The Lost Apocrypha of the Old Testament/Moses

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Moses (Apocalypse, Testament, Assumption)

To Moses two entries are devoted in the lists. We have the Testament, 1100 lines long, and the Assumption, 1400. Besides that, an Apocalypse of Moses is named; George the Syncellus says that Gal. v. 6; vi. 15 (In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, etc.) is from the Apocalypse of Moses: a marginal scholium in several MSS. of the Epistles agrees that it is "from an apocryphon of Moses." There must be some mistake. The only text in Galatians which could be plausibly assigned to such a source is iii. 19: "It was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator," which might be an allusion to the Assumption (God foresaw me ... to be the mediator of His covenant): no conceivable Jewish book could have contained the statement of Gal. v. 6, and no Christian forger of early times ever did his work quite so badly. At some ancient date the marginal reference must have been attached to the wrong place, and our authorities have copied it in its dislocated state. (A passage which might more plausibly be referred to a book called the Apocalypse of Moses is 2 Cor. xi. 14 (Satan is transformed into an angel of light), for this does happen in the Life of Adam: and the Greek recension of that is called the Apocalypse of Moses.)

Two Apocalypses of Moses we have: the name is an alternative title of the Book of Jubilees, according to George Cedrenus; and there is a Greek Apocalypse of Moses (ed. Tischendorf, etc.) which is really nothing but a Life of Adam, identical in great part with the Latin Vita Adæ et Evæ. Besides this there is a (late?) Hebrew Apocalypse, of Moses' progress through the seven heavens.

What of the Testament? There is one express quotation from it in a Greek catena on the Octateuch, giving the dimensions of the Tower of Babel, and this proves to be a quotation of Jubilees. Some therefore think the Testament to be Jubilees under yet another name: the obstacle is that 1100 lines is far too small a total for Jubilees. Dr. Charles differs. He thinks the Testament is that last dying speech of Moses, part of which we have in Latin and usually call the Assumption. In his view the Assumption proper was amalgamated at an early date with the Testament, and the two books circulated under the title of the Assumption. All the Latin fragment belongs to the Testament. Early the amalgamation must have been, for Jude quotes both parts in the first century (or at least early in the second). His 9th verse is, Origen tells us, from the Assumption, and his 16th we find in the Latin fragment.

The question is a difficult one. We will return to it, after collecting the fragments of the lost Assumption proper.

Let it be premised that in the spurious Acts of the Council of Nice by Gelasius Cyzicenus there is a dialogue between the Fathers and a Pagan philosopher. The Fathers twice quote the Assumption by name. First they give the text which stands in our Latin fragment as i. 14: "God foresaw me before the foundation of the world to be the mediator of His covenant." Then, after a few pages, they say: "And in the Book of the Assumption of Moses Michael the Archangel, speaking with the devil, says, "For from His holy Spirit all we were created." And again he says: "From the face of God His Spirit went forth, and the world was." The philosopher says: "As to this Assumption of Moses which you quote, and of which you have just spoken, I never heard of it until now, so I beg you to expound to me more clearly the connexion of what is said." But no more light is given.

Jude 9, as is well known, is stated by Clement of Alexandria and Origen and Didymus to be a citation from the Assumption. "But Michael the archangel, when, contending with the devil, he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, 'The Lord rebuke thee.'"

Origen (De Principiis, iii. 2): "The serpent in Genesis is represented as deceiving Eve, à propos of which, in the Ascension of Moses (a book mentioned by the Apostle Jude in his Epistle), Michael the archangel, disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, says that the serpent, inspired by the devil, was the cause of the transgression of Adam and Eve."

These are certain quotations. So are the next three, but the source is not named. Clement of Alexandria, Strom. vi., xv. (§ 132, p. 498, Stähelin):

"With good reason, then, did Jesus the son of Nauë behold Moses being taken up in two forms, the one companying with angels, the other being honoured with burial in the glens of the mountains. But Jesus saw this sight below him, being lifted up by the spirit, with Chaleb also: but not in like manner do they both behold, but the one descended rather quickly, since he bore with him much that weighed him down, while the other, descending after him, related subsequently the glory which he beheld, having been able to discern more than the other, inasmuch as he was purer. The story indicates, I suppose, that gnosis is not for every man, since some look to the body of the Scriptures, the words and names, corresponding to the body of Moses, and others discern the thought, and what is signified by the names: such are concerned with the Moses who companied with angels.

