Mosaic Authorship of the Torah: Problems with the Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP), Part 3

Posted By on March 3, 2012

I’m thinking this will be my next-to-last post on JEDP. The topic has not generated much discussion, so I’m going to move on. Can’t say I’m surprised. I’m not all that interested in composition of the Pentateuch myself. Toward the end I’ll sketch what I think. In this post I want to just give you a taste of what Friedman *doesn’t* tell readers in his book: that several scholars in recent years (not Christian apologetics types) have expressed sincere doubt about JEDP, and have proposed other models. But all that would be the subject of a doctoral seminar, not a blog. So just a glimpse here.

In the last post, I noted that, while the idea that the Pentateuch has been edited and was not entirely composed by Moses is a coherent (and biblically driven) notion, the standard JEDP theory is dissatisfying. Here are the problems I’ve drawn attention to so far, with standard JEDP responses.

1. Nearly 100 instances where two Hebrew source texts disagree as to the name for God (Yahweh or Elohim). JEDP response: sloppy translator; the problem can’t be the divine name criterion.

2. P vocabulary and concepts showing up in Js version of the flood story. JEDP: that’s the editorial hand; he made it messy; the problem can’t be the vocabulary criterion.

3. A criterion for P (no anthropomorphisms) not being valid. JEDP response: I haven’t seen any specifically, though I’m betting it would be something like, “well, J and E do *more* anthropomorphizing, so they must be different authors with different religious views.” (A “counting noses” answer; the problem can’t be the “view of God” criterion — of course this also ignores later anthropomorphosms outside the Pentateuch, and anthropomorphic portrayals in Jewish literature after the biblical period — never mind that stuff).

Beside these specific items, I have alluded to the propensity of JEDP to defend itself by assuming what it seeks to prove, and then offering said assumptions as proof of an argument. In this post I want to illustrate this again from Friedman’s second chapter.

Toward the end of Chapter 2, Friedman writes: “J and E were written by two persons . . . the author of J came from Judah and the author of E came from Israel.” Friedman believes this difference in location explains differences in the sources, such as the divergence in names for God. Friedman then goes on for a few pages telling readers how items in the text “belong” to a Judah writer and an Israel writer. But stop and think about this: Is he “seeing” these things *because* he already has J and E as sources in his head, or would you just read the Torah through and those things be self evident? I think the former is at play in many respects, and that amounts to assuming what one seeks to prove. Any clever interpreter can come up with some reason why someone living in X location probably wrote this.” But is there any compelling reason why someone NOT living in X location could not also have written this? Friedman never considers such things (and, to be fair, he is trying to explain a theory).

At any rate, a number of scholars don’t buy the neat picture Friedman creates for the lay reader. For example, there is Rolf Rendtorff, a respected German scholar who says, “The positing of sources in the sense of the documentary hypothesis can no longer make any contribution to understanding the development of the Pentateuch.1 And consider this quotation from The New Oxford Annotated Bible (2007; p. 6).

These are just sample, of course.

My take is that we don’t have four sources writers with competing agendas. Rather, there was a Mosaic core, patriarchal traditions that began as oral history, a national history, rules for priests and Levites, and a primeval history section. This sounds a bit like sources, but it’s not quite the same. By way of a simplistic summary (this is just a loose description; I haven’t systematized this, since I find so many other things more interesting):

1. Israelites before Moses preserve the patriarchal traditions via oral history.

2. The above traditions pre-date arrival in the land, but got written down after Israel arrived at the land (at some point). That is, I don’t think Moses was writing them down during the trip, as most conservatives think. He had better, more pressing things to do. I don’t think this patriarchal document was written by two writers with competing agendas. I think the patriarchal oral history had “El language” for God since that was the name of God prior to the exodus event. The name of God associated with the exodus (Yahweh) was introduced by God as a way of commemorating the re-creation of the nation (this reflects my agreement with F.M. Cross at Harvard who saw “Yahweh” as meaning “he who causes to be”). Someone who took the Mosaic core (#3 below) and married it to the patriarchal material combined the names in various ways to ensure (and telegraph) theological unity.

3. Moses or someone soon after Moses’ death recorded events in Moses’ life and leadership period, from the exodus, to Sinai, and through the wilderness. I think the law and Sinai episodes were recorded, along with narration of events as the Israelites traveled. Who knows how much?

4. Parts of the above were included and re-purposed in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is therefore a hybrid: parts Mosaic; parts much later adapting Mosaic material and composing new material reflecting occupancy of the land, thereby necessitating adaptations in laws, for example. Same thing for Numbers and Leviticus; the material encompasses times, needs, and customs from the Mosaic period well into the monarchy. Moses, the law, the deliverance from Egypt, and the events at Sinai are constant touchpoints. And so the collective whole is, appropriately, the “law of Moses.” I don’t care what the percentages are of each hand. And I consider many hands played a role, not just four “source hands.”

5. Genesis 1-11 was written during the exile, as it has a Babylonian flavoring in terms of what it seeks to accomplish and respond to theologically (creation epics, flood recounting, Sumerian king list [antediluvian history], Babel. This section gives Israel’s rival understanding of the hand of Yahweh in pre-patriarchal history with specific counter-points to Babylon’s claims and the claims of other ANE religions (that is, in the process of composing Gen 1-11, the opportunity was taken to take aim at other belief systems / theologies besides that of Babylon).

All the above operated under the hand of Providence, regardless of how many hands and what order things were written. As many of you know, I view inspiration as a providential process, not a (small) series of paranormal events.

In my next and last post, I want to apply the above a bit to statements about the law of Moses in the NT.

