Posts Tagged ‘authorship of the Bible’


Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan,all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.

Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.

10 Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. 11 He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, 12 and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

Traditionally the first five books of the Bible (Pentateuch) are attributed to Moses, who was supposed to have authored them during his busy campaign of liberating the Hebrews and leading them to the Promised Land. This passage in particular is often cited in challenging Mosaic authorship, since it contains a reference to the death of its author! How could Moses write about his own death, where he was buried, and how his reputation lived on?

Of course, even pre-modern commentators had noticed this strange detail, but questioning the authenticity, integrity, or logical coherence of the Bible didn’t become a serious issue until the modern period. It was then that new critical methods of literary research started encouraging treatment of the Bible as a collection of writings ranging from history, prophecy and apocalypse, to poetry, legend and myth. As scholars looked more closely at the texts, different theological traditions started bobbing to the surface.

The current theory recognizes at least four major traditions behind the so-called Book of Moses, each one with its own concept of God, worldview, and moral agenda. At various production points, these occasionally conflicting voices were blended together, with different stories and texts stitched at the edges to give the impression of continuity. Still, clues remain: two creation myths, two flood stories, two originally rival names for God (Yahweh and El), two competing vocations (prophets and priests), two models of society (nomadic and agrarian), all the way down to a discrepancy over who supposedly killed the giant Goliath (David or Elhanan).

All of this makes the Bible much more “messy” than how it seemed when single authors were given credit for larger sections or “books” – or still today when authorship of the entire Bible is attributed to God. Messy, maybe; but much more human as well. Some will even agree that it makes the Bible more approachable, more interesting, and more relevant when we can (or are allowed to) see the signs of human insecurity, fallibility, and prejudice, alongside the insight, wonder, and hope stained in its pages.