus et quingentesimus annus a creatura orbis terræ, nam secus [= secundum eos] qui in oriente sunt numerus est cccc mus et vii mus et xxx mus profectionis Phœnices,129129 A great controversy has been raised over the words “profectionis fynicis.” The latter word is explained by the best commentators to be the Greek φοινίκης; but they differ in its interpretation, some contending that “the journey of Phoenicia” means the migration of Canaan, i.e. the Israelites into Egypt; others, with more reason, affirming that it signifies “the journey into Phœnicia;” i.e. the removal of Abraham to Canaan. Certainly Canaan is so called by Eusebius (Præp. Ev. ix. 17. 2): τοῦτον διὰ τὰ προστάγματα τοῦ Θεοῦ εἰς Φοινίκην ἐλθόντα. Others, again, think that the fabulous bird Phœnix is meant, which is said to have reappeared A.D. 34, and to whose reappearance Moses’ death and revival are compared. Wieseler makes this into an argument for attributing to our book a locality on the east of Jordan, as the Arabians used the Phœnix-period in their computation of dates. 108cum exivit plebs post profectionem quæ fiebat per Moysen usque Amman trans Jordanem, profetiæ factæ sunt a Moyse in libro Deuteronomio.” It would lead us too far were we to attempt to solve the many questions which are raised by this brief extract; rather let us confine ourselves to an endeavour to obtain a general view of the contents and object of the work.
The work, as we have it now, is divided into two parts—first, the charge of Moses to Joshua his successor, in which is given a sketch of Jewish history, mingled with prophecies of future events up to the restoration of the pure theocracy. This is followed by a humble, self-depreciating speech of Joshua, to which Moses makes an encouraging reply, broken off short by the mutilation of the manuscript, which ends thus: “exivit enim deus qui prævidit omnia in sæcula, et stabilitum est testamentum illius et jurejurando, quod” . . . The remainder, which gave its name to the work, doubtless contained the account of the death and burial of Moses, and the dispute about the body to which St. Jude refers; but this will probably now be never brought to light.109
It will, perhaps, be most satisfactory to give a free translation of part of Moses’ speech, adding such remarks as seem to be necessary for its elucidation, or to show its bearing on the Messianic doctrine.130130 I use generally Fritzsche’s amended text as the most probable and most available form. We must keep in mind the fact (for a fact it seems to be) that the book is written by a partisan of a section of the Zealots, whose standpoint was that no mortal man ought to rule Israel, be he priest or king, of the line of Aaron or of David,—that Jehovah alone is King. This tenet, coupled with an energetic and fanatical zeal for the law, led to the outburst of Judas of Galilee, and to the excesses of the sect in later times. We shall see this ruling dogma continually appearing in the Assumption. The author at the same time seems to be inimical to the Pharisees, as being too dogmatical in their religion and undecided in their politics.
This, then, is the last charge of the great lawgiver: “The Lord prepared me before the foundation of the world to be the mediator of His covenant. And now that I am about to be gathered to my fathers, I commit to thee this writing, which thou shalt preserve safely131131 “Quos ordinabis et chedriabis”—i.e. κεδρώσεις, “shall smear with oil of cedar.” So κεδροῦν is used by Diod. Sic. v. 29. unto the day of visitation.” This prophecy of Moses was to be kept in the holy place till the last time of judgment. “And now thou shalt lead the people into the land promised to their fathers, and shalt settle them there. And it shall come to pass that after they have been in possession for five132132 The MS. has a blank where the number ought to be; “V.” is supplied from Josh. xiv. 10, and Joseph. Antiq. v. 1. 19. Wieseler thinks that the date 2500 A.M. was here repeated. years, they shall be governed 110by princes and tyrants133133 “Principibus et tyrannis.” In calling them “tyranni” rather than “reges,” the seer means to convey his disapproval of this invasion of the pure theocracy. eighteen years; and ten tribes shall revolt for nineteen years.” The eighteen years represent eighteen rulers, as in the Book of Enoch, viz. fifteen judges (“principes”) from Joshua to Samuel, and three kings (“tyranni”), Saul, David, and Solomon; the “nineteen” are the kings of Israel from Jeroboam to Hoshea. “But two tribes shall come and remove the tabernacle of testimony; and God shall make a resting-place for His sanctuary among them (2 Sam. vi.; 1 Kings viii. 4). And they shall offer victims for twenty years.” This refers to the reign of the twenty kings of Judah, including Athaliah. “And seven shall fortify the walls, and nine will I watch over, and they shall maintain the covenant of the Lord.” Seven kings improved the condition of the people, viz. Rehoboam, Abia, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joram, Ahaziah, and Athaliah; and nine God defended, viz. Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, Josiah. “But the last four kings shall worship false gods, and defile the temple with their idolatries. And then from the East shall come a mighty king (Nebuchadnezzar) who shall destroy the city, and burn the sanctuary, and take their precious things, and carry all the people and the two tribes into captivity. Then the two tribes shall call the ten to repentance, acknowledging the justice of their punishment; and all together shall invoke the God of their fathers, and humbly confess that that chastisement which Moses 111predicted has righteously fallen upon them. At the end of seven and seventy years one of their princes shall pray for them.” This refers to the intercession of Daniel; the seventy years of exile are extended by seven according to the Jewish predilection for that number, traces of which we see in Matt. xviii. 22, and in the genealogy of our Lord in St. Luke. “And God shall look upon them, and put it into the heart of the prince (Cyrus) to restore them onto their own country. Some portions of the tribes shall return to their appointed place and rebuild the city walls; but the two tribes alone shall remain true to the Lord, yet lamenting that they are now unable to offer acceptable sacrifices.” The notion of the writer is, that the temple having been restored under heathen auspices, and the officiating priests being friendly to the pagan supremacy, the services therein were illegitimate and inefficacious.134134 A similar notion is found in the Book of Enoch, chap. lxxxix. 73, where it is said, in reference to the same period, that “all the bread offered on the table was impure and defiled.” As for the ten, they shall thrive in the foreign land, and shall some day rejoin the others in the day of restoration.135135 This is one of the many difficult passages in the work. The MS. gives “et x tribus crescent et devenient apud natos in tempore tribum.” “Tribum” plainly ought to be “tribuum;” “apud natos” is = “ad natos, posteros;” and “the time of the tribes” must mean the era of the restoration of Israel. Very different explanations are offered by commentators; the above is substantially that of Fritzsche. And now the times of trial shall draw near,136136 “Adpropiabunt tempora arguendi.” and vengeance shall arise because of the wickedness of princes given for their punishment; for ministers who are not priests, but slaves and born of slaves, shall defile 112the altar;137137 The seer seems here to acknowledge the legitimacy of worship of the second temple, which he before denied. This is, doubtless, because he considers the Jews as independent under the Maccabees. But this worship was marred by its ministers. “Non sacerdotes, sed servi de servis nati.” Thus John Hyrcanus was taunted by the Pharisee Eleazar with being the son of a captive woman, and therefore disqualified for the priesthood (Joseph. Antiq. xiii. 10. 5). and those who are their doctors of the law shall pervert justice and fill the land with iniquity.”138138 MS.: “Et ideo implebitur colonia et fines habitationis eorum sceleribus.” By “colonia,” which is frequently used in the book, is probably meant Jerusalem, as though regarded as a settlement among the heathen Jebusites,—pseudo-Moses taking Joshua’s point of view. See Josh. xv. 63; Judg. i. 8, 21. The MS. proceeds: “a domino qui faciunt erunt impii judices inerunt in campo judicare quomodo quisquæ uolet.” The scribe himself has attempted to correct this unintelligible passage, but without success. Fritzsche reads: “a Domino qui deficiunt erunt impii judices, et erunt in campo judicare quomodo quisquæ volet.” Wieseler: “a deo qui faciunt (those who are on God’s side, the Pharisees), erunt impii judices in ea (colonia), a domino qui faciunt (the king’s party, the Sadducees), erunt impii judices, hi erunt in campo, judicare, quomodo quisque volet.” The writer makes no definite reference to the persecution of Antiochus or the gallant struggles of the Maccabees, but hurries at once to the later time of the decadence of that great family and the consequent corruption of religion and morals. The scribes and Rabbis of the Asmonæans were doubtless Sadducees, to which party John Hyrcanus had attached himself (Joseph. Antiq. xiii. 10. 6).
