Who wrote the Pentateuch,
a.k.a. the Five Books of Moses?
The five books of Moses are a.k.a. The Pentateuch,
the Books of the Law, the Law, and the Torah
"...despite all the arguments made against Mosaic authorship/editorship, the traditional view
[that Moses wrote the Pentateuch] is still as critically tenable as any
of the others." J.D. Douglas et al. 1
"..there is hardly a biblical scholar in the world actively working on the [authorship] problem who would claim that the Five Books of
Moses were written by Moses." R.E. Friedman. 2
"...it has long been recognized that...[Moses] cannot have been the author, and that the Pentateuch is in fact anonymous." D.J.A.
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are sometimes referred to as:
the "Five Books of Moses," because the writings
themselves identify the author as Moses, or
the "Pentateuch," a Greek term meaning "pente (5) teuchos (volumes)," or
the "Books of the Law", or
the "Torah" (a Hebrew word meaning "instruction")
These books were originally written as a single unbroken scroll. Sometime
before the 2nd Century BCE, it was divided into the 5
books that we see today.
What does the Bible itself say about authorship of the Pentateuch?
There are about two dozen verses in the Hebrew Scriptures and one dozen in the
Christian Scriptures which state or strongly imply that Moses was the author. Consider the
following passages from the New Living Translation (NLT):
Passages in the Pentateuch itself:
Exodus 17:14 "Then the Lord instructed Moses, 'Write this down
as a permanent record...'"
Exodus 24:4 "Then Moses carefully wrote down all the Lord's
Exodus 34:27 "And the Lord said to Moses, 'Write down all
these instructions, for they represents the terms of my covenant with you and with Israel.'"
Leviticus 1:1 "The Lord called to Moses from the Tabernacle
and said to him, 'Give the following instructions to the Israelites...'"
Leviticus 6:8 "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Give Aaron and
his sons the following instructions...'"
Deuteronomy 31:9 "So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to
Deuteronomy 31:24-26 "When Moses had finished writing down
this entire body of law in a book..."
Passages elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures:
Joshua 1:7-8 "...Obey all the laws Moses gave you."
Joshua 8:31-34 "He followed the instructions that Moses the
Lord's servant had written in the Book of the Law..."
Joshua 22:5 "...obey all the commands and the laws that Moses
gave to you."
2 Chronicles 34:14 "...Hilkiah the high priest...found the
book of the Law of the Lord as it had been given through Moses."
Passages in the Gospels which show that Jesus and John the Baptizer believed Moses to be
Matthew 19:7-8 "...why did Moses say a man could merely write
an official letter of divorce and send her away?", they asked. Jesus replied, 'Moses
Matthew 22:24 "Moses said, 'If a man dies without children...'"
Mark 7:10 "For instance, Moses gave you this law from God..."
Mark 12:24 "...haven't you ever read about this in the
writings of Moses, in the story of the burning bush..."
Luke 24:44 "...I told you that everything written about me by
Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must all come true."
John 1:17 "For the law was given through Moses..."
John 5:46 "But if you had believed Moses, you would have
believed me because he wrote about me. And since you don't believe what he wrote, how will
you believe what I say?"
John 7:23 "...do it, so as not to break the law of Moses..."
Passages elsewhere in the Christian Scriptures:
Acts 26:22 "...I teach nothing except what the prophets and
Moses said would happen..."
Romans 10:5 "For Moses wrote..."
But nowhere in the Bible is it specifically stated that Moses wrote the entire
Pentateuch. Even if one believes in the inerrancy of the Bible,
a case can be made that he authored only parts of the Torah, and that other writers added
sections of their own and/or edited the resultant text.
Beliefs of conservative theologians:
Ancient Jewish and Christian writers, such as Ecclesiasticus, Josephus, Philo, and
Origen were essentially in full agreement that the Pentateuch was written solely by Moses.
The Mishnah and the Talmud also confirm this. Tradition during the first millennium of
Christian history agrees with this belief. 4
Many present-day Fundamentalists and other Evangelical Christians continue to believe
that Moses wrote the entire Pentateuch:
P.N. Benware states that "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, which records the death of Moses... The Pentateuch,
therefore, is an inspired, inerrant, authoritative document written by the man Moses."
The authors of the New Commentary on the Whole Bible state that "The
education Moses would have received as the adopted grandson of Pharoh specially qualified
him for the task of compiling and writing the Pentateuch."1
Larry Richards states: "Moses wrote or supervised the writing of the bulk of
the Pentateuch and ...these books are rightly viewed as both a divine revelation and an
accurate, eyewitness account of events described as happening in Moses' lifetime."
J.W. Hayford writes: "Jewish tradition lists Moses as the author of Genesis and
of the next four books....we notice a number of loanwords from Egyptian that are found in
Genesis, a fact which suggests that the original author had his roots in Egypt, as did
Since conservative Christians believe in the inerrancy
(freedom from error) of the Bible, the matter of authorship is settled and is not open to
debate. Moses wrote at least the vast majority of the Pentateuch. Some suggest
that he authored all five books, and that the account of his death and burial
was a prophecy by Moses. However, some
Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians have deviated from traditional Christian
teachings. They believe that selected passages were written by persons other than Moses.
