In the Epistle of St. Jude we read (ver.9): |Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing judgment, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.| Hereupon two questions arise. Whence did the apostle derive the story to which he refers? And what was the occasion of the dispute? To the latter question a conjectural answer alone can be given. Taking into consideration the circumstances of the burial of Moses, we see that it was intended to be a secret transaction. The Lord, we are told (Deut. xxxiv.6), |buried him in a valley of the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor; but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.| Doubtless there was a good reason for this secrecy. The, proneness of the Jews to idolatry, the likelihood that the body of their great leader might become an object of adoration, even as the brazen serpent drew their hearts away in later time, the tendency to follow the creature-worship and to pay that undue reverence to relics which they had seen in Egypt, -- these considerations may have led to the concealment of the body of Moses. And the devil wished to frustrate this purpose. He saw an opportunity of using the mortal remains of Moses to draw away the Israelites from true religion. He would have no mystery about the burial. The people should be shown their leader's resting place; of the result he had no doubt whatever. And Michael, the appointed guard of the grave, as the Targum says, resisted this evil attempt of Satan, and firmly carried out the purpose of God. Using the words which God Himself had employed when the wicked spirit endeavoured to withstand His act of clothing Joshua, the high priest, in festal garments (Zech. iii.), Michael answered, |The Lord rebuke thee.| And in the unknown spot the body rested; or, at any rate, it was seen no more till it appeared to the wondering three on the Mount of Transfiguration fourteen hundred years later.
The former question, as to the origin of the narrative to which St. Jude refers, is answered by Origen, who intimates that it is derived from a book which he calls the Ascension of Moses, Analepsis Moseos. That St. Jude should refer to a work current in his day, though not appertaining to the canon of Holy Scripture, is quite supposable, as there is good ground for .believing that in another place (ver.14) he cites the apocryphal Book of Enoch. The existence of this Assumption or Ascension of Moses is testified by many other early writers. In the remarkable use of the word mesites in the Epistle to the Galatians (iii.19) some have seen a reference to, or evidence of acquaintance with, our book. Certainly the term is applied to Moses in the first chapter, where the dying lawgiver says: |Itaque excogitavit et invenit me, qui ab initio orbis terrarum præparatus sum ut sim arbiter testamenti illius.| Referring to this, and having the Greek original before him, Gelasius of Cyzicmn gives the latter words of Moses as einai me tes diathekes autou mesiten. But we cannot lay much stress on the use of that expression, as it is employed in this connection by Philo and the Rabbinical authors, and was probably applied to Moses by writers antecedent to Christianity in agreement with Deut. v.5, where he says: |I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to show you the word of the Lord.| It is also asserted that Clemens Romanus quotes our book when, speaking of Moses (xvii.5), he says: |He, though greatly honoured, magnified not himself, but answered when the revelation was made to him at the bush, Who am I, that Thou sendest me? I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.' And again he saith: I am as smoke from the pottery.'| The last clause is deemed by Hilgenfeld to be cited from the Assumption. This is possible, but the existing fragments do not contain it. The earliest reference which can be relied on is found in the works of Clemens Alexandrinus, who, describing the death of Moses, says it is probable that Joshua saw Moses in twofold form when he was taken up (analambanomenon), one with the angels, and one honoured with burial in the valley. This curious opinion is shared by Origen, who asserts that in a certain uncanonical book mention is made of two Moses' being seen, one alive in the spirit, the other dead in the body. Evodius, a contemporary of St. Augustine, has the same gloss, derived from the same source: |When he ascended the mountain to die, the power of his body brought it to pass, that there should be one body to commit to earth, and another to be the companion of his attendant angel.| Another legend, traced to the same origin, recounts how at Moses' death a bright cloud so dazzled the eyes of the bystanders that they saw neither when he died nor where he was buried. Other writers give a different reason for the dispute with Michael from that suggested above, still, however, referring to the tradition contained in the Assumption. Thus OEcumenius writes, that the archangel took charge of Moses' body, but the devil claimed it as his own, being the body of a murderer in that he had killed the Egyptian; and an old Scholion on the passage in St. Jude adds: |that it was when Satan asserted this claim and blasphemed, Michael replied, The Lord rebuke thee.|' Epiphanius gathers from this book how the angels buried the body of Moses without washing it, for they had no need to wash it; nor were they defiled by contact with so holy and pure a body. Didymus of Alexandria, who lived in the fourth century A.D., informs us that some persons in his day raised an objection against the Epistle of St. Jude, as also against the Assumption of Moses, on account of the passage concerning the dispute with Satan; just as, according to Jerome, the same Epistle was rejected for its reference to the apocryphal Book of Enoch. Mention is made of the Assumption in some catalogues of the books of Scripture. Thus in the Catalogue of Nicephorus it is placed, with the Book of Enoch, the Testaments of the Patriarchs, and some others, among the Apocrypha of the Old Testament; and reference is made to it in the so-called Synopsis of Athanasius. Apollinaris says: |It is to be noted that in the times of Moses there were also other books, which are now apocryphal; as evident from the Epistle of St. Jude, where he teaches about the body of Moses, and where he cites as from ancient Scripture the passage, Behold, the Lord cometh,'| etc. In the Acts of the Second Nicene Council some passages are cited from the Analepsis which are not now extant. Thus we read that in the dispute with Satan, Michael said: |Of His Holy Spirit we all were formed;| and again: |From the face of God went forth His Spirit, and the world was made:| Another fragment of the same Acts already mentioned gives the chief contents of the work: |Moses the prophet, when he was about to depart from life, as it is written in the Book of the Assumption of Moses, called Joshua unto him, and spake, saying: God looked upon me before the foundation of the world, that I should be the mediator, of His covenant.'| The Apostolical Constitutions mention among those writings that are without the canon |The apocryphal Books of Moses,| referring doubtless to our work. It seems also certain that it was well known to the Rabbinical writers, who raised a crop of legends on itsfoundation.
