How Was the Old Testament Written? – Program 1

By: Dr. Gerald Lrue, Dr. Walter Kaiser, Jr.; ©1989
Is there evidence from archaeological research that actually disproves the JEDP theory, or the documentary hypothesis? Could Moses in fact have authored the first five books of the Bible?

What Evidence Disproves the Documentary Hypothesis?


Tonight, John Ankerberg will investigate the topic: How was the Old Testament written? The Holy Bible is like no other book in all the world. It claims to be the written revelation of the one true God, and gives proof of this claim by presenting infallible evidence. Other religious documents such as the Qur’an may claim to be the very word of God, but they contain no such self-authenticating proofs as does the Bible. Only the Bible validates its claims by prior prophecy and subsequent fulfillment. But professors in American universities are teaching our students the theories of the higher critics who declare that the Bible is merely a product of human origin. The higher critics assert that the Old Testament can be dealt with in a purely literary way, and naturalistic explanations must be found for every account which depicts the supernatural.

In tonight’s program John will examine the theories that the higher critics have put forth denying the Bible is historically accurate. One of these assertions is that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch. Julius Wellhausen, the founder of the documentary theory, has stated, “Writing was virtually unknown in Israel during Moses’ time, and consequently Moses could not have written the Pentateuch.” If the higher critics are correct, then the Bible is in error. Even Jesus Christ Himself was wrong when He taught that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch. The higher critics have also written that the Bible is not historically trustworthy, pointing to the fact that they have never heard of any evidence of a nation revealed in the Bible called the Hittites. What about this? And finally, the higher critics claim they alone are scientific in their assumptions of approaching the Old Testament. But have they really given the Bible the benefit of the doubt in what it states, or have they approached the Bible with an anti-supernatural bias? These questions will be answered tonight as John examines the evidence from archaeology and history. Find out whether the JEDP theory of the higher critics has been demolished by the evidence or whether it still stands. We invite you to join us.

Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome! We’re glad that you’ve joined us tonight. My guests are Dr. Gerald Larue, Professor Emeritus of Archaeology and Biblical Studies at the University of Southern California. He’s currently the chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion. Dr Larue, we’re glad that you’re here tonight. Then, Dr. Walter Kaiser, Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He’s the author of many books. Dr. Kaiser, we’re glad that you’re here.
Tonight our topic is this: How was the Old Testament written? And specifically, who wrote the first five books of the Bible? We want to zero in on this. And, Dr. Kaiser, I’d like to come to you first of all. Your friend sitting next to you there, Dr. Gerald Larue, has stated in a magazine article, I believe in the Free Inquiry, he says, “While many Christians and Jews have traditionally believed that Moses authored the Torah [or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament] this is a wrong assumption.” He says, “There is no way that Moses could have written the Torah.” Then he goes on to say that even Jesus accepted the Mosaic authorship of the Torah but that this doesn’t bear any weight. Jesus was a man of His own era and like others who at the same time.… He made similar statements and Jesus was wrong.
Now tonight, we want to find out, was Jesus wrong? Has archaeology really disproved Jesus’ teachings concerning Moses? Dr. Larue has stated, “By the close of the fifth century, the Torah had reached its final form, the form in which we know it today. The core of it came from the tenth century myth, and during the next five centuries that myth was added to, suffered deletions, was edited and re-edited in a process of continuing interpretation by many authors.” And he says, “Very little help in clarifying the ancient record has come from archaeological research.”
Now, Dr. Kaiser, here’s the question I want you to start with. With that as background, what archaeological evidence would you tell us about that disproves the Documentary Hypothesis that is taught in most of our universities? Most of the kids in school that are watching tonight are familiar with that Documentary Hypothesis, JEPD [also JEDP], and Dr. Larue is also advocating that. Has archaeology really established that there are no good reasons for anyone believing that Moses authored the first five books of the Bible around 1400 BC?
Dr. Walter Kaiser: Well, John, at first it was said that there was silence on many of these issues, but it turned out that since 1930 to the present we’ve had a phenomenal rate of discovery. Particularly in the Pentateuchal area alone, we must have a million and a half documents that are available, a highly visible culture. And at every point where the biblical record of the first five books—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, which are called the Pentateuch for the “five books;” it’s also called the Torah in the Jewish collection—wherever we’ve had contact, we’ve been able to find that it has been substantiated.
