Thanks, Google

Thanks, Google October 24, 2014

Google Who Wrote the Pentateuch

A student pointed out to me that, if you ask Google “Who wrote the Pentateuch?” you get the answer, in big, bold letters, “Moses.”

I decided to click the “feedback” button and indicate that this is incorrect. Here’s what I wrote as explanation for why I thought so:

There has been extensive research on this topic. The Pentateuch depicts Moses as writing laws. It does not depict Moses as writing the work which depicts him as writing. It includes references (e.g. “at that time the Canaanites were in the land”) which simply do not fit authorship in the time Moses is supposed to have lived, never mind by Moses himself.


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  • Shouldn’t you have mentioned the deuteronomic editors? Or would that just mess with them too much?

  • TomS

    There are those who allow mere, fallible, human reasoning to determine that Moses did not write the end of Deuteronomy.( Even though, with the gift of God, he could have written of events after his death.) Once that is permitted, one has permission to determine that other parts of the Pentateuch were not written by Moses. Of several of these passages, the least that one can say is they were written with the appearance of having been written by someone else. If Moses, with the help of God, deliberately wrote those passages, that reminds one of an “Omphalos Hypothesis” (that God made the world with the appearance of a past), in reverse (that Moses wrote the Pentateuch with the appearance of it being done in the future).

    • There are those who allow mere, fallible, human tradition to persuade them that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, even though the text clearly presupposes that its author and readers lived in a time when the Canaanites were no longer in the land, when there had been kings in Edom and Israel, and so on.

      • TomS

        Unfortunately, of those passages which most certainly could not have been written by the Moses as described in the Bible, the beginning of Deuteronomy, is frequently obscured by translation. The author of that passage is clearly on the Israel side of the Jordan, while we have been told that Moses never crossed. The author, by the way, is not making any attempt of writing in the persona of Moses – he notes that Moses, indeed, is on the other side from the author.

      • TomS

        I remember as a kid being confused by the violations in “continuity” in the Bible. I just assumed that I was not a good reader. So it came as a welcoming revelation that a lot of people had that same problem, and recognizing that there was a pastiche of sources made sense of it.

        • I learned from Prof. Jeffrey Stackert just how well it can work to deal with source criticism very early in the semester. Not only may it help students not to blame themselves when the Bible is confusing, but it can also help them to realize that, whatever else they may think and say about scholarly theories, they are not an attack on the text (at least in most instances), but an attempt to account for genuine difficulties one sees as a careful reader.

          • arcseconds

            What is an attack on the text, as opposed to an attempt to account for genuine difficulties?

            From the perspective of a naïve inerrentist, any attempt that results in saying the Bible was inconsistent or just plain wrong is going to be perceived as an attack, no matter how charitable and well-motivated the attempt to account for genuine difficulties.

            From the perspective of a sophisticated biblical scholar, surely even claiming that something is a later interpolation is, or at least could be, an attempt to account for genuine difficulties, and not an attack.

          • Sooner or later, the inerrantist will find themselves defending their dogmatic view about the Bible from the evidence against that viewpoint within the Bible.

            Be that as it may, I find that most people who are starting from the assumption that the Bible is authoritative are open to exploring avenues that the text itself can be shown to point to or invite.

    • Wow, TomS. Unfalsifiability is not a strength.

      • arcseconds

        Are you under the impression that TomS is defending the authorship of the Pentateuch by Moses?

    • WonkishGuy

      Is there any other kind of reasoning? It looks to me like many of the most important doctrines of traditional Christianity rely a lot on mere, fallible, human reasoning to make sense of what the Bible is saying. You don’t really get the trinity unless you use your human reasoning. There’s a reason why it took time for people to agree (or be made to agree) on what it did and did not imply, and why it is challenged so often.

      • TomS

        My apologies for not making clear my irony in the characterisation of reasoning. After all these years, I have not learned the lesson that irony does not travel the internet.
        I was suggesting that those who dismiss analysis of the Bible in the case of Mosaic authorship are themselves engaging in analysis.

  • The most commonly agreed-on answer in nonspecialist textbooks is not necessarily the right answer:
    http://www.neshaminy.org/cms/lib6/PA01000466/Centricity/Domain/439/History%20Alive%20Textbook.pdf
    Yes, this is used in at least some local gov’t schools in the northern U.S.
    Abraham and Moses are still taught as historical in pretty much every actually used secondary education textbook I’ve ever seen. The Merenptah Stele is mentioned in none of them. This is because half the population has above-average gullibility and because half the population has below-average diligence and because these distributions often strongly overlap. And because, so far as I’ve been able to ascertain, textbook publishers only care about money and prestige, never factual accuracy, diligence, or lack of gullibility if it even mildly conflicts with the above two goals. The search for more money leads to a desire to pay lower incomes to writers, and writers willing to take these lower incomes also tend to overlap with the two above-mentioned qualities/distributions.

    And most people learn nothing of history after High School.

  • redpill99

    Mainstream archaelogy states that Moses never existed, Abraham never existed nor were his descendents ever in Egypt, and that the Exodus never happened. The major stories of the OT were borrowed from the Epic of Gilgamesh. Joshua conquest of Canaan never happened, and Joshua never existed. The ancient Israelites were identical to the ancient Canaanites. Yahweh had a wife Asherah.

  • Bethany

    Huh, interesting.

    “Who wrote the Torah” gets you: “The Torah, or Jewish Written Law, consists of the five books of the
    Hebrew Bible – known more commonly to non-Jews as the “Old Testament” –
    that were given by G-d to Moses on Mount Sinai and include within them all of the biblical laws of Judaism.”

    “Who wrote the Hexateuch” doesn’t get you one of those little top boxes.

    Maybe it we all give feedback it will go away?