Who wrote the books of Moses?

By Dr. Jerry Wayne Bernard

What Neil Armstrong meant to say as he stepped onto the Moon was, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."  But that isn't quite what he said.  The radio transmissions from the Apollo 11 lunar module were of a somewhat poor quality.  If you listen to the tape of the transmissions, there is little doubt as to what Armstrong actually said.  He sets foot on the moon , pauses a second and says, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."  Armstrong omitted "a."  That was a small mistake on his part but a particularly unfortunate one for the record.  "Man" without a preceding article means not one man but man in general, mankind.  So Armstrong said, in effect, "That's one small step for mankind and one giant leap for mankind."  He managed to create a logical contradiction in the first eleven words spoken while standing on another planet.  Did the authors of Scripture ever blunder in this way?  Armstrong's blunder has been ignored by the press and media.  The demanding question regarding Scripture is, "Do we dare to search for discrepancies in what is called Divine Revelation?"  If you are willing, please be my guest and read the following.....

As a ministerial student, I walked away from Baylor University with nothing from my classes but a cute little coed, with whom I married within one hour of her last class.  In those days I was ready, at all cost, to defend my wife's name and the Bible's divine authority as heaven's complete instruction to individuals like Moses, Daniel, Job, David and others.  I believed that the earliest copies that were found and later handed down to us were not tampered with.  How could we have the Word of God if editors added to or deleted from the original materials?   Many years later, I found this assumption to be immature on my part.  In those days I believed it and needed little proof.  

Today, I am 65 years of age and still ready to defend my wife's name.  However, over the years, I have slowly come to learn that Scripture needs no defense.  Our problem with understanding the Bible is that we assume too much and are lazy when it comes to research.  Today, I rest my soul in the Scriptures that have been canonized.  I hold in my hands what I consider to be the revelation of the invisible God.  However, we, as students of the Holy Scripture, need to be honest and unafraid to examine the ancient texts.  In the early days, everyone that I associated with, willingly believed that Scripture was a supernatural product dictated by God from His throne in Heaven to certain of His chosen saints here on Earth who merely acted as His penmen.  We took up the theme that "Men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit, and the result was the book of which we call the Bible."  And, we were ready to fight for it.

What was always difficult for me, in teaching the Old Testament Scripture, was that it did not read as though it came from one divinely inspired author.  It read like scores of writers, living in widely separated ages, shared in the responsibility of its present appearance.  I described it the same way as Paul, "the Divinely Inspired Word of God."  However, I did not understand Paul's definition.  My explanation was that the Invisible God moved upon men to put down in writing, His thoughts.... or His words... or His spelling of words... or even the dots and little hanging things beside each character or letter.  I presented the picture to my listeners that God did not leave men alone with these new holy thoughts to describe in words of their own choosing.  I presented the Bible as a book with no error.... no chance for man's input.  However, this also bothered me.  And when I brought my questions to my friends, they had that look, the one that makes you feel so out of place and have done a very stupid thing.  At best, they were only annoyed and spared my life.  They too were keepers of the Word.

After spending many years studying Church History, Archaeology and Judaism, my settled doubts were becoming more than troubled.  I had doubted that anyone could change my mind.  Then I became troubled with that doubt.  Something was giving away in my system that had been like immoveable concrete.  I thought that what I held as truth could never be questioned and changed.  It all began when I took a look at what proof I had and saw little of what would stand the test of reason or scriptural facts.  So, I cautiously entered into the science of Biblical Criticism.  At first, I seemed to be alone.  Then I began to find confirming facts from others.

Like the beautiful flowers outside of my office window that change from season to season, my new discoveries slowly unfolded before my eyes as I looked in on the Pentateuchal problem (the five books of Moses).  I am not setting down anything that I have not seriously and secretly meditated upon for a long time.  In my youth, I was filled with the common opinions of those whom I called companions in the faith.  However, this brought me no satisfying conclusions to "who wrote the Bible?"  My friends asked if I had the right to think differently to the Church Fathers and famous preachers.  Being a Baptist, who was I to question Baptist tradition?  However, I needed to take a deeper look into my new unwelcomed candor and I also wanted the religious world to have one more fearless thinker.  Knowing all the time that this would bring conflict with my friends and appear as though I denied the Bible that brought me salvation, I continued in my pursuit, seemingly alone.  Some friends would say, "Get to the bottom line.  What are you saying?"  When I would take the shortcut and tell them where I was heading, they turned their backs on me and said, "Don't give me that.  I don't have time to start changing my theology."  Others would say, "You are off base, way off base."

It seemed incredible to me that there was never a time when men thought of Scripture as being the result of a slow historical growth.  That early and naive age of the church gave us the idea that Scripture was given like lightening to it's heroic and singled out writers.  That age of early Church leadership would not consider that it could have developed over many years and edited and combined together for preservation to this day.  A divine book with human instruction was better authority than a human book with divine instruction.  To them, a divine book held more power over the members of the Church.  And too, the Church leaders said that the divine book could not be understood by humanity.  The selected men who obtained approval from the head of the Church were the only ones who could understand the divine book and present it to humanity.  They looked upon the Holy Cannon as a Divine Book.  To them, the Bible was not a human book with a divine message.  If that was the case, everyone could understand it and find God's Will for themselves.

