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Book 4. Sacred History or Phoney History?

The Pentateuch; Expanding Deuteronomy



Persian Propaganda


Professor Alberto Soggin declares that the outlook of the myths of the Pentateuch, the Former Prophets and the Major Prophets was that of people in Mesopotamia who were emigrating to the new land (to them) of Canaan where they would meet opposition from the natives sympathetic to the Egyptians.

The Patriarchal and Mosaic sagas in the Pentateuch serve as a metaphor for this colonization, depicted as a “return” from “exile”, and to form a basis for a new interpretation of cult practices like Passover, the names of people in different taxation areas and the covenant with God at Sinai. It also contains the laws laid down by various phases of “returners”, some poetic and some hortatory material. The Pentateuchal literature can only be understood in relation to the cult (C R North) because it was written at least in essence to justify the cult by the Persian administrators of the fifth century BC. Some of the Canaanites of Palestine before the “return” might have worshipped a Baal called Yehouah but no honest scholar would pretend that the cult was the same. The only common feature will have been the name of the god.

The population of the Persian district of Yehud was only about 20,000 even though two million left Egypt, we deduce from Exodus. Even if other places besides Judah were settled, it is a huge discrepancy. What is the purpose of this exaggeration in the scriptures? It is to show what the scriptures always show, that the Jews have been constant sinners against the true god, who had punished them by reducing them to a remnant. The Jewish “returners” were to be made dependent on the Persian conception of god for whom the Persian king was the earthly representative. That they previously worshipped Canaanite Baals and Egyptian deities was attributed to apostasy from the true God, which is why they had been reduced. Thus the Persians used religion as a factor in their foreign policy, and that is why today we have Judaism and Christianity.

The disparate group of twelve tribes uniting in a religion built around the temple reflected only the disparate groups of people sent as “returners” by the Persian king to found a unity around Ahuramazda, renamed as the local god, Yehouah. Isaiah 41:18ff speaks of a “Second Exodus” just as there is a “second temple”. The truth is that here “second” means “first” because the story given to the emigreés was that they were “returning” to resume proper worship of their god. Most were not, they were new settlers, themselves uprooted as the biblical Israelites were by the Assyrians and the Jews by the Babylonians. Even if any of them had had Canaanite ancestors, they were not personally returning because they had been about three generations in a foreign country. So, they were merely “returning” in a propaganda sense, with a mission given them by the Persian king and with a god in the mould of the Persian God of Heaven.

Biblicists, like Nelson Glueck and W F Albright, ignored the propagandist nature of the stories of the Patriarchs and persisted in trying to tie them into history. They could find nothing convincing that did, but the Jewish and Christian churches are never short of finances to pay willing dupes to lie for God.

If ancient propaganda is to be truth then Christians and Jews can make it true simply by saying so as often and loudly as possible, until more reasoned views are drowned out. Discoveries are ignored—discredited not by evidence but by by sheer weight of pious opinion—and forgotten for the time being. Each time someone realizes, points in amazement at the dishonesty and highlights the arguments counter to these religions, but each time the truth is overlaid afresh with layers of pious defaecation from the holy Joes with easy livings to defend. These truths have to be rediscovered every generation, but now mass communication offers the chance of people taking notice.

Though the Biblicists know better than most people, being scholars and even archaeologists, they persist in using expressions that they know to be at best questionable—the “Patriarchal Age”, the “Exodus”, the “United Monarchy” and the “Davidic Empire”. This really is dishonesty.

Even honest scholars like Professor Soggin can say we must take the utmost care in using the material “without adopting a skeptical attitude” to it. Religious apologists always say this, but knowledge advances by being skeptical, not by being gullible. Skepticism invites inquiry and inquiry can prove a view right or wrong. Scientific inquiry demands skepticism, but Christians will not be shown to be wrong. Biblical scholars say: “We will not look! We do not want to see! We do not want to know!”.

Even worse! the Albrightians are saying: “We know but we will not admit it!” Biblical scholars know already that none of the scriptures is true, if taken to be the word of God and not the instrument of Persian foreign policy, and the policies of the later Greeks and Maccabees. That is why they resist any proper scientific investigation and put fellow Biblicists in charge of every crucial excavation and inquiry to confuse or even destroy damning evidence. Rumours abound from students engaged in biblical archaeological fieldwork about important evidence being removed from the site and disappearing or being deposited somewhere irrelevant. Is it the Hebrew God who needs this crookery, or professional Jews and Christians comfortably picking the pockets of gullible innocents?

The Elements of the Pentateuch

The Pentateuch—the first five books of the Bible—is traditionally said to have been written by none other than Moses himself. Doubtless believers will still believe this myth too, but it is manifestly untrue by the evidence of the Pentateuch itself. In Deuteronomy 34:7, anyone can read of the death of Moses, and the fact that he never got to enter the Promised Land. They “buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is”. Then we are told:

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses. (Dt 34:10)


It should not need to be said that Moses cannot describe his own death and burial and, if he could, he could remind people where he was laid down! The final point shows that the true author was writing such a long time later that he thought it worth commenting that no one like Moses had ever been known since. These excerpts are from the appendix to Deuteronomy that is unquestionably later than the main part of the book, but the book is also late in the supposed historical sequence of the bible because it is from the time of Ezra in the Persian period. The fact that the “Exile” is also alluded to in Deuteronomy proves that the Pentateuch—at least in its present recension—is post-exilic. Scholars such as S H Hooke in Peake’s Commentary unanimously accept that Genesis was written in the Persian period to explain why Yehouah (or at first El) had chosen Israel.