Some of these writings are referred to as "post-Mosaica" (material that
was added after Moses' death). Others are called "a-Mosaica" (material
that could have been written at the time of Moses but which could not reasonably be
attributed to him).
Fundamentalists and other Evangelical Christians generally believe that Moses wrote
all or most of the five books after the Israelite's exodus from Egypt,
but before they entered Canaan. This would date the writing to the 40 year period when the
Israelites were wandering through the desert, circa 1450 BCE.
They generally accept 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. 8 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
Finally, a fifth individual was involved :
R: a redactor who shaped the contributions of J, E, P and D together into the present
However, individual clergy in mainline denominations are frequently more
traditionally minded than are their theologians. Also, individual members are
often much more conservative in their beliefs about the Bible than are their
Some clues that Moses didn't write the Pentateuch, according to liberal
As mentioned elsewhere in this website, many Christian and Jewish
conservatives believe that Moses is the sole author of the Pentateuch
and that he was inspired directly by God to write
text that is free of error. Other theologians
have claimed that there is some
internal evidences in the Bible that these conclusions are invalid:
prompted to develop the Documentary Hypothesis
as a result of observing the presence of doublets in the Pentateuch.
These are pairs of stories which occur in two separate locations in the
text. The doublets generally do not agree fully; there are usually minor
differences between the stories. R.E. Friedman, in his 1997
book "Who Wrote the Bible?"
lists a number of them:
Two creation stories
Two descriptions of
the Abrahamic covenant.
Two stories of the
naming of Isaac.
Two instances where
Abraham deceived a king by introducing his wife Sarah as his sister.
Two stories of Jacob
traveling to Mesopotamia
Two stories of a
revelation at Beth-el to Jacob.
Two accounts of God
changing Jacob's name to Israel
Two instances where
Moses extracted water from two different rocks at two different
locations called Meribah.
It is difficult to
account for so many doublets -- most containing slight discrepancies --
if all five books were written over a short interval of time by Moses or
by any other single individual. Liberal theologians reasoned that a much
more logical explanation is that the books were written by multiple
authors who lived long after the events described. That would have
allowed the oral tradition to be passed from generation to generation in
different areas of the land so that they had a chance to deviate from
each other before being written down. In a few cases, triplets have been
found in the Pentateuch where the same accounts appears three times.
Genesis 7:15: In the story of the Flood, these verses have Noah collecting two of each species
of animals -- one male and one female . Genesis 7:2-3
specifies 7 pairs of clean animals and birds and 1 pair of unclean
Genesis 7:11 describes water coming from the
heavens and from below the ground to generate the worldwide flood. However,
Genesis 7:4 describes all of the water falling as rain.
Genesis 7:11, 7:17, 7:24 and 8:3 specify different
intervals for the flood duration which have no apparent resolution. 11
Genesis 11:31 This describes Abraham as living in the city Ur, and
associates that location
with the Chaldeans. Archaeological evidence indicates that the Chaldeans did not exist as a tribe at the time of Abraham;
they rose to power much later, during the 1st millennium BCE.
Genesis 14:14: This verse refers to Abram pursuing some
surviving kings of Sodom and Gomorrah to the city of Dan. However, that
place name did not exist until a long time after Moses' death. Other locations are
also identified in the Pentateuch by names that were invented long after
the death of Moses.
Genesis 22:14: The verse states: "And Abraham called the
name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day..." There are many verses in the Torah that state that something has lasted "to
this day". That appears to have been written by a writer who composed the
passages long after the events described, and long after Moses' death.
Genesis 36 contained a list of Edomite kings which included some monarchs who were in power after Moses' death. R.E.
Friedman wrote: "In the eleventh century, Isaac ibn Yashush, a Jewish
court physician of a ruler in Muslim Spain, pointed out that a list of
Edomite kings that appears in Genesis 36 named kings who lived long
after Moses was dead. Ibn Yashush suggested that the list was written by
someone who lived after Moses. The response to his conclusion was that
he was called "Isaac the blunderer." History has proven him to be
correct, at least as viewed by most mainline and liberal theologians.
Exodus 33:7 describes Moses entering the Tabernacle. Yet, the Tabernacle had not
yet been built; its subsequent construction is described in Exodus 35.
Numbers 12:3: This verse states "Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who
were on the face of the earth." (NKJ) If Moses were that humble, it is unlikely
that he would have described himself in these glowing terms.
Numbers 25:1 which describes the rebellion at Peor referred to
Moabite women; Numbers 25:6 14 refers to Midianites.
Deuteronomy 34:5-9: These verses describe the death, burial,
age at death, physical condition at death, and mourning period for Moses.
It is difficult for an individual to describe events at and after his or
her death. Some have suggested that this portion of the Pentateuch (and
only this portion) was written later by Joshua. However, R.E. Friedman
"...in the sixteenth century, Carlstadt, a contemporary
of Luther, commented that the account of Moses' death is written in the
same style as texts that precede it. This makes it difficult to claim
that Joshua or anyone else merely added a few lines to an otherwise
Mosaic manuscript." 9
Deuteronomy 34:10 This states "There has never been another prophet like Moses..."
(NLT) This sounds like a passage written long after Moses' death.
Enough time would have had to pass for many other prophets to have
arisen, to passed from the scene, and to have been evaluated.