Did Moses Exist?Tradition holds that the Pentateuch, composed of the first five books of the Bible, also called the Torah, was written by the Israelite lawgiver Moses, who is held up therein as the major prophet of the Lord of the universe. The claim that Moses wrote the Pentateuch is not sustainable scientifically; nor are the notions that Moses is either a “godly prophet” or a historical figure in the first place.

Much of the Pentateuch concerns mind-numbing and absurd commandments, ordinances and instructions on how to behave and prepare the tabernacle and other priestly accoutrements and rituals, including page after page regarding bloody sacrifices of various animals. The absurdity of the God of the cosmos being obsessed with animal sacrifice is evident enough, but a significant part of the rest of the tale is likewise repugnant. For example, the founding of Israel as the “Promised Land” is rife with bloodshed and slaughter, as the Lord – speaking quite personally with Moses, his brother Aaron and others for months or years on end – commands his “chosen people” to massacre one people after another, such as the Amalekites, Canaanites and Moabites.

Amid all this wanton bloodshed and genocide, one such sanguine episode stands out for its gruesome detail and matter-of-fact recounting: The massacre of the Midianites in the biblical book and chapter Numbers 31. Reading such a grotesque account leaves one to question how such an individual, group and book could possibly be considered “great” and “godly,” something to brag about for thousands of years.

The LORD said to Moses, “Avenge the people of Israel on the Mid’ianites; afterward you shall be gathered to your people.”

And Moses said to the people, “Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Mid’ian, to execute the LORD’s vengeance on Mid’ian. You shall send a thousand from each of the tribes of Israel to the war.”

So there were provided, out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand from each tribe, twelve thousand armed for war. …

They warred against Mid’ian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and slew every male. They slew the kings of Mid’ian with the rest of their slain…

And the people of Israel took captive the women of Mid’ian and their little ones; and they took as booty all their cattle, their flocks, and all their goods.

All their cities in the places where they dwelt, and all their encampments, they burned with fire, and took all the spoil and all the booty, both of man and of beast.

Then they brought the captives and the booty and the spoil to Moses, and to Elea’zar the priest, and to the congregation of the people of Israel, at the camp on the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. Moses, and Elea’zar the priest, and all the leaders of the congregation, went forth to meet them outside the camp.

And Moses was angry with the officers of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had come from service in the war. Moses said to them, “Have you let all the women live? Behold, these caused the people of Israel, by the counsel of Balaam, to act treacherously against the LORD in the matter of Pe’or, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD.

Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves….

And Elea’zar the priest said to the men of war who had gone to battle: “This is the statute of the law which the LORD has commanded Moses: only the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin, and the lead, everything that can stand the fire, you shall pass through the fire, and it shall be clean….

The LORD said to Moses, “Take the count of the booty that was taken, both of man and of beast…”

And Moses and Elea’zar the priest did as the LORD commanded Moses. Now the booty remaining of the spoil that the men of war took was: six hundred and seventy-five thousand sheep, seventy-two thousand cattle, sixty-one thousand asses, and thirty-two thousand persons in all, women who had not known man by lying with him….

Here we see that the God of the universe orders Moses to slaughter men, women and children, after which the Hebrew leader is angry because his men have left the women alive. The excuse here is that the women – all of them, apparently – have been acting against Israel, which is punishable by death. Apparently, the omnipotent Lord just cannot find another solution but to slaughter every last one of them. Naturally, Moses and his men get to keep all the virgin girls as sex slaves, to be counted among the booty, upon which there is great focus.

This revolting account is, again, simply one of the most outrageous of many in the Old Testament, in which the chosen people are depicted repeatedly as slaughtering and pillaging their way around the region for decades to centuries. We of conscience cannot honestly consider such a book to be “God’s Word”; nor should these murderous accounts be held up proudly by anyone. It would be best to call the Pentateuch/Torah a book of fabulous fairytales and leave it at that, rather than insisting that such a despicable story represents “history,” for which there is no collaborating evidence, no archaeological remains, no other literary account confirming this brutal conquest of the Promised Land. The book does demonstrate an increasingly paranoid group of megalomaniacs who believe that the God of the universe favors them and only them, above all others.

In reality, the Bible constitutes a cultural artifact containing large swathes of mythology and some history that should be viewed on the same level as the mythological and historical accounts of other cultures, not a sacrosanct subject to be raised up above all others.

Further Reading

Did Moses Exist?