Was Moses a Plagarist?

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Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
In the first half of the twentieth century, several ancient Near Eastern law codes were discovered and deciphered. Many of the laws contained in these codes bear a striking resemblance to some of the Mosaic laws of the Old Testament. This fact has forced Old Testament critics to revise their late date for the Pentateuch. But the relationship between Mosaic Law and the ancient Near East legal codes has also given rise to another form of criticism. Modern critics argue that Moses (or whoever authored the Pentateuch) received his laws from his ancient Near Eastern neighbors. This claim raises an important question for the Bible-believing Christian: Was Moses a plagiarist? Did the Mosaic Law ultimately originate with God or with pagan societies?

The ancient Near Eastern legal codes identified

Below is a summary of the ancient Near East legal codes, listed according to rank of antiquity. Most of these legal codes are casuistic in form though some apodictic laws are found in the Hittite law codes. Casuistic laws are framed in conditional language, the protasis introducing a particular scenario and the apodosis rendering a corresponding judgment (hence they are also called ‘case laws’). Apodictic laws are categorical commands or prohibitions, like those in the Decalogue.

1. The Code of Ur-nammu (c. 2050 B.C.)
➢ Discovered: Deciphered in 1952 by Samuel Kramer, but discovered earlier.
➢ Language: Sumerian
➢ Content and form: Prologue and 29 laws; casuistic
2. The Code of Eshnunna (c. 1980 B.C.)
➢ Discovered: In 1945 and 1948 by the Iraq Directorate of Antiquities; published by A. Goetze in 1948.
➢ Language: Akkadian
➢ Content and form: 61 laws; casuistic
3. The Code of Lipit-Ishtar (c. 1930 B.C.)
➢ Discovered: In 1947 by Francis Steele and published in 1948, 1950.
➢ Language: Sumerian
➢ Content and form: 39 laws have survived with prologue and epilogue; casuistic
4. The Code of Hammurabi (c. 1700 B.C.)
➢ Discovered: 1901-02 by Jacques de Morgan; deciphered by P. V. Scheil.
➢ Language: Akkadian
➢ Content and form: Prologue, 282 laws, and an epilogue; casuistic
5. The Hittite laws (c. 1500 B.C.)
➢ Discovered: 1906-12 by Hugo Winckler; published in 1921.
➢ Language: Hittite (also contains some Sumerian and Akkadian)
➢ Content and form: 2 tablets, each containing of 100 laws; casuistic and some apodictic
6. The Middle Assyrian laws (c. 1100 B.C.)
➢ Discovered: 1903 to 1914 by German archaeologists; published 1920.
➢ Language: Akkadian
➢ Content and form: 116 laws preserved on 11 tablets; casuistic
The Law of Moses and the ancient Near East legal codes compared

1. Regarding the lex talionis

a. Moses (Exo 21:24; cf. Lev 24:19)
NAU Exodus 21:24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
b. Hammurabi (ANET, 175)
Sec. 196: “If a seignior has destroyed the eye of a member of the aristocracy, they shall destroy his eye.”

Sec. 197: “If he has broken a(nother) seignior’s bone, they shall break his bone.”

Sec. 200: “If a seignior has knocked out a tooth of a seignior of his own rank, they shall knock out his tooth.”
2. Regarding the ox that gores

a. Moses (Exodus 21:28-36)
NAU Exodus 21:28 "If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished. 29 "If, however, an ox was previously in the habit of goring and its owner has been warned, yet he does not confine it and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death.
b. Eshnunna code (ANET, 163; cf. Hammurabi, ANET, 176, sec. 250-51)
Sec. 54: “If an ox is known to gore habitually and the authorities have brought the fact to the knowledge of its owner, but he does not have his ox dehorned, it gores a man and causes (his) death, then the owner of the ox shall pay two-thirds of a mina of silver.”
3. Regarding the rape of a virgin

a. Moses (Deuteronomy 22:23-27)
NAU Deuteronomy 22:23 "If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, 24 then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor's wife…. 25 "But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die. 26 "But you shall do nothing to the girl; there is no sin in the girl worthy of death, for just as a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, so is this case. 27 "When he found her in the field, the engaged girl cried out, but there was no one to save her.
b. Hittite law code (ANET, 196)
Sec. 197 [2nd Tablet]: “If a man seizes a woman in the mountains, it is the man’s crime and he will be killed. But if he seizes here in her house, it is the woman’s crime and the woman shall be killed. If the husband finds them, he may kill them, there shall be no punishment for him.”
4. Regarding the levirate marriage

a. Moses (Gen 38; Deut 25:5-10; Ruth 4).
NAU Deuteronomy 25:5 "When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband's brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her.
b. Hittite code (ANET, 197)
Sec. 193 [2nd Tablet]: “If a man has a wife and then the man dies, his brother shall take his wife, then his father shall take her. If in turn also his father dies, one of his brother’s sons shall take the wife whom he had. There shall be no punishment.”
So was Moses a plagiarist? I think everyone on this list, including myself, would answer that question negatively. We believe the Scriptures to be inspired and thus Mosaic law finds its ultimate origin with God. How then should we explain these parallels? I'm hoping to write an article that addresses these questions, but I thought I get some input from the PB members.