In the view of the seer, which, as I have said, is that of the sect of Zealots, the holy people were to be governed by no earthly king, not even by a prince of Jewish birth. Jehovah alone is their Ruler. From this standpoint he regards the rule of the Asmonæan princes as usurping the authority of the Lord. He proceeds: “Soon shall 113ruling kings arise,139139 “Tunc exurgent illis reges imperantes.” This was a grievous reproach in the eyes of a Zealot. calling themselves priests of the Most High God, and shall profane even the Holy of Holies. To them shall succeed an insolent king, not of the family of priests, a man rash and shameless,—and he shall judge them as they are worthy. He shall slay their chieftains with the sword, and strangle them in secret places,140140 The MS. has the unintelligible words: “Et locis ignotis singuli et corpora illorum ut nemo sciat ubi sint corpora illorum.” For “singuli et,” Fritzsche proposes “strangulabit;” Hilgenfeld “sepeliet.” Cf. Joseph. Antiq. xv.10: “And many, carried off either openly or secretly into the castle, Hyrcania, were put to death.” so that their bodies shall not be found; he shall kill old and young, and spare not; there will be great dread of him throughout the land, and his tyranny shall continue for four and thirty years.” This is a fine and true description of Herod the Great, and the notorious cruelties practised in his reign. The mistake concerning the length of the reigns of Herod’s sons has been already noticed. “He shall beget sons, who shall reign a shorter time than their father; until a mighty king of the West shall come, and shall utterly defeat the people, lead some away into captivity, crucify others around the city, and burn part of the temple.” The mention of the partial destruction of the temple by fire forbids us to see here an allusion to the final conquest of Titus, and compels us to look to another event for an explanation of the prophecy. That event is doubtless the defeat of the Jews by Varus, when, as Josephus narrates,141141 Bell. Jud. ii. 3. 1 ff.; Antiq. xvii. 10. 1 ff.; ibid. 10. the porticoes or cloisters of the temple were 114burnt, the sacred treasures plundered, and two thousand of the insurrectionists were ruthlessly crucified.
Up to this point the history has been tolerably clear; but now (chap. vii.) comes a passage which is most obscure, and has given rise to many interpretations and great controversies.142142 As some readers may like to exercise their ingenuity upon this crucial passage, I give it as it stands in the MS., premising that the italics represent the probable letters, now too faint to be deciphered for certainty: “Ex quo facto finientur tempora momento . . . etur cursus a . . . horæ ·iiii· ueniant coguntur secun . . . ae . . . pos . . . initiis tribus ad exitus ·viiii propter initium tres septimæ secunda tria in tertia duæ h . . . ra . . . tæ.” The various attempts to rectify the grammar and to supply the lacunæ in this paragraph may be seen in Fritzsche’s note. He himself leaves it as hopeless. The following is Wieseler’s version: “Ex quo facto finientur tempora, momento finietur cursus annorum. Horæ iiii venient; cogentur seculi septimæ (diræ?) postumæ in initiis tribus ad exitus viiii; propter initium tres septimæ, secunda trias, in tertia duæ horæ peractæ.” “Then shall press on the nine last fearful weeks (year-weeks, as in Dan. ix. 24) of the age with three beginnings unto the end; next to the beginning (the subjugation of Judea by Pompey) are three weeks, a second triad (of year-weeks), in the third triad are two hours accomplished.” Pompey took Jerusalem A.U.C. 691; the nine weeks, or 63 years, at the close of which the age shall come to an end, coincide with A.U.C. 754, which is a little after the time of the war of Varus. The insurrection of Judas, which the Jews dignified with this name, occurred A.U.C. 750, the date of our Saviour’s birth. An explanation of this mysterious chronology may be seen in Wieseler’s article; but it is all guess-work, and more curious than profitable. The seer is. evidently speaking with studied ambiguity, and as we do not know what he means by “the last times,” nor by what intervals he divides them, it is impossible to arrive at any sure solution of the enigma here presented. He seems to have regarded the victory of Varus as a token of the subjection of Israel to the heathen yoke and the virtual 115overthrow of the theocracy. “Ex quo facto finientur tempora.” “When this shall come to pass the times shall end. In a moment the course of years shall end, when the four hours come.” The “four hours” may possibly be the “time, times and a half” of Dan. xii. 7, and the following paragraph probably defines more exactly the various