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Topics Biblical History

The Documentary Hypothesis: Who wrote the Torah?

By Jeff A. Benner

Who wrote the Torah (the first five books of the Bible)? The majority of the Bible students today, within both Christianity and Judaism, will without a doubt, identify Moses as the author. Yet, nowhere within the text of the Torah is the author of the five books of Torah identified. Yes, there are passages where Moses states that he has written the text, but this does not encompass the entire Torah. No author for the book of Genesis, whose events occurred before the birth of Moses, is identified. Who authored the final chapter of Deuteronomy after the death of Moses? Not only is it possible that different authors wrote different portions of the Torah but it is possible that different authors wrote about the same account.

Passages written by someone other than Moses

The burial of Moses

And Moses was an hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated. And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days: so the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended. And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him, and did as the LORD commanded Moses. And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, In all the signs and the wonders, which the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, And in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses shewed in the sight of all Israel. (Deuteronomy 34:7-12, KJV)

It is obvious that Moses did not write this account; therefore we know that this portion was written by someone else. Is it not then possible that other portions may have been written by someone other than Moses?

Before the Kings of Israel

Genesis 36:31 And these are the kings that reigned in the land of Edom, before there reigned any king over the children of Israel.

During the lifetime of Moses no king resided over Israel. The author of this passage is writing about the kings of Israel from the viewpoint that they are facts of history. The author lived during or after the time of the kings of Israel.

Rachel buried near Bethlehem

Genesis 35:19 And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem.

As the city of Ephrath was not known as "Bethlehem" until much later, these three words ("hee beyt lehem" in Hebrew) were obviously written by someone other than Moses. Granted, we are only speaking of three words, but if three words from the Torah can be written by someone other than Moses, then why not six words or one hundred words or one thousand words?

Duplicate passages of one event by separate authors

The appointment of Judges

Exodus 18:17-24 And Moses' father-in-law said to him, "The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me: I shall give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people's representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk, and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them, as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace." So Moses listened to his father-in-law, and did all that he had said.

Deuteronomy 1:12-16 'How can I [Moses] alone bear the load and burden of you and your strife? Choose wise and discerning and experienced men from your tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads.' And you answered me and said, 'The thing which you have said to do is good.' So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and experienced men, and appointed them heads over you, leaders of thousands, and of hundreds, of fifties and of tens, and officers for your tribes. "Then I charged your judges at that time, saying, 'Hear the cases between your fellow countrymen, and judge righteously between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him.

It is clearly obvious that these two passages are very different. In the Exodus passage Moses' father-in-law gives Moses the idea to appoint judges over the people because it is more than he can handle. But, in the Deuteronomy passage it is Moses who chooses to appoint the judges. There are some striking dissimilarities in the two passages. In the Exodus passage Moses' father-in-law says about Moses' judging over all the people that "The thing that you are doing is not good" while in the Deuteronomy passage the people say to Moses about his appointment of Judges "The thing which you have said is good". In the Exodus passage Moses' father-in-law says "the task is too heavy for you, you cannot do it alone" and in the Deuteronomy passage Moses says, "How can I alone bear the load and burden of you and your strife?"

It is possible that the Deuteronomy passage simply eliminates the suggestion of Moses' father-in-law and only discusses Moses' actions based on his suggestions. Therefore, this passage alone is not evidence of multiple authors but must be used as evidence in conjunction with the other evidence available.

Israel at Mount Sinai

Exodus 20:18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance

Exodus 19:17-18 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently

In the first account Israel sees the thunder and lightning and stays at a distance from the mountain. But, in the second account they go up to the mountain and saw smoke and fire. It appears that while two different authors wrote these two accounts, they were combined into one story by one known as a "redactor." This person took the various stories known at the time and attempted to place them all into one story. For this reason, we see many of the same stories repeated at different times. While it is usually understood that these are two different stories occurring at two different times, they may be one story written by two different authors and combined into one story by the redactor.

Another account of Israel's experience at the mountain occurs in the book of Deuteronomy where in one passage it says that Israel did not want to hear the voice of God speak to them while another states that he did speak to them.

Deuteronomy 18:16 For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, "Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die."

Deuteronomy 5:4 "The LORD spoke to you [Israel] face to face at the mountain from the midst of the fire

Conflicting passages of separate authors

Making known the name Yahweh

Genesis 14:22 And Abram (Abraham) said to the king of Sodom, "I lifted up my hand to Yahweh, El Elyon, possessor of heaven and earth.

