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Authorship of the Pentateuch. Did Moses write the Books of Moses?

Unknown author

The traditional view is that Moses wrote the five books of the Pentateuch. However, in modern times many, if not the majority, of Bible scholars do not believe this. Before the 17th century very few people denied that Moses was the author. These included Jerome in AD 420 and a couple of Jewish commentators in the 12th century AD.

The philosopher Spinoza (1632-77) claimed that Moses did not write the Pentateuch and approached it in a negative and critical way.

In 1753, Jean Astrue, a French medical doctor, noted that two different names for God are used: One is Elohim, translated ‘God’, the other is Jehovah or Yahweh, translated ‘LORD’. Astrue assumed this pointed to two different authors. This ultimately developed into the modern higher critical view of the authorship of the Pentateuch that is called the ‘Documentary Hypothesis’. As this view developed, it was thought that there were factors about the Pentateuch that proved there were four different authors, and it was not written down until the period between 950 and 500 BC.

Internal evidence that challenges Mosaic authorship

Moses frequently used the third person to describe himself.

If Moses wrote Genesis, would he write in the past tense, "At that time the Canaanites and Perizzites lived in the land" (Gen 13:7b), indicating that they were no longer there. These people were still in the land during the time of Moses.

The statement, “At that time the Canaanites were in the land" (Gen 12:6 ). During the life of Moses, the Canaanites were still in the land, but this statement suggests that they were not there when it was written.

The town of Dan is mentioned (Gen 14:14). However at the time of Moses, this city was called Laish, before being renamed 'Dan' during the time of the judges (Judges 18:29). Dan was Abraham's great-grandson.

The phrase, "Before any king reigned over the Israelites" (Gen 36:31). This must have been written after the monarchy was established, which was not until 400 years after Moses.

The use of the phrase, “beyond the Jordan” (Deut 1:1), referring to the land east of the Jordan, would suggest that someone inside the land of Israel was the author, but Moses never entered the land.

The statement, “Israelites ate Manna for 40 years” (Ex 16:35) must have been written after they entered the land, after the death of Moses.

When Jethro visits Moses (Ex 18), he refers to the law of God, but this is not given until ch 20. This would suggest that the story is out of chronological order. It is claimed that this is evidence that documents have been put together rather carelessly.

The conclusion of these ‘anachronisms’ is that the date of writing must be later than 1400 BC, therefore Moses did not write it.

Evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis

Different names for God are used in different passages. These are Elohim, translated 'God' and Yahweh translated 'LORD'.

There are a number of parallel narratives, known as doublets, which are claimed to describe the same event. For example, there are two creation accounts in Genesis chapter 1 and chapter 2. There are accounts of Abraham's telling a lie about Sarah to Pharaoh (Gen 12:10-20) and to Abimelech (Gen 20:1-7). There are three covenants God made with Abraham (Gen 12,15,17). It is claimed that each of these was a single event, described in two or three different ways in the different documents which were incorporated into Pentateuch.

From creation to the conquest of the land, there are two complete parallel narratives. There are two accounts of creation, Genesis 1, where Elohim (God) is used to name God, and Genesis 2, where Yahweh Elohim (LORD God) is use to name God. The two accounts seem to conflict with each other.

Each source has its own style, with its own distinct vocabulary. For example the Jahwish source refers to Canaanites, while the Elohist source refers to Amorites. The Jahwish source says ‘coming forth’, while the Elohist source says ‘brought up from Egypt’.

The original fundamental argument for the hypothesis was the claim that writing was not invented until many centuries after the time of Moses. This has now been totally proved wrong. Whole libraries of tablets containing writing have been discovered from Ur from the time of Abraham, dated 500 to 1000 years before Moses.

Development of the Documentary Hypothesis

This view developed from Astrue's time. It was popularized in 1870 by J. Wellhausen (1844-1918). Wellhausen denied all supernaturalism and regarded most of the Bible history as unbelievable. Since 1900 the Documentary Hypothesis in one form or another has been accepted all over the world by non- evangelical biblical critics and taught as fact in most Universities. It is generally accepted, by Christian scholars as well as by Jewish scholars.

The four traditions

The documentary hypothesis claims that there are four distinct traditions that had been passed down in oral from, which were finally written down between 950 and 500 BC, and finally edited into their current form by Ezra around 450 BC.

The four sources are said to be identified as follows.

