The Israelites may not have known about Moses’ Torah until around 620 BCE


It appears that the Israelites knew nothing about Moses’ Torah before a book of the Torah was found in the Temple around 620 BCE, a story told in II Kings 22. Scholars contend that there are many indications in the biblical books that support this view. During the writing of my 35th book, “Who was the Biblical Prophet Samuel?” a book that Gefen Publishing House will publish later this year, in which I examined only the verses in the book Samuel, about 200 of them, that deal with Samuel, I found 31 supports for this view and seem to show that the author of Samuel my not have known about the books of Joshua and Judges.

  1. Like all the biblical books after the Pentateuch and before the time of King Josiah (649-609 BCE), no mention is made in Samuel of the Torah.
  2. This is especially troublesome in the book of Samuel. The prophet criticizes King Saul for two wrongs and makes them the basis for why Saul’s dynasty will cease, one of which was that he did not utterly destroy the tribe of Amalek.[1] As strongly as Samuel wanted to berate the king, why didn’t he say that Saul violated the Torah which requires the eradication of Amalek, and why in chapter 28 does he not tell the king he disobeyed the Torah law in Leviticus 20:27 and Deuteronomy 18:11 against using diviners?
  3. Even when the biblical books criticize the Israelites for improper behavior, neither the leaders of the people nor prophets mention that they violated the Torah. It was not until II Kings 22:8ff that scripture relates that a Sefer Torah, “book of the Torah,” was found.
  4. According to the Torah, only descendants of Aaron may function as priests in the temple and only members of the tribe of Levi may assist them.[2] The service of the Levites began at age 25 and ended at age 50.[3] This raises the question: What function was Samuel supposed to perform in the temple since the book of Samuel seems to say he was of the tribe of Ephraim and not Levi and since he was a child, below age 25?
  5. Elkanah gave his wife Hannah manah achat apayim, which literally means “a double portion.” Leviticus 7:15 mandates that people offering sacrifices must eat it on the day of the sacrifice and not leave any of it until morning.[4] If Hannah received so much food, she could not have consumed it in the one day, and, as Ehrlich argues, this would violate Torah law. Accordingly, the Targum, Rashi, Radak, and others explain the words to mean “a choice part of the sacrificial meat.”
  6. When Elkanah gave his beloved wife Hannah a double portion, he ignored the clear lesson that the Torah highlights about treating one wife or one son better than another. Jacob treated Rachel and Joseph better than his other wives and sons with the result that there was strife between Leah and Rachel, just as between Peninnah and Hannah, and Jacob’s sons teamed up to kill Joseph, which ended with the Israelites being enslaved in Egypt.[5]
  7. Since the Torah in Numbers 30:3-17 allowed Elkanah to annul his wife’s vow to give up her son to the temple, why didn’t he do so? Did he not know about the Torah law? Did he not do so because Hannah felt so strongly that she should give up her son? If so, why did she act so unreasonably – the Torah allowed her to keep Samuel home?
  8. Why does chapter 1 indicate that Elkanah’s family only visited the temple annually when the Torah demands three visits a year?
  9. Although the ish elohim[6] goes into some detail in delineating the wrongs committed by Eli’s sons in chapter 2, why didn’t he mention that they violated the law of the Torah regarding sacrifices?
  10. Verse 2:18 indicates that Samuel wore a linen ephod contrary to Torah law that only the high priest can wear the ephod.[7] This problem reappears in II Samuel 6:14 which states that King David donned an ephod.
  11. Ehrlich contended that 2:27 and 28 are problem verses because contrary to the words of the ish elohim, God did not appear to Moses’ brother Aaron in Egypt and did not chose him there to be a priest and wear an ephod and allow him to eat parts of the sacrifices. In fact, according to Ehrlich, God never spoke to Aaron until after the erection of the tabernacle; all prior communications to Aaron where transmitted to him through Moses.
  12. Verse 3:3 describes Samuel sleeping “in the temple of the Lord where the ark of God was.” The rabbis pointed out that this was not allowed and amended the text.[8] The Aramaic translation, called Targum, for instance, states that he slept in the chamber of the Levites, and Gersonides wrote that he slept in an adjacent room, both saying what is contrary to the plain reading of Samuel 3:3.
