06 Aug Who Wrote the Bible
Now that we’ve explored the history of the Bible, it feels important to discuss who actually wrote the Bible.
Traditionally, most Christians are taught that the first five books of the Old Testament, or what is also known as the Torah (also called the Pentateuch or the Tanakh) were written by Moses. This includes the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and possibly Job. Other Old Testament books have been credited to: Amos (The Book of Amos), Daniel (The Book of Daniel), Ezekiel (The Book of Ezekiel), Ezra (The Book of Ezra. Ezra is also thought to have written 1st and 2nd Chronicles and possibly portions of Nehemiah), Habakkuk (The Book of Habakkuk), Haggai (The Book of Haggai), Hosea (The Book of Hosea), Isaiah (The Book of Isaiah), Jeremiah (1st and 2nd Kings, Lamentations, The Book of Jeremiah), Joel (The Book of Joel), Joshua (The Book of Joshua), Malachi (The Book of Malachi), Micah (The Book of Micah), Nahum (The Book of Nahum), Nehemiah (The Book of Nehemiah), Samuel (1st and 2nd Samuel, Ruth, and Judges), Solomon (Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Song of Solomon or otherwise known as Song of Songs), Zechariah (The Book of Zechariah), and Zephaniah (The Book of Zephaniah).
It is also widely believed and accepted that the New Testament authors are as such: James (The Book of James), John (Gospel of John, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John, and Revelation), Jude (The Book of Jude), Luke (The Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles), Mark (The Gospel of Mark), Matthew (The Gospel of Matthew), Paul (Romans, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, 1st and 2nd Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and possibly The Book of Hebrews), and Peter (1st and 2nd Peter).
Some books of the Bible have never been under debate in regards to authorship as they align with history and others are reliably dated to a given period. Much of this has undergone massive study and have been uncovered by internal clues and literary style. Religious doctrine holds that God himself is the author of or at least the inspiration for the entirety of the Bible, which was transcribed by a series of humble vessels – which quite literally means the Bible is the largest channeled document that has ever survived and held such longstanding belief among varying nations.
Who Wrote The Bible: The First Five Books
According to both Jewish and Christian Dogma, the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (the first five books of the Bible and the entirety of the Torah) were all written by Moses in about 1,300 B.C. Scholars have developed their own take on who wrote the Bible’s first five books, mainly by using internal clues and writing style. Just as English speakers can roughly date a book that uses a lot of “thee’s” and “thou’s,” Bible scholars can contrast the styles of these early books to create profiles of the different authors.
In each case, these writers are talked about as if they were a single person, but each author could just as easily be an entire school of people writing in a single style. These biblical “authors” include:
- E: “E” stands for Elohist, the name given to the author(s) who referred to God as “Elohim.” In addition to a fair bit of Exodus and a little bit of Numbers, the “E” author(s) are believed to be the ones who wrote the Bible’s first creation account in Genesis chapter one.
Interestingly, however, “Elohim” is plural, so chapter one originally stated that “Gods created the heavens and earth.” It’s believed that this hearkens back to a time when proto-Judaism was polytheistic, though it was almost certainly a one-deity religion by the 900’s B.C., when “E” would have lived.
- J: “J” is believed to be the second author(s) of the first five books (much of Genesis and some of Exodus), including the creation account in Genesis chapter two (the detailed one where Adam is created first and there’s a serpent). This name comes from “Jahwe,” the German translation of “YHWH” or “Yahweh,” the name this author used for God.
At one time, J was thought to have lived close to the time of E, but there’s just no way that could be true. Some of the literary devices and turns of phrase that J uses could only have been picked up sometime after 600 B.C., during the Jewish captivity in Babylon.
For example, “Eve” first appears in J’s text when she is made from the rib of Adam. “Rib” is “ti” in Babylonian, and it’s associated with the goddess Tiamat, the mother deity. A lot of Babylonian mythology and astrology (including the stuff about Lucifer, the Morning Star) snuck into the Bible in this way via the captivity.
- P: “P” stands for “Priestly,” and it almost certainly refers to a whole school of writers living in and around Jerusalem in the late sixth century B.C., immediately after the Babylonian captivity ended. These writers were effectively reinventing their peoples’ religion from fragmentary texts now lost.