Your servant,

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
[bible]Romans 2:14-15[/bible]

Also, prior to Moses, Abraham was commanded to have his posterity follow in the ways of the Lord. Law and Covenant structures pre-date Moses even if he was the first to record them.


Burrito Bill
No Moses was not. All the rest of those dudes you mentioned used the same source Moe did. God is the author of law, after all.


Brother John

Puritan Board Sophomore
Bob my :2cents: is the many laws are proof of the OT account of Genesis. The Lord taught his ways to Adam and His people who passed them on to there children. Noah brought these truths to the post flood world and his decedents spread these truths throughout the world, even though these developing cultures apostatized they held to the teachings of there ancestors. At least this is the way I have always seen it.

-----Added 2/18/2009 at 10:25:01 EST-----

Forgot to add this on:
Much the same way that there are cultures all over the world who have a flood legend in there culture. These legends do not disprove the flood but are evidence of the flood. I see the law codes to be much the same way, not disproving but proving.


Puritan Board Doctor
He was NOT a PLAGARIST however in 7th grade in an Algebra 2 class he did ask to copy from me, I said no way, but he smacked me with his staff and I let him! BULLY!:(:(:(

Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
[bible]Romans 2:14-15[/bible]

Also, prior to Moses, Abraham was commanded to have his posterity follow in the ways of the Lord. Law and Covenant structures pre-date Moses even if he was the first to record them.

Excellent observation, Rich. Many of the laws of foreign nations reveal the sensus divinitatis inscribed on man's heart. Hence, the existence of casuistic laws resembling those found in Mosaic legislation is no more surprising than the existence of the "Golden Rule" on the lips of pagan philosophers and moralists than predate Christ. And Genesis 26:5 certainly suggests a pre-Mosaic revelation of divine law, as do the allusions to clean and unclean animals in Genesis 7:2, 8.


Puritan Board Graduate
They stole it from the Bible itself. They had written parts of Genesis from the time of Adam that Moses compiled. That's why in Genesis it says in parts 'this is the book of the generations of...'. They also knew of the events, so they were familiar with how God made his covenants with his people. I mean, look at how well Abraham was known, and his interactions with the kings of the earth.

One of the axioms that I live by is - "There is no religious thought or idea that was not copied from the Bible first." I have used this when people try to compare the old religious practices and say that Moses copied from them and blended them into his Bible that he wrote. (Well, thats how they say it) I'm sure the same would apply to the legal stuff too.

Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
Dr. Bob, I don't understand all the issues involved but I think this blog post might be relevant, stating that the Hittites never got so far south as to be able to influence the Israelites and arguing for 'independent invention' for many of the similarities in these cultures?

Kline and “Diffusion” Thomas Goodwin

Thanks for the helpful article. I'd like to read Weeks' book. One thing the article didn't seem to mention (though Weeks may address it in his book) is the fact that international treaties between the Egyptians and Hittites existed in the 2nd millennium. If Moses was educated in Egypt, it's likely he was familiar with international diplomacy among the major power brokers in the ancient Near East. Also, I don't think it's fair to place Meredith Kline in the same category as Mendenhall.

Gratefully yours,


Snow Miser
Where's the evidence that Hamurabi didn't copy Moses?

Seriously, the order of recording is in question so they assume the position contra Scripture. Why is this?

Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
They stole it from the Bible itself. They had written parts of Genesis from the time of Adam that Moses compiled. That's why in Genesis it says in parts 'this is the book of the generations of...'. They also knew of the events, so they were familiar with how God made his covenants with his people. I mean, look at how well Abraham was known, and his interactions with the kings of the earth.

One of the axioms that I live by is - "There is no religious thought or idea that was not copied from the Bible first." I have used this when people try to compare the old religious practices and say that Moses copied from them and blended them into his Bible that he wrote. (Well, thats how they say it) I'm sure the same would apply to the legal stuff too.


Not sure having parts of (proto) Genesis would provide the ANE nations with the casuistic laws I cited. It is possible that pre-Mosaic revelation in the form of casuistic laws was revealed to Adam/Noah and passed down to their posterity. I'm not sure I'd say that "there is no religious idea that was not copied from the Bible first" since the Bible did not begin to be composed until about 1440 B.C. Perhaps, it might be safer to say that there's no religious idea that was not copied from (1) the general revelation of conscience, and (2) the special revelation of oral or pre-canonical written tradition.

Thanks for the thoughts!


