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In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Pete and Jared talk with Richard Elliott Friedman about the Pentateuch, who wrote it, and other puzzles surrounding it as they explore the following questions:

  • Where did the idea that Moses wrote the Pentateuch come from?
  • What evidence is there that Moses did not write the Pentateuch?
  • Who actually wrote the Pentateuch?
  • What is the oldest portion of the Bible?
  • What are some of the last written texts of the Hebrew Bible?
  • Why was the Torah written down and complied?
  • What is the Diatessaron?
  • Would ancient people think of the Torah as authoritative?
  • What was Ezra’s role in the ancient world?
  • How many versions of the Ten Commandments appear in the Torah?
  • Which came first in history: prose or poetry?
  • How do the different sources that make up the Torah map out to the rest of the Tanakh?


Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Richard Elliott Friedman you can share.

  • “There is no Hebrew in the 13th or 14th century BCE when Moses would’ve been living.” — Richard Elliott Friedman
  • “People give the Bible credit and say, oh, it started monotheism and it started this, nobody says, look, this was the first prose writing on earth! If you think it’s true, then it’s the first history writing on earth. If you think it’s made up, then it’s the first novel on earth. Whatever it is, it’s the first one of those!” — Richard Elliott Friedman
  • “When scholars talk about the hypothesis, they refer to J,E,P, and D – the four main ones. But if you do that, you’re leaving out, like, the Song of the Sea and the Song of Moses and a bunch of other things that are in there.” — Richard Elliott Friedman
  • “You can look at some later books of the Bible that are aware of the sources, they’re aware of some but not others.” — Richard Elliott Friedman
  • “The final guy who put the Torah together was a genius. His contribution is no smaller than the authors.” — Richard Elliott Friedman

Mentioned in This Episode

Read the transcript [Introduction]


Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People – the only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.

Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.

[Jaunty intro music]

Jared: Hey, everyone, this podcast is brought to you by all of the amazing supporters over on Patreon, and I would encourage you, if you’ve gotten something out of this podcast over the last few years, if you wouldn’t mind supporting us, go to where for as little as $3 a month, you can get lots of extra resources. But it’s really about helping people about helping people get the best in biblical scholarship through the airwaves, so to speak, here on the podcast. So, again, to go, we could really use your support. But today on the podcast, we have scholar, professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Georgia, Richard Elliott Friedman, and we’re talking about who wrote the Bible. So, he wrote a book back 30 years ago of that title Who Wrote the Bible?, has been trying to popularize the best in biblical scholarship every day since then, so he’s definitely a kindred spirit in our mission here at The Bible for Normal People. We talk about things like source criticism, different sources, where the Bible came from, a lot of things that we’ve touched on in different episodes but we really zero in and focus on it here with Richard Elliott Friedman. So, enjoy the episode.

[Music begins]

Richard: So, when he has the Levites stand up in Jerusalem, I could picture this in 450 BC, and they read all this text and they say, “and this is the Torah of Moses,” I don’t picture some guy in the last row saying, “Oh, no. You put that together yourself. That’s two different, one of those is by my great grandfather and the other was by my friend’s great grandpa. You don’t dare open your mouth and say that.”

[Music ends]

Pete: Well, Richard, thank you so much for joining us on this podcast.

Richard: Thank you for having me, I’m touched that you allowed me on a show that’s just supposed to be for normal people.

Pete: Yes. And you’re not, are you?

Richard: Oh, no.

Pete: No.


Well, just, so people don’t get the wrong idea by, you know, we’re all abnormal people here in this conversation, because we have background, we’ve gone to school, and you teach and you have a lifetime of scholarship. A normal person is people who are interested in this but don’t really, they don’t have that kind of background. And sometimes abnormal people spend all their time talking to each other when it’s probably a good idea to talk to other people, too. That’s what we’re trying to do here, so, anyway. So, hey, okay, listen – let’s talk about the Pentateuch. You’ve heard of the Pentateuch, right?

Richard: Yes.

Pete: I think you’ve even written a couple of books on the Pentateuch, which is wonderful. We’ll get to those later. But the Pentateuch, Torah, also as it’s called, let’s talk about, like, who wrote it and that is not an obvious question to answer because traditionally, as you know, authorship is ascribed to Moses in some sense. Where does that idea come from? Let’s even start with that. Like, why would somebody even say something like that?

Richard: I’ve never been sure where it started. I suspect that it’s because at the end of Deuteronomy, it says Moses, in Deuteronomy 31, it says Moses wrote all the words of this Torah on a scroll and gave it to the Levites. And since it’s at the end of the five books of Moses, people, I think naturally assumed it was talking about the whole five books of Moses that had been put together by then. That sentence had been written at the end of Deuteronomy before the whole rest of the five books of the Torah.

Pete: Right, exactly!

Richard: So, nobody meant wrong by it, they were just reading the text and so it said, and –

Pete: Yeah.

Richard: Either that, or it’s because the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, it says they read this Torah of Moses, so one way or the other…

Pete: Right. So, there’s got to be some biblical hook in there somewhere, but in the New Testament Christians will appeal to John 5 where Jesus says Moses wrote of me and I think some of those things come together to sort of give a sense of the antiquity of the idea that Moses is in some sense responsible for the Pentateuch, but the, I guess the reality of the matter is a lot more complicated once you start taking the text apart. So, who would you say, just in a nutshell, let’s just get down to it here – who do you think wrote the Pentateuch?

