Who Do Jews Believe Wrote the Bible?

by Jonathan Vankin, studioD In Judaism, the Bible is the word of God. But that's not the whole story

Who wrote the Bible? God did, of course. That’s what the Jewish faith promotes. But if you’re talking about what “Jews” believe, there are as many viewpoints about this question as there are Jews. In Judaism, debating the details is just as important as faith. The biblical authorship question is no exception.

Testaments Old and New

Before asking the question “who wrote the Bible,” it is important to distinguish between two “Bibles,” the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. The New Testament, the story of Jesus, is not part of the Jewish religion. So the question of authorship is irrelevant. In Judaism, only the 39 books in the Hebrew Bible -- especially the first five, known as the Torah -- are the most sacred, spelling out the laws of Judaism.

The Five Books of Moses

The Torah consists of five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, referred to as the Five Books of Moses. Traditionally, going back to the ancient Israelites, Jews believed that Moses himself wrote all five of “his” books. Over time, however, certain inconsistencies caused some to question Moses' sole authorship. For example, Deuteronomy clearly describes the death of Moses in a land called Moab. That did not deter some religious scholars, who said that, because Moses was inspired by God, he could describe his own death before it happened.

Multiple Authors

By the 17th century, critical thinking came into vogue. Scholars took a closer look at the Hebrew Bible and concluded that it had numerous authors. Jewish researchers concluded that the Torah had two distinct writers or groups of writers: priests and non-priests. Certain sections, they decided, could only have been written by temple insiders. Other passages displayed no such knowledge. The hands of these two authors could be detected not only between books but within them. The book of Isaiah, for example, was apparently started by one author, with another taking over at chapter 33.

Modern Science of Authorship Attribution

Distinctions among Hebrew Bible authors were painstakingly analyzed over the past several centuries. But in 2011, Israeli researchers created a computer algorithm that was able to perform the same type of analysis in minutes. Though it made some corrections to what scholars generally accepted about who wrote which passages, the computer program reached essentially the same conclusion as the scholars: The Bible was the work of many human writers, each with his own point of view. That human beings wrote the Hebrew Bible is generally accepted as fact today. But the question of whether the words of the book are also the words of God channeled through human hands remains a question of faith.


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About the Author

Jonathan Vankin is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience. He has written for such publications as "The New York Times Magazine," "Wired" and Salon, covering technology, arts, sports, music and politics. Vankin is also the author of three nonfiction books and several graphic novels.

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