1992-04-04: Who Wrote the Bible?

Who Wrote the Bible? (1987)

by Richard Elliott Friedman ()

This book preceded Bloom’s Book of J, which was published in 1990.  Bloom’s book can be seen as a further development on one aspect of Friedman’s, the nature of the author of the J text.  Friedman raises the possibility that the J author was a woman, which was one of Bloom’s main themes; for Friedman, it is a minor point.

He not only identifies the texts known as J, E, P, D, and R, but also explains the various authors’ objectives and how the texts fit into the historical and religious background.  Friedman is not as polemical as Bloom in pushing his views, and his approach is more convincing.

The book is a summary of the author’s scholarly research, but written for the general reader.  He distinguishes his own conclusions from the generally accepted line.  The general idea is that from David’s day, there was a tension between Israel (north) and Judah (south), reflected in the differences between J (Judah) and E (Israel), both composed after the division of the kingdom (922 BCE).  Friedman thinks the evidence supports the idea that the E author was a Shiloh Levite, possibly descended from Moses; he is less sure about the J author.

When Israel was overthrown by Assyria (722 BCE) refugees moved south into Judah.  Later the need arose to combine the two traditions of the two reunited groups into a JE text.

Hezekiah and Josiah attempted to centralize worship at Solomon’s Temple, which benefited the Aaronite high priests at the expense of the dispersed Levite priests.  Friedman says that Deuteronomy was composed to praise these reforms and to hold up Josiah as the greatest king since David.  It (in the first version) includes the promise that David’s throne will be eternal.  After the kingdom was disbanded in 622, it was slightly revised to justify the apparent breaking of this covenant.  Friedman thinks the author was  a Shiloh priest (like E), specifically Jeremiah and/or his scribe Baruch, who wrote Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings as well.  These works included texts from other sources, such as the Law Code (Deut 12-26).  The second version was written after Jeremiah went to Egypt in the exile.

Friedman says the P text represents the Aaronid priests’ interests, as opposed to the Shiloh Levites.  It was an alternative to JE, covering most of the same stories, but in a way that justifies the preferred position of the Aaronites over the other Levites.  Where JE shows an anthropomorphic god, P is more cosmic and abstract.  D sometimes alludes to P, but in a way that is critical, reversing phrases to make P seem ridiculous.  So D’s author knew P.  Friedman thinks P was composed in Hezekiah’s reign.  P contains stories, apparently by a single author, and laws perhaps from several collections.

The final combination of P with J, E and D was done in the days of the second Temple, by R.  This person was, like P, an Aaronid priest.  The combination was necessary because all of the sources were widely known, and to eliminate any would have raised objections from some in the national constituency.  All were attributed to Moses, and simply leaving them side by side and contradictory would have been impossible.  So R combined them, interleaving versions of each story from the sources, and inserting transitional pieces where necessary.  The result was a document, sometimes bewildering, that expressed not two vastly different views of God, but a combined view of great complexity, that could be interpreted in many ways.  Friedman identifies the Redactor as Ezra, who returned from Babylon about eighty years after most of the Return, with the authority (from the Persian emperor, Artaxerxes) to teach and enforce the law.

The chronology below combines Friedman’s events with those provided by Bloom.  An appendix gives a chapter/verse identification of the authors of the five books of Moses .


  • 1800-1700 Abram (Abraham)
  • 1700-1600 Descent of Israel into Egypt
  • c. 1280 The Exodus
  • c. 1250-1200 Conquest of Canaan
  • c. 1020-1000 Samuel (judge, priest, prophet from Shiloh) and Saul (king)
  • c. 1000-961 United Monarchy of David (established capital at Jerusalem)
  • c. 961-900 Empire of Solomon
  • c. 950-900 Book of J (Bloom)
  • c. 922 Death of Solomon; division of the kingdom
  • c. 922-915 Reign of Rehoboam in Judah
  • c. 922-901 Reign of Jeroboam in Israel
  • c. 922-848 J (Friedman)
  • c. 922-722 E (Friedman)
  • c. 850-800 E revision of J (Bloom)
  • c. 722-721 Fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Samaria)
  • c. 722-? JE combined text edited (by ?)
  • 715-687 King Hezekiah, (centralized worship at Temple)
  • c. 640-? King Josiah (recentralized worship)
  • c. 622-609 Deuteronomy (1st version, by Jeremiah/Baruch? )
  • c. 587 Fall of Jerusalem; Babylonian Exile (and Egyptioan)
  • c. 587-? Deuteronomy (2nd version, by Jeremiah/Baruch?)
  • c. 550-500 The P text (Bloom)
  • c. 538 The Return
  • c. 520-515 Rebuilding of the Temple
  • 458 Ezra returns from Babylon
  • c. 450-400 Ezra and Nehemiah
  • c. 400 The Redactor
  • c. 250-100 The Septuagint
  • c. 90 Canonization of the Hebrew Bible completed


  • c. 400 Saint Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible
  • 1530 William Tyndale’s Pentateuch
  • 1534 Luther’s Bible (Old Testament)
  • 1535 Miles Coverdale’s Bible
  • 1560 Geneva Bible (Shakespeare’s Bible)
  • 1611 King James (Authorized) Version
  • 1952 Revised Standard Version
  • 1966 Jerusalem Bible (Catholic)
  • 1970 New English Bible (Protestant)
  • 1982 New American Jewish Version

I reread and re-reported this book in 1993.


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