Take, for example, a collection of tablets from Nuzi, just east of the Tigris River. There we found out selling one’s birthright, which sounds corny, we don’t do that today! But here we have—and I’ve personally read, part of my training was to read these things in the original—here is a man selling for a piece of land his birthright, and giving three sheep along with it. We also find they adopt people in a legal fiction, much like happens with Laban and Jacob. We go to Egypt and we get execration texts, tablets where they write names and try to break them and put the mojo on the people there to execrate them, and by so doing bring a curse upon them. And what are the cities? Exactly the cities that the patriarchs are touching at that time.
In other words, someone—whoever it was that wrote these first five books—had to belong to that culture. They had to come and be contemporaries of that culture. That’s the kind of material. And I could go on by the yard here, but I think that just gives us a start which shows us that, if we’re going to be scientific, indeed, let’s go to the evidences. Rather than talking about hypothetical kinds of documents, let’s talk about real documents, real tablets and real finds.
Ankerberg: Dr. Larue, your background is, and your specialty is, archaeology. I mean, that was your title here. And you know that the biblical higher critics have blasted the reliability of the Bible in past days and they’ve said certain things about Moses. They said that he couldn’t write the Pentateuch because writing wasn’t known during Moses’ day. You know that they also said that nobody had heard of the Hittites and so therefore the Bible was not reliable, and it was disproved because they hadn’t met a Hittite and they had never seen any evidence concerning that. So the Bible was wrong simply because the higher critic had never seen any evidence about it.
I’m sure you are aware of the Ugaritic or Ras Shamra Tablets discovered by [C.F.A.] Schaeffer in 1929, which date all the way back to 1400 BC. And you’re also aware of the city of Ur in southern Samaria that was thoroughly excavated by Leonard Woolley between 1922 and 1934 that dates back to an advanced civilization existing around 2000 BC. What I’d like to ask you is, since that’s your specialty, what impact have these two archaeological discoveries had upon the question of writing being available in Moses’ time? Because that’s what the critics said: “It was impossible for Moses even to write, because he didn’t have any writing available. Nobody did that,” okay? And then the existence of the Hittite people, isn’t it time to repent of the former sins of saying that Moses couldn’t have written and the Hittite people didn’t exist in light of the evidence?
Dr. Gerald Larue: What you’re dealing with are concepts that were held at the turn of the century. And what you are supposing is that there has been no advancement and no change in biblical scholarship. This is not so. Any competent scholar who utilizes scientific methodology always prefaces what he has to say with this kind of a remark: “This is what we think we know in the light of the evidence. Tomorrow, somebody may dig up something that will change our point of view.”
Yes, there were those who said the Hittites couldn’t have existed. And of course, the recent discoveries in Turkey have indicated there was a large and powerful nation there and we have their literature and so on. The idea of Moses not being able to write, I don’t know who said that, but I suspect it has been said. I’ve never read this. I didn’t go back into that particular form of criticism. Writing was much older than Moses. It goes back, way back into the third millennium in Mesopotamia and in Egypt, so that writing was known. As to the discoveries of Woolley, I would point out first of all that Ur is not thoroughly excavated, it’s partially excavated; but even so, what he found there was very important, very significant in terms of our understanding of the cultural milieu out of which the people of the Bible produced the writings of the Bible.
Now, your comment, sir, on the Nuzi texts and the birthright. Yes, these things have been important to help us understand certain of the customs of the Bible. And we say, “Yes, they were there.” I don’t know of any critic that said, “This is crazy. Nobody does this.” But what it does is give us a background that helps us understand the environment out of which the Bible comes. The Bible is a product of life and living. Real people wrote this. They reflect their environment; they reflect the world of which they are a part. And so I’m not surprised that we find things of this nature. As to the Ras Shamra materials, we have found phrases in the Bible that were first applied to the god Ba’al and then were adapted by the Hebrews to their own God. This is like going into a Buddhist camp and finding that somebody has taken “Jesus loves me” and changed it to “Buddha loves me this I know,” and missionaries have told me that they have run across this.
Ankerberg: Well, a couple of things here, though, before we get too far. Just for all the students sitting in school, then, you would say that there’s no reason that any of their professors should ever say that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch. He could have.
Larue: Oh, no. Oh, no. There are a lot of reasons why Moses should not…
Ankerberg: Yeah, but the first one of the writing being available…
Larue: Writing was available.
Ankerberg: That’s no problem. And then we also know that that one historical thing concerning the Hittites and the Horites, we don’t have to worry about that anymore, because we’ve got now thousands of clay tablets that say that.
Larue: Right.
