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Who Wrote the Bible?

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  5,499 ratings  ·  273 reviews
The contemporary classic the New York Times Book Review called “a thought-provoking [and] perceptive guide,” Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard E. Friedman is a fascinating, intellectual, yet highly readable analysis and investigation into the authorship of the Old Testament. The author of Commentary on the Torah, Friedman delves deeply into the history of the Bible in a scho ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published March 21st 1997 by HarperOne (first published 1987)
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Manuel Antão
Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Reading the Bible: “Who Wrote the Bible” by Richard Elliott Friedman

"The question, after all, is not only who wrote the bible, but who reads it.”
In “Who Wrote the Bible” by Richard Elliott Friedman
Some of the texts date to 400 AD or later, such as the second half of Matthew, the whole of John and the whole of Revelation. I would consider a "complete, unabridged Bible" to consist of all texts either used by, or referenced by, any Abra
Feb 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book was a pleasure to read and I had a hard time putting it down. Friedman, a Harvard trained Biblical scholar, concisely walks us through the history of Old Testament scholarship while arguing for his own theories on who wrote specific portions, when, what their motivations were, and how and by whom the book was compiled. His purpose is not to debunk or criticize the Bible, but simply to solve the puzzle; and the book reads this way, like you are in on the quest to solve it. All along Fri ...more
Oct 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I read Who Wrote the Bible by Richard Elliott Friedman with such angst! It was life changing for me. It has opened up a world for me in as much as the bible is a work of history and literature, open to literary analysis and not a divine document given by god to Moses.
I repeatedly went back to the early chapters for reference again and again.
To understand the book, a lot of biblical background is necessary, which I had almost none at the time, and I needed to plow thru slowly.
The book sparked
Dec 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, scholarship
Wow, this is a remarkably readable and relevant exploration of the authorship of the Pentateuch and historical books of the Old Testament. It's easy for biblical scholarship to get stale pretty quickly, as currents change and leave certain theories behind; it's a credit to Richard Elliott Friedman that the most dated-feeling part of Who Wrote the Bible? is its lousy title.

That's not to say there aren't things to disagree with here – the dates and identities of the various sources are always deb
Dec 30, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: religious
First, a little title clarification: the title should be "Who wrote the Old Testament, but we're mostly going to talk about the Pentateuch."

That being said, it was an interesting take from a foremost bible scholar into the latest academic research into the authorship of the Bible. Intuitively, I've wondered about the question. We find it essential to learn about the founding fathers in order to understand the Constitution. Ditto for the works of Tolstoy and Dickens. But, not a lot of time in Sun
Dec 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
When you look at the bedrock texts of civilization, there is one we continually come back to. It is the bible. No one can have a serious discussion about ancient history without it making an appearance. The same goes for Monotheism or the Western world. Some people believe it was given by God, others by men who thought they spoke for God. It contains discussions and themes on almost every topic: origins, history, divinity, philosophy, eternity, and the meaning of life. For a book so read and ana ...more
Jun 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was absolutely fascinating, and also very well-written!! It deserves a place on the bookshelf of any serious student of Biblical or even just ancient near-eastern history, imho.

Five authors: the J, E, P, D and R are found in a great summary of modern Higher Literary criticism of the Biblical texts known to Christians as the Old Testament, and just the Bible or TNaCH to Jewish readers. The J and E are roughly contemporary, from the time of the Northern kingdom and the Kingdom of Yehuda
Jun 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I now better understand why I didn't really understand the Old Testament.

As a non-Biblical scholar, I can't really judge the veracity of Friedman's analysis, but it seems convincing to my untrained eyes. His argument is that, at least the Pentateuch, was written at different times by different scribes/priests whose views were shaped by their own political and economic interests in relation to the times in which they lived and then later combined and edited by someone else (Ezra?), all of which r
Apr 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world
I come back to this book and re-read it from time to time for several reasons: first, the writing is clear and uncluttered; second, the detective work in it is quite honestly thrilling; and third, this book pays the greatest honor to the Bible.

Attributing a work like the Bible to a single magical force totally diminishes the power, meaning and intent of the stories held within.

The author makes the case that this book is even more valuable as a work of man - reinterpreted through the ages - since
Oct 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I am using this book for a class at my church. It has made me want to continue on my quest of learning about my religion and so forth.