Puritan Board Doctor
Dr. Bob, I don't understand all the issues involved but I think this blog post might be relevant, stating that the Hittites never got so far south as to be able to influence the Israelites and arguing for 'independent invention' for many of the similarities in these cultures?

Kline and “Diffusion” Thomas Goodwin

:up: Mark makes some good points!

BTW, Mark told me that you guys were reading his thesis. How is it going?

Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior

Thanks for the input. As I indicated to Heidi above, Egypt and the Hittites did have diplomatic contact as early as the reign of Tuthmosis III (1504-1450 B.C.), and it's likely that the Egyptians were aware of the Hittite civilization long before. Moreover, a number of the law codes I referenced above predate Moses' composition of Genesis. Including the law of Hammurabi (circa 1700 B.C.). One may still argue for an "independent invention" of the laws represented in these cultures and attribute their similarities to the factors of (1) the human conscience which reflects a single moral law, and/or (2) coincidence which, of course, is under the supervision of providence. I think both of these favors have a part. But I'll suggest another possibility too.

a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
He was NOT a PLAGARIST however in 7th grade in an Algebra 2 class he did ask to copy from me, I said no way, but he smacked me with his staff and I let him! BULLY!:(:(:(

Max I'm out of thanks, but this was such a stunning addition to the topic. All the lights went on in my head and I thought I was at Walmart in the lighting section.

Kevin, I am waiting to read the thesis in book form, but Ruben has been telling me about it: it sounds excellent. R says that one of the things in the last ? chapter was fairly revolutionary and one of the best things he's read in years, about the Spirit's work in Christ's affections.

Thanks for the response Dr. Gonzalez: I know so little about it all, but I am trying to understand more . . .


Snow Miser
Are the similarities only extensive so far as the legal code, or do they overlap into moral and ceremonial?

Also, while some of the topics may be the same, i.e. laws re: bulls goring, the consequences are different. I don't really see that as plagiarism.

Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
Are the similarities only extensive so far as the legal code, or do they overlap into moral and ceremonial?

Also, while some of the topics may be the same, i.e. laws re: bulls goring, the consequences are different. I don't really see that as plagiarism.

Excellent question, Andrew. In my reading of the material, the ANE lawcodes of Israel's neighbors focuses primarily on casuistic or case laws rather than moral axioms or apodictic laws (like the 10 commandments) or ceremonial laws related to sacrifice/priesthood/temple. That suggests something unique about the Mosaic corpus.


Puritan Board Junior
Dr. Bob, check out Art Boulet's blog. He's a Peter Enns groupie and writes lots of stuff that you might find useful in your own writing, at least for finding things to attack. Personally I can't read his stuff any longer. It makes my blood pressure go too high. A good example of both his musings on the subject of ANE literature/the Bible and my rantings can be found here.

Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior

Thanks for the resource on Peter Enns. I share your sentiments. Though Enns would probably not call Moses a plagarist, I'm afraid his approach to the comparative study of OT and ANE literature seriously compromises the doctrine of inspiration. I'll look forward to reading your "rantings" :lol:


Puritan Board Freshman
I think you guys are looking too deep for an answer or solution to the issue at hand. From what Dr. Gonzales has provided as evidence, I would make some observations:

All the examples provided are laws that we classify as "civil" in Reformed theology. They are mostly all punishments for various offenses. Notice how the wordings are quite different between the Bible's and the other ancient codes, and also how the punishment might differ from the Mosaic code, although the offense it enumerates is the same.

In dealing with the law of God, we must distinguish between the moral, ceremonial and civil law of the Old Testament. The moral law is first of all the most important and was given directly by God at Sinai as summarized in the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20 and Deut. 5). Although this law was already written in people's consciences as pointed out by Rick earlier, it was first written at Sinai. The moral law is unchangeable and unalterable. God does not give any societies freedom to adopt bits and pieces of the moral law, but it is forever binding on all of mankind and even today until the judgment day when all people will be judged by Christ along its lines. Classic Reformed theology recognizes that in Christ, the moral law ceases in its effect (which was to condemn us), although it continues in its use (to point us to Christ and our need for salvation), while the ceremonial law ceases in its use, but continues in its effect (as Christ fulfilled all the ceremonies in His sacrificial death). This is how John Calvin puts it.