The Pentateuch was not written by Moses, but by different writers compiling some older material, instructions by Persian officials setting up the theocracy of Judea, and later priests influenced by the Greeks. The Persian instructions were the central portion of Deuteronomy. The older material consisted of Mesopotamian myths, elements of Syrian myths, and folklore. The priests added detailed laws to do with temple worship (Leviticus is a manual of temple sacrifice), genealogies to give credence to their authority, and bogus history to justify the temple cultus from a putative antiquity. It all showed the Israelites as serial apostates from the worship of Yehouah, their new God of Heaven under the Persians, and a lucrative meal ticket for the priests.

Yet Jeremiah and the Psalmist, for example, contradict the Pentateuch utterly regarding temple sacrifice, writing that Yehouah said:

For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices.
Jer 7:22


The Psalmist replies:

Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire. Mine ears hast thou opened. Burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.
Ps 40:6


These were writing in opposition to the temple cult—which must therefore have already been established—not necessarily in the Persian period but possibly in the time of the southern Greek kings, the Ptolemies. Note that Jeremiah travels to Egypt, and that many of the psalms have the hallmark of the Essenes who also had Egyptians connexions.

Whoever did write these books were writing in the knowledge that the Israelite state existed as a settled community and the Canaanites no longer lived in the hill country, yet the Pentateuch ends before the land had supposedly been taken by conquest.
As Abram reaches Shechem we read: “The Canaanite was then in the land”, (Gen 12:6) an expression that presumes they no longer were, and so must have been written much later.
When Abram’s and Lot’s herdmen were quarrelling, we read: “The Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land”, (Gen 13:7) again implying they no longer were. If Perizzites were Persians, then the author is in Hellenistic times.
Dan appears twice (Gen 14:14, Dt 34:1) in the Pentateuch even though the tribes had not yet settled in Canaan. Elsewhere the bible explains that before the supposed conquest, Dan was Laish (Jg 18:29).
If laws implies a settled, agricultural society (Ex 23:10-11, Lev 19:19), then Moses could not have written them. Furthermore, the Royalty Law of Deuteronomy 17:14-15 applies to a state with a king, presuming a monarchy, probably the Maccabees, in fact.
Abel Mizraim east of the Jordan is called “beyond Jordan” (Gen 50:10), implying an author living in Palestine already.


Compositional Hypotheses

Translations of the bible hide the fact that God is not just called God, but has several names:
the most common is “Yehouah” (YHWH, Yahweh, Jehovah, and now Jarvay) with about 7000 occurences;
“Adonai” (Lord, properly “My Lords”, a plural of majesty) which is the common substitute for Yehouah because the latter is ineffable;
“Elohim” (~3500), literally, “Gods” but declared another “plural of majesty” to justify its singular translation, and used by the authors of the Priests’ Code;
the combination “Yehouah Elohim” is common and translated as “Lord God”, an obvious mistranslation when “Yehouah of the Gods” looks literally more correct;
El is the Canaanite word for their high god but also more generally is taken to mean a god;
“El Elyon” is “God the Highest”, implying other gods, and apparently a Phœnician name of God, according to Eusebius citing Philo;
El Shaddai is translated as God Almighty, but no one knows what it means, but the few clues suggest it is the name of a mountain or storm god;
“Yehouah Sabaoth” is “Yehouah of the Hosts (of heaven)”, also implying other gods, and is the word favoured in the early Persian works of the bible.


Frank Delitzsch thought the first books of the bible were stitched together by an editor from earlier sources called, after their name for God or style, J, E, P and D. Wellhausen took up this idea and championed it but putting the Priestly stage at the end instead of the Deuteronomist, and not first where it had been thought to be from the biblical story. Scholars squabbled about whether the first source was E or J. The different names for God must have had a purpose, at least at first. El and Elohim, implying El, must have been competing names with Yehouah. Both had to be retained to satisfy competing factions.

J saw God as a man, so that man could be formed in His image. This anthropomorphic God closes the door of the ark (Gen 7:16), visits the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:5), takes walks in gardens, and so on. The author E has God revealing himself not directly but through the “angel of the Lord” (21:17 and 22:11), through dreams and interpretations (Gen 40:8) and through his prophets, typified by Moses (Num 12:6-8). The Elohist only begins with Abraham. The author P combined the books of J and E (or used a prior combination of these books), adding new material. P has a much more impersonal grand God, and was more concerned with points of doctrine and ritual than narrative. P is mainly lists of laws and presupposes an active temple. D is the author of Deuteronomy and has a consistent style of his own that some say can be detected throughout the histories. Much of it, though, is explained by the overall purpose of the Persians in presenting these laws and books—to persuade the Hebrews to be loyal and obedient to God through His king, the Shahanshah.

There is a modern preference for the view that much of the Yehouistic material was written later than originally thought, implying an absurdly long period of oral and written transmission of the Pentateuchal narratives for them to be genuinely old. Julius Wellhausen thought the editing process was completed in the Persian period. There were later changes surely in the histories and prophets, and Exodus/Numbers is also late. More and more Old Testament texts are considered postexilic, and their historical allusions are not reliable.

