Scholars Converge on Andrews University to Explore the Composition of the Pentateuch

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Scholars Converge on Andrews University to Explore the Composition of the Pentateuch

“Hey, Scottie,” Kenneth Bergland called, “Filipe [Masotti] and myself are trying to get Ph.D. students together with a wide background of interests and specialties to begin a study group that has an interdisciplinary approach. We are thinking of studying the Pentateuch. We would like some archaeology students. Are you interested?”

I was.

And so began an educational journey that is finding its climax in a most historic event this weekend, April 3–5, 2016. Members of the study group have come and gone as they graduated or became too busy or as they have found out what was happening and wanted to join. These members were not just on the campus of Andrews University but joined via Skype from around the world (some staying up quite late in their part of the world just to participate).

Early on we realized that the strength of the group was in the interdisciplinary approach, as some had insights that were sparked by statements of someone from another area of study. We wanted to find an Adventist approach to the topic of the composition of the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Bible. Part of that was achieved just in the exercise of the studies.

At some point we wondered, “Shouldn’t this be shared with others? Shouldn’t our dialogue expand?” Thus, the conference was born.

We knew that conservative scholars were having conferences on this topic, but we also knew that Adventists were a small part (if a part at all) of those conferences. Feeling that we had something to add to the conversation, we began asking those scholars if they would like to join us for a conference here at Andrews.

We prayed a lot about this and funding came in, which allowed us to bring these scholars to the event, house them, and make the event professional.

Why Do We Need to Study the Composition of the Pentateuch?

For most of the history of theological studies in Judaism and, much later, Christianity, academics and believers alike had little doubt that Moses authored the first five books of the Bible. This seemed to be confirmed in the statements of Jesus (such as Matt. 19:8; Mark 7:10; 12:26).

However, in the Age of Enlightenment (starting in the 1700s), as scholars began to question everything, this too was questioned. Out of these questions came the ideas that perhaps Moses had never existed and that the Pentateuch was composed even as late as the Babylonian captivity or shortly thereafter.

Most scholarship today simply assumes that this is case—even in Christian circles. As a result much work has been done to determine who did write the Pentateuch and who redacted (arranged and edited) it in the form that it is in today.

The popularity of this effort gives the impression of acceptance and in turn of truth.

But what if Moses did actually write it all? There are several features that need to be accounted for to support his authorship from a scholarly perspective, including:

  • the apparent duplication of statements,
  • historical statements seemingly written long before they took place,
  • the apparent age of the Hebrew of some sections, and
  • the somewhat choppiness of the document when it is read.

The conference this weekend will touch on some of these issues as we begin Exploring the Composition of the Pentateuch.

Editor’s Note: Jerome Skinner, a Ph.D. student in Old Testament at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, will attend the Exploring the Composition of the Pentateuch conference to report for The Compass Magazine. To attend this free event at Andrews University, register here.

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About the author

L. S. Baker, Jr.

L. S. Baker, Jr., author of Land of Rameses, is editorial and marketing coordinator for Andrews University Press and the former exhibit manager for the Siegfried H. Horn Archaeology Museum at Andrews University. He is finishing a Ph.D. in archaeology of the ancient Near East, emphasis Egypt. He holds a master’s degree in Egyptian archaeology as well as a master’s in divinity.