P writers drafted almost all of the dietary and other kosher laws, emphasized the holiness of the Sabbath, wrote endlessly about Moses’ brother Aaron (the first priest in Jewish tradition) to the exclusion of Moses himself, and so on.
P seems to have written just a few verses of Genesis and Exodus, but virtually all of Leviticus and Numbers. P authors are distinguished from the other writers by their use of quite a lot of Aramaic words, mostly borrowed into Hebrew. In addition, some of the rules attributed to P are known to have been common among the Chaldeans of modern-day Iraq, whom the Hebrews must have known during their exile in Babylon, suggesting that the P texts were written after that period.
- D: “D” is for “Deuteronomist,” which means: “author of Deuteronomy.” D was also, like the other four, originally attributed to Moses, but that’s only possible if Moses liked to write in the third person, could see the future, used language no one in his own time would have used, and knew where his own tomb would be.
D also takes little asides to indicate just how much time has passed between the events described and the time of his writing about them — “there were Canaanites in the land then,” “Israel has not had such a great prophet [as Moses] down to this very day.”
Deuteronomy was actually written much later. The text first came to light in the tenth year of the reign of King Josiah of Judah, which was roughly 640 B.C. Josiah had inherited the throne from his father at age eight and ruled through the Prophet Jeremiah until he was of age.
Around 18, the King decided to seize full control of Judah, so he dispatched Jeremiah to the Assyrians with a mission to fetch home the remaining diaspora Hebrews. Then, he ordered a renovation of the Temple of Solomon, where Deuteronomy was supposedly found under the floor.
The next answers to the question of who wrote the Bible come from the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, generally believed to have been written during the Babylonian captivity in the middle of the sixth century B.C. Traditionally believed to have been written by Joshua and Samuel themselves, they’re now often lumped in with Deuteronomy due to their similar style and language.
Nevertheless, there is a substantial gap between the “discovery” of Deuteronomy under Josiah in about 640 B.C. and the middle of the Babylonian captivity somewhere around 550 B.C. However, it’s possible that some of the youngest priests who were alive in the time of Josiah were still alive when Babylon hauled off the whole country as captives.
Whether it was these priests of the Deuteronomy era or their successors that wrote Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, these texts represent a highly mythologized history of their newly dispossessed people thanks to the Babylonian captivity.
This history opens with the Hebrews getting instruction from God to leave their captivity in Egypt and take over the Holy Land. The next section covers the age of the great prophets, who were believed to be in daily contact with God, and who routinely challenged the Canaanites’ deities with feats of strength and miracles.
Finally, the two books of Kings cover the “Golden Age” of Israel, under the kings Saul, David, and Solomon, centered around the tenth century B.C.
The intent of the authors here isn’t hard to parse: Throughout the books of Kings, the reader is assailed with endless warnings not to worship strange gods, or to take up the strangers’ ways — especially relevant for a people in the middle of the Babylonian captivity, freshly plunged into a foreign country and without a clear national identity of their own.
Who Wrote The Bible: Prophets
The next texts to examine when investigating who wrote the Bible are those of the biblical prophets, an eclectic group who mostly traveled around the various Jewish communities to admonish people and give sermons about how they should be living.
Some prophets lived before the “Golden Age” while others did their work during and after the Babylonian captivity. Later, many of books of the Bible attributed to these prophets were largely written by others and were fictionalized to the level of Aesop’s Fables by people living centuries after the events in the books were supposed to have happened, for example:
Isaiah: Isaiah was one of the greater prophets of Israel, and the book of the Bible attributed to him is agreed to have been written in basically three parts: early, middle, and late.
Early, or “proto-” Isaiah texts may have been written close to the time when the man himself really lived, around the eighth century B.C., and around the time when the Greeks were first writing down the stories of Homer. These writings run from chapters one to 39, and they’re full of judgment for sinful Israel.
When Israel actually did fall with the Babylonian conquest and captivity, the works attributed to Isaiah were dusted off and expanded into what’s now known as chapters 40-55 by the same people who wrote Deuteronomy and the historical texts. This section is where the terms “voice in the wilderness” and “swords into ploughshares” come from.
