Authorship of Pentateuch

This paper presents authorship of Pentateuch. The first part deals with description of the key term, namely Pentateuch. The second part presents authorship based on documentary hypothesis followed by mosaic authorship. The paper winds up with a conclusion.

Description of Pentateuch 

The key term in this paper is “pentateuch”. The term is used interchangeably with “torah” which refers either to the Five Books of Moses (or Pentateuch) or to the entirety of Judaism’s founding legal and ethical religious texts. These
books include Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (Malick, 1999). 

These five books form a backbone for the rest of the Old Testament and New Testament

The origins behind the founding of the  theocracy,
the promised blessing of the seed in  the land and of all peoples through
the seed.

The redemptions of the seed of Abraham out of bondage and the formation of this
people to be a nation with a constitution.

Israel‘s culture is established by providing a
manual of ordinances to help with

their needs when approaching God who is going to live among
His people in holiness (Lev 26:11-12)

YHWH orders
Israel‘s walk (the military arrangement, census of
the tribes, transport of the sacred palladium), but
Israel disrupts YHWH’s order; Nevertheless, the
promised blessing cannot be frustrated from within or from without.

The reconstitution of the nation under YHWH to enter the land through a
covenant renewal in legal-prophetic form.

Authorship of Pentateuch

Authorship of Pentateuch is discussed briefly based on two main approaches, namely
authorship by Moses and Documentary Hypothesis.

Mosaic Authorship of the Pentateuch 

Mosaic authorship is the tradition attributing the five books of the Torah or Pentateuch to Moses, the legendary leader, lawgiver, and prophet of the Israelites who figures as the main protagonist in the Book of Exodus.Mosaic authorship was accepted in scholarship throughout Late Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and most of the Early Modern period, from at least the 3rd to the 17th century AD. The rise of secular scholarship
eventually led to its scrutiny and ultimately rejection by the 19th century.

Outside scholarly mainstream, Mosaic authorship continues to be defended by some
conservative religious scholars, who seek to reconcile it with modern scholarly
findings. Such authors tend to place Moses as a historical figure at some time
during the Late Bronze Age.

Biblical Evidence of Mosaic Authorship

According to Lyons (1999),  There are various scriptural
verses that show Moses wrote the Pentateuch.

Deuteronomy 31:9 and Deuteronomy 31:24-26 describe how Moses writes “torah”
(instruction) on a scroll and lays it beside the ark
of the Covenant.

Exodus 17:14, “And YHWH said unto Moses,
Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua,
that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven;”

“And Moses wrote all the words of YHWH, and rose up early in the
morning, and built an altar under the mount, and twelve pillars, according to
the twelve tribes of Israel;”

Exodus 34:27, “And Yahwh said unto Moses, Write thou these words, for after
the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with

Leviticus 26:46 “These are the decrees, the laws and the regulations that the
LORD established on
Mount Sinai between himself and the Israelites through Moses.”

Objection of Mosai Authorship:

Prior to the 17th century both Jews and Christians accepted the traditional view that
Moses had written the Torah under the direct inspiration, even dictation of
God. A few rabbis and philosophers asked how Moses could have described his own
death (Deuteronomy 34:5-10), or given a list of the kings of Edom before those
kings ever lived (Genesis 36:31-43), but none doubted the truth of the
tradition, for the purpose of scholarship “was to underline the antiquity
and authority of the teaching in the Pentateuch, not to demonstrate who wrote
the books (Gordon, 2003).

Even in the Middle Ages some rabbis had voiced doubts about
the traditional view, but in the 17th century it came under increasing and
detailed scrutiny. In 1651 Thomas Hobbes, marshaled a battery of passages such
as Deut 34:6 (“no man knoweth of his sepulchre to this day,” implying
an author living long after Moses’ death); Gen 12:6 (“and the Canaanite
was then in the land,” implying an author living in a time when the
Canaanite was no longer in the land); and Num 21:14 (referring to a previous
book of Moses’ deeds), and concluded that none of these could be by Moses.
Others, including Isaac de la Peyrère, Baruch Spinoza, Richard Simon, and John
Hampden came to the same conclusion, but their works were condemned, several of
them were imprisoned and forced to recant, and an attempt was made on Spinoza’s
life (Friedman, 1989).