The stories that were put together at the start of Genesis were fragments of older myths used to explain God’s purpose in history and to place Israel central to it. None of them are Canaanite—all are Mesopotamian.

None of the myths [of Genesis 1-11] has been shown to be of distinctively Hebrew origin, while most of them, the Flood story in particular, are of Mesopotamian origin.
S H Hooke, Peake’s Commentary


The aim is always to show the Jews as disobedient and rebellious toward God and needing to seek perfect righteousness to escape retribution. Syrian myths such as those of the Patriarchs were added. Mainly they were originally unrelated stories, some of which were associated with different local shrines and doubtless the people who worshipped at them. An editor has merged them as a genealogical assembly ultimately to promote the idea of the unity of Israel.

Noth thought that there was a common source behind J and E which he called G (Grundlage). Since J and E seem to represent two factions, he could be right, because they were telling essentially the same story but could not agree on who was the High God. The different factions wrote them in their own preferred way and the compromising editor has merged them judiciously to satisfy both.

This suggests that the beginning of Genesis, not including the Priestly additions, is early. Rolf Rentdorff believes that large units of composition agglomerated already soon after Genesis was composed:
the Primordial Unit,
the Patriarchal Unit.


From Genesis 12 the Patriarchs are shown as arriving from Mesopotamia instructed by God to set up proper worship of Him and begin the redemption of mankind through obedience to God’s commands. Genesis 37 to 50 give the story of Joseph as an explanation of how Israel got into slavery to Egypt in preparation for yet another “return” when Moses takes the Israelites on an Exodus from Egypt back to Canaan. The connecting together of all the units of Genesis was undertaken by an editor who inserted chronological signposts (Gen 16:16; 17:24) and theological passages (Gen 17; 35:9-13).


The Pentateuch is the Jewish law or Torah, often defined as “teaching” rather than “law”, but S Dean McBride Jr, in an essay in Old Testament Interpretation, is much more precise:

Torah is closer in meaning to decree than to edifying discourse, mandatory instruction rather than insightful counsel…


Baruch Spinoza in 1670 AD announced that Ezra was Moses (Tractatus theologico-politicus), and he attributed the Pentateuch to the Persian minister. The reaction of the authorities of the Church was to place the Tractatus on the Papal Index of proscribed books in 1677 AD. Leibnitz and Newton invented the calculus at the same time and now it is taught to every schoolchild, yet the same child is still taught the myth of Moses as if it were history. That over 300 years later Christians and Jews are no wiser goes to prove the might of religious ignorance.

As in Genesis, large units can be seen in the rest of the Pentateuch:
Moses and Exodus (Ex 1-18),
Sinai (Ex 19-24),
the journey to Moab (Ex 16-18 and Num 10:11-36:13),


The conquest in Joshua and the early parts of Judges could perhaps be added to this scheme. Five covenants are found within this framework:

  1. with Noah (Gen 9:9-17),
  2. with Abraham (Gen 17:1-14 (cf 15:1-17)),
  3. with Moses ( Ex 19:1-34:28),
  4. with Phinehas (Num 25:11-13),
  5. the original and proper one, upon which the others were modelled, Deuteronomy 29:1-32:47).


Each covenant has attached laws, so the later priests introduced retrogressively new covenants to impress new laws. The expressions of these laws are:

  1. the Deuteronomic Code or the Law of Moses (Dt 4:44-28:68)—the original law laid down by Ezra for the Persian king,
  2. the ethical decalogue (Ex 20:2-17 (cf Ex 34:28; Dt 4:13; 5:6-27)),
  3. the Book of the Covenant (Ex 20:22-23:33 (cf Ex 24:7)),
  4. the description of the tabernacle and its rites (Ex 25:1-31:17) and a plan of how they were implemented ((Ex 35:1-40:33),
  5. the cultic decalogue or dodecalogue (Ex 34:11-17),
  6. the Priestly code (Lev 1-26) which includes the Holiness code, possibly a somewhat earlier stratum,


The philological problems of The Decalogue are considerable, Garbini tells us. Of the three versions in the bible the one that is least altered and therefore likely to be the earliest is that in Deuteronomy 5:6-21. It presuposes a sedentary not a nomadic life, and therefore could not have been devised by migrating tribes with no settled home. The Decalogue was produced in a settled society, contradicting the biblical myth, and, right from the outset, it is in conflict with the worship of gods other than Yehouah, called idolatry. Since the native Canaanite religion was a polytheistic idolatry, the religion of Yehouah certainly fits the idea that it was imposed. As Garbini puts it:

The initial part of the Decalogue becomes completely relevant if seen in the perspective of a religious reform which originated in Palestine and which with its monotheistic message tended towards a conscious and total revolt against the Phœnician religion…


Why the reform had to originate in Palestine, Garbini does not explain. It originated in Persia.

The whole structure of Exodus/Numbers is set in a large chiasm (a symmetrical entry and return compositional structure) about Exodus 33 where God promises to be with Israel, which stretches from Exodus 14 to Numbers 32. It is a cycle from success through apostasy to covenant to renewed success in which at the centre the covenant is instituted and then the cult. Exodus and Numbers are therefore all one composition.