stages of the epoch which culminated in the erection of the supremacy of Rome. More than this we are unable to affirm. Next we have a description of the Herodian princes under Roman rule, and the parties then prevalent: “among them shall reign pestilent and godless men, boasting themselves to be just,143143 MS.: “docentes (? dicentes) se esse justos.” Some commentators see here a reference to the Sadducees and a play on their name, Tsedhûkîm, the Righteous, as they are called in the Mishna. zealous indeed, but crafty, self-pleasers, hypocrites. These are gluttonous and wine-bibbers; they devour, the substance of the poor, saying that they do it for pity’s sake; their language is: Let us eat and drink luxuriously as princes. Their hands work iniquity, and their tongue speaketh proud things: Touch me not lest thou defile me.”144144 Comp. Mark vii. 1 ff. It is noteworthy that a contemporary of our Lord uses very similar terms to those which He employed in censuring these professors of religion. The clause above: “They devour the substance of the poor,” etc., is in the MS.: “. . . rum bonorum com e stores dicentes se hæc facere propter misericordiam.” Editors make . . . rum stand for “pauperum;” it might equally well represent “viduarum,” and then the likeness to the clause in Matt. xxiii. 14 would be very remarkable. In both passages the hypocrites are represented as teaching people to spend their substance upon them as putting it to a holy use. One cannot help seeing here a reference to the Herodians, and, in the latter part, to “the scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,” who were so sternly denounced 116by our Lord in St. Matt. xxiii. The first portion of the description applies closely to the Sadducaic faction in Herod’s half-pagan court, which really affected the doctrine of the Epicureans. Then falls upon them the punishment of their iniquity: “Lo, then shall come on them a wrath and a vengeance such as never before were seen. A mighty power shall be roused against them; those who confess circumcision shall be crucified, and they who deny it shall be tortured and imprisoned; their wives shall be given over to the heathen, and their children shall be made uncircumcised. Under pain of fire and sword they shall be compelled to carry the idols of their masters,145145 “Cogentur palam bajulare idola eorum inquinata.” Comp. Bar. vi. 4, 26. to offer on their altars, and to blaspheme the great name of God.” The persecution here foreshadowed recalls, and is meant to recall, that under Antiochus Epiphanes146146 Comp. 1 Macc. i. 22 ff., 43 ff. Is there any parallel to be found within the limits of the period to which we attribute the composition of the Assumption? Colani 147147 Revue de Théol. p. 75. See also Volkmar, pp. 58 ff. boldly says there is not, and affirms that the only persecution which answers to the one mentioned in the text, is that which took place under Adrian as a punishment for the rebellion of Bar-Cocheba, A.D. 136. But for an author, writing the history of the Jews (be it in a predictive form), to omit all mention of the destruction of Jerusalem under Titus, and to leap at once to the calamities which were consummated by the erection of Ælia Capitolina, is a proceeding so very improbable, that 117we cannot admit it for a moment. The other alternative (if it be granted Adrian’s persecution is meant) would be to endow Pseudo-Moses with the true spirit of prophecy, or at least to allow that he has made a most happy guess at the future which subsequent events fully justifed. Of course, Colani and those who hold his opinion would say that the book was written after A.D. 136; but I have already given reasons for assigning it to a much earlier date, nor does this part of the “prophecy” alter this decision. Evidently the writer wished to announce in striking terms the chastisement which he saw coming upon his nation from heathen Rome. How could he better herald this than by recalling to mind the awful cruelties of Epiphanes, and using his acts as a type of the hostility of godless tyrants assailing the fallen Israel? What those cruelties were, and how in many particulars they answered to the description in our text, may be seen in the beginning of the First Book of Maccabees. That, as a fact, the atrocities of earlier days were repeated in after years, is only what might have been expected. Given similar victims, similar circumstances, similar perpetrators, the result was sure to be analogous also. Here, as elsewhere, history repeats itself, and we need seek no closer fulfilment of the prediction. By speaking, in the following paragraph, of “a second vengeance,” the writer seems to desire to call to remembrance the persecution of Antiochus.
