In the past few hundred years, the Bible has been under severe attack by scientific and philosophical skeptics of all sorts. In this scientific age the most-attacked book of the Bible has arguably been Genesis, particularly the first eleven chapters. Long-age geology, big bang cosmology, secular archaeology, liberal theology, and philosophical attacks on miracles in the Bible have deceived many people to believe that the Bible is not true and therefore cannot be trusted.
One of the major attacks on the Bible in the past 300 years has been directed against Moses and his authorship of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis–Deuteronomy). Such attacks on these foundational books of the rest of the Bible come both from non-Christians as well as professing Christians.
Seminary courses, theology books, introductions to the Pentateuch in Bibles, and the secular media have promoted the man-made idea that Moses did not write the Pentateuch (also known as the Law or Torah). Instead, it is claimed that at least four different authors (or groups of authors) wrote various portions of these books over many centuries and then one or more redactors (editors) over many years combined and interwove everything together into its present form. For example, one translation of the Bible we surveyed said this in its introduction to the Pentateuch:
Despite its unity of plan and purpose, the book is a complex work, not to be attributed to a single original author. Several sources, or literary traditions, that the final redactor used in his composition are discernable. These are the Yahwist (J), Elohist (E), and Priestly (P) sources which in turn reflect older oral traditions . . .1
The introduction to the Old Testament in another Bible translation says that the J document was written by someone much later than Moses in the Southern Kingdom of Judah and the E document was written by someone in the Northern Kingdom of Israel.2 Let's evaluate the arguments put forth in defense of this hypothesis.
The Documentary (or JEDP) Hypothesis
Various sections of the Pentateuch are assigned to various authors who are identified by the letters J, E, D, and P. Hence, it is called the documentary hypothesis (or the JEDP model3). As this hypothesis was developed by a number of Jewish and theologically liberal Christian scholars in the late seventeenth to the late nineteenth centuries, there were a number of different proposals of who wrote what and when. But by the end of the nineteenth century liberal scholars had reached general agreement. The letters stand for:
- J documents are the sections, verses, or in some cases parts of verses that were written by one or more authors who preferred to use the Hebrew name Jahweh (Jehovah) to refer to God. It is proposed that this author wrote about 900–850 BC.
- E documents are the texts that use the name Elohim for God and were supposedly written around 750–700 BC.
- D stands for Deuteronomy, most of which was written by a different author or group of authors, perhaps around the time of King Josiah's reforms in 621 BC.
- P stands for Priest and identifies the texts in Leviticus and elsewhere in the Pentateuch that were written by a priest or priests during the exile in Babylon after 586 BC.
Then around 400 BC some redactors (i.e., editors) supposedly combined these four independently written texts to form the Pentateuch as it was known in the time of Jesus and modern times.
Development of the Documentary Hypothesis
Ibn Ezra was a very influential Jewish rabbi in the twelfth century AD. While he believed in the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, he noticed that a few verses (e.g., Genesis 12:6, Genesis 22:14) had some phrases that seemed mysteriously out of place.4 But he never pursued these mysteries to resolve them.5
About 500 years later, the famous Jewish philosopher Baruch (Benedict) Spinoza (1632–1677) picked up on what Ibn Ezra had stated and asserted that Ibn Ezra did not believe Moses wrote the Pentateuch. Others disagreed, pointing to other statements by Ibn Ezra that contradicted Spinoza's conclusion. In his book Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (1670), Spinoza, who was a pantheist and was subsequently excommunicated from the Jewish community and denounced by Christians, argued that Moses did not write the Pentateuch. Besides using the verses noted by Ibn Ezra, Spinoza offered a few other brief arguments against Mosaic authorship which were easily answered by Christian writers in the following few decades.6
Further attacks on the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch began taking hold.
Nevertheless, further attacks on the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch began taking hold in France through Jean Astruc, whose book Conjectures about the original memoirs which it appeared that Moses used in composing the Book of Genesis with certain remarks which help clarify these conjectures was published in 1753. He believed Moses was the author of the Pentateuch, but he unlocked the door for the skepticism of later scholars.
Astruc basically questioned, as others had before him, how Moses knew what happened prior to his own life, (i.e., the history recorded in Genesis). In other words, where did Moses get information on the patriarchs? Of course, there are several ways Moses could have obtained this information: divine revelation, previously written texts passed down through the generations, and/or oral tradition from his ancestors.7 Regardless, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20–21), the books of Moses would be completely true and without error.