"...The story about Moses teaches that contemplation is not given in full even to those in whom knowledge is at home, until, grown accustomed to looking directly at it, as the Hebrews on the glory of Moses and the holy men of Israel upon visions of angels, we become able to gaze upon the flashing light of truth."

Two other passages speak of the same episode: Origen (on Joshua ii. 1): "In a certain book, though it be not in the canon, a figure of this mystery is described. It is related that two Moses' were seen, one alive in the spirit, the other dead in the body; wherein of course this is indicated, that if thou look at the bare letter of the law, empty of all the things that we have mentioned, that is Moses dead in the body: but if thou canst take away the veil of the law, and understand that the law is spiritual, that is Moses who liveth in the spirit."

Evodius, Bishop of Uzala, writing to Augustine (Ep. 258): "In the apocryphal and the secret books of Moses himself—a writing without authority—when he went up into the mountain to die, such violence was done to his body (or the might of his body was such: vi corporis efficitur ut) that there was one body which was committed to the earth, and another which was joined with an angel as companion."

Next we come to a class of passages which relate to the contest of Michael with Satan.

Severus, Patriarch of Antioch (542), quoted in the Catena of Nicephorus on Deut. xxxiv., begins by saying that upon the parting of the soul from the body, good and evil angels meet it; each band claiming it for their own in virtue of its deeds done in the body; and continues: "God, willing to show this also to the children of Israel by means of a bodily image, ordained that at the burial of Moses there should appear before their eyes at the time of the dressing (περιστολή) of the body and its due depositing in the earth, the evil demon as it were resisting and opposing; and that Michael, a good angel, should encounter and repel him, and should not rebuke him on his own authority, but retire from giving judgment against him in favour of the Lord of All, saying, 'The Lord rebuke thee,' in order that those who are being instructed in the word might learn that a measure of conflict awaits souls after their departure hence . . . further, when this heavenly image had come before their eyes, there came a cloud or light about the place which dazzled the eyes of the onlookers, and walled his grave off, that they might not see it. Therefore also it says in the Scripture, 'No man hath seen his end, or his grave, unto this day.' This, it is said, is set forth in an apocryphal book which contains the more detailed account (λεπτοτέραν ἀφήγησιν) of the genesis or creation." These last words are an undoubted reference—whether a correct one or not we shall have to consider—to the Leptogenesis or Book of Jubilees.

Two other passages of Severus (who seems to have been attracted by the subject) are given in Catenæ on Jude.

"Michael is said to have ministered about the burial of the body of Moses, when the devil withstood this, by the permission of God, who wished by this manifestation to show them, who then were short of sight and dull of understanding," that evil powers meet the soul after death.

"Contending with the devil—a blasphemer and fighter against God from the beginning: from the time when he was infected with apostasy and after that deceived Adam (and) by craft fought against the commandment of God."

The anonymous extracts in Catenæ and marginal scholia of MSS. are many: I will give one here from a good Greek MS. (Bodl. Arch. E 5,9) which sums up almost all the matter of the others.

It is a scholium on Jude 9.

"Hereby he shows that the Old Testament agrees with the New, both being given by one God. For the devil resisted, trying to deceive, saying, 'The body is mine, for I am the Lord of matter,' and was answered by 'The Lord rebuke thee'—that is, the Lord who is Master of all spirits. Others say that God, willing to show that after our departure hence demons oppose our souls on their upward course, permitted this to be beheld at the burial of Moses. For the devil also blasphemed against Moses, calling him a murderer because he smote the Egyptian. Michael the Archangel, not enduring his blasphemy, said to him, 'The Lord God rebuke thee, devil.' He also said this, that God had lied by bringing Moses into the land which He swore he should not enter."

The other notes add nothing to this, except it be one sentence with which some begin, viz.: "When Moses had died in the mount, Michael was sent to remove the body." Several of them read "God rebuke thee," instead of "the Lord," and this might be a quotation from the Assumption.