Richard: Well, given that it’s between 20 – 25 hands at least in there –

Pete: Yeah.

Richard: You wanna go alphabetically in Hebrew?

Pete: No, that’s okay. But just talk about the fact that there are the different, there are different hands responsible for this Pentateuch because the text sort of evolved or developed over time, I guess. I mean, is it just, that’s even a big reorienting kind of concept for a lot of people that there are a lot of different people responsible for it.


Jared: Well, hold on. Before we get there, because I think –

Pete: Hold on? We just started!

Jared: I think we jumped over something.

Pete: Uh oh.

Jared: And I think it would be helpful for people to, because I can imagine people saying, “well, wait a minute.” Jesus, you know, we have this is the New Testament, we have Ezra and Nehemiah mentioning, so, why are we discounting the idea that Moses could’ve written this? And I think most scholars would pretty much dismiss that out of hand because of some pretty, kind of glaring evidence that we have in the Pentateuch itself. I thought maybe, let’s just take a minute and at least address that before we get into the really complicated stuff. So, between the two of you, I’m sure you can come up with these reasons real easily why it’s probably not Moses who wrote the Pentateuch as maybe some people who don’t understand documentary hypothesis or don’t understand sources and redactors –

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: They have just grown up thinking.

Pete: You know, okay, let’s get just one or two reasons, maybe, Richard, why there’s no way Moses could’ve done this, and then we can get into, like, well who did.

Richard: Well, okay. Anyone who knows Hebrew, first of all, learns it well. Not just the way like a Jewish kid learns for his bar mitzvah, or her bat mitzvah, but rather seriously knows biblical Hebrew can look at the text and see that it’s not the same all over. The oldest thing in the Bible is the Song of the Sea, also known as Song of Miriam, Exodus 15. And you don’t have to be a Hebrew genius to read it and see that there are words there they never taught you in class. They’re old Hebrew and it is as different from the Hebrew of the latest parts of the Torah, which would be some introductory parts of Deuteronomy that are already written, say, 6th century BC, whereas the Song of the Sea is something like 12th century BC. I mean, it’s really close to the event, whatever the event was. It was like, 12th century BCE. So, you’re looking at the oldest sentence in the Torah and the youngest sentence in the Torah, and they were written 600 years apart. They are easily as different from each other as Shakespeare’s English and the English that we’re all sitting here talking right now. So, if you think that any one person wrote it, let alone Moses, who lived before all of that, the burden of proof would be on those –

Pete: Mm hmm.

Richard: Who want to do that. Not on the people saying, “No, I don’t think it was Moses. I think it was some other guys.”

Jared: Mm hmm.

Pete: So, linguistically, just, it doesn’t really lend support to one person writing this, let alone one person living, let’s say, maybe in the 13th or 14th century BCE because the Hebrew is later and it comes to us from varying time periods.

Richard: Yeah.

Pete: Yeah.

Richard: Well, there is no Hebrew in the 13th or 14th century BCE when Moses would’ve been living.

Pete: Yeah.

Richard: And I think there was a Moses. I’m not even arguing that. He’s living, but the earliest inscriptions we have in biblical Hebrew, right, are 12th and 11th century, especially in 11th and 10th century BCE on the earliest ones we have. We have no evidence that anybody spoke the Hebrew language before that. Certainly nobody wrote the Hebrew language before that. 

Pete: Yeah.

Richard: So, what am I going to do? This isn’t, like, I, like originally, people said well, Moses wouldn’t have written this because he wouldn’t have said that. They used arguments like, they’re like, like it says Moses was the humblest man on earth. You say, well, Moses, if he was the humblest man on earth, he wouldn’t write, “Aha! He was the humblest man on earth!” They used arguments like that, which are okay, you know, but that doesn’t, that’s not going to convince anybody. That’s not proof. But this linguistic stuff, which is fairly recent, this is like math. I mean, this is serious, real evidence. This is as serious as any artifact you dig up on an excavation.

Pete: Mm hmm. Well, I mean, not to press that point too much because I don’t want to dwell on this, but what about for people who can’t read Hebrew? Which is, from what I understand, most people. Right? They don’t read Hebrew. Is there another line of argument that, or evidence, not argument, just evidence that you can sort of share with our listeners about why it’s really, really hard to conclude that one person wrote this, or, and certainly, one person living as long ago as Moses would’ve lived.

Richard: Well, yes, it’s a lot of overlapping evidence. What makes it effective is not just any one argument, which you can always disagree with, but the way all different kinds of evidence all point to the same way. That’s in any field of science or history, I think what persuades people is when there is a lot of different reasons that are all independent of each other, but they all point in the same place.

Pete: Yeah.

Richard: So, for example, people point out that there’s whole sections of the Bible that refer to God only as God, Elohim in Hebrew. Done. But there are other sections of the Bible that only refer to God by his name, Yahweh, or in the English translation, it says LORD, you know, if it’s Yahweh, in the Hebrew, right?