Thus we see that the Assumption of Moses was a book known and quoted up to the twelfth or thirteenth century of our era. But from that time till some twenty years ago it has been wholly lost. Commentators on St. Jude were forced to content themselves with a vague reference to this unknown composition; and the words of Dean Stanley in Dr. Smith's Dictionary of the Bible (art. |Moses|), written in 1863, accurately represent the amount of acquaintance with the subject possessed by most people. Speaking of the passage in Jude, he concludes thus: |It probably refers to a lost apocryphal book mentioned by Origen, the Ascension or Assumption of Moses. All that is known of this book is given by Fabricius, Codex Pseudep. V. T. i.838-844.| The fragments, however, printed by Fabricius are very insignificant, and quite insufficient to give any idea of the character and contents of the work. But Dr. Stanley was unconsciously inaccurate when he made the statement just mentioned. Already in 1861 A. M. Ceriani, the learned librarian of the Ambrosian Library at Milan, had published a Latin version of a large portion of the Assumption which he had found in a palimpsest of the sixth century. It is curious that nearly forty years previously Amedeus Peyron had edited from the same manuscript some hitherto unknown orations of Cicero, but the |Assumption| remained still undiscovered. It was therefore with the utmost satisfaction that the learned world received the news that fresh fragments of this apocryphal work had been suddenly disinterred. The MS., indeed, was without title, corrupt and imperfect, and in places illegible; but these circumstances only augmented the interest which was centred upon it. Here was a nodus which demanded solution at the hands of scholars. |Liber enim,| as Erasmus says, |prodigiosis mendis undique scatens, crux est verius quam liber.| That it was the same book as the old Analepsis Mos. was proved by its containing the passage in the Acts of the Nicene Council quoted above. The discovery appears to have passed almost unnoticed in England, but in Germany it stirred the minds of savants with an excitement as great as that lately aroused by the |Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.| Professors set themselves the task of correcting, explaining, and supplying the gaps in the very imperfect publication of Ceriani. First Hilgenfeld, with the aid of other scholars, put forth a critical edition containing a corrected text, which threw much light on the many dark places, and afforded a readable whole. A year or two later he took the pains to translate the Latin into Greek, no very difficult task, as the version had been most slavishly rendered from the original, retaining everywhere Greek phraseology and often Greek words. This he published with valuable notes. Then Volkmar printed a neat little edition with a German translation and commentary. This was followed by that of Schmidt and Merx, whose conjectures and corrections are remarkable rather for audacity than probability. Fritzsche, the last editor, speaks somewhat slightingly of his predecessors' labours, but has largely availed himself of them. In his very useful edition he prints on one page the text as originally published by Ceriani, and on the opposite side gives an amended text with the lacunæ mostly supplied, and with copious critical notes. The work has never, I believe, been published in England. A useful dissertation on the book, which combines the latest information, is appended to Dr. Gloag's Introduction to the Catholic Epistles.
There is another work which is sometimes confounded with the Assumption, but is entirely different in scope and treatment. This is an Apocalypse of Moses in Greek, written by a Christian, and belonging to the class of Adamaic books, wherein is given a history of Adam's life and death as revealed to Moses. It has been published by Tischendorf and Ceriani.