Exodus 6:3 And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as El Shaddai, and my name Yahweh I did not make known to them.

In the Genesis passage Abraham invokes the name Yahweh but according to the Exodus passage God did not reveal his name Yahweh to Abraham.

A Guide through the Wilderness

Deuteronomy 1:32-33 The Lord your God who goes before you on your way, to seek out a place for you to encamp, in fire by night and cloud by day, to show you the way in which you should go.

Numbers 10:31 Then he said, "Please do not leave us, inasmuch as you [Hobab] know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you will be as eyes for us.

In the Deuteronomy passage Moses tells the people that God will be their guide through the wilderness showing them which way to go and where to camp. But, in the Numbers passage Moses beseeches his father-in-law Hobab to go with them so that he can show them where to go and where to camp in the wilderness because he is familiar with the area.

The Population of Israel

Exodus 12:37 Now the sons of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children.

Deuteronomy 7:7 "The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples,

It is estimated that the population of Israel, based on the Exodus passage, would be about 4 million if you include all of the men, women and children. According to the Encyclopedia, the population of Egypt at the time of the Exodus was about 2 million inhabitants making Egypt one of the greatest nations of its day. In the Deuteronomy passage God says that Israel was the fewest of all peoples while the Exodus passage would make Israel the most populace nation on earth of that day.

Style of Writing

We all speak and write differently and the styles of writing can be compared to determine the authors of different texts. As an example, from English, one might say "I talked to mom," while another person might say "I spoke to my mother." We can easily see that these two phrases are from two different people.

We frequently see these same variations in writing style within the text of the Torah. For instance, in Numbers 21:16 we read אמר יהוה למשה (amar yhwh l'mosheh) which means "Yahweh said to Moses." But in Exodus 4:30 we find the phrase דבר יהוה אל משה (diber yhwh el mosheh) which means "Yahweh spoke unto Moses." These differences in writing style are found throughout the text and in fact, we can even see the writing of one person throughout the text that is intermixed with the styles of writing from another person, a result of the redactor splicing together separate accounts into one.

The authors of Genesis 25

Genesis chapter 1:1 through 2:3 uses the word Elohiym for the name of God, but in Genesis 2:4 through 4:26 the name YHWH is used. The reason for this, according to the Documentary Hypothesis, is that the first section was written by an author that uses the word Elohiym and therefore he is called the "Elohist source" and the second section was written by an author that used the word YHWH and therefore he is called the "Yahwist source." In total, there are believed to be five authors of the Torah. The Elohist source, the Yahwist source, the Deuteronomist source (one who wrote the book of Deuteronomy), the Priestly source (the author of much of Leviticus and Numbers) and finally the redactor (the one who assembled the four sources into one document and inserted text when necessary to make the narrative flow). The following is Genesis 25, colored to identify the five different authors.

Elohist Source
Yahwist Source
Priestly Source

1&Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah. 2&And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah. 3&And Jokshan begat Sheba, and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim, and Letushim, and Leummim. 4&And the sons of Midian; Ephah, and Epher, and Hanoch, and Abidah, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah. 5&And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac. 6&But unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country. 7&And these are the days of the years of Abraham's life which he lived, an hundred threescore and fifteen years. 8&Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people. 9&And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre; 10&The field which Abraham purchased of the sons of Heth: there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife. 11&And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac dwelt by the well Lahairoi 12&Now these are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham's son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah's handmaid, bare unto Abraham: 13&And these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: the firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth; and Kedar, and Adbeel, and Mibsam, 14&And Mishma, and Dumah, and Massa, 15&Hadar, and Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah: 16&These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names, by their towns, and by their castles; twelve princes according to their nations. 17&And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people. 18&And they dwelt from Havilah unto Shur, that is before Egypt, as thou goest toward Assyria: and he died in the presence of all his brethren. 19&And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son: Abraham begat Isaac: 20&And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padanaram, the sister to Laban the Syrian. 21&And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22&And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the LORD. 23&And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. 24&And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25&And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. 26&And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau's heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them. 27&And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents. 28&And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob. 29&And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: 30&And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. 31&And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. 32&And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? 33&And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. 34&Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.

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