How Does One Come to Believe in Moses?
In the essay below, I explained what I see as a three-step process by which those outside the Church come to believe in the inerrant/infallible authority of the Scriptures. In it, I focused on the Gospels, which from the point of view of inerrancy are truly the oddest part of the Bible, in which we have four documents, each testifying to Christ yet showing numerous unreconciled small discrepancies that Christians have labored over for centuries to smooth away. Some such efforts may be fruitful (such as the different Roman and Jewish hour systems used in John and the Synoptics), while others have been fruitless. But the Christian church has not held any specific solution of these puzzles to be authoritative, nor has the ability to produce reliable solutions to these discrepancies on demand been seen as a condition for adhering to inerrancy and Biblical authority.
But certainly the Old Testament can be teated, and by past generations of Christians (let alone the Jews, of course), has been treated as testament with its own authority. If this is the case, we may ask how exactly this authority could come to be established in the eyes of someone who has not imbibed it with his mother‘s milk? I would argue in exactly the same three stages as outsiders to the Church go through in accepting the authority of the Gospels.
First, they see that the Law of Moses and the history of the Judges and kings of Israel and Judah are plausible historical records, able to be read with the same general presumption of veracity as Snorri Sturluson on the Norwegian kings or Sima Qian on the Chinese dynasties.
Second one realizes that these plausible records testify to an extraordinary people, a people that has despite innumerable hardships, has survived and still exists today. Such a people, who have maintained their Law, when Egyptians and Assyrians, and Mayans, and Chinese have all forgotten theirs is something special, a miracle and a proof of God.
It is pregnant with meaning that the first and the second non-Biblical references to the name "Israel" occur in boasts that the nation has been destroyed. The first is found in the Hymn of Victory for the Pharoah Merneptah, dated to the fifth year of his reign:
. . .
The princes are prostrate, saying “Mercy!”
No one raises his head among the Nine Bows
Desolation is for Tehenu; Khatti [the Hittite empire] is pacified;
Plundered is Canaan with every evil;
Carried off is Ashkelon; seized upon is Gezer [the Philistine cities];
Yanoam [a city in northern Palestine] is made as that which does not exist;
Israel is laid waste, his seed is not
Hurru [the Horites] is become a widow for Egypt!
All lands together, they are pacified;
Everyone who was restless, he has been bound by the King of Upper and Lower Egypt: Ba-en-Re Meri-Amon; the Son of Re; Mer-ne-ptah Hotep-hir-Maat, given life like Re every day.
(Ancient Near East, p. 231).
But today, this Pharoah is known first and foremost for having once mentioned Israel.
And the second is the famous inscription of Mesha, king of Moab, dated to around 830 B.C.:
I am Mesha, son of Chemosh-[. . .], king of Moab, the Dibonite -- my father had reigned over Moab thirty years, and I reigned after my father -- who made this high place for Chemosh in Qarhoh [. . .] because he saved me from all the kings and caused me to triumph over all my adversaries. As for Omri, king of Israel, he humbled Moab many days, for Chemosh was angry at his land. And his son followed him and he also said, “I will humble Moab.” In my time he spoke thus, but I have triumphed over him and over his house while Israel hath perished for ever! (Ancient Near East, p. 211).
He goes in that vein about how he has destroyed Israel, slaughtered Gad, annihilated Nebo, so that Chemosh triumphed over YHWH. But he who laughs last, laughs best, and as with Pharoah and Assyria, and Babylon, and . . . , we all know who getting the last laugh.
Down through the centuries, one thing has been certain: great empires will boast of having wiped Israel out for ever, laying him waste so his seed is not -- and it will be Israel who will write the history of this new Haman that the next generation will read. People feel differently about this miracle of survival, but it is a fact of history worth pondering.
Thirdly one realizes that what this plausible record says, is that it is the record itself, the Law of Moses and its commentary, which has created and ensured the continuity of this extraordinary people. If the Law and the Prophets are the means by which the miracle of Jewish survival has been effected, then the Law itself must be something divine. Something capable of defeating the ravages of time, Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, and Hitler must be extraordinarily perfect to achieve its aim and such perfection is not compatible with error.
Now, the Jews themselves will stop there with a divine Torah, Prophets and Writings, making up the Hebrew Bible. Pascal followed a well-worn Christian apologetic when he then argued that for such a divinely-commissioned people to have a mission to make God known and then to have never done it is absurd. Therefore, the Jewish Law must have been made known to the world in some form, and one need only further decide on whether it was so done through Jesus or Muhammad.But whether or not one makes that step, the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible thus can be reasoned as divinely inspired, entirely apart from the Christian New Testament. But, this is only the case as long as the initial plausibility of the story of Abraham, slavery in Egypt, Moses, Joshua, Judges, and monarchy can be accepted. This is, however, exactly the point at contention in recent research on early Israel (more here, here, and here). The conclusion of recent scholarship has been overwhelmingly that, no, the Torah does not possess the minimal plausibility to be taken as a more or less correct of the origin of the Jews. It's not quite in Book of Mormon territory in that respect, but it is getting there, if the minimalist account prevails.
In this situation, if my analysis is correct, the primary arguments needed to get people to open themselves to the truth claims of the Mosaic revelation are not arguments why it is inerrant, but rather arguments why it is plausible -- a very, very different issue. Nitpicking arguments of detail and harmonization to prove the first agenda are actually counter-productive for the second agenda.