Whether the Assumption was originally written in Hebrew cannot now be determined. If its birthplace was Palestine, it is most probable that it was composed in Hebrew or Aramaic. It is evident that it was known only in a Greek form to those early writers who mention it; and it is also certain from internal evidence that the old Latin version which has survived was made from the Greek and not the Hebrew. The use of such words as |prophetiæ,| |scene testimonii,| |allophyli,| proves this incontestably. The Latin of the translation is beyond measure barbarous and anomalous, the vulgar dialect of country peasants, and resembling the old Itala rather than any classical form which we possess. It appears, too, to have been transcribed by an ignorant writer, who has accordingly introduced many blunders of his own manufacture. As the MS. came originally from the Abbey of Bobbio, near Pavia, whence also issued the famous Muratorian Canon (the language of which is very similar to that of the Assumption), it was probably copied by one of the inmates of that establishment, |stronger,| as Colani says, |in caligraphy than Latin.| Of the place and date of the original composition we can form only conjectures. We might do more if we had the whole before us; but, unfortunately, both the beginning and the end are missing. At the commencement probably only a few lines are lost, but at the conclusion a very serious deficiency is to be lamented. Nicephorus states that the original work consisted of 1400 stiches, assigning similar dimensions to the Book of Revelation. We are thus led to the conclusion that little more than half has been preserved, and important passages, wherein some guide to the chronology would naturally have been introduced, are lost or mutilated beyond hope of replacement. Our data, therefore, are much limited, and we possess but scanty foundations on which to construct a theory. With regard to the locality of the treatise, we may at once exclude Alexandria from being its birthplace. The author shows no trace of the Alexandrian school; he never allegorizes, never indulges in mystic speculations, but keeps to pure history, whether he is relating the past or predicting the future. His standpoint is unadulterated Judaism, and there is good reason, as will be seen, for classing him among the Zealots. Hilgenfeld considers that the author was a Jew sojourning at Rome; but his arguments are very far from decisive, and we shall have most critics with us in determining that the work was written in Palestine. The author shows such accurate acquaintance with the parties of the Jews in Palestine, and the events which happened there, that it can scarcely be doubted that he is writing amid the scenes and characters which, under the disguise of prophecy, he depicts, either in Galilee or in the country east of Jordan, where the party of Zealots was strongest. As to the date of the composition, scholars have long had important differences, Wieseler fixing it at 2 B.C., and Volkmar at 135-138 A.D. Between these two extreme dates many variations occur; thus Ewald assigns it to A.D.6, Hilgenfeld to A.D.44, Merx to A.D.54-64. Fritzsche traces it to the sixth decade of the first century A.D., and Langen (mistaking the application of chap. viii.) assigns it to a period shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. Most of these critics found their opinions upon the unintelligible fragments of numbers in chap. vii. But it is absurd to employ the hopelessly mutilated text for this purpose; and, in truth, we can only be certain of these facts, that the book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, of which no mention is made, and before the death of Herod's two sons, Philip and Antipas, probably towards the commencement of their reign; for the author predicts for the sons a shorter reign than their father's, which could be said truly of Archelaus alone, for Antipas reigned 43 years, Philip 37, and Herod the Great only 34 years. The concluding clauses of chap. vi., which speak of the arrival of a powerful western chieftain who should take captives, and burn the house, and crucify some, point to the war of Varus, B.C.4; and when the writer goes on (chap. vii.): |ex quo facto finientur tempora,| it is natural to conclude that he wrote after this little war. If we knew accurately the date of St. Jude's Epistle, we might have another criterion; but too much stress must not be laid upon the supposed quotation from the Assumption, as the passage referred to is not extant, and both Jude and pseudo-Moses may have used some tradition current among the Jews of the period. On the whole, we shall not be far wrong if we attribute the composition to the early part of the first Christian century, i.e. between A.D.6, the time of the banishment of Archelaus, and A.D.33, the date of Philip's death. Before offering a sketch of the contents of the little work, I will transcribe a few lines of the manuscript with a view of showing its corruptions, and the difficulties that stand in the way of interpreters. I should premise that the MS. is a palimpsest of the fifth or sixth century, written in two columns to the page, each line containing from twelve to eighteen letters without division of words, and with very rare punctuation. The following is the commencement of the existing fragment: |. . . qui est bis millesimus et quingentesimus annus a creatura orbis terræ nam secus qui in oriente sunt numerus . . . mus et . . . mus profectionis fynicis cum exivit plebs post profectionem quæ fiebat per moysen usque amman trans iordanem profetiæ quæ facta est a moysen in libro deuteronomio.| This passage is thus manipulated by the latest editors: |[Anno Moyseos centesimo et vigesimo] qui est bis millesimus et quingentesimus annus a creatura orbis terræ, nam secus [= secundum eos] qui in oriente sunt numerus est cccc mus et vii mus et xxx mus profectionis Phoenices, cum exivit plebs post profectionem quæ fiebat per Moysen usque Amman trans Jordanem, profetiæ factæ sunt a Moyse in libro Deuteronomio.| It would lead us too far were we to attempt to solve the many questions which are raised by this brief extract; rather let us confine ourselves to an endeavour to obtain a general view of the contents and object of the work.
