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Re: [WSW] Quick Query on Empty Tomb

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: WSW Cc: GPG, Synoptic In Response To: Dan Lusthaus On: Ascension of Moses From: Bruce DAN: There is a rather extensive body of post-exilic, extra-canonical
    Message 1 of 2 , Oct 15, 2008
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      To: WSW
      Cc: GPG, Synoptic
      In Response To: Dan Lusthaus
      On: Ascension of Moses
      From: Bruce

      DAN: There is a rather extensive body of post-exilic, extra-canonical and
      rabbinic literature that contains a wealth of legendary (aggadic) material.
      You seem to be quoting one of those passages dubiously attributed to
      Josephus -- rather surprising given your fastidiousness about interpolations
      and stratifications in other literature.

      BRUCE: The extracanonical growth of the Moses legend is exactly the subject
      under discussion; it doesn't turn solely on Josephus. As for textual
      problems in Josephus, one or both of his references to Jesus have long been
      suspected to be later Christianizing interpolations; my own sense of it is
      that the suspicions on the whole are well founded (though there are still
      some defenders). I haven't heard of similar doubts about his treatment of
      Moses. Reference always welcome.

      DAN: The prevailing myth concerning Moses' tomb is that he (or God) keeps it
      hidden, so that anyone searching for it cannot find it. If you spy it from a
      distance, once you get there, it appears to be somewhere else. Even Freud
      devoted some attention to that myth.


      BRUCE: Freud is interested in general terms; he is also concerned to
      restructure religion as a delusion, and explain it on the same terms as he
      explains other delusions. That sort of analysis is outside of history; it
      invokes universal forces. I am not sure that this is the way to go at the
      historical question: What myth existed at what time?

      DAN: See Deut. 34:6.

      BRUCE: Glad to. "[5] So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land
      of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, [6] and he buried him in the
      valley, in the land of Moab opposite Bethpeor, but no man knows the place of
      his burial to this day."

      It is the last clause that either leaves the door open to later myth, or
      acknowledges alternative versions in contemporary myth. In Josephus we had:

      "although he wrote in the holy books that he died, which was done out of
      fear, lest they should venture to say that, because of his extraordinary
      virtue, he went to God."

      This too seems to recognize an ambiguity about the physical end of Moses:
      Scripture (precisely Deuteronomy) and legend (one version of which has Moses
      "going to God." I am not interested in which of these options might have
      been true of the Historic Moses, but rather in the existence of a Legendary
      Moses in the 1st century.

      DAN: Also


      BRUCE: Thanks for the reference [Brian M Britt, Rewriting Moses]; I hadn't
      come across it. Nor had I come across the 8th century Palaea Historica,
      cited by Britt, which mentions the dispute over the body of Moses between
      God and Satan. As Britt notes, a version of that conflict also occurs in
      Jude 9, which puts us back in the 1st century. The reference in Jude 9,

      "But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, disputed about
      the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgement upon
      him, but said, The Lord rebuke you."

      It seems to have been understood, in the legend here referred to by the
      author of Jude, that Moses's spirit was in Heaven; the point of dispute was
      about what would become of his body. This text is identified by some
      commentators as "a Jewish apocalypse called the Assumption of Moses"
      (Moffatt 1928, following Origen) or "The Ascension of Moses" (Barnett 1957)
      or "The Testament of Moses" (Watson 1998); the text has been reconstructed
      by Charles 1897 (not seen). It apparently featured a dispute over honorable
      vs dishonorable burial; this is another way the tradition was divided in the
      1st century. The interesting thing about the author of Jude is that he does
      not take a position on Moses (that question belonged to a much earlier
      stratum of Christian belief, and, I suspect, was meaningless at "Jude's"
      much later period), but rather refers to this story obliquely, in order to
      compare the audacious heretics of his own day with Satan, who in the story
      presumed to argue with the Archangel Michael. What it documents, it seems to
      me, is that the question of the end of Moses was live for Judaism at the end
      of the 1c. I think that helps the general picture.

      Moses was a father figure, a constitutive figure, for the nation of Israel.
      He is just the kind of person, or persona, who would tend to be exalted in a
      legendary way by an Israel under foreign domination. The evidence, such as
      it is, tends to show that just this sort of legendary development, perhaps
      already implied in Deuteronomy, was in full flower in the 1st century (and
      seemingly later as well, as Britt points out).

      Where does Mark fit into all of this? That is the question of relevance for
      the study of early Christian beliefs. As I read the (stratified) evidence of
      Mark, the Assumption Christians, who seem to have been one of the very
      earliest modes of Christian belief, felt that their theory of Jesus was
      paralleled not only by the canonically sound precedent of Elijah (who, NB,
      is mentioned first in Mk 9:4, a point which puzzles the commentators), but
      also by the less canonical but still current precedent of Moses. "And there
      appeared to them Elijah with Moses; and they were talking to Jesus."

      The traces of this belief have been overlaid by later text, written in
      support of later beliefs, chiefly the eventually victorious Resurrection
      Christianity. Victory doesn't interest me, as such; only the historical


      [E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst]
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