Gleason L. Archer

[Chapters 6 and 7 A Survey of Old Testament Introduction*]

I have traced the development of the theories of Liberal scholarship as to the authorship of the Pentateuch. Beginning with the triumph of deism in the 1790s and continuing through the age of Hegelian dialecticism and Darwinian evolutionism in the nineteenth century, the verdict has been against Mosaic authorship. The earliest written portions of the literary hodgepodge known as the books of Moses did not antedate the ninth or eighth century B.C. In the present century some concessions have been made by various scholars as to possible Mosaicity of certain ancient strands of oral tradition, but so far as the written form is concerned, the tendency has been to make the whole Pentateuch postexilic. By and large, however, Mosaic authorship has not even been a live option for twentieth-century Liberal scholarship; that battle was fought and won back in the early 1800s, and it was principally the architects of the documentary theory who deserved the credit for banishing Moses into the illiterate mists of oral tradition. On the basis of the brief description of the rise of the documentary hypothesis given in the two preceding chapters, we are in a position to indicate, at least in cursory fashion, the most obvious weaknesses and fallacies which have vitiated the whole Wellhausian approach from its very inception.


1. The documentary theory has been characterized by a subtle species of circular reasoning; it tends to posit its conclusion (the Bible is no supernatural revelation) as its underlying premise (there can be no such thing as supernatural revelation) . That premise, of course, was an article of faith with all Western intelligentsia back in the eighteenth century Enlightenment (l'Eclaircissement in France, die Aufklarung in Germany); it was implicit in the prevailing philosophy of deism. Unfortunately, however, it rendered impossible any fair consideration of the evidences presented by the Scripture of supernatural revelation. Furthermore, it made it absolutely obligatory to find rationalistic, humanistic explanations of every miraculous or God-manifesting feature or episode in the text of Scripture. But this attempt to deal objectively with literary data from an antisupernaturalistic bias was foredoomed to failure. It is like the attempt of persons who are color blind to judge the masterpieces of Turner or Gainsborough. The first fallacy, then, was petitio principii (begging the question).

2. The Wellhausen theory was allegedly based upon the evidence of the text itself, and yet the evidence of the text is consistently evaded whenever it happens to go counter to the theory. For example, the documentarians insisted, "The historical books of the Old Testament show no recognition of the existence of 'P' legislation or a written Mosaic code until after the exile." When in reply to this claim numerous references to the Mosaic law and 'P' provisions were discovered in the historical books, the reply was made, "Oh well, all those references were later insertions made by priestly scribes who reworked these books after the exile." This means that the same body of evidence which is relied upon to prove the theory is rejected when it conflicts with the theory. Or to put it in another way, whenever the theory is opposed by the very data it is supposed to explain, the troubleshooting team of Redactor and Interpolator, Inc. is called to the rescue. Elusive tactics like these hardly beget justifiable confidence in the soundness of tbe result.

3. The documentarians assume that Hebrew authors differ from any other writers known in the history of literature in that they alone were incapable of using more than one name for God; more than one style of writing, no matter what the difference in subject matter; more than one of several possible synonyms for a single idea; more than one theme-type or circle of interest. According to these theorists (to use an illustration from English literature), a single author like Milton could not possibly have written merry poems such as L'Allegro, lofty epic poetry such as Paradise Lost, and scintillating prose essays such as Areopagitica. If he had been an ancient Hebrew, at least, he would have been speedily carved tip into the ABC multiple-source hypothesis! The whole structure of source division has been erected upon exelusivist assumptions demonstrable for the literature of no other nation or period.

4. Subjective bias was shown in the treatment of the Hebrew Scriptures as archaeological evidence. All too frequently the tendency has been to regard any biblical statement as unreliable and suspect, though the very antiquity of the Old Testament (even by the critics' own dating) should commend it for consideration as an archaeological document. In case of any discrepancy with a pagan document, even one of a later age, the heathen source has been automatically given the preference as a historical witness. Where there happens to be no corroborative evidence at hand from non-Israelite sources or archaeological discoveries of some sort, the biblical statement is not to be trusted unless it happens to fall in with the theory. It makes no difference how many biblical notices, rejected as unhistorical by nineteenth-century pundits, have been confirmed by later archaeological evidence (such as the historicity of Belshazzar, the Hittites, and the Horites), the same attitude of skeptical prejudice toward the Bible has persisted, without any logical justification. (It would be naive to suppose that pagan Egyptian, Babylonian, and Assyrian records-in contrast to the Hebrew Scriptures with their lofty ethical standards-were free from propagandistic Tendenz or party bias.) It is to the credit of W. F. Albright that much of his scholarly endeavor has been directed toward rehabilitating the reputation of the Old Testament as a reliable record of the past. In numerous books and articles, he has shown again and again that the biblical record has been vindicated against its critics by recent archaeological discovery.

5. The Wellhausen school started with the pure assumption (which they have hardly bothered to demonstrate) that Israel's religion was of merely human origin like any other, and that it was to be explained as a mere product of evolution. It made no difference to them that no other religion known (apart from offshoots of the Hebrew faith) has ever eventuated in genuine monotheism; the Israelites too must have begun with animism and crude polytheism just like all the other ancient cultures. The overwhelming contrary evidence from Genesis to Malachi that the Israelite religion was monotheistic from start to finish has been evaded in the interests of a preconceived dogma-that there can be no such thing as a supernaturally revealed religion. Therefore all the straightforward accounts in Genesis and the rest of the Torah relating the experiences of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses have been subjected to a cynical reanalysis intended to show that a monotheistic veneer has been applied to those old polytheistic worthies by so-called Deuteronomists or the late priestly school.

