Authorship Of the Bible

This article is about modern scholarly approaches to the composition of the biblical texts and authorship of the Bible.

Table I gives an overview of the periods and dates ascribed to the various books of the Bible. Tables II, III and IV outline the conclusions of the majority of contemporary scholars on the composition of the Hebrew Bible (the Protestant Old Testament), the deuterocanonical works (also called the apocrypha), and the New Testament.

Table I: Chronological overview (Hebrew Bible/Old Testament)

This table summarises the chronology of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament; the deuterocanonical works date from the 3rd century BCE to the 3rd century CE (see Table III), and the New Testament writings from the 1st and 2nd centuries CE (see Table IV). Dates are approximate, and mark the completion of the works rather than earlier source materials.

Period Books
8th–6th centuries BCE
c. 745–586 BCE
  • Earliest portions of Hosea, 8th century.
  • Earliest portions of Isaiah 1–39, late 8th century.
  • Earliest portions of Amos, late 8th/early 7th centuries.
  • Earliest portions of Micah, late 8th century.
  • Nahum, 7th century, based on its assumption of the fall of Egyptian Thebes and call for the destruction of Nineveh.
  • Zephaniah, reign of Josiah, late 7th century.
  • Deuteronomy 5–26 (the law-code forming the core of the book), reign of Josiah, late 7th century.
  • First edition of the Deuteronomistic history (the books of Joshua/Judges/Samuel/Kings), reign of Josiah.
  • Habakkuk, late 7th century.
6th century BCE
586–539 BCE
  • Deuteronomy expanded with addition of chapters 1–4 and 29–30 to serve as an introduction to revised Deuteronomistic history.
  • Second edition of Deuteronomistic history (Joshua/Judges/Samuel/Kings+Deuteronomy).
  • Core of Obadiah around the fall of Jerusalem, 586 BCE.
  • First (shorter) edition of Jeremiah.
  • Ezekiel, prior to the restoration of Israel to Jerusalem.
  • “Second Isaiah” (Isaiah 40–55), around mid-century.
  • Expansion and reshaping of Hosea, Amos, Micah and Zephaniah.
6th–4th centuries BCE
538–330 BCE
  • Deuteronomy revised with expansions to chapters 19–25 and addition of chapter 27 and 31–34 to serve as conclusion to the Torah.
  • Torah (books of Genesis/Exodus/Leviticus/Numbers+revised Deuteronomy), 450-350 BCE.
  • “Third Isaiah” (Isaiah 56–66)
  • Second (longer) edition of Jeremiah.
  • Haggai (self-dated to the second year of the Persian king Darius 520 BCE).
  • Zechariah (chapters 1–8 contemporary with Haggai, chapters 9–14 from the 5th century).
  • Malachi (5th century BCE, contemporaneous or immediately prior to the missions of Nehemiah and Ezra).
  • Chronicles (between 400–250 BC, probably in the period 350–300 BCE).
  • Origins of Ezra-Nehemiah (may have reached its final form as late as the Ptolemaic period, c. 300–200 BCE).
4th–2nd centuries BCE
330–164 BCE
  • Book of Esther, c.4th century BCE?
  • Job.
  • Ecclesiastes.
  • Song of Songs.
  • Book of Jonah (Persian or Hellenistic, no later than 2nd century BCE).
  • Book of Psalms (the final anthology – individual psalms span many centuries).
2nd century BCE-1st century CE
164–4 BCE
  • Daniel, c.164 BCE.