Jahwist (J) (950-850 BC)

The Jahwist source is the most ancient tradition, written around 950-850 BC after the division of the kingdom. It is the most primitive, therefore least reliable. It tends to use anthropomorphisms, like God repented. It is nationalistic, emphasising the nation of Israel, the conquest of Canaan, the patriarchs, and much biographical material. It uses the name Jehovah (Yahweh) for God. It is short in style. It describes the use of altars and sacrifices as primitive forms of worship. In this source, God speaks directly. It contains the simplest form of law, the ten commandments.

Elohist (E) (750 BC)

The Elohist source is the next oldest, written down around 750 BC by the northern tribes, before their exile to Assyria. It tends to be more objective, moralistic, including the stories of Joseph. It uses the word Elohim for God. In this source, God speaks in dreams and visions, rather than directly. It is full of detail, and omits any mention of sacrifices. The covenant code is the more complex law in Exodus chapter 21-24.

Deuteronomist (D) (621 BC)

The Deuteronomist source was written down in 621 BC, during Josiah's reforms. The claim is that Josiah knew no law earlier than the seventh century. This source was said to have been written down during Josiah's revival (2 Kg 22). The book of the law found in the temple (2 Kg 22:8) is claimed to be the Book of Deuteronomy, which they say was written by Hilkiah to bring about the desired religious worship, to call people to monotheistic religion. The laws in Deuteronomy are said to be more complete than the laws in the Jahwist or Elohist source. There is a greater sense of social justice, and more complex laws, blessings and judgement, and a religious philosophy.

Priestly Document (P) (550 BC)

The priestly document was written down around 550 BC during the exile, when the author brought all the Pentateuch together. It involved the status of priesthood. It was interested in genealogies and dates. Its style is majestic and remote. There is a highly developed system of ritual laws, priestly garments and ceremonial washings.

This is a quotation from an introduction to the Pentateuch from the Oxford Annotated Bible, Page 28, paragraph 4.

"The Pentateuch embraces a great diversity of material which reflects Israel's pilgrimage from the time of Abraham to the Exile. The whole tradition, however, has been shaped by basic themes found essentially in the confession of faith preserved in Deut 26:5-10 (compare Josh 24). The Pentateuch may be regarded as an elaboration of this creedal statement, according to the interest and insights of various circles of tradition. In the early monarchy (perhaps about 950 BC) a traditionist from Judah (J) first organized the traditions into a written epic. Sometime later (between about 900 to 750 BC) a traditionist from North Israel or Ephraim (E) presented another version of the sacred story. In the 7th century BC Deuteronomy (D) was published (2 Kings 22-23), although this version rests upon old traditions. And finally, about the time of the Exile, priestly writers (P) rounded out the expanded tradition with materials preserved by the Jerusalem priesthood".

It should be noted that no other historical document has ever been found which contains four distinct and separate traditions incorporated into a single document.

A critique of the support for the documentary hypothesis

Different names of God

It is perfectly reasonable that one author should use more than one name for God. There is evidence from ancient writings that other pagan authors did this. In the Ugaritic Hadad Tablets, the terms Baal and Hadad were used interchangeably.

The concept is inconsistent. One example is Gen 22:1-14, which is said to be a strong Elohist (E) passage but Yahweh is used three times and Elohim five times. These inconsistencies are often blamed on a later editor. However that does not prove anything.

Parallel Narratives (doublets)

There is no reason why similar stories should not be taken at face value, that two similar events took place at two different times.

Continuous narration in the different documents

On closer examination it is found that as far as Jahwist (J) and Elohist (E) are concerned this is not the case. This is generally admitted by documentarians. It is claimed that Priestly (P) documents are continuous but there are significant omissions. For example, Gen 19:29 is claimed to be Priestly material but the no reason is given.

There is no other ancient literature in existence which has this style. If there really are four sources blended into one then this style is unique and unparalleled, in any other literature.


This does not stand the test. Gen 30:3 is claimed to be Elohist (E), where the Hebrew word ‘ama’ is used for ‘maid’. The following verse Gen 30:4 is claimed to be Jahwist (J), because the word ‘sipha’ is used for ‘maid’. This implies that one verse is Elohist and the next is Jahwist, but they are clearly part of the same account. Gen 33 is assigned to Jahwist as the Jahwist word for a female slave is used but it uses ‘Elohim’ exclusively as the name of God.

What do we mean by Mosaic authorship?

Evidence for Mosaic authorship is overwhelming, but it is necessary to define what is meant by Mosaic authorship.