This is the best book on how the Old Testament came to be. The facts were presented to me clearly and straight to the point. The author tells you how J, E, D, P, and R were discovered. If you approach it with an open mind, I think the reward would be great! I loved how he explained the politics behind why the J and E
Adam Glantz
Feb 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A scholarly detective story, written in a lucid, engaging, and enthusiastic style, and uncluttered with reference notes, that lays out a cogent theory of authorship of the various documents that make up the Torah (Pentateuch) of the Hebrew Bible. Friedman is intellectually honest throughout, beginning with due reverence for the pioneers of Higher Criticism and admitting that the messy and tortuous path to his conclusions has been excised from the narrative. And having pulled apart the biblical t ...more
Jul 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to anyone who is interested in the origin of the Old Testament.
Dec 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Who Wrote the Bible definitely enters that top-tier of non-fiction books that really gripped me while I was reading them and that I know will have a lasting impact on my thought going forward. (Others include On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society and The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement).

When I was much younger I had heard of the documentary hypothesis--which is the idea that the Bible (especially the first five books) was
Sep 19, 2012 rated it liked it
It’s been widely accepted that Moses was the author of the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Pentateuch or the Torah. Friedman questioned this, and built on the work of several researchers, most notably Julius Wellhausen, who suggested that the Pentateuch was written by four different sources (which he nicknamed “E,” “J,” “D,” and “P”) and possibly a fifth source who did compiling and editing. Delving further into textual analysis and historical data, Friedman sets out to ident ...more
A short book presenting evidence that the Bible was written by many different authors, each adding passages that corresponded to their social and political environments at their time of living. Friedman does an excellent job presenting the evidence for this by showing differences in language and syntax found in the most famous stories, like Noah's Ark or Moses receiving the 10 commandments. These stories show up multiple times in the Bible but with different lines or certain words added, signify ...more
Corinne  Blackmer
Oct 13, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion, criticism, bible
When I first read this book, I was quite impressed with its deft argument that several different "authors" (or voices or schools of thought) had written the Torah (which are the books with which the author is concerned) but, after some consideration, I cannot say I find these "findings" all that interesting and, anyhow, they could have other origins. Rather than two different (or more) authors arguing about the right to the priesthood, a single author could be chronicling a debate amongst variou ...more
Joshua Lawson
Having been a student of scripture for nearly two decades, I'm a little embarrassed to admit that it took me so long to really start exploring the documentary hypothesis. I suppose I don't have to bear full responsibility for this lamentable fact, however, since no one in my native evangelical community ever bothered to mention it to me. For all I know, none of my early teachers even knew about it. Alas, but oh well. Here's to a brand new day in Biblical studies. ...more
Feb 28, 2021 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I am not convinced by the Documentary Hypothesis. I think that Friedman (and the other scholars that he is referencing) do not take evidence to their proper conclusions. I think it's kind of hard to overturn 2000 years of tradition. ...more
Feb 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
In Sunday school, we are taught that the first 5 books of the Old Testament were written by Moses. But scholars have long noticed some anomalies that question this tradition: stories report events in a particular order, and later it say that those same events happened in a different order. As far back as the third century, scholars have noticed these anomalies.

Richard Elliott Friedman presents the most current beliefs of bible scholars. Friedman says that the first five books were not composed b
Nov 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
What an interesting book! Friedman presents the evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis of authorship of the first 11 books of the Bible, which is the leading and most commonly accepted theory. It was easy to read, and the sections titled "The World That Produced The Bible" gave a lot of history of the region which was new to me. It reads like the part of a detective novel where the detective gathers the suspects and explains the process of their deductions, including the red herrings and mistak ...more
Nov 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was riveting. You don’t have to be into biblical criticism to enjoy it. JEDP theory has been around forever, but this book goes well beyond Wellhausen. Friedman combines some linguistic analysis with history and just a little bit of archeology, but it’s mostly just about a very close readings of the text with an open mind. Some of those close readings lead to very compelling theories, some less. There’s not much evidence-based science here, yet I thought there ...more
Linda Cirillo
Feb 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The first five books of the bible are the hardest to read, and while reading this book I began to understand why. Tribal rivals, different groups of priests, various cultures, all had a hand in changing the traditional stories around a bit, just enough to glorify their heroes and defame those of the other guys. And the different versions are cut and pasted. There is plenty of historical background as well, and I think it may be easier to read Deuteronomy now.
Sep 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who question
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is impossible for me to review and others have provided a thoughtful analysis. I respect the author's reverence for the Bible while digging deeper into a controversial hypothesis. This is one I'll read again. Recommend to both atheists and religious people but it may require some pre-existing Biblical knowledge to fully appreciate. ...more
David Rullo
May 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A great source for anyone in a weekly Torah study group or interested in the authorship of various parts of the Torah. Not really a book to read, nor would it be my first source as a Torah as it contains no commentary but invaluable as a source when discussing who wrote what, when, etc.
John W.
Sep 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Well written, but the author's conclusions and arguments were not able to refute the authority of other scholars (i.e. Welhausen) in a satisfactory and thorough manner.

