Did Moses Write His Obituary? (Deuteronomy 34)

Category: Bible/Christian Worldview 233 1

The first five books of the Bible (Genesis – Deuteronomy) were written by Moses during the 40 years of wondering in the desert. This is taught in the Old and New Testaments, and has been accepted by both Jews and Christians for thousands of years.[1] Even though the Bible teaches that Moses was the author, many critics believe that Moses was not the author of these books. One of the reasons is an alleged contradiction that appears at the very end of the book of Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 34:5-7 says, “And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. 6 He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. 7 Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.”

How could Moses have written these books if his own obituary appears at the end of them? No one can finish a book after they are dead. To add to this, the passage says that no one knows where Moses was buried (somewhere in the present-day country of Jordan). However, there are two very logical explanations for why Moses’ obituary appears at the end of Deuteronomy.

The Solution

First, during the days of Moses, books were written on scrolls. Sometimes you would have one book end and another book begin on the same scroll. And to make things difficult, the ending of the first book and the beginning of the other were not always marked off clearly. In fact, in modern Bible translations, there are many times when the last verse of a passage is placed in the following chapter, whereas you would think that it would be placed with the preceding chapter. As Roger Patterson notes, “This does not mean that there is an error, but that the demarcations are different.” The last chapter of Deuteronomy could have easily been part of Joshua, but sometime very early in the history of the text, the chapter was placed at the end of Deuteronomy instead.[2]

Second, and the most popular and traditional explanation, is that another individual wrote chapter 34. The most common person considered to have done this is Joshua, Moses’ right-hand man and author of the book of Joshua.[3] Moses would still be considered the author since he would have written over 99% of the original text. To conclude, there is no contradiction in this passage.

What do you think? Do these explanations clear up the problem? Leave a comment below and visit us on Facebook.

[1] See for example: Exodus 17:14; 24:4, 7; 34:27; Numbers 33:1-2; Deuteronomy 31:9, 11; Joshua 1:7, 8; 8:31; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6; Ezra 6:18; Daniel 9:11-13; Malachi 4:4; Matthew 19:8; Mark 12:26; John 5:46-47; 7:19; Acts 3:22; Romans 10:5.

[2] Roger Patterson. “Dead Man Writing.” In Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions. Ken Ham ed. Green Forest: Master Books, 2010. Pg. 59.

[3] Patterson, 59. Gleason L. Archer. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982. Pg. 154.  

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One thought on “Did Moses Write His Obituary? (Deuteronomy 34)

  1. apocholipso

    Couldn’t of God just make Moses write his own death in the scriptures. Clearly he finished the books before he died and wrote about his own death.

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