The testament and assumption of Moses.
Counted among the pseudepigrapha.
On site: Fragments (present page).
Testament of Moses (English only, Milan manuscript).
OT Pseudepigrapha: Testament of Moses (English only, Milan manuscript).
Testament of Moses (English only, Milan manuscript).
Online Critical Pseudepigrapha.
Apocalyptic literature in the Jewish Encyclopedia.
Apocrypha in the Catholic Encyclopedia.
EJW (Peter Kirby).
Jewish background texts
The testament of Moses is counted as one of the pseudepigrapha,
as is the assumption of Moses. Many think that these texts are
one and the same. Of the two, the only surviving text besides
patristic quotations is the single Latin manuscript (called the Milan
manuscript) published in 1861 by Antonio Ceriani.
The Milan manuscript has been versified, and at 1.14 occurs a
saying by Moses to Joshua to the effect that Moses was prepared
before the foundation of the world to be the mediator of the
covenant. This line is the basis of the identification of the
text of the Milan manuscript with the Ascension (or Assumption) of Moses,
since Gelasius of Cyzicus (century V) writes at 2.17.17 of his
History of the Church
...as it is written in the book of the ascension of
Moses, when he had called forth Joshua son of Nave and was disputing with him,
he said: And God foresaw me before the foundation of the world, that I should
be the mediator of his covenant.
It is also possible that the Milan manuscript actually
represents the Testament of
Moses, the attribution to the Assumption being either a mistake or
the result of overlapping content between the texts. Such
is the position of Richard Bauckham, who launches his
discussion of the issue with a probe into the source(s)
for the notice in Jude
[1.]8-9, which reads:
Likewise, these men dream and defile the flesh,
and lordship they set aside, and they blaspheme glories. But Michael the
archangel, when contending he disputed with the devil concerning the body
of Moses, did not dare to bring up a judgment of blasphemy, but rather said:
The Lord rebuke you!
The Alexandrian fathers attribute this Mosaic episode to the text known
as the Assumption (or Ascension) of Moses.
There is a Latin fragment extant from Clement of Alexandria commenting
on Jude [1.]9:
Hic confirmat assumptionem Moysi.
This confirms the
assumption of Moses.
Origen agrees with this attribution in On
First Things 3.2:
Et primo quidem in genesi serpens Evam
seduxisse perscribitur, de quo in ascensione Moysi, cuius libelli meminit
in epistola sua apostolus Iudas, Michahel archangelus cum diabolo disputans
de corpore Moysi ait a diabolo inspiratum serpentem causam extitisse
praevaricationis Adae et Evae.
And at first, moreover, in Genesis the serpent is written up as having seduced
Eve, concerning which in the Ascension
of Moses, of which little book the apostle Jude makes mention
in his epistle, Michael the archangel when he was disputing with the
devil concerning the body of Moses says that the serpent, inspired by the
devil, was the cause of the prevarication of Adam and Eve.
Didymus the blind also agrees with the attribution in his commentary
on the epistle of Jude:
Adversarii huius contemplationis praescribunt
praesenti epistolae et Moyseos assumptioni propter eum locum ubi significatur
verbum archangeli de corpore Moyseos ad diabolum factum.
Adversaries of this consideration object to the
present epistle and to the Assumption
of Moses on account of that place where the word made by the
archangel to the devil concerning the body of Moses is
This triple Alexandrian attribution of the story that Jude knew
to the Assumption of Moses seems
formidable, but Richard Bauckham, in chapter 5 (pages 235-280) of
his masterpiece Jude and the Relatives
of Jesus in the Early Church, argues that two very different
texts described such an encounter between Michael and the devil,
that the Alexandrians knew only the one (the Assumption or Ascension), but that Jude was actually drawing
upon the other (the Testament of Moses).
The story that Bauckham assigns to the Assumption of Moses is represented in several
patristic catenae, histories, and commentaries. According to this
version of the tale, at the death of Moses the archangel Michael was
sent to bury his body, but the devil laid claim to the body on the
grounds that he was the lord of matter. Michael replied that it is
God who is the lord of matter, citing a psalm or two to underscore
the point. Michael then cried out: May the Lord rebuke you! At which
time the story points out that the Lord is the Lord of spirits and
of all flesh, citing the LXX version of Numbers 16.22; 27.16.
A catena assembled in 1844 by Cramer
contains the following comment which gives us the
diabolic claim and half of the angelic response:
For the devil, wishing to deceive, resisted
[and said]: The body is mine, since I am the master of matter. And he
heard from the angel: The Lord rebuke you, that is, the Lord of spirits
and of all flesh.*
* Numbers 16.22; 27.16 (LXX).
