Biblical Authorship

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Old Testament


Why would anyone want to study the writings of an author who portrays the Bible as just a bunch of stories that have no basis in truth? I have highlighted the lines which point this out.

The word "Genesis" is derived from the first Hebrew word of the book -- be-re'shith, usually translated, "In the beginning." "Genesis" comes from the Septuagint's translation of that word and has several related meanings: origin, beginning, becoming, birth, even descendants. Genesis is the first of five books comprising the "Pentateuch," the "Torah" (Law), or the five books of Moses, designated as such because they were supposedly authored by him -- though few believe that any more. It is now generally accepted that Genesis had many authors since it is essentially folk literature. These stories had a rich, traditional oral history long before they were ever put down in writing. The final editing probably was done by the priestly writers during the 6th century.


The book of Genesis is one of the five books of the Pentateuch. They tell the story of a people from the creation of the world, through the exodus out of Egypt, to their entry into the Promised Land. Most of the patriarchal stories are in Genesis. Traditionally, many people held that these five books were all written by Moses, that God dictated these words to him on Mount Sinai. That would mean that these books, including Genesis, would have been written around 1280 – 1250 BCE. 

Today, scholars are skeptical of that claim. They have noticed that several stories are repeated: two stories of creation, three incidents where the patriarch pretends his wife is his sister, differing days for the flood, in one story Noah takes two of every animal, in another he takes seven of some. Joseph is sold to Ishmaelites and later Midianites. These inconsistencies have led scholars to what is known as the documentary theory – parts of the story had different authors and were later joined to form a single work. Eventually, they came up with four authors (or schools of authors) and named them J, E, D, and P. These strands were combined by a "Redactor," who probably added a few comments of his own.

Basically, that means the original authors are completely unknown. These texts were handed down orally for generations before they were ever written down. Does knowing that make these "just a bunch of stories that have no basis in truth?" I think not. These were sacred and ancient texts long before the time of the Redactor. These stories became the center of the Israelite religion. They have endured for at least 2,500 years, and possibly as long ago as 3,200. The ancients probably had to tell these stories from generation to generation because they didn't have the means to write them down. But oral tradition has proven to be quite dependable. When people do not know how to write, they have to depend on their memories. Scholars have pointed out that in Genesis certain patterns of speech and story lend themselves towards memorization. But can it be proved that the stories did not change one iota over hundreds of years? No.

Maybe that isn't the point. Most people don't study the Bible because someone told them every word was true. Most people study the Bible because they have had some experience with the words they have read. It is this experience that has convinced them of the power in these verses. Maybe it was an answer to prayer, maybe it was a sudden healing or insight, maybe their hearts were flooded with a sense of being loved. This is how God is felt; these are the effects of God in our lives. There is a reason these texts have endured for thousands of years. Between its covers, the Bible tells a story of God revealing Himself to us, comforting us, calling us to be in relationship with Him. To the extent we open our hearts to his message, we will find wisdom and guidance in our dealings with life, other people, God, and ourselves.

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