The Assumption of Moses

In an earlier post, Theologician questioned Richard Carrier's use of the so-called Assumption of Moses as apparently referenced by Clement, to advocate his "two body" theory. Theologician correctly notes that although Mr. Carrier claims that it refers to Moses having "two bodies," the actual excerpt from Clement only refers to one body. Moses' body is seen on earth while one person, gifted with spiritual sight, sees Moses ascending into heaven. As Theologician notes, this simply confirms what we already know, many Jews believed that the spirit survived death and awaited the resurrection of the body in an intermediate spiritual state.

Stephen Carr, however, apparently believes that the Assumption of Moses must be referring to two bodies, despite the fact that only one body is mentioned. This has raised the question of just what is the Assumption of Moses and what did it say about Moses' body. Unfortunately, the version of the Assumption of Moses, if that is what Clement used for this reference, is unknown to us.

The Assumption of Moses is related to the Testament of Moses, with the former likely being a revised version of the latter. In any event, there is no evidence at all that either the Assumption of Moses or the Testament of Moses included Moses' body ascending into heaven. In fact, it is clear that both versions include an elaborate story of the conflict of Satan and Michael over the dead body of Moses. Jude 9 recounts this, as well as other writings. See, e.g., The Slavonic Life of Moses 16, Psuedu-Oecumenius, In Jud. 9, Origen, De Princ. 3:2:1. Michael was sent to ensure Moses received an honorable burial and Satan sought to block him. Michael, appealing to God, prevailed and ensured Moses' honorable burial.

The account in Clement's Somata is therefore best understood as a reference to the soul of Moses ascending into heaven while his body remained on earth. This would fall into place next to similar, related Jewish literature that narrates the burial of the man of God and the soul's trip into heaven.

In the Testament of Job:

And after this he came He who sitteth upon the great chariot and kissed Job, while his three daughters looked on, but the others saw it not. And He took the soul of Job and He soared upward, taking her (the soul) by the arm and carrying her upon the chariot, and He went towards the East. His body, however, was brought to the grave while the three daughters marched ahead, having put on their girdles and singing hymns in praise of God.

In the Testament of Abraham:

And immediately the archangel Michael came with a multitude of angels and took up his precious soul in his hands in a divinely woven linen cloth, and they tended the body of the just Abraham with divine ointments and perfumes until the third day after his death, and buried him in the land of promise, the oak of Mamre, but the angels received his precious soul, and ascended into heaven, singing the hymn of "thrice holy" to the Lord the God of all, and they set it there to worship the God and Father.

The Testament of Isaac also narrates the separation of Isaac's body from his soul and the latter's ascension into heaven accompanied by angels.

As Richard J. Baukham states, "the combination of the burial of the body and the assumption of the soul is paralleled in other Hellenistic Jewish testaments: T. Job, T. Abr. (citing J.D. Purvis, 'Samaritan Traditions on the Death of Moses," in Studies of the New Testament 1973)." Jude, 2 Peter, page 76. Note especially the similarities with the Testament of Abraham, where the soul of Abraham "ascended" into heaven while Michael attended to the body and its burial. Note too that Origen calls the "Assumption of Moses" the "Ascension of Moses."

It seems pretty clear, therefore, that the Assumption of Moses, which is most likely a modified version of the Testament of Moses, included a dispute over the body of Moses, that the body received an honorable burial, and that Clement knew of a version that also narrated the assumption of Moses' soul into heaven, just as was narrated in the Testaments of Job, Abraham, and Isaac.


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