  13. In 4:8 the Philistines heard that the ark was brought into the Israelite camp which they had planned to attack. Thinking the Israelites had many gods, they wailed: “Woe is us! Who will deliver us from the hand of the mighty gods? These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness.” The mistaken notion of the Philistines that the Israelites were polytheists aside, is it possible that the author of Samuel did not know that the plagues were inflicted in Egypt not in the wilderness? This bothered the translators of the Septuagint and the Aramaic Peshitta who changed the text to “and in the desert.” It also bothered traditional commentators. Rashi and Altschuler, for example, explain that “desert” means the Red Sea where God destroyed the Egyptian army.
  14. Chapter 6:14 describes the Israelites celebrating the return of the ark that had been captured by the Philistines by, among other things, sacrificing female cows to God. This is a violation of Torah law in Leviticus 1:10. The problem reoccurs in 7:9 when Samuel offers a female as an offering. The Babylonian Talmud Avoda Zara 24b states this was an exigent circumstance, which Ehrlich mocks saying the rabbis come up with this solution whenever such a problem arises; there certainly wasn’t an emergency here, the people were celebrating and did not have to make the offering.
  15. 6:14, where the people offer a sacrifice violates the law of Deuteronomy 12:10 which restricts sacrifices to “the place which the Lord your God shall choose.” The problem also exists in 7:17 where Samuel builds an altar in Ramah. The Talmud explains that after the destruction of Shiloh, when there was no longer a central sanctuary, sacrifices could be brought anywhere. There are several problems with this proposed solution. (1) There is no statement in the Torah that God ever chose Shiloh, and the Deuteronomy verse may mean that the Torah prefers one central location. If so, with the destruction of Shiloh, the people should have selected another central location and not allowed sacrifices everywhere. (2) There are many instances in scripture where people brought sacrifices outside of Shiloh or a central sanctuary, which seems to indicate that the Israelites offered sacrifices at will whenever and wherever they wanted to do so. Examples are the sacrifices of Gideon and the prophet Elijah.[9]
  16. In 6:19, God “smote the men of Beth-shemesh because they looked at the ark of the Lord.” Over fifty thousand men were killed. Since looking at the ark is not prohibited, especially in this situation where it had just been returned to the Israelites, Kimchi suggest that, contrary to what is stated, the Israelites did something more, such as opening the ark to see its contents or treating it disrespectfully. Chapter 6 is also in conflict with II Samuel 6:6 where one man touched the ark and God killed him and no one else. In that section, the Israelites brought up the ark under the direction of King David and, contrary to the mandate of Numbers 3:31, 7:9, which states that the ark can only be moved on the shoulders of Levites, the ark was also driven in a cart.[10]
  17. The ark was placed with Eleazar for twenty years after its return from the Philistines,[11] but there is no indication that Eleazar was a priest or a Levite.[12]
  18. In 7:3, Samuel tells the people that they lost the war with the Philistines because of idol worship, and the way to secure divine aid in the future is to stop worshipping foreign gods and direct their hearts to God and serve him only. The Israelites did as Samuel instructed and were able to subdue the Philistines. The question arises again, if the Torah existed during the time of Samuel, why didn’t he tell them to observe the Torah?
  19. In Samuel 8, the people demanded that Samuel appoint a king to rule over them. Samuel did not want to do it and only agreed when God told him to accept the people’s demand. Why didn’t the people and God say to Samuel that the Torah explicitly allows the appointment of a king in Deuteronomy 14? Also why didn’t Samuel know this and when he speaks about what a king will do, why doesn’t he include the items mentioned in Deuteronomy 14?
  20. Verse 9:9 states that a person who is called today navi, “prophet,” was previously called ro’eh, “seer.” The narrator seemingly knew nothing about the Torah. The facts are just the opposite. The term navi, “prophet,” appears eighteen times in the Pentateuch, while the two synonyms for “seer,” ro’eh and chozeh, never appear in the Pentateuch. In contrast, ro’eh is found twelve times in Samuel and chozeh