The legal parts of the Pentateuch start at Exodus 19. Then we have definitions of Torah:
a divine edict: For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Isa 2:3).
a formal judicial decision: According to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do. Thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall shew thee, to the right hand, nor to the left (Dt 17:11).
a sacred atoning ritual: Likewise this is the law of the trespass offering: it is most holy (Lev 7:1).
a priestly instruction: Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Ask now the priests concerning the law (Hag 2:11).


The law demands immediate attention and the faithful obedience of those to whom it was addressed, if prosperity and not disaster is to ensue:
Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee. Turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein. For then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success (Josh 1:7-8).
Yet the Lord testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets (2 Kg 17:13).
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me. Seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children (Hos 4:6).
Set the trumpet to thy mouth. He shall come as an eagle against the house of the Lord, because they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my law (Hos 8:1).


The Torah was promulgated publicly, that everyone might know it, and implemented with the force of any law under the royal auspices of the state:
When all Israel is come to appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law. And that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it (Dt 31:11-13).
Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the manner (Neh 8:18).
And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God, and teach ye them that know them not. And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment (Ezra 7:25-26).


The reason for all this is plain. Who is addressing Ezra in the last of these citations? God? Obviously not. It is the Persian king! He begins, saying (Ezra 7:13), “I make a decree”. The law was imposed upon the Jews by their Persian masters by decree and they were obliged to learn it. As we would still say today: “Ignorance of the law is no defence”.


At the beginning of the nineteenth century, W M L de Wette, following S Jerome long before, identified the laws in Deuteronomy as “the law” and proposed that it was the Book of the Covenant found by Hilkiah in the reign of Josiah (2 Kg 22:3-23:25). The laws mentioned in the Pentateuch were the laws of a settled agrarian society and could not have been formulated by wanderers in transit.

Julius Wellhausen in Prolegomenon told everybody that the law of Moses was introduced as the basis of Judaism—a post-exilic cult—not a millennium before as the basis of a fictional ancient Israel. Deuteronomy 12-26 were laws imposed by the Persians when they deported colonists to Yehud to begin a temple state for financial reasons. One of its main intentions was to centralize authority and worship in Jerusalem, and this not just for the small local population, but for all the “nations” of Abarnahara.

Several references within Deuteronomy itself mention the dispersion among the nations whence the Jews returned, though they are among the parts added by later editors to frame the laws.

And the Lord shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the Lord shall lead you.
Dt 4:27
And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath driven thee.
Dt 30:1
That then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee.
Dt 30:3


The first mention of Moses after the exile in the biblical chronology is in Nehemiah 8 where we find, the “Book of the Law of Moses”, when it was publicly read to the people at the feast of tabernacles. The prayer of the Levites which follows, and is a later composition containing insertions from other books of the Pentateuch, is mainly from Deuteronomy.

Moshe Weinfeld, in Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School (1972), noted that the structure and content of Deuteronomy was of the form of the ancient near eastern vassalage treaties. This is so near the knuckle for professional Jews and Christians that they had to thrash around for an explanation. It was that the royal court of Israel had a school of professional court scribes—sort of proto-Christians, you might say—trained in secular humanism and wisdom, and also vassalage treaties! They promoted Deuteronomy in the time of Josiah as a secular law to counter the influence of the temple cult. Aren’t these “scholars” amazing? Doubtless this might still be heard in certain high school RI classes, but it is manifestly bunkum.

Why, though, should books of law contain a lot of narrative? Was it always thus? It was not. The central, legal, parts of Deuteronomy were the original law, perhaps with some parts now transferred into Exodus and some lost altogether.

The bulk of Deuteronomy is a compilation of laws. A framework based on the departing of the aged Moses has been added, but it does not further the story of the fulfilment of the promise of land. Some scholars think they can detect a Deuteronomic hand at places in the Tetrateuch, though Noth could not see it in Genesis. Rentdorff could see the Deuteronomists in all four Tetrateuchal books. A likely candidate is the “Book of the Covenant” in Exodus 19-24, where Moses should be called Ezra and the whole affair set on Mount Zion where the Persians laid on a show for the gullible Canaanites (Israelites) making sure they were not allowed near to see the preparations and trickery by keeping them at a distance. The introductory review of Moses in Deuteronomy naturally refers back to this spectacle but says it was at Horeb, not Sinai.

The trouble is the usual one of multiple ediing. Douglas Knight tells us frankly that the evidence is overwhelming that the biblical texts are not by any single author but have mostly been reworked by successive editors with “distinctive styles, language, perspective, themes and intentions”. These editors often recast their material and rearranged them according to their own plans. In short, the books have been partly mixed up. Editors could have moved a chunk of Deuteronomy to what they thought they saw as a better place in one of the books they were preparing, and, naturally, these were men who would use the didactic Deuteronomistic style when they wanted to, either simply because it was appropriate in context or to give the passage a gravitas they needed, for Deuteronomy at first was seen as God’s law.

Noth thought that P was restricted to Genesis to Numbers with only a trace in Deuteronomy concerning the death of Moses (Dt 32:48-52;34:1;5;7-9). Noth had his own theory of the Deuteronomic history beginning with Deuteronomy and extending to 2 Kings. In fact, there are additions to Joshua that might be from the Priestly school. The Deuteronomic history, according to Noth, has a distinctive use of language and a distinctive style. The author inserted homiletic speeches by the chief participants at certain points Joshua (Josh 1;23), Samuel (1 Sam 12), and Solomon (1 Kg 8:14ff)), and conjunctive notes in a similar didactic style. The beginning of Deuteronomy, Noth took to be the introduction to the whole work.