We now come to the great crux of the whole book (chap. ix.), at a satisfactory solution of which no commentator has yet arrived. “In that day, at his command (illo dicente) a man shall arise from the tribe of 118 Levi, whose name shall be Taxo. And he shall call his seven sons unto him, and thus address them: ’Behold, my sons, a second time has vengeance fallen upon this people, a cruel, foul punishment, and pitiless captivity. What nation or people has suffered for their iniquities as we have suffered? Ye see and know that we have never tempted God,148148 The MS. gives: “quia nunquam temptans deum nec patres,” etc. Fritzsche corrects, “temptavimus;” Volkmar, temptantes;” Colani retains “temptans,” referring, according to his interpretation, to Rabbi Jehouda-ben-Baba. neither our fathers nor ancestors, so as to transgress His commandments. And herein lies our strength. Let us then do this: let us fast for three days; and on the fourth day let us go into a cave which is in the field, and rather die than break the commandments of our God. For if we do this and die, the Lord will avenge our blood.’” Now the question is, who is meant by “Taxo?” Is it a real name? Are we to take it as representing a certain numerical value, as the beast in the Revelation of St. John? And if so, is the name Greek, Latin, or Hebrew? Or is it a cypher, containing the same number of letters as the name intended? Into these and such like questions editors have entered at great length, with this conclusion, according to Fritzsche, with which I am forced to agree: “ut nemo adhuc inventus est, qui nomen satis probabiliter enuclearet, ita de ejus explicatione videtur desperandum.” Among the various theories offered, that of Wieseler149149 Jahrb. 1868, p. 629. seems in some respects reasonable. In his view the seer is again introducing details from Maccabæan history, such as occur in 1 Macc. ii. 29 ff. and 2 Macc. vi. 11 ff., or from the 119deeds of that Matthias who was the ringleader in the disturbances which took place on the rumour of the death of Herod, and who, according to Josephus (Antiq. xvii. 6; Bell. Jud. i. 33), made much the same speech as Taxo, before pulling down the Roman eagle on the temple gate, urging his followers to sacrifice their lives in defence of the honour of God. As for the word “Taxo,” it is probably the Low-Latin word meaning “a badger,” equivalent to the Hebrew תַּהַשׁ, tachash, which is very similar to the German “Dachs,” and has the same meaning; and it may be either a play on the badger skin which formed part of the covering of the tabernacle, or the appellation of the man who had to act the part of this animal by hiding in dens of the earth. 150150 Comp. 2 Macc. x. 6: “They wandered in the mountains and in dens like beasts.” Heb. xi. 38. This man may be either Judas of Galilee, or some chief among the party of the Zealots, possibly the writer himself. Now the principal fact that militates against Taxo being Judas is the character of Judas himself. Though his followers saw in him the promised Messiah, he was by no means one who would have used the words attributed to Taxo. Non-resistance was not his policy. Certainly he taught that it was better to die than to break the law of God; but it was death with arms in their hands that he exhorted his followers to meet. His watchword, “We have no master but the Lord,” led him to fight with earthly weapons, and the cruelties and excesses of his companions have stained the name of Zealots for all time.
There is so much more matter interesting and important 120in this little work that we need not spend further time on the interpretation of “Taxo.” Suffice it to say that Hilgenfeld affirms the original to have been τξγʹ = 363, i.e. numerically Messiah. But it is inconceivable that Messiah should be represented as hiding in a cave and there awaiting death. Volkmar writes ταξο, which he makes = 431, and deems that the person intended is Akiba, the comrade of Bar-Cocheba. Colani and Carrière pronounce that the translator has mistaken the original Aramæan word which meant “ordinance”151151 מכסא, found in Chaldee and Syriac in the sense of the Greek Word τάξις. for a proper name, whereas the sentence really signifies, “there shall be a man of the tribe of Levi who shall promulgate an ordinance, or give an instruction”—the instruction being the address to the sons which follows, and the speaker being Rabbi Jehouda-ben-Baba, who, according to a Rabbinical tradition, acted somewhat in the manner of “Taxo” towards the end of the persecution of Adrian.152152 See Revue de Théol. pp. 80 ff. But the date of the Assumption renders this last theory utterly untenable. Perhaps, after all, the simplest solution is to regard the word as a corruption of the text.
To proceed: “Then shall His (Jehovah’s) kingdom be manifested in all His creation, and the devil (Zabulus) shall find his end, and with him all sorrow shall vanish away.153153 Comp. Isa. xxv. 8, xxvi. 21. The word Zabulus is merely another form of Diabolus, found in African Latin, di being pronounced as z, and o changed into u. See Rönsch’s article in Hilgenfeld’s Zeitschr. 1868, p. 100. The word is found in Cyprian and Lactantius. Then shall power be given154154 “Implebuntur manus,” a translation of the Hebrew phrase for consecrating or appointing to an office. Comp. Ex. xxviii. 41; 1 Kings xiii. 33. to the messenger 121who is set in the highest place,155155 “Nuntii qui est in summo constitutus.” who soon shall avenge them (Taxo and his comrades) of their enemies.” This “messenger” seems to be the prophet like unto Moses of Deut. xviii. 