  21. The description of the location of Rachel’s tomb in 10:2 differs with the one in Genesis 35:16ff and 48:8 suggesting that the author of the book of Samuel was unfamiliar with the book of Genesis and the Pentateuch.
  22. Leviticus 20:27 states that mediums and spiritists should be killed. Deuteronomy 18:11 calls the two kinds of witches an abomination and states they should be driven out of the land.[13] Yet neither the Bible in verse 28:3 nor the witch in verse 28:9 state that the command is biblical, and say instead that it is a decree by Saul, as if neither the author of Samuel nor any character in the book, including Samuel knew about the existence of the Torah.
  23. The Urim is mentioned in Exodus 28:30, Numbers 27:21, Deuteronomy 33:8, as an instrument whereby the Israelites could communicate with God, but it does not appear in Joshua, Judges, and Samuel, except in 28:6.[14] This is a further indication that the author of these books did not know about the Torah. In fact, I Samuel 10:19–24 states that Saul was chosen as king by lots, 14:42 has King Saul using lots. Lots rather than the Pentateuchal Urim was the means of communication with God. Joshua used it in Joshua 7 to determine who was a guilty party, and Jonah’s guilt was established by frightened sailors in Jonah 1:7 by lots. The ancient Greeks also used lots, as seen in Odyssey 6:6, Plato’s Laws 5, 745, and other places.
  24. With all the significance placed upon the ark, that it was “the seat of God,” that God spoke to Moses from between the cherubim that covered it,[15] why wasn’t the Torah set inside of it during the post-Moses period; the Torah with the multitude of commands is certainly more significant than the close to a dozen commands in the Decalogue? Is it possible that the more significant Torah was not placed in the ark because it did not exist until it was found during the reign of King Josiah, as many scholars claim? Is it also possible that the current practice of placing Torah scrolls inside synagogue arks and setting a replica of the Decalogue outside its enclosure, confirms that it was only after the discovery of the Torah that Judaism felt that it must place the Torah in the sacred place?
  25. Some people may suppose that Deuteronomy 31:24-26 is opposite to what is stated above, for these verses say that Moses commanded the Levites to place “this Torah” on the “side” of the ark so that the people will be reminded when they see it that they will be punished if they abandon God. The words “this Torah,” stated twice, refers to the prior teaching that the people should not abandon God, for if they do so, they will be punished. The word “Torah” here, as in all other appearances in the Pentateuch, means “teaching,” a single teaching. Thus, the Torah was not placed inside the ark. Besides, the parchment was not placed in the ark, but on its side.
  26. Having mentioned Deuteronomy 31:24-26, we see another problem, the Pentateuch states the Torah, meaning the parchment warning about punishments if the people abandon God, why didn’t the prophets who berated the Israelites repeatedly that they will be punished for abandoning God, mention this “Torah” that the Pentateuch states was on the side of the ark?
  27. Verse 12:6 states that Moses and Aaron brought the Israelites out of Egypt. Strictly speaking, Aaron was not involved in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt. He was at best an assistant. In fact, God never speaks to him directly until he is high priest. Arguably, this is another indication that the author of Samuel was unfamiliar with the Pentateuch.[16]
  28. In both the story of Joshua trying to find out who caused the Israelite defeat[17] and Saul’s attempt to discover who violated his oath in chapter 14, a lottery was used to identify the culprit, but the final decision that he was the guilty party and be sentenced to death was based on confessions. Both stories may be in violation of Torah law that a person may not testify against himself.[18]
  29. According to a literal reading of chapter 14, Saul’s army returned from battle with cattle as booty and ate the cattle with the blood. This would be a violation of the prohibition in Leviticus 19:26 and Deuteronomy 18:10.
  30. Saul appears to have violated the Torah in 14:34, which allows sacrifices only during the day. But, the Babylonian Talmud[19] tries to justify Saul’s act by saying that the biblical rule only applies to a national altar or because the animals were not sacrifices.
  31. Samuel orders Saul to destroy the Amalek in chapter 15 but fails to mention that Moses and Joshua defeated the tribe, a story told in Exodus 17:8-16.

