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Who Wrote the Pentateuch and When Was It Written?

Introduction: The Importance of the Pentateuch


The Pentateuch, also known as the Torah, comprises the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These foundational texts are crucial not only to Judaism but also to Christianity, as they lay the groundwork for understanding God's relationship with humanity, His covenant with Israel, and His redemptive plan. Determining the authorship and dating of these texts is essential for biblical scholarship and for affirming the reliability of Scripture.



Traditional Mosaic Authorship: Biblical Evidence


The Testimony of the Pentateuch Itself


The Pentateuch itself contains numerous references to Moses writing down the laws and events described within these books. For example, Exodus 24:4 states, "And Moses wrote down all the words of Jehovah." Similarly, Deuteronomy 31:9 records, "Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of Jehovah, and to all the elders of Israel."


New Testament Affirmation


The New Testament also affirms Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. Jesus Himself refers to the writings of Moses. In John 5:46-47, Jesus says, "For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?" This direct reference underscores the early Christian belief in Mosaic authorship.


Other Scriptural References


Several other Old Testament passages also attribute authorship to Moses. Joshua 8:31 mentions, "As it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses," and 2 Chronicles 34:14 speaks of "the book of the law of Jehovah given through Moses." These references collectively build a strong biblical case for Mosaic authorship.



Historical and Archaeological Evidence


Ancient Near Eastern Writing Practices


The practice of writing extensive documents and legal codes was well established in the ancient Near East long before the time of Moses. For example, the Code of Hammurabi dates to around 1754 B.C.E., demonstrating that detailed legal and historical records were commonplace. This context supports the feasibility of Moses composing the Pentateuch.


Archaeological Corroboration


Archaeological discoveries have provided corroborative evidence for the events and cultural practices described in the Pentateuch. The discovery of ancient cities mentioned in Genesis, such as Ur and Haran, and the evidence of nomadic lifestyles consistent with the patriarchal narratives lend historical credibility to the accounts.


Challenges from the Documentary Hypothesis


Overview of the Documentary Hypothesis


The Documentary Hypothesis, proposed by scholars like Julius Wellhausen in the 19th century, suggests that the Pentateuch is a compilation of four distinct sources, known as J (Yahwist), E (Elohist), P (Priestly), and D (Deuteronomist). This theory posits that these sources were written over several centuries and later redacted into the form we have today.


Critique of the Documentary Hypothesis


While the Documentary Hypothesis has gained traction in some academic circles, it faces significant criticisms. One major issue is the lack of manuscript evidence for these supposed sources. Additionally, the hypothesis relies heavily on speculative linguistic and stylistic analysis, which can be highly subjective. The coherence and unity of the Pentateuch as a whole often contradict the fragmented nature proposed by this hypothesis.



The Historical-Grammatical Method of Interpretation


The Integrity of the Text


Using the Historical-Grammatical Method, we approach the Pentateuch as a coherent and unified document. This method emphasizes understanding the text in its historical and cultural context, as well as recognizing the literary forms and conventions of the time. By doing so, we respect the integrity and intended meaning of the biblical authors.


The Role of Moses


Moses, as a central figure in the narrative, serves as a plausible and fitting author for the Pentateuch. His unique position as the leader of Israel, recipient of the Law, and eyewitness to the events of the Exodus provides the necessary authority and perspective to compose these foundational texts.



Dating the Pentateuch


Internal Biblical Evidence


The internal evidence of the Pentateuch suggests a date of composition during the lifetime of Moses, around the 15th century B.C.E. This is based on the chronological data provided in the Bible, such as the duration of the Israelites' stay in Egypt and the timing of the Exodus. For instance, 1 Kings 6:1 states, "In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, he began to build the house of Jehovah." This places the Exodus around 1446 B.C.E., suggesting the Pentateuch was written shortly thereafter.


External Historical Corroboration


External historical evidence supports this dating. The geopolitical landscape described in the Pentateuch aligns with what is known of the Late Bronze Age. The presence of various peoples, such as the Hittites, Amorites, and Canaanites, and the sociopolitical dynamics correspond to this period. Furthermore, the use of specific terms and cultural references within the text fits well with the 15th century B.C.E.


Theological Significance of Mosaic Authorship


The Authority of Scripture


Affirming Mosaic authorship underscores the authority and authenticity of the Pentateuch as Scripture. Moses, as a prophet and leader appointed by God, lends divine authority to these texts. This foundational belief impacts how we understand and apply the teachings of the Pentateuch in both personal faith and communal practice.


Continuity of Revelation


Recognizing Moses as the author of the Pentateuch also highlights the continuity of divine revelation. The themes and promises introduced in these books—such as the covenant, the Law, and the anticipation of a future redeemer—form a theological foundation that is developed and fulfilled in subsequent biblical writings. For example, Deuteronomy 18:15 prophesies, "Jehovah your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen." This prophecy finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ, as affirmed in Acts 3:22.



Refuting Modern Skepticism


Addressing Alleged Anachronisms


Critics often point to supposed anachronisms in the Pentateuch as evidence against Mosaic authorship. However, many of these claims arise from misunderstandings or lack of contextual knowledge. For instance, references to Philistines in Genesis are often cited as anachronistic. Yet, recent archaeological findings suggest that early groups identified as Philistines could have been present in the region during the time of the patriarchs.


Literary and Stylistic Unity


The literary and stylistic unity of the Pentateuch also challenges the Documentary Hypothesis. Despite variations in style and vocabulary, the consistent theological themes and narrative coherence point to a single authorship or a closely-knit editorial process under Mosaic oversight. The repeated emphasis on covenant, holiness, and the unique relationship between Jehovah and Israel runs throughout the text, reinforcing its unity.



Conclusion: Upholding the Integrity of the Pentateuch


Affirming the traditional view that Moses wrote the Pentateuch during the 15th century B.C.E. aligns with both internal biblical evidence and external historical and archaeological data. This view upholds the integrity, authority, and coherence of these foundational texts, which are central to the faith and practice of Judaism and Christianity. By maintaining this perspective, we honor the testimony of Scripture, the consistency of God's revelation, and the enduring significance of the Pentateuch in the life of believers.


About the Author

EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 220+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).


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