Now regarding the civil law, Reformed theology recognizes that God gives societies some freedom in the laws that they put down for the proper functioning of society, and that there is no universal civil law that all societies are bound to obey. This was the position of John Calvin, as well as most Reformed theologians, and is denied today by theonomists and those Baptists who hold to NCT. Now in view of this fact, there is absolutely no problem with Moses having borrowed certain civil laws from the culture of the time under the discretion of God, or even God himself, using the civil laws that those ancient societies of the Hittites or Egyptians, etc were accustomed to. In fact, would this not have been the most sensible thing to do? It would have been absurd for God to provide the Israelites with speed limits on highways because they did not have cars in those days, and could not easily get injured from accidents being due to high speed transportation. However, they did have bulls that could gore and thus needed civil laws to restrict the use and safety of those animals. Thus, admitting that Moses would have "plagiarised" in the sense that he borrowed civil laws that were already in use or known from other nations of the time, is not a problem for me or the classic Reformed theologian. It is a problem however for the antinomian Baptist who holds to NCT and does not recognize any distinctions among the laws of the OT as written by Moses, and argues that "all laws as given by God are moral", and that no freedom could be admitted in regard to the certain civil laws for the proper administration of the people of Israel once established in Canaan. It may also be a problem for a certain theonomist who believes that the civil laws or some of them remain binding upon societies even today.

Now, find me the Ten Commandments written by one or more of those ancient societies that happen to match the Decalogue, (not necessarily word for word, but at least along the same general lines) and here, we will be in big trouble, because this will imply that God did not give the moral law to Israel, but that Moses borrowed it from somewhere else. That would be true plagiarism, and it would seriously undermine the invulnerability of our Faith. Observe, however, that some of the 10 commandments might have been used by those more ancient societies such as the sixth or seventh commandment since they were obviously written in their consciences and thus would be no strange coincidence that they be mixed with other civil laws on the same tablet. The challenge for the modern critics will be to find the Ten Commandments given as a whole and adopted by an ancient society before the time of Moses. Besides, admitting that they found one, it would be almost impossible to date it with enough accuracy so as to ensure that it is not derived from the Mosaic Code itself.

As a last note, some Reformed theologians speak of the moral law the the decalogue interchangebly. However, I believe that there is more to the moral law than the Ten Commandments, since others are enumerated in the Mosaic Code, but all happen to be expositions along the same lines as the Decalogue. Consequently, I prefer to view the Decalogue as "a faithful summary of the moral law."


Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
The Relationship of the Law of Moses and ANE Law Codes

Let me begin by saying that I found many of Jean-David's observations helpful and cogent. He advances some arguments that I hadn't thought of. Here's my attempt to understand the relationship between the two:

Important points of contrast

1. The Mosaic Law places a higher value upon human life; whereas the other codes place more value upon physical property.

For example, if an ox gores a man, Mosaic law demands that the animal be slaughtered and, if the owner had prior warning, that it’s owner be put to death in order to underscore the sanctity of human life (Exo 21:28; cf. Gen 9:6). On the other hand, the Eshnunna code and Hammurabi code are only concerned with economic compensation for the victim’s family (EC, 54; HC, 251). As Cyrus Gordon notes, “In these instances, we can see that the greater concern for human life leads to a harsher position in Israel.”

2. The Mosaic Law is framed in a distinctively religious-cultic framework; whereas the other law codes are predominantly civil in perspective.

The Torah contains many laws that serve to keep Israel separate from the moral and religious influence of pagan society (Leviticus 2:11; 18:1-24; Deut 22:5; 23:18). Thus these laws are original to Israel, and are notably absent from the other law codes. Once again, Gordon writes,
the Israelite leaders saw as part of their calling the need to separate the Israelites from the Canaanites. The way to do this was to drive a legal wedge between the Israelites and Canaanites by outlawing for the former many of the practices of the latter.
3. The Mosaic Law is represented as being ultimately authored by God; whereas the other law codes are represented merely as the laws of human kings.

Moses clearly identifies God as the ultimate author of his legislation (Exo 20:1, 22; 24:3, 4; Deut 4:2; passim). According to some, the relief atop Hammurabi’s stela pictures the king receiving his laws from his god. But since Hammurabi takes credit for the laws in both the prologue and epilogue, it is better to understand the relief as the god handing the king a scepter or stylus, not a scroll, and authorizing the king to make laws. Neufeld, an expert on Hittite legal codes, says of the Hittite laws, “There is hardly any trace of a theocratic element here.”

An Explantion of the Relationship

1. Coincidence, dependence, or adaptation?

A similar Sitz im Leben (situation of life) may account for some degree of correspondence. But there are too many linguistic and semantic parallels to be merely coincidental. On the other hand, the differences between the codes are substantially significant to preclude a slavish borrowing. Most scholars believe the Mosaic laws are based upon a common ancient Near East legal tradition. Liberals view divine authorship (and usually Mosaic as well) as pure fiction invented for propagandist purposes by later Jewish literati. However, evangelicals believe God led Moses to select laws from his contemporary Near East tradition that were consistent with the covenant and to reject those laws which were not.

