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The books of Moses revisited

April 2012 | by Kevin Bidwell

The books of Moses revisited
Paul Lawrence
Wipf & Stock, 172 pages, ISBN: 978-1-61097-417-2

This book challenges an entrenched, liberal academic theory called the ‘documentary hypothesis’ (or ‘JEDP hypothesis’) that rejects the idea that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch.
    Since the eighteenth century, its proponents have suggested a combination of various sources and authors for the first five books of the Bible, and maintained that an editor (redactor) put it all together, during the first millennium BC.
    These claims cannot be ignored by evangelicals. They are contrary to the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul and Peter (Mark 7:10; Acts 3:22-23; and 1 Corinthians 9:9). Furthermore, historical sources such as the Apocrypha, Mishna and writings of Flavius Josephus (AD 37/38 – c.100) agree that Moses wrote these canonical books (pp. 7-12). The issue relates to the authority, inerrancy and reliability of Scripture.
    Paul Lawrence contends that Moses wrote the Pentateuch in the ‘second half of the second millennium BC’ (pp. xv, 17). His book offers nine chapters of fruitful engagement on the historical background of the Old Testament Scriptures.
    Serious-minded Christians should be prepared to think this through, since their love of ‘all scripture’ (2 Timothy 3:16-17) will give eager attention to the Old Testament as well as New. In doing so, their confidence in God’s Word will be strengthened and ability to defend the inspiration of Scripture buttressed.
    The book’s opening chapter maps out its direction. Chapter 2 focuses on ‘The world of Moses’ and chapter 3 zooms in upon ‘Genesis’. Those readers interested in covenant theology will particularly enjoy chapter 4, which handles the patterns in the biblical covenant documents lying at the heart of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
    The author observes that late second millennium Hittite treaties and the Pentateuchal covenants have a common treaty format peculiar to that time period. This negates the idea of first millennium composition, espoused by JEDP hypothesis proponents (pp. 63-64).
    Chapter 5 is the most technical. Here Lawrence spells out the details of these Near Eastern treaties. Thankfully, there is a chapter conclusion that helpfully summarises the matter (pp. 93-94).
    According to Lawrence’s final chapter, ‘there is no compelling reason to reject the traditional view that Moses was the “author” of the Pentateuch’ (p.123). He helpfully asserts that, ‘nothing in ancient literature resembles the “documentary hypothesis” ‘, and that ‘simplicity is a sign of truth’. The latter cannot be said of JEDP studies, however (p.124).
    Some conservative Old Testament scholars may differ with Lawrence’s precise dating to the late second millennium, but this is not the main thrust of his book.
    The question remains: ‘Who was the author of the first five books of the Bible?’ The title of this monograph declares that it was Moses, and to this conclusion all biblical evangelicals should agree.
Kevin Bidwell

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