The work, as we have it now, is divided into two parts -- first, the charge of Moses to Joshua his successor, in which is given a sketch of Jewish history, mingled with prophecies of future events up to the restoration of the pure theocracy. This is followed by a humble, self-depreciating speech of Joshua, to which Moses makes an encouraging reply, broken off short by the mutilation of the manuscript, which ends thus: |exivit enim deus qui prævidit omnia in sæcula, et stabilitum est testamentum illius et jurejurando, quod| . . . The remainder, which gave its name to the work, doubtless contained the account of the death and burial of Moses, and the dispute about the body to which St. Jude refers; but this will probably now be never brought to light.
It will, perhaps, be most satisfactory to give a free translation of part of Moses' speech, adding such remarks as seem to be necessary for its elucidation, or to show its bearing on the Messianic doctrine. We must keep in mind the fact (for a fact it seems to be) that the book is written by a partisan of a section of the Zealots, whose standpoint was that no mortal man ought to rule Israel, be he priest or king, of the line of Aaron or of David, -- that Jehovah alone is King. This tenet, coupled with an energetic and fanatical zeal for the law, led to the outburst of Judas of Galilee, and to the excesses of the sect in later times. We shall see this ruling dogma continually appearing in the Assumption. The author at the same time seems to be inimical to the Pharisees, as being too dogmatical in their religion and undecided in their politics.
This, then, is the last charge of the great lawgiver: |The Lord prepared me before the foundation of the world to be the mediator of His covenant. And now that I am about to be gathered to my fathers, I commit to thee this writing, which thou shalt preserve safely unto the day of visitation.| This prophecy of Moses was to be kept in the holy place till the last time of judgment. |And now thou shalt lead the people into the land promised to their fathers, and shalt settle them there. And it shall come to pass that after they have been in possession for five years, they shall be governed by princes and tyrants eighteen years; and ten tribes shall revolt for nineteen years.| The eighteen years represent eighteen rulers, as in the Book of Enoch, viz. fifteen judges (|principes|) from Joshua to Samuel, and three kings (|tyranni|), Saul, David, and Solomon; the |nineteen| are the kings of Israel from Jeroboam to Hoshea. |But two tribes shall come and remove the tabernacle of testimony; and God shall make a resting-place for His sanctuary among them (2 Sam. vi.; 1 Kings viii.4). And they shall offer victims for twenty years.| This refers to the reign of the twenty kings of Judah, including Athaliah. |And seven shall fortify the walls, and nine will I watch over, and they shall maintain the covenant of the Lord.| Seven kings improved the condition of the people, viz. Rehoboam, Abia, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joram, Ahaziah, and Athaliah; and nine God defended, viz. Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, Josiah. |But the last four kings shall worship false gods, and defile the temple with their idolatries. And then from the East shall come a mighty king (Nebuchadnezzar) who shall destroy the city, and burn the sanctuary, and take their precious things, and carry all the people and the two tribes into captivity. Then the two tribes shall call the ten to repentance, acknowledging the justice of their punishment; and all together shall invoke the God of their fathers, and humbly confess that that chastisement which Moses predicted has righteously fallen upon them. At the end of seven and seventy years one of their princes shall pray for them.| This refers to the intercession of Daniel; the seventy years of exile are extended by seven according to the Jewish predilection for that number, traces of which we see in Matt. xviii.22, and in the genealogy of our Lord in St. Luke. |And God shall look upon them, and put it into the heart of the prince (Cyrus) to restore them onto their own country. Some portions of the tribes shall return to their appointed place and rebuild the city walls; but the two tribes alone shall remain true to the Lord, yet lamenting that they are now unable to offer acceptable sacrifices.| The notion of the writer is, that the temple having been restored under heathen auspices, and the officiating priests being friendly to the pagan supremacy, the services therein were illegitimate and inefficacious. As for the ten, they shall thrive in the foreign land, and shall some day rejoin the others in the day of restoration. And now the times of trial shall draw near, and vengeance shall arise because of the wickedness of princes given for their punishment; for ministers who are not priests, but slaves and born of slaves, shall defile the altar; and those who are their doctors of the law shall pervert justice and fill the land with iniquity.| The writer makes no definite reference to the persecution of Antiochus or the gallant struggles of the Maccabees, but hurries at once to the later time of the decadence of that great family and the consequent corruption of religion and morals. The scribes and Rabbis of the Asmonæans were doubtless Sadducees, to which party John Hyrcanus had attached himself (Joseph. Antiq. xiii.10.6).
