The word Pentateuch is taken from the Greek penta + teukhos meaning “5 scrolls”, and it is commonly used by scholars to describe the first five books of the Old Testament. However, Jews refer to this same group of books as The Torah or “the law” since Jewish law is contained there. In this post I will use the words Pentateuch and Torah interchangeably.
Moses is generally listed as the author for the Petateuch. However, many still doubt this. They wonder if Moses actually wrote the text?
More space is given to the life and teachings of Moses than any other Old Testament figure. We learn about the 40 years Moses lived as an Egyptian prince, the 40 years he spent as a desert shepherd, and the 40 years he served as Israel’s greatest leader.
Many scholars accept the testimony of scripture at face value, as I do, and therefore affirm Moses authored the first five books of the Old Testament. Christian as well as Jewish tradition also agrees that Moses wrote the books. Jesus and Paul both confirm Moses authored the book (Jn. 7:19 and Romans 10:19). The Old Testament claims he wrote it as seen in Exodus (17:14, 24:4, and 34:27). Other Old Testament validations occur at Numbers (33:2) and Deut (31:19). New Testament claims are made at Luke (24:44) and 1 Corinthians (9:9). However, for some people references in the Bible are not enough for scholarship on the Moses question.
Hartman, a German scholar, had argued that Moses couldn’t be the author because writing would not have been invented during his time. Today, we know better. Moses could have written the Torah. He could have written it in Egyptian hieroglyphics, Hebrew script, and Accadian cunneiform. In Acts 7:22 Paul reminds us that Moses was educated “in all the learning of the Egyptians.” It also makes sense to me that as the leader of Israel Moses would have wanted to provide a written history of his people since every nation records their history.
In 1753, Jean Astruc, a French doctor, claimed Moses, like many writers today, used two documents to write Genesis. The evidence he used was the text itself. Moses refers to God in two ways. Astruc’s reasoning is that the text used various names for the Lord depending on which resource was being used. Astruc said one resource represents the sections of the Pentateuch where Moses refers to God as Elohim. Scholars use the letter “E” to refer to this source. Another source was used where Jehovah is used to refer to the Lord. The letter “J” is used to denote the Jehovah source.
Over the years the theory was elaborated on and other documents were discovered that might possibly have been sources for the Pentateuch. The Deuteronomic source is referred to as “D”, and the Priestly resource is referred to as “P”.
String all of these letters together and you have something called the JEDP Theory. Some scholars believe these resources were put together by other writers in the ninth and in the sixth century B.C.
The debate really heated up in 1878 when questions were raised and the idea that Moses wrote the Pentateuch was basically abandoned by many. Jules Wellhausen, a German scholar, supported and publicized the Document Theory that created an alternate scenario regarding the authorship of the Pentateuch. He as well as others heavily pushed the belief that the Torah evolved over time…in fact, over several centuries, and was finally compiled from various sources during the time of Israel’s kings.
When you do a parallel check as to what was going on in the world during this time it is very easy to see why the JEDP Theory was so attractive to 19th century critics. This was the Age of Darwin, and the JEDP Theory fit very well with the anti-supernaturalistic ideals of the 1800s where many had an agenda to ramp the Bible down to a human level. In their thinking the Bible could not have been divinely inspired because it was nothing more than a compilation of various sources of literature.
A critical look at the JEDP Theory shows some obvious cracks:
*the scholars who worked on the theory pick and choose various sections of the Pentateuch to analyze which means there is no uniform method of comparison.
*there is no historical evidence to date which indicates knowledge of the resources or acknowledges any compilation efforts by any persons
*we now know of many archeological findings that support Torah writings are ancient and not products of the ninth and sixth centuries B.C. For example, the Ebla Tablets contain many of the same type names found in the Torah. There are also other examples from before the ninth century B.C. that use the language forms found in the Torah.
*From a literature standpoint the Pentateach follows a logical sequence, and the style of writing is consistent throughout the five books.
There are also other objections to the idea that Moses wrote The Pentateuch. Some state that Moses was not alive at the time the events occurred in Genesis, there were no written resources for Moses to use, and therefore based on that he could not have written it. Well, based on the JEDP Theory we know that people were writing during this time, resources were available, and it makes sense that at the time Israel was becoming a nation they would have recorded their history.
Did Moses really need a written resource to relate the events in Genesis? Moses was given the Ten Commandments directly from God (Exodus ). Doesn’t it also make sense that if God gave Moses the Ten Commandments He also gave Moses the divine inspiration to record the events in Genesis?
Christians believe that ultimately the entire Bible was authored by the Holy Spirit. The authors of each book were divinely inspired. In fact many scholars that favor divine inspiration state that the Bible has dual authorship. This does not mean that human and divine worked together. It does mean that the works are all human and all divine at the same time. The divine author kept the human author from any errors.
As stated before I believe Moses was involved with writing the Pentateuch. He had the knowledge, he had the skills, and he had a direct line to the Lord.