The Pentateuch came from the time of Moses. Moses was the real author. However this does not mean Moses did not have help to write, or that every word came from Moses' hand.

It does not mean that every word came as direct dictation from God. God may well have directed him to materials that he wanted included and earlier sources he wanted him to incorporate. However, on occasion, the words did come directly from God, like the law at Mount Sinai, and possibly the creation account.

Other earlier materials may have been available and God gave him wisdom to select what to include, perhaps the family records in Genesis indicated by the phrase, "these are the generations of ..".

The use of the third person is a common literary from used by other ancient writers and historians, like Xenophon.

The detailed description of the death of Moses (Deut 34) was probably added by Joshua.

Later editors may have made slight changes to make it more understandable to readers in their own time. Jewish tradition indicates that it was through Ezra that the scriptures came into the final form. This would include adding Dan instead of Laish, as the more modern name, and comments such as, "before there was a king in Israel".

Evidence for Moses' authorship

Moses had an excellent education in Egypt. Egypt had more literature than any other civilization, even mirrors and toothbrush handles were adorned with hieroglyphics. According to Stephen, Moses was educated in all the wisdom of Egypt (Acts 7:22). Josephus records that Moses was a general in the Egyptian army.

Moses would have had a detailed knowledge of the experiences of the patriarchs passed on from his mother.

Archaeology has shown that religious systems involving a sacrificial system and priesthood were fully developed long before Moses' time.

The weather and climate described in the Pentateuch are Egyptian not Palestinian. The trees and animals are Egyptian and from the Sinai peninsula. The Acacia tree, used for the ark, is only found in desert regions. Geographical references are by a writer who is unfamiliar with Palestine but well acquainted with Egypt.

There are many loan words from Egypt. Lot described the Jordan as like the land of Egypt (Gen 13:10).

A common name for God, ‘Lord of Hosts’ that is found in the Books of Samuel, and many of the prophets is not once mentioned in the Pentateuch. It is found 67 times in Isaiah, and 83 times in Jeremiah.

Evidence from the New Testament. Paul believed Moses to be the author (Rom 10:5). Peter quoted Moses as the author (Acts 3:22), and Jesus claimed Moses as the author (John 5:46-57, 7:19).

Why then this theory? Where did it come from?

Hegel (1770-1831), the German philosopher from Tubingen, produced the evolutionary idea, which since his time has affected every discipline of study. His basic philosophy was that history is moving from the simple to the complex. He produced what is called the 'dialectic' method of reasoning - a thesis and an antithesis produces a higher and better synthesis. In other words, an idea and an opposite idea produces a better and higher idea. Or an original tendency and its opposing tendency produce a better tendency.

This concept was applied to biology by Darwin (1809 - 1882) - Simple animals and plants evolve to become more complex. It was applied to economics by Marx (1818 - 1883) - Feudalism leads to capitalism, which leads to socialism, and ultimately to communism. And applied to theology and the Bible by Wellhausen (1844 -1918) - Polytheism develops to Monotheism, and ultimately to Atheism.

Wellhausen's presuppositions were that he denied all supernaturalism, believing the universe is a closed system, so there are no miracles, and no relationship with God. He regarded most of the Bible's history as myth or sagas. He believed Israel's religion evolved from polytheism to monotheism in three stages. The first was animism and primitive forms of worship, with single altars. The second was families having their own family altar, and the third was the priestly code and cult, with a fully developed system of religion. He held the presupposition of Hegel, that history moves from the simple to the complex.

The fruit of this theory is that much of Old Testament theology is now in disarray and discord.

The Bible

Pages which look at issues relevant to the whole Bible, such as the Canon of Scripture, as well as doctrinal and theological issues. There are also pages about the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and 'lost books' of the Old Testament.

Also included are lists of the quotations of the OT in the NT, and passages of the OT quoted in the NT.

Why These 66 Books?
Books in the Hebrew Scriptures
Quotations in NT From OT
OT Passages Quoted in NT
History of the English Bible
Twelve Books of the Apocrypha
The Pseudepigrapha - False Writings
Lost Books Referenced in OT

Old Testament Overview

This is a series of six pages which give a historical overview through the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, showing where each OT book fits into the history of Israel.

OT 1: Creation and Patriarchs
OT 2: Exodus and Wilderness
OT 3: Conquest and Monarchy
OT 4: Divided kingdom and Exile
OT 5: Return from Exile
OT 6: 400 Silent Years

New Testament Overview

This is a series of five pages which give a historical overview through the New Testament, focusing on the Ministry of Jesus, Paul's missionary journeys, and the later first century. Again, it shows where each book of the NT fits into the history of the first century.