In the view of the seer, which, as I have said, is that of the sect of Zealots, the holy people were to be governed by no earthly king, not even by a prince of Jewish birth. Jehovah alone is their Ruler. From this standpoint he regards the rule of the Asmonæan princes as usurping the authority of the Lord. He proceeds: |Soon shall ruling kings arise, calling themselves priests of the Most High God, and shall profane even the Holy of Holies. To them shall succeed an insolent king, not of the family of priests, a man rash and shameless, -- and he shall judge them as they are worthy. He shall slay their chieftains with the sword, and strangle them in secret places, so that their bodies shall not be found; he shall kill old and young, and spare not; there will be great dread of him throughout the land, and his tyranny shall continue for four and thirty years.| This is a fine and true description of Herod the Great, and the notorious cruelties practised in his reign. The mistake concerning the length of the reigns of Herod's sons has been already noticed. |He shall beget sons, who shall reign a shorter time than their father; until a mighty king of the West shall come, and shall utterly defeat the people, lead some away into captivity, crucify others around the city, and burn part of the temple.| The mention of the partial destruction of the temple by fire forbids us to see here an allusion to the final conquest of Titus, and compels us to look to another event for an explanation of the prophecy. That event is doubtless the defeat of the Jews by Varus, when, as Josephus narrates, the porticoes or cloisters of the temple were burnt, the sacred treasures plundered, and two thousand of the insurrectionists were ruthlessly crucified.
Up to this point the history has been tolerably clear; but now (chap. vii.) comes a passage which is most obscure, and has given rise to many interpretations and great controversies. The seer is. evidently speaking with studied ambiguity, and as we do not know what he means by |the last times,| nor by what intervals he divides them, it is impossible to arrive at any sure solution of the enigma here presented. He seems to have regarded the victory of Varus as a token of the subjection of Israel to the heathen yoke and the virtual overthrow of the theocracy. |Ex quo facto finientur tempora.| |When this shall come to pass the times shall end. In a moment the course of years shall end, when the four hours come.| The |four hours| may possibly be the |time, times and a half| of Dan. xii.7, and the following paragraph probably defines more exactly the various stages of the epoch which culminated in the erection of the supremacy of Rome. More than this we are unable to affirm. Next we have a description of the Herodian princes under Roman rule, and the parties then prevalent: |among them shall reign pestilent and godless men, boasting themselves to be just, zealous indeed, but crafty, self-pleasers, hypocrites. These are gluttonous and wine-bibbers; they devour, the substance of the poor, saying that they do it for pity's sake; their language is: Let us eat and drink luxuriously as princes. Their hands work iniquity, and their tongue speaketh proud things: Touch me not lest thou defile me.| One cannot help seeing here a reference to the Herodians, and, in the latter part, to |the scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,| who were so sternly denounced by our Lord in St. Matt. xxiii. The first portion of the description applies closely to the Sadducaic faction in Herod's half-pagan court, which really affected the doctrine of the Epicureans. Then falls upon them the punishment of their iniquity: |Lo, then shall come on them a wrath and a vengeance such as never before were seen. A mighty power shall be roused against them; those who confess circumcision shall be crucified, and they who deny it shall be tortured and imprisoned; their wives shall be given over to the heathen, and their children shall be made uncircumcised. Under pain of fire and sword they shall be compelled to carry the idols of their masters, to offer on their altars, and to blaspheme the great name of God.| The persecution here foreshadowed recalls, and is meant to recall, that under Antiochus Epiphanes Is there any parallel to be found within the limits of the period to which we attribute the composition of the Assumption? Colani boldly says there is not, and affirms that the only persecution which answers to the one mentioned in the text, is that which took place under Adrian as a punishment for the rebellion of Bar-Cocheba, A.D.136. But for an author, writing the history of the Jews (be it in a predictive form), to omit all mention of the destruction of Jerusalem under Titus, and to leap at once to the calamities which were consummated by the erection of Ælia Capitolina, is a proceeding so very improbable, that we cannot admit it for a moment. The other alternative (if it be granted Adrian's persecution is meant) would be to endow Pseudo-Moses with the true spirit of prophecy, or at least to allow that he has made a most happy guess at the future which subsequent events fully justifed. Of course, Colani and those who hold his opinion would say that the book was written after A.D.136; but I have already given reasons for assigning it to a much earlier date, nor does this part of the |prophecy| alter this decision. Evidently the writer wished to announce in striking terms the chastisement which he saw coming upon his nation from heathen Rome. How could he better herald this than by recalling to mind the awful cruelties of Epiphanes, and using his acts as a type of the hostility of godless tyrants assailing the fallen Israel? What those cruelties were, and how in many particulars they answered to the description in our text, may be seen in the beginning of the First Book of Maccabees. That, as a fact, the atrocities of earlier days were repeated in after years, is only what might have been expected. Given similar victims, similar circumstances, similar perpetrators, the result was sure to be analogous also. Here, as elsewhere, history repeats itself, and we need seek no closer fulfilment of the prediction. By speaking, in the following paragraph, of |a second vengeance,| the writer seems to desire to call to remembrance the persecution of Antiochus.