Finally, the third part of the book of Isaiah was clearly written after the Babylonian captivity ended in 539 B.C. when the invading Persians permitted the Jews to return home. It’s not surprising then that his section of Isaiah is a burbling tribute to the Persian Cyrus the Great, who is identified as the Messiah himself for letting the Jews return to their home.
Jeremiah: Jeremiah lived a century or so after Isaiah, immediately before the Babylonian captivity. The authorship of his book remains relatively unclear, even compared with other discussions as to who wrote the Bible.
He may have been one of the Deuteronomist writers, or he may have been one of the earliest “J” authors. His own book may have been written by him, or by a man named Baruch ben Neriah, whom he mentions as one of his scribes. Either way, the book of Jeremiah has a very similar style to Kings, and so it’s possible that either Jeremiah or Baruch simply wrote them all.
Ezekiel: Ezekiel ben-Buzi was a priesthood member living in Babylon itself during the captivity. There’s no way he wrote the whole book of Ezekiel himself, given the stylistic differences from one part to the next, but he may have written some. His students/acolytes/junior assistants may have written the rest. These also might have been the writers who survived Ezekiel to draft the P texts after the captivity.
The next section of the Bible — and the next investigation into who wrote the Bible — deals with what’s known as the wisdom literature. These books are the finished product of nearly a thousand years of development and heavy editing.
Unlike the histories, which are theoretically non-fiction accounts of things that transpired, wisdom literature has been redacted over the centuries with an extremely casual attitude that has made it hard to pin down any single book to any single author. Some patterns, however, have emerged:
Job: The book of Job is actually two scripts. In the middle, it’s a very ancient epic poem, like the E text. These two texts may be the oldest writings in the Bible.
On either side of that epic poem in the middle of Job are much more recent writings. Section one of Job contains a very modern narrative of setup and exposition, which was typical of the Western tradition and indicates that this part was written after Alexander the Great swept over Judah in 332 B.C. The happy ending of Job is also very much in this tradition.
Between these two sections, the list of misfortunes that Job endures, and his tumultuous confrontation with God, are written in a style that would have been around eight or nine centuries old when the beginning and ending were written.
Psalms/Proverbs: Like Job, Psalms and Proverbs are also cobbled together from both older and newer sources. For example, some Psalms are written as if there’s a reigning king on the throne in Jerusalem, while others directly mention the Babylonian captivity, during which time there was of course no king on the throne of Jerusalem. Proverbs was likewise continuously updated until about the mid-second century B.C.
Ptolemaic Period: The Ptolemaic period began with the Greek conquest of Persia in the late fourth century B.C. Before then, the Jewish people had been doing very well under the Persians, and they were not happy about the Greek takeover.
Their main objection seems to have been cultural: Within a few decades of the conquest, Jewish men were flagrantly adopting Greek culture by dressing in togas and drinking wine in public places. Women were even teaching Greek to their children and tithes were not being paid at the temple.
The writings from this time are of a high technical quality, partly thanks to Greek influence, but they also tend to be melancholy, likewise due to Greek influence. Books from this period include Ruth, Esther, Lamentations, Ezra, Nehemiah, Lamentations, and Ecclesiastes.
Who Wrote The Bible: The New Testament
Finally, the question of who wrote the Bible turns to the texts dealing with Jesus and beyond.
In the second century B.C. with the Greeks still in power, Jerusalem was run by fully Hellenized kings who considered it their mission to erase Jewish identity with full assimilation.
To that end, King Antiochus Epiphanes had a Greek gymnasium built across the street from the Second Temple and made it a legal requirement for Jerusalem’s men to visit it at least once. The thought of stripping nude in a public place blew the minds of Jerusalem’s faithful Jews, and they rose in bloody revolt to stop it.
In time, Hellenistic rule fell apart in the area and was replaced by the Romans. It was during this time, early in the first century A.D., that one of the Jews from Nazareth inspired a new religion, one that saw itself as a continuation of Jewish tradition, but with scriptures of its own:
Gospels: The four Gospels in the King James Bible — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — tell the story of Jesus’ life and death (and what came after that). These books are named after Jesus’ apostles, although these books’ actual authors may have just been using those pseudonyms for more credibility.
