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A couple of Sundays ago, I taught an RCIA class on the Bible. After class, a candidate approached me and asked: Did Moses foresee the Exodus? Did he witness the waters’ part, and the dry ground appearing for the Israelites to cross through the Red Sea? Did Moses write the first five books of the Old Testament, or is it an extremely embellished tale? Great questions. First, let me say that Jesus himself said that Moses wrote these books: “If you believed Moses you would then believe me, for it was about me that he wrote.” (John 5:46 NAB)

The first five books are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy collectively called the Torah (Hebrew, “instructions, “, “law”) and the Pentateuch (from a Greek phrase meaning “five books”). Until the late nineteenth century, the consensus view of biblical scholars was that Moses wrote these first five books of the Bible. However, they also contain portions that may not have been written by Moses, such as Moses’ death at the end of Deuteronomy. There are other passages that it is hard to imagine Moses’ writing such as the one stressing his humility: “There has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, who the Lord knew face to face” (Deut. 34:10)

In the 1700s, scholars proposed a few identifiable differences in writing style, such as repetitions, and contradictions in how the name for God was used in passages. And in 1883, a German scholar proposed a theory called the Wellhausen hypothesis using as his basis how God’s name was used differently in the four major sources in the Pentateuch. This theory quickly gained ground, particularly among Protestant Bible scholars.

But does the fact that a book shifts from using one divine name to another indicate that the passages come from different sources, or could there be another explanation? After all, “Yahweh” is a personal name, whereas “Elohim” is a descriptive term meaning “God”. I believe the use of these names is more of a style of writing, the connotations of Hebrew speakers, and subject matter. Look at Genesis 3:1-5 and the usage of “Yahweh” and the serpent’s dialog using a less formal name of “Elohim” – to keep the serpent from uttering the intimate, holy name “Yahweh”.

Finally, several places in the Bible testify to Moses’s authorship of the Torah. God, Himself tells Moses to write, then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua” – Exodus 17:14.

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