Deuteronomy was the original law and also began the Deuteronomistic history, so any added laws had to be added before Deuteronomy, out of necessity and to give the new laws invented by subsequent priests the authority of age, the foundation history obviously having to precede the history culled from the Assyrian annals of the kings. Van Seters saw D as primary, followed by J and then P (DJP), E being an illusion. There seems to have been a genuine conflict over the name of God, so E is perhaps not so illusory, but otherwise, Van Seters is correct, as he often is. Though Hooke tells us that much of P has been shown to be early, it is surely the last layer of legal tradition added.

The promise of land pervades much of the Pentateuch except the Primordial unit, and Rentdorff sees it as being attached to Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy, although it concludes the Pentateuch, its narrative sections do not advance the position of the wandering tribes. They are on the plains of Moab at the end of Numbers and they are still there after Moses’s speeches at the end of Deuteronomy. If the promise of land is to be fulfilled in this unit then Joshua should be added making the Pentateuch into a Hexateuch. Yet, Deuteronomy is the odd book in the Pentateuch and looks as though it should not be there, in which case the Pentateuch is reduced to a Tetrateuch. This classification supports Noth’s idea that Deuteronomy is properly the beginning of the Deuteronomic history, not a part of the Pentateuch really.

This ambiguous quality of Deuteronomy places it at the centre of interpretation of the Jewish scriptures. If biblical history were sound, then Deuteronomy is an anachronism added where it is, because far more detailed laws precede it and it seems strange that an editor should have added the older looking Deuteronomy rather than altering the more refined laws, if necessary. It follows that Deuteronomy was the earliest of these books, in fact, but that it could not be moved because the Deuteronomic history had been written based on it. The other laws and sagas therefore had to be added before it. D Petersen says that the Tetrateuch was written as a prologue to the Deuteronomic history. The order of composition implied is therefore Deuteronomy, DH and then the Tetrateuch.

Rudolf Smend could not see the uniformity of style that Noth saw, and claimed that its unevenness and diversity suggested multiple authors and editors. Smend saw an editor with a particular interest in the law and Walter Dietrich saw one interested in the prophets and whose rhetoric is that of Jeremiah. Both are probably among the interests of the original authors, but later editors are also certain. Many scholars though persist in believing de Wette’s idea that the book found by Hilkiah is Deuteronomy. They cannot accept the subtlety of the biblical authors. Were it not for this clever touch, one wonders whether any such idea could be held. Without it, few scholars would be ready to believe that Deuteronomy made more sense in the seventh century than in the fifth. Engnell seems to have no doubt that its proper date is the fifth century and he points to the exilic references, which he plainly does not accept as making any sense as interpolations. Biblical editors tended to want their compilation to seem older than it was, not younger.

The homiletic or didactic style of Deuteronomy shows it was intended to be read out by the priests to the people on the occasions when they met for service. This was August Klostermann’s view, and Georges Minette de Tillesse pointed out that the singular and plural used in it showed that the message was being redirected from a singular recipient, the High Priest, to the body of the people—all Israel—via the congregation.

The verbal chracteristics and concerns by which the Deuteronomists might be recognized are:
Idols. Following, worshipping foreign gods, burning incense to them, burning or passing a son or daughter through the fire, abomination, and detestable things, used of Canaanite gods and idols.
Central. The site or city that Yehouah will choose, his chosen, and making his name live there.
Captivity. Ransome, house of bondage, the iron furnace, choosing to be a people to him, a strong hand and an outstretched arm.
One God. Know that Yehouah alone is God, in the heaven above and in the earth below, you alone are the God.
Obedience. Following, serving, fearing, loving Yehouah, walking in the way(s) of Yehouah, with all the heart and with all the soul, doing what is right or good in the eyes of Yehouah, doing what is evil in the eyes of Yehouah, turning away or aside, keeping commandments, testimonies, judgements.
The Land. The land which Yehouah, your God, is giving you as an inheritance, dispossessing nations, the good land or ground, being strong and resolute.
Reward. Prolonging days in order that Yehouah may bless you, living (prosperously) or (prosperous) life, was incensed, destroying, punishing, putting to an end, uprooting.
Fulfilment. Establishing the word of Yehouah, as at this day, behold I will bring evil upon.
David. For the sake of David, my (his) servant, doing that which is right as David… or not as David…
Rhetoric. Hear O Israel, pouring, laying upon, filling with innocent blood, know therefore.


Of course, it stands to reason that later editors or even writers could have used the same ringing phrases, so they cannot be used mechanically to distinguish different hands, but where they are not used the tradition is likely to be independent—either from elsewhere or an earlier period. Job and Proverbs are plainly quite independent works in the bible, showing almost nothing in common with the rest of the books. The Deuteronomic editors assume Jerusalem is the centre of the cult, but Deuteronomy is just establishing it. Thus there is no Zion philosophy in Deuteronomy, no reference to the Holiness code, no mention of David, and little else attributable to P. It precedes them. Some scholars see a lot in common with the prophets. It is because they were close contemporaries and had a similar purpose—achieving Persian foreign policy in Yehud. The only doubtful bits of later editorial in Deuteronomy are in the topping and tailing. So the earliest Deuteronomistic editors follow Deuteronomy by some time, probably several decades at least. The last editors were probably centuries later.