So, now you might say, but that doesn’t prove anything because you could just say, you know, the Queen, and in another chapter write Elizabeth II. You’re saying different names, that doesn’t prove anything in itself. But you see, whole sections that do that. Then there’s this other kind of evidence people have noticed, you know, over 2000 years that there are these double stories in the Pentateuch, in the Torah, we call them doublets. There’s even a couple of triplets where in Exodus 17, the people are in the wilderness after leaving Egypt, and there’s no water to drink and they’re complaining to Moses. It’s in a place called Meribah and Moses strikes this crag of a mountain – it’s actually Mount Horeb, Mount Sinai – and he strikes it with that and water flows out and the people get the water. Very good, there’s a few other details I’m leaving out, but you know, like God is standing on the rock at the time. But then in Numbers 20, it’s years later and the people are at a place which I believe is called Meribah, and I believe there’s no water there, and I believe God tells Moses to hit a rock with a stick and he hits rock with a stick. There’s some more details that are different, and the water comes out. Now, if there’s one or two stories like that in the Bible that recur, that’s okay. Lots of authors do that where you recur on a theme, but there’s eye counts of, I don’t know, 30 – 40 of these through the course of the five books of Moses, and the interesting thing is if you take out a legal pad and draw a line up the middle, and you write all one whole set of these double stories here and you write the other set of these double stories here, these all refer to God as God, Elohim, and these all refer to God as Yahweh. So, you’ve got two completely different kinds of evidence, but they’re lining up.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Richard: And then you do that other stuff we were talking about, dating texts by the age of the Hebrew in them, and that lines up too!

Pete: Mm hmm.

Richard: So, when, I mean you just decide when is it enough evidence and you go, okay, I get it.

Pete: I give up, right?

Jared: So, going back to, then, all of the evidence for what is the case, not what isn’t the case, what does that evidence point to in terms of who wrote the Pentateuch? Or maybe a better question is how was it written? I don’t, you know, I don’t know if who wrote it is even a good question.

Richard: Well, call it who or how, but it’s that the writing of the text reflects the real history of ancient Israel in biblical times, so there are different, there are two major different priesthoods in ancient Israel, so we actually have two different texts within the Torah that we can trace to each of those two priesthoods. One were the ones who traced themselves as descendants of Moses, so they’re called the Mushite priesthood. We used to say Mosaic, but everybody thought we meant little pebble pictures, so.

Pete: Yeah, right.

Richard: And the others are called the Aaronic priests, who traced their descent from Aaron, the first high priest of Israel, and you can see the different stories reflect the interests of those two priesthoods. Or you know, the part of it, ancient Israel time, Judah in the South and Israel in the North are two separate countries and then there are other times when Israel, Judah and Israel under King David and under King Solomon are just united as one big empire.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Richard: And so, from the time when they were two separate countries, you can see texts in the Bible that clearly reflect the southern kingdom of Judah. They never mention anything in the north happening, all the stories take place in Judah. And the other texts are all about the north and reflect a religion and concerns of Israel in the north. So, whether it’s a political difference or religious difference between priesthoods, linguistic difference, there’s enough different kinds of things that it shows the Bible really coming out of the reality of ancient Israel.

Pete: And that convergence of evidence guards against a very common response to all this, that, well, this is just circular reasoning.

Richard: Yeah, I think you’re right. If it were just one or just two or three and you can say, oh, I get what you’re doing. Whenever you see one name of God this way, you’re claiming it’s that. Whenever you see the name of God that way, you’re claiming it’s that. If that lines up with these different doublets, and it lines up with the different stages of biblical Hebrew, and it lines up at the Judah/Israel division, and it lines up with the Mushite/Aaronic priest division – I’m sorry, no scholar in the world is gonna say, well, I’m willing to admit, I’m not good enough that I could possibly have rigged that much evidence to come out like that.

Pete: Right, mm hmm. So, you mentioned the Song of Miriam, or the Song of the Sea it’s sometimes called too, in Exodus 15 as a very early text.


And there are a few others, but what, what would you say is the end point of the Pentateuch? What are the latest texts or maybe, maybe that’s the wrong question to ask. Maybe what’s the latest evidence of maybe editors compiling all this and putting it together? In your opinion. I guess points of view may differ on that, but how young is the Pentateuch? We don’t sort of know how old some of its writings are, but when did it all come together?

Richard: Well, when I mentioned that the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, I take them as historical. They’re about 450 BC or so, we can argue, but that’s the general area and it’s when the Jews are coming back from Babylon and Egypt and they’ve been either refugees or exiles and they’re rebuilding under the Persian empire and it says Ezra has the Levite priests stand up at this place called the water gate, and I will try desperately not to make any jokes.

Pete: [Laughter]

Richard: I think it’s been too long. Nobody gets them anymore anyway. So, Dan Rather is the last one who gets the water gate joke, you know?

Pete: Okay.


