Today the original text critical arguments that once established the Documentary Hypothesis no longer sustain
it. While the question of sources is still open to debate, considerable study is spent on understanding the issue
of textual corruption such as what corruption was due to the normal process of copying and annotating and what
corruption was due to a conscious effort to edit the text. However, it is the scientific disciplines of
anthropology and archaeology, in the pursuit of reconstructing the early history of Israelite history, that is
predisposed towards a late dating of the authorship of the Pentateuch as a compilation of early oral and written
sources edited over a period of some 400 years by a variety of scribes and scribal groups with various literary
While many scholars do not fully appreciate the contemporary literary and text critical arguments responsible
for the demise of the original text critical arguments of the Documentary Hypothesis, they fail to acknowledge or
address the problematic logical implications of accepting it.
1. How and why is it possible that scribes or scribal groups would create a sacred body of
work with the intentional and fraudulent claim of Mosaic authorship?
How would this be morally possible within the context of the deuteronomic command of not
altering the word of God (Deut 4:1-2) or with the emphasis of
teaching its regulations to children (Deut 6:4-9;
How could this deceit take place over a long time without anyone noticing its fraudulent
nature given the Pentateuch’s foundational role in the religious and socio-cultural life of the ancient Hebrew?
Why would some of the Patriarchs, heroes of the Hebrews, be recorded as violating the Mosaic
Abraham marries his half-sister (Gen 20:11-13)
This was prohibited in Leviticus 18:9,
20:17, and Deuteronomy 27:22.
Jacob marries his sister-in-law Rachel (Gen 29:15-30).
This was prohibited in Leviticus 18:18.
The designation of Isaac as the firstborn (Gen 21:10-13)
skipped the first born Ishmael.
This was prohibited or regulated in Deuteronomy 21:15-17.
Jacob set up a standing stone as a focus of worship (Gen 28:18).
This was prohibited in Exodus 34:13,
Leviticus 26:1, Deuteronomy 12:3
2. If there is no literary or textual evidence nor archaeological or socio-cultural evidence
that points to the existence of a scribal society or priestly redactor(s) of the Pentateuch’s creation over the
hypothetical 400 year period, why is the Pentateuch is still considered the creation of first millennium B.C.
Literary critics, who propose that Deuteronomy was composed to validate and legitimize the
priesthood in Jerusalem during the first millennium B.C., cannot explain why Jerusalem is not mentioned even once
as the central shrine for worship. Instead of Jerusalem, which is first mentioned in
Joshua 10:1 after the Pentateuch corpus, Bethel is consecrated
(Gen 28:16, 19; 35:14, 15).
Furthermore it is not one but two sources responsible for this glaring omission: the hypothetical Jehovist
and Priestly documents, which were presumably used to compile the Pentateuch.
When evaluating the biblical text, historians (including Christians) are faced with the challenge of understanding
how the Bible reveals historical information that enables one to reconstruct a history. Hypothetical historical
reconstructions can be tested by data from archaeology and the cultural and political history of the surrounding
nations. And while interpretations of the archaeological data may reflect certain biases, the correct
interpretation will be born out with the test of time.
Current archaeological data cannot conclusively affirm or deny Mosaic authorship or historicity of the
Pentateuch; however, the cultural data can place the Pentateuch in the Middle Bronze Age (2000–1500 B.C.). This
cultural match is made on the basis of analyzing the Patriarchal names, their migration patterns, and their legal
and social customs.
Archaeology has been successful in discovering thousands of tablets in Mesopotamia and Northern
Syria (i.e. Nuzi tablets, etc.) dated to the second millennium B.C., which has provided information on the culture
and life during that time.
The personal names of the Patriarchs have found similarities in extrabiblical texts of the early second
millennium B.C. For example, Abram has parallels in documents of the First Babylonian Dynasty at Dilbat,
and Abraham has been compared with Aburahana in the Execretion Texts of the Middle Kingdom Egypt
(2000-1900 B.C.). Assyrian texts of the Ur III period also refer to names such as Til-turakhi (Terah)
and Sarugi (Serug).
The Patriarchal names such as Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph are called Amorite imperfect names
for their grammatical structure and orthography. Amorite imperfect names appeared as early as the third millennium,
were very common in the second millennium, and dramatically declined in usage in the first millennium. The use
of Amorite imperfect names indicates the likelihood of these individuals existing during the first half of the
second millennium B.C.
The places mentioned in the patriarchal narratives also associates the Patriarchs with the Amorites. While the
original homeland of the Amorites is unclear, Amurru in the Akkadian texts refers to northwestern Mesopotamia,
which is where Abraham considered his ancestral homeland (Gen 24:1-10).
Mari and later Assyrian texts mention other cities located in northwestern Mesopotamia such as
Harran (Haran, Gen 11:31;
12:4), and Nakhur (Nahor,
Having located similar names and places in extrabiblical texts associating the Patriarchs with an ethnic group
with the same possible homeland of the first half of the second millennium B.C., there is a growing body of
archeological evidence that the Patriarchs were indeed real people. And there is a fair degree of confidence that
the Patriarchs originated in Upper Mesopotamia as part of the Middle Bronze Amorite and Late Bronze Aramean migrations.
The semi-nomadic lifestyle of the Patriarchs was consistent with Palestine in the early second millennium BC,
which was a transitional time between a nomadic and settled way of life.