Astruc also noticed that Elohim (the Hebrew name for God in Genesis 1:1–2:3) was used in Genesis 1, but then the text switches to Yahweh (Jehovah) in chapter 2. Astruc claimed that these name changes indicated different sources that Moses used. Specifically, he thought that Genesis 1:1–2:3 was one creation account and Genesis 2:4–24 was a different creation account. Hence, we have the Elohim and Jehovah sections (or E and J documents).8 Thus, the first assumption of the documentary hypothesis became established: the use of different divine names means different authors of the text.
The German scholar Johann Eichhorn took the next step by applying Astruc's idea to the whole of Genesis. Initially, in his 1780 Introduction to the Old Testament, Eichhorn said that Moses copied previous texts. But in later editions he apparently conceded the view of others that the J-E division could be applied to the whole of the Pentateuch which was written after Moses.9
Following Eichhorn, other ideas were advanced in denial of the Mosaic authorship of the first five books on the Old Testament. In 1802, Johann Vater insisted that Genesis was made from at least 39 fragments. In 1805, Wilhelm De Wette contended that none of the Pentateuch was written before King David and that Deuteronomy was written at the time of King Josiah.
From here, the door flew open to profess that other portions of the Law were not written by Moses. Not only was there a J-document, E-document and D-document, but then it was argued that Leviticus and some other portions of the Pentateuch were the work of Jewish priests, hence the P-documents.
And today, several variant views of documentary hypothesis exist, but perhaps the most popular is that of Julius Wellhausen proposed in 1895. Wellhausen put dates to the alleged four sources and none were earlier than around 900 BC.10 As noted Old Testament scholar, Gleason Archer remarks, "Although Wellhausen contributed no innovations to speak of, he restated the documentary theory with great skill and persuasiveness, supporting the JEDP sequence upon an evolutionary basis."11
Even though a great many scholars and much of the public have accepted this view, is it really true? Did Moses have little or nothing to do with the writing of the book of Genesis or the rest of the Pentateuch? Several lines of evidence should lead us to reject the documentary hypothesis as a fabrication of unbelievers.
Reasons to reject the Documentary Hypothesis
There are many reasons to reject this skeptical attack on the Bible. First, consider what the Bible itself says about the authorship of the Pentateuch.
Biblical witness to Mosaic authorship
- The chart below shows that the Pentateuch states that Moses wrote these books: Exodus 17:14; 24:4; 34:27; Numbers 33:1–2; Deuteronomy 31:9–11. In his rejection of Mosaic authorship, Wellhausen nowhere discussed this biblical evidence. It is easy to deny Mosaic authorship, if one ignores the evidence for it. But that is not honest scholarship.
- We also have the witness of the rest of the Old Testament: Joshua 1:8; 8:31–32; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6; 21:8; Ezra 6:18; Nehemiah 13:1; Daniel 9:11–13; Malachi 4:4.
- The New Testament is also clear in its testimony: Matthew 19:8; John 5:45–47; 7:19; Acts 3:22; Romans 10:5; Mark 12:26. The divisions of the Old Testament were clearly in place in the Jewish mind long before the time of Christ, namely, the Law of Moses (first 5 books of the OT), the Prophets (the historical and prophetic books) and the Writings (the poetic books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, etc.). So when Jesus referred to the Law of Moses, His Jewish listeners knew exactly to what He was referring.
Then the Lord said to Moses, "Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven."
Now Moses wrote down the starting points of their journeys at the command of the Lord. And these are their journeys according to their starting points:
Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses: "an altar of whole stones over which no man has wielded an iron tool." And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord, and sacrificed peace offerings.(see Exodus 20:24–25)
Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, lest you turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left.
|1 Kings 2:3||
And keep the charge of the Lord your God: to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.
|2 Kings 14:6||
But the children of the murderers he did not execute, according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, in which the Lord commanded, saying, "Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; but a person shall be put to death for his own sin."(see Deuteronomy 24:16)
|1 Chronicles 22:13||
Then you will prosper, if you take care to fulfill the statutes and judgments with which the Lord charged Moses concerning Israel. Be strong and of good courage; do not fear nor be dismayed.
They assigned the priests to their divisions and the Levites to their divisions, over the service of God in Jerusalem, as it is written in the Book of Moses.(This is taught in the books of Exodus and Leviticus.)
On that day they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people, and in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever come into the assembly of God.(see Deuteronomy 23:3–5)
Yes, all Israel has transgressed Your law, and has departed so as not to obey Your voice; therefore the curse and the oath written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against Him.
Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.
And Jesus said to him, "See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."(see Leviticus 14:1–32)
But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob"?(see Exodus 3:6)
Abraham said to him, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them."
And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
Then He said to them, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me."
For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.
Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath.
For Moses truly said to the fathers, 'The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you.(see Deuteronomy 18:15)
And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."
So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening.
For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, "The man who does those things shall live by them."(see Leviticus 18:1–5)
But I say, did Israel not know? First Moses says: "I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation, I will move you to anger by a foolish nation."(see Deuteronomy 32:21)
|1 Corinthians 9:9||
For it is written in the law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain." Is it oxen God is concerned about?(see Deuteronomy 25:4)
|2 Corinthians 3:15||
But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.
Take note of some the references back to Moses' work. For example, John 7:22 and Acts 15:1 refer to Moses giving the doctrine of circumcision. Yet John also reveals that this came earlier—in Genesis, with Abraham. Nevertheless, it is credited to Moses because it was recorded in his writings. The New Testament attributes all the books from Genesis through Deuteronomy as being the writings of Moses. So, to attack the Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Old Testament then is to attack the truthfulness of the rest of the biblical writers and Jesus Himself.
Moses's qualifications to write
Not only is there abundant biblical witness that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, Moses was fully qualified to write the Pentateuch. He received an Egyptian royal education (Acts 7:22) and was an eyewitness to the events recorded in Exodus to Deuteronomy, which contain many references or allusions to Egyptian names of places, people, and gods, as well as Egyptian words, idioms, and cultural factors. He also consistently demonstrated an outsider's view of Canaan (from the perspective of Egypt or Sinai).12 And as a prophet of God he was the appropriate recipient of the written records or oral traditions of the patriarchs from Adam to his own day, which the Holy Spirit could use to guide Moses to write the inerrant text of Genesis. There is no other ancient Hebrew who was more qualified than Moses to write the Pentateuch.
Fallacious reasoning of the Skeptics
A final reason for rejecting the documentary hypothesis and accepting the biblical testimony to the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch is the erroneous assumptions and reasoning of the liberal scholars and other skeptics.
- They assumed their conclusion. They assumed that the Bible is not a supernatural revelation from God and then manipulated the biblical text to arrive at that conclusion. They were implicitly Deistic or atheistic in their thinking.
- They assumed that Israel's religion was simply the invention of man, a product of evolution, as all other religions are.
- Based on evolutionary ideas, they assumed that "the art of writing was virtually unknown in Israel prior to the establishment of the Davidic monarchy; therefore there could have been no written records going back to the time of Moses."13 This claim not only attacks the intelligence of the ancient Israelites, but also the Egyptians who trained Moses. Were the Egyptians incapable of teaching Moses how to read and write? Since the time the documentary hypothesis was first proposed, archaeologists have discovered scores of written records pre-dating the time of Moses. It is hard to believe that Israel's ancient neighbors knew how to write, but the Jews could not.
- Liberal Bible scholars allegedly based their theories on evidence from the Biblical text and yet they evaded the Biblical evidence that refutes their theories. Theirs was a "pick and choose" approach to studying the Bible, which is hardly honest scholarship in pursuit of truth.
- They arbitrarily assumed that the Hebrew authors were different from all other writers in history— that the Hebrews were incapable of using more than one name for God, or more than one writing style regardless of the subject matter, or more than one of several possible synonyms for a single idea.
- Their subjective bias led them to illegitimately assume that any biblical statement was unreliable until proven reliable (though they would not do this with any other ancient or modern text) and when they found any disagreement between the Bible and ancient pagan literature, the latter was automatically given preference and trusted as a historical witness. The former violates the well-accepted concept known as Aristotle's dictum, which advises that the benefit of the doubt should be given to the document itself, rather than the critic. In other words, the Bible (or any other book) should be considered innocent until proven guilty, or reliable until its unreliability is compellingly demonstrated.
- Although many examples have been found of an ancient Semitic author using repetition and duplication in his narrative technique, skeptical scholars assume that when Hebrew authors did this, it is compelling evidence of multiple authorship of the biblical text.
- The skeptics erroneously assumed, without any other ancient Hebrew literature to compare with the biblical text, that they could, with scientific reliability, establish the date of the composition of each book of the Bible.14
- To date, no manuscript evidence of the J-document, E-document, P-document, D-document, or any of the other supposed fragments have ever been discovered. And there are no ancient Jewish commentaries that mention any of these imaginary documents or their alleged unnamed authors. All the manuscript evidence we have is for the first five books of the Bible just as we have them today. This is confirmed by the singular Jewish testimony (until the last few centuries) that these books are the writings of Moses.