Next I place two accounts of the death of Moses. The first is from the Greek Palæa, a popular Bible-history of Byzantine times, which is the Eastern equivalent of the Historia Scholastica (of Petrus Comestor, cent. xii.), which, with the French version, the Bible Historiale, was so common in the West. The text of the Palæa, printed by Vassiliev in Anecdota Græco-Byzantina, has this passage (p. 247):

"Of the death of Moses. And Moses said unto Jesus the son of Nauë, 'Let us go up into the mountain.' And when they were gone up, Moses saw the land of promise and said to Jesus, 'Go down unto the people and tell them "Moses is dead."' And Jesus went down unto the people, but Moses came to the end of his life. And Samael tried to bring down his body (tabernacle) unto the people, that they might make him a god. But Michael, the Chief Captain, by the command of God came to take him and bury him, and Samael resisted him, and they contended. So the Chief Captain was wroth and rebuked him, saying, 'The Lord rebuke thee, devil.' And so the adversary was vanquished and took to flight, but the Archangel Michael buried the body of Moses where he was bidden by Christ our God (and no man saw the burial of Moses)."

The second is from the Slavonic Life of Moses translated by Bonwetsch in the Göttingen Nachrichten for 1900, pp. 581–607. This Life for the most part follows Jewish tradition very closely, and has the familiar additions to the story which we find in Josephus.

After mentioning the deaths of Miriam and Aaron, it says:

"But at the end of the same year in the 2nd (sic) month Nadet, on the 7th day (that is in March), Moses the servant of God died and was buried on the 4th of the month September on a certain mountain by the Chief Captain Michael. For the devil contended with the angel, and would not permit his body to be buried, saying, 'Moses is a murderer. He slew a man in Egypt and hid him in the sand.' Then Michael prayed to God and there was thunder and lightning and suddenly the devil disappeared; but Michael buried him with his own hands."

The mention of the thunder and lightning does occur also in a Greek note which I have read in a recent German comment on Jude, but unfortunately cannot now trace.

Two more passages exhaust my material.

Clement of Alexandria, Strom. i. 23 (§ 153, p. 95, Stähelin): "Moses was called Joacim. He had also a third name in heaven after his assumption, as the initiated (μύσται) say, viz. Melchi." Within a few lines (§ 154, p. 96) he seems to quote the same authority again. "The initiated (μύσται) say that he slew the Egyptian merely with a word, as Peter slew Ananias and Sapphira." We know that the slaying of the Egyptian was part of the devil's claim against Moses in the Assumption.

Epiphanius, Hær. 1: "The angels, as the tradition that has reached us tells, buried the body of the holy Moses, and did not purify (wash) themselves, but the angels were not made unclean (common) by the holy body."

From these data a conjectural narrative may be put together.

Moses dies in the Mount. Michael and other angels are sent to bury him. They find Satan about to carry off the body, and meaning to induce the people to worship it. They contend with him, and he resists and says, "The body is mine, for all material things belong to me." " No," replies Michael. "By His Holy Spirit all we were created," and, "From the face of God His Spirit went forth and the world came into being." Possibly at this time, too, Michael reproached him for having brought sin into the world by inspiring the serpent to deceive Adam and Eve. Then Satan said, "Moses is a murderer, and must not be buried with honour: he slew the Egyptian"; and again, "God has lied in bringing Moses into the land which He swore he should not enter." Michael, aghast at the blasphemy, said, "The Lord rebuke thee." The Lord, in answer, thundered and lightened out of heaven, and Satan fled.

There were some mortal spectators of the scene: perhaps only Joshua and Caleb, perhaps the contest was visible to the people, as Severus seems to indicate, and after that a cloud of light shut off their view. At any rate, of what followed, Joshua and Caleb were the only spectators, and one of them (almost certainly Joshua) saw more than the other. Both were caught up into the air, and below them they saw a wonderful spectacle: there were two figures of Moses, one being laid in the earth by angels in a mountain valley, the other, accompanied by angels, passing upwards to the heavens. Caleb, who seems to have been ceremonially impure, sank to the earth before Joshua: Joshua descended after him and related what he had seen to the people. He was able to tell them that the angels who had buried Moses had contracted no ceremonial pollution by touching that dead body, and also that he had heard a new name of Moses proclaimed in heaven, namely, Melchi.

