The Testament of Moses


Fiona Grierson

The Milan manuscript discovered by Ceriani in 1861 is the only extant copy of a Moses pseudepigraphon which contains Moses’ farewell speech to Joshua and anticipates the end of Moses’ life. It is assumed that the end of the manuscript, which is no longer available to us, contained Moses’ death and burial. This manuscript has been the subject of much debate, especially regarding its identification under the titles Testament of Moses and Assumption of Moses, which appear together in lists of apocryphal books.

My essay attempts to decide which title, if any, can be assigned to the Milan manuscript, and which tradition was the source of the reference to Moses in Jude 9. This involves dealing with Bauckham’s reconstructions of the Testament of Moses and Assumption of Moses in Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church.

We can disregard the Assumption of Moses as a title as the Milan manuscript anticipates an ordinary death of Moses. The reconstructed Testament of Moses has similar characteristics to our manuscript, for example, although it expects a normal death it implies an unusual burial. This could refer to the burial by Michael in a secret place. The role of Joshua, to whom Moses speaks before his death, is also paralleled in the Testament of Moses. There is, however, not enough evidence in the extant text of the Milan manuscript to identify it with one of these titles. This is due to the fact that the distinctive points of the Testament and Assumption are events which would have been contained in the (now non-existent) end of the Milan manuscript. We must also remember when comparing these traditions that our reconstructions of ToM and AoM do not exist as extant texts and may never have existed in this form.

As far as the origins of the Milan manuscript are concerned, the Latin text is clearly a translation from Greek, because several Greek words appear as transliterations, Greek idioms are translated into Latin and some difficult parts of the text can be clarified through retranslation of the original Greek. As some phrases which may strike some as Hebraisms can be explained simply as biblicising Greek, it is not necessary to look any further for a Semitic original. The clear dedication to the Temple and lack of a mention of its destruction tells us that the text must have been written before AD 70, and historical references to Herod and his sons allow us to estimate a date for the writing of the text between 4 BC and AD 30. We can be less certain about the identity of the author, however. Although the text makes some statements that clearly identify the author as Jewish (cf. 3:9), we do not have enough evidence to assign it to a specific sect. The text demonstrates an opposition to militant action and a dedication to the Jewish priesthood and laws, which suggests a sect of the late Hasidic movement.

(c) 2007
Reproduction beyond fair use only on permission of the author.

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