Moses Question: Dt 18 and 34: Dilemma for Judaism?

Dt 34:10 says “And there has not arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face…” That puts some verses back in Dt 18 in greater highlight. Dt 18:15 “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren.” And, Dt 18:22 “…when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the LORD has not spoken, the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, and you need not be afraid of him.” (RSV-2CE).

It seems that 34:10 ought to create a dilemma in the Old Testament [Hebrew Scriptures], because no one “like Moses” ever came along. Even the Samaritan woman at the well asks Jesus if he is “the” prophet. It seems that Judaism should not have taken Moses seriously, even today, because no one has arisen in Judaism who is “like Moses.” It seems that Dt sets up Moses for failure, because it’s going to be a long time before that prophecy will be fulfilled in Jesus Christ, if even the Jews had taken Jesus seriously. It seems that if Moses had not died in Dt 34, then he should have been unemployed until his prophecy was fulfilled. 18:22 says not just to not fear the prophecy, but to not fear even the prophet himself—everything that he has said, I presume.

So, my question is, in Judaism, why is Moses taken seriously, if Judaism does not reckon that his prophecy has been fulfilled? If a prophet is given an infinite amount of time for his prophecy to be fulfilled, then what is the meaning of the “command” in the law, that that prophet not be taken seriously?

Has Moses’ prophecy been so generously interpreted, that it virtually never has to be taken seriously? If one has to give Moses an eternity of time for his prophecy to be fulfilled, why does any of the Mosaic Law – the Torah – have to be adhered to, until it is shown to have been fulfilled?

Why would the author of Dt 34 go out of his way to point out that Moses’ prophecy has not been fulfilled, unless to discredit him? It doesn’t seem to Moses’ credit that a big prophecy has been unfulfilled. To an outsider, it seems ironic that on a major feast of Judaism – Simchat Torah – it would seem to be a very uncomfortable fact to point out, that a major prophecy of the Torah has been unfulfilled.

That’s an awful lot of spin on the word ‘like’.

Ooops, teach me to read the whole post - Simchat Torah is the autumn, after the whole Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot marathon.

The Jewish response is that the context of the whole passage of Deuteronomy 18: 9-22 sets up a marked distinction between the mission and office of prophecy vs. divination, soothsaying, lucky charms, magic spells, and so on, practiced by pagan cultures. Not only does the Book of Deuteronomy consist of Moses’ bidding farewell to his people and bolstering their motivation to carry on after his demise, but it also serves to recapitulate the prior books of the Torah, in which clear guidelines are provided to the Jews regarding their moral course of behavior as well as what they can expect from others, including the prophets. The mission of the prophet is not so much to foretell the future or perform miracles, as it was according to pagan practices, but rather to relate the Word of G-d to the people, the latter of whom may not always be so eager to hear their admonitions. Yet prophets are not merely confined to doom and gloom, as Isaiah well illustrates in some of his more encouraging words of prophecy. There would be about 50 prophets who follow Moses. All of them can be likened to him since they are all true rather than false prophets, who fulfill their office in the appropriate manner.

I cannot grasp what you exactly mean. Moses have fulfilled His job and there is no doubt. There have been prophets before Moses so there should be prophets after Him but that does not mean that the Torah did not fulfilled. Moses had seen the manifestation of God over a mountain so He knew God face to face.

The circumstances on the world get change. And also by the time people forgot or gave less importance to revelation. So there should be need for new prophets to renew revelation. Jesus and Muhammed did that exactly. The Quran has never been changed so there is no need for any new prophet. Both Jesus and Muhammed were brethren of Moses.

In the context of the Deuteronomistic history, the prophet “like Moses” (filling the role of both judge and prophet) is Samuel.

Bravo to meltzerboy’s response. I would add that a prophet can relate future events as well, and one who prophesizes something definite and positive in the future in God’s name, which does not come to pass, has been conclusively proven as a false prophet and may not be listened to any more, which excludes soothsayers etc, who are just tricksters. By the way, a negative prediction not coming true is not a problem because if the nation repents then God does not have to bring it to fruition.

Also if you look at the verse in Dt 34 in context, it means that no prophet like Moses on his level where he spoke to God “face to face” will ever arise again. This does not contradict the earlier verse that states that someone who is a true prophet–just like Moses is a true prophet–will arise.

Lastly, see Numbers 12:6-8 (with a good translation, I just saw one that translates בְחִידֹת in verse 8 as “in dark speeches” instead of “in riddles”… weird), where God clearly sets out the distinction between Moses and every other true prophet, who only gets prophecy in a dream-like state.

Thank you all for the responses so far. the Jewish commentaries seem to indicate that the books of the Torah were complete (finalized) after the Babylonian exile, there the assessment in Dt 34 might draw a line in the sand meaning between Moses and the time of the writing of Dt 34.