Development of documentary hypothesis came in to shed more light on the authorship of Pentateuch.

Documentary Hypothesis

The idea that Moses did not write the Pentateuch actually has been around for more
than a millennium. However, until the mid-seventeenth century, the vast
majority of people still maintained that Moses was its author. It was in the
mid-1600s that the Dutch philosopher Benedict Spinoza began to seriously
question this widely held belief (Longman, 1994). French physician Jean Astruc
developed the original Documentary Hypothesis in 1753, and it went through many
different alterations until Karl Graf revised the initial hypothesis in the
mid-nineteenth century. Julius Wellhausen then restated Graf’s Documentary
Hypothesis and brought it to light in European and American scholarly circles
(McDowell, 1999). It thus has become known to many as the Graf-Wellhausen

Since the “Period of Enlightenment,” the Graf-Wellhausen explanation of the origin of
the Pentateuch has been thrust consistently into the faces of Christians.
Liberal scholars teach that the Pentateuch was compiled from four original
“source documents” designated as J, E, D, and P. These four documents
supposedly were written at different times by different authors, and eventually
were compiled into the Pentateuch by an editor (McDowell, 1999).

J, Jahwist source

The J, or Jehovahist, document (usually known as the Yahwehist document) supposedly
was written around 850 B.C., and was characterized by its use of the divine
name Yahweh. It is the oldest source, concerned with narratives, making up half
of Genesis and half of Exodus, plus fragments of Numbers. J describes a
human-like God, called Yahweh (or rather YHWH) throughout, and has a special
interest in the territory of the
Kingdom of Judah and individuals connected with its history.

E, Elohist source

E parallels J, often duplicating the narratives. Makes up a
third of Genesis and half of Exodus, plus fragments of Numbers.
describes a human-like God initially called Elohim, and Yahweh subsequent to
the incident of the burning bush, at which Elohim reveals himself as Yahweh. E
focuses on the
Kingdom of Israel and on the Shiloh priesthood, has a moderately eloquent
style. It was purportedly written around 750 B.C.

D, Deuteronomist source

D in the Pentateuch is restricted to the book of Deuteronomy, although it
continues into the subsequent books of Joshua, Judges and Kings. It takes the
form of a series of sermons about the Law, as well as recapitulating the
narrative of Exodus and Numbers. Its distinctive term for God is YHWH Elohainu,
traditionally translated in English as “The Lord our God.” Originally
composed c. 650-621 BCE

P, Priestly source

P is preoccupied with lists (especially genealogies), dates, numbers and laws. P
describes a distant and unmerciful God, referred to as Elohim. P partly
duplicates J and E, but alters details to stress the importance of the
priesthood. P consists of about a fifth of Genesis, substantial portions of
Exodus and Numbers, and almost all of Leviticus. According to Wellhausen, P has
a low level of literary style. It was allegedly was written around 500 B.C.

This hypothesis dominated biblical scholarship for much of the 20th century, and,
although increasingly challenged by other models in the last part of the 20th
century, its terminology and insights continue to provide the framework for
modern theories on the origins of the Torah.


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Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Friedman, R.E (1989). Who Wrote the Bible? London: HarperCollins

Gordon, W. (2003). Exploring the Old Testament: Vol. 1, the Pentateuch, p160.

Harris, S.L. (1985). Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield.

Malick, D. (1999). An Introduction to the Pentateuch.

McDowell, J. (1999), The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville, TN: Nelson)

Wenham, G.  (1996). Pentateuchal Studies Today, Themelios 22.1



 Wanjohi, A. M. (2010). Authorship of  Pentateuch. Kenpro Papers Portal. Available
online at