We now come to the great crux of the whole book (chap. ix.), at a satisfactory solution of which no commentator has yet arrived. |In that day, at his command (illo dicente) a man shall arise from the tribe of Levi, whose name shall be Taxo. And he shall call his seven sons unto him, and thus address them: 'Behold, my sons, a second time has vengeance fallen upon this people, a cruel, foul punishment, and pitiless captivity. What nation or people has suffered for their iniquities as we have suffered? Ye see and know that we have never tempted God, neither our fathers nor ancestors, so as to transgress His commandments. And herein lies our strength. Let us then do this: let us fast for three days; and on the fourth day let us go into a cave which is in the field, and rather die than break the commandments of our God. For if we do this and die, the Lord will avenge our blood.'| Now the question is, who is meant by |Taxo?| Is it a real name? Are we to take it as representing a certain numerical value, as the beast in the Revelation of St. John? And if so, is the name Greek, Latin, or Hebrew? Or is it a cypher, containing the same number of letters as the name intended? Into these and such like questions editors have entered at great length, with this conclusion, according to Fritzsche, with which I am forced to agree: |ut nemo adhuc inventus est, qui nomen satis probabiliter enuclearet, ita de ejus explicatione videtur desperandum.| Among the various theories offered, that of Wieseler seems in some respects reasonable. In his view the seer is again introducing details from Maccabæan history, such as occur in 1 Macc. ii.29 ff. and 2 Macc. vi.11 ff., or from the deeds of that Matthias who was the ringleader in the disturbances which took place on the rumour of the death of Herod, and who, according to Josephus (Antiq. xvii.6; Bell. Jud. i.33), made much the same speech as Taxo, before pulling down the Roman eagle on the temple gate, urging his followers to sacrifice their lives in defence of the honour of God. As for the word |Taxo,| it is probably the Low-Latin word meaning |a badger,| equivalent to the Hebrew ths, tachash, which is very similar to the German |Dachs,| and has the same meaning; and it may be either a play on the badger skin which formed part of the covering of the tabernacle, or the appellation of the man who had to act the part of this animal by hiding in dens of the earth. This man may be either Judas of Galilee, or some chief among the party of the Zealots, possibly the writer himself. Now the principal fact that militates against Taxo being Judas is the character of Judas himself. Though his followers saw in him the promised Messiah, he was by no means one who would have used the words attributed to Taxo. Non-resistance was not his policy. Certainly he taught that it was better to die than to break the law of God; but it was death with arms in their hands that he exhorted his followers to meet. His watchword, |We have no master but the Lord,| led him to fight with earthly weapons, and the cruelties and excesses of his companions have stained the name of Zealots for all time.
There is so much more matter interesting and important in this little work that we need not spend further time on the interpretation of |Taxo.| Suffice it to say that Hilgenfeld affirms the original to have been txg' = 363, i.e. numerically Messiah. But it is inconceivable that Messiah should be represented as hiding in a cave and there awaiting death. Volkmar writes taxo, which he makes = 431, and deems that the person intended is Akiba, the comrade of Bar-Cocheba. Colani and Carrière pronounce that the translator has mistaken the original Aramæan word which meant |ordinance| for a proper name, whereas the sentence really signifies, |there shall be a man of the tribe of Levi who shall promulgate an ordinance, or give an instruction| -- the instruction being the address to the sons which follows, and the speaker being Rabbi Jehouda-ben-Baba, who, according to a Rabbinical tradition, acted somewhat in the manner of |Taxo| towards the end of the persecution of Adrian. But the date of the Assumption renders this last theory utterly untenable. Perhaps, after all, the simplest solution is to regard the word as a corruption of the text.
To proceed: |Then shall His (Jehovah's) kingdom be manifested in all His creation, and the devil (Zabulus) shall find his end, and with him all sorrow shall vanish away. Then shall power be given to the messenger who is set in the highest place, who soon shall avenge them (Taxo and his comrades) of their enemies.| This |messenger| seems to be the prophet like unto Moses of Deut. xviii.15, 18; who himself is called |the great Messenger| in chap. xi. of our book. Nor can we be intended to see in this personage the Messiah. At the most, the expected One was an equal of Moses, superior to him neither in person nor in act. The same expectation of a faithful prophet prophetes pistos is found in 1 Macc. xiv.41, where the epithet points to Moses, to whom it is specially applied. The party among the Zealots, to which the writer belonged, looked for a heaven-sent Saviour and Deliverer to prepare the way for the visible reign of Jehovah; and when the multitude, who were miraculously fed by Christ (John vi.), exclaimed: |This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world,| they were expressing the vague expectation of the advent of a personage like unto Moses, possessed perhaps of some Messianic features, but not the Messiah Himself. We see the difference in the estimation in which our Lord was held by His contemporaries. |Some said,| we are told (John vii.40), |of a truth this is the prophet. Others said, This is the Christ.