Science in Christian Perspective



Allan A. MacRae, Ph. D.

From: JASA 6 (September 1954): 22-24.

Could Moses Write?

When critics first began to deny the Mosaic authorship of the five books with which the Bible begins, the assertion was made that it would have been impossible for Moses to have written the Pentateuch, since writing had not yet been invented.

Archaeology has now brought to light a complete refutation of this particular argument. Not only was writing widely used in the days of Moses, but, in fact, there are several possibilities as to the type of script which he might have used.

The first clear evidence of this became available soon after men learned to read the hieroglyphic writing of ancient Egypt. Although these pictures, inscribed on great stone monuments, were visible in many parts of Egypt, their meaning had remained an insoluble mystery for centuries. Then, in 1798 the so-called Rosetta stone, bearing an inscription in hieroglyphics, with a parallel in another ancient Egyptian script known as demotic, and a second parallel in easily understood Greek, was discovered by Napoleon's engineers. In 1802 it was captured by British soldiers and taken to the British Museum in London. As if to compensate for this, the interpretation of its hieroglyphic signs remained unknown until it was worked out, after twenty years, by a brilliant young Frenchman named Jeon Francois Champollion.

To our idea, the hieroglyphic writing is a very cumbersome thing. Pictures in it may represent the class to which a word belongs, or give an idea of the meaning of the word, or indicate a group of consonants, or even a single consonant. It is not strange that many years went by after the discovery of the Rosetta stone before anyone was able to decipher it, and that it took much further study before the knowledge of hieroglyphics could be said to be well established. However, once the principal features of the language had been well worked out, it was possible to read historical inscriptions, and even difficult poetical writings, with a very high degree of accuracy. We know with certainty that this writing was widely used in Egypt at least a thousand years before the time of Moses. The Bible describes Moses as being "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" (Acts 7:22). It would be strange indeed if he were not able to write the Pentateuch in the hieroglyphic signs, if he desired to do so.

This however, is not the end of the story. In 1887 an Egyptian peasant woman, digging in the rubbish heaps at a place called Tell El Amarna, found several hundred small pieces of clay, many of them about the size of a cake of soap, with queer little wedge-shaped marks on them. A friend carried them several hundred miles north to Cairo, where he attempted to sell them. Egyptologists looked at them and declared that this was not hieroglyphic writing, and that they were of no value. Eventually an antique dealer bought them for a very small sum. Later, a student of Mesopotamian antiquities, happening to come through Egypt, and desiring to buy an Egyptian souvenir, happened to come across these strange tablets. Picking them up, he found that he could read them with little difficulty and that actually these tablets, though found in the southern part of Egypt, contained writing in the script and language of distant Mesopotamia. It would seem that the cuneiform (or wedgeshaped) type of characters, which Babylonians used on clay tablets, and even the Babyionian language itself, was the lingua franca of the time. These tablets consisted of letters to and from the Pharaoh of Egypt and the kings of cities in Canaan and of countries further away from Egypt. These tablets, which are known as the El Amarna tablets present a priceless source of knowledge of the life of Palestine at a very early time.

If Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, it would not have been impossible for him to have written the Pentateuch in cuneiform. This theory has an advantage over the suggestion that he wrote it in hieroglyphics, since the hieroglyphics are closely linked to the Egyptian language and would be difficult to use for another language, while the cuneiform writing is more adaptable to various languages, and, in fact, twenty different languages have been already found to have been written in the cuneiform script. Whether the Pentateuch might have originally been written in Egyptian, in Babylonian, or in Hebrew itself, cuneiform would have been a possibility. Some scholars have even held the view that there are certain characteristics of the Pentateuch which fit particularly well with the hypothesis that it was originally written in cuneiform, though others think this to be unlikely.

However, even this is not the end. Early in the present century certain inscriptions were found in the Sinaitic Peninsula between Egypt and Palestine, in the very area through which the Israelites must have gone on their way from Egypt to Palestine, but probably from a time considerably earlier. These inscriptions were in a new type of writing, never before known. They bear certain similarity to Egyptian hieroglyphics, but there are far less characters. Study of this writing went forward very slowly, but recently it has been established that it is the precursor of every alphabetic system of writing known to the world. It was carried into Palestine, and from it developed the old Phoenician writing, which is the earliest form of Hebrew writing, and was used by the Israelites prior to the exile. From this was developed the later type of Hebrew characters. It was carried from Palestine eastward toward Syria and Arabia and into India. It was carried overseas to -Greece, and was the foundation of our Greek alphabet. From there it was carried north to Russia, and was the foundation of the Russian alphabet. It also went over-' land from Greece to the Etruscans, and from them to the Latins, and became the foundation of our Latin alphabet, which is now used for most of our western languages. Every system of alphabetic writing of which we have any knowledge, was either a direct development of this one, or, in a few cases, an artificial system based upon it. Since it began in the Sinaitic Peninsula, before the time of Moses, there is no reason to question the possibility that Moses could have used this system in writing the Pentateuch.

In recent years, new materials in this earliest system of alphabetic writing have been found, not only in Sinai, but also in Palestine itself. It is most interesting to note that in November 1949 a tablet was discovered, containing writing of a type which was modelled after this Sinaitic alphabet, which arranged the letters in such a way as to prove that even as early as the fourteenth century B.C. their order was similar to that used in our Hebrew, Greek, and Latin alphabets today.

Thus it is evident that there were several methods of writing available in which Moses could have written the Pentateuch, one of them actually being the type of writing from which our, present Hebrew characters developed. If this knowledge had been available at the time when the theories of source criticism of the Book of Genesis began to spread, one wonders whether the destructive theories would ever have been able to develop to anything like the point to which they have been carried.

In the Philadelphia Inquirer of July 26, there was a report that an American explorer, named John Libi, was quoted in Istanbul as saying that he had found traces of a vessel that might prove to be Noah's Ark, in connection with an ascent of Mount Ararat in Eastern Turkey. According to the account, Mr. Libi said that he was unable to approach the remains closer than 100 yards because of great blocks of ice surrounding the ship.

Similar records have appeared in France in various newspapers and magazines this spring, stating that a French explorer, Mr. Navarra of Bordeaux, had found the ark embedded in ice in an extinct crater on Mt. Ararat.

All Bible-believing Christians believe in the historicity of accuracy of the Biblical story of the flood. They have no doubt that Noah and his family escaped destruction in this world-wide catastrophe, only because they were in the ark.

It is, of course, not at all impossible that the ark could have become covered with ice and been preserved all these thousands of years. At the same time, there is no Biblical statement that such an event occurred. It would be equally possible that the ark completely disintegrated prior to the time when the area where it landed would have been covered with ice.

Mr. Navarra has expressed his intention of returning to Mt. Ararat, taking explosives with him, so as to be able to break. into the ice far enough to get a piece of the wood. It is to be hoped that he will gather sufficient evidence on this second visit to prove beyond question whether it is actually a vessel or not. Final judgment must wait until this wood can be submitted to carbon-14 tests, so that its age may be ascertained with certainty.

Until more is known about this, it is well to maintain a skeptical attitude. Abundant evidence is available from archaeology, bearing on the dependability and accuracy of the Bible. Only harm, and not good is done by broadcasting any alleged evidence which does not rest on solid fact. To use as collaboration of Scripture any arguments which are at all uncertain, may easily be a boomerang which will in the end have the opposite effect of that desired. Christians, however, should watch with interest for further news of these developments in the Ararat region.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
July 31, 1954