The first Gospel to be written may have been Mark, which then inspired Matthew and Luke (John differs from the others). Alternatively, all three may have been based on a now-lost older book known to scholars as Q. Whatever the case, evidence suggests that Acts seems to have been written at the same time (the end of the first century A.D.) and by the same author as Mark.
Epistles: The Epistles are a series of letters, written to various early congregations in the eastern Mediterranean, by a single individual. Saul of Tarsus famously converted after an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, after which he changed his name to Paul and became the single most enthusiastic missionary of the new religion. Along the way to his eventual martyrdom, Paul wrote Epistles of James, Peter, Johns, and Jude.
Paul established churches throughout the eastern Mediterranean, principally in urban centers by convincing Pagans (i.e., adherents of any of the empire’s polytheistic religions) that the Jewish God was the only God and that Jesus was his Son who had died for the sins of the world and was returning soon for judgement on the earth (1 Thessalonians 1: 9 – 10). After converting many people in one area, he would then move onto another local, and usually with success, would convert more people there as well.
However, after moving locations, he would often receive word that another community that had already been established (and converted), started having issues of immorality and corruption. There were telling’s of “false teachers” arriving and teaching notions that were contrary to what Paul had taught. Upon receiving such news, Paul would write a letter back to the community, addressing the issues. These letters were very important to the lives of the community and many came to be regarded as scripture.
Apocalypse: The book of Revelation has traditionally been attributed to the Apostle John.
Unlike the other traditional attributions, this one wasn’t very far off in terms of actual historical authenticity, though this book was written a little late for someone who claimed to know Jesus personally. John, of Revelation, seems to have been a converted Jew who wrote his vision of the End Times on the Greek island of Patmos about 100 years after Jesus’ death.
While the writings attributed to John actually do show some congruity between who wrote the Bible according to tradition and who wrote the Bible according to historical evidence, the question of Biblical authorship remains thorny, complex, and contested.
Conclusion: It seems that the Bible, in a thorough historical review, was written by other authors and in different timelines than many of us have been taught to believe. However, does that really make a difference? Is the Bible the actual Word of God – written by and with divine guidance and inspiration. I definitely believe this can be true. That being said, as we have viewed the historical changes of the Bible, things that have been lost in translation, purposely added to or removed depending on the author’s understanding of life in their day and time or for the purpose of pushing a specific agenda, I do believe some corruption has taken place. And yet, as one who often explores channeling and automatic writing, I think it’s incredible that ONE book has lasted through the ages. I find it inspiring that according to Ethnologue, the complete Bible has been translated into 670 languages and over 1 million copies are still printed each year. It is for this reason I am so passionate about journeying and exploring the Bible in today’s current context.
Excerpt from the book, “Misquoting Jesus,” by Bart D. Ehrman Page(s) 9 – 12:
“One of the well-known problems of the passage is that when one looks at the Old Testament passage that Jesus is citing (1 Sam. 21: 1 – 6), it turns out that David did this not when Abiathar was the High Priest, but, in fact, when Abiathar’s father Ahimelech was. In other words, this is one of those passages that have been pointed to in order to show that the Bible is not inerrant at all but contains mistakes.
In my paper for Professor Story, I developed a long and complicated argument to the effect that even though Mark indicates this happened, “when Abiathar was the High Priest,” it doesn’t really mean that Abiathar was the High Priest, but that the event took place in the part of the scriptural text that has Abiathar as one of the main characters. My argument was based on the meaning of the Greek words involved…but at the end of my paper…he [Professor Story] wrote, “Maybe Mark made a mistake.”
Once I made that admission, the floodgates opened. For if there could be one little picayune mistake in Mark 2, maybe there could be mistakes in other places as well. Maybe when Jesus says, later in Mark 4, that the mustard see is “the smallest of all seeds on earth,” maybe I don’t need to come up with a fancy explanation for how the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds when I know full well it isn’t. And maybe these “mistakes” apply to bigger issues. Maybe when Mark says that Jesus was crucified the day after the Passover meal was eaten (Mark 14: 12; 15:25) and John says he died the day before it was eaten (John 19:14) – maybe that is a genuine difference. Or when Luke indicates in his account of Jesus’s birth that Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth just over a month after they had come to Bethlehem (and performed the rites of purification; Luke 2:39), whereas the book of Acts says that was the first thing he did after leaving Damascus (Acts 9:26) – maybe that is a difference.