6. Whenever by ingenious manipulation of the text a "discrepancy" can be made out by interpreting a passage out of context, no reconciling explanation is to be accepted, but the supposed discrepancy must be exploited to "prove" diversity of sources. (Cf. Pfeiffer's imagined discrepancy [lOT, p.328] between the "two accounts" of the slaying of Sisera. Judg 5:25-27 is alleged to represent Jael as having slain him with her hammer and tent peg while he was drinking milk; Judg 4:21 says she did it while he was asleep. Actually, 5:25-27 does not state that he was drinking at the moment of impact; but it would he useless to point this out to Pfeiffer, for he has already divided up the "discrepant accounts" between J and E.)

7. Although other ancient Semitic literatures show multiplied instances of repetition and duplication by the same author in thefr narrative technique, Hebrew literature alone cannot show any such repetitions or duplications without betraying diverse authorship. It is instructive to study the sectarian literature from the Qumran caves and see how long the Israelites continued to employ repetition for purposes of emphasis. For example, compare Plate I and Plate IV of the Manual of Discipline where the requirements for entering the monastic community are set forth in such a way as to invite the attention of the documentarian source divider.

8. With highly questionable self-confidence, the Wellhausen school has assumed that modern European critics, who have no other ancient Hebrew literature with which to compare (for the biblical period, at least), can with scientific reliability fix the date of composition of each document. They also assume that they can freely amend the text by substitufing more common words for the rare or unusual words preserved in the MT but which they do not understand or do not expect in the given context. As foreigners living in an entirely different age and culture, they have felt themselves competent to discard or reshuffle phrases or even entire verses whenever their Occidental concepts of consistency or style have been offended.

9. They have also assumed that scholars living more than 3,400 years after the event can (largy on the basis of philosophical theories) more reliably reconstruct the way things really happened than could the ancient authors themselves (who were removed from the events in question by no more than 600 or 1000 years, even by the critic's own dating) .

To sum up, it is very doubtful whether the Wellhausen hypothesis is entitled to the status of scientific respectability. There is so much of special pleading, circular reasoning, questionable deductions from unsubstantiated premises, that it is absolutely certain that its methodology would never stand up in a court of law. Scarcely any of the laws of evidence respected in legal proceedings are honored by the architects of this documentary theory. Any attorney who attempted to interpret a will or statute or deed of conveyance in the bizarre and irresponsible fashion of the source critics of the Pentateuch would find his case thrown out of court without delay. Compare for example this statement by Judge William Dixon of Pasadena, California, relative to a proposed constitution for a new church merger: "It is elementary that in the interpretation of a written contract all of the writing must be read together and every part interpreted with reference to the whole, so that each provision therein will be effective for its general purpose." Surely this principle has a relevance even for the nonlegal portions of the works of Moses. Had it been followed in Pentateuchal analysis, the JEDP hypothesis would have been an impossibility. 


When all the data of the Pentateuchal text have been carefully considered, and all the evidence, both internal and external, has been fairly weighed, the impression is all but irresistible that Mosaic authorship is the one theory which best accords with the facts. For the purposes of a convenient survey, and without elaborate demonstration or illustration at this point, we shall list the various areas of evidence which point to this conclusion.


1. The Pentateuch itself testifies to Moses as having composed it. We find these explicit statements (ASV): Exodus 17:14: "And Jehovah said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book . . . that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek." Exodus 24:4: "And Moses wrote all the words of Jehovah"; and verse 7': "And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people." Exodus 34:27': "And Jehovah said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel." Numbers 33:1-2: "These are the journeys of the children of Israel. . . . And Moses wrote their goings out according to their journeys." Deuteronomy 31:9: "And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests"; and verse 11: "When all Israel is come to appear before Jehovah thy God . . . thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing."

2. In other Old Testament books we find such references as these: Joshua 1:8: "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy rnouth, but thou shalt meditate thereon . . . that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein." (In v.7 this was described as "the law which Moses my servant commanded thee.") Joshua 8:31: "As it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of unhewn stones-" (i.e., Ex 20:25). In verse 32: "And he [Joshua] wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses." First Kings 2:3: "And keep the charge of Jehovah . . . according to that which is written in the law of Moses" (David being the speaker here) . Second Kings 14:6 (referring to King Amaziah): "But the children of the murderers he put not to death; according to that which is written in the book of the law of Moses, as Jehovah commanded" (quoting Deu 24:16). (The date of this episode was ca. 796 B.C.) Second Kings 21:8 (referring to the reign of Manasseh, 696-642): "If only they will observe to do . . . according to all the law that my servant Moses commanded them." Other references are found in the Old Testament record from the time of Josiah onward (when, of course, Deuteronomy had been published, and possibly also JE, according to the Wellhausen hypothesis) . The authorship of the Torah is always attributed personally to Moses. Such references are: Ezra 6:18; Nehemiah 13:1; Daniel 9:11-13; Malachi 4:4.

3. The New Testament also witnesses to the Mosaic authorship. Apart from the numerous references to the Torah as "Moses," we select the following quotations which emphasize the personality of the historical Moses. Matthew 19:8: "Moses for your hardness of heart suffered you to put away your wives." John 5:46-47: "For if ye believed Moses, ye would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?" John 7:19: "Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you doeth the law?" Acts 3:22: "Moses indeed said, A prophet shall the Lord God raise up unto you" (quoting from Deu 18:15). Romans 10:5: "For Moses writeth that the man that doeth the righteousness (quoting Lev 18:5). It is hard to see how anyone can embrace the documentary theory (that Moses wrote not a word of the law) without attributing either falsehood or error to Christ and the apostles. Mark 12:26 states that God uttered to the historical Moses the words of Exodus 3:6.

* Quoted from A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Gleason L. Archer, Jr. Moody Press, Chicago. 1964. Pages 105-110.