If Deuteronomy was the first book we know of, when and how was the rest of the Torah written? Does it have older components in it?

Here is some thinking about the dating of the Torah.

Documentary Hypothesis: First, a bit about the documentary hypothesis, which is the earliest and best-known theory of authorship (besides the Moses authorship theory). Dating from the 18th and 19th century, the hypothesis argues that the Torah was written by four authors: The E author and the J author (northern and southern authors from the monarchic period), the D author who wrote Deuteronomy, and the P author (someone in the 5th or 4th c. BCE much like Ezra), who wrote Leviticus and many other parts of the Torah. Authors called redactors wove these versions of the bible together during and after the Babylonian exile and may have been linked to P. Evidence for this hypothesis includes doublets (repeated versions of the same story), different place names, different names for God, and different preoccupations. To see the Flood story broken down by author, visit this link: https://www.livius.org/articles/misc/great-flood/flood1-t-bible_2/

Revisions to the Documentary Hypothesis: Modern scholars mostly believe that the Torah in its final form dates from the period of Ezra and was composed in exile by a priest of scribe. They accept that multiple fragments from the north and south are revised and incorporated into the bible, but they argue that the bible existed in multiple small fragments impossible to identify and shaped and reshaped by many, many hands. If there was a J, J would probably be much later, as many scholars doubt the south had a monarchic period like the one the bible mentions (but…what about David? I know. It’s a controversy). But a large number break down the Torah authorship into two groups: “P” (a person or school probably associated with Ezra) and “not P” or everything else. Even here the lines are blurred, since “P” probably shaped so much of the material not written by “P.” For example, does am Aramaic loan-word mean that something was written post exile, or does it just mean it was revised during that time? We have virtually no biblical materials before the first century, so it’s not like we can examine manuscripts.

Note: there are plenty more camps, but this is a broad outline. Richard Elliott Friedman still defends the four-author theory, and we’ll be studying his work later on.

Here are some thoughts on dates of some components of the Torah:

  1. Earliest: Core laws in Deuteronomy dealing with centralization of worship, monotheism, limits on kingship, and the single temple in Jerusalem. These date from Josiah’s reign at the latest and from the northern court at the earliest. Probably used to frame the histories of Joshua – Kings, which were heavily redacted during the exile. 
  2. Pre-exile: Early fragments of Genesis and Exodus also date from the north, pre-exile (binding of Isaac, God-off between Yahweh and Pharaoh, wife-sister stories, etc.) The song of Miriam may be very old.
  3. Post-exile: Curses and prohibitions from Deuteronomy 28: post exile. Mosaic frame also.
  4. Impossible to date: Other commandments, folklore, and prehistoric laws probably brought to exile by priests and scribes and incorporated into narrative in Babylon or composed there (flood story, for instance, may use a Babylonian source or something much older). Some argue the whole Exodus narrative comes from a Levite group that lived in Egypt. It is violent and intolerant of foreigners. Others say it’s a folklore cycle with many sources, some Egyptian, some even older. The Genesis story, for the most part, tells an origin story of peaceful coexistence with the Canaanites. Note that these are impossible to date because they are revised, reshaped, translated, and recopied at many stages. 
  5. Latest: Leviticus, parts of Numbers, Genesis 1, and priestly fragments of Torah: time of Nehemiah. Genesis 1 uses the Babylonian lunar week to describe creation, and it seems to be a revision of the Babylonian creation story Enuma Elish. 

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