| And although we know from Christ's own words that Moses wrote of Him when he foretold the appearance of a prophet like unto himself, yet this was by no means the general view, and a distinction between Christ and this prophet was generally recognised. In the following eloquent passage which speaks of final triumph, Jehovah Himself comes to the rescue of His oppressed people |Then shall the Heavenly One arise from the seat of His kingdom, and come forth from His holy habitation, with wrath and indignation for His children's sake. And the earth shall tremble and quake to its utmost borders; and the lofty mountains shall be humbled and shaken, and the valleys shall sink. The sun shall give no light, and shall turn into darkness; the horns of the moon shall be broken, and she shall be turned into blood, and the circle of the stars shall be confounded. The sea shall retreat to the abyss, the springs of water shall fail, and the rivers shall be dried up; because the Most High, the Eternal, the only God, shall arise and come manifestly to chastise the nations and to destroy their idols. Then shalt thou be happy, O Israel, and shalt mount on the necks and wings of the eagle, and thy days shall be fulfilled. And God shall exalt thee that thou shalt cleave to the starry heaven, over the place of their habitation. And thou shalt look from above and see thine enemies on earth, and shalt know them, and rejoice, and give thanks, and acknowledge thy Creator.|
The triumph over the heathen power of Rome, here, as in the Book of Esdras, represented under the symbol of the eagle (which had twelve feathered wings and three heads), is ascribed to the direct intervention of Jehovah, the signs that are to accompany His presence being adopted from the imagery of the Old Testament prophets. There is no hint of a conquering Messiah, a Son of David, who should restore the dominion of Israel, and reign a mighty King over an innumerable people. The Zealot could not contemplate the accession of any earthly monarch to the government of the chosen nation; his hopes centred in the restoration of the theocracy and the visible rule of Jehovah. It is with this grand expectation that he comforts the stricken hearts of his brethren. Then he proceeds to define the time of this epiphany. Addressing Joshua, he says: |Keep these words and this book; for,| he continues, |from my death and assumption unto His appearing shall be two hundred and fifty times.| At the commencement of the book, if the revised reading of editors may be trusted, the last year of Moses' life is said to correspond with the year 2500 A.M.; and, taking |the times| as weeks of years (250 x 7), we find that the great Parousia will occur in the year of the world 4250. This would be 45 A.D. according to the chronology of Josephus, as gathered from some portions of his writings; but no importance can be attached to this, as he is very inconsistent in his dates, and we have no reason to suppose that Pseudo-Moses followed the system of chronology used by that writer. Without attempting to solve the enigma of the number of years, I should be inclined to suppose that the seer had no definite date in his mind, and merely assigned this visible interposition of Jehovah to the distant future; using terms in his vaticination with which the prophets of old had made him familiar.
But it is time now to turn to the second part of the Assumption. When Joshua heard the words of Moses, we are told, he rent his clothes, and fell upon his face, addressing his leader with words of grief and fear: |What a word is this that thou hast spoken, full of tears and sorrow! Thou art leaving this thy people. What place will receive thee, and what will be the memorial of thy burial? Who will dare to transfer thy body hence as that of any other mortal man? Other men are buried in the earth; but thy grave is from the rising to the setting sun, from the south to the north; the whole world is thy sepulchre. And thou wilt depart; and who will nourish, thy people? Who will pity them and be their leader? And who will pray for them every day that I may bring them into the land of the Amorites? How shall I be able to lead them as a father guides his only son, or a mother her daughter now ripe for marriage? And how shall I give them food and water? For the people have so increased under thy prayers that they number now a hundred thousand men. The kings of the Amorites, when they hear that thou art departed, will war against us, thinking that there is no longer among us that sacred spirit (Moses) worthy of the Lord, manifold and inconceivable master of the word, faithful in all things, the Divine prophet throughout the world, the perfect teacher. And they will say: Let us attack them. If our enemies have once sinned against their Lord, they have now no defender to pray for them to the Lord, as Moses was a mighty messenger, who every hour, day and night, had his knees pressed to the earth, looking to the Almighty and praying Him to visit the world with mercy and justice, remembering the covenant of the fathers.' Yea, they will say, He is with them no more, let us drive them from the face of the earth.' And what shall become of this thy people, my lord Moses?|
To this sorrowful appeal Moses answers with encouragement. He tells Joshua to fear nothing. All nations are in God's hands, who has predetermined all that happens, even to the least particular, and unto the end of time. |The Lord,| he proceeds, |hath appointed me to pray for the people, and to make intercession for their sins. Not for my strength nor for my weakness hath this befallen me, but from His mercy and long-suffering. And I tell thee, Joshua, that it is not for the piety of this people that thou shalt destroy the nations. The vault of heaven and the foundations of the world were created and approved by God, and are beneath the ring of His right hand. They who keep the commandments of God shall be increased, and prosper in their way; but sinners and the disobedient shall have no part in the promised blessings, and shall be punished by the heathen with many torments. For it is not possible that He should destroy His people utterly. For God will come forth, who hath foreseen all things in every age, and His covenant is established, and with an oath, which| . . .