NT 1: Life and Ministry of Jesus
NT 2: Birth of the Church
NT 3: Paul's Missionary Journeys
NT 4: Paul's Imprisonment
NT 5: John and Later NT

Introductions to Old Testament Books

This is an almost complete collection of introductions to each of the books in the Old Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Genesis Exodus Leviticus
Numbers Deuteronomy

Joshua Judges Ruth
1 & 2 Samuel 1 & 2 Kings Chronicles
Ezra & Nehemiah Esther

Job Psalms Proverbs

Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations
Ezekiel Daniel

Hosea Joel Amos
Obadiah Jonah Micah
Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah
Haggai Zechariah Malachi

Introductions to New Testament Books

This is a collection of introductions to each of the 27 books in the New Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Matthew's Gospel Mark's Gospel Luke's Gospel
John's Gospel

Book of Acts

Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians
Galatians Ephesians Philippians
Colossians 1 & 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy
2 Timothy Titus Philemon

Hebrews James 1 Peter
2 Peter 1 John 2 & 3 John


Old Testament History

Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

Canaanite Religion
Israel's Enemies During the Conquest
Syria / Aram
The Assyrian Empire
Babylon and its History
The Persian Empire
The Greek Empire
The 400 Silent Years
The Ptolemies and Seleucids
Antiochus IV - Epiphanes

Old Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for OT studies. These include a list of the people named in the OT and confirmed by archaeology. There are also pages to convert the different units of measure in the OT, such as the talent, cubit and ephah into modern units.

More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

OT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Jewish Calendar
The Importance of Paradox
Talent Converter (weights)
Cubit Converter (lengths)
OT People Search
Ephah Converter (volumes)
Holy War in the Ancient World
The Holy Spirit in the OT
Types of Jesus in the OT

Studies in the Pentateuch (Gen - Deut)

A series of articles covering studies in the five books of Moses. Studies in the Book of Genesis look at the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis, the Tower of Babel and the Table of the Nations.

There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Are chapters 1-11 of Genesis historical?
Chronology of the Flood
Genealogies of the Patriarchs
Table of the Nations (Gen 10)
Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9)

Authorship of the Pentateuch
Chronology of the Wilderness Years
Names of God in the OT
Covenants in the OT
The Ten Commandments
The Tabernacle and its Theology
Sacrifices and Offerings
The Jewish Festivals
Balaam and Balak
Highlights from Deuteronomy
Overview of Deuteronomy

Studies in the Old Testament History Books (Josh - Esther)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

There are also pages describing some of the historical events of the period, including the Syro-Ephraimite War, and the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC.

Dates of the Kings of Judah and Israel
King Solomon
The Kings of Israel
King Jeroboam I of Israel
The Syro-Ephraimite War (735 BC)
Sennacherib's Invasion of Judah (701 BC)
King Josiah of Judah
Differences Between Kings and Chronicles
Chronology of the post-exilic period

Studies in the Old Testament Prophets (Is - Mal)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the OT prophets. These include a page looking at the way the prophets look ahead into their future, a page looking at the question of whether Satan is a fallen angel, and a page studying the seventy weeks of Daniel.

There are also a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of two of the books:
Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

Prophets and the Future
The Call of Jeremiah (Jer 1)
The Fall of Satan? (Is 14, Ezek 28)
Daniel Commentary (10 pages)
Isaiah Commentary (13 pages)
Formation of the Book of Jeremiah

Daniel's Seventy Weeks (Dan 9:24-27)

New Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for NT studies. These include a list of the people in the NT confirmed by archaeology.

More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

NT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Kingdom of God / Heaven
Parousia (Coming of Christ)
The Importance of Paradox

Studies in the Four Gospels (Matt - John)

A series of articles covering various studies in the four gospels. These include a list of the unique passages in each of the Synoptic Gospels and helpful information about the parables and how to interpret them.

Some articles look at the life and ministry of Jesus, including his genealogy, birth narratives, transfiguration, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the seating arrangements at the Last Supper.

More theological topics include the teaching about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and whether John the Baptist fulfilled the predictions of the coming of Elijah.

