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Did Moses Write the Books of Moses? Part 5: What Does It Matter?

We have seen that, although fundamentalists insist that the Bible could not be reliable if the Pentateuch was written by anyone other than Moses, centuries of Bible scholarship have led most scholars to the conclusion that these books were written by later authors.

But does any of this scholarship make a difference? The teachings are the same, regardless of who put the words on the paper. Right?

And yet, to some people it matters a great deal. As we have seen, Terry Mortenson of Answers in Genesis equates the documentary hypothesis (DH) with an attack on the integrity of the Bible. In one sense, he is right; namely, that the DH recognizes a multitude of voices—not always in agreement with each other—in the five books of the Pentateuch. Acknwledging these voices means abandoning the notion of biblical inerrancy, the belief that the entire Bible is self-consistent and without error. If inerrancy were true, we would not be able to detect different voices within the text; even if different authors had a hand in it, we shouldn't be able to detect differences in theology between them.

We shouldn't be able to find, as Wellhausen found, passages referring to worship at local alters and passages requiring worship at a centralized temple within a single consistent legal code. We shouldn't be able to find multiple explanations for how Jacob got the name Israel. We shouldn't see various contexts attached to the festival of unleavened bread. We shouldn't see, if the doctrine of inerrancy is true, the Bible the scholars read.

Within the doctrine of inerrancy, differing voices are no different from inconsistencies or errors. Inerrantists therefore cannot tolerate the DH or the conclusions to which it leads. The DH certainly makes a differenceand not a pleasant oneto them.

But to the rest of us: Does the documentary hypothesis (or its scholarly challengers the fragmentary hypothesis and the supplementary hypothesis) make a difference?

Richard Elliott Friedman, in the conclusion to his 1987 book Who Wrote the BIble?, suggests a number of ways in which it does matter.

For those of us who read the Bible as literature, this new knowledge should bring a new acquaintance with the individuals who wrote it, a new path to evaluating their artistry, and a new admiration for the book's final beauty and complexity.

For those of us who read it in search of history, this enterprise continually opens new channels to uncovering what was happening in various historical moments, and new sensitivity to how individuals in biblical society responded to those moments.

For those who hold the Bible as sacred, it can mean new possibilities of interpretation; and it can mean a new awe before the great chain of events, persons, and centuries that came together so intricately to produce an incomparable book of teachings.

And for all of us who live in this civilization that the Bible played so central a part in shaping, it can be a channel to put us more in touch with people and forces that affected our world.

The question, after all, is not only who wrote the Bible, but who reads it.

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