I. The Secret of the Twelve
Ibn Ezra's mention of the Secret of the Twelve is prompted by Devarim 1:1, which says that Moshe was on the "other side of the Yarden," seemingly implying that the narrator of this statement is on the side to which Moshe did not cross.
Ibn Ezra does not explicitly treat this problem raised in the text in his comment to 1:1, but rather in his next comment, on Devarim 1:2. It is at the end of that comment that Ibn Ezra's statement about sod ha-sheneim 'asar, the Secret of the Twelve, appears. However, his comments on Dev. 1:1-4 form a larger argument about the context of eleh ha-devarim asher dibber Moshe, in which he works out the chronological and geographical details of the initial dibbur, and its retelling. As such, the Secret of the Twelve is mentioned in service of explaining the meaning of "the other side of the the Yarden" -- and, more broadly, the process of Moshe's transmission of Torah.
In order to understand why the text says be-ever la-yarden (Devarim 1:1 [and also Devarim 1:5]), Ibn Ezra says, and become aware of the truth, one must understand the the Secret of the Twelve - the secret pertaining to the last twelve pesuqim of Sefer Devarim (Devarim 34:1-12), as well as four other pesuqim in the Torah, enumerated here (in the following order):
- Devarim 31:9
- Bereshit 12:6
- Bereshit 22:14
- Devarim 3:11
1. Devarim 31:9
Here there is explicit reference to Moshe writing and transmitting the Torah, but Ibn Ezra does not deal with it ad loc.
2. Bereshit 12:6
Ibn Ezra then references Bereshit 12:6, which contains a chronologically problematic reference to location of the Canaanites - saying that the Canaanites "were then in the land" sounds like the verse is being written after they are no longer there. Note Ibn Ezra's response ad loc.: he suggests a solution, but then says that if it is not so, there is a "great secret" here.
3. Bereshit 22:14
The next direct reference Ibn Ezra makes is to Bereshit 22:14, which includes a chronologically problematic statement about Avraham's naming of the future site of the Temple, which he would not have known (it is explained only later in the text, in Parashat Devarim). Here, Ibn Ezra addresses the latter issue ad loc.
4. Devarim 3:14
The final pasuq mentioned by Ibn Ezra in his statement on the Twelve is Devarim 3:11, which makes a chronologically problematic statement about Og, King of Bashan. Moshe had defeated Og at the end of the wilderness years, but this statement is about his massively-proportioned bed, found in the city of Rabbah in Amon, which would not be conquered until the time of David. Ibn Ezra does not deal with this problem ad loc.
II. Ibn Ezra on the Last Twelve Verses of the Torah
The indication that "the twelve" of the Secret of the Twelve refers to the last twelve pesuqim of Sefer Devarim (the entirety of what we now call pereq 34) derives from Ibn Ezra's comment on Dev. 34:1. In this, he follows but extends the Gemara, which suggests that the last eight verses (Dev. 34:5-12 were not written by Moshe (see below, Part III).
Other of Ibn Ezra's comments on Deverim 34 also pertain to authorship:
III. The locus classicus of rabbinic discussion of Mosaic authorship: BT Bava Batra 14b-15a (excerpted)
Another important rabbinic statement about the revelatory status of the Torah is found in a beraita cited in BT Sandhedrin 99a.
Cf. Rambam's Eighth Principle of Faith, from the Siraj (Commentary on the Mishnah), Introduction to Sanhedrin 10 (but note that this postdates Ibn Ezra - and that it requires contextualizing with regards to Rambam's statements elsewhere in his works).
.Rambam, Introduction to Pereq Heleq, Ibn Tibbon trans
והיסוד השמיני הוא תורה מן השמים. והוא, שנאמין שכל התורה הזו הנמצאת בידינו היום הזה היא התורה שניתנה למשה, ושהיא כולה מפי הגבורה, כלומר שהגיעה עליו כולה מאת ה’ הגעה שקורים אותה על דרך ההשאלה דבור, ואין יודע איכות אותה ההגעה אלא הוא עליו השלום אשר הגיעה אליו, ושהוא במעלת לבלר שקורין לפניו והוא כותב כולה תאריכיה וספוריה ומצותיה, וכך נקרא מחוקק. ואין הבדל בין ובני חם כוש ומצרים ופוט וכנען, ושם אשתו מהיטבאל בת מטרד, או אנכי ה’, ושמע ישראל ה’ אלקינו ה’ אחד, הכל מפי הגבורה והכל תורת ה’ תמימה טהורה קדושה אמת… כל אות שבה יש בה חכמות ונפלאות למי שהבינו ה’…
IV. Ibn Ezra's Criticism of Yitzhaqi on Bereshit 36:31
Bereshit 36:31 presents a chronological challenge similar to the pesuqim that Ibn Ezra points out in his comment to Devarim 1:2; however, in Ber. 36:31 Ibn Ezra harmonizes the apparent discrepancy in his reading of the text. Moreover, Ibn Ezra excoriates one Yitzhaqi (not to be confused with Rashi) for reading it as having been written at a later time (post-Mosaic). Elsewhere in his commentary, Ibn Ezra is harshly critical of this Yitzhaqi, about whose identity there is not scholarly consensus.