  1. R. Rendtorff, Das berlieferungsgeschichtliche Problem des Pentateuch (Beihefte zur Zeitschrift fr die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 147; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 1977), 148. Translation: The tradition-historical problem of the Pentateuch (Supplements to the Journal of the Old Testament scholarship 147; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 1977), 148.

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68 Responses to “Mosaic Authorship of the Torah: Problems with the Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP), Part 3”

  1. I would like more specs on the difference between your system and JDEP, but if there is no system, which you say there is not, I get it. I’ve never been much interested in documentary hypothesis, as well.

    • MSH says:

      I think I just sketched this out. I don’t buy whole sources, and limited to four, nor do I exclude a Mosaic core of the Pentateuch. I believe in a core with material accrued to that core by many hands and various times. I’m what used to be known (of sorts) as a supplementarian.

  2. Doug O says:

    While I haven’t participated in the discussion, as my educational background just hadn’t provided me with enough tools to add much of value, I have found these posts fascinating. Looking forward to the summer term of Memra, although I haven’t decided what to sign up for yet.

  3. Shaun says:

    Don’t take a lack of comments as meaning we arent intrested. This series has been very helpful.

  4. Patrick says:


    Question concerning this sentence:

    “Pentateuch has been edited and was not entirely composed by Moses is a coherent (and biblically driven) notion”.

    I agree the text has been edited and agree Moses probably didn’t write all of it. Question I have is the “biblically driven” criteria you mention.

    Does this allude to the various issues you’ve covered at times, such as the different words used for God in the text or is there a theological backdrop?

    • MSH says:

      Part of the “biblically driven” angle = my first several posts on this topic (third person vs. first, that sort of thing). I guess I will add a post (before my “last” NT post) on what I consider the best example of Deuteronomy being late as another illustration of “biblically driven.”

  5. John Umland says:

    I’m enjoying this series. I came to it out of response to an ultra conservative who asserts that Moses wrote everything, except his death scene. So thanks for the series.
    God is good

  6. kennethos says:

    Very cool, interesting stuff! Almost over my head in places. I’m still curious about how exactly we understand and identify exactly where in time/history various sources come from. How early do complete Torah scrolls appear? (Just tossing out thoughts here.) How early is a complete Tanakh in existence? Do we know whether or not those ruling against “early” times are acting out of some chronal bias or bigotry? Just a few thoughts that come to mind regarding these issues.
    Would love to hear some more about this, even if you only have one more post planned for this.
    Also, would be curious to know what you have in mind for the next subject. Thanks!

  7. blop2008 says:

    Thank you for the summary points, it was helpful

  8. Any resources you can recommend that explain #5 more? I’m not unfamiliar with points of comparison and contrast between Genesis 1-11 and other origins stories, but I’ve never heard how this argues for late dating. I’ve frequently rejected late-date arguments as they tend to seem contrived. But this makes me believe I’ve not got enough exposure in this case, though it’s a theory I’m open to hearing.

    • MSH says:

      Think of it this way. It is a bit odd that Gen 1-11 has “Babylonianisms” if it was composed in Israel/Canaan — i.e., strong similarities to the Babylonian flood epic, strong affinities with the Sumerian king list; perhaps even a mathematical cypher approach to antediluvian life span numbers, close syntactical and thematic parallels to Enuma Elish, the Babylonian creation story. All that screams “Babylon” as far as a context or what’s in the theological cross-hairs of the writer. In contrast, if this came from Moses, why isn’t more of the material Egyptian (one of the Gen 1 elements also has a possible Egyptian theology as target, but the overwhelming flavor of the content is Babylonian)? It just makes the most sense.

      • Josh says:

        I don’t necessarily have a problem with the idea that Genesis 1-11 may have been written during the exile. However, I would ask the following question… If Genesis 1-11 were based on patriarchal oral tradition that was handed down through the generations from Abraham to Moses, could this not also provide some explanation why elements of it seem more related to Babylonian/Sumerian culture? In other words, couldn’t the Babylonian link argue for an early origin of the source material, as well as a later date during the exile?

        • MSH says:

          The short answer is no. It makes no sense for pastoral nomads (patriarchs) or slaves (Israel in Egypt) to have intimate knowledge of things like Enuma Elish (down to the syntax of the language in places) or the Sumerian king list. There’s no reason to suspect they even knew such literary items existed. Moses likely knew Akkadian (it was the lingua franca at that time), but one would have to post he brought copies of Akkadian and Sumerian texts with him when he fled Egypt and stashed them at home in Midian, retrieving them after the exodus so he could write the material in Genesis — or that he memorized them all). It starts to sound silly at that point.

          • str says:


            if one argued for a complete Torah verbatim by Moses, I agree that that would be silly.

            And maybe the close linguistic proximities between Genesis 1-11 and Babylonian works suggests an overhaul of these chapters during exile. However,

            1. would the exiles in Babylon have access to this material, especially

            2. access that pre-exile Jews during a time when Assur (which after all has the same mythological background as Babylon) and Babylon were the world powers. Couldn’t the overhaul have occured then?

            3. I am speaking of overhaul because I am not read to discount that Genesis including chapters 1-11 might have roots in pre-Mosaic oral tradition stemming back to Abraham and his native Mesopotamia. Surely, if so, these were transported (and transformed) over many generations even before the exodus.

            Am this is of course speculation from a layman (in this field) but wouldn’t an overhaul of pre-existing material that provided many details be feasible?

            • MSH says:

              In order:

              1. Yes (the scribes who would have worked on the OT anyway). We know from Daniel that the literate class had access to the knowledge of Babylon.

