Bible Review 14:3, June 1998

Why Moses Could Not Enter The Promised Land

By William H.C. Propp

Why was Moses condemned to die in the wilderness?

Perhaps the historical Moses simply expired before reaching the Promised Land and was buried in Transjordan in a now-forgotten grave (Deuteronomy 34:6). But the Torah—the Hebrew name for the five books of Moses—seems to stress that Moses did not just die of old age. Whatever the exact meaning of “his eye had not dimmed, nor had his moisture fled” (Deuteronomy 34:7), it is clear that even at age 120 Moses retained considerable vigor.

The biblical authors are at pains to justify Moses’ exclusion from Canaan, viewing it as punishment. Notice the plural: biblical authors. Veteran BR readers know that modern scholarship detects in the Torah multiple literary strata, composed in different social and historic situations and joined together in stages.1 Much 19th- and 20th-century biblical research has focused on isolating these sources and listening to the dialogue or debate among them.

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