The Old Testament: How was it compiled?

· Judaism

Surely, We sent down the Torah wherein was guidance and light. By it did the Prophets, who were obedient to Us, judge for the Jews, as did the godly people and those learned in the Law; for they were required to preserve the Book of Allah, and because they were guardians over it. (Al Quran 5:45)

The Holy Quran says about itself and Torah:

And before it there was the Book of Moses, a guide and a mercy; and this is a Book in the Arabic language fulfilling previous prophecies, that it may warn those who do wrong; and as glad tidings to those who do good. (Al Quran 46:13)


We gave Moses and Aaron the Discrimination and a Light and a Reminder for the righteous, those who fear their Lord in secret, and who dread the Hour of Judgment. (Al Quran 21:49-50)

On a critical note, the Holy Quran says:

Woe, therefore, to those who write the Book with their own hands, and then say: ‘This is from Allah,’ that they may take for it a paltry price. Woe, then, to them for what their hands have written, and woe to them for what they earn.  (Al Quran 2:80)

This verse of the Holy Quran is precisely confirmed when we read how in the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint), 14-15 books were added, on top of the books in the Hebrew Bible, from a period when there were no Jewish Prophets.  Please see my article about Septuagint for further details.

The Holy Qur’an affirms the truth of all the previous Revelations, which include those given to Moses and Jesus. However, the Qur’an also points out that all the previous Books were sent for specific nations and times. As those Books were not final and universal, they were not provided the special protection against interpolations, as was granted to the Holy Qur’an, which was revealed as the final Guidance for all peoples and times.

The Christian and Jewish scholars today are confirming what the Holy Quran had claimed about the Bible, 14 centuries ago that there are interpolations in it. Some of the evidence is examined in the companion article Banned from the Bible.  An example of the Quranic claim about interpolation:

Woe, therefore, to those who write the Book with their own hands, and then say: ‘This is from Allah,’ that they may take for it a paltry price. Woe, then, to them for what their hands have written, and woe to them for what they earn.  (Al Quran 2:80)

The Qur’an claims to be the culmination of all the previous Revelations, and contains the fundamental teachings of all the previous Prophets and Scriptures. To read details of what the Holy Quran has to say about the Bible go to:
However, over time the text of the Old Testament underwent interpolations and changes.  The ‘Documentary Hypothesis‘ is the proposal, developing in recent centuries that the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, known collectively as the Torah or Pentateuch) represent a combination of documents from originally independent sources. There was evidence that the Five Books of Moses had been composed by combining four different source documents into one continuous history.According to Wikipedia, “Most contemporary Bible experts accept some form of the documentary hypothesis.” In the words of Richard Elliot Friedman, in the introductory section of his book Who wrote the Bible, “Until the past generation there were orthodox Christian and Jewish scholars who contested the Documentary Hypothesis in scholarly circles. At present, however, there is hardly a biblical scholar in the world actively working on the problem who would claim that the Five Books of Moses were written by Moses—or by any one person.”
Prior to the 17th century both Jews and Christians accepted the traditional view that Moses had written down the Torah under the direct inspiration—even dictation—of God. A few rabbis and philosophers asked how Moses could have described his own death, or given a list of the kings of Edom before those kings ever lived, but none doubted the truth of the tradition, for the purpose of scholarship “was to underline the antiquity and authority of the teaching in the Pentateuch, not to demonstrate who wrote the books.”The Documentary Hypothesis became known in English-speaking countries in large part because of the work of William Robertson Smith, a professor of Old Testament in the Free Church of Scotland College at Aberdeen and editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica. He was put on trial before the church. Though he was cleared of the charge of heresy, he was expelled from his chair. Also in the nineteenth century, in South Africa, John Colenso, an Anglican bishop, published similar conclusions, and within twenty years three hundred responses were written. He was called ‘the wicked bishop.’ Several scholars have been working on the ‘Documentary Hypothesis’ in recent decades.Now let me share with you, what could be possibly considered as confessions from His Holiness Pope Pius XII. In the middle of the twentieth century all these findings were bearing on the clergy of the Holy Christendom. So His Holiness Pope Pius XII mustered courage to address these issues. He issued an Encyclical Letter on the Promotion of Biblical Studies on September 30, 1943, he called it, ‘Divino Afflante Spiritu.’ The whole text can be reviewed on the web. It starts of, Inspired by the Divine Spirit, the Sacred Writers composed those books, which God, in His paternal charity towards the human race, deigned to bestow on them in order ‘to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice: that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.’ It has 63 numbered paragraphs. We will quote the paragraphs relevant to our discussion here. Paragraph 35 is a subtle confession of the fact that the Bible is after all not the literal or the inerrant word of God:“What is the literal sense of a passage is not always as obvious in the speeches and writings of the ancient authors of the East, as it is in the works of our own time. For what they wished to express is not to be determined by the rules of grammar and philology alone, nor solely by the context; the interpreter must, as it were, go back wholly in spirit to those remote centuries of the East and with the aid of history, archaeology, ethnology, and other sciences, accurately determine what modes of writing, so to speak, the authors of that ancient period would be likely to use, and in fact did use.”

