Authorship of the Book of Deuteronomy,

With its Bearings on the Higher Criticism of the Pentateuch

By J. W. McGarvey

Introduction - Section 3

The Analytical Theory Of The Pentateuch.

It is with the application of higher criticism to the Book of Deuteronomy that we are especially concerned in this work. As a result of the labors of a century on the part of a succession of writers, mostly German rationalists, a theory of the origin and structure of the Pentateuch has been evolved which meets with the general approval of those who deny that Moses was its author.(1) This theory is styled the analytical theory, because of the peculiar analysis of the Pentateuch which it involves. The authorship and date of Deuteronomy is one of the subjects involved in this analysis, and this renders it important to present here a brief outline of the theory to which easy reference may be had in reading the following pages.

It is claimed by the advocates of this theory that the Book oŁ Deuteronomy, or at least the legislative portion of it (chapters xii.-xxvi.), was the first book of the Pentateuch to come into existence. It was first brought into public notice in the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah, king of Judah, and it alone was the book found by the high priest Hilkiah, when he was cleansing the temple, as described in the twenty-second chapter of II. Kings. This was in the year 621 B. C., or about eight hundred years after the death of Moses.(2) The book had been written but a short time when it was thus found. Critics vary in judgment as to the exact time but all agree that it had been composed within the previous seventy-five years. These years were occupied by the idolatrous reigns of Manasseh and Amon, and the first eighteen years of Josiah.

The more radical critics hold that no writing at all came down from the time of Moses, unless it was the Decalogue in a much briefer form than we now have it.(3) The more conservative class think that the document described in Ex. xxiv. 1-11 as being written by Moses, consecrated by blood, and called "The Book of the Covenant," was really written by Moses. It contained the legislation found in Ex xx.-xxiii. With these exceptions, all who have accepted the analytical theory agree that Moses wrote no part of the Pentateuch. The conception of Moses as an author and lawgiver, which has prevailed among the Jews and Christians alike for so many centuries, is a delusion which has been dispelled by the critical investigations of the nineteenth century.

While all this is held as to Moses, it is not denied that some of the writing which is now found in the Pentateuch came into existence before the date of Deuteronomy. In the ninth century B. C., about the time of Elijah and Elisha, or possibly in the eighth, about the time of Amos and Hosea (the exact time is unsettled), there came into existence two historical documents which contributed to the final formation of the Pentateuch. One of these was written in the northern kingdom, as appears from its more frequent references to persons and places among the ten tribes. It was an attempt at a history of early times, beginning with creation and ending with the death of Joshua. It contained such traditions of those times as had come down orally to the time of its author, and possibly some written document of an earlier period. Its author habitually used the Hebrew name Elohim for God, on account of which he is known as the Elohistic writer, and is referred to briefly in critical writing as E. About the same time, some think earlier and some think later, a similar, but independent document appeared in the kingdom of Judah, covering the same period of time, containing the stories afloat among the old people of the southern kingdom, and written by an author who uniformly called God Jehovah. He is called the Jehovistic writer, or briefly, J. The stories in the two were to some extent the same; with variations resulting from oral transmission, but each contained some stories not found in the other. It is not pretended that we have any historical account of either of these books, or that any ancient writer, either Biblical or secular, makes any allusion to their existence. It is only claimed that the fact of their existence is traceable in portions of our Pentateuch that were copied from them.

At a still later period, but how late no one pretends to say, except that it was earlier than the writing of Deuteronomy, a third writer took these two books of E and J in hand, and combined them into one, by copying first from one and then from the other, as he thought best though sometimes, when he was doubtful as to which of two stories was to be preferred, copying both. Occasionally he added something of his own. He is called a redactor, the German term for editor, and for the sake of brevity is usually referred to as R. The resulting document is called JE, and it is supposed that, as a natural result of the compilation, the two older documents passed out of use, and soon perished. The document JE was therefore the only historical book in existence among the Israelites previous to the date of Deuteronomy.

The principal reason for holding that the Book of Deuteronomy came into existence as above described, and that none of the other three books of law existed earlier, is the revolution in worship effected by King Josiah under the influence of this book. It is alleged that previous to Hilkiah's discovery every man was at liberty to build an altar and offer sacrifices where he saw fit, and that all the sacrificial altars that were erected, as Jeremiah expresses it., "on every high hill and under every green tree," were entirely legitimate when the worship was rendered to Jehovah. Many of these places of worship, however, had been consecrated by the Canaanites to the worship of Baal and other deities, and the Israelites were constantly enticed by the associations of place, and other considerations, to fall into idolatry. It therefore occurred to the writer or writers of Deuteronomy to compose a book in the name of Moses which would pronounce worship at all such places unlawful, and would concentrate all the sacrifices at the altar in front of the temple in Jerusalem. In this way idolatry would be suppressed, and the priesthood of the central sanctuary would be exalted and enriched. The fact that King Josiah, believing the book to be from Moses, enforced this regulation, proves by its success the wisdom of this device.

