Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The Talmud on posthumous biblical authorship

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Who Wrote the Torah? This week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study dives into a foundational puzzle of the religion.
After discussing how to copy a Torah scroll, the Gemara moves on to the more interesting question of who wrote the Torah in the first place. The traditional Jewish answer, of course, is that Moses wrote it at the dictation of God. That is what the Talmud says in Bava Batra 15a: “The Holy One, Blessed be He, dictated and Moses repeated after him and wrote.” But the text of the Torah itself raises a problem for this idea, which is that after Moses’ death, the book of Deuteronomy continues for another eight verses. How could Moses have written a description of his own death? “Is it possible that after Moses died, he wrote ‘And Moses died there’?” asks the Gemara.

To avoid this absurdity, Rabbi Yehuda explains that the last eight verses of Deuteronomy were actually written by Joshua, Moses’ successor. This explains why, when the Torah is read aloud, those eight verses are always assigned to a single reader, not divided up. They form a natural unit because they came from Joshua’s hand. But Rabbi Shimon disagrees, suggesting instead that “the Holy One, blessed be He, dictated and Moses wrote with tears.” It is a beautiful, poetic image—Moses outlining the letters in his own tears, mourning his death in advance.

Actually, the Gemara goes on to point out, the problem of posthumousness is found in several books of the Bible. ...
The passage is more about how property is to be divided, but this is one of the Talmud's many interesting digressions.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.