Ankerberg: When I come back from the break I’d like to ask you about the fact of people that made statements about historical events in the Bible. The critics said, “Because they had no evidence about it, therefore the Bible was disproved.” Isn’t that a bias? We want to talk about that when we come right on back. Stick with us.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back, and we’re talking about the reliability of the Old Testament. Did Moses write the Pentateuch? Was he able to? And, Dr. Larue, you said, “Who wrote about the fact that nobody had writing?” It was one of the folks that is pretty well known. Julius Wellhausen himself said, “Writing was virtually unknown in Israel during Moses’ time, and consequently Moses could not have written the Pentateuch.” Or Schultz in 1893 states in his book Old Testament Theology, he says, “It was a time [talking about Moses’ time] prior to all knowledge of writing, a time separated by the interval of more than 400 years of which there is absolutely no history [which is the point we want to come to next] from the nearest period of which Israel had some dim historical recollection, a time when in civilized countries writing was only beginning to be used.”
Now, the thing that we’re talking about here is the prejudice that is apparent from scholars of higher criticism who say that, because they did not know of any historical event, because they didn’t know of the Hittites, because they couldn’t imagine anybody writing, therefore when the biblical documents said that there were those things taking place—the Hittites were there, writing was taking place, etc.—isn’t that a big anti-supernatural bias, or just a regular bias against the Old Testament that is showing forth in the critics’ claims here?
Larue: In any subject, any person approaching it has a bias. We all have an angle of vision. They were working with the evidence that was available to them at the time. We have, as you’ve already indicated, through the archaeological research discovered that, yes, the Canaanites were writing in Israel at this time. Moses, of course, was not in Israel, but we had not discovered Ras Shamra, we had not discovered a lot of other things. So that, yes, there is a bias here. But you need to remember one thing: that higher criticism, and all the best biblical scholarship, the most critical scholarship, has come out of the Christian church. These are not atheists that are doing this; these are not agnostics; these are people who are deeply concerned about the Scriptures, who have given their lives to the study of the language and the evidence in the light of where they were in time and space, and producing questions, asking questions. How could Moses contradict himself? How could Moses write of his own funeral at the end of the book of Deuteronomy? And in an attempt to answer these questions, these are the answers or responses they came up with at that time. We’re no longer there.
Ankerberg: Yeah, what I’d like to get to, though, is Aristotle’s dictum that the document is given the benefit of the doubt. And what benefit of the doubt did the critics give to the document?
Larue: Maybe not as much as they should have.
Ankerberg: Right.
Larue: But we’re not there now. We’ve moved on beyond that. And we can’t keep going back to what somebody said in the nineteenth century as though that is the twentieth century, of the last 15 years of the twentieth century evidence.
Ankerberg: What nineteenth century principles of the higher critics have actually changed? Obviously, they’ve had to change what they’ve said, but what principles have changed because of the evidence?
Larue: The principles that you’ve already mentioned: the use of archaeology, which was not developed at that time; the utilization of Semitic languages, which was not properly developed at that time. We know far more about the Semitic language and Semitic history than we did at that time. What has not changed is the literary criticism; that is, the analysis of the documents themselves and the finding of contradictions, patterns that don’t seem to agree with themselves, changes in patterns within the documents themselves, which we want to talk about.
Ankerberg: We want to talk about that, yeah.
Larue: Yeah. This is literary criticism. That has not changed. That has gone on. In fact, it’s been refined.
Ankerberg: Do you still hold to the JEPD theory?
Larue: I utilize this as the best that we have at the moment.
Ankerberg: I see you’ve got it in Free Inquiry magazine as being the way to go.
Larue: Yeah, this is where I summarize. But this is the best that I have at this moment. Possibly somebody will come up with something better. But my point is simply that there are different hands at work here over a period of time. A document does not remain static. It grows with the times.
Ankerberg: Would you say that the scholars would allow that God could actually intervene in history and that He could actually reveal Himself in mighty acts to the nation of Israel? Is that an assumption that is open to investigation, or is it like Langdon Gilkey, who says, you know, that we know that when they’re talking about the Red Sea parting and when we’re talking about the miracles in Egypt, that this is just what the Israelites thought—that if God actually was there and had done these things, this is how it probably would have happened. But we know that it didn’t happen. I want to know how they know it didn’t happen.
Larue: Well, starting at the last point and moving back, there are a number of explanations of the Sea of Reeds or the Red Sea parting…
Ankerberg: Get to the bias of Gilkey that says, you know, it’s basically we start with the fact that God couldn’t have done that.
Larue: Well, this is a bias, and, of course, what you deal with is interpretation. Something happens and somebody says, “Well, this is because God….” I listened to the Roberts family on the air and somebody found a missing bracelet because God directed them where to find it. This could be happenstance or you could believe that God is saying, “Follow this track.” So, we have Christian scholars who are higher critics who have written books called The Mighty Acts of God, dealing with the interpretation of history as God acting within the realm of man. The secular historian doesn’t utilize that kind of a belief system.