Here the manuscript ends, some ten or twelve leaves being lost. The missing fragment doubtless contained the conclusion of Moses' address, and then told how Joshua departed to his appointed work, and how Moses took his Pisgah view of the promised land, died, was buried by the angels in spite of Satan's opposition, and received his |assumption| -- his mortal body being laid to rest in the unknown valley, his immortal part being escorted by angel bands to heaven itself.
It is unfortunate that the only quotations of, and references to, the Assumption which have reached us from antiquity contain sentences and statements not now extant, though there can be no reasonable doubt that they were portions of the original document. From our present fragments we can gather enough, however, to teach us the importance and utility of the work.
Like many other apocalyptic productions, it is a combination of history and prophecy, partly a narrative of past events, partly an ideal view of the future. It is not so much an independent prophecy, wherein the seer, constrained by the overmastering spirit, pours forth, a stream of rebuke, warning, and prediction, as an exposition and development of hints given in the Pentateuch, and especially in Deuteronomy, so that Wieseler has termed it |a prophetical Midrasch.| Written, as it must have been, in the first half of the first Christian century, it contains no trace of Christian ideas, or of any acquaintance with the pretensions, the life and death of Jesus. That in some respects our Blessed Saviour would have corresponded to the notion of the coming prophet entertained by some of the Zealots, is obvious. As claiming no earthly sovereignty, He would have suited the sentiments of those who would own no lord but Jehovah; but the moral triumphs to which His kingdom aspired, the bloodless victories of religion, would have been very far from answering their hopes or fulfilling the desires of their fiery hearts. The prophet whom they had taught themselves to expect was merely the precursor of the restored theocracy, when, under the visible chieftainship of Jehovah, the heathen should be destroyed as the doomed Canaanites perished, and Israel should rise victorious by earthly arms wielded under the direction and with the assured assistance of God Himself. At the same time it is interesting to remember that one at least of Christ's apostles was a Zealot, and learned to see in his Master |the Prophet| and the Messiah. Now this sect, as an offshoot of the Pharisees, though in some respects opposed to them, doubtless shared with them the belief in the resurrection of the dead; but there is no direct statement of this doctrine in the Assumption. Writing in the character of Moses, who has left no teaching on the subject in the Pentateuch, the seer would naturally avoid dogmatising on this matter; but he uses the phrase |being gathered to his fathers,| which perhaps in his time carried with it the hope of the resurrection. There is, indeed, no trace of Christian doctrine throughout the work; it is distinctly narrow and national. The earth is made for the chosen people, whose strength lies in obedience to the law, and whose transgressions shall be punished by the hands of the heathen. But the Lord will never wholly destroy the Israelites for His oath's sake and the promise made to their forefathers. The seer never looks to the salvation of the heathen. They are raised up merely as instruments of chastisement for sinning Jews; and when this purpose is fulfilled, they shall themselves be judged and meet with the reward of their lawlessness and idolatry. He does, indeed, condescend to correct some of their prevalent errors concerning creation and religion, but this is done for the sake of his own people who might be led astray by the paganism of Herod's court. The selfish, narrow prejudice which so often appears in the Gospels, disdaining to hear of favours offered to non-Israelites, is found conspicuously in the Assumption. That side of the Messianic idea which promised light and grace to the Gentiles, was repugnant to the Zealot. His keen sense of injury at the hands of Rome blinded him to the possibility of the conversion and acceptance of those who were now aliens. Nor did he see the necessity of a Messiah such as we Christians receive. If we regard the description of Moses given above, we shall observe that the prophet usurps the place of Messiah; this |Divine| personage leaves no room for Christ; he is the mediator between God and the people, the appointed intercessor, and nothing higher or more heavenly is expected. The idea of the Son of God made man is wholly foreign to the seer's theology, and the only Messiah he looks for is |that prophet| who should herald the restoration of the theocracy. And that this |nuntius in summo constitutus| is not a Divine person, is shown by the very phrase used of him above: |his hands shall be filled.| For this is an expression employed to designate the consecration of au earthly priest or prophet, and applies not to an angel or to Deity Incarnate. The hope of Pseudo-Moses is, as I have said, confined to the Parousia of Jehovah Himself displayed by some manifest sign as the Shekinah, when under His guidance Israel should overthrow her enemies. In believing that this appearance was to happen soon, the Zealot's view was much the same as that of the primitive Christians, who could say with firm confidence, |the coming of the Lord draweth nigh,| and expect that He would in their day restore again the kingdom to Israel. That this hope was a great support in times of distress and persecution may well be imagined; and it was to give definiteness to this expectation and to enforce its lesson that our book was written.
For showing the hopes and opinions of an influential party among the Jews at the beginning of the first Christian century few documents of greater interest than the Assumption of Moses have reached our times. And the particular point which the book illustrates, viz. that the expectation of a personal Messiah was not universal, is worthy of more study than it has received.