2. Inspired revelation and reformulation

Since Moses was educated in Egypt (where Hammurabi’s code was studied) and was exposed to Semitic legal tradition through the Hebrews (whose forefathers came from Aram) and the Midianites, we can be fairly sure that Moses was familiar with the Near Eastern legal tradition of his day. That Moses’ laws resemble those of Near Eastern neighbors should not surprise us since they share a common Sitz im Leben and an identical moral law written upon the conscience from creation (Rom 1:32; 2:14-15). Thus, Jesus’ Golden Rule (Matt 7:12) is found upon the lips of pagans several centuries before Christ uttered it on the Sermon on the Mount. Furthermore, these non-biblical legal codes may also be remnants of previous revelation God had given to certain individuals (Gen 9:1-17; 26:5). Because of human depravity, these societies distorted previous revelation so that their laws do not always accurately reflect God’s moral law (Rom 1:18-32).

At Sinai God directly revealed to Moses the moral law in the form of ten apodictic commandments (Exo 20; Deut 5), which would form the basis for all religious and ethical legislation. He also guided Moses in the inclusion of whatever contemporary legal tradition was consistent with the moral law and the reformulation of those laws inconsistent with the moral law. Moreover, God gave Moses additional laws to keep the Israelites separate from the pagan nations (Leviticus 2:11; 18:1-24; Deut 22:5; 23:18). Finally, we need not deny that God used Moses’ knowledge of Near Eastern legal codes since the doctrine of inspiration does not preclude the Holy Spirit utilizing or employing the human writer’s knowledge and research in the writing of Scripture (cf. Luke 1:1-4).

For those interested in studying the topic further, here are some resources I found helpful:

Primary sources: James Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts (1950).

Secondary: T. D. Alexander, From Paradise to the Promised Land (2002), 62-79, 176-188; Umberto Cassuto, Commentary on Exodus (1967), 254-316; R. A. Cole, “Law in the Old Testament,” ZPEB (1976), 883-94; Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel (1961), 143-63; Cyrus Gordon, The Bible and the Ancient Near East, 4th edition (1997), 153-167; Victor Hamilton, Handbook on the Pentateuch (1982), 193-226; H. A. Hoffner, “Hittites,” ZPEB (1976), 168-72; Kenneth Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament (1966), 147-49; G. Herbert Livingston, The Pentateuch in its Cultural Environment (1974), 171-186; Victor H. Matthews and Don C. Benjamin, Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East (1997), 97-123; E. Neufeld, The Hittite Laws (1951); James Pritchard, Archaeology and the Old Testament (1958), 206-27; Merrill Unger, archaeology and the Old Testament, 3rd edition (1956), 153-57; Arthur Ungnad, “Hammurabi, Code of” in ISBE (1939), 2:1327-32; John Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context (1989), 69-94; idem, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament (2006), 287-312; D. J. Wiseman, “Hammurabi,” ZPEB (1972), 23-26.

Your servant,


Puritan Board Freshman
So I think this has been a very productive thread and the question at hand has been successfully answered quite exhaustively.

In regard to plagiarism, it is generally defined nowadays as a borrowing of scholarly thoughts, ideas, phrases or sentences from one author, and attributing them to ourselves as the originator. There is really nothing in all the example quotes as provided by Dr. Gonzales that could even come close to Plagiarism as it is defined today. The language, the style, and even the exact details differ enough to make it inconclusive. As for the New Testament authors who used one another's work in writing the Four Gospels, that cannot be called plagiarism either since they were actually trying to report Jesus' words and deeds; besides, it was considered to be the scholarly approach in those days to quote from other authors without specifying them. Works are to be judged according to the historical framework they were written in, not a future or past one.


Puritan Board Sophomore
Let God Be True and Every Man a Liar

Was Moses a plagiarist? Did the Mosaic Law ultimately originate with God or with pagan societies?

In a single day you can sure come up with several deep subjects that would take me a week to get the time to respond to properly. I have some familiarity with the subject matter, especially the Ugaritic literature, and the works of a few scholars regarding that. It's been several years since I've really delved into it. Though, the best apologetic work, although small, I have on this is "Ugaritic Literature and the Old Testament" by Stan Vaninger in JOCR, Vol 12, No 2, 1989. It's a real treasure and I'll extract some information for you below.

Concerning the Ugaritic literature it isn't just similarties, that can be attributed to some common known oral tradition among Semitic peoples, as some have surmised, it is in many respects nearly identical grammatical parallelisms. And it isn't just the Mosaic law codes, it affects more than the Pentateuch - but Judges, 2 Samuel, the Psalms, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Daniel, Habakkuk and Hosea.

Since Ugarit was finally destroyed in 1200 BC and the Israelits didn't come into Canaan until after this, and if one accepts the conventional chronology, then the borrowing could have only occurred in one direction. The Israelites borrowed from the Canaanites and substituted Yahweh for Baal. For the critics, "...the Ugaritic texts always have chronological priority over the Hebrew texts in comparative studies." Craigie, Ugarit and the Bible: Progress and Regress in 50 Years, p 106

With much of this literature being hundreds of years old by the time Ugarit was destroyed, according to conventional dating, therefore older than the Exodus it is no wonder that textual critics side with the pagan sources over Scripture. One thing is certain, if the dating is accepted, there is no chronological overlap between Ugarit and Israel.

