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Assumption of Moses

MOSES, ASSUMPTION OF (̓Ανάληψις Μωυσέως, assumption, ascension, death, decease of Moses). A composite Jewish work from the first half of the 1st cent. a.d., prob. written in Heb., and containing a speech of Moses to Joshua and seemingly also an account of Moses’ death and tr. to heaven.


Only one MS of As Moses is extant. This is a palimpsest written in Lat., the style and orthography of which belong to the 5th cent. It was discovered in the Ambrosian library in Milan by A. M. Ceriani and published by him in 1861. Much of the text is corrupt and some passages are almost undecipherable.


As ed. by R. H. Charles (see bibliography), the MS contains twelve chs., the contents of which are briefly as follows: Moses appoints Joshua to succeed him, and Joshua is to bring the people into the land of promise after which time they will fall into idolatry (chs. 1, 2). A king from the E is to destroy Jerusalem and to bring the people into captivity for seventy-seven years after which a few will return (chs. 3, 4). Then a succession of wicked priests and kings will appear, culminating in the reign of a particular tyrant for thirty-four years (chs. 5, 6). In the first six chs. of the work, the history of Israel from Moses to Herod is constantly alluded to. The final six chs. look forward to times of increasing turmoil, wickedness, and persecution, in which a certain individual named Taxo chooses unresisting death, rather than to break the law. In the end, the Most High intervenes with punishment for the Gentiles and blessing for Israel.


In the various lists of apocryphal books, there is usually mention of a Testament of Moses, followed immediately by an As Moses. In the existing MS of the Assumption, however, there is little indication that Moses’ death was so unusual as to merit the designation “assumption.” The 5th-cent. writer Gelasius of Cyzicum, for example, assigns a passage belonging to this MS (1:14) to the same source as a quotation concerning a dispute between Michael and Satan, namely, to what he calls “the book of the Assumption of Moses.” Other Gr. patristic writings are to the same effect and, in fact, the epistle of Jude clearly draws from the As Moses proper in v. 9, and prob. also from the Testament (7:7, 9; 5:5) in v. 16. There is prob. sufficient reason for concluding, as R. H. Charles does, that there were originally two independent works which were subsequently ed. together. The Testament would therefore be represented by the Lat. MS, and the As Moses is represented by the various patristic quotations. The title “Assumption of Moses” is now used to designate the composite whole.

There appears to be sufficient evidence to indicate that the Lat. MS was derived from an earlier Gr. work and that the Gr. was, in turn, derived from an earlier Sem. source. The Gr. fathers give no indication that they are quoting from other than Gr. sources and there are instances in the Lat. MS where, for sense, one must tr., not from the Lat., but from the Gr. presupposed by it. Also, certain words in the Lat. text are best explained as transliterations of underlying Gr. words (e.g. heremus in 3:11 for ἐρη̂μος; acrobistia in 8:3 for ἀκροβυστία, G213). The suggestion that the Gr. is in turn based on a Heb. original seems to be a necessary conclusion. Certain Heb. idioms seem to have survived in the Lat. MS and there appear to be vestiges of a waw-conversative (e.g. in 8:2). Added to that is the fact that, in a work said to have been written by Joshua at the dictation of Moses, the probabilities would clearly lie in favor of a Heb. original.


The author of the book is aptly characterized by Charles as a “Pharisaic Quietist.” He could not have been a Sadducee, for he speaks strongly against that party and he looks forward to a theocratic kingdom on earth. He could not have been a Zealot, for, although he shows a good acquaintance with the Maccabean movement, he is silent concerning their uprising. Further, his ideal hero, Taxo, is not pictured as trusting in an arm of flesh, but as one who, with resignation, commits his cause to God. The author cannot have been an Essene, for he took a keen interest in the fortunes of the Temple and in the character of its sacrifices. Thus, says Charles, “He was a Pharisee of a fast-disappearing type, recalling in all respects the Chasid of the early Maccabean times, and upholding the old traditions of quietude and resignation” (APOT, II [1913], 411).


The Assumption gives sufficient information to narrow the limits for its dates of composition quite considerably. In view of the fact that the book frequently mentions the profanations of the priesthood and of the Temple, and yet fails to mention the destruction of the latter, the latest date for the composition of the book must be a.d. 70. As to the earliest date, this is determined by the fact that, judging by 6:6, Herod is already dead. Thus, the earliest date is 3 or 4 b.c. However, in 6:7, there is the further statement that Herod’s children would reign for shorter periods after him. In fact, however, both Philip and Antipas reigned for longer periods than their father. This implies that the writing took place before a.d. 30. Indeed, Archelaus was the only son who reigned less than the period of his father and he was deposed in a.d. 6. Probably, therefore, the writing was done after this time. The probable period for the composition of the book is a.d. 7-30.


The author shows little affinity with rabbinic legalism, but is thoroughly steeped in the spirit of the OT. While moral responsibility is insisted upon, God’s covenant with His people is still seen as based upon His grace and not upon human merit. No Messiah is mentioned in the book, possibly because of the growing Pharisaic idea that the Messiah was to be a man of war. The Kingdom would be brought in by a day of repentance and God Himself would intervene. Moses is seen as having a unique relation to Judaism, for he had been appointed from the foundation of the world to be the mediator of God’s covenant. He served as Israel’s intercessor during his lifetime and he was to continue that function even in the spiritual world after death.

Influence on the NT.

The alliance between the teachings of the As Moses and those of Jesus is striking. The conception of religion as unaligned with any particular school of politics is common to both. The general spirit of quietism in the Assumption also prevails in the ministry of our Lord. In addition to this, the parallels with the epistle of Jude have already been noted. One may also compare 2 Peter 2:13 with As Moses 7:5, 8 and Acts 7:36 with As Moses 3:11.


For the text, A. M. Ceriani, Monumenta Sacra et Profana, I, 1 (1864), 55-64. For criticism, R. H. Charles, The Assumption of Moses (1897); F. C. Burkitt, “The Assumption of Moses,” HDB (1900), 448-450; R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, II (1913), 407-424.

See also

  • Apocalyptic Literature
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