Since the eighteenth century, scholars have researched, “Who wrote the Pentateuch? ”, and more specifically who was the author of Deuteronomy. The Documentary Hypothesis asserts that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses, but was composed from four distinct narratives and woven together into one final version centuries after Moses had died. When these documents were put in chronological order, it appeared as the following: The Yahwist (J) The Elohist (E) The Deuternonomist (D) The Priestly Source (P) JEDP is the acronym for the theory.
Each of these letters represents a source of oral and written traditions about the history of Israel. The Documentary Hypothesis was developed in the 19th century by several scholars. One of the first was Jean Astruc who speculated that Moses used existing written or oral sources to write the Pentateuch. Other scholars, such as Eichhorn and DeWette elaborated upon his ideas. However, K. Graf and Julius Wellhausen are recognized as the scholars who put the sources in the JEDP order; they also determined there was an editor, also called a Redactor, who carefully combined the four accounts together into one unified text.
In his book, Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel, first published as the History of Israel in 1878, Wellhausen argued that the Pentateuch was written by numerous people over a long period of time. To substantiate his claims, he used earlier research to try to prove each document had its own vocabulary, literary style and point of view, among other criteria. He believed that the Bible is an important source for historians, but cannot be taken literally. “The Deuternonomist (D)” represents the source from the Deuteronomistic history.
It received its name because, according to 2 Kings 22-23, King Josiah instituted some religious reforms based on an unidentified “Torah scroll” discovered in the Jerusalem temple during renovations. Upon closer inspection, most likely the discovered scrolls was the book of Deuteronomy. The scholar W. M. L. DeWette has gone as far to state the document was written in the time of King Josiah and conveniently “found” in the Temple at the perfect time to validate Josiah’s reforms.
Even the literary placement of Deuteronomy — between the Pentateuch and History books, a pivotal connection from the wilderness to the Promised Land — is of great import, as if Deuteronomy was edited specifically to be the introduction to the Deuteronomistic History. From this perspective, Deuteronomy is valued, not because it is the final book of the Pentateuch, but how it affects the books that follow it: Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings. These books portray Israel’s history from the point of view of the laws found in Deuteronomy.
The people and the rulers were judged according to how they followed those laws… or not. The contemporary idea of the documentary hypothesis has broadened to accept any understanding that the Torah is probably a composite of various sources. Many modern scholars accept some version of this theory. One of the contemporary scholars who embraces this theory is Richard Elliot Friedman, as can clearly be seen in his book Who Wrote the Bible? He states that editors updated the books of Moses to eliminate what may have appeared to be conflicts or historical errors.
In the process he tries to identify the authors of each JEPD source. Scandanavian scholar Ivan Engnell believes the whole Torah was passed along by word of mouth until the post-exilic period, when it was finally written down by one person. Another scholar Gerald A. Larue writes, “Back of each of the four sources lie traditions that may have been both oral and written. Some may have been preserved in the songs, ballads, and folktales of different tribal groups, some in written form in sanctuaries.
The so-called ‘documents’ should not be considered as mutually exclusive writings, completely independent of one another, but rather as a continual stream of literature representing a pattern of progressive interpretation of traditions and history. ” (Larue, Old Testament Life and Literature) The documentary hypothesis has been criticized for its validity. Conservatives consider it irreverent, almost heresy, to even think that Moses may not have written the Pentateuch. Both Jewish and Christian tradition view Moses as the author of the first five books of the Bible, and onsider Deuteronomy as one of the five “books of Moses. ” Even the New Testament and Jesus refer to the writings of Moses (See Matthew 19:8; John 1:45; 5:46-47). As can be seen, tradition and the Bible itself associate these books with Moses, but there are no absolutes that Moses wrote every word. For example, it is obvious that someone else, perhaps Joshua, wrote the description of Moses’ death. The documentarians and traditionalists have few, if any, points of agreement. Thus, there is little that the evangelical position of the Old Testament can learn from this theory.
However, for the sake of argument, evangelicals can be more aware of the value of the book of Deuteronomy, no matter who may have wrote it, as long as God is recognized as the ultimate author. In other words, does it really matter if Moses wrote every single word of Deuteronomy? Is God not able to inspire anonymous authors as well? Take, for example, the first six verses of Deuteronomy (1:1-6). The first five verses appear to have been written by someone else since Moses is referred to in the third person.
Then, suddenly, in verse six, Moses speaks in the first person. Does it matter that the first five verses were written by someone else? Does that distract from the authentic unfolding of God’s truth? It must be stated clearly here, there can be no wavering in the truth that God authorized and inspired the writers. It appears the church often disregards Deuteronomy, perhaps thinking that the “law” is outdated, when, in fact, it is worthy of careful study. The Deuteronomistic history emphasizes how Deuteronomy affects the books following it.
More distinctly, throughout the Old Testament — such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Micah — there are references to the words found in Deuteronomy. Even Jesus and Paul quoted from its pages regularly. Its call to authentic holiness and to pass along the tradition to the generations that follow is a call we all should heed. There are several harmful affects perpetuated by this theory. (1) The Creation, the Flood, and Babel are considered myths, adapted from ancient Mesopotamian mythology. The Patriarchs, Moses and the Exodus are regarded as legends trying to sanctify their origins. Finklestein, Searching for Israelite Origins) (2) Scholar Julius Wellhausen himself declared that he does not believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible. If God did not inspire the words as proclaimed in 2 Peter 1:21, then the Bible is simply another book, and everything Christians have believed about His Word is a hoax. (3) Too much history is created and revised in the process of explaining away the history recorded in the Old Testament. Such tendencies is simply unnecessary.
Herbert Livingston goes even further, listing the consequences if one chooses to believe in the documentary hypothesis: (a) Mosaic authorship is rejected, with only bits of the Pentateuch attributed to the Mosaic period; (b) for many of the scholars who accept the Wellhausen view, the men and the women of the Pentateuch were not actual human beings — at best they were idealized heroes; (c) the Pentateuch does not give us a true history of ancient times, but it reflects instead the history of the divided kingdom through the early part of the postexilic period; (d) none of the people in the Pentateuch were monotheistic, and it was the postexilic priests who made them look like believers in one God; (e) God never spoke to any individuals in ancient times, but again, it was the work of the priests that gives that impression; (f) very few of the laws in the Pentateuch were prekingdom, and many were postexilic… (i) all claims in the Pentateuch that God acted redemptively and miraculously in behalf of Israel are erroneous; (j) any concept that the present structural unity of the five books was original with Moses is erroneous; and finally (k) the skepticism inherent int he theory creates a credibility gap with the ordinary layman to the extent that the Pentateuch becomes practically useless to him. (Livingston, The Pentateuch in Its Cultural Environment)
NOTES Finkelstein, Israel, “Searching for Israelite Origins,” Biblical Archaelogy Review 14 (Sept/Oct 1988) pp. 34-45, 58. Friedman, Richard Elliott. Who Wrote the Bible? , Harper and Row, San Francisco, CA, 1997. Friedman, Richard Elliott. The Hidden Book in the Bible, Harper, San Francisco, CO, 1998. Larue, Gerald A. Old Testament Life and Literature, Allyn & Bacon, Inc. , Boston, MA 1968. Livingston, G. Herbert. The Pentateuch in Its Cultural Environment, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI 1974. McDowell, Josh. More Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Historical Evidences for the Christian Scriptures, Here’s Life Publishers, Inc. 1981, p. 45.