Different Perspectives on the Authorship of the Torah

Literary, historical, and theological perspectives on whether the Torah is divine, human, or something in between

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An intriguing approach expounded by the contemporary scholar David Halivni is that God indeed revealed a complete Torah to the people, but Israel sinned. Immediately upon receiving the Torah, the Israelites fell into the idolatry of the golden calf, and not until the return from the Babylonian exile under Ezra did Israel re-affirm its commitment to God. From Moses to Ezra, the Torah was preserved in a fragmentary state, but under Ezra, revelation was restored. The Torah that Ezra restored, however, has all of the signs of imperfection and human composition that the critics have identified, but the Torah is nonetheless the best restoration possible. Halivni's solution acknowledges the arguments of the critics, while affirming a faith in God's revelation of real objective content to the people of Israel.

Of course, there doubtless are relationships between these different beliefs; theology influenced the early biblical critics who influenced the historians who influenced later theologians; traditionalist explanations have been sharpened to respond to the claims of the critics. Nevertheless, it is clear that the discussion of how one understands the origins and authorship of the Torah is a conversation that needs to be engaged at least through the various dimensions discussed here.

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Jeffrey Spitzer is Chair of the Department of Talmud and Rabbinics at Gann Academy, The New Jewish High School, Waltham, Mass., and a member of the Institute's Tichon Fellows Program.