Paragraph 33 suggests that he is going to have his cake and eat it too. By speaking subtle and non-specific language he is creating an air as if the new tools to study the Bible are only a friend of the believers in the Bible and pretending as if these new findings do not take away anything substantial from the Christian believes or dogmas. Here is how he proposes to ignore the elephant in the room:

“As in our age, indeed new questions and new difficulties are multiplied, so, by God’s favor, new means and aids to exegesis are also provided. Among these it is worthy of special mention that Catholic theologians, following the teaching of the Holy Fathers and especially of the Angelic and Common Doctor, have examined and explained the nature and effects of biblical inspiration more exactly and more fully than was wont to be done in previous ages. For having begun by expounding minutely the principle that the inspired writer, in composing the sacred book, is the living and reasonable instrument of the Holy Spirit, they rightly observe that, impelled by the divine motion, he so uses his faculties and powers, that from the book composed by him all may easily infer ‘the special character of each one and, as it were, his personal traits.’ Let the interpreter then, with all care and without neglecting any light derived from recent research, endeavor to determine the peculiar character and circumstances of the sacred writer, the age in which he lived, the sources written or oral to which he had recourse and the forms of expression he employed.”

Paragraph number 38 reveals that by being vague, in some fashion he is still going to insist on Bible’s immunity from errors:

“Hence the Catholic commentator, in order to comply with the present needs of biblical studies, in explaining the Sacred Scripture and in demonstrating and proving its immunity from all error, should also make a prudent use of this means, determine, that is, to what extent the manner of expression or the literary mode adopted by the sacred writer may lead to a correct and genuine interpretation; and let him be convinced that this part of his office cannot be neglected without serious detriment to Catholic exegesis. Not infrequently–to mention only one instance–when some persons reproachfully charge the Sacred Writers with some historical error or inaccuracy in the recording of facts, on closer examination it turns out to be nothing else than those customary modes of expression and narration peculiar to the ancients, which used to be employed in the mutual dealings of social life and which in fact were sanctioned by common usage.”

In paragraph 36 he is accepting of the limitation of the human endeavors:

“For the ancient peoples of the East, in order to express their ideas, did not always employ those forms or kinds of speech which we use today; but rather those used by the men of their times and countries. What those exactly were the commentator cannot determine as it were in advance, but only after a careful examination of the ancient literature of the East. The investigation, carried out, on this point, during the past forty or fifty years with greater care and diligence than ever before, has more clearly shown what forms of expression were used in those far off times, whether in poetic description or in the formulation of laws and rules of life or in recording the facts and events of history. The same inquiry has also shown the special preeminence of the people of Israel among all the other ancient nations of the East in their mode of compiling history, both by reason of its antiquity and by reasons of the faithful record of the events; qualities which may well be attributed to the gift of divine inspiration and to the peculiar religious purpose of biblical history.”

In paragraph 39, it seems that he proposes to bank on the faculty of faith of the Christians that can choose to shy away from reason whenever occasion demands. In this paragraph he suitably mixes human effort with mention of Divine so that the believers can continue to believe in Bible as Divine work:

“When then such modes of expression are met within the sacred text, which, being meant for men, is couched in human language, justice demands that they be no more taxed with error than when they occur in the ordinary intercourse of daily life. By this knowledge and exact appreciation of the modes of speaking and writing in use among the ancients can be solved many difficulties, which are raised against the veracity and historical value of the Divine Scriptures, and no less efficaciously does this study contribute to a fuller and more luminous understanding of the mind of the Sacred Writer.”