Gelasius Cyzicenus gives us the other half of the angelic response
in his History of the Church 2.21.7:
But, in the book of the assumption of Moses,
Michael the archangel, disputing with the devil, says: For from his
holy spirit we were all created,1 and again he says:
From the face of God his spirit went out, and the world came into
1 Psalm 104.30 (LXX 103.30).
2 Psalm 33.6 (LXX 32.6);
confer Judith 16.14.
In this account, which Bauckham assigns to the Assumption, the devil serves as sort of a gnostic
demiurge, claiming controlling interest in the material world. The
scriptural response from the archangel restores the traditional Jewish
way of viewing things, with God as master both of the spiritual and
of the material worlds, and the devil as a pretender or usurper.
The account that Bauckham assigns to the Testament of Moses has the same characters
in similar roles, but with a different basis for the dispute. It is
related in the Byzantine collection known as the Palaea Historica as follows:
Concerning the death of Moses.
And Moses said toward Joshua* of Nave:
Let us go up on the mountain. And when they had gone up Moses
saw the land of promise and said toward him: Go down toward
the people and announce to them that Moses has died. And Joshua
went down toward the people, but Moses came to the end of his
* Or Jesus.
And Samuel tried to bring his corpse
down to the people so that they might make him a god, but
Michael the archcaptain by the order of God came to take it
and remove it, and Samuel resisted him, and they made war.
The archcaptain therefore became angry and rebuked him, saying:
The Lord rebuke you, devil. And thus the adversary was defeated
and fled, and the archangel Michael removed the corpse of Moses
to where he was ordered by Christ our God, [and no one saw the
burial of Moses].
Bauckham also cites the Slavonic Life
of Moses in this connection:
But at the end of the same year, in the twelfth month,
on the seventh day, that is, in March, Moses the servant of God died
and was buried on the fourth of the month September on a certain
mountain by the archcaptain Michael. For the devil contended with
the angel, and he would not permit his body to be buried, saying:
Moses is a murderer; he slew a man in Egypt and hid him in the sand.
Then Michael prayed to God and there was thunder and lightning and
suddenly the devil disappeared; but Michael buried him with his
Bauckham notes that this text preserves the charge of the devil
against Moses (that he killed the Egyptian) without the response
from Michael (may the Lord rebuke you), while the previous text
preserves the response without the charge.
Bauckham also points to (pseudo-)Oecumenius, commentary on
* Bauckham, following Hilgenfeld, corrects this to
It is said that Michael the archangel ministered
over the burial of Moses. For the devil would not accept this, but
rather bore forth an accusation on account of the murder of the Egyptian,
since Moses was to blame for it, and thus would not leave room for him to
get an honorable burial.
Finally, another entry from the 1844 catena assembled by Cramer
supports this overall picture:
When Moses died on the mountain, Michael is
sent to change the place of the body; then when the devil blasphemed
against Moses and proclaimed him a murderer on account of his striking
the Egyptian, the angel, not bearing the blasphemy against him, said
toward the devil: God rebuke you.
Thus Bauckham distinguishes between two different versions of the
death of Moses. To the Assumption of
Moses he assigns the version in which the basis of the
diabolical claim is that the devil himself is master of the material
world. To the Testament of Moses
he assigns the version in which the basis of the diabolical claim is
the slaying of the Egyptian. The Alexandrian fathers, according to
Bauckham, knew only the former and thus quite naturally assumed that
Jude had used it. But Bauckham goes so far as to suggest that the
Assumption was written on the
basis of Jude [1.]9 itself! He writes on page 268:
This raises the possibility that the author of the Assumption
of Moses knew no more about the dispute over the body of Moses than he read
in Jude 9. Our two reconstructed versions of the debate have in common only
what is also in Jude 9. There seems no reason, therefore, to suppose that
the author of the Assumption of Moses knew Jude's source, the Testament of
Moses, and rewrote its account of Moses' burial. He need only have been
spinning a plausible story out of Jude 9....
The debate over which of
the ancient texts about the patriarchs and other Jewish saints
are Christian, and which are genuinely Jewish and date to
before Christ, may find some measure of satisfaction at this
point. If this scenario as Bauckham constructs it is accurate, then
the Testament of Moses would most
likely be a genuinely Jewish work that predates the epistle of Jude, while the
Assumption of Moses
would be purely Christian, and would in fact postdate that
Bauckham also reviews the possibility that the author of the
Assumption worked over the
Testament after all. But we
may never know for certain.
All of the above texts are to be found in Bauckham,
and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church,
along with several more and a sterling discussion of the most
relevant aspects. I highly recommend this book for this
chapter alone... and it is not even my favorite chapter in the book!
(Chapter 7 on the Lucan genealogy
would have to take that prize.)
Peter Kirby (Early Jewish Writings).
