Last Updated: 7 January 2017
As I was scrolling through Facebook, it was brought to my attention that liberal scholars are questioning the authenticity of the written Torah. If the Torah was written by Moshe, why is it that we see him mentioning his own death (Deuteronomy 34.5) and saying that he was one of the most humble men on earth (Numbers 12.3)? I will not only answer these questions alone, but will also give a solid textual foundation for the written Torah.
The Greek Septuagint is, by far, the oldest translations of the Torah, and the rest of the Tanakh, that we currently have. The Torah was translated in the third century B.C.E – that is, 300 B.C.E. That is to say, the written Torah was translated – not “made”, but translated – into Greek over 2,600 years ago. This is incredibly interesting, considering that these liberal scholars claimed the written Torah was created in the second century C.E!
Not only can we say with confidence that the written Torah really is close to 3,500 years old, but we can also say that it is completely accurate with absolutely no errors at all. If there be any errors, they are very few. Indeed, the scribes which copied the written Torah, the Masorets, were extremely meticulous when it came to copying the Torah. Indeed, some of the rules included: the Torah must be copied on to clean animal skin, each skin must contain an exact number of columns throughout the entire manuscript, the length of each column must be between 48-60 lines, the breath of each column must consist of 30 letters, the scribe would have to have an open kosher Torah scroll in front of him and never go by memory, the scribe must vocalize each and every word, and many other careful measures, such as if anything – a letter – was missing, the entire work would be destroyed. A few, a sample, of the rules can be found here.
Indeed, the work of the Masorets was so meticulous that the Aish website comments the following:
“Let’s investigate the facts as we have them today. If we collect the oldest Torah scrolls and compare them, we can see if any garbling exists, and if so, how much. How many letters are there in the Torah? 304,805 letters (or approximately 79,000 words). If you were to guess, how many letters of these 304,805 do you think are in question? (Most people guess anywhere from 25 to 1,000 letters.) The fact is, that after all the trials and tribulations, communal dislocations and persecutions, only the Yemenite Torah scrolls contain any difference from the rest of world Jewry. A total of nine letter-differences are found in their scrolls. These are all spelling differences. In no case do they change the meaning of the word. For example, how would you spell the word “color?” In America, it’s spelled C-O-L-O-R. But in England, it’s spelled with a “u,” C-O-L-O-U-R.”
Out of 3,400 or so years we see that the only differences of the written Torah is simply misspellings in one manuscript, according to Aish. As if that wasn’t enough evidence already, with the findings of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we see that they match the traditional Masoretic Text of the Torah (Dead Sea Scrolls)! There’s no other document that has this much manuscript history with little to no errors. To quote the aforementioned Aish article, comparing the Christian Bible with the Hebrew Scriptures we find: “The Torah has nine spelling variants ― with absolutely no effect on the meaning of the words. The Christian Bible has over 200,000 variants and in 400 instances the variants change the meaning of the text.” That’s including the fact that Jews went through numerous exiles, tribulations, apostasies, and the fact that the Christian New Testament is only 1,700 years old!
What is absolutely note-worthy is the blatant hypocrisy by modern day liberal scholars. Let us consider, for example, that the general consensus assumes Aristotle (around 360-384 BCE) lived as a Greek philosopher and that his work survived until this day. If my understanding is correcting regarding this information, then the oldest copies of Aristotle’s work is dated to 13th Century C.E! That is quite the gap between Aristotle’s actual life and his work. Yet, these liberal scholars will readily accept such poor manuscript tradition while condemning the 3,400 year old Hebrew Torah. This is nothing short of intellectual dishonesty.
Yet, I am positive that this information does not matter to these liberal scholars, especially considering that their base and foundation of argument is simply misunderstood verses in the written Torah, not a physical scientific-forensic look on the manuscripts we have. Even then, though, the two examples I mentioned in the introduction can be easily explained.
In Deuteronomy 34.5, we read: “So Moshe the servant of The Eternal One died there in the land of Moav, according to the word of The Eternal One…” How are we to understand such a concept? Would Moshe write his own death? Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki (Rashi) makes the following observation about the verse:
“And Moses… died there: Is it possible that Moses died, and [then] wrote, “And Moses… died there”? But [the answer is:] Moses wrote up to that juncture, and Joshua wrote from then on. Says Rabbi Meir: But is it possible that the Torah Scroll would be lacking anything at all, and yet Scripture states (Deut. 31:26),“Take this Torah Scroll” [and Moses commanded this to the Levites; so, according to the above opinion, is it possible that the Torah Scroll referred to there was an incomplete one, up to the juncture of Moses’s death? This cannot be!] Rather, [continues Rabbi Meir, we must say that] The Holy One, blessed is He, dictated this [i.e., the verse “And Moses… died there”], and Moses wrote it in tears. — [B.B. 15b, Sifrei 33:34]”
In my opinion, Rabbi Meir is correct in that Moshe wrote his own death which was dictated by G-d Himself. We should not be surprised at this, however, since Aharon was told that he would die (Numbers 20.23ff).
The other verse, Numbers 12.3, is just as easy to explain as the above. In the verse, we read: “Now the man Moshe was very humble, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” Could a man write about how humble and meek he was? Just as the Eternal One dictated Moshe his own death, it is clear to me that He would also have Moshe write that about himself.
In conclusion, for such an old document as the written Torah to have not even ten differences in the manuscript (and, even then, only name variations!) is impressive indeed. It is a divinely inspired and given book and preserved by G-d Himself. No other document can compare to it.