Richard: But they stand at this place called the water gate and it says they read this Torah that Ezra had brought along with him. In Ezra it says was a priest and was a scribe, and he was an Aaronic priest, which is the kind of stuff that is favored by whoever put the Torah together. So, he seems like the right guy in the right place at the right time. If it wasn’t Ezra who finally put it all together like the last editor, then it was like, you know, a guy who lived next door to Ezra and looked like him and wrote like him. I’m, you know, it’s like, you know, Shakespeare wasn’t by Shakespeare, it was by another guy named Shakespeare. I mean, it’s that kind of thing. And when you look at the text in Nehemiah where it summarizes the text that they read there, it includes almost all these different sections and different authors, that the whole, everybody’s different theories have about Genesis through Deuteronomy. Which is, what I’m saying is, seems to me pretty clear that the Torah that they read that day is the same one we have now. And if some very, very late editors cut their hands on it afterwards, which I doubt, but it’s possible. I grant, it’s possible. Then there might be a couple of changes. But I think, basically, they read what we read for the first five books of the Bible.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Richard: And the rest – it gets a little more complicated.

Pete: Do you have a sense of why it was brought together?

Richard: Well –

Pete: Like, why have a Pentateuch? Why have a Torah?

Richard: Yeah. We know that this was done in the ancient near east. People would take, when there were varieties of stories that fit together on a common subject, that they would put them together – like the Gilgamesh epic wasn’t written by Mr. Gilgamesh. It wasn’t the one person, it was many authors, and their works were combined. Same thing. And people know that in the New Testament, you know, there’s the Diatessaron where someone took the four Gospels and just put them all together and created them like one super gospel. So, whenever they’re word for word the same, he leaves it; and whenever they’re different, he puts it all in. And I just think that was an inclination of people in the ancient world. It was a good way to preserve texts, it was a way of showing respect to all of them. We do it today all the time. We write books that are, you know, in our field that are collections by different scholars. Sometimes it’s got some of the scholars in it aren’t even alive anymore, and you put them all together. The difference is our standard in American and European and Israeli scholarship today is supposed to have a table of contents and you tell who wrote each chapter, and so, because we all want our credit and all that. But apparently in ancient times they didn’t do that. They would put them all together and they were all together! So, when you look at them all together, you go, and not know about the whole process here, you go, “Oh, must’ve been one guy. Okay, Moses.”

Pete: Mmm.

Jared: Well, not to get us to far afield in terms of some of the theological, maybe, points of this, or maybe even political points of this, but it strikes me, it raises the question for me of authority, right? So, in my religious context growing up, it gets its authority, this text gets its authority because it’s this monolithic unified thing that God dropped down from heaven and all of that. How would the ancients, I don’t know if this is something you could even talk about, but how would the ancients have thought about this Torah being authoritative if it was collected over all of these many years and have all these different redactors? Like, if Ezra put it all together and is trying to use it in some authoritative sense, what holds that together?

Richard: Well, I can only guess, you know, here’s your hypothesis, which is after old Greek for guess.

Pete: [Chuckles]

Richard: He comes from Babylon where he’s got all these texts and he’s putting them together, probably in Babylon before he returned to Jerusalem because when he gets to Jerusalem he, they stand up and they read this whole combined text.


Now, Ezra’s a very, very powerful man. He has been appointed to be the governor over Judah by the king of the world. I mean, the emperor of the Persian empire. This man rules everything that is today North Africa, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, western India. I mean, he’s like, he’s the boss and he makes Ezra that, and according to the text it says he tells Ezra, you know, you have the authority, teach anybody, and he has the power of life and death. So, when he has the Levite’s stand up in Jerusalem. I could picture this in 450 BC, or BCE if you prefer, and they read all this text and they say, “and this is the Torah of Moses.” I don’t picture some guy in the last row saying, “Oh, no. You put that together yourself. That’s two different, one of those is by my great grandfather and the other one is by my friend’s great grandpa.”

Pete: [Laughter]

Richard: You don’t dare open your mouth and say that. I mean, it says specifically that Ezra told the people that he was against all the intermarriages that were going on between the Jews and the local women of the region, and so he orders all of the men to give up their wives and children and send them away. And they do it!

Pete: Mm hmm.

Richard: Is this just a story, or did this really happen? And he’s worried that people are lending money on interest and then foreclosing on people and they’re all losing, so he saves the economy, he says, by making, he says all debts are forgiven. Anybody owes anybody money, you don’t have to pay it back, and they all accept that! I mean, do you see that working today?

Pete: [Laughter]

Jared: Mm hmm.

Richard: If any of that, if 10% of that is true, this was a very powerful man. And he was declaring this, the Torah and every story they heard read they had heard before. Maybe they hadn’t heard them all together before, but they didn’t think he was making up Adam and Eve or Moses or Abraham, they’d all heard all of that.

Jared: Yeah.

Richard: So, it was believable and there was enough authority there that you didn’t mess with it.

Jared: Right, there was enough, almost, political or external authority that made it viable.

Richard: Yeah, yeah.

Pete: Forced upon them, so to speak. Right?

Richard: The Jews have to thank the Iranians, which is an ironic deal.

Pete: Yeah.


Let’s talk about something, that again, I’m sort of channeling here my students who I make them read out loud portions of Torah in the Torah class that I teach, parts that will make them ask questions. Like, wait a minute, what’s happening here? And one of the big areas is the whole flow of the story and how it just seems very choppy in places, right? So, things seem to be sort of taped together, maybe uncomfortably. Do you have any of those stories that just come to your mind immediately sort of in a teaching moment?