It would seem unnecessary for Moses to prophecy about a future prophet (singular) like him . So, within Judaism, is this prophecy fulfilled or unfulfilled, and if so, by whom?

I don’t have the text in front of me, but it seems that Dt 18 and 34 seem to lay down the criteria for what “like me” is. None of the prophets whose writings follow in the Hebrew canon seem to measure up to Moses.

Now, of course, the New Testament distinctly calls Jesus this prophet. not only by what he said (giving a new law in the sermon on the mount, for example) but by his works.

(Regrettably, I don’t know enough how the prophet Mohammed meets the criteria that are established in Dt, with all respect to Muslim believers. My original question was explicitly directed to those believers in Judaism )

In Dt 18, God prophecies through Moses that a prophet like him would arise, and Dt 34 says that no such prophet arose. Seems to be a problem there, to me. As I suggested in the op, how long do you have to wait for a prophecy to be fulfilled? Does that put the Torah and all the Hebrew Scriptures on the shelf to wait until someone notices that the prophecy has been fulfilled?

No one has suggested that the statement in Dt 34 is simply hyperbole, as part of a loving eulogy of Moses.

It seems you are correct in stating that there is definitely a line between what Moses stated in chapter 18 and what came to be added to the text after his death and, according to some scholars, even after the return from Babylon.

Also Catholic teaching states that there are at least two fulfillments of Deuteronomy 18:15 which precede New Testament times. For instance, this verse can be seen to be fulfilled in Joshua. He was a prophet “like” Moses in that God communicated to him his will, and through Joshua the Lord commanded his people and demanded obedience as they entered the Promise Land as he had done through Moses.—See Deuteronomy 34:9 and Joshua 1:1-9 (note in particular verse 5).

The second is what is mentioned in the footnote to the New American Bible Revised Edition at this verse: “From the context (opposition to the practices described in vv. 10–11) it seems that Moses is referring in general to all the true prophets who were to succeed him. This passage came to be understood in a quasi-Messianic sense in the New Testament (Mt 17:5; Jn 6:14; 7:40; Acts 3:22; 7:37).”

The text of Deuteronomy 34 is not part of Moses’ instruction found in chapter 18 because of the simple fact that Moses was dead at the time of its composition. Where chapter 18 has Moses’ instruction regarding the prophets of the Lord that would follow him, chapter 34 eulogizes Moses (some scholars believe at the hand of Joshua). The contents of the final chapter of Deuteronomy reflect upon how the Israelites regarded Moses at the time of the book’s compilation (especially at time of the final chapter’s composition) and as such cannot be made out to be part of the statement made from the mouth of Moses recorded at chapter 18.

While recognizing the vast differences caused by the issue of the identity of the Messiah, Catholics are to follow the Magisterium’s interpretation of Scripture, namely that it stood valid as the written and inspired revelation of God even before the time of Christ. The Catholic Church believes that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled what was already a collection of true and reliable oracles in the Hebrew Scriptures and rejects all views that any yet-to-be-fulfilled texts somehow invalidate the reality that the Hebrew Tanakh is from God. It also teaches that the current beliefs of Jews regarding the Scriptures can be valid ways of interpreting texts as even in the hands of the Jews (which the Church regards as God’s people, still chosen and beloved) it remains the inspired Word of God even in the absence of the New Testament.

For more information on this see “The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible,” by the Pontifical Biblical Commission. Being that this was written in 2002 there are still many Catholics who are unaware that a significant change has occurred in how the Magisterium interprets the Jewish texts. Though the conclusion is the same regarding the belief of the Church in Christ, it rejects the belief that past and current Jewish interpretation are incompatible, useless or unimportant to Catholic theology about the identity of the Messiah and any other Biblical subject. Catholic exegetes are no longer allowed to condemn them or ignore them as if they do not apply or has been the custom of some in the past.

In Dt 18, God prophecies through Moses that a prophet like him would arise, and Dt 34 says that no such prophet arose. Seems to be a problem there, to me.

I addressed this before. You asked how the Jews interpret this passage and I answered you. To be specific, Dt 34 actually enunciates one of the 13 cardinal principles of the Jewish faith as codified by Maimonides (12th century), which is that no prophet after Moses is his equal and no other prophet has the stature to change any law, whatsoever. This is due to Moses’ distinction as speaking with God “face to face”. Dt 18 is mentioning regular prophets.

In answer to your other question, it is obvious in Judaism that prophecies do not have a “time limit” unless stated explicitly in Scripture, for example, the coming of the Messiah has not happened yet but the prophecy is still true.

Lastly, the speculation that the text of the 5 Books of Moses was edited and finalized post-Bablyonian-Exile is widely discussed in academic Bible scholarship but completely rejected by orthodox Jewish theology - which is where I’m coming from.

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