Archive for the 'Pentateuch' Category

Did Moses write the Pentateuch?

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

By Spencer D Gear

The Pentateuch consists of the first five books of the Bible – Genesis to Deuteronomy. Here is an overview of the JEDP theory:[1]



The JEDP theory (sometimes called the Graf-Wellhausen or Documentary Hypothesis) was developed in the 18th and 19th century by critical scholars of the Bible. Under this view, the Pentateuch was not written by Moses. Instead, it was the result of a later author/editor, who pieced multiple sources together. Among these sources were:

J: From the German “Jahweh” or Yahwist source (dated ~950-850 BC).

E: From the Elohist source. Northern kingdom (~750 BC).

D: From the Deuteronomistic source. Southern kingdom (~650 BC).

P: From the Priestly source. Post-exilic (~587 BC).

An online discussion re JEDP

I engaged in discussion online with Jim, a promoter of the JEDP theory. Here is a copy of the discussion:[2]

OZ: The biblical evidence is right before us of Mosaic authorship.

JP: Does that evidence include Moses referring to himself in the third person and writing about his death, burial and 30 days of mourning AFTER he died?  believe it is from Moses’ time but not necessarily from his hand. (He was rather busy, you know.)

OZ: The Pentateuch claims in many places that Moses was the writer, e.g. Exodus 17:14; 24:4–7; 34:27; Numbers 33:2; Deuteronomy 31:9, 22, 24.

JP: It also has many places where Moses is referred to in the third person. So what? That means that Moses is reported to have written portions of “the Book of Moses.” It does not require that he wrote the whole thing. (Unless you are willing to hold to his continued, post-mortem, writing.)

OZ: Many times in the rest of the Old Testament, Moses is said to have been the writer, e.g. Joshua 1:7–8

JP: “Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you”.That does not say Moses wrote the entire Pentateuch. It says he commanded Israel to keep the Law.
Joshua 8:32–34 Ditto.  Judges 3:4 Ditto.

Here’s what the Bible DOES say Moses wrote:

Exodus 24:4, And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD. (The Laws)  And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel (NKJV).

Numbers 33:2, 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:

Deuteronomy 31:9, So Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel.

Deuteronomy 31:22, Therefore Moses wrote this song the same day, and taught it to the children of Israel.

OZ: In the New Testament, Jesus frequently spoke of Moses’ writings or the Law of Moses,

JP: This is a very common and simplistic “proof.” The Torah was referred to as “The Book of Moses.” That name does not carry with it a statement of authorship. I have a “Webster’s Dictionary.” I have no misconception that it is a copy of what Noah Webster personally wrote.

OZ:   it seems likely that a sole author was responsible. Their exhaustive computer analysis conducted in Israel suggested an 82 percent probability that the book has just one author.

JP: I think Genesis is the work of a sole author. And a sole author can include more than one tradition and relating of the same story. It takes a great deal of skill and sophistication to do it well. I believe it was written by a sole author, most probably a contemporary of Moses and probably at the direction of Moses.

You seem to be rejecting out of hand, without consideration, the possibility that there could be more than one version of the creation and flood stories among these ancient people. That flies in the face of the existence of a variety of creation and flood stories among the ancient Mesopotamian people.

You also seem to be hung up on the idea that one author would, of necessity, have only one view to relate. That is not only unnecessary but, considering the text, it is unreasonable.

Further, you seem to assume that if I can see more than one tradition reflected in the text that I must agree with the whole of the documentary hypothesis, lock, stock and barrel. I do not. I think it is the result of over-analyzation combined with fertile imaginations and the need to publish.

I do see the two traditions, both representing valid recitals of the story of beginning from God’s creation of the heavens and earth through the dispersion. (Gen 1:1 – 11:9).

The dispersion is followed by a genealogy which connects the creation story to the story of the Hebrews who are the sons of Abraham, the descendant of Shem (SHem means “Name” and apparently refers to those who called upon Ha-Shem) the descendant of seth the son of Adam.

There is a felt need among many people that only Moses be allowed to be the author of the Pentateuch. It is an irrational need that flies in the face of the words of which Moses is demanded to be sole author. It is an imposition of man’s desire upon the word of God which detracts from it by restricting our understanding of His message to the views of one sect among God’s people.

Let my people go.

The Pentateuch and the JEDP theory

See my brief article, ‘JEDP Documentary Hypothesis refuted’.

This is not the place for a detailed critique of JEDP, but a few criticisms given by R. N. Whybray, who is certainly not a conservative, are in order:

1. While those espousing the documentary hypothesis assume that the biblical writers avoided repetitions, ancient literature from the same period reveled in repetitions and doublets as a mark of literary artistry.

2. The documentary hypothesis breaks up narratives into different sources thereby destroying their inherent literary and artistic qualities.

3. The source critics assume that variety in language and style is a sign of different sources, but it could just as well be a sign of differences in subject matter that carry with them their own distinctive vocabulary and style.

4. Inadequate evidence exists to argue for a sustained unique style, narrative story line, purpose and theological point of view in each of the four main documents that are thought to be the sources for the contents and message of the Pentateuch (cited in Kaiser 2001:137).

This we know from Scripture

The Pentateuch often refers to Moses as the author (eg Ex. 17:14; 24:4; 34:27; Num. 33:1-2; Deut. 31:9). Christ and the apostles gave unequivocal support for Moses as the author of the Torah (Law), eg John 5:46-57; 7:19; Acts 3:22 [cf. Deut. 18:15]; Rom. 10:5.

Works consulted

Kaiser Jr., W C 2001, The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable & Relevant? Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.


[1] This summary of JEDP is provided by James Rochford of Xenos Christian Fellowship, ‘Authorship of the Pentateuch’, Evidence Unseen, available at: (Accessed 31 July 2013).

[2] This is based on an interaction I (ozspen) had with Jim Parker on Christian Fellowship Forum, Contentious Brethren, ‘Dawkins won’t debate creationists’, FatherJimParker #41, 5 June 2012, available at: (Accessed 6 June 2012).


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 November 2015.