A couple of examples of scholars conclusions:

The one kingdom (Ugarit) ceased to exist before the other (Israel) came into national existence. P. Craigie, Ugarit, Canaan, and Israel, Tyndale Bulletin 34 (1983)

"When, therefore, a comparative study of Ugaritic and biblical literature reveals resemblances which can hardly be accounted for otherwise than by borrowing, it must be the Israelites who borrowed from the Canaanites and not vice versa." H.L. Ginsberg, Ugaritic Studies and the Bible

"It is now evident that much of the sacrificial ritual found in the book of Leviticus was borrowed from Canaan." G.E. Wright, Biblical Archaeology, 2nd Ed, p 117 (1962)

"Many of the sacrifices mentioned in the Ugaritic texts have names which are identical to those described in the book of Leviticus. Ugaritic texts speak of the Burnt Offering, the Whole Burnt Offering, the Trespass Offering, the Offering for Expiation of the Soul, the Wave Offering, the Tribute Offering, the First Fruits Offering, the Peace Offering, and the New Moon Offering. The term "offering without blemish" and the "law of first-fruits" also appears in Ugaritic literature. C.F. Pfeiffer, Ras Shamra and the Bible, p 58 (1962)

While certainly we can recognize that sacrifices existed prior to Moses, we are hard pressed to explain the very similar Levitical sacrificial system in Ugaritic literature, especially since we hold it is a revealed system never before known.

Moreover, the Levitical problem is only part of it, the Psalms are another problem because they are accredited to David several hundred years after the Exodus, as well as Hosea another 200 years after David - and the Ugaritic literature has many of them as well. For example, in Psalms 74:13-14 "Baal's victory over Leviathan is paralleled by the victories of Yahweh over Leviathian." C.F. Pfieffer, Ibid, p 34 We have six hundred years between the Ugaritic account of the legend of Keret and the similarity to the book of Hosea..."showing the amazing identity of symbols, expressions, connections of words - some words being hapax legomena in the Old Testament." Cited in Immanuel Velikovsky, A Reply to Stiebing, Pensee Vol 4 No 1 p 40 (1973)

Then there is Psalm 20 which is a complete composition in Ugaritic literature...."whose geographical standpoint is not Palestine but Phoenicia.....the cumulative evidence for the ultimately Canaanite origin of Psalm 20 is therefore overwhelming." H.L. Ginsberg, Ibid, p 45 Wright says, "Psalm 20...is originally a hymn to Baal, borrowed and used of Yahweh." Wright, Biblical Archaeology, p 109

"Psalms of Canaanite origin were adapted for Isaelite use", J. Bright, A History of Israel, 2nd Ed, p 215

"The literary texts of Ugarit do demonstrate that many of the Psalms are saturated with Canaanite stylistic and verbal reminiscences, and even with direct quotations from passages found in Ugaritic sources already known to us." W.F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel, 5th ed. p 128 (1968)

"Psalm 20... can be identified as an ancient Canaanite cult hymn which has been superficially adopted in terms of Yahweh." K. Bernhardt, Near Eastern Religion Texts Relating to the Old Testament, p 187

Of course, the real problem here is that when conservative Christians principally hold to the application of the text critical method to the New Testament "as if it was any other book" and defend its speculative conclusions, then real problems develop when you turn it loose on Ugaritic literature.

Even the "conservative" and Christian scholars that have been involved in Ugaritic comparative studies are compelled to admit that the similarties are so great that the Hebrews borrowed from the Canaanites. Craigie and Ross, for example, admit that Psalm 20 is a copy of Ugaritic literature but then defend it as a polemic to rescue the inspiration of the Old Testament.

If the inspiration of Psalm 20 comes from Canaan as a polemic against Baal worship adapted to Yahweh, when genuine polemics found in 1 Samuel 5 against Dagon, and 1 Kings 18 against Baal or Isaiah 40-48 against idol worship then it certainly isn't a very convincing argument. The internal inconsistency is just too much for me to choke down.

Of course, the solution isn't difficult, the dating of the archaeological ages is wrong going all the way back into Egypt by about 600 years - but you have to stand against pretty much the entire scholary and archaeological community. Ugarit and Israel were contemporaries with both Tyre and Sidon lying between it and Jerusalem, about 250 miles apart, and the Hebrew Scriptures were copied and accommodated to Baal and Dagon.

I hold to Romans 3:4, "...Let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged."

Rev. Todd Ruddell

Puritan Board Junior
Dear Dr. Bob,

I believe it cannot be stressed highly enough that the commandments to Holiness given by Moses, especially those commands which "separate" the Israelites from the rest of the nations upon the earth, militate against any notion of plagiarism on Moses' part.