15, 18; who himself is called “the great Messenger” in chap. xi. of our book. Nor can we be intended to see in this personage the Messiah. At the most, the expected One was an equal of Moses, superior to him neither in person nor in act. The same expectation of a faithful prophet προφήτης πιστός is found in 1 Macc. xiv. 41, where the epithet points to Moses, to whom it is specially applied.156156 See Num. xii. 7; and in the New Testament, Heb. iii. 2, 5. The party among the Zealots, to which the writer belonged, looked for a heaven-sent Saviour and Deliverer to prepare the way for the visible reign of Jehovah; and when the multitude, who were miraculously fed by Christ (John vi.), exclaimed: “This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world,” they were expressing the vague expectation of the advent of a personage like unto Moses, possessed perhaps of some Messianic features, but not the Messiah Himself. We see the difference in the estimation in which our Lord was held by His contemporaries. “Some said,” we are told (John vii. 40), “of a truth this is the prophet. Others said, This is the Christ.” And although we know from Christ’s own words157157 St. John v. 46; comp. i. 45 and Acts xxvi. 22. that Moses wrote of Him when he foretold the appearance of a prophet like unto himself, yet this was by no means the general view, and a distinction between 122Christ and this prophet was generally recognised.158158 See John i. 21, where, noting the use of the definite article, ὁ προφήτης, Theophylact mentions the error of the Jews in ignoring the identity between the prophet and the Messiah. See Acts iii. 22. In the following eloquent passage which speaks of final triumph, Jehovah Himself comes to the rescue of His oppressed people159159 Merx and Schmidt see in this portion of the Assumption an Essenic psalm. It certainly runs easily into a strophic arrangement. But the writer was not an Essene, for in that case, as Schürer has pointed out, he would not have jeered (as he does in chap. vii.) at the Pharisaical purifications (Joseph. Bell. Jud. ii. 8. 10). “Then shall the Heavenly One arise from the seat of His kingdom, and come forth from His holy habitation, with wrath and indignation for His children’s sake. And the earth shall tremble and quake to its utmost borders; and the lofty mountains shall be humbled and shaken, and the valleys shall sink. The sun shall give no light, and shall turn into darkness; the horns of the moon shall be broken, and she shall be turned into blood, and the circle of the stars shall be confounded. The sea shall retreat to the abyss, the springs of water shall fail, and the rivers shall be dried up; because the Most High, the Eternal, the only God,160160 “Summus Deus, eternus, solus.” There are passages parallel to this prophecy in 2 Esdr. (e.g. vi. 24), in the Book of Enoch (i. 6, xci. 9), and in the Psalms of Solom. xviii. 4. Comp. Joel ii. 10, 31, iii. 15. shall arise and come manifestly to chastise the nations and to destroy their idols. Then shalt thou be happy, O Israel, and shalt mount on the necks and wings of the eagle, and thy days shall be fulfilled.161161 “Et ascendes supra cervices et alas aquilæ, et implebuntur” (dies tui). The last words are a conjecture of Fritzsche. There is evidently something omitted in the MS. With this reference to the eagle we may compare 2 Esdr. xi., xii.; but there is no need, with Volkmar, to conclude that Pseudo-Moses borrowed the symbol from Esdras. The profane introduction of the Roman eagle into the temple led to the insurrection repressed by Varus; and the symbol would be naturally used by any writer of the period. Joseph. Antiq. xvii. 6. And 123God shall exalt thee that thou shalt cleave to the starry heaven, over the place of their habitation.162162 “Et faciet to hærere cœlo stellarum, loco habitationis eorum.” If “eorum” is correct, it must refer to the heathen who are to suffer chastisement, and the place of their dwelling must be Rome. The idea is that the Israelites shall see and exult in the overthrow of their pagan enemies. Comp. Isa. lxvi. 14, 24. And thou shalt look from above and see thine enemies on earth, and shalt know them, and rejoice, and give thanks, and acknowledge thy Creator.”
The triumph over the heathen power of Rome, here, as in the Book of Esdras, represented under the symbol of the eagle (which had twelve feathered wings and three heads), is ascribed to the direct intervention of Jehovah, the signs that are to accompany His presence being adopted from the imagery of the Old Testament prophets. There is no hint of a conquering Messiah, a Son of David, who should restore the dominion of Israel, and reign a mighty King over an innumerable people. The Zealot could not contemplate the accession of any earthly monarch to the government of the chosen nation; his hopes centred in the restoration of the theocracy and the visible rule of Jehovah. It is with this grand expectation that he comforts the stricken hearts of his brethren. Then he proceeds to define the time of this epiphany. Addressing Joshua, he says: “Keep these words and this book; for,” he continues, “from my death and assumption unto His appearing shall be two hundred and fifty 124times.” At the commencement of the book, if the revised reading of editors may be trusted, the last year of Moses’ life is said to correspond with the year 2500 A.M.; and, taking “the times” as weeks of years (250 x 7), we find that the great Parousia will occur in the year of the world 4250. This would be 45 A.D. according to the chronology of Josephus, as gathered from some portions of his writings; but no importance can be attached to this, as he is very inconsistent in his dates, and we have no reason to suppose that Pseudo-Moses followed the system of chronology used by that writer. Without attempting to solve the enigma of the number of years, I should be inclined to suppose that the seer had no definite date in his mind, and merely assigned this visible interposition of Jehovah to the distant future; using terms in his vaticination with which the prophets of old had made him familiar.
