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,
"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
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
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
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
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.