The importance of the Deuteronomic history to the religions of the Jews and Christians is expressed honestly by Douglas Knight:

If one removed DtrH as a source, our history of Israel from 1200 to 550 BC would be so sparse as to be unrecognizable—and probably unusable for modern religious, moral or other ideological ends as well.


John Van Seters examined all the historical traditions of the ANE and disputed the idea that any extended histories or collections of shorter historical works could have preceded the Persian period. All that existed then, were folk tales and lists of chronicles, kings and administrators. Earlier Professor E Voguelin had written:

The concern for the past as the paradigmatic record of God’s way with men, extending over a period of more than 1000 years could hardly translate itself into practice without a considerable apparatus of both personnel and material installations, for preserving this enormous body of traditions not only mechanically but with the necessary intelligence and erudition.
(Israel and Revelation 1956)


Much bigger countries like Assyria could not provide this intelligent apparatus, it seems, but a tiny country of 60,000 shepherds could. Doubtless it is another one of God’s miracles, but Voguelin is really saying it is impossible. The Deuteronomic History must have stood out as the equal of Herodotus and Thucidydes, but supposedly preceded them by hundreds of years! It is certainly later than Herodotus even in its inception, and much of it was written by Hellenistic writers.

Giovanni Garbini has observed on the peculiar absence of monumental inscriptions in the hill country of Palestine. He thinks all early monuments were destroyed by people with a vested interest in preserving the mythical history of the bible. The Maccabees might have been the most likely candidates. What is interesting though is that Jews and Christians have conspired ever since in this one endeavour—to disguise the true history of the Levant. Now scarcely anything remains written from any of it, even Phœnicia—and Phœnicans were not illiterate. The history of the Persian empire and the pre-history of Iran is almost blank by comparison with Egypt where Moses is supposed to have come from. Was there a rush to find out about Persia when Spinoza made his discovery? As we saw, the book was blacklisted. And we are taught that Stalin re-wrote history… as a student priest, he was doubtless taught how to do it properly.

Copying Herodotus?

Jan-Wim Wesselius of Amsterdam thinks the structure of the history of Israel from the patriarch Abraham to the arrival in Canaan and the conquest of it in the book of Joshua, derives from the Histories of Herodotus of Halicarnassus. The parallel is not merely literary but in the framework of the narrative. The genealogy of the family of the patriarchs matches that of the Persian royal family in Herodotus, especially in connexion with their contacts with the land where the great campaign of both works starts, Lydia in the Histories and Egypt in the Bible.

Application of the Histories’ narrative framework, for Xerxes’s campaign against Greece, to Israel campaigning to enter Canaan, automatically leads to an account like the Bible’s. For Israel to get to Canaan in a great campaign from another continent, Egypt was the only starting place. The reason why the Israelites were in Egypt then needed explaining.

The basis of this is found in the Histories in the early life of Cyrus the Great, Xerxes’s grandfather through his mother Atossa—the two dreams describing his future power, the family members wanting to kill him, his being hidden from them for a number of years, the fulfilment of the dreams as a result of the actions meant for preventing it, and his attaining power over Lydia, the land where the great campaign is to start in the time of his grandson. The contact of Joseph’s great-grandfather Abram with Egypt in Genesis 12 quite naturally derives from the contact of Cyaxares, Cyrus’ great-grandfather, with the Lydians. Joseph is Cyrus. The episodes of Exodus, journey through the Wilderness and Conquest issue autonomously from this literary dependence, and are non-historical. The Exodus as recounted in the Bible is most likely a literary-religious fiction.

The derivation of the structure of one work from another one is a well-attested literary phenomenon, the classic example being Virgil’s Aeneid and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. The first half of the Aeneid reflects the Odyssey, the second part the Iliad. Within the Jewish scriptures, the structural similarity between Nehemiah, Ezra and Daniel is notable.

It is incredible, as Wesselius says himself, that nobody has accepted the literary link even though scholars have noted that the theme of both works is the same—a tremendous campaign of millions to conquer a rich and fruitful land on another continent, starting with the crossing of the water between the two continents as if on dry land. Mandell and Freedman, Whybray and Van Seters, and recently Flemming Nielsen, found many agreements between Herodotus and the History of the Patriarchs, Exodus and Conquest, but all have been blind to a direct literary dependence.

J Blenkinsopp, The Pentateuch. An Introduction to the First Five Books of the Bible (1992) knew of the link, but pooh-poohed it on the grounds that the description of military events leading to the decisive defeat of Xerxes occupies three of the nine books of the Histories, but nothing like it is found in the Pentateuch. It is a case often used by apologists that what is not exactly matching is not matching at all. Wesselius has shown that the scriptural History of the Patriarchs, Exodus and Conquest reflects the Histories, like a mirror. Both have the structure:

  1. Origins.
  2. Ordinary history.
  3. Great campaign.


The importance of this is that the date of this part of the Pentateuch must be after 445 BC, the earliest possible year of the Histories, but before most of the Jewish scriptures suddenly emerged around 250 BC. It suggests the bible was composed between late Persian and early Hellenistic times. Wesselius highlights the Passover Letter, from Elephantine of 419 BC, requiring the Jewish community there to celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread. He links the letter with Nehemiah because its author Hananiah could be Nehemiah’s brother Hanani (Neh 1:2 and 7:2). If the letter signifies the same reforms being introduced by the Persians via Ezra and Nehemiah in Yehud, the History of the Patriarchs, Exodus and Conquest will have been published about 420 BC to accompany the changes being introduced. A later rewriting using Herodotus in the time of the Ptolemies nevertheless seems more likely.

