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The Pentateuch, sometimes referred to as the Torah is a central religious text of Judaism and a significant part of the Christian Bible. While historically considered a single document, [1] in modern times it is divided into five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.


In the 20th century, the most popular theory of authorship, known as the Documentary Hypothesis, thought there were four or five main authors of the Pentateuch, working over several centuries. More recently, several other theories have challenged this view.

According to tradition, the Pentateuch was written by Moses, [2] though almost all serious Biblical scholars dispute this claim. [1] However, Moses was probably a fictional character and the Pentateuch had many authors over a significant length of time.

"Moses was the human author of Genesis and the other books of the Pentateuch ...These five 'books of the law' were written by Moses alone, with the exception of Deuteronomy 34 Bible-icon.png, which records the death of Moses... The Pentateuch, therefore, is an inspired, inerrant, authoritative document written by the man Moses. [3]"

In the 18th century, Thomas Paine argued that Moses was probably not the author because: [4]

  • Moses is not mentioned prior to the time of Moses,
  • Moses is discussed in the third person.
"It may be said, that a man may speak of himself in the third person, and, therefore, it may be supposed that Moses did; but supposition proves nothing; and if the advocates for the belief that Moses wrote those books himself have nothing better to advance than supposition, they may as well be silent. [4]."

Other reasons that Moses could not have been the author:

  • The Torah describes many events and places which did not exist until after Moses died. It also describes his death.
  • Numbers 12:3 Bible-icon.png says, "Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth." If Moses were that humble, it is unlikely that he would have described himself in these glowing terms.

Documentary hypothesis

Main Article: Documentary hypothesis

Most scholars in the 20th century subscribe to the "Documentary Hypothesis," which asserts that the Pentateuch was written by a group of four authors, from various locations in Palestine, over a period of centuries. [5] Each wrote with the goal of promoting his/her own religious views:

  • J: a writer who used JHWH as the "unpronounceable name of God." It is often translated as Jehovah.
  • E: a writer who used Elohim as the divine name.
  • D: the author of the book of Deuteronomy.
  • P: a writer who added material of major interest to the priesthood.

Finally, a fifth individual was involved:

  • R: a redactor who shaped the contributions of J, E, P and D together into the present Pentateuch.


  1. 1.0 1.1 [1]
  2. [2]
  3. P. N. Benware, Survey of the Old Testament- Everyman's Bible Commentary, 2001
  4. 4.0 4.1 [3]
  5. Evid3nc3, Atheism - A History of God (The Polytheistic Origins of Christianity and Judaism)
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