Richard: Hmm. Well, every now and then. There’s a story where Jacob wrestles with God or an angel or whatever it is in Genesis 32. It’s coming in the middle of this whole story about Jacob going back home. He’s gone to see his brother Esau; he doesn’t know how it’s going to be. The last time he saw Esau, Esau was going to kill him. And now he’s coming back, he’s got two wives, two concubines, twelve sons, a daughter, wealth, and he doesn’t know what’s going to happen and he’s left alone in the wilderness for the night and suddenly, it says a man came and wrestled with him, and then everybody, you know the story, it turns out that man was not your average, was not normal people.

Pete: [Laughter]

Richard: And they, and he gives him the name Israel. So, it’s a very important story, but it may be the kind of thing you’re talking about. It comes out, why are we hearing about that suddenly? That wasn’t in this.

Jared: Mm hmm.

Pete: Right, right.

Jared: Yeah.

Richard: But in modern novels, that happens too. In modern history writing that happens too. Sometimes you, you just, you make, it reminds you of something else –

Jared: Mm hmm.

Pete: Right, right.

Richard: I think it’s safe to say my digressions are better than my lectures, you know?

Pete: [Laughter]

Richard: Oh, that reminds me…

Pete: The Bible is like that too, by the way. But anyway, yeah.


Right. I guess, you know, one, because you’ve done some work in Exodus. The one example that comes up, which I cannot really, it’s too much math to sort of figure this stuff out. It’s really hard to keep track of Moses once you get to like, chapter 20 or you know, when he arrives on Mount Sinai, really in chapter 19 already. It’s hard to keep track of him. Like, where is he? He’s up the mountain, he’s down the mountain, and can you solve that for me here on this podcast because this drives me crazy. I’ve tried to actually plot it and at one point, I just, I have Moses getting the Ten Commandments on the ground down here someplace, he’s not even up on the mountain. So, how does that, I mean, is this something that we can explain through different traditions, different sources?


Richard: I don’t think this particular problem is primarily a problem of different authors. So, the different sections and different authors does figure into it and makes it come out more complicated or richer. But Moses goes up the mountain, because God says, “come up.” And Moses goes up to the mountain and God’s first words to him in Hebrew, yarad, which is go down. And you go, wait a minute!

Pete: [Laughter]

Richard: “Come on up.”

“Okay, what do you want me to do?”

“Go down.”

Pete: [Continued laughter]

Richard: And he sends Moses shuttling, you know, between the top of the mountain and back with the people.

Pete: It’s just one of these things that’s sort of hard to explain, I guess. Just, I mean, it’s, I don’t know. If I’m writing a story, I’m going to try to make a little more sense than that sometimes. But maybe if there are different hands involved in this story of like that, it might make, it might at least explain it a little bit. Which, I think is, you know, for me, one of the powerful things about a source explanation for the Pentateuch. By the way, we haven’t even gotten to the sources yet, have we? But the source explanation of the Pentateuch is that it does try to explain the text that we see in front of us and why we have things like different vocabulary, different terminology, all these converging pieces of evidence that come together. And it may not give the final answer about who did it or maybe exactly when, but we know those are really good questions to ask of this text.

Richard: Yeah, they really are serious contradictions and problems because of all the different authors together. I was trying to take a quick look in Exodus 19 while you were talking.

Pete: Okay.


Pete: I’m sorry, but I, I mean, I can’t just spot the exact line that I know. So yeah, it’s partly, yeah, there’s different perspectives, different authors, and –

Jared: Well, can we, can we dive into that? Pete, you mentioned it, we haven’t talked about the sources and we’ve, you know, we’ve done an episode on Wellhausen and more the classical understanding of these sources, but where is, where has biblical scholarship come since those days in terms of how it would articulate these different sources?

Richard: Well, I just think we have a refined, better understanding of which source is which and when each was written and why. Again, from Wellhausen, which was, what, 1898 to my Who Wrote the Bible? that was 1987. So, it’s about 100 years. Most of what he laid out, he and the people before him, he actually didn’t think of it, he, we think of Wellhausen as the father of it because he wrote a successful popular book, which is not easy to do in German.

Pete: [Laughter]

Richard: Real stylists among Bible scholars in German, which is a very difficult language, which all of us American scholars have to learn the hard way, and he wrote very well. And so, his book was like the equivalent of a best seller today. German’s really read serious books more than we American’s do. And so that, I’m just want to give credit where it’s due. It was a lot of people before him, but he was the one who was great at synthesizing and he was great at writing. So, that was what we needed then. And so, his name still goes on it whether it’s really all his or not. And we’ve come a long way since then, but most of the big pieces were laid out and there’s only one, I think, real blunder in it which is that he thought the priestly texts, which is the largest of these different sources. I was taking about the descendants of Aaron, the Aaronic priesthood, they produced this one section which if you look at a text, you look at my copy of the Bible, I have them underlined in colors. So, it’s green. So, if I could hold this up to the screen everybody would see it’s a nice green, half of the Torah is green.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Richard: Should I plug a book, I have a book called The Bible With Sources Revealed, so there are, these are all printed in different colors for different authors. Oh, you’ve got it, yes.