              2. Pre-exilic Jews weren’t in Babylon (?). On what basis would be presume that Jews in Palestine had a library that included Babylonian works? I don’t know of any coherent way to get the material to them. It isn’t like today, to say the least. Most Jews in Palestine before the exile wouldn’t have even seen a Bible (OT). There was no printing — nor were there synagogues. Everything revolved around the temple and its priesthood.

              3. Why would a Canaanite have an oral tradition about Babylonian gods, their flood story, and the Sumerian king list? I think you need to take a close look at the affinities of these items to parts of Gen 1-11. It isn’t just the stories.

      • I see your point, esp. about Babylonianisms as opposed to the expected Egyptian thought. I’m not certain it settles things for me but I understandnow how it could fit – it certainly makes sense in the likely mood of the post-exile Israelites.

        I am most likely ignorant of the *full extent* of Babylonianisms present, as I’m not sure why some things must be Babylonian and not regional tradition (as many concepts in Gen 1-11 seem fairly prevalent outside Babylon). And I still ponder why the Bible seems more detailed and organized. Perhaps that’s not an argument for either side…

        Scenarios of Moses memorizing Gen 1-11, based on my knowledge of oral tradition, are not unbelievable. I would just question if Genesis was really material written for easy memorization (in the original languages).

        • MSH says:

          Why would an Egyptian soldier (Moses wasn’t trained as a scribe or priest, at least if we take Josephus seriously) be memorizing Babylonian texts? It would make a more coherent argument if the material was heavily Egyptian, but it isn’t. There is no reason an Egyptian would have an “oral tradition” about Babylonian material — and no reason a Semite from Midian or Canaan would, either.

          • Leif says:

            If Genesis 1-11 were handed down from Abraham, it would make sense it has a babylonian flavour.

              • Leif says:

                I read the article.

                If there where a northern Ur, it was still located in Mesopotamia according to Stephen in Acts. 7. This is the same cultural sphere as/in Babylonia, which Gordon also admits in his article. It must have been very closely related as Abraham’s language was the same as the babylonians. And the distance is only about 600-700 km between Babel and this other Ur. We also know that Peleg lived in Babel, who would have been the one transferring the story of the tower of Babel (and surely also the previous events) to his children, among them Abraham’s forefathers. So Abraham is (the main – and totally obvious – candidate to be) the babylonian link to Genesis 1-11 anyway.

                • MSH says:

                  Babylon is not in northern Mesopotamia (hundreds of miles away); There is no reason to suspect Abraham ever had contact with Babylon. There is also no reason to think Abraham had access to the written material of Babylon (there were no libraries in Haran). Please produce some evidence for any of this if that is your point.

                  • Leif says:

                    My intention was never to say that Abraham copied the Babylonian texts. I see another way: He and they had similar records because they both originated from Babel. Abe got it from his forefathers and kept it with him to Canaan. The Babylonians got it from the same forefathers and later made their popular versions, like the fanciful Gilgamesh traditions.

                    It is only about 200 years between Peleg and Abraham. Peleg lived in Babel. They could build a tower. You can’t do that without knowledge of reading and writing. It is very probable therefore that Abraham inherited personal, firsthand written records, which later became chapters 1-11 in Genesis. Noah built a ship, surely he could read and write, and surely he didnt leave his forefathers’ history behind.

                    I also checked the years in the story of Abraham. He was 75 years when he left Haran, so it is possible he could have lived there for 40 or so years, after leaving the Chaldean Ur. That would make it natural for him to speak of Haran as his country (I would after 40 years). I dont see how Gordons article proves anything with certainty; it’s a theory. It’s not new either, there were ancient jews who believed in a northern location of Ur, and others who believed in the southern. I’m convinced Abe was from the southern of Babylonia. That would be the reason for them to leave, as culture in the city of Ur was concentrated evil. Moving north therefore is a logical choice, to get away from “city life”.

                    This article shows that several of Gordon’s conclusions were either wrong or doubtful:

                  • MSH says:

                    There is simply no biblical evidence for Abraham writing or recording or carrying or transmitting any part of the Bible. This is why the blog is called “the Naked Bible” — all I care about is what the text says. The text is what produces biblical theology.

              • str says:


                Jason took up one of my points. I don’t think one can reduce Moses to “an Egyptian soldier”.* He was also leader and lawgiver of his people and if he had a hand in transmitting the Israelites’ traditions (if not, the same works without Moses) he would have transmitted something that harked back to Abraham and the other patriarchs.

                (*And were Canaanites come into play, I have no idea.)

                Even if Abraham hailed from another Ur than the one in Sumer (which is possible but I don’t buy it), he would have still come from the same culture as Babylon. Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylon, Assyrians were not that different. Sure, everyone had its particular versions (usually favouring their particular god) but they shared one fundamental mythology or developed upon it. The point is: Babylon is not isolated, not the only culture around.

                Close similarities between Genesis and Enuma Elish and other things of course would still point to an overhaul during the exile, but they do not contradict an earlier basis. Such an overhaul would have introduced details like the king list. A propos king list: this very much makes my point that Babylon is not the only culture around: the king list and the list of patriarchs are not that similar, e.g. Genesis has 10 patriarchs in one line of descent, king lists usually have eight kings ruling in five cities, though some have ten over six cities.

                On my other point: it is not that pre-exilic Jews were not in Babylon. They don’t have to be in order to receive elements of the then dominant world power’s culture – speaking of Assyria and Babylon. And for sure, I am not talking about popular masses (“having a bible” anyway would be a crass anachronism) but about educated elites.

                • MSH says:

                  The issue is not cultural milieu; it’s “what is the evidence he was (a) literate at all; (b) could read Akkadian and Sumerian; and (c) ever saw Enuma Elish and the Sumerian king list.” And even if he saw them and read them, what is the evidence that he MEMORIZED the material and that his children passed on the content so they could spit it back to Moses so he could make sure Gen 1-11 had linguistic similarities and overlapping motifs?


