Moses, Assumption of

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Title of the incomplete text of an apocryphal writing, which consists, largely, of an address, in the form of a prophecy, by Moses to his successor, Joshua. The substance of the prophecy concerns the future fate of Israel and the End of Days. Only scant attention is paid to the epochs of the Judges and Kings, the onslaught of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Exile, and to the return of the exiles. However, with discussion of the Hasmonean period the story becomes considerably more detailed.

The defiling of the altar in the temple is described in detail, i.e., blemished offerings which were presented by slaves, the offspring of slaves, rather than by priests (5:4). It is unclear whether this is a specific reference to John Hyrcanus (cf. Jos., Ant. 13:288–92). Unmistakable, however, is the allusion to the Hasmoneans in the mention of the reunion of the kingdom with the priesthood (6:1). The subsequent cruel rule of "an insolent king… who will not be of the race of the priests" (6:2) is depicted in detail, and its length (34 years) is specified (6:6). The prophecy continues: "And he shall beget children (who) succeeding him shall rule for shorter periods" (6:7); cohorts will assault and a powerful king of the west will conquer the country (6:8). It is at this point that the prophecy of political events ends, and 7:1 reads: "And when this is done the times shall be ended…" The succeeding sequence describes: the hypocrisy of the ruling class; the chaos of the persecutions (in chap. 8, which contains traces of the era of Domitian, although this may be a later interpolation); the appearance of a Levite, Taxo, who with his seven sons prefers death to active resistance (9); and a poetic representation of the intervention of God and of the victory of Israel over "the eagle" (an obvious reference to Rome). The text ends, abruptly, with the reply of Joshua (11), and with the final answer of Moses.

The work was discovered as a palimpsest in the Ambrosiana library in Milan by M. Ceriani, the Italian orientalist, and first published in 1861. The present Latin version of the text has remained untouched by Christian annotators. It is based upon a Greek original, although whether the first version was in Hebrew or in Aramaic is unknown. The contents of chapter one strongly suggest that the work originated in the first century, although some details in the following chapters may indicate another date (c. 130). It is probable that "the insolent king" referred to is Herod the Great, the length of whose reign may have corresponded to the 34 years mentioned in the text (6:6). It is difficult to agree with opinions which maintain that the passage refers to Alexander Yannai and Pompey and that the reign of 34 years was inserted later. If the Herodian interpretation is correct, then the work was composed after the campaign of *Quintilus Varus in 4 b.c.e. (perhaps referred to in 6:8), i.e., during the rule of Herod's sons. Allusions in the text which refer to events after that period are obscure. A study by J. Licht (see bibl.) proposes a Hasmonean date for the basic elements of the work, together with a reworking and adaptation by a post-Herodian editor. The present title of the manuscript is based on a tradition of the Church Fathers that a work of this name existed in ancient times. Clement of Alexandria, Didymus, and Origen, for example, claimed that the mention of the struggle between the archangel Michael and Satan for the body of Moses, in Jude 5:9, is based upon a work entitled the Assumptio or Ascensio Moysis (Mosis). However, although the lost sections of the work probably contained descriptions of the death of Moses and his ascent to heaven, this story is not mentioned in the portion of the text quoted by Gelasius of Cyzicus in his "History of the Council of Nicaea" as being taken from the ʾΑνάληψις Μωυσέως ("The Ascension of Moses"). Neither is any reference made to the ascent of Moses in the Ceriani fragment. Indeed a more appropriate title for the extant palimpsest would appear to be The Testament of Moses (which is also mentioned as a distinct work in ancient Church documents); especially in light of the fact that reference is made in the present text (1:10) to Deuteronomy 31:7–8. The words "Liber Profetiae Moysis" in the text itself (1:5) could, however, indicate that this may have been its original title. Whatever the case, the present version of the text is probably the result of an amalgamation between an original work, Testamentum Moses (or Liber Profetiae Moysis), and a later composition, the Assumptio Moysis.


E. Kautzsch, Apokryphen und Pseudepigraphen des Alten Testaments, 2 (1900), 311–31; Kamenetzki, in: Ha-Shilo'aḥ, 15 (1905), 38–50; Beer, in: Herzog-Hauck, 16 (1905); O. Holtzmann, Neutestamentliche Zeitgeschichte (19062), 301–3; Schuerer, Gesch, 3 (19094), 294–305; Charles, Apocrypha, 2 (1913), 407–24; Licht, in: jjs, 12 (1961), 95–105.

[Werner Michaelis]