Computer Confirms Bible’s Multiple Authors

Computer Confirms Bible’s Multiple Authors July 1, 2011

There is a fascinating story on Haaretz.com about new computer software that has been developed to distinguish between different authors of the Hebrew Bible.  This is something that biblical scholars have been working on the old-fashioned way for over a century.

It matched up with the traditional academic division at a rate of 90 percent – effectively recreating years of work by multiple scholars in minutes, said Moshe Koppel of Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, the computer science professor who headed the research team.

“We have thus been able to largely recapitulate several centuries of painstaking manual labor with our automated method,” the Israeli team announced in a paper presented last week in Portland, Oregon, at the annual conference of the Association for Computational Linguistics. The team includes a computer science doctoral student, Navot Akiva, and a father-son duo: Nachum Dershowitz, a Tel Aviv University computer scientist, and his son, Idan Dershowitz, a Bible scholar at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Most religious Jews and Christians categorically deny the worth of the old research (the “Documentary Hypothesis”).  They vigorously repulse the very idea that there were multiple authors of the Torah.  So you would think that any scholar who developed this algorithm and applied it to the Torah would also accept the implications.  You would be wrong:

What the algorithm won’t answer, say the researchers who created it, is the question of whether the Bible is human or divine. Three of the four scholars, including Koppel, are religious Jews who subscribe in some form to the belief that the Torah was dictated to Moses in its entirety by a single author: God.

For academic scholars, the existence of different stylistic threads in the Bible indicates human authorship. But the research team says in their paper they aren’t addressing “how or why such distinct threads exist.”

“Those for whom it is a matter of faith that the Pentateuch is not a composition of multiple writers can view the distinction investigated here as that of multiple styles,” they said.

In other words, there’s no reason why God could not write a book in different voices.  “No amount of research is going to resolve that issue,” said Koppel.

What really resolves that issue are these simple and logical questions:  Why would God, who is alleged to be the creator of everything that there is, including the intricate laws of physics and life itself, write the Torah in multiple voices?  And why would he make its texts so damn obtuse obscure and frequently immoral?  Apparently the creators of the software are thrilled with how well their program works while simultaneously afraid to consider the consequences.

I congratulate the authors of the study, especially Nachum Dershowitz with whom I used to be friendly (when Idan was just a child).  Yet I am compelled to ask those obvious questions.  I simply cannot comprehend how anyone could (re)uncover what was once considered the earth-shattering discovery of multiple authorship of the Torah and still remain loyal to it as the unique or perfect word of God.

That takes some mighty strong denial of reality.

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