Egyptian Execration Texts and the Tale of Sinuhe (1900-1800 B.C.) reveal that tribal groups
and minor city-states coexisted. The word used for Abraham’s "armed men" is a hapax legomena (a word used only
once in the Bible), yet it appears in the Execretion Texts and a tablet from Taanach to mean "armed supporters."
The Tale of Sinuhe and the paintings by the Beni-Hasan tomb indicate that there was free and
frequent travel between Palestine and Egypt.
Furthermore, there were foreign and Egyptian pharaohs who had residences in the eastern delta
around 1950-1550 B.C. This would correspond to the time and location of the Patriarchs and their accounts of
interacting with Egyptians.
Legal and Social Customs
The characteristics of various covenants made in Genesis (Gen 14:13;
31), compare very well with several early second millennium
treaties from Mari and Tell Leivlan. In some cases the terms of the contract matches early second millennium B.C.
norms, such as shepherding arrangements found in Old Babylonian shepherding contracts
In examining various Ancient Near East treaties of other periods, it can be firmly said that
the Genesis covenants do not correspond to the treaty format of third millennium B.C., late second millennium B.C.
or first millennium B.C.
Sarah’s unusual offer of her handmaiden / concubine Hagar to Abraham to produce an heir
(Gen 16), and Rachel and Leah’s offer of their handmaidens
Bilhah and Zilpah to Jacob (Gen 30:1-13) were consistent with
marital practices of second millennium B.C. as exemplified by contracts of the period and the Law Code of
Hammaurabi (1795-1750 B.C.). A Nuzi adoption tablet serves as an example:
Furthermore, Kelim-ninu has been given in marriage to Shennima. If Kelim-ninu bears
(children), Shennima shall not take another wife; but if Kelim-ninu does not bear, Kelim-ninu shall acquire a
woman of the land of Lullu as wife for Shennima, and Kelim-ninu may not send the offspring away. Any sons that
may be born to Shennima from the womb of Kelim-ninu, to (these) sons shall be given [all] the lands (and) buildings
of every sort.
The prohibition of sending away the children of a concubine would be a reason for Abraham’s
reluctance to drive out Hagar and Ishmael (Gen 21:8-14).
The father’s choice of the first born regardless of birth order has parallels with Ancient Near East documents
as exemplified by a 1500 B.C. marriage contract from Alalakh on the North Syrian coast:
If Naidu does not give birth to a son, then the daughter of his brother, Iwashura, shall
be given Irihalpa [as wife]. If another wife of Irihalpa gives birth to a son first and afterwards Naidu give
birth to a son, the son of Naidu alone shall be the firstborn.
The choice of Isaac over Ishmael (Gen 21:10-13),
Ephraim over Mannasseh (Gen 48:2-22) is consistent with practices
found in the Ancient Near East.
Disinheritance, which Reuben experienced (Gen 49:1-4),
was the loss of the rights of a firstborn. This was not an arbitrary decision of the father, and it was consistent
with early second millennium B.C. culture.
The Law Code of Hammarubi, among others, addressed this issue as the result of a serious offense
against the family.
Laban’s daughters’ complaint that their father "sold" them and "entirely consumed their money"
(Gen 31:15) was very plausible during early second millennium B.C.
Old Babylonian texts and Nuzi tablets record that, on occasion, a father would withhold a part
of the dowry. As additional evidence of the dating of the Patriarchs, the phrase "consume (our) money" appears in
identical contexts in the Nuzi tablets.
Unusual behavior such as Rachel stealing her father’s household gods
(Gen 31:19, 30) does not seem out of the ordinary according to an
adoption tablet from Nuzi:
The adoption tablet of Nashwi son of Arshenni. He adopted Wullu son of Puhishenni. As long as
Nashwi lives, Wullu shall give [him] food and clothing. When Nashwi dies, Wullu shall be the heir. Should Nashwi
beget a son, [the latter] shall divide equally with Wullu but [only] Nashwi’s son shall take Nashwi’s gods. But if
there be no son of Nashwi’s then Wullu shall take Nashwi’s gods.
While it is not clear as to the purpose of owning the household gods, both the biblical and Nuzi
tablet place an importance on it.
Based largely on the Nuzi tablets of 1500 B.C. and some earlier tablets, the evidence establishes that the
socio-cultural details of the Patriarchs’ lives fit more consistently within the context of the second millennium
B.C. than any other period. Destructive critics who desire to date the Pentateuch’s creation to the first millennium
B.C. have very little archeological evidence to support their presumption.
While this is not fully conclusive, it can be said that the archeological evidence does seem to establish the
fact that the Patriarchal narratives is an authentic reflection of the Ancient Near East during the early second
millennium B.C. This would make it more likely that the Pentateuch was authored during this period, because many of
its details such as social customs and city locations, would make little sense to an editor of the first millennium B.C.
1. Browning Jr. DC, "The Patriarchal Period: The Middle Bronze Age (2000-1550 B.C.)," an
unpublished paper from the website:
Daniel C. Browning Jr.’s William
Carey University Homepage.
2. Douglas JD, et al. eds, Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 3 vol., Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity
3. Kaiser Jr. WC, A History of Israel From the Bronze Age Through the Jewish Wars, Nashville,
TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers (1998).
2. Miller G, "Good question... ...on the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch?", from the website:
A Christian Thinktank.
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