I acknowledge I'm being pretentious writing that above review.
Nate Merrill
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very readable, except the parts that are confusing. Surprised at how much obscure biblical stuff I remembered from my younger days. The Hebrew Bible is cool.
B. Lee
Jan 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biblical-studies
Clearest and most accessible introduction to the Documentary Hypothesis and related issues in Pentateuchal scholarship that I’ve read.
David Galloway
This is the main modern book on the 'documentary hypothesis', originally formed in the 19th century, that the Torah was composed not by Moses as tradition teaches, but by four various groups over a span of centuries. Also known as the JEDP theory for each of the four authors: Jawists, the oldest group who referred to God as Jahweh and wrote much of Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers circa 850 BC; Elohists, who referred to God as Elohim and covered similar material as the J author around 750 BC; the D ...more
Mar 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Coming from a conservative evangelical background, the Documentary Hypothesis (DH) had been the boogie man that should be avoided and not looked upon. This book changed all this. I am intrigued and want to read more about the subject matter.

To start out, Dr. Friedman (Ph.D, Harvard) studied with some excellent teachers; G. Ernest Wright and Frank Moore Cross. Therefore, his knowledge of the subject matter is uncanny. Additionally, he is an excellent writer.

The investigation begins with an over
Dec 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
Like much of this book's target audience, I am only familiar with the Bible to the extent that it was taught as a religious text in church. (I went to church when younger but am not religious at all now.) Therefore it's hard for me to judge whether this book is necessarily a good introduction into biblical scholarship, as I am not familiar with the field in general, any opposing schools of thought, or any debate regarding the merits of the evidence used in the writing.

That having been said, Who
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RICHARD ELLIOTT FRIEDMAN is one of the premier bible scholars in the country. He earned his doctorate at Harvard and was a visiting fellow at Oxford and Cambridge, a Senior Fellow of the American Schools of Oriental Research in Jerusalem, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Haifa. He is the Ann & Jay Davis Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Georgia and the Katzin Professor ...more

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“Gen 22:11–16a The story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac is traced to E. It refers to the deity as Elohim in vv. 1,3,8, and 9. But, just as Abraham’s hand is raised with the knife to sacrifice Isaac, the text says that the angel of Yahweh stops him (v. 11). The verses in which Isaac is spared refer to the deity as Yahweh (vv. 11–14). These verses are followed by a report that the angel speaks a second time and says, “… because you did not withhold your son from me….” Thus the four verses which report that Isaac was not sacrificed involve both a contradiction and a change of the name of the deity. As extraordinary as it may seem, it has been suggested that in the original version of this story Isaac was actually sacrificed, and that the intervening four verses were added subsequently, when the notion of human sacrifice was rejected (perhaps by the person who combined J and E). Of course, the words “you did not withhold your son” might mean only that Abraham had been willing to sacrifice his son. But still it must be noted that the text concludes (v. 19), “And Abraham returned to his servants.” Isaac is not mentioned. Moreover, Isaac never again appears as a character in E. Interestingly, a later midrashic tradition developed this notion, that Isaac actually had been sacrificed. This tradition is discussed in S. Spiegel’s The Last Trial (New York: Schocken, 1969; Hebrew edition 1950).” 2 likes
“One of the logical consequences of monotheism is guilt.” 2 likes
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