This is how His Holiness Pope Pius XII aims at explaining away or at least hiding the ‘Documentary Hypothesis’ from his followers.

The following table I have copied from Wikipedia.  It describes different books in different versions of the Old Testament:
(Jewish Bible)
Protestant Old Testament Catholic Old Testament Eastern Orthodox Old Testament Original Language
Torah or Instruction
Pentateuch or Five Books
Bereishit (In the beginning) Genesis Genesis Genesis Hebrew
Shemot (Names) Exodus Exodus Exodus Hebrew
Vayikra (And He called) Leviticus Leviticus Leviticus Hebrew
Bamidbar (In the wilderness) Numbers Numbers Numbers Hebrew
Devarim (Words) Deuteronomy Deuteronomy Deuteronomy Hebrew
Nevi’im or Prophets
Historical books
Joshua Joshua Joshua Joshua Hebrew
Judges Judges Judges Judges Hebrew
see below Ruth Ruth Ruth Hebrew
Samuel 1 Samuel 1 Kings 1 Samuel (1 Kingdoms)[2] Hebrew
2 Samuel 2 Kings 2 Samuel (2 Kingdoms)[2] Hebrew
Kings 1 Kings 3 Kings 1 Kings (3 Kingdoms)[2] Hebrew
2 Kings 4 Kings 2 Kings (4 Kingdoms)[2] Hebrew
see below
1 Chronicles 1 Paralipomenon 1 Chronicles Hebrew
2 Chronicles 2 Paralipomenon 2 Chronicles Hebrew
1 Esdras Greek (or Aramaic?)
Ezra (includes Nehemiah)
see below
Ezra 1 Esdras Ezra (2 Esdras)[2] [3] Hebrew(+Aramaic)
Nehemiah 2 Esdras (Nehemias) Nehemiah (2 Esdras)[2] [3] Hebrew
Tobias Tobit Aramaic
Judith Judith Hebrew
see below Esther Esther[4] Esther[4] Hebrew
1 Machabees[5] 1 Maccabees Hebrew or Aramaic?
2 Machabees[5] 2 Maccabees Greek
3 Maccabees Greek
4 Maccabees Greek
Wisdom books
see below Job Job Job Hebrew
see below Psalms Psalms Psalms[6] Hebrew
Odes[7] Hebrew(+Greek)
see below Proverbs Proverbs Proverbs Hebrew
see below Ecclesiastes Ecclesiastes Ecclesiastes Hebrew
see below Song of Solomon Canticle of Canticles Song of Solomon Hebrew
Wisdom Wisdom Greek
Ecclesiasticus Sirach Hebrew, then translated into Greek
Major prophets
Isaiah Isaiah Isaias Isaiah Hebrew
Jeremiah Jeremiah Jeremias Jeremiah Hebrew(+Aramaic)
see below Lamentations Lamentations Lamentations Hebrew
Baruch[8] Baruch[8] Hebrew [9]
Letter of Jeremiah[10] Greek (or Hebrew?)[11]
Ezekiel Ezekiel Ezechiel Ezekiel Hebrew
see below Daniel Daniel[12] Daniel[12] Hebrew+Aramaic
Minor prophets
Trei Asar or Twelve Hosea Osee Hosea Hebrew
Joel Joel Joel Hebrew
Amos Amos Amos Hebrew
Obadiah Abdias Obadiah Hebrew
Jonah Jonah Jonah Hebrew
Micah Micaeus Micah Hebrew
Nahum Nahum Nahum Hebrew
Habakkuk Habacuc Habakkuk Hebrew
Zephaniah Sophonias Zephaniah Hebrew
Haggai Aggaeus Haggai Hebrew
Zechariah Zacharias Zechariah Hebrew
Malachi Malachias Malachi Hebrew
Ketuvim or Writings[13]
Psalms Hebrew
Proverbs Hebrew
Job Hebrew
Song of Songs Hebrew
Ruth Hebrew
Lamentations Hebrew
Ecclesiastes Hebrew
Esther Hebrew
Daniel Hebrew+Aramaic
Ezra (includes Nehemiah) Hebrew(+Aramaic)
Chronicles Hebrew
see above[5] 1 Maccabees Hebrew or Aramaic?
see above[5] 2 Maccabees Greek

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