                  • str says:

                    Mike, there’s not much point in discussing this any further. Unfortunately, you keep on demanding evidence where none exists either, including for claims that were never made and are quite beside the point.

                    Was Abraham literate? We can never know but I resent your apparent assumption that unless there’s evidence that he was literate, we should think him illiterate. Anyway, he doesn’t have to be literate to take up traditions of his culture and pass it on to his progeny.

                    Sure, it’s an assumption on my and others’ part, but it is a reasonable assumption. There is no evidence for the opposite position – that there was no cultural link between Israel and the Mespotamian cultures before the exile. That Moses and his people were purely Egyptian. This is closely approaching hyper-skepticism

                    It is simply unreasonable to think that just because there are Babylonian elements in Genesis, the whole of the first chapters can only be written during the exile. Such a logic would destroy any possibility for the complentarian approach you espouse: if parts of, say, Deuteronomy point to a later period of time, the parallel conclusion would be that the entire book was penned in that later time and no older core ever existed. Why can’t you be complentarian in regard to Genesis 1-11?

                  • MSH says:

                    Yes, my arguments are not based on silence, and no good argument is. I’m just looking at what is in the text.

                  • str says:

                    Mike, I don’t understand this answer.

                    My point was that your objection are indeed “e silentio”.

                  • MSH says:

                    I guess I misunderstood your point!

                  • str says:

                    PS. “…what’s in the text”.

                    The text says that Adam begat Seth and Seth begot Enosh and Enosh begat …. Noah … Terach and Terach begat Abram.

                    The text doesn’t say that Abram illerate, that Abram took nothing culturally with him, that Moses was purely Egpytian or that the subsequent Israelites had no contact whatsoever with the cultures of the Near East or that Jews in exile then and there wrote or edited the Torah, including material from Babylonian texts.

                    I have absolutely no objection to the latter claim but I object to an approach that takes this as a unshakeable solid fact and to discount all prior possiblities for an influx of Babylon-like items into the Torah text.

                  • MSH says:

                    The text does not say Abraham received XYZ tradition to hand to Moses. If the text told us the writing process there would be no debate and no problems to solve.

  9. Shaun Swanson says:

    Did Jews in Jesus’ time recognize all this stuff? Meaning, did they understand heavy editing went on in the Hebrew bible? Is there any ancient Jewish material that would shed light on their thoughts of all this?

    • MSH says:

      There’s really nothing of substance to suggest that anyone but scribes (at Qumran, for example) even knew there were different editions of the Torah or any of the books of the Tanakh). Few people had “Bibles” so there’s no way they could research such things. Scribes would know that different editions of certain books existed (again, the material at Qumran makes that clear), but likely would have no guiding theory as to any sort of literary history. Rabbinical discussion shows an awareness of many issues that source criticism deals with, but again, until early modernity, there was no thought of a system to explain them, and so this is where you get very strained commentary (and honestly, weird ideas) about how the oddities were still the hand of Moses.

  10. […] my previous post on JEDP I said this post would be my last on that topic. In the intervening days I told someone in […]

  11. str says:

    Here’s a comment I wanted to make for the last few days but couldn’t due to real world commitments. You wrote:

    “Im thinking this will be my next-to-last post on JEDP. The topic has not generated much discussion, so Im going to move on. Cant say Im surprised. Im not all that interested in composition of the Pentateuch myself. Toward the end Ill sketch what I think.”

    Mike, it’s not that the topic isn’t interesting – it’s just that there is not much to add what you’re writing if you (as I do) the issue common sensical. OTOH, if you’re a die-heard adherent to either the “the entire Torah was penned verbatim by Moses”-camp or the JEDP-cutters-and-pasters, you will find much to disagree with. But apparently, few are reading this.

  12. Patrick says:


    One other question.

    In point 5, you posit Gen. 1-11 likely emanated out of Babylon as a dialectic document with the regional pagans.

    In “The myth that is true” chapter 1, I read where most scholars now feel it is more likely influenced by Ugaritic as opposed to Babylonian influences.

    You think it’s a mix of influences or mainly Babylonian?

    • MSH says:

      it’s a mix. The tehom of Gen 1:2 was considered Taimat of Enuma Elish in the 19th and early 20th century. But tehom is clearly de-mythologized there, so at best it would be a polemic adaptation. Nowadays, due to the influence of Psa 74 and its obvious mixture of Baal-Yamm-Litanu imagery associated with creation, “matching” that to Gen 1:2 seems to be easiest done by arguing that tehom is not Tiamat but thm/thmt, the pirimordial cosmic waters of Ugaritic material. There’s still some debate on that, but it makes a lot of sense to some to have a Canaanite provenance for both creation passages. At any rate, other items in Gen 1-11 are clearly not Canaanite, but Babylonian, and the syntax of Gen 1:1-3 very closely follows the beginning of Enuma Elish (see Waltke’s articles on Gen 1:1-3 on that). The creation by spoken word idea is only paralleled in Egypt (the Memphite Theology), so Gen 1 appears to be a theological shotgun approach to other religions.

  13. Patrick says:

    Good stuff, appreciate the help!

  14. Leif says:

    You wrote: “There is simply no biblical evidence for Abraham writing or recording or carrying or transmitting any part of the Bible.”

    There is Biblical proof that fathers passed on their history to their sons. And there is archeological proof that people in the Middle East could read and write during the Bronze age. Deut. 6:9 shows that all Hebrews during Mose’s time could read and write.