This apparent methodological inconsistently on Ibn Ezra's part is addressed by Yosef ben Eliezer Tov-'Elem (Bonfils) in his 14th-century supercommentary, Tzafnat Pa'ane'ah (ad loc., s.v. וספרו ראוי להשרף):
צפנת פענח, בראשית ל"ו:ל"א
וספרו ראוי להשרף – פירוש, לפי דעתי אמר ככה בעבור כי אם נכתבה בימי יהושפט הנה הוספו על התורה פרשה שלימה, והתורה אמרה “לא תוסיף עליו (דברים ד' ב'). ואם יטעון טוען, הלא ר’ אברהם בעצמו רמז בתחלת ספר אלה הדברים (דברים א' ב') שהוסיפו הנביאים האחרונים מלות גם פסוקים בתורה, התשובה: כי המוסיף מלה או פסוק לפרש מה שכתב משה, להוסיף בו ביאור, אין זה דומה למוסיף פרשה שלימה, כי מלה או פסוק הוא פירוש, אבל פרשה שלמה היא תוספת.
V. Excersus: Spinoza's Reading of Ibn Ezra's "Secret of the Twelve"
Spinoza reads Ibn Ezra's Secret of the Twelve as Ibn Ezra's way of hinting that the entire Torah is not of Mosaic authorship. As well as the verses pointed out in Ibn Ezra to Devarim 1:2, which Spinoza cites verbatim and explicates, Spinoza's understanding of Ibn Ezra's position hinges upon his the idea that "the twelve" of Ibn Ezra's comment pertains to the twelve stones mentioned in Devarim 27:3, which, per the Miqra', had some or all of the Torah written on them (cf. Ramban and Sa'adyah, who maintains that only the 613 mitzvot were recorded on these stones).
Spinoza, Tractatus theologico-politicus, ch. 8
Ut ea autem ordine ostendam, a praejudiciis circa veros Scriptores Sacrorum Librorum incipiam, et primò de scriptore Pentateuchi: quem fere omnes Mosen esse crediderunt, imo adeò pertinaciter defenderunt Pharisaei, ut eum haereticum habuerint, qui aliud visus est sentire, et hac de causa Aben Hezra, liberioris ingenii Vir, et non mediocris eruditionis, et qui primus omnium, quos legi, hoc praejudicium animadvertit, non ausus est mentem suam apertè explicare, sed rem obscurioribus verbis tantum indicare, quae ego hîc clariora reddere non verebor, remque ipsam evidenter ostendere, ...
Notat II., quod totus liber Mosis descriptus fuerit admodum diserte in solo ambitu unius arae (vide Deuter. cap. 27 et Josuae cap. 8 v. 37 etc.), quae ex Rabinorum relatione duodecim tantum lapidibus constabat ; ex quo sequitur librum Mosis longè minoris fuisse molis, quam Pentateuchon : Hoc, inquam, puto authorem hunc significare voluisse per mysterium duodecim ; nisi forte intellexit duodecim illas maledictiones, quae in praedicto cap. Deut. habentur, quas fortasse credidit non fuisse in libro legis descriptas, idque propterea, quod Moses praeter descriptionem legis Levitas insuper recitare illas maledictiones jubet, ut populum jurejurando ad leges descriptas observandum adstringerent. Vel forte ultimum caput Deuteronomii de morte Mosis significare voluit, quod caput duodecim versibus constat. Sed haec et quae praeterea alii hariolantur, non est opus curiosus hîc examinare. ...
His Aben Hezrae sententiam explicuimus, ut et loca Pentateuchi, quae ad eandem confirmandam adfert. Verum enimvero nec omnia, nec praecipua notavit, plura enim in hisce libris et majoris momenti notanda supersunt.
Trans. Samuel Shirley (Brill, 2001)
To treat the matter in logical order, I shall first deal with misconceptions regarding the true authorship of the Sacred Books, beginning with the Pentateuch. The author is almost universally believed to be Moses, a view so obstinantely defended by the Pharisees that they have regarded any other view as heresy. It was for this reason that Ibn Ezra, a man of enlightened mind and considerable learning, who was the first, as far as I know, to call attention to the misconception, did not venture to explain his meaning openly, and expressed himself somewhat obscurely in words which I shall here not hesitate to elucidate, making his meaning quite plain. ...
The Book of Moses was inscribed in its entirety on no more than the circumference of a single altar (Deut. ch. 27 and Joshua ch. 8 v. 30 etc.), and this altar, according to the Rabbis, consisted of only twelve stones. From this it follows that the Book of Moses must have required far less space than the Pentateuch. This, I say, is what our author meant by his reference to "the mystery of the twelve," unless he was referring to the twelve curses in the aforementioned chapter of Deuteronomy. Perhaps he believed these could not have been contained in Moses' Book of the Law, so as to bind the people by oath to observe the recited laws. Or again he may have wished to draw attention to the last chapter of Deuteronomy concerning the death of Moses, a chapter consisting of twelve verses. But there is no need here to give closer scrutiny to these and other conjectures. ...
We have now set forth the view of ibn Ezra, and the passages of the Pentateuch which he cites in support. Yet he did not call attention to all such passages, nor even the principal ones, for there are many other passages in these books, and of great significance, which have yet to be cited."
The verses in question, Devarim 27:2-3
Ibn Ezra does not, however, offer his thoughts about the text recorded on the stones ad. loc.
But cf. Ramban's statement about the text written on the twelve stones (ad. loc.; note: postdates Ibn Ezra):