Moses and the Problem of Torah

Podcast 19 concerns the dilemma of Moses as the bringer of Torah and how the historical record suggests Israel received the “law” from Ezra several centuries later.

6 thoughts on “Moses and the Problem of Torah

  1. Steve Devine

    I was under the impression that Moses got that stuff from the Egyptians. Book of the Dead, and all. The Flood Myth and the slave exodus are pretty much dead giveaways….


    • Steve Wiggins

      It would be a lot easier to believe this if the Egyptians mentioned Moses at least once (they don’t). The Book of the Dead, however, does have echoes in the Hebrew Bible. I go over that in my class every semester.


  2. Yet more mind-blowing revelations in this lecture! A Torah that arose after the Exilic period as a response to the problems with prophets⁈ Truly, reality exceeds fiction in its improbability.

    (I laughed aloud at, “Now, prophets are a difficult group of people to deal with” 😂! I expect *all* peoples who believe in supernatural divinities have to deal with this problem—which shaman or priest or is legit and what are we going to do…)

    A minor question: when they say the Jews were exiled and held captive in Babylonia—are we to interpret that as a mass deportation of everyone (the likes of which are alas familiar to any reader of the history of the twentieth century)? Or that the aristocracy and nobility were captured and held as hostage in the Babylonian court? The latter seems more believable to my unlearned mind, but the incredible story of Ezra in this lecture makes me think it was the former.


    • That’s a good question. Exile/deportation in the ancient world wasn’t complete in the sense that it can be in the modern world. The Babylonians deported the elites, the powerful members of society who were likely to cause trouble if left in their own land. The numbers of people were likely not insignificant, but it was by no means the entire population. This was actually one of the differences between the Assyrians and Babylonians. The Assyrians deported and imported people to work the land they’d conquered. This meant that national identity was weak since mixed populations were more pliable. The Babylonians didn’t do that as much. They deported the upper classes and left the poor and unorganized to work the land so they could still pay tribute. This set up the difficulties described in the the book of Ezra when people “returned,” many of whom had been born in exile.


      • Pardon me for staying with the “Ask a busy scholar of ancient religions instead of studying this myself” theme I seem to have going 🙇—where did these Judean elites live in Babylon, and who supported them? I mean to ask, how did they eat? Did the Babylonian state bankroll them, since they were fellow aristocrats (albeit of a conquered state)? Perhaps through some of that tribute from Judea? Gore Vidal’s *Creation* has a memorable sequence where the narrator and main character (Zoroaster’s grandson!) spends a poverty-stricken childhood in the palace of Cyrus, but that’s not helping me visualize what the Jews went through.

        I’m also very curious: does any literature written in Judea during the Exile survive, written by those “left behind”? I cannot imagine what the power vacuum left there resulted in—anything could be possible in that environment, from a golden age to a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Hah, that’d be an interesting writing prompt for a piece of speculative fiction: “the elites of Earth have been packed off to Exile on another planet. What happens back home?”


        • I like your speculative fiction idea!

          The truth is we don’t actually know how exiles were supported since the surviving records didn’t go into that level of detail. The purpose of conquering other lands was in increase tribute to the victorious empire so it is very likely that exiles were supported by “taxes.” Keep in mind, taxes were often in the form of foodstuffs rather than money. We can’t say for sure, but that seems to be the most likely answer.

          Although the Bible isn’t the best historical record, it does seem to indicate that exiles (who lived in ethnic ghettos) were relatively happy. When allowed to return home by the Persians many of them decided to stay where they were. This would seem to suggest that they were well treated.

          For those back home we do have one, brief, description. This comes in the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a prophet who remained at home rather than going into exile. He died fairly early, though. Working class people were left behind to work the land and send tribute to Babylonia.

          Another view comes from those who returned from exile–Ezra, Nehemiah, Second Isaiah. They indicate that those “left behind” had moved into the nicer houses of the missing wealthy, leading to conflicts when the original owners (or their descendants) returned. Some, it seems, took advantage of the absence of the monied upper class while others carried on as usual with the Babylonians in charge instead of their own king. The lot of the poor was pretty much the same, whether the nation was independent or not.


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