    • Leif says:

      Furthermore, who taught the desert-living hebrews to read and write hebrew? Surely not the egyptians. So the knowledge must have been handed down from the fathers. This is circumstantial proof that Abraham IS the one who supplied the oldest parts of the Bible. It couldnt have come from anywhere else. Not if you want to see it as truth. HE was the one who left Mesopotamia, therefore is the obvious link to the old history of Babel.

      Another thought: The idea that Abraham and his fathers were moon worshippers is just a supposition made by people who lived at least 1000 years after Abraham. The Lord says they served (abad), not worshipped, other gods (Elohim) beyond the river in old times. This could suggest they by living and trading in that culture were indirectly serving the gods (angels) of that culture. Therefore they had to leave and (successively) go to a country where there were broader freedom, and where they would ultimately build a nation under their God. This would fit in very nicely with your teaching about the divine council (and dividing of nations).

    • MSH says:

      This is bogus. When you want to make a specific claim, you need specific data. This is still only an argument from silence (extrapolation, not anything actually in the text).

      • Leif says:

        Your idea that someone in Babylonia during the 70 year exile wrote Gen. 1-11 sounds very implausible, to say the least.

        1. So no one ever thought about the creation of the world before then?
        2. What about all the details? Did God give the unknown Jewish writer all the dimensions of the ark, the dates, the exact ages of the preflood and postflood patriarchs, and even the dialogues from Eden, and between Noah and God? That is, in such case, very unusual revelation, never seen among the witnesses of God before or after that. Or do you mean that those details aren’t true, that they are just inventions?
        3. There is the prophecy about the Messiah coming from the woman’s seed in ch 3. And Gen. 6 about the angels. No need from God to have that written down until more than 3000 years after the events? Sounds strange to me. (Compare e.g. Isa. 30:8.)

        I’m not convinced at all. I think it’s much more probable that the knowledge from those times came from those who were witnesses and were the forefathers of the Hebrews. That’s kind of the natural way knowledge do get passed. (Even in the Bible.) (And as I said, reading and writing is known from those times. And it’s not hard to learn, a child can do it.)

        I do very much believe in miracles, but this babylonian scribe must have been something extra. And no one thought to get his name? He would have been a sensation among his people, the greatest visionary of all ages.

        • MSH says:

          you’re completely misunderstanding the point. The issue is not when something was thought about, but when it was written. You are also assuming (somehow, I don’t know how) that the point means that nothing in Gen 1-11 is unique or different. The point I’m making is NOT that Israelites were copying material. I don’t seen how you could read any of these points into the idea unless you wanted to misread it, or read those things into it. Go back and re-read the posts. Nothing of the nature of these objections was said or claimed.

          • Leif says:

            Ok I may have misunderstood some of your points, but I think you misunderstand some of mine too. You say that Genesis 1-11 was written down some 400 years BC, from ancient oral traditions among the Jews. Am I right now? I say that seems very unlikely, at least in my eyes, because of all the details in those chapters, the dialogue, the dimensions, the dates, and so on. This to me looks like written text, not memorized. I think it is impossible for such details to be preserved orally through more than 3 millennia. Or, if you think it was given as backwards revelation, it would be a miracle never seen elsewhere in the Bible. Possible for God, but very unusual. I also see principles in the scriptures that makes it, again in my eyes, very likely that one can apply them to Abraham and all God’s witnesses, and those principles are that God is in the habit of giving his prophets the mission to write books. He gave it to Moses, to Joshua, to Samuel, to David, to Solomon, to the prophets, to the apostles, and he does it today also. I think that makes it very much possible that he gave it to Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, and so on. That way his word would have been preserved through the generations in a much safer way than by oral traditions. Stone tablets, as long as they don’t decay, never change a jota, while we sometimes even can’t remember what we said or heard yesterday. I could have used the book of Enoch as argument for God’s people writing before the flood, because I belive it is as much an inspired book as the books in the old and new covenant. I don’t give anything for the other extrabiblical books though. But I believe BOE is given to us, for this generation.

            As for silence and no records found, there may be a very logical reason for that, and that is that the ancient witnesses may have had the same practice as the orthodow Jews, to destroy decayed or broken tablets/texts, because of reverence for the Word of God. They wouldn’t want Gods word to be in broken pieces or in rutten parchment, so they copied the texts and then destroyed the last edition.

            Again, in my eyes this seems more likely, and in line with the scriptures elsewhere, than the theory you propose.

            Besides of this, I think you have brought forth some very inspiring and very important revelations about the divine council and the two powers in heaven. I knew partly about those things before, and wrote about it in my webpage, but the things you speak and write about is outstanding. So I really hope that you will get finished with your book, perhaps a bit shortened if I may suggest.

            • MSH says:

              I’ll make it simple:

              Show me evidence Abraham could write.

              And then let’s have some evidence Moses wrote Genesis.

              Don’t bother with “ideas” unless there is some text-driven basis for them. Give us the textual arguments for either. We try to be text-driven here. Only that matters for which approach seems likely or not.

              • Leif says:

                You don’t need evidence when there are principles going on. A principle is at work in every instance, even if you don’t see it or no one is mentioning it. God gives his people the mission to write books, to get his message transferred through the generations. (He does that IN the generations, not 3000 years after the events). I have shown lots of circumstantial evidences besides that, which makes it much more probable than the theory you prefer. At least in my thinking.

                Then there is this thing with demanding evidences from others but not presenting any evidences for yourself. Where is the evidence in scripture that Ezra or some other babylonian Jew wrote down Genesis traditions? Where is the scriptural evidence that equates the written Word with oral tradition, or says that God prefers oral tradition before just having his people write down what he tells them?