When I was in Baylor University, studying as a ministerial student, I would sometime move away from the noisy Dorm and walk to the Robert Browning Building, where it was quite and I was able to concentrate and study.  It was there that I read Robert Browning's master-poems, "Rabbi Ben Ezra."  Many years later, in a revival meeting I met a student of Robert Browning's poems.  I asked if she had any information on who this Rabbi Ben Ezra was.  She directed me to information about Ibn Ezra, a Jewish philosopher of the twelfth century who had led a life of romantic variation.  I was afraid to ask what that meant.  In passing, this Rabbi informed his readers of hints that the passages in the Bible contradicted other passages.  This grabbed my attention.  For here was a Torah lover who questioned its authorship.  I later read about Thomas Hobbes, an Englishman, declaring that the first five Books of the Old Testament were documents written not so much by Moses as about Moses.  This was strange.  But, it made sense to me.  It was after sitting down to read the first five books of the Old Testament again that I begin to remember some of my notes Dr. Ousley gave in his class (Sept. 13, 1955).  I have kept all my books and went to my library and looked up the book, "The Heart of Hebrew History" by H.I. Hester.  There were his notes. 

Then in the face of this statement, Dr. Ousley said, "Moses never saw or heard of Rabbath."  The idea of a Mosaic authorship of this particular passage in Deuteronomy was entirely upset by another note of Dr. Ousley which directed his class to what appears in the 12th chapter of Second Samuel, emphatically declaring that Rabbath was first conquered by the Hebrews under David.  There was a small note in my class book that mentioned that David lived several centuries after Moses.  What was I thinking?  I should have picked up on it then in 1955.

With the new thought that other authors wrote the books of Moses, I continued to look at Deuteronomy.  I then noticed the account of Moses' death and what happened after he was buried.  I immediately asked, "Could Moses have written about his own funeral?"  It was then that I noticed that this strange account ends with, "No man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day."  Unto what day?  Would Moses, writing beforehand of his burial, say that "no man has ever known where my grave site is UNTO THIS DAY"?    Someone living long after Moses, wrote that account of his death and by "this day" meant his own later time. 

If this was true, these unforgiving facts would not be alone in their demonstration, there would be other upsetting proofs.  I read Genesis again and noticed that there were two accounts for the origin of the name of the city of Beersheba.  This would not concern the apathetic student.  Names of cities bring us closer to true history and beginnings of a people.  This account would be very disturbing if one man authored this book.  The first explanation given in the 21st chapter says that the city was named by Abraham and tells why he called the place Beersheba.  However, in the 26th chapter, I read an entirely different story.  This second account knows nothing about Abraham.  It says that Isaac did the naming.  A single author with fair intelligence would never deliberately give two conflicting stories about naming a specified city.  I could not charge Moses with such a child like error and loosing his recollection of facts.  Moses could not have been the single writer of Genesis.

The book of Genesis (36:31) tells of "the kings that reigned in Edom before there reigned any king over the children of Israel."  This author was looking backward and wrote of the kings of Edom and mentioned the fact that they ruled their people long before there were kings over Israel.  This could not have been written by one who died before kings in Israel were born.  Something must give.  My belief that Moses was used like God's typewriter was fading and coming apart at the seams.  There is no way for me to return to my former opinions.  I must push on.

The book of Numbers (12:3) said, "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men who were upon the face of the earth."  This is not speaking of Moses in the first person.  This writer speaks of Moses in the third person.  And again, as I looked at the 34th chapter of Deuteronomy where it said, "There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses" I said to myself, "How can a man compare himself with other men living centuries later.  This is the language of a writer describing a retrospective condition.  It had happened, only to be understood many years later.  There was no prophet who rose to that position while Moses was alive.  This writer had to be looking back to Moses through a long series of later prophets.

After my studies began in Archaeology I soon learned that you could tell exactly when a city originated and fell to its enemies.  In the Pentateuch, places and localities were called by names which did not come into use until a later period.  For example, there is the story of Abraham's pursuit of his enemies (Gen. 14:14) where he led forth his trained men and pursued the enemy as far as Dan.  If Moses was the lone author of Genesis, how did he know about Dan.  For this name was bestowed on that locality long after the death of Moses.  Moses knew the name of that place as Laish.  The name change from Laish to Dan is recorded in Judges (18:29).  This name change happened after long the death of both Moses and Joshua.  Neither man knew of the area being called anything other than Laish.  

I concluded that, if there is a plurality of authorship for the Pentateuch, then all of these difficulties in the Bible solve themselves.  I began to see that the very fact that many writers, instead of one, had a hand in compiling the Scriptures into one manuscript.  This is in itself a perfectly natural reason for the existence of differing accounts of the same stories.  I had to lay down the old traditional idea that the Pentateuch was the infallible work of one man.  For it no longer looked like a divine book that had a human message.  To me it became a human book with a divine message.  

Few have mentioned that the Ten Commandments are reported twice in the Pentateuch: once in Genesis (chapter 20) and again in Deuteronomy (chapter 5).  Why would one author bring two versions to his reader?  However, it is more reasonable and understandable to acknowledge that several authors brought to the table oral traditions, songs and stories that they collected from different parts of their world and the people of the Book. 

Continue with an analysis of Genesis' three documents