Did Moses Write the Pentateuch?

If one accepts the internal evidence, there are many passages attributing the authorship of the first five books of the Old Testament to Moses. “The Lord said to Moses write down these words, for in accord with them I have made a
covenant with you and with Israel” (Exodus 34:27). “When Moses had finished writing out the words of the law in their entirety” (Deuteronomy31:24; also see Exodus 17:14; Exodus 24:04; Leviticus01:01; Leviticus 06:08; Deuteronomy 31:09; Joshua01:07-08; Joshua 08:31-34; 2 Chronicles 03, 2 Chronicles 04, 2 Chronicles 14).

The New Testament also has passages testifying to Mosaic authorship. “For the law was given through Moses” (John 01:17; also see John 05:46; John 07:23; Acts 15:21; Acts 26:22; Romans 10:05).

Josephus and Philo, historians of the first century, wrote that Moses was the author of the Torah. The King James Version of the Bible introduces Genesis as “the first book of Moses” numbering all the books down to Deuteronomy as the “fifth book of Moses.” The above passages, is strictly interpreted, however would only support his authorship of parts of the Torah.

Nevertheless many fundamentalists and other evangelical Christians continue to support Mosaic authorship under the principle of the inerrancy of the Scripture based on the above internal witness.

Why Mosaic Authorship Rejected

The groundwork for the solution to this problem came from the work of many scholars, but in its completed form it is called the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis.  If Moses wrote the Pentateuch, there are a number of unexplained inconsistencies, contradictions, and duplications in the text based on seven premises.

#1. If these writings are Mosaic there are a number of anachronisms. (events that happened after Moses’ death). A list of the kings that reigned in Edom before Israel had a king (Genesis 36:31ff). Abraham pursued the captors of Lot as far as Dan (Genesis 14:14). Yet it wasn’t known by this name until long after Moses (Judges 18:29). The statement that Canaanites were in the land (Genesis 12:06; Genesis 13:07), which implies a time after the post Mosaic period.  References to the Philistines who did not migrate to Palestine until the beginning of the 12th century (Genesis 31:24; Genesis 26:14; Exodus 13:17).

#2. There are replications of events that have curiously similar features.  Beersheba was named to commemorate a covenant between Abraham and Abimelech (Genesis 21:31). In Genesis 26:31 it is between Isaac and Abimelech. The name Luz changed to Bethel on Jacob’s journey to Paddan-Aram (Genesis 28:19) and a second time on his return (Genesis 35:15). The name change of Jacob to Israel at Peniel (Genesis 32:29) whereas it was at Bethel according to Genesis 35:10. There are three incidents in Genesis where A patriarch asks his wife to pose as his sister; Abraham-Pharaoh (Genesis 02:10f); Abraham-Abimelech (Genesis 20:01ff); Isaac-Abimelech (Genesis 26:06ff). Hagar leaves her mistress twice (Genesis 16:06ff; Genesis 21:10f).

#3. There are serious disagreements in some of the narratives: two different creation stories (Genesis 01:01ff; Genesis 02:04ff). In the flood story Noah was to bring a pair of each animal into the ark (Genesis 06:19) or was it seven pairs of clean and one pair of unclean (Genesis 07:02)? It rained for forty days (Genesis 07:12) then he sent out the birds over four periods of seven days and found that the flood had abated (Genesis 08:06ff). In contradiction the water prevailed for 150 days (Genesis 07:24) and abated a year and ten days after (Genesis 07:11; Genesis 08:14). Is Joseph sold to the Ishmalites (Genesis 37:28a) or to the Midianites (Genesis 37:28b)? Isaac was on his death bed (Genesis 27:01ff) and according to the chronology took eighty years to die (Genesis 25:26; Genesis 26:03; Genesis 35:28).