Ankerberg: Dr. Kaiser, do you think that the JEPD theory is one that archaeology has demolished, or does it still stand today?
Kaiser: Well, I’ll tell you what my teacher said at Brandeis University. I studied under Dr. Cyrus Gordon. He said, “Look, I put that theory away with the toys of my childhood!” He said, “I went to university and I studied at the University of Pennsylvania. This is what I was taught.” But he said, “I began to start thinking about this.” He said, “Take the flood story. If the flood story has such similarities to the Gilgamesh Epic and there are such close parallels, and both reflect some kind of great flood which may have been historical—at least that’s the claim in the biblical material—then, why is it that the material buried in the sand which we dug up doesn’t have the same two documents which we analyzed in the JEDP theory? How come you don’t have the same thing here? And why can’t I take the same kind of criteria which I use and sort of taking the first five books of the Old Testament, why can’t I work that on a Babylonian tablet that’s been buried in the sand since 2000 BC?”
And he said, “That was it for me. I had to put the whole thing away.” He said, “That was it!” And the class went into an uproar. They said, “You’re Don Quixote! You’re fighting the windmills of scholarship! This will never work!” And he said, “Well, there are the facts, ladies and gentlemen. We’re translating the Gilgamesh Epic.” He said, “You tell me. Isn’t that the same criteria? Aren’t we talking here about double names? Aren’t we talking about duplicates and kind of parallels? Don’t we have difference in word and vocabulary?” And he said, “So you tell me. Didn’t we find this one in the sand?” And, of course, the class had to agree.
When you’re working with hard data—and here’s my main point—you’ve got to play the rules according to fact. And here an Evangelical Christian loves fact and loves truth. We don’t go partway; we go all the way with it. And we let the text stand on its own claims first, without first of all making a judgment, “Well, that could or could not… My experience doesn’t allow that, because I’ve not had experiences like that, therefore that’s ruled out as an a priori.” You can’t begin with a priori if you’re going to be a true person working in the humanities. You’ve got to stick with the evidence!
Ankerberg: What about Dr. Larue’s statement that we opened up this program with, that there is no way Moses could have written the Pentateuch. What’s the evidence that he did write the Pentateuch?
Kaiser: Well, here again, you’ve got about a dozen claims in the book itself. Exodus 17, God had said, “Write this battle down as a memorial.” The Ten Commandments, the Book of the Covenant, the Ritual Code. All of these with clear statements, “God spoke to Moses and said, ‘Write it down.’” Now, you’ve got to begin somewhere, and you begin with the claim of the text. And before you say, “Well, this kind of thing can’t happen! In my categories, I’m going to rule that out.” That’s a belief system. That’s not a scientific system; that’s a belief system. And that will have to stand on its own two feet and we’ll have to demonstrate that.
Ankerberg: Okay, Dr. Larue?
Larue: I’m afraid that you are denigrating the approach of the modern scholar. The modern scholar does not say, “This doesn’t fit into my category of thinking.” The modern scholar does exactly what you’re saying. He does examine the evidence. And when you have contradictory statements in a document written by one person… How many animals taken into the ark? “Two clean; two unclean.” Oh, no! “Seven pairs of clean…” Make up your mind, Moses! When you have Moses writing his own funeral. Come on!
Ankerberg: Okay, you have listed in How the Old Testament Was Written, an article about, I think, over 40 different what you call “discrepancies.”
Larue: Yes.
Ankerberg: I have a question for you. If we took the next week’s program and answered all 40 of them, would you change your theory right off the bat?
Larue: I’d be willing to evaluate it, of course.
Ankerberg: Okay. You gave us one there. We’ve only got time for a shorty, so what’s this thing about Moses? Doesn’t this show duplicate authors because you have in one account Moses saying, “Hey, look, we took in these unclean animals” and the next one we’ve got a different number of clean animals. What’s going on here, Dr. Kaiser?”
Kaiser: I’m surprised that you raised that as an objection. Certainly they need food; certainly they need animals for sacrifice. Genesis 8:20 deliberately says, “He took seven clean animals.” But watch it! Because they needed them for sacrifices and for food. What rule is there that can be set by the scholars that says, “You’re only allowed two, Noah! Don’t put any more on board.” That’s setting the ground rules according to our presuppositions, not according to the writer. It’s the modern mind reshaping the material. It’s a Western mind, it’s not an Oriental mind, and it’s not the Divine mind here.
Ankerberg: Alright, next week we’ll pick up the list of inconsistencies that the higher critical scholars and Dr. Larue have advocated show that Moses couldn’t have been the only writer of the Pentateuch. But I hope that you’ll join us next week.

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