It has been believed that Moses was the one who wrote the Pentateuch. “Most Christians have been taught in Sunday School that Moses wrote the first five books.” (http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/moses.html) For the most part this is largely true. However, there is a potentially major hole in this thought when it comes to Deuteronomy 34 because it describes Moses’ death and burial. So that leads me to the burning question: Who exactly wrote Deuteronomy 34?
Most of Deuteronomy “is comprised of end of life speeches” by Moses that he could have transcribed and given to the priests of Israel. (http://www.gotquestions.org/Moses-Deuteronomy.html) However, it seems impossible for a dead person to write the account of his own death. There are a few theories floating around as to who wrote the account of Moses’ death.
The most plausible theory is that Joshua wrote chapter 34. There is very solid evidence to back this up as well. In Deuteronomy 31:3, Moses states that God told him, “The Lord your God himself will go over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, so that you shall dispossess them, and Joshua will go over at your head, as the Lord has spoken.” (Literary Study Bible) Joshua had also been Moses’ servant for sometime. Dating back to the time of Exodus, Joshua had been a loyal servant to Moses. He stayed by Moses’ side for much of this time. Joshua had ‘A servant’s heart.’ (http://www.evanwiggs.com/articles/joshua.html) From the time of Exodus to Moses’ death in Deuteronomy 34, Joshua stayed at his side as his servant. Given the fact that Joshua spent so much time with Moses, and the fact that he became the successor to Moses over the Israelites, it would make sense that Joshua would be the one to write the account of Moses’ death. After all, he would have the most knowledge about Moses’ life and probably would have been there for the arrangements.
Another piece of evidence that Joshua wrote Deuteronomy 34 is in the chapter itself. The chapter states that, “Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him.. ” This leads to most ‘conservative’ biblical scholars to believe that “Joshua was inspired to write the closing event of his life.” (http://www.firstcenturychristian.com/answers/answers_181.htm)
So this must mean that Joshua wrote chapter 34, right?
There are other theories floating around. These theories include “Ezra as the author of Deuteronomy 34 or the seventy elders who served under Moses.” (http://www.gotquestions.org/Moses-Deuteronomy.html) However, after a couple of hours of research, I could find absolutely no evidence of Ezra being a candidate so we can go ahead and scrap that idea. It was a similar story with the seventy elders. While the elders would have been much more possible candidates, but a lack of evidence shoots that one down too.
However, we cannot definitively say that Joshua wrote Deuteronomy 34 as well. While there is a very strong possibility that Joshua was the author of the final chapter, the only evidence we can find is inferences by scholars in the text, but nothing physical. Therefore, we may never know the actual identity of the author of chapter 34, we can at least have a strong potential candidate.