Authorship and Pseudepigraphy – an Excerpt from Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism

The following is an excerpt from Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism, edited by Christopher Hays and Christopher Ansberry.


Cover ArtWhen the Pentateuch is understood within the conceptual environment of the ancient world, questions concerning its authorship appear anachronistic on several counts. Similar to most documents produced in the pre-Hellenistic world, the Pentateuch is an anonymous work. This anonymity is not surprising, for it represents a common ancient Near Eastern literary convention, according to which ‘authors’ of works rarely signed their names.

The common absence of any mention of an ‘author’ in ancient oriental literary works, coupled with the fluid relationship between the literary activities of scribes/editors and putative ‘authors’, suggests that anonymity was the rule in the ancient orient. The same is true of the Pentateuch. In face, the striking lack of interest in authorship throughout the Hebrew Bible, as well as the absence of a term for ‘author’ in the Classical Hebrew language, indicates that the search for the ‘author’ of the Pentateuch is misguided.

This conclusion is reinforced by ancient conceptions of authorship. In contrast to modern conceptions of authorship, the ancient oriental world valued the group as well as collective tradition over autonomous, individual expression. That is, the ‘author’ or scribe functioned as a representative of a larger social-religious matrix, rather than an independent literary artisan within a context concerned with intellectual property.

This notion of ‘authorship’ not only provides a rationale for the anonymity that characterizes the biblical and ancient Near Eastern literature but also serves as a window into ancient perceptions of authority. If Israelite literature is the expression of collective tradition, it appears the content of the material – rather than the ‘author’ – constitutes the locus of authority. Put theologically, the work of the Holy Spirit in the composition and canonization of the text serves as the locus of authority, not the putative author(s).

In this respect, ‘authorship’ does not necessarily (or perhaps even primarily) represent a claim of literary origins; it represents a claim of authoritative, revelatory tradition.

©2013 by Christopher M. Hays and Christopher B. Ansberry. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.


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