Sunday, July 11, 2004

Who Wrote The Pentateuch, The Five Books Of Moses?

The five books of Moses are a.k.a. The Pentateuch, the Books of the Law, the
Law, the Torah

Conflicting quotations:

"...despite all the arguments made against Mosaic
authorship/editorship, the traditional view is still as critically tenable as
any of the others.
" J.D. Douglas et al 1, Page 2

"..there is hardly a biblical scholar in the world actively working
on the [authorship] problem who would claim that the Five Books of Moses were
written by Moses.
" R.E. Friedman 2, Page 28

" has long been recognized that...[Moses] cannot have been the
author, and that the Pentateuch is in fact anonymous.
" D.J.A. Clines, 3,
Page 580

Biblical Terms:

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are sometimes referred to

  • the "Five Books of Moses," because the writings
    themselves identify the author as Moses, or

  • the "Pentateuch," a Greek term meaning "pente
    (5) teuchos (volumes)
    ," or

  • the "Books of the Law", or

  • the "Torah" (a Hebrew word meaning "instruction")

These books were originally written as a single unbroken scroll. It was
divided into the 5 books that we see today sometime before the 2nd Century BCE.
What does the Bible itself say about authorship of the Pentateuch?

There are about two dozen verses in the Hebrew Scriptures and one dozen in
the Christian Scriptures which state or strongly imply that Moses was the
author. Consider the following passages from the New Living Translation (NLT):

  • Passages in the Pentateuch itself:

    • Exodus 17:14 "Then the Lord instructed
      Moses, 'Write this down as a permanent record...

    • Exodus 24:4 "Then Moses carefully wrote down
      all the Lord's instructions

    • Exodus 34:27 "And the Lord said to Moses,
      'Write down all these instructions, for they represents the terms of my
      covenant with you and with Israel.

    • Leviticus 1:1 "The Lord called to Moses from
      the Tabernacle and said to him, 'Give the following instructions to the

    • Leviticus 6:8 "Then the Lord said to Moses,
      'Give Aaron and his sons the following instructions...

    • Deuteronomy 31:9 "So Moses wrote down this
      law and gave it to the priests

    • Deuteronomy 31:24-26 "When Moses had
      finished writing down this entire body of law in a book...

  • Passages elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures:

    • Joshua 1:7-8 "...Obey all the laws Moses
      gave you.

    • Joshua 8:31-34 "He followed the instructions
      that Moses the Lord's servant had written in the Book of the Law...

    • Joshua 22:5 "...obey all the commands and
      the laws that Moses gave to you.

    • 2 Chronicles 34:14 "...Hilkiah the high
      priest...found the book of the Law of the Lord as it had been given
      through Moses.

  • Passages in the Gospels which show that Jesus and John the Baptizer
    believed Moses to be the author:

    • Matthew 19:7-8 "...why did Moses say a man
      could merely write an official letter of divorce and send her
      away?", they asked. Jesus replied,
      'Moses permitted

    • Matthew 22:24 "Moses said, 'If a man dies
      without children...

    • Mark 7:10 "For instance, Moses gave you this
      law from God...

    • Mark 12:24 "...haven't you ever read about
      this in the writings of Moses, in the story of the burning bush...

    • Luke 24:44 "...I told you that everything
      written about me by Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must all
      come true.

    • John 1:17 "For the law was given through

    • John 5:46 "But if you had believed Moses,
      you would have believed me because he wrote about me. And since you
      don't believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?

    • John 7:23 " it, so as not to break the
      law of Moses...

  • Passages elsewhere in the Christian Scriptures:

    • Acts 26:22 "...I teach nothing except what
      the prophets and Moses said would happen...

    • Romans 10:5 "For Moses wrote..."

But nowhere in the Bible is it specifically stated that Moses wrote the
entire Pentateuch. Even if one believes in the inerrancy
of the Bible, a case can be made that he authored only parts of the Torah, and
that other writers added sections of their own and/or edited the resultant text.

Beliefs of conservative theologians:

Ancient Jewish and Christian writers, such as Ecclesiasticus, Josephus,
Philo, and Origen were essentially in full agreement that the Pentateuch was
written solely by Moses. The Mishnah and the Talmud also confirm this. Tradition
during the first millennium of Christian history agrees with this belief. 4

Many present-day Fundamentalists and other Evangelical Christians continue to
believe that Moses wrote the entire Pentateuch:

  • P.N. Benware states that "Moses was the human author of Genesis
    and the other books of the Pentateuch ...These five 'books of the law' were
    written by Moses alone, with the exception of Deuteronomy 34, which records
    the death of Moses... The Pentateuch, therefore, is an inspired, inerrant,
    authoritative document written by the man Moses.
    " 5

  • The authors of the New Commentary on the Whole Bible state that
    "The education Moses would have received as the adopted grandson of
    Pharoh specially qualified him for the task of compiling and writing the
    " 1