Peter Kirby surveys scholars writing on the testament
John J. Collins writes: "In 1861 Antonio Ceriani published a fragmentary
Latin manuscript which he had found in the Ambrosian Library in Milan and which
he identified as the Assumption of Moses. The identification was based on chapter
1 verse 14, which corresponds to a quotation from the Assumption of Moses by
Gelasius (Ecclesiastical History II.17.17). Gelasius elsehwere (II.21.7)
refers to the dispute between Michael and the Devil in the Assumption of Moses.
This episode is not found in the manuscript published by Ceriani, but is often
referred to in patristic sources and even already in the New Testament in Jude,
verse 9. (The allusion is not identified in Jude but is specified in Clement,
Origen and other patristic sources.) The Latin manuscript does not refer to
the death of Moses or his subsequent assumption at all and, since it is primarily
a prophecy delivered before death, it is more properly described as a testament.
In fact the Stichometry of Nicephorus and other lists mention a Testament (Diatheke)
of Moses immediately before the Assumption, and the dominant opinion of scholars
is that Ceriani's text corresponds to the Testament rather than the Assumption.
In view of the citations in Gelasius, some have suggested that the Testament
and the Assumption were combined in a single book. The surviving Latin text
is incomplete, and may have concluded with an account of the assumption of Moses.
Origen (De Principiis III.2.1) uses the title 'Ascension of Moses' for
the document which contains the dispute between Michael and the Devil, i.e.
the Assumption of Moses." (Outside the Old Testament, p. 145)
Raymond F. Surburg writes: "The book purports to give an address delivered
by Moses to Joshua. In it there is a description of how Moses, when he is about
to die, delivers to Joshua the sacred writings. Moses reveals to his successor
prophecies which he is instructed to record but to hide until the appointed
time concerning the Hebrew nation. A panorama of the history of the Jews up
to the author's time is described. He tells how one tribe shall say to another:
'Lo, is not this that which Moses did once declare unto us in prophecies? Yea,
he declared and called heaven and earth to witness against us that we should
not transgress the commandments of the Lord, of which he was the mediator to
us.' There are references to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., the persecution
of Antiochus, the rule of the Hasmoneans, the divisions between Pharisees and
Sadducees, and the reign of Herod. The book ends on an optimistic note, for
the promise of a happy future is given." (Introduction to the Intertestamental
Period, p. 139)
Emil Schürer writes: "Opinion is very much divided regarding the
date of the composition of this book. Ewald, Wieseler, Drummond and Dillman
refer it to the first decade after the death of Herod; Hilgenfeld calculates
that it may have been written in the course of the year 44-45 A.D.; Schmidt
and Merx say some time between 54 and 64 A.D.; Fritzsche and Lucius trace it
to the sixth decade of the first century A.D.; Langen thinks it must have been
shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus (chap. viii. being erroneously
interpreted as referring to this event); Hausrath prefers the reign of Domitian;
Philippi, the second century of our era (the latter fixing on this date solely
with the object of his being able to ascribe the authorship to a Christian,
and of reversing the relation in which our book and ver. 9 of the Epistle of
Jude stand to each other; see in particular, pp. 177, 182); while Volkmar (in
accordance with his well-known predilection for the time of Barcocheba) thinks
the date would be some time in the course of the year 137-138 A.D. Almost the
whole of the critics just mentioned base their calculation upon the well-nigh
illegible fragments of numbers in chap. vii. But surely one may fairly question
the propriety of trying to found anything whatever upon lines so mutilated as
those are; and if we had no other data but these to help us to fix the date
in question, we would have nothing for it but to abandon the attempt altogether.
Still I cannot help thinking that there are two such data at our disposal. (1)
Toward the end of chap. vi. it is plainly stated that the sons of Herod are
to reign for a shorter period (breviora tempora) than their father. Now
it is well known that Philip and Antipas reigned longer than their father; and
one cannot help seeing the embarrassment to which those words have led in the
case of all those critics who refer the composition of our book to a latish
date. They are capable of being explained solely on the assumption that the
work was written toward the commencement of the reign of the last-mentioned
princes. (2) It is as good as universally admitted that the concluding sentences
of chap. vi. refer to the war of Varus in the year 4 B.C. When therefore chap.
vii. goes on to say: Ex quo facto finientur tempora, surely there can hardly
be room for any other inference than this, that the author wrote subsequent
to the war of Varus. In that case the enigmatical numbers that follow in this
same chapter cannot be supposed to be a continuation of the narrative, but are
to be regarded as a calculation added by way of supplement after the narrative
has been brought down to the date at which the author was writing. Only, considering
how mutilated those numbers are, every attempt to explain them must prove a
failure. Consequently the view of Ewald, Wieseler, Drummond and Dillmann with
regard to the date of the composition of our book is substantially correct."
