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Moses’ many co-authors

An Israeli computer science professor is trying to prove that several different people wrote the Torah together


 
Moses’ many co-authors

Dan Balilty/AP

To Jews and Christians, Moses was the author of the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Torah. But an Israeli computer science professor is trying to prove that several different people actually wrote them together. Working with a team of collaborators, including his son, Tel Aviv University’s Nachum Dershowitz developed computer software that searches a text for hints like word preference—using “said” instead of “spoke,” for example—to divide it up according to how many people probably helped write it.

To test out the algorithm and make sure it was working, the team deliberately mixed up passages from the two Hebrew books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, then had the computer separate them. It did so with 99 per cent accuracy. The software still can’t decipher exactly how many people worked to write the Bible, but it can flag transition points, where one voice shifts to the next.

Experts say the algorithm could have all sorts of applications, such as shedding new light on other mysterious or very old writings, like the nature of Shakespeare’s collaborations, for example. Dershowitz said that providing new detail to Biblical scholarship was gratifying in and of itself.


 

Moses’ many co-authors

  1. There is a longstanding theory that there were at least four different authors for the Torah. Without going into all kinds of detail, they go by J, E, D, and P. There is already general agreement about which of these sources wrote their respective parts of the Torah. In many cases, if one knows what to look for, it is not overly difficult to pick them out.

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