  • Larry Richards states: "Moses wrote or supervised the writing of
    the bulk of the Pentateuch and ...these books are rightly viewed as both a
    divine revelation and an accurate, eyewitness account of events described as
    happening in Moses' lifetime.
    " 6

  • J.W. Hayford writes: "Jewish tradition lists Moses as the author
    of Genesis and of the next four books....we notice a number of loanwords
    from Egyptian that are found in Genesis, a fact which suggests that the
    original author had his roots in Egypt, as did Moses.
    " 7

Since conservative Christians believe in the inerrancy
(freedom from error) of the Bible, the matter of authorship is settled and is
not open to debate. Moses wrote at least the vast majority of the Pentateuch.
However, some Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians have deviated from
traditional Christian teachings. They believe that selected passages were
written by persons other than Moses. Some of these writings are referred to as
"post-Mosaica" (material that was added after Moses' death).
Others are called "a-Mosaica" (material that could have been
written at the time of Moses but which could not reasonably be attributed to

Moses is believed to have written the books after the Israelite's exodus from
Egypt, but before they entered Canaan. This would date the writing to the 40
year period when the Israelites were wandering through the desert, circa 1450

Beliefs of mainline and liberal theologians:

They generally accept the "Documentary
" which asserts that the Pentateuch was written by a
group of four authors, from various locations in Palestine, over a period of
centuries. 8 Each wrote with the goal of promoting his/her own
religious views:

  • J: a writer who used JHWH as the "unpronounceable
    name of God.
    " It is often translated as Jehovah.

  • E: a writer who used Elohim as the divine

  • D: the author of the book of Deuteronomy

  • P: a writer who added material of major
    interest to the priesthood

Finally, a fifth individual was involved :

  • R: a redactor who shaped the contributions of J, E, P and D together into
    the present Pentateuch.

Some clues that Moses didn't write the Pentateuch:

  • One passage describes a sequence of events; a later passage states that
    they happened in a different order. Presumably Moses would have remembered
    the proper sequence.

  • In the story of the Flood, one passage has Noah collecting two of each
    species while another passage states that he collected 14. One verse
    describes water coming from the heavens and from below the ground; another
    describes all of the water falling as rain. The duration of the rain differs
    between two verses.

  • Genesis 11:31 describes Abraham as living in the city Ur, and identifies
    that location with the Chaldeans. But the Chaldeans did not exist as a tribe
    at the time of Abraham; they rose to power much later, in the 1st millennium

  • Deuteronomy 34 describes the death of Moses. It is difficult to attribute
    the description of a funeral to the deceased.

  • One passage in Genesis 33 has Jacob legally purchasing the location
    Shechem for the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. Genesis 34 has
    Jacob's sons killing all of the men of Shechem by a deceitful trick.

  • The first part of the story in Numbers 25 about the rebellion at Peor
    referred to Moabite women; the second part said that they were Midianites.

  • Moses is described as going to the Tabernacle in a passage where the
    Tabernacle had not yet been built.

  • A list of Edomite kings included some monarchs who were in power after
    Moses' death.

  • Some locations are identified by names that were invented long after the
    death of Moses. One example is seen in Genesis 14:14; it refers to the city
    of Dan. That name did not exist until a long time after Moses' death.

  • There are many verses in the Torah that state that something has lasted
    "to this day". That appears to have been written by a
    writer who composed the passages at a much later date.

  • Numbers 12:3 states "Now the man Moses was very humble, more than
    all men who were on the face of the earth.
    " (NKJ) If Moses were
    that humble, it is unlikely that he would have described himself in these

  • Deuteronomy 34:10 states "There has never been another prophet
    like Moses...
    " (NLT) This sounds like a passage written long after
    Moses' death.

Related essays on this web site:


  1. J.D. Douglas et al, "Old Testament Volume: New Commentary on the
    Whole Bible
    ," Tyndale, Wheaton, IL, (1990)
  2. R.E. Friedman, "Who Wrote the Bible?" Harper Collins,
    San Francisco, CA, (1997).
  3. D.J.A. Clines, "Pentateuch," (an essay in B.M. Metzger
    et al, "The Oxford Companion to the Bible," Oxford
    University Press, New York, NY (1993), Page 579 to 582.
  4. R.K. Harrison, "Introduction to the Old Testament,"
    Page 497 [cited in R.B. Dillard & T. Longman III, "An
    Introduction to the Old Testament
    ," Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI,
    (1994) Page 39]
  5. P.N. Benware, "Survey of the Old Testament", Moody Press,
    Chicago IL, (1993)
  6. Larry Richards, "Bible Difficulties Solved," Revell,
    Grand Rapids, MI, (1993), Pages 13 to 15.
  7. J.W. Hayford, "Hayford's Bible Handbook," Thomas
    Nelson, Nashville, TN, (1995).
  8. C.M. Laymon, Editor, The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the
    , Abingdon Press, Nashville TN (1971), P. 122


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