The festival of Passover is older than the writing of the Pentateuch. It is mentioned, B Porten and A Yardeni note in Textbook of Aramaic Documents from Ancient Egypt 4: Ostraca and Assorted Inscriptions, on what are probably early fifth-century ostraca from Elephantine, but it was probably the earlier seasonal or fertility festival, not the one associated with the Exodus. Its association with a liberation from Egypt (not necessarily an exodus) will have been in these Persian times, and explanation of the right way to celebrate the new form of Passover would be expected when the change was being introduced, but association with an exodus must be more recent. The Canaanites must have been in the habit of sacrificing their first born sons on the day of Passover. The original Passover story, which preceded any notion of the Israelites being Egyptian refugees, included this custom of killing the first born. When the exodus story was devised, the sacrificial victims were made into Egyptians rather than Israelites to remove an embarassment, and the aborted sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, with the substitute of a ram was anachronistically inserted to signify the earlier end of it. The original custom might still have been remembered by some at the time of the Passion of Jesus, the first born son(!) of God, influencing how it was recorded, even though it was simply a judicial murder.

Wesselius believes that many of the apparent contradictions in the Deuteronomistic History are deliberate, a literary device. The author deliberately indicated uncertainty about vital episodes such as the early history of mankind and of the world, the entire complex of Exodus, Wilderness journey and Conquest, and events during the early monarchy in Israel, by means of giving alternative versions, different accounts of certain passages, the different names used for God, and so on, and ultimately causing a collapse of the narrative.

Such devices might offer a sort of reconciliation of two viewpoints, or deliberately create ambiguity when otherwise two views would be in conflict or one would have to be discarded, to avoid non-acceptance or external conflict. Especially when the conflict is resolved by collapsing the story, it is meant to show the story is not historical but mythology. The absence of such collapsing of the narrative in the history of the two kingdoms suggests the author saw it as more historical.

The Samaritans, as the Israelites, were the main target of the Deuteronomist and they must have rejected the Deuteronomistic History at some later stage.


E Theodore Mullen, Jr in Narrative History and Ethnic Boundaries (1993), sees the Deuteronomistic History as phony. The Deuteronomistic History is an ethnomythography—an idealized past for the formation and maintenance of a distinct ethnic identity in the present. He thinks a literate elite in Babylon imagined a new community and gave it a history via ancient and invented traditions c 550 BC. In this he was correct, but he was wrong to think Jews conceived of it—it was the Persians—and he was about 100 years too early.

Ethnic identity dominates and shapes the Pentateuch. In a second book, Ethnic Myths and Pentateuchal Foundations: A New Approach to the Formation of the Pentateuch (1997), Mullen says the Pentateuch was written for an audience of contending groups to unify Israelite ethnic identity. Mullen argues Genesis to Numbers was composed in the Persian period as a prologue to the previously composed Deuteronomistic History. Mullen is seeing clearly, but not clearly enough.

F V Greifenhagen in a paper in JRS also observes that much of the Hebrew Bible, including the Pentateuch, serves to establish a particular Israelite ethnic identity, based on a mythology of common origins and kinship. Ethnicity is most important on the margin of states. The best time for the elaboration of Israelite ethnicity would have been during one of the Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, and Persian empires. A phony ethnicity will project an ideal norm that will not necessarily coincide with society. Ethnic boundaries are often rigidly defined circumscribing contact with those considered “others”, but, in reality, movement across, or deviation from, these boundaries often occurs.

The scriptures plainly try to separate the Canaanites from the incomers, the Israelites, but there is also a tension between the Israelites and the Egyptians. Egypt is the important ethnic “other” in the Pentateuch, being mentioned in it 376 times against 96 references to Canaanites.

The Pentateuch promotes a narrative that places Israel’s origins in Mesopotamia, and the sojourn in Egypt is only temporary. This ethnomyth competes with an Egyptian origin tradition for Israel. Elsewhere, the Hebrew Bible seems to know only an origin tradition beginning in Egypt (Amos, Ezekiel 20, and Psalms 78, 106, and 136), as does some of the oldest accounts of Jewish origins in Greek literature.

The narratives of Joseph and Moses on their own could stand as testimonies to Egyptian Israelite heroes, but are linked in the Pentateuch to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, making Israel’s time in Egypt a detour rather than a point of origin. This is an editorial device for the two different narratives of biblical Israel’s origin, with the story of Joseph as a link.

The Pentateuch integrates two conflicting origin traditions by subordinating one to the other. The covenantal prophetic model of Exodus to Deuteronomy (and also the Deuteronomistic History), with its Mosaic myth of Israelite origins beginning in Egypt, is made to fit within the genealogical model of Genesis, with its patriarchal myth of Israelite origins in Mesopotamia.