Is JEDP/Documentary Hypothesis the same thing as the Tablet model of Genesis?
These two ways of dividing Genesis are not the same at all. The Tablet Model is based on the Hebrew word toledoth, which appears eleven times in Genesis (Genesis 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9; 37:2) and helps to tie the whole book together as a single history. Our English Bibles translate toledoth variously as "this is the account" or "these are the generations" of Adam, Noah, Shem, etc. Scholars disagree about whether each toledoth follows or precedes the text with which it is associated, though we are inclined to agree with those scholars who conclude the former. In this case, the name associated with the toledoth is either the author or custodian of that section (see for example, Table 2 below). Regardless, the eleven uses of toledoth unite the book as a history of the key events and people from Creation to the time of Moses.
Unlike the JEDP model, the Tablet model shows a reverence for the text of Genesis and attention to these explicit divisions provided by the book itself. These divisions represent either oral tradition or written texts passed down by the Genesis patriarchs to their descendants,15 which Moses then used to put Genesis into its final form under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
We think it very likely that Moses was working with written documents because the second toledoth (Genesis 5:1) reads "
this is the book of the generations of Adam" where "book" is a translation of the normal Hebrew word meaning a written document. Also, the account of the Flood after the third toledoth (Genesis 6:9) reads like a ship's log. Only evolutionary thinking would lead us to conclude that Adam and his descendants could not write. Early man was very intelligent: Cain built a city (Genesis 4:17), six generations later people were making musical instruments and had figured out how to mine ores and make metals (Genesis 4:21–22), Noah built a huge boat for his family and thousands of animals to survive a year-long flood, etc.16
|Beginning||End||Probable author of original work from which Moses drew|
|Genesis 1:1||Genesis 2:4a||Adam by direct divine revelation, so not connected with Adam's name|
|Genesis 2:4b||Genesis 5:1a||Adam|
|Genesis 5:1b||Genesis 6:9a||Noah|
|Genesis 6:9b||Genesis 10:1||Shem, Ham, and Japheth|
|Genesis 10:2||Genesis 11:10a||Shem|
|Genesis 11:10b||Genesis 11:27a||Terah|
|Genesis 11:27b||Genesis 25:12a||Abraham|
|Genesis 25:12b||Genesis 25:19a||Ishmael|
|Genesis 25:19b||Genesis 36:1a||Esau|
|Genesis 36:1b||Genesis 36:9a||Jacob?17|
|Genesis 36:9b||Genesis 37:2||Jacob|
|Genesis 37:2b||Genesis 50:26||Joseph|
The biblical doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture does not require us to conclude that all the books of the Bible were written by God dictating to the human authors. Dictation was one means employed, very often in the prophetic books (e.g., the prophet says, "
The Word of the Lord came to me saying"). But much of the Bible was written from the eyewitness experience of the authors (e.g. 2 Peter 1:16) or as a result of research by the author (e.g., Luke 1:1–4). And just as Christian authors today can quote truthful statements from non-Christian sources without thereby endorsing their wrong ideas, so the Biblical authors could quote non-believers or non-biblical sources without introducing false statements into their divine writings (e.g., Joshua 10:13, 2 Samuel 1:18, Acts 17:28, Titus 1:12, Jude 14–15). So it is perfectly reasonable to think that Moses wrote Genesis from pre-existing, well-preserved oral tradition and/or written documents from the patriarchs.
Unlike those who affirm Mosaic authorship of Genesis and divide the text by the toledoths, JEDP adherents divide the text on the basis of the names of God that were used and say that, at best, Moses simply wove these texts together, often in contradictory ways. However, most JEDP advocates would say that Moses had nothing to do with writing Genesis or the rest of the Pentateuch, which were written much later by many authors and editors.
Answering a Few Objections
A number of objections have been raised by the proponents of the documentary hypothesis. Space allows us to respond to only a few of the most common ones. But the other objections are just as flawed in terms of logic and a failure to pay careful attention to the biblical text.
- Moses couldn't have written about his own death, which shows that he didn't write Deuteronomy.