#4. There are disagreements in the laws and inconsistencies. The Passover lamb is to be roasted (Exodus 12:09), or is it to be boiled (Deuteronomy 19:07 RSV). Altars may be erected anywhere that the Lord has chosen (Exodus 20:24). Whereas Deuteronomy 12:14 recognizes only one legitimate sanctuary. Sacrifice only by Aaron’s sons (Exodus 1); whereas in Deuteronomy 18; Deuteronomy 07 it is open to any Levite.  The feast of tabernacles is for seven days (Deuteronomy 16:15). In Leviticus 23:36 it is to be for eight days. There are other laws in disagreement.

#5. There are differences in the divine name. Exodus 76:01 says that the patriarchs knew God only as El Shaddai, God Almighty, but now it must be Yahweh.  However Yahweh is used in Genesis prior to this time to Abraham (Exodus 15:02, Exodus 15:06), to Sarah (Exodus 16:02), to Laban (Exodus 24:31), and Jacob (Exodus 28:13) and several other places.

#6. In the narratives there are different concepts of God. In the first account of the creation (Genesis 01:01- 02:04a) God is Elohim who is a transcendent power, his word bringing everything to being. Whereas in the second one (Genesis 02:02a-25) Yahweh, who is an anthropomorphic being, creates man out of dirt, and builds a woman from a rib of man. Yahweh then plants a garden and walks in the cool of the day (Genesis 03).

#7. There are different literary styles in various parts of the Pentateuch. We have the simple narratives presented by a master story teller in contrast to the rhetorical and hortatory style of Deuteronomy. There is the dry and formal listing of the law (Leviticus).

The Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis

In looking at the seven listed problems it was concluded that there were at least three different collections of material apart from the main body of Deuteronomy which reveals a separate block, whose style is unique. This is called “the Deuteronomist” (D)

The earliest collection is the Yahwist (J) rooted in the United Kingdom (1000-900 BC) presenting the God who deals with humans face to face. It contains many of the most popular stories. It shows great insight into human behavior.

The Elohist tradition (E) shows a God only visible to Moses. Contact is made through dreams and angels. It emphasizes heroes of the North which indicates that it was the product of the Northern Kingdom (870-850). After the North was destroyed, J and E were combined which is difficult to unravel.

In the Priestly tradition (P) God is called Elohim and El Shaddai. It combines JED with editorial comments (500-400 BC). It shows an interest in the Sabbath, circumcision, cultic worship, the temple, and the covenant. For further details see the article in the Introduction to the Pentateuch in the New American Bible.


It is important to understand that the above reconstruction of literary sources does not make the Scripture any less the inspired word of God. God uses human instruments here on earth to further his kingdom.

Some of the current paraphrased Bibles, especially the Living Bible, have arbitrarily changed some of the problematic passages mentioned above thinking that this eliminated the problem. Obviously it does not!

The New American Bible has excellent footnotes that give the answers to many of these problems.

"Did Moses Write the Pentateuch?" is one of the pamphlets on the biblical foundations of the Catholic Church written May 2008 to Nov 2010 by Deacon Paul Carlson of Minneapolis, Minnesota's St Lawrence Catholic Church / Newman Center, a Paulist Foundation. (St Lawrence is the Catholic Church of Southeast Minneapolis and is right in the heart of "Dinkytown USA".)

This blog post is a memorial serialization of those pamphlets written by Deacon Paul Carlson at the request of than Pastor/Director Fr John J. Behnke, who asked Deacon Paul to write brief answers to questions University students often encountered as Catholics.

At couple of weeks before Deacon Paul's death, he said: "If there are any financial gains made from the blog serialization of my pamphlets, please have the money given to St. Lawrence Parish and Newman Center or Paulist Fathers, because what they do is so important." If you can, send memorials to St. Lawrence Parish and Newman Center or Paulist Fathers at 1203 Fifth Street, S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55414. 

Remember Deacon Paul Carlson in your prayers, as well as all the other souls of the faithful departed, who have died in the grace of Jesus Christ.

No comments:

Post a Comment