But it is time now to turn to the second part of the Assumption. When Joshua heard the words of Moses, we are told, he rent his clothes, and fell upon his face, addressing his leader with words of grief and fear: “What a word is this that thou hast spoken, full of tears and sorrow!163163 “Quæ est plena lacrimis et gemitibus.” Eurip. Hec. 230: πλήρης στεναγμῶν, οὐδὲ δακρύων κενός. The first words of Joshua’s speech are: “Quid me celares, Domine Moyse? et quo genere celabo de quo locutus es voce acerba?” Volkmar and Wieseler read “zelares” and “zelabor” for “celares” and “celabo;” and the latter sees a reference here to the party of Zealots to which the seer belonged. Thou art leaving this thy people. What place will receive thee, and what will be the memorial of thy burial? Who will dare to transfer thy body hence as that of any other mortal man? Other 125men are buried in the earth; but thy grave is from the rising to the setting sun, from the south to the north; the whole world is thy sepulchre. And thou wilt depart; and who will nourish, thy people? Who will pity them and be their leader? And who will pray for them every day that I may bring them into the land of the Amorites? How shall I be able to lead them as a father guides his only son, or a mother her daughter now ripe for marriage? And how shall I give them food and water? For the people have so increased under thy prayers that they number now a hundred thousand men. The kings of the Amorites, when they hear that thou art departed, will war against us, thinking that there is no longer among us that sacred spirit (Moses) worthy of the Lord, manifold and inconceivable master of the word, faithful in all things, the Divine prophet throughout the world, the perfect teacher. And they will say: ‘Let us attack them.164164 This is an important passage, showing the regard in which Moses was held. “Sed et reges Amorreorum cum audierint expugnare nos, credentes jam non esse semet (secus, Fr.) sacrum spiritum dignum Domino, multiplicem et incomprehensibilem, dominum verbi, fidelem in omnia, divinum per orbem profetem, consummatum in sæculo doctorem jam non esse in eis, dicent eamus ad eos.” Chap. xi. Comp. Deut. xxxiv. 10 ff. If our enemies have once sinned against their Lord, they have now no defender to pray for them to the Lord, as Moses was a mighty messenger,165165 “Magnus nuntius,” as we have seen above, “the prophet like unto Moses” called “nuntius qui est in summo constitutus.” who every hour, day and night, had his knees pressed to the earth, looking to the Almighty and praying Him to visit the world with mercy and justice, remembering the covenant of the fathers.’ Yea, they will say, ‘He is with them no 126more, let us drive them from the face of the earth.’ And what shall become of this thy people, my lord Moses?”
To this sorrowful appeal Moses answers with encouragement. He tells Joshua to fear nothing. All nations are in God’s hands, who has predetermined all that happens, even to the least particular, and unto the end of time. “The Lord,” he proceeds, “hath appointed me to pray for the people, and to make intercession for their sins. Not for my strength nor for my weakness hath this befallen me, but from His mercy and long-suffering. And I tell thee, Joshua, that it is not for the piety of this people that thou shalt destroy the nations. The vault of heaven and the foundations of the world were created and approved by God,166166 Gen. i. 31. and are beneath the ring of His right hand.167167 MS.: “Sub nullo dexteræ illius sunt.” This has been rightly restored by editors to “sub annulo,” etc. Comp. Hag. ii. 23. They who keep the commandments of God shall be increased, and prosper in their way; but sinners and the disobedient shall have no part in the promised blessings, and shall be punished by the heathen with many torments. For it is not possible that He should destroy His people utterly. For God will come forth, who hath foreseen all things in every age, and His covenant is established, and with an oath, which” . . .
Here the manuscript ends, some ten or twelve leaves being lost. The missing fragment doubtless contained the conclusion of Moses’ address, and then told how Joshua departed to his appointed work, and how Moses 127took his Pisgah view of the promised land, died, was buried by the angels in spite of Satan’s opposition, and received his “assumption”—his mortal body being laid to rest in the unknown valley, his immortal part being escorted by angel bands to heaven itself.