Thus far, it is to be remembered, neither of the law-books, Exodus, Leviticus or Numbers, had been written; but between the time of Deuteronomy and the beginning of the Babylonian captivity, a priestly law was written containing the regulations now found in chapters xvii-xxii. of the Book of Leviticus. It is called the law of Holiness, and it is designated by the letter H. We now see that when Judah was led captive into Babylon, they had in hand the legal part of the Book of Deuteronomy, six chapters of Leviticus, and the historical hook JE, but no other part of the Pentateuch.

About the close of the Babylonian exile another book was written which contained both history and law. It covered historically the same period of time which had been covered by J and E, but it introduced much new matter. The first chapter of Genesis was now composed, the author J having begun his. book with the second chapter. Many other parts of Genesis were also first written by this author; together with the main body of the Books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. He was a priest, and he is referred to under the letter P. He wrote about one thousand years after the death of Moses.

But the Pentateuch was not yet completed. The documents JE, D, H and P, out of which it was yet to be compiled, existed separately. The task of compiling them into one fell to the lot of another redactor or editor, who, at or soon after the close of the exile., took in hand the preceding books, and compiled from them the Pentateuch as we now have it adding, however, here and there, some matter of his own. This book of the law of Moses was read to the people by Ezra, as described in the eighth chapter of Nehemiah, and this reading was its first publication to the world.

As was said above, it is not claimed that there is any historical account of these various documents, or that any ancient writing contains the faintest allusion to their existence. But it is claimed that the fact of their separate existence and subsequent combination can be demonstrated by separating them now according to their several peculiarities of style and subject-matter. This has been done, and the several documents have been published in separate form. So exact is the process, that in many instances a single short sentence, or a clause of a sentence, is assigned, one part to J, one to E, and another to P. The reader will find this analysis set forth to the eye in color representing the several sources of the text, in Bissell's Genesis in Colors and in the various volumes of the Polychrome Bible. The several documents are also printed separately in Documents of the Hexateuch, by W. E. Addis; and in two works by Prof. Benjamin W. Bacon, of Yale, entitled Genesis of Genesis, and Exodus. This analysis will not be considered on its merits in the following pages, because it bears only remotely on our subject, and also because in a work entitled The Unity of Genesis, the last work that came from the prolific pen of the lamented Prof. William Henry Green, of Princeton, the analytical theory is thoroughly exposed as contrary to the facts in the case. To argue the question again would be a work of supererogation; at least, until some formal reply shall be made to Professor Green.

There are certain important results which attend the. theory, and constitute an essential part of it, that are to be stated next.

Should we grant all that has been thus far stated, and yet maintain that all of these supposed writers were divinely inspired so as to write with historical reliability, we could still maintain the authenticity of Old Testament history. But such inspiration is denied. Miraculous aid of any kind is denied by radical critics, and inspiration that guards historical narratives from error is denied by all. Consequently the theory throws a mist of uncertainty over the whole of the historical writings of the Old Testament, and most positively discredits a very large portion of it

We may state first, as a specific result, that the first ten chapters of Genesis are altogether legendary or mythical. The first two chapters are not, as they appear to be, a history of the creation of the universe and the formation of this earth as an abode for man; but they are two contradictory accounts, one presenting the author P's conception, and the other J's, while both are very far away from describing the reality. The story if the fall is a fable, and it falsely represents the change which took place in man. This change was an upward movement, as the theory of evolution demands. There was no fall of man. The stories of Cain and Abel are equally imaginary, and that of the flood, though self-consistent throughout as it stands, is resolved into two contradictory accounts of some local disaster in the valley of the Euphrates, one written by J and the other by P. The account of the confusion of tongues, and the consequent dispersion of the human race, is an idle attempt to explain by a miracle that which came about in a natural way.