The death of Moses is recorded in Deuteronomy 34:5–12. These are the last few verses of the book. Like other literature, past and present, it is not uncommon for an obituary to be added at the end of someone's work after he dies, especially if he died very soon after writing the book. The obituary in no way nullifies the claim that the author wrote the book.18
In the case of Deuteronomy, the author of the obituary of Moses was probably Joshua, a close associate of Moses who was chosen by God to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land (for Moses was not allowed to because of his disobedience), and who was inspired by God to write the next book in the Old Testament. A similar obituary of Joshua was added by an inspired editor to the end of Joshua's book (Joshua 24:29–33).
- The author of Genesis 12:6 seems to imply that the Canaanites were removed from the land, which took place well after Moses died?
Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land."
So the argument is that an author after Moses had to have written this statement to know that the Canaanites were removed in the days of Joshua who began judging the Canaanites for their sin after Moses died.
Two things can be said in response. First, Moses could have easily written this without knowing that the Canaanites would be removed after his death, because due to warring kingdoms or other factors, people groups did get removed from territories. So, it was just a statement of fact about who was living in the land at the time of Abraham. But secondly, it could also be a comment added by a later editor working under divine inspiration. The editorial comment would in no way deny the Mosaic authorship of the book of Genesis. Editors sometimes add to books by deceased authors and no one then denies that the deceased wrote the book.
- Genesis 14:14 mentions the Israelite region of Dan, which was assigned to that tribe during the conquest led by Joshua after Moses died. So Moses could not have written this verse.
Now when Abram heard that his brother19 was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. He divided his forces against them by night, and he and his servants attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus."
Genesis 14:14 mentions Dan. However, Dan in this context is not the region of Dan, that Israelite tribe's inheritance given when the Jews took the Promised Land, but a specific ancient town of Dan, north of the Sea of Galilee that was in existence long before the Israelites entered the land. Jewish historian Josephus, just after the time of Christ, says:
"When Abram heard of their calamity, he was at once afraid for Lot his kinsman, and pitied the Sodomites, his friends and neighbours; and thinking it proper to afford them assistance, he did not delay it, but marched hastily, and the fifth night attacked the Assyrians, near Dan, for that is the name of the other spring of Jordan; and before they could arm themselves, he slew some as they were in their beds, before they could suspect any harm; and others, who were not yet gone to sleep, but were so drunk they could not fight, ran away."20
This specific place (Dan) was known to Abraham as one of the springs of Jordan. It is possible that Rachel was already aware of that name (Dan), as it meant "judge," and used it for the son of her handmaiden (Genesis 30:6). It seems Rachel viewed this as the Lord finally turning the tide in judgment and permitting her a son. In the same way, this was where the Lord judged his enemies through Abraham.
But again, even if "near Dan, for that is the name of the other spring of Jordan" was added by a later inspired editor, this would not mean that it was inaccurate to say the Moses wrote Genesis.21
- The author of Genesis 36:31 obviously knew about kings in Israel which took place well after Moses, so Moses could not have written this.
Such a claim is without warrant. Moses was clearly aware that this had been prophesied about the nation of Israel when Lord told Abraham (Genesis 17:6) and Jacob (Genesis 35:11) that Israel would have kings. Also, Moses himself prophesied in Deuteronomy 17:14–20 that Israel would have kings. So knowing that kings were coming was already common knowledge to Moses.
There is abundant biblical and extra-biblical evidence that Moses wrote the Pentateuch during the wilderness wanderings after the Jews left their slavery in Egypt and before they entered the Promised Land (about 1445–1405 BC). Contrary to the liberal theologians and other skeptics, it was not written after the Jews returned from exile in Babylon (ca. 500 BC). Christians who believe Moses wrote the Pentateuch do not need to feel intellectually intimidated. It is the enemies of the truth of God that are failing to think carefully and face the facts honestly.
As a prophet of God, Moses wrote under divine inspiration, guaranteeing the complete accuracy and absolute authority of his writings. Those writings were endorsed by Jesus and the New Testament apostles, who based their teaching and the truth of the gospel on the truths revealed in the books of Moses, including the truths about a literal six-day creation about 6000 years ago, the Curse on the whole creation when Adam sinned, and the judgment of the global, catastrophic Flood at the time of Noah.
The attack on the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch is nothing less than an attack on the veracity, reliability, and authority of the Word of Almighty God. Christians should believe God, rather than the fallible, sinful skeptics inside and outside the church who, in their intellectual arrogance, are consciously or unconsciously trying to undermine the Word so that they can justify in their own minds (but not before God) their rebellion against God. As Paul says in Romans 3:4,"
Let God be true and every man a liar."