I believe also you have rightly identified his 'sitz im leben' as it pertains perhaps to phraseology, and even it co-opting certain phrases contemporary to his day. Did not Paul do the same upon Mars Hill, when he quoted from "one of your own poets"? Making use of contemporary forms is not plagiarism--it's good pastoring. If we remember a common ancestry to our first parents, the sensus divinatus, and the casuistic nature of the parallels as applications of the Law written upon the heart, these linguistic similarities pose no threat to inspiration, although they are used by unbelievers to "justify" them in their unbelief.

Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
Moses and Plagiarism

Jean-David, Thomas, and Todd,

Thanks for the additional comments. I think most of you detected that the aim of the question (with which I began this post) and my subsequent contributions demonstrate that I do not believe Moses was in fact guilty of plagiarism. First, as Jean-David points out, it was the accepted approach in ancient times to quote or borrow ideas from authors without identifying them by name or in footnotes. Todd is also correct, I think, when he notes that the use of common terminology and phraseology is to be expected since God is purposely using the language with which his target audience is familiar.

Second, as for composition, I think some parts of the Mosaic revelation were received by Moses from God in a very direct fashion, such as the 10 Words written by "the finger" of God on Sinai (Exo. 31:18; Deut. 9:10). In other cases, Moses, under the superintendence of God's Spirit, compiled history, case laws, ritual laws, and covenant sanctions possibly using some Hebrew sources (e.g., some written and oral tradition passed down from the patriarchs) as well as drawing on his knowledge of non-Hebrew sources (i.e., ANE historical literature, law-codes, international treaty diplomacy, epics, etc.). That Moses would have drawn from his own vocabulary, which was passed down from the patriarchs and became the Hebrews' linguistic heritage, and even from the common vocabulary or thought patterns of the world of his day is no threat to inspiration. Even the NT writers employed some of the language and concepts of the Greco-Roman world in addition to the Hebraic world in composing the NT corpora. All of this, though, was conducted under the Spirit's supervision insuring a final product that is infallible and inerrant in all that it affirms.

Third, Thomas raises some good questions regarding the relation of the Mosaic ritual texts (primarily Leviticus) and the Ugaritic literature, which many believe predates the Mosaic corpus. (BTW, Thomas, you appear to be well-read in this area.) He also points out the striking similarity between language and ideas found in Ugaritic religious texts and that found in a number of post-Mosaic corpora. It was not my intention to address ritual literature but legal codes. Nevertheless, since the Mosaic corpora includes ritual instructions, it's certainly valid for us to consider what relation if any these may share with the Canaanite literature. I'm not an expert in the comparative literature of Ras Shamra and the OT, but I'll share some of my present thoughts.

To begin with, I don't think we can deny that concepts such as sacred mountains (natural or man-made [e.g., ziggurats]), sacred houses or temples, cultic priesthoods, and ritual sacrifices (animal or meal) existed throughout the ancient Near East during and prior to the Mosaic writings. (I'm assuming that Moses wrote the the Pentateuch in the 15th century B.C. [with the exception of a few possibly "post-Mosaicas"].) The Bible itself seems to point to the origin of these concepts in the early chapters of Genesis and Job: Eden is on the slopes of God's holy mountain (compare Gen. 2:10-14 with Ezek. 28:14, 16) and his treated as "sacred space" (Gen. 3:22-24); Cain and Abel appear before the Lord to offer animal and vegetable "tribute" (Gen. 4:3-5) possibly within some kind of temple enclosure (Gen. 4:7-8). Noah was familiar with animal sacrifice and even ritual laws pertaining to "cleanness and uncleanness" (Gen. 7:2, 8:20-21). In early times, the family head often served as priest (e.g.s., Noah, Abraham, Job). As families extended into clans, the firstborn often assumed this role. In some cases, entire clans within a nation served as priests. Accordingly, Allen Ross writes,
Sacrificial ritual was ... widespread in the ancient world. The evidence is sufficient to show that it was not simply primitive in its motivation [i.e., a kind of magic used to manipulate deity] but was capable of including higher religious ideas such as those found in Israel [i.e., ideas like propitiation, expiation, consecration]. When God legislated the sacrificial ritual for his people, he used structures and descriptions that were known in the ancient world, but he restored them to their highest and fullest meaning (emphasis added). Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus, 29.
So I can't agree with George Ernest Wright when he asserts, "It is now evident that much of the sacrificial ritual found in the book of Leviticus was borrowed from Canaan" (Biblical Archaeology, p 117). First, sacrificial ritual was present throughout the ANE, not just Canaan. Second, the fact that Hebrew terminology for cultic-related objects matches or is similar to Canaanite language is not surprising if one takes seriously biblical history. The Hebrews sojourned in Canaan for over 300 years. There, Abraham and his family adopted the NW Semitic dialect. Hence, much Canaanite vocabulary was transmitted through the patriarchs and their children to Moses and the Israelites of their day. Not surprisingly, Moses used the NW Semitic lingo to describe cultic ritual.