It is unfortunate that the only quotations of, and references to, the Assumption which have reached us from antiquity contain sentences and statements not now extant, though there can be no reasonable doubt that they were portions of the original document. From our present fragments we can gather enough, however, to teach us the importance and utility of the work.
Like many other apocalyptic productions, it is a combination of history and prophecy, partly a narrative of past events, partly an ideal view of the future. It is not so much an independent prophecy, wherein the seer, constrained by the overmastering spirit, pours forth, a stream of rebuke, warning, and prediction, as an exposition and development of hints given in the Pentateuch, and especially in Deuteronomy, so that Wieseler has termed it “a prophetical Midrasch.” Written, as it must have been, in the first half of the first Christian century, it contains no trace of Christian ideas, or of any acquaintance with the pretensions, the life and death of Jesus. That in some respects our Blessed Saviour would have corresponded to the notion of the coming prophet entertained by some of the Zealots, is obvious. As claiming no earthly sovereignty, He would have suited the sentiments of those who would own no lord but Jehovah; but the moral triumphs to which His kingdom aspired, the bloodless victories of religion, would have 128been very far from answering their hopes or fulfilling the desires of their fiery hearts. The prophet whom they had taught themselves to expect was merely the precursor of the restored theocracy, when, under the visible chieftainship of Jehovah, the heathen should be destroyed as the doomed Canaanites perished, and Israel should rise victorious by earthly arms wielded under the direction and with the assured assistance of God Himself. At the same time it is interesting to remember that one at least of Christ’s apostles was a Zealot, and learned to see in his Master “the Prophet” and the Messiah. Now this sect, as an offshoot of the Pharisees, though in some respects opposed to them, doubtless shared with them the belief in the resurrection of the dead; but there is no direct statement of this doctrine in the Assumption. Writing in the character of Moses, who has left no teaching on the subject in the Pentateuch, the seer would naturally avoid dogmatising on this matter; but he uses the phrase “being gathered to his fathers,” which perhaps in his time carried with it the hope of the resurrection. There is, indeed, no trace of Christian doctrine throughout the work; it is distinctly narrow and national. The earth is made for the chosen people, whose strength lies in obedience to the law, and whose transgressions shall be punished by the hands of the heathen. But the Lord will never wholly destroy the Israelites for His oath’s sake and the promise made to their forefathers. The seer never looks to the salvation of the heathen. They are raised up merely as instruments of chastisement for sinning Jews; and when this purpose is fulfilled, they shall themselves be judged and 129meet with the reward of their lawlessness and idolatry. He does, indeed, condescend to correct some of their prevalent errors concerning creation and religion, but this is done for the sake of his own people who might be led astray by the paganism of Herod’s court. The selfish, narrow prejudice which so often appears in the Gospels, disdaining to hear of favours offered to non-Israelites, is found conspicuously in the Assumption. That side of the Messianic idea which promised light and grace to the Gentiles, was repugnant to the Zealot. His keen sense of injury at the hands of Rome blinded him to the possibility of the conversion and acceptance of those who were now aliens. Nor did he see the necessity of a Messiah such as we Christians receive. If we regard the description of Moses given above, we shall observe that the prophet usurps the place of Messiah; this “Divine” personage leaves no room for Christ; he is the mediator between God and the people, the appointed intercessor, and nothing higher or more heavenly is expected. The idea of the Son of God made man is wholly foreign to the seer’s theology, and the only Messiah he looks for is “that prophet” who should herald the restoration of the theocracy. And that this “nuntius in summo constitutus” is not a Divine person, is shown by the very phrase used of him above: “his hands shall be filled.” For this is an expression employed to designate the consecration of au earthly priest or prophet, and applies not to an angel or to Deity Incarnate. The hope of Pseudo-Moses is, as I have said, confined to the Parousia of Jehovah Himself displayed by some manifest sign as the Shekinah, when under His 130guidance Israel should overthrow her enemies. In believing that this appearance was to happen soon, the Zealot’s view was much the same as that of the primitive Christians, who could say with firm confidence, “the coming of the Lord draweth nigh,” and expect that He would in their day restore again the kingdom to Israel. That this hope was a great support in times of distress and persecution may well be imagined; and it was to give definiteness to this expectation and to enforce its lesson that our book was written.
For showing the hopes and opinions of an influential party among the Jews at the beginning of the first Christian century few documents of greater interest than the Assumption of Moses have reached our times. And the particular point which the book illustrates, viz. that the expectation of a personal Messiah was not universal, is worthy of more study than it has received.168168The same view is found in another Pseudepigraphic work, the Book of Jubilees.
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