                There are many things in life and in our faith that demands faith, and not evidence. By faith we know. Where is your evidence for God’s existance? Where is your evidence that you belong to him? In scripture? How do you know that the Bible is true? Through evidence or through faith?

                One can’t base a functioning theology solely on evidence. Where then is faith? By faith we see, by faith we know. No matter how much evidence you demand, you have to build on faith to get saved. And to receive the gifts of God. Scientific methods don’t apply to scripture. Scriptural methods apply to scripture. There is logic, but there are also leaps of faith, when you just have to trust God to lead you.

                I don’t have any evidence that Abraham or Noah wrote books (besides the extrabiblical books which may well be true), and you don’t have evidence for an unknown scribe in Babylon writing Genesis from oral traditions.

                Can we agree on that or is it only me who have to produce evidence?

                (Yes I have re-read all your posts, and I only see unbased claims, no scriptural evidence, and some of your claims – in this subject – is, mildly put, quite amazing.)

                • MSH says:

                  When doing biblical theology, you DO need evidence from that thing that is supposed to produce our theology (the text). Otherwise, theology without the Bible cannot be biblical theology.

                  There is no principle at stake that I can see. The only thing at stake is a view you apparently prefer.

  15. […] authorship of the Pentateuch, I want to examine a couple items in the New Testament. As noted before, my position is that “law of Moses” is an appropriate designation for the […]

  16. Just caught up on this stuff – I haven’t been able to access the blog for a few weeks. Podcasts are good too!

    I know I’m irritatingly late, but I have a few questions:

    1) From some other things you’ve said referencing Francis Anderson, I thought you were open to the tetragrammaton being known by the Patriarchs?

    2) I felt that Sommer sees too neat a division between different concepts of embodiment amongst sources in his ‘Bodies of God’, but I think that there is a movement in D material to reduce the risks of idolatry (temple centralization, chiefly, and less deal made about God’s presence in the temple). But do you think he’s right that use of pillars, poles and stelae were originally part of orthodox Yahwistic worship, treated a bit like the ark as conduits, and later disavowed when they led to idolatry?

    3) Do you think the Deuteronomistic temple centralization happened during Josiah’s time, as with the standard view? My guess is that the original material gave pride of place to the tabernacle as the central sanctuary and then was adapted for the reasons in my second question.

    • MSH says:

      In order:

      1. I am (that is a different issue than when things get written down). To me, Exod 6:3 is not a deciding factor.

      2. He does; he would embrace the standard source-critical approach. I agree with your note about D (at least in its redaction, if not more). The patriarchs erected pillars to mark places of divine encounter, so if that is what is meant, yes; I don’t think that pillars themselves involve the inclusion of other deities when one is talking about the patriarchs or early Israel, though it could have with some early Israelites. We cannot treat early Israelite religion as though it is monolithic or lock-step — and that is what the critics tend to do. They see evidence for some practice or belief, then they extrapolate that to the biblical writers and every other Israelite. It is a classic example of over-stating the data.

      3. I think there was “centralization” as soon as they got into the land — focused on the ark and tent/tabernacle (which moved around a bit). Jerusalem only became an issue after David conquered it and made it his capital.

  17. Dante Aligheri says:

    Dr. Heiser,

    While I agree with most of what you suggested, there are two things I would like to add. First, your position on Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and Numbers reminds me of an excellent article by Dr. Daniel I. Block (“Recovering the Voice of Moses”). Second, I might contest your Babylonian provenance for Genesis 1-11. I have read that Egyptian mythology provides a better background for Genesis 1 and see no reason why the Flood and Babel narratives were not transmitted as ancestral tradition from Sumeria via Abraham. Also, Dr. Gary Rendsberg has recently marshaled a good deal of evidence that the final version of Genesis was a monarchical document written during the reigns of David and Solomon. Taking the two articles together, it seems to me the Pentateuch had been completed by the end of Solomon’s reign when the first historical books were also starting to be composed.

    • MSH says:

      I don’t agree that Egypt provides a “better” backdrop; rather, it provides “another” backdrop. I see no reason to choose. Some things are obviously Babylonian; some things are obviously (the word/Ptah/Memphite) Egyptian. The creation passage (Gen 1) is the only thing that is really touched by Egyptian material in Gen 1-11, whereas there are several portions of Gen 1-11 (not just ch1) that are touched by Babylonian material. I think this shows us that Gen 1-11 (and Gen 1 in particular (is aimed at more than one target.

  18. Hanan says:

    Two questions:

    1) There seems to be a theological disjoint if Genesis is written during Exile. The point of the Sabbath which is the fourth commandment relies on the Genesis story.

    2) What is your take on the whole building project of the tabernacle? There is so much detail in the construction. Do you believe that part may have been written down in the desert?

    • MSH says:

      I don’t know anyone who would say Genesis was written during the exile. LOTS of scholars say parts of it may have been (Gen 1-11) or that Genesis was edited then (from several source documents). The sabbath issue wouldn’t matter a bit if the book as a whole was being assembled at that point (the parts existed).

      I don’t think the detail requires a desert provenance. I can’t see why it would. (Why do you need to be in the desert to write a detailed description of a thing?)

      • Hanan says:

        Maybe you are misunderstanding my first question (or I am misunderstanding you).

        1) Yes, I was only referring to Genesis 1-11. Now, it is that particular part of Genesis that contains the *reason* for the fourth commandment. Now, you mention Sinai. But what was Sinai if not for the giving of the ten commandments, which you believe were given *before* Genesis 1-11 was put together in exile. The consequence to this would be that God gave the Israelites a sabbath to observe based on babylonian myth.