Moreover, I'm not prepared to give up a 15th century exodus (c. 1446 B.C.) and late 15th-early 14th century conquest. I acknowledge that much scholarly opinion (especially since Kathleen Kenyon's Jericho dig) dates the conquest later (1200s). But such conclusions are based largely on an interpretation of circumstantial evidence and, I think, the possibility remains that such evidence has been misread and new evidence may arise supporting the more traditional date. So if Israel entered Canaan at the end of the 15th century (1406 B.C.) and intermingled with the Canaanites during the period of the Judges, then that would provide additional support for linguistic cross-pollinization. Consequently, it shouldn't surprise us that the post-Mosaic Hebrew literature contains some language and even thought-forms that resemble some of the language and thought-forms of Canaan--only now, in the context of canonical literature, infused with new meaning. (Allen Ross uses the example of "bread" and "wine" which were commonly place in ritual meals [particularly the Passover] but were infused with new meaning when Jesus instituted the New Covenant Supper.)

Thomas, when you refer to scholars who identify Psalm 20 as "an ancient Canaanite cult hymn," are you sure you don't have Psalm 29 in view? Psalm 29 does contain some language and thought-forms that find parallels in Ugaritic literature on Baal. For example, Psalm 29 celebrates Yahweh’s mighty power revealed in a thunderstorm. In Canaanite mythology, Baal is portrayed as the storm deity. Moreover, Psalm 29 refers to the trees of Lebanon and the wilderness of Qadesh, which most scholars identify with the area north of Israel (i.e., Ugaritic territory).

In response, consider the following: first, there are many distinctively Hebraisms in the Psalm. Besides the 18 references to “Yahweh” (clearly Hebraic!), the Psalmist uses the definite article (7 times) and the sign of the direct object (2 times), which are not common features of Ugaritic. Also the Psalmist employs some verbs, such as yhb (v. 1, 2) and sbr (v. 5), which I don't believe are attested in Ugaritic literature. The use of the plural elim rather than elohim in the phrase "sons of the gods" or "mighty ones," though prevalent in Canaanite literature, is not necessarily unique to Ugaritic. It's found in the post-exilic book of Daniel (11:36). It was probably just another way to speak of "gods" or angelic beings generically. I think most important for our purposes is the fact that there is no extant Ugaritic twin to Psalm 29. OT scholars, such as Frank Cross, have found vocabulary and thought-forms in Psalm 29 with striking similarities in Canaantic literature and have posited a Canaanite original that supposedly stands behind Psalm 29. Oswald T. Allis pointed this out in his The Old Testament: Its Claims and Critics, when he remarks,
“What is attempted is not to derive a Hebrew psalm from the Ugaritic, but a Ugaritic from the Hebrew and then make this Ugaritic poem the source of the Hebrew psalm, a truly remarkable performance!” (See Allis's full critique, 333-37).
But let's grant, for the sake of argument, that Psalm 29 is modeled after a Canaante prototype (perhaps someone has discovered a Canaanite parallel to Psalm 29, and my knowledge based on Allis's mid-20th century critique is obsolete). Couldn't Psalm 29, as Craigie and Ross suggest, be both a psalm of praise to Yahweh and also a polemic against the false god Baal? Thomas, I'm not certain, but it seems that you're uncomfortable with this hypothesis. Allis himself seems to feel uneasy with this idea because of the pronounced Israelite antipathy towards Baal worship that pervades the Old Testament. Such antipathy, argues Allis, would never have tolerated the borrowing of Baal’s psalms for Yahweh’s worship.

I'm not convinced. Consider the following modern example. In the last part of the 17th century (A.D.), William Ernest Henley penned the following poem of defiance, called Invictus (Unconquered), on his deathbed:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.
In the early 20th century, Dorothea Day penned "My Captain," as a tribute to Christ and polemical response to Henley's famous poem:
Out of the night that dazzles me,
Bright as the sun from pole to pole,
I thank the God I know to be
For Christ the conqueror of my soul.

Since His the sway of circumstance,
I would not wince nor cry aloud.
Under that rule which men call chance
My head with joy is humbly bowed.

Beyond this place of sin and tears
That life with Him! And His the aid,
Despite the menace of the years,
Keeps, and shall keep me, unafraid.

I have no fear, though strait the gate,
He cleared from punishment the scroll.
Christ is the Master of my fate,
Christ is the Captain of my soul.
Note that Day uses some of the same vocabulary and imagery as Henley. There's significant synatical correspondence. But no one would charge Day with attempting to syncretize Christianity with Atheism. Similarly, I don't find it difficult to believe the Scripture writers might occasionally employ the language and imagery of pagan literature not ony to extol the true God but to contrast him with the false gods.

In the end, I agree with Thomas. "Let God be true and every man a liar."

Your servant,
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