Who are the people who wrote the bible, and what was their authority?

The answer to your question is huge and mostly unanswerable, but I will say we will be talking about THEORIES of authorship all the way through the class. The short answer to part one of your question, who wrote the bible, is that we don’t know for sure, except in two cases:

  • Prophecies: Ezekiel seems to have dictated and dated his prophecies in his own lifetime. We even know the name of his scribe, Baruch. We don’t know who wrote down the other prophets’ work, but in most cases they worked with collections of material (Isaiah, for example, was a school of prophets, and Isaiah’s prophecies span several centuries). Jeremiah’s prophecies seem close to the Babylonian exile, but we don’t know how they got recorded. 
  • Paul wrote most of the letters attributed to him and definitely had a scribe who wrote them down. In Romans he mentions a scribe named Tertius. We also know Paul could write, as occasionally he will add a personal note: “Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you” (Colossians). Paul never met Jesus, and he wasn’t too interested in Jesus’s teaching. 
  • We can speculate about the gospel authors:
    • The author of Matthew was Jewish and addressed a Jewish audience.  He used Mark’s gospel as a source. 
    • The author of Mark addressed an audience that didn’t know Aramaic. He did, however.
    • The author of Luke addressed a Roman, non-Jewish audience. He also used Mark’s gospel as a source. He was pretty well educated. 
    • The author of John knew a lot about Plato or Jewish Platonism. 
    • None of the gospel authors had read Paul’s letters, though the author of Luke knew a lot about Paul. 
  • Most of the rest is silence. We don’t really know who wrote any of the gospels or Revelation or anything else (besides Ezekiel) in the Hebrew bible.
  • Now here are a couple of theories about Torah authorship:
    1. Moses wrote it.  The bible suggests that Moses wrote down his thoughts in Deuteronomy, but that’s more a matter of faith. The earliest texts we have of most Hebrew bible works are from the 1st century CE—Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered in 1947. Before that, our earliest texts came from the middle ages. In other words, we don’t have ancient texts to examine for linguistic or paleographic (handwriting) or other forensic evidence. We just have copies of copies.
    2. If not Moses, then who? We don’t know that either. A popular theory we’ll learn about is the documentary hypothesis or four-author theory, which attributes most of the Torah to four authors whose works were woven together by some redactors or editors. I’ll suggest to you that this redaction was probably done by a priest much like Ezra or Nehemiah. Such a person or persons wrote lots of priestly sections of the Torah, including much of Leviticus.
    3. Other scholars think that the four-author theory of the Torah is a bit simplistic, instead arguing that the bible is full of smaller fragments that were reworked and incorporated into larger and larger narratives, and that so many hands were on them that we’ll never know what was original to which period.

As for the rest of the bible, well, we don’t know that either. But:

  • Some argue that the historical books from Joshua through Kings were either written or revised by the same person(s) who wrote (or revised) Deuteronomy OR by people who shared its theories of why bad things happen.
  • Many books in the bible seem to have been revised, reshaped, updated over time. That makes it hard to get a really good handle on who wrote them.
  • The people who hypothetically did rework the Hebrew bible were certainly priests with priestly authority. Who gave them that authority is a matter of faith, I think.

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