The book of Samuel also raises the question whether the author knew about the biblical books of Joshua and judges. It is possible that he did not because these two books were perhaps composed after the author of Samuel wrote his book, and the author relied on oral reports of the past that were sometimes contrary to what later appeared in Joshua and Judges. For example:

  1. Verse 12:8 states that Moses and Aaron brought the Israelites into Canaan. If taken literally, as Ehrlich does, this is contrary to what is stated in the Pentateuch. Moses and Aaron did not bring the Israelites into Canaan. It was Joshua, who is not mentioned in the chapter.
  2. Only four of the more than a dozen judges are identified in 12:11; Bedan is named but is not in the book of Judges, although tradition supposes that Bedan refers to Samson who was of the tribe of Dan, and Bedan is understood as Ben Dan, a member of (the tribe of) Dan.
  3. The Book of Samuel implies that there were many citizens of the tribe of Benjamin were alive during the days of Samuel which was not long after the civil war described at the end of the biblical book of Judges which states that all but 600 males were alive in the tribe of Benjamin and only 400 virgins in Jabesh-gilead. While the accounts in Judges were most likely exaggerated statements and many more people survived, as indicated in Samuel, it is also possible that the Samuel author did not know what is stated in the book of Judges.

The fact that most biblical books have no idea that the Pentateuch existed is not unique to the book of Samuel. I pointed out examples in all of my “Unusual Bible Interpretations” books, in Joshua, Judges, Amos, Hosea, Esther, and Ruth. Rabbi Evan Hoffman showed the problem in Ezekiel in his weekly “Thoughts on the Parashah” of April 9, 2016. He wrote:

“The discrepancies are many:  Ezekiel instructs the priests to wear only linen vestments when ministering in the Temple’s inner courtyard (44:17).  According to the Pentateuch, the priestly uniform was made partly out of wool (Exodus 28:5).  Ezekiel forbids priests to marry widows, with the exception of women widowed from priests (44:22).  The Torah permits priests to marry widows.  Only the High Priest is forbidden to marry a widow and is required to marry a virgin (Leviticus 21:7, 13-14).  Ezekiel instructs priests undergoing the process of ritual purification to wait an additional seven days before re-entering the Temple compound (44:26).  No such requirement appears in the Pentateuch.  Numbers 19:19 states, without any caveat, that a person is entirely pure after the sprinkling ritual, immersion, and nightfall on the close of the seventh day.  Ezekiel forbids priests to eat carrion or the flesh of torn beasts, possibly implying that non-priests are permitted to eat such meat (44:31).  The Torah, however, prohibits all Israelites from eating neveilah and tereifah (Exodus 22:30, Deuteronomy 14:21).  Ezekiel instructs the prince of the nation to sacrifice a bull on Rosh Chodesh Nisan as a means of cleansing the Sanctuary (45:18).  There is no precedent for this in the Torah.  Ezekiel mandates a repeat performance of that sacrifice on 7 Nisan, though according to the Septuagint the text should read “in the seventh month” (45:20).  Either way, no precedent exists in the Pentateuch for such a ritual.  Ezekiel’s version of the holiday sacrifices (45:22-25) differs considerably from the Musaf offerings recorded in Numbers 28-29.  Most notably, he requires the same number and type of sacrifices on each day of Sukkot as on the days of Passover.  The Torah, famously, requires a diminishing number of bulls as the Sukkot holiday progresses.  Ezekiel’s Sabbath offering consists of six lambs and one ram (46:5), while the Torah mandates only two lambs (Numbers 28:9).  Lastly, Ezekiel calls for the same ephah measure of meal to be offered irrespective of which type of animal is being sacrificed (46:7), whereas the Torah requires different sized portions of meal to be offered as a function of whether the sacrifice is a bull, ram, or lamb (Numbers 28:12-13).” Rabbi Hoffman explains that the talmudic rabbis attempted to explain this problem in Shabbat 13b, Hagigah 13a, Sifrei Deuteronomy 294, Kiddushin 78b, Menahot 45a, and other rabbinic sources, including Rashi who gave homiletical explanations for the differences.”



[1] Chapter 13 for the first, that he did not wait for him, and chapter 15 for the second about Amalek.

[2] Numbers 1:50-53; 3:6-9; 4:1-33; 18:21-24 and elsewhere. It is true that non-Levites, such as the Gibeonites of Joshua 9 performed menial acts for the temple, such as bringing water, but it is clear that Samuel was not sent to the temple to perform such acts.

[3] Numbers 4:3, 8:24-28.

[4] According to the Bible, the day began at day break and ended when the sun arose the next day. See Rashbam to Genesis 1:5.

[5] The command against treating the son of an unloved wife improperly is in Deuteronomy 21:15-17.

[6] “Man of God” or “great man” or esteemed man.”

[7] Exodus 28:6ff is understood to say that only the high priest wore the ephod.

[8] Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 78a and Tanchuma Leviticus 6:2

[9] See Babylonian Talmud Temurah 28b-29a, and Berachot 9b that discuss these sacrifices and say they were a necessary exception due to the exigencies of the time. See also Zevachim 106a, 112b, 119b; Avoda Zara 51b, Meilah 3b; Megilah 10a, and Berachot 4b. See also Encyclopedia Talmudit, volume 3, Yad Harav Herzog, 1973.

[10] No claim should be made that the Philistines also failed to observe the Torah law since they were not obligated to do so.

[11] 7:1 and 2.

[12] Olam Hatanakh.

[13] See also Leviticus 19:31 and 20:6.

[14] While the Torah states that the Urim will work and reveal God’s wishes, there is no indication that it was used in the post-Pentateuchal books, and in 28:6 it states that Saul received no information from it.

[15] Exodus 25.

[16] Both this and the next item are not very good proofs that the author of Samuel did not know about the Pentateuch. One can respond that verses 6 and 8 should not be taken literally.

[17] Joshua 7:19.

[18] See Aaron Kirschenbaum, “Self Incrimination in Jewish Law,” the Burning Bush Press, 1970, where the author adds II Samuel 4 and Judges 17:1-4. Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15, which require the testimony of two witness, can be construed to imply that self-incrimination cannot be used as evidence.

[19] Zevachim 120a.