Was Moses Really the Author of the Pentateuch (and Does It Matter)?
This month (and the first week of April) Jews and Christians will observe their most holy celebrations: Passover and Easter. Both celebrations are based in the story of God's redemption of Israel in the Pentateuch (that's Greek for "the first five books of the Bible"). Israel was brought out of slavery from Egypt in the second book of the Pentateuch, Exodus, and Jesus' trial, crucifixion, and resurrection all centered around the Jewish feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits (all stipulated in the book of Exodus).
In more than a few places, the Bible declares Moses to be the author (Exodus 17:14; 24:4; Deuteronomy 31:9-11). In the New Testament, Jesus and the Apostles make the same claim that Moses wrote the stories of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (Matthew 19:8; Mark 12:26; Acts 3:22; Romans 10:5). For centuries, both Jews and Christians believed that these books were penned by Moses around the 15th century B.C.
However, about 200 years ago or so, skeptics from Europe began to think that Moses was not the author at all; they proposed that a series of authors over a period of hundreds of years wrote down independent stories, then edited and re-edited them until they came down to us in their present form roughly 400 years before the birth of Jesus.
Critics label one author or group of authors "J" because he supposedly used the name "Yahweh"/"Jehovah" for God. "E" is the author using "Elohim" for God. "D" wrote Deuteronomy during the reforms of Josiah in the 7th century B.C. And "P" stands for the priests who wrote and edited much of the Old Testament after the exile in Babylon.
This theory (sometimes called the JEDP Theory or the "Documentary Hypothesis") essentially undermines the Jewish and Christian concept of inspiration and credibility of the Bible. If Moses did not write these books when the Bible clearly says he did, then basically these books are unhistorical and are merely pious frauds. In that case, the Jewish and Christian beliefs in a redeemer God are based on fiction and not history.
What is the evidence for this "Documentary Hypothesis"? Pretty much the argument boils down to this: supposedly, writing wasn't even around in the 15th century B.C (or in the 13th century as some claim it was written). Okay, maybe writing with picture words was around, but certainly not an alphabet. Therefore, if writing with an alphabet was not around at that time, then Moses could not have written the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.
Also, it seems that the Hebrews used two different words for God throughout the Old Testament: Yahweh and Elohim. Well that right there PROVES beyond all doubt that there were multiple authors, doesn't it? After all, no one ever uses more than one word to describe the same person, object, or idea, right? Our vocabulary never changes when we are telling stories or writing poetry or giving a law code or expounding wise sayings, right?