The Pentateuch constructs a strong sense of discontinuity between Israel and Egypt by insisting that Israel, to be truly Israel, must be purged of all things Egyptian. The plundering motif (Ex 3:21-22; 11:2-3; 12:35-36) could be an attempt to fit the positive image of Egypt as a place of enrichment into the more negative frame of the need to separate from Egypt. The Egyptian Hagar and her son are rejected from the lineage of Israel (Gen 16, 21), the Israelites are persuaded to leave Egypt (Ex 1-14), the blaspheming half-Egyptian son (Lev 24:10-23) is stoned, and finally the entire Egyptian-born generation, including Moses, must die in the wilderness and only an entirely new generation, untouched by Egypt, can inherit the promised land (Num 14). Egypt, in much of the Pentateuch, is treated negatively.

Yet the Pentateuch also shows Egypt positively as a place of refuge, of plenty, and of enrichment—an alluring and attractive place—especially in the Joseph story where Israel leaves the famine-ridden territory of the Canaan to enter an Egypt that promises survival and prosperity. The motif of rebellion in the wilderness (Ex 16, 17; Num 11, 14, 16, 20) recognizes Egypt as a pleasant place, while suggesting such a thought was a rebellion against the divine. Are the Israelites different from Egyptians? By insisting that Egypt and Israel are distinct, the Pentateuch implies that some people needed to be convinced of it. It seems that many Israelites considered themselves Egyptian or closely linked to Egypt. In the Persian period, the obvious aim was to dissociate Israel from any positive leanings towards Egypt so as to encourage loyalty to Persia instead. The mixed perspective could be intended to assuage a pro-Egyptian element in the population while leaving an overall negative impression. If it were omitted the Egyptian faction would have been thoroughly alienated.

Contradictions spring from these ambiguities. Laws that speak of Israel as native to the land conflict with the tradition of Israel’s origins elsewhere, and laws that speak of Israel as a sojourner in Egypt conflict with Israel’s experience of slavery in Egypt. A rejection of Egypt cannot sit comfortably with an origin in Egypt.

The anti-Egyptian propaganda is best explained from a Persian perspective. The Persian empire’s troubles in Egypt during this period, the location of Yehud between the empire and Egypt, and the presence of Judeans in Egypt, explain the Pentateuch’s anti-Egyptian rhetoric. There were Judeans favourable to Egypt, and potentially subversive of the Persian backers of the colonists in Yehud. Canaan had been under Egyptian control or influence for most of its history. The original Pentateuch written in the Persian period sought to denigrate the Egyptians by emphasising the slavery they subjected the Israelites to. The Ptolemies, who were faced with the results of this propaganda in what was again an Egyptian subsidiary state, added a more favourable impression of Egypt than the Persians had left in their version of the Pentateuch, and the Maccabees, whose allies the Egyptians were against the Syrians, will have tended to add additional elements favourable to Egypt.

The Priestly Books

Moses was a misunderstanding of the Persian name for God, whose name was attached to the sacred law of the Jews. About this time, when Joseph was added, the idea of explaining the name Moses arose. At first he was depicted as a Jewish leader who had received the covenant at Sinai or Horeb—in short as a retrogressed Ezra. This story too was then elaborated into a massive saga, but now the Egyptians are again the enemy! The Ptolemies wrote the Moses saga too, but it seems strange that the Pharoah should be depicted so badly if the story was sponsored by an Egyptian king. It will have been rewritten in the time of the Seleucids whose enemy was the Ptolemies of Egypt.

The Seleucid or northern Greek kings took control of Palestine about 200 BC and apparently sponsored the elaboration of the story of Moses. Exodus and Numbers are therefore early second century BC. The Wisdom of Ben Sira, accurately dated to about 180 BC does not mention Moses. Though he was by then surely accepted as the great lawgiver of the Jews, his dramatic biography had not yet been written.

The great book of priestly laws called Leviticus was most likely written under the sponsorship of the Ptolemies when they were adding the Septuagint to the library of Alexandria. The aim of the priests was to maximize their income because they had been essentially treasurers and taxation officials of the Persian empire. When the empire fell however, they had the chance to raise money for themselves exclusively. Sacrifice might well have been a way that the temple was intended to raise money under the Persians, but certain passages contradict the idea that Yehouah wanted sacrifices made to him (Isa 1:11; Ps 51:16; Jer 6:20; and Amos 5:22). These express the later ideas of the Essenes, signifying a second or first century date.

The priests who set down the laws in Leviticus, provided for fields not to be fully reaped (Lev 19:9-10). They did not want to waste their wealth on welfare handouts and so made sure the cost came from the farmer. A corner was to be left, for the poor to pick so that they would not starve. It seems a humane act on the part of the priests of Yehouah, but it is curious that it also justifies the continuation of an ancient custom to mollify the corn-deity. The spirit of the corn fled before the reapers with their flashing scythes until it was trapped in the last corner. To avoid angering the spirit unnecessarily, the last corner was therefore left as a refuge for the spirit. So, the law in Leviticus merely condoned and gave a justification for an ancient practice.

Christians often claim that the Jewish scriptures were translated into Greek as the Greek Septuagint by 280 BC. The books of the Pentateuch, in the form they were in at the time, perhaps were but the rest of the biblical books were translated later, the whole process extending from c 250 to about the time of Herod. The documents found at Qumran show that the Old Testament was still being edited, and even written, in the times of the New Testament.






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