Pete: I’ve memorized your book. No, I haven’t, but I’m fascinated by it, so.

Richard: Yeah, I don’t like to plug books while I’m talking, but it’s there. So, he had that dated run. He had that very late, like, after the Babylonian exile to Judah, which is to say around the time of Ezra or even later. And they just had that wrong, almost the whole Torah, the linguistic evidence now is just tremendously powerful, I would say. I’m completely persuaded that all the main sources of the Torah were written before the Babylonians conquered the Jews, which is to say before 587 BCE.

Pete: So, largely, in the 7th century? Like, late 7th century or when would, when would you put these sources?


Richard: The oldest things like the Song of the Sea and the Song of Moses and the Blessing of Moses, Deuteronomy 32 and 33, those are all like, 12th, 11th century BCE. Then the oldest prose source, which is the source we call the J source, that is the oldest prose writing known on earth. There is nothing east or west before then. People give the Bible credit and say, oh, it started monotheism and it started this, nobody says, look, this was the first prose writing on earth! If you think it’s true, then it’s the first history writing on earth. If you think it’s made up, then it’s the first novel on earth. Whatever it is, it’s the first one of those!

Pete: Right, yeah. Richard, could you explain J? What that means? Yeah.

Richard: J starts for this source, where the God is always referred to by name. And God’s name in Hebrew is Yahweh, which in English, comes out as Jehovah, so they use J. So, I think we should use a Y, but you know, we’ve been using a J for so long because it was German’s who thought of it –

Pete: Germans, right.

Richard: They use J, so okay.

Pete: It’s always the Germans screwing it up. All right, that’s good. Yeah.

Richard: And that source includes a lot of the best stories of the Bible – it’s got Adam and Eve, you know? It’s one of two stories that tell the flood story. It’s got the three visitors to Abraham. It’s got Joseph being sold into Egypt. It’s got part of the Moses story at the beginning, it doesn’t have the exodus, but it has Moses being born in Egypt and moving to Midian and then coming back and so it has very, it has Sinai. It has one version of the Ten Commandments. There are three in the Torah, but it has one of them. And so, it’s the oldest of the prose sources.

Jared: You didn’t give a date for that. When would you date that?

Richard: I would say end of the 10th century BCE.

Jared: Mmm.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Richard: 9-something BCE. And the next source is the source that always refers to God as God, that’s Elohim, so we call is the E source in English. And that’s the one that’s from Mushite priests, people who, right or wrong, I think probably right, they trace their descent from Moses. And that includes stories like Jacob wrestling, I mentioned in Genesis 32, and it’s a lot of the exodus story, the back and forth between God and Moses, the burning bush story, and those two get wound around each other, and that’s about, I don’t know, somewhere between one and 100 years after the J source.

Pete: And do we have, I mean, the J source is like, the earliest prose that we have in antiquity. There’s nothing like it before or next to it or anything like that. The E source is, if I remember correctly, has the least amount in Torah. Is that correct or is there another source that’s a little bit less than that?

Richard: They only say that and it’s not really true.

Pete: Okay.

Richard: As I divide the J and the E source, they’re almost exactly the same length.

Pete: Oh, alright.

Richard: They’re both incomplete, but there’s the same amount in both of them. And the reason I think when everybody thinks there’s so much less E than J is because there’s something that is constantly called Martin Noth’s law. Martin Noth was this great German scholar in the 1940’s, and his principle was when in doubt it’s J.

Pete: Oh.

Richard: Because he read Genesis first, and in the first 26 chapters in Genesis there’s no E yet, there’s only J! And a third source, the priestly source. So, it’s mostly J. So, he made a principle after that, when in doubt, if you see a verse that’s a certain type, when in doubt, it’s J. You know, no!! Because the J source has more about the patriarchs and all that, because that’s what the author cared about. But the E source has more about Moses and the wilderness and the Exodus because that’s what that author cared about. If you really separate them and stop following this absurd, and scholars every now and then, we get like a law, you know? Noth’s law, you know? And if we wouldn’t do that, they come out to be almost the same length.

Pete: You know, it’s always the Germans. I said that before, I mean it. It’s like, they’re always doing something to screw it up for the rest of us, aren’t they? I can say that, because actually my parents are German. So, yeah. So, anyway. So, we have J and E, and then we have two others and maybe just lay those out briefly for us.

Richard: Third source we have the priestly source, and all we have to do is pick any, you know, open the book to any page of the green pages and look at them. It’s priestly because it’s all concerns, priestly concerns at the tabernacle, with the priests, with the tremendous amount of laws. It’s the entire book of Leviticus, which tells you right away what they’re about. But also includes, like, some beautiful writing too. It includes Genesis 1, the seven-day creation story by that same person. The priestly source is the biggest of them, and it gets a bad rap because it has so much law and details and genealogies and cubits and all that sort of thing. Most people say, well, it’s not as good writing as the other two. But it is!


Where he tells the story he’s as good a writer as the others are, and it’s amazing that this early in human prose writing, we’ve got so many who were really good at it.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Richard: Maybe there were 100 living nearby who were terrible at it, and that’s why we, theirs haven’t survived and these have. I don’t know.