Unique Passages in the Synoptic Gospels
The SynopticProblem
Genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1)
Birth Narratives of Jesus
Understanding the Parables
Peter's Confession and the Transfiguration
Was John the Baptist Elijah?
The Triumphal Entry
The Olivet Discourse (Mark 13)
Important themes in John's Gospel
John's Gospel Prologue (John 1)
Jesus Fulfilling Jewish Festivals
Reclining at Table at the Last Supper
The Holy Spirit as the Paraclete

Studies in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters

A series of articles covering various studies in the Book of Acts and the Letters, including Paul's letters. These include a page studying the messages given by the apostles in the Book of Acts, and the information about the financial collection that Paul made during his third missionary journey. More theological topics include Paul's teaching on Jesus as the last Adam, and descriptions of the church such as the body of Christ and the temple, as well as a look at redemption and the issue of fallen angels.

There are a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of five of the books:
Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Apostolic Messages in the Book of Acts
Paul and His Apostleship
Collection for the Saints
The Church Described as a Temple
Church as the Body of Christ
Jesus as the Last Adam
Food Offered to Idols
Paul's Teaching on Headcoverings
Who are the Fallen Angels
The Meaning of Redemption
What is the Church?
Paul and the Greek Games

Romans Commentary (7 pages)

1 Corinthians Commentary (7 pages)

Galatians Commentary (3 pages)

Philemon Commentary (1 page)

Hebrews Commentary (7 pages)

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

There is also a series of ten pages giving a detailed commentry through the text of the Book of Revelation.

Introduction to the Book of Revelation
Characters Introduced in the Book
Structure of Revelation
List of Allusions to OT
The Description of Jesus as the Lamb
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
The Nero Redivius Myth
The Millennium (1000 years)
The Rapture and the Tribulation
Different Approaches to Revelation
Predicted Dates of the Second Coming

Revelation Commentary (10 pages)

How to do Inductive Bible Study

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study the Bible inductively, by asking a series of simple questions. There are lists of observation and interpretation questions, as well as information about the structure and historical background of biblical books, as well as a list of the different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. There is also a page giving helpful tips on how to apply the Scriptures personally.

How to Study the Bible Inductively
I. The Inductive Study Method
II. Observation Questions
III. Interpretation Questions
IV. Structure of Books
V. Determining the Historical background
VI. Identifying Figures of Speech
VII. Personal Application
VIII. Text Layout

Types of Literature in the Bible

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study each of the different types of book in the Bible by appreciating the type of literature being used. These include historical narrative, law, wisdom, prophets, Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation.

It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

How to Understand OT Narratives
How to Understand OT Law
Hebrew Poetry
OT Wisdom Literature
Understanding the OT Prophets
The Four Gospels
The Parables of Jesus
The Book of Acts
How to Understand the NT Letters
Studying End Times (Eschatology)
The Book of Revelation

Geography and Archaeology

These are a series of pages giving geographical and archaeological information relevant to the study of the Bible. There is a page where you can search for a particular geographical location and locate it on Google maps, as well as viewing photographs on other sites.

There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Search for Geographical Locations
Major Archaeological Sites in Israel
Archaeological Sites in Assyria, Babylon and Persia
Virtual Paul's Missionary Journeys
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
Photos of the City of Corinth
Photos of the City of Ephesus

Biblical Archaeology in Museums around the world

A page with a facility to search for artifacts held in museums around the world which have a connection with the Bible. These give information about each artifact, as well as links to the museum's collection website where available showing high resolution photographs of the artifact.

There is also page of photographs from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of important artifacts.

Search Museums for Biblical Archaeology
Israel Museum Photos

Difficult Theological and Ethical Questions

These are a series of pages looking at some of the more difficult questions of Christian theology, including war, suffering, disappointment and what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel.

Christian Ethics
Never Heard the Gospel
Is there Ever a Just War?
Why Does God Allow Suffering
Handling Disappointment

How to Preach

These are a series of pages giving a practical step-by-step explanation of the process of preparing a message for preaching, and how to lead a small group Bible study.

What is Preaching?
I. Two Approaches to Preaching
II. Study a Passage for Preaching
III. Creating a Message Outline
IV. Making Preaching Relevant
V. Presentation and Public Speaking
VI. Preaching Feedback and Critique
Leading a Small Group Bible Study

Information for SBS staff members

Two pages particularly relevant for people serving as staff on the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in YWAM. One gives helpful instruction about how to prepare to teach on a book in the SBS. The other gives a list of recommended topics which can be taught about for each book of the Bible.

Teaching on SBS Book Topics for SBS