        But, remember what you said. The Israelites in the desert or Egypt would have no knowledge of Babylonian myths. The only time they were subjected to it, was when they were exiled. So how did God give them a commandment based on a Babylonian myth that they would only learn about centuries later? If you chalk Genesis 1-11 to Baylonian influence, you have to throw out the fourth commandment or say the fourth commandment too, was made up due to their experiences in Babylonian captivity.

        2) I guess you are right. You don’t NEED to be in the desert, but why go through all that trouble for such specifics on a tent that eventually disappeared? Do you think those parts were edited together when the Tabernacle was still in use before the temple?

        • MSH says:

          The events and ideas are separated (in time) from when they were written (which may have been, and likely was, in more than one sitting). Your questions lead me to think that you’re chronologically marrying them.

          • Hanan says:

            You are not answering the main issue

            You say, Genesis 1-11 was put together during exilic time and we can see that DUE to the heavy Babylonian influence. The 6 day creation being the crux of that influence.

            You believe in divine revelation which gave the 4th commandment to honor the sabbath. (you after all mention it as an “event” that was recorded)

            How could God give a 4th commandment which is DERIVED from the 6 day creation IF that story was only influenced later?

            • MSH says:

              Ah – I finally follow you. First, I wouldn’t say the entirety of Gen 1-11 was *composed* in Babylon (although many would). If you have read my series on JEDP/Documentary Hypothesis, recall that I’m what used to be called a “supplementarian.” My view is that there are distinct elements in Gen 1-11 that make good sense in a Babylonian context: Gen 1:1-3 (it mirrors Enuma Elish syntactically and there is an outside change that tehom = Tiamat, though that view has given way somewhat to Ugaritic); Gen 5 (cp. the Sumerian king list), Gen 8-11 (close parallels with Mesopotamian flood stories), Gen 11 (tower of Babel)). There could very well have been a six/seven day tradition already extant. I’m fine with that. Those who would be more JEDP’er would challenge your assumption about the 4th commandment, though, and you should know that. Their argument would go something like this:

              1. Gen 1-11 probably composed in Babylon
              2. Exodus material was earlier (“E” – 8th century)
              3. A scribe, working during the exile, would want the 4th command to have a “creation order rationale” and so added a gloss to the 4th command (the line you’re referring to).

              Is that self-serving? Yeah.

              The only thing I’m convinced of is that there was editorial reworking and that every word of the Torah isn’t from the hand of Moses (nor does it need to be, and there are phenomena in the text that argue against it – see my JEDP series). Beyond that, I put a lot of this sort of thing in the bin of speculation.

              • Hanan says:

                Right. I think it would be safe to say that the Jews were observing Sabbath well before they returned from exile. So the idea of a sanctified Seventh day was already there. Also, wasn’t there an ark with something inside of it (stating a sabbath?) well before the exile? But then again, I am not sure if anything is “safe to say” anymore :-)

                By the way, have you ever written anything on the Samaritan Torah and how they got it? They were there when the exiles returned, did they just copy the returning exiles’ redacted Torah?

                • MSH says:

                  The SP (Samaritan Pentateuch) is textually idiosyncratic (i.e., it has theological changes that reflect Samaritan beliefs). Claims of the antiquity of the manuscript data (for a complete SP) are a bit exaggerated in terms of dating, but SP readings are witnessed at Qumran, along with MT and LXX, so their tradition is as old (which makes sense given the historical circumstances).

                  On the Sabbath, you should know two items.

                  1. You wouldn’t actually need the *listing* of days (Gen 1) to adopt a sabbath idea; you’d only need a tradition of God resting after six days of activity (Gen 2), and so Gen 1 need not have been written prior to the Exodus material. But, as noted earlier, it’s all speculation.

                  2. The sabbath idea itself is (surprise) somewhat controversial. Here’s a selection from one dictionary’s summary of the discussion:

                  Over the course of the twentieth century, scholars have made proposals regarding extrabiblical origins for the Israelite sabbath. For example, a number of scholars proposed an origin of the sabbath day in Mesopotamia. Such a theory often argues that the etymology of the Hebrew word šabbāt is found in the Akkadian word šapattu (or šabattu), which probably means “full moon” or “the day of celebrating the full moon.” In more recent years, G. Robinson has revived the theory that the Israelite sabbath was a relic of the Babylonian moon cult. He argues that only after the exile did the monthly festival become a weekly observance. But this is extremely unlikely. Hosea 2:11, a preexilic text, implies that sabbaths were weekly and sets them apart from the new moon festival. The Babylonian moon festival had set days in the month, a pattern that is not found in the OT or in weekly sabbath observance. Weekly sabbaths do not coincide regularly with a lunar cycle of twenty-nine days. As L. L. Grabbe says, “No Old Testament texts connect the Sabbath with the lunar cycle in any way” (Grabbe, 89). Nonetheless, as Andreasen notes, it is intriguing that the Akkadian word is so similar to the Hebrew šabbāt and yet refers to something quite different (Andreasen 1978, 13). Similar theories have also purported to find the sabbath origin in Assyrian calendars or in Arabian moon festivals. In the end, however, such theories remain speculative. There is no evidence that clearly connects these with the Israelite sabbath (see Hasel, 5.850–51; Bosman, 4.1157–58; Kraus, 81–85; Andreasen 1978, 12–15).

                  E. Jenni proposed a sociological derivation for the sabbath, namely, that the sabbath might originally have been market day. However, although regular market days in the ancient world were observed, there is no evidence of weekly market days in any ancient Near Eastern literature.