Pete: [Laughter]

Richard: And then the fourth source is E, so it’s the book of Deuteronomy, which is from several different people at different times, but they were all on a certain wavelength. Let’s say, people call it a certain school, I don’t like using the word schools for these guys, but a group of writers who were another priesthood. They were, in fact, another group of that Mushite descended from Moses priesthood. And their writing is just so obvious that even in English translation, you can see how different the writing of Deuteronomy looks from the rest, comparing it to Genesis. First of all, a lot of it is in first person with Moses, but the rest is in third person. So, there’s that. It’s also a lot of recurring phrases and things that are just typical Deuteronomy and “with all your heart, with all your soul.” That’s only in Deuteronomy. It doesn’t say that in any other books stuff like that. When scholars talk about the hypothesis, they refer to J,E,P, and D – the four main ones. But if you do that, you’re leaving out, like, the Song of the Sea and the Song of Moses and a bunch of other things that are in there.

Pete: Some of those very old parts, right? I mean, some of those very old parts that are earlier than J. So, the 12th century stuff, you can’t really, those aren’t part of the typical source scheme, right?

Richard: Well, because they’re single chapter poems. Remember, those are only poetry because the first writing is J, which is prose.

Jared: Mm hmm.

Richard: I asked my students one time which came first, prose or poetry? Which did humans write first, you know? And I didn’t know what most people, if you try it on your audience, what most people would answer. I would’ve said prose, and I would’ve been wrong because humans wrote poetry for a couple thousand years before they wrote prose.

Pete: Right, yeah.

Richard: I mean, Gilgamesh is poetry and is 1000 years older than anything in the Bible. And I don’t know why that is. Maybe because poetry and especially put to music is much easier to memorize?

Pete: Okay.

Richard: Because they couldn’t write much.

Jared: So –

Pete: Well then, why write prose at all? I mean, these are speculative questions, we can’t answer them definitively, but it’s, it raises in my mind an interesting question. Why not just go with the flow and keep writing these poetic texts of, why not make the Adam and Eve story poetry? Why make it prose?

Richard: Okay, so the first answer is the word scholars never want to say – we don’t know. They don’t say, “I don’t know.” Scholars always say, “We don’t know.”

Pete: We don’t know.


Richard: Graciously share the ignorance with our colleagues.

Pete: It’s all about ego. I get it, that’s funny.

Richard: I’m just a bit, another guy and I have been working on a television series based on Who Wrote the Bible. It would be a five-season series, I have no idea if it’s going to happen or not, so we’re just talking through my hat now here. But there is planned such a thing, but it wouldn’t be just taking the book and making a documentary series out of it, it would be a drama and the whole first year, the first season would be just J and it would be the author J composing it. So, this is the first person who ever wrote prose. When we were working in the pilot for the show, we had to have this person say why they’re doing that.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Richard: And the person, whom we made a woman, which I think is really probably true, is talking to somebody and he says, “So, well wait. You’re not, it doesn’t have any music. What do you call this?” And she says, “talking.”

Pete: [Laughter]

Richard: And so, she’s writing it the way she talks, and I’m stunned, but the first few thousand years of human history it didn’t occur to anybody to do that. Or if they did do it, nobody liked it because they said, “it doesn’t have a beat!”

Pete: Yeah, right.

Richard: Oh, and then he asks her, “so why are you doing this?” He says, “so why are you doing it that way?” And she said, “I can’t sing, I’m tone deaf.”

Pete: [Laughter]

Jared: [Laughter]

Pete: So, it was generally incompetence.

Jared: Before we, before we wrap up, I did want to, because when we talk about sources, we, I know this episode is really focused on the Pentateuch, but it just leaves a question that I would guess our listeners are wondering too, is how do these sources map onto, or relate to the rest of the Tanakh, or the rest of the Hebrew scriptures in terms of do we see sources, are there categories of other sources that apply primarily to later texts outside of the Pentateuch? It’s just, we have a lot of very concentrated thinking on it when it comes to the first five books, but how does that relate to the rest of the Old Testament?


Richard: Oh, once you start this, you start getting clear on it, the process never ends. You can look at some later books of the Bible that are aware of the sources, they’re aware of some but not others. So, prophet Hosea quotes things that are in J and E word for word, but nothing from the other priestly source. It wasn’t written yet, but the other two were! Or Jeremiah is quoting Deuteronomy all over the place, but only once or twice questionably quotes the priestly stuff. Ezekiel quotes the priestly stuff all over the place, but he doesn’t quote Deuteronomy much, which makes sense because Jeremiah is a Mushite priest, he’s one of those guys. And Ezekiel was an Aaronic priest. So, it’s like those guys and you can keep going on. There are Psalms that obviously refer to one or another –

Jared: So, it has a major impact on the whole literature of the Bible, because a lot of this is being written and developed at times when all of it wasn’t put together yet.

Richard: Yeah, yeah. And that’s amazing, really.

Pete: Yeah, and so, it is a bit naïve to, that’s a hard word. I don’t mean that in a negative sense. I’m naïve amount a whole bunch of stuff in my life, but it is naïve, I guess, then, to think of the Hebrew scriptures, as sort of this solid text that’s created and it all coheres and makes sense together. There are tensions and there are things that are difficult to explain in a sense of like, you know, why would a writer do something like this. But you begin to be able to have a conversation about those things when you look at things like the existence of sources and things developed over time and it actually helps explain some things in the Bible. Which is, I think what a lot of people want. They, well, not everybody wants that. Not everybody wants it explained, but those that do, those that have had their curiosity peaked, there are theories out there that have helped us understand something of the character of the Bible.