Some points in the story are so interesting and unusual that we must greatly regret the loss of the full text.

There is no doubt that the complexion of the Latin fragment which we have is quite unlike what we have of the Assumption. The one is wholly prophecy, and dialogue with Joshua, the other is mystical romance. So far Dr. Charles has a plausible case for his suggestion that two books, originally separate, have been amalgamated. We have a parallel in the Ascension of Isaiah, which consists of two distinct parts, the Martyrdom and the Vision. The fashion has been to regard these as originally distinct; or rather, perhaps, to say that the Vision is a later appendix to the Martyrdom. However, in this case Professor Burkitt (Christian and Jewish Apocalypses: Schweich Lectures) has brought forward strong grounds for believing that the book may really be a unity: and I am on the whole prepared to follow him in thinking (as he does) that the Assumption of Moses also originally contained both elements, of prophecy and romance. The amalgamation of the two, if it took place, must have been effected within a very short space. The prophecy is dated by Dr. Charles in the first century, and the Assumption story was joined with it, as we have seen, before Jude wrote his Epistle.

Dr. Charles asks, reasonably enough: If the title Assumption includes the Latin fragment, what was the Testament? Not the Jubilees; for that is far more than 1100 lines long—probably 4000 or 5000.

Well, we cannot go much behind our evidence. The Catena of Nicephorus quotes a piece which occurs in Jubilees and calls its source the Testament. We are reduced, I think, to supposing either that the number of lines in the MSS. of the Stichometry is grossly wrong, or that some excerpt or shortened text of Jubilees was current under the name of the Testament of Moses.

It seems clear that the Jubilees and the Assumption were circulated together. There are two pieces of evidence of this. The Milan palimpsest contains the Latin version of both: the versions of the two works were made, it appears, by different translators; but there they are together. Also Severus of Antioch, as we have seen, says that his source was the Leptogenesis (=Juhilees), but the story he has told relating to the death and burial of Moses and to the contention of Michael with Satan finds no place in Jubilees, whereas it was treated of in the Assumption. My inference is that he or his authority (for his expressions suggest that he is writing at second hand) used a volume in which both Jubilees and the Assumption were contained.

The Latin fragment, it is calculated, contains 384 whole stichoi: the Assumption (entire) had 1400. We appear to possess the whole, or very nearly the whole, of the Prophecy of Moses: the writer has brought his sketch of events down to and beyond his own time. The story of the Assumption might well occupy the 1000 stichoi that remain. But Dr. Charles supposes that the Latin fragment is the Testament (of 1100 stichoi), and that the Assumption of the lists is the second part, which was amalgamated with the Testament. I find it difficult to imagine how the 1100 stichoi of the Testament could have been filled up; and I think the lists are too late in date to be credited with preserving the tradition of the two books as separate. They were already joined in Jude's time; the lists, at a generous estimate, could hardly be older than the fourth century, and we are not sure that they are older than the sixth.

There is some reason for thinking that other Moses Apocrypha of a prophetic kind were current. The same passage of Gelasius Cyzicenus which gave us two sentences of the Assumption says (immediately after quoting the sentence about the mediator): "And in the Book of the Mystical Words of Moses, Moses himself predicted concerning David and Solomon, and of Solomon he predicted thus: 'And God shall give by inheritance unto him (διαδοχεύσει εἰς αὐτόν) wisdom and justice and full knowledge: he shall build the house of God,' and what follows." It is just possible that the writer here may be ignorantly quoting one book under two names, or employing two sources; compare the "mystic words" of the title with Clement's use of (μύσται) "initiated," where he is to all appearance quoting the Assumption. In any case, we never hear of The Book of Mystic Words again.

One of the most considerable Greek magical texts that the papyri have given us purports to be a secret Book of Moses, the Eighth. It is printed by Dieterich in Abraxas. A Hebrew magical text, the Sword of Moses, has been edited by Dr. M. Gaster, as well as an Apocalypse, a vision of the next world. A Colloquy of the Prophet Moses with God, of Christian complexion, was printed by Lord Zouche of Parham (Hon. R. Curzon) from a MS. in his possession, and again by Isaac Hall in the American periodical Hebraica, 1891.