This kind of realization coincided with the problems I was encountering the more closely I studied the surviving Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. It is one thing to say that the originals were inspired, but the reality is that we don’t have the originals…Moreover, the vast majority of Christians for the entire history of the church have not had access to the originals. We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. What we have are copies made much later. In most instances, they are copies made many centuries later. And these copies all differ from one another, in many thousands of places…
In short, my study of the Greek New Testament, and my investigations into the manuscripts that contain it…I could no longer view the Bible from the perspective that it was the fully inspired, inerrant word of God…The Bible began to appear to me as a very human book. Just as human scribes had copied and changed the texts of scripture, so too, had human authors originally written the texts of scripture. This was a human book from beginning to end. It was written by different human authors at different times and in different places to address different needs. Many of these authors no doubt felt they were inspired by God to say what they did, but they had their own perspectives, their own beliefs, their own views, their own needs, their own desires, their own understandings, their own theologies; and these perspectives, beliefs, views, needs, desires, understandings, and theologies informed everything they said…The Bible, at the end of the day, is a very human book.”
Excerpt from the book, “Misquoting Jesus,” by Bart D. Ehrman Page(s) 63 – 65:
“John 7:53 – 8:12: Jesus is teaching in the temple, and a group of scribes and Pharisees, his sworn enemies, approach him, bringing with them a woman “who had been caught in the very act of adultery.” They bring her before Jesus because they want to put him to the test. The Law of Moses, as they tell him, demands that such a one be stoned to death; but they want to know what he has to say about the matter. Should they stone her or show her mercy? It is a trap, of course. If Jesus tells them to let the woman to go, he will be accused of violating the Law of God; if he tells them to stone her, he will be accused of dismissing his own teachings of love, mercy, and forgiveness.
Jesus does not immediately reply; instead he stoops to write on the ground. When they continue to question him, he says to them, “Let the one who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her.” He then returns to his writing on the ground, while those who have brought the woman start to leave the scene – evidently feeling convicted of their own wrong doing – until no one is left but the woman. Looking up, Jesus says, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one who condemns you?” To which she replies, “No one, Lord.” He then responds, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
It is a brilliant story, filled with pathos and a clever twist in which Jesus uses his wits to get himself – not to mention the poor woman – off the hook. Of course, to a careful reader, the story raises numerous questions. If this woman was caught in the act of adultery, for example, where is the man she was caught with? Both of them are to be stoned, according to the Law of Moses (see Leviticus 20:10). Moreover, when Jesus wrote on the ground, what exactly was he writing? (According to one ancient tradition, he was writing the sins of the accusers, who seeing that their own transgressions were known, left in embarrassment!) And even if Jesus did teach a message of love, did he really think that the Law of God given by Moses was no longer in force and should not be obeyed? Did he think sins should not be punished at all?
Despite the brilliance of the story, its captivating quality, and its inherent intrigue, there is one other enormous problem that it poses. As it turns out, it was not originally in the Gospel of John. It was added by later scribes.
How do we know this? In fact, scholars who work on the manuscript tradition have no doubts about this particular case. Here are some of the facts: the story is not found in our oldest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of John; its writing style is very different from what we find in the rest of John (including the stories immediately before and after); and it includes a large number of words and phrases that are otherwise alien to the Gospel. The conclusion is unavoidable; this passage was not originally part of the Gospel.
How then did it come to be added? Most scholars think that it was probably a well-known story circulating in the oral tradition about Jesus, which at some point was added in the margin of a manuscript. From there some scribe that the marginal note was meant to be part of the text and so inserted it immediately after the account that ends in John 7:52. It is noteworthy that other scribes inserted the account in different locations in the New Testament – some of them after John 21:25, for example, and others, interestingly enough, after Luke 21:38. In any event, whoever wrote the account, it was not John.”