Richard: Well, yeah. To me the big thing is that it connects it all to history, you can see it comes out of the real world.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Richard: And the other thing is, I want to give credit to the editor, called the redactor, because the letter E had been used already, so they couldn’t used editor.

Pete: Yeah.

Richard: The final redaction, there were a few stages of it, but the final guy who put the Torah together was a genius. His contribution is no smaller than the authors. He put it together well enough that even though we’re all sitting here, we’re talking about the seams that we can see, and the differences and all, but it worked for everybody for a couple thousand years, and it still does! When I read my Bible, sometimes I do it conscious of the different sources, and sometimes not and it’s great both ways.

Jared: Yeah. I appreciate that recognition, because I think, it’s something, again, in my religious tradition if it was ever even acknowledged, it was almost seen as a mistake or something to hide and I appreciate you talking about it as a valuable contribution to what we have and I think that’s, you know, that person rightly deserves a place to be talked about and to be honored in this process.

Richard: Yeah. It’s humbling, it really is, and I’m not known for being humble.

Pete: [Laughter]

Well, I know I wouldn’t want to put it together, so. Well anyway, listen, Richard, this is, we are coming to the close here, and if people want to engage you more, we know you have a few books out, we’re going to talk about those a bit later, but do you, can people access you online, do you to that sort of thing or are you working on any other projects right now?

Richard: I do have a website, I actually don’t have, like, a section where people can chat and ask me –

Pete: But they can at least find out more about you.

Richard: Yeah. I’ll tell you, I’d like to recommend of mine is I’m doing a series of lectures called “Return to Torah” and it’s every Monday at 1PM EST for an hour and I pick a different topic each week. There’s no order or organization whatsoever, and we’ve done, I was only going to do about four or five and see if it worked. Now we’ve done 32 or 33.

Pete: Okay.

Richard: It just, an online search for my name and “Return to Torah,” it would come right up. And we’ve saved them all, so do you don’t have to watch on Monday. If you’re watching on Monday at 1, then it’s live.

Pete: Yeah.

Richard: But if you don’t care about that, we save them so you can watch them all whenever you feel like it. And it’s free and I’ve enjoyed doing it so much that I really may not write books anymore, I’m thinking I’ll just do this from now on. 

Pete: People don’t read anyway. So, that’s okay. But they like to listen and watch, so –

Jared: That’s great. So, they can just Google that and find it?

Richard: Yeah.

Jared: Okay.


Richard: When I was a kid, I used to watch Bishop Sheen on television. I don’t know about Pete, you remember, I don’t know about you Jared, you’re a little younger, but we used to watch on I think it was Wednesday nights on CBS right before Milton Berle, you would see Bishop Sheen, and he looked so beautiful in this magnificent sort of black and red and a cape and that silver chain with a cross. And he was this fabulous lecturer and he would give a talk on each subject each week. And I’m feeling like, I tell people, yeah, I’m trying to be the Jewish Bishop Sheen.

Pete: Okay.


Richard: I also watched Alan Watts lectures on Eastern religion for many years. So, I go what Alan Watts was doing for Buddhism, and Bishop Sheen was doing for Catholicism, I’m trying to do for the Torah, for the Bible, which will be for Jews and Christians.

Pete: Well, I’m glad you have goals. That’s wonderful to hear. So –

Richard: It’s aiming high, I admit. You know, I’ll admit.

Pete: Well, listen, Richard – we do appreciate you being on. It was wonderful and thank you for taking the time. I know you’re a busy man.

Richard: It was great, it was fun. Thanks very much.

Pete: Wonderful.

Jared: See ya.

[Music begins]

Pete: All right folks, thanks for listening. Remember, check out the six-part video series on How the Bible Actually Works, that’s at thebiblefornormalpeople/bible, what is it Jared?

Jared: Bible video.

Pete: Bible video. That makes sense, Now I can find it, that’s great.

Jared: Right.

Pete: I’m so happy!

Jared: All right, we’ll see you next time.

Megan: We also want to give a shout out to our producer’s group, who support us over on Patreon. They are the reason we are able to keep bringing podcasts and other content to you. If you would like to help support the podcast, head over to where for as little as $3 a month you can receive bonus material, be a part of an online community, get course discounts, and much more. We couldn’t do what we do without your support.

Dave: Thanks, as always, to our team: Executive Producer, Megan Cammack; Audio Engineer, Dave Gerhart; Creative Director, Tessa Stultz; Marketing Wizard, Reed Lively; transcriber and Community Champion, Stephanie Speight; and Web Developer, Nick Striegel.

[Music ends] [Outtakes] [Beep]

Jared: We’re going to talk today about who wrote the Bible, and we’re talking with a profesher. Profesher?

Pete: Profesh…


Jared: Professor.

Pete: [Continued laughter]

Jared: Professor of Jewish studies…

[End of recorded material]
Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.