(The Literature of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus, pp. 78-79)
Martin McNamara writes: "The original form of this work probably originated
about the same time as the Book of Daniel. It was once thought that the date
to be assigned to the composition was A.D. 7-30 since chapter 6 clearly speaks
of Herod and his sons. It is highly probable, however, that this section is
interpolated and was inserted when a second edition, so to speak, of The
Testament of Moses was brought out in the first half of the first century
A.D. The Testament of Moses is based on Deut 31-34 and contains Moses'
parting words to Israel together with an account of his death." (Intertestamental
Literature, p. 96)
James C. VanderKam writes: "The fact that the predictions extend well
into the first century CE means that the Testament of Moses as we have
it was not written before that time. It has been suggested, however, that a
book, dating from early Maccabean times, was later supplemented by splicing
chapters 6-7 into the predictive survey in order to bring it up to date. The
strongest argument for this thesis is that these two chapters seem to destroy
the sequence of the survey. Yet it is possible to read the book as it stands
as an orderly account and to understand chapters 7-9 as stereotypical depictions
of the great evil at the end. These depictions draw on themes from the Maccabean
crisis but are not meant to be descriptions of it. If so, then the entire book,
which does not (in the surviving form of the text) claim to be revealed by an
angel, can be read as an apocalypse from the first century BCE. It was written
under the impress of events in Herod's time and immediately after; its purpose
was to reassure the readers that God foreknew everything that would happen,
that he is faithful to the covenant, and that he will have compassion on his
people. No less an authority than Moses himself stands behind the message."
(An Introduction to Early Judaism, pp. 114-115)
James Charlesworth writes: "The date of the composition has been a subject
of considerable controversy. Most critics today correctly place the original
sometime in the opening decades of the first century A.D. (cf. J. J. Collins,
no. 1151); but J. Licht ('Taxo, or the Apocalyptic Doctrine of Vengeance,' JJS
12  95-103) and G. W. E. Nichelsburg, Jr. (no. 471, pp. 28-31, 43-45,
97; no. 1168; cf. 1169, p. 6) have argued for a date during the early stages
of the Maccabean revolt, allowing for interpolations and re-editing in the Herodian
period. Given the incomplete, often illegible state of the extant text and our
fragmentary knowledge of early Judaism it has been impossible to reach a scholarly
consensus regarding the text's provenance or relationship to a Jewish sect,
if any. Scholars have generally concluded that the original language is Hebrew
(Charles, APOT 2, p. 410; Ferrar, Assumption of Moses, p. 8; D.
H. Wallace, 'The Semitic Origin of the Assumption of Moses,' TZ 11 
321-28; cf. idem, no. 1182)." (The Pseudepigrapha and Modern
Research, pp. 163-164)
Leonhard Rost writes: "As early as 1868, M. Schmidt and A. Merx described
the author as an Essene, but they were unable to gain acceptance of their hypothesis.
The discovery of the Qumran manuscripts proved them correct to the extent of
confirming that the author belonged to the Qumran milieu (R. Meyer, O. Eissfeldt).
There are particularly close connections with the Damascus Document and the
War Scroll. The association with Qumran means that the work was composed in
Palestine. Since the Temple appears to be still standing, whereas Herod is dead
and his sons appear to be ruling, the date must fall in the first third of the
first century C.E." (Judaism Outside the Hebrew Canon, p. 148)
John J. Collins writes: "In its present form the Testament of Moses must
be dated around the turn of the era, since there is a clear allusion to the
partial destruction of the temple in the campaign of Varus in 4 BC (TMos 6:8-9).
The document shows no awareness of the final destruction of AD 70. Scholarly
opinion is divided as to whether chapters 5-6, which develop the course of history
through the first century BC were part of the original document or a later insertion.
These chapters clearly refer to the Hasmoneans, Herod and the campaign of Varus.
Yet the final persecution, in chapter 8, is strongly reminiscent of the persecution
under Antiochus Epiphanes. R. H. Charles attempted to resolve this anomaly by
re-arranging the chapters so that 8-9 stood before 5-6. This proposal is unacceptable
since the logic of the book demands that the divine intervention in chapter
10 should follow directly on the most sever persecution and especially on the
episode of Taxo and his sons. The specificity of the account of the persecution
in chapter 8 suggests that this is an account of the author's time, rather than
a stereotyped eschatological scenario. In this case we must assume that chapters
5-6 were inserted to update the book. The account of the persecution then becomes
an eschatological scenario in the revised document. Support for the theory of
a second redaction can be found in 10:8 where the phrase 'the wings of the eagle'
is an addition, and may allude to the pulling down of the golden eagle over
the temple gate shortly before the campaign of Varus (Josephus, Ant. XVII.6.3
(155-7))." (Outside the Old Testament, p. 148)