                  Another theory is that the sabbath derives from the Kenites, with whom Moses and the Israelites had contact at Mount Sinai. Moses’ Midianite family was Kenite (Num 10:29–32; Judg 4:11, 17). Supposedly the Kenites led the Israelites back to their ancestral worship of Yahweh, which was lost through the period of slavery in Egypt. Again, this theory is entirely speculative and inconsistent with the evidence of the book of Exodus. The linking of the prohibition of fire-making on the sabbath (Ex 35:3) with the argument that the Kenites were smiths (and hence worked with fire) is a flimsy argument for a Kenite origin of the sabbath law (Andreasen 1978, 15–16).

                  Finally, the number seven, it is argued, was significant in some ancient Near Eastern cultures, in particular, in Ugaritic texts and calendars. A variation on this is the claim of J. Morgenstern (4.136–37) that there is “abundant evidence” that Israel found the pattern of seven days in Canaan and adapted it for its own use. The original Canaanite seventh day was a taboo day, an evil day, and was associated with the pentecontad calendar in which the numbers seven and fifty were significant. However, despite his claim, Morgenstern’s thesis lacks supporting evidence for such an origin of the sabbath or for its alleged transformation from an evil or taboo day into a day of gladness.

                  The quest for an extrabiblical origin of the Israelite sabbath has failed thus far at least. All of these theories remain speculative; none is convincing. The origin of the Israelite sabbath must be found within the biblical record: “Only the ancient Hebrew literature speaks definitely about a seven-day week and a Sabbath” (Dressler, 23). According to B. A. Levine, “the Sabbath is an original Israelite institution” (Levine, 261; see also Andreasen).

                  T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 698.

  19. Justin says:

    Thanks Dr. Heiser For your thoughts on the theory. I agree with the majority of everything but leaving academic thought behind and taking a more literal heart felt and genuine approach to some suggestions here, Point 5 really hurts and I don’t know how to deal with it in my personal walk with the Lord. I see the validity in your statement, I have also read Peter Enns views about Adam and John Walton’s views on Genesis 1 and agree with much of what both say. However, although i don’t have a brain/academic hurt at these views, taking Genesis 1-11, with these kinds of views, really does kind of stab at the heart and is very difficult to digest. I’m just about to graduate with a degree in Biblical Studies. I guess I half to ask, how do you reconcile disregarding Genesis 1-11 as a “historical narrative” with your faith? For instance, I take the events of Genesis 6:1-4 literally. Most scholarship demythologizes it. I can see easily how this is done but feel as if I’m betraying my faith if I do. Any thoughts on how to ease my tensions.

    • MSH says:

      So other readers know, “Point 5” says this:

      “Genesis 1-11 was written during the exile, as it has a Babylonian flavoring in terms of what it seeks to accomplish and respond to theologically (creation epics, flood recounting, Sumerian king list [antediluvian history], Babel. This section gives Israel’s rival understanding of the hand of Yahweh in pre-patriarchal history with specific counter-points to Babylon’s claims and the claims of other ANE religions (that is, in the process of composing Gen 1-11, the opportunity was taken to take aim at other belief systems / theologies besides that of Babylon).”

      None of that means it was unhistorical. It means it was written longer after the fact than Moses. As to your faith, you have a diminished view of God and his Providence if you need chronological proximity to convey history. I know that sounds harsh, but just consider it blunt, not aimed at being harsh. It amazes me how we can believe in things like the incarnation and creation (by whatever method) and then require a certain number of years after an event to believe that its record is an accurate one. The point of point 5 is that the biblical writers, under Providence / inspiration, saw God’s hand in the events of the past – an unseen hand that worked to their good since He loved them (had established a covenant with them). It’s profound, yet simple, and it honors the time and place the Spirit prompted people to write about it.

      As I followed point 5: “All the above operated under the hand of Providence, regardless of how many hands and what order things were written. As many of you know, I view inspiration as a providential process, not a (small) series of paranormal events.”

      My guess is that you’re disturbed because you’ve been taught a spooky, mystical view of inspiration, rather than one where God meets men in the circumstances and urgencies of life – a specific time, place, and setting, for specific purposes – and prompts them to get off their butts and write. I would hope in your own life you sense God has done that to / with you — and then, looking back on life, you can see the thread of Providence in the sequence of those sometimes barely discernible, but at times starkly discernible, events in your life. You sense how different your life would have been had God not prompted you to do X, or had not prompted a friend to say X to you at just the right time, etc., etc. I’m suggesting we view the production of Scripture the same way. Paraphrasing a hard saying of Jesus: if you need something more spectacular (a “sign” like a biblical writer going brain dead for a Bible mind-download), there’s a heart problem.

      • Justin says:

        Dr. Heiser I appreciate your reply and it is well received. My issue however is not with chronology but that of various scholars demythologizing. For instance Peter Enns comparing Adam to the nation of Israel. Therefore, suggesting that Adam was not a literal person. Or for instance James Vanderkam in his book Enoch a man for all generations, demythologizes the character of Enoch and bases his prototype in the Sumerian Kings list. He lived 365 years representative of the number of days in the solar year and connects him to a king who “walked with the sun god.” A variety of authors is well received in the heart, its that the narrative itself is in question that hurts. I like believing Adam was a real person, and I like believing Enoch was real and walked with God. So I apologize to perhaps that I did not word my question well enough, and perhaps this is off topic. My thoughts behind it tend to address what seems to me the underlining presupposition of point 5. These stories were written (and by written it seems to indicate to me “made up” however I realize you don’t seem to be asserting that) to combat wrong theology of the time. I have the utmost respect for you and value your input beyond words. Being a catastrophist I like believing in the garden of Eden, the flood, and the Tower of Babel. How then, when demythologist creep up and seemingly knock these narratives down do you deal with it? Im not even suggesting these demythologist are bad. I think Peter Enns dose fantastic work andfor a good reason. Its just tough for me I suppose.

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