Skip to comments.How Many Moseses Wrote the Torah?
Posted on 10/13/2018 2:55:45 PM PDT by pcottraux
How Many Moseses Wrote the Torah?
By Philip Cottraux
I wrote two previous blogs discussing mid-19th century German theologian J.G. Eichhorn, originator of many modern criticisms of the Bible. In The Daniel Lynchpin, (click here to read) I addressed his proposal that the book of Daniel was a product of the Maccabean period. In How Many Isaiahs Wrote Isaiah? (click here to read), I addressed his theory that Isaiah has more than one author. This is a follow-up of sorts, as there is a similar claim that the Torah has multiple authors (at least in the Isaiah theory, the prophet is given credit for the first 39 chapters of his book. In some versions of the Torah theory, Moses doesnt even exist as a real-life figure).
Although Eichhorn himself didnt propose this one, his influence is still in it, as his theories set the stage for almost a century of anti-Bible rhetoric to come out of German academia.
Tradition has always held that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible in their entirety. We can allow some flexibility on that, of course, since he dies before the end of Deuteronomy. Clearly someone else took over the remainder afterwards. But for the most part, a single author is considered responsible for the foundation of monotheist religion. Moses would have compiled this great tome during the 40 years of wandering. Much of his knowledge of the history of his people would have come from oral tradition handed down by his father-in-law Jethro, a Midianite (descendant of Abraham through the second wife, Keturah). This was probably combined with his knowledge of written language from growing up in Pharaohs court and revelation from the Holy Spirit of how the world was created and the origins of man.
But tradition doesnt just hold Moses as the Torah author: a sound scriptural case can be made for it:
-I Kings 2:3
Why then, the challenge to this long-held belief?
After Eichhorn, German Bible criticism came to a fever pitch in the late 1800s to early 1900s. For example, one group to arise out of this newfound attempt to disprove Christianity and Judaism was the Religiongeschichtiche Schule (no help on the pronunciation), German for History of Religions School. This class of scholars first proposed the idea that Christianity is merely a copy of other ancient religions, that the legend of a god dying and rising again originates in ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Persian myths. One of the Schules chief figures, Richard Reitzenstein, first made the connection between Christ and the Roman god Mithras in 1910, even going as far as to say that the story of Jesus is a rip-off of the earlier mythology of Mithraism.
Virtually all of the History of Religions Schools ideas were thoroughly discredited years ago. For example, few actual similarities between Mithraism and Christianity can be found, and every bit of archaeological evidence places the rise of Mithraism (predominantly practiced among Roman soldiers) around a century after the birth of Christianity. Sadly, these bogus claims have seen a revival in recent years due to documentaries like Zeitgest or Bill Mahers Religulous, and atheists, eager to believe anything that they think disproves religion, have swallowed it up in droves without doing any fact-checking first.
At the same time the Religiongeschichtiche Schule took on the New Testament, another German scholar who may or may not have been associated with it, Julius Wellhausen, targeted the Old Testament. Wellhausen was the first to propose that the Torah may have more than one author. He noticed apparent contradictions in the linguistic style and syntax of the text. Whether or not Moses was a real historical figure, Wellhausen concluded the first five books of the Bible were compiled by four distinct authors ranging from different time periods. These four separate works would have been stitched together probably around the exilic period (mid-7th century BC) by Jewish scribes, forming the Torah as we know it today. This eventually came to be known as the Documentary Hypothesis.
Sadly, as is often the case in academia, the Documentary Hypothesis has been accepted as fact despite no evidence ever being found to support it. But heres where the story takes a bizarre turn. Over the years, more scholars have added to Wellhausens claim, even going as far as to try to identify the mysterious real authors of the Torah. Harold Bloom proposed one was a woman, and R.E. Friedman published a book called Who Wrote the Bible? claiming a scribe named Baruch wrote part of the Torah in 622 BC.
Just like the mystery religions theory, the Documentary Hypothesis is often touted by skeptics as factual even though it came under severe scrutiny by later scholars. In fact, by the 90s it was widely considered debunked.
The most serious attempt to address the Documentary Hypothesis is in The Book of Genesis by C.J. Hall. Hall broke down the four individual writing styles of the Torah that Wellhausen identified and arranged them by color. In doing so, the problems with the hypothesis become obvious. The results are unreadable. For example, portions of the text are in blue, but reading just the blue part is impossible, an incomprehensible mess. A critical examination makes it hard to grasp that each section could have possibly been written by a different author.
This was perhaps the most devastating blow to the Documentary Hypothesis. But there are others. One is that its premise may be false from the start. Lets assume Wellhausen was right and the Torah is actually written in four different styles. Does this necessarily prove that it has more than one author? The presumption is that one author couldnt write in different styles. But anyone with even a passing knowledge of literature knows this isnt the case. More often than not, an accomplished author will write in completely different styles on the very same day depending on the mood hes in. One can point to any great literary work by a famous writer like Charles Dickens or Mark Twain and identify different writing styles, sometimes on the same page. Now consider Moses compiling the five volumes of the Torah, each with dozens of chapters, over the course of forty years in the wilderness. Under this circumstance, itd be surprising if it didnt have multiple styles.
The other problem is that it assumes Mosaic authorship automatically means Moses handwrote the entire book personally. It doesnt allow for the possibility of scribes or apprentices taking dictation. This is not uncommon for the Bible. While writing many of his epistles, Paul is said to have used secretaries. As leader and judge of the Israelites, Moses was already extraordinarily busy. The scriptures tell us that elders over each tribe had to be appointed to lighten his burden. Its not hard to believe that he would have had different people assigned to write down what he dictated. And each scribe could have added their own unique wording.
Occams razor is the idea that when trying to find a solution, no more explanations than is necessary should be given to arrive at the conclusion. In other words, the simplest explanation is almost always the right one. While Occams razor is not an absolute scientific law, it is at least a helpful guide in investigating claims such as this. Assuming that the Torah is indeed written in different styles (a premise I still havent fully accepted), the explanation given by the Documentary Hypothesis violates Occams razor. The story is unnecessarily complicated, going on wild goose chases to hunt down ghost writers who may or may not have existed in ancient history, all based on nonexistent evidence. But the simpler, and therefore more likely, explanations are a combination of Moses writing style changing as he wrote, or the unique wording of multiple copiests.
Most of the oldest complete copies of the Old Testament books were discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the majority of which dont date back any erlier than 200 BC. Outside of those, the oldest piece of any of the Old Testament, the ketef hinnom, dates back as far as the 600s BC, but its only a tiny portion of the prayer blessing of Numbers 6:24-26. Since the events of the Exodus are said to have taken place about 800 years before that (mid-1400s BC), its unlikely we will ever find any of the original writings of the Israelites to see for ourselves. So without any further evidence, the best explanation will have to do.
-Johann Gottfried Eichhorn. Wikipedia.org. Last edited July 13, 2018. Accessed September 7, 2018.
-Strobel, Lee. The Case for the Real Jesus. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2007, page 166.
-Julius Wellhausen. Wikipedia.org. Last edited September 13, 2018. Accessed September 4, 2018.
- Feiler, Bruce. Walking the Bible: A Journey By Land Through the Five Books of Moses. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2002, pages 101-102.
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Well, the graffiti from the sinai mines, made by slaves, mention Moses and a lot else.
Google “sinai inscriptions”, then “images”, to see them; and read them in modern Hebrew and then in English translation.
And see the book “The World’s Oldest Alphabet”, by Petrovich.
I see the stylistic differences that scholars point to, both with Moses and with Isaiah, but I disagree. If you looked at my writing one, two, three, and four decades ago, you could conclude that each of those writers was a different person from the one posting today. Considering how much Moses lived through in addition to the normal perspective changes that come with age, it would be surprising if his writing style remained fully consistent throughout the Torah.
Time for my Moses joke:
When a Jewish scholar was asked if Moses actually existed, he replied: If he didn’t exist, he had a cousin named Moses!”
I think it is funny....
“Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against Moses. He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil!”
"Have a little faith, Baby. Have a little faith."
None. G-d wrote the Torah . . . 974 generations before the Creation.
If the Jews had taken the Promised Land as told to they'd had the oil.
Yet Israel is big on the tech front.
I have looked at all that stuff in my research...in fact, I’ve written a book on the Exodus (got a publishing deal in the works but it hasn’t come out yet).
Of course, the title is a rhetorical question. I thought the “multiple authors” theory of the Torah needed to be addressed.
First part I agree with. Second part...974 generations before Creation...can you please explain?
I don't get it.
Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against Moses. He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil!
But now THIS was funny!
Ok, agree yours is funnier than mine. In my defense, my joke came from a rabbi.
Well and truly stated. Selah
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