As to the rest of Genesis, the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph are also unreal with the radical critics, who in general deny that any of these men had a real existence. They are mythical heroes, such as were conjured up in the imaginations of the early heathen nations when trying to trace their primitive history. Thus the whole of the book of Genesis passes away before the mind of the critic, except as its marvelous narratives may be used for illustrations. The more conservative critics retain the belief that these patriarchs had a real existence, but they hesitate to accept the details of much that is written respecting them. They accept some and reject the rest according to each man's individual judgment

With the radicals, the Israelites were never in bondage to the Egyptians, as described in the Book of Exodus and repeated so constantly in the later books of the Old Testament; but they were a desert tribe, and in the course of their wanderings they settled on the border of Egypt and incurred Egyptian hostility. The story of deliverance from the Egyptians is therefore wholly false, as is also that of the visit to Mount Sinai and the giving of the law. All the miracles in the wilderness arc denied, and it is claimed that the tabernacle in the wilderness never had an existence, the account of it being an imaginary story spun from the brain of P, with Solomon's temple as its model.

The conservatives admit that Israel was in bondage, but they hold that the stories of the ten plagues are exaggerated accounts of natural events. The passage of the Red Sea they strip of all its miraculous incidents, and the law given at Mount Sinai contained nothing more than the little "book of the covenant found in Ex. xx.-xxiii. The laws in Leviticus were not given there as is declared both at the beginning and the end of that book, neither were those which are scattered through the Book of Numbers given by Moses. As to the Book of Deuteronomy, we have already seen how its contents are regarded by all these critics, both radical and conservative; for there is no material difference of opinion among them on this matter.

We now see what is made of the Pentateuch, if this theory is true. The question is sometimes raised, What difference does it make whether Moses or some other man wrote the Pentateuch? If this means whether Moses wrote it or some other man who lived at a time to possess correct information, the difference might be immaterial. But this is not the question. It is, whether Moses is its author, or several unknown men who lived from seven hundred to one thousand years after Moses, and who had no means of correct knowledge. In other words, the question is whether it came from a man who was the chief actor in much the greater part of its events, and could therefore give an authentic account of them, or from a set of men removed many centuries from the events, whose source of information was nothing better than a hoary tradition, and who have actually given us nothing that is certainly real history.

Another consequence which is a part of the theory is yet to be mentioned. It has been observed by those the least familiar with the new critical literature that it speaks no longer of the Pentateuch, but of the Hexateuch. This is because the Book of Joshua is involved with the Pentateuch in the same supposition as to dates and authorship. It will be remembered that J and E, the first writers, extended their narratives from Adam to the death of Joshua. P also did the same. The Greek translators of the Old Testament, who were the first to divide the Pentateuch into separate books, and to give them their Greek names, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, made the mistake of supposing that these constituted one original book of early history and law, and that the Book of Joshua was a later production. From this mistake originated the title "Pentateuch," signifying five books. But the critics have detected this mistake. They have found that the original work in the hands of Ezra, called the book of the law of Moses, instead of closing with Deuteronomy, extended to the close of what we call the Book of Joshua, and that Hexateuch (a work of six books), and not Pentateuch, is the correct title. The Book of Joshua is with them wholly unhistorical. It falsely represents the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites. It is not true that Joshua invaded the land with a great army, crossing the Jordan by a stupendous miracle, and subduing the tribes of Canaan in two decisive campaigns. It is not true that he divided the land among the tribes, as described in the latter part of the book. All these accounts are inventions of later ages. The true account of the invasion is that very imperfectly given in the early chapters of the Book of Judges; and this is interpreted to mean that one tribe at a time, or two tribes acting together, invaded Canaan, and, after many vicissitudes finally obtained lodgment among a people much more civilized and enlightened than themselves.

The theory, then, if true, robs the first six books of the Bible of authenticity, and puts their several authors on a lower level than that of ancient heathen historians by separating them many centuries further from the events which they pretend to record. To the critics themselves this makes the Hexateuch a much more precious work than it was when they gave it credit; for they are never tired, at least the "evangelical" wing, of repeating the assertion of this increased preciousness. However difficult it is to account for this, I suppose that we must credit them with telling the truth; but with the great mass of believers in Christ and the Bible the feeling must ever be the reverse of this. They feel now, and will forever feel, the utmost disgust for a set of books with the pretenses made in these, that are after all nothing more than these critics represent them to be. 

1. For a brief historical sketch of this theory, the reader is referred to Wellhausen's article, "Pentatench," In Encyc. Brit.; to Bissell's Origin and Structure of the Pentateuch, 42-83; or to either of two hand-books, Radical Criticism, by Prof; Francis R. Beattie, of the Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.; and The Elements of Higher Criticism,. by Prof. A. C. Zenos, of McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago.

2. This opinion was first suggested by De Wette in the year 1817. Wellhausen, Encyc. Brit.; Art. "Pentateuch.")

3. Thus Kuenen says: "It need not be repeated here that Moses bequeathed no book of the law to the tribes of Israel. Certainly nothing more was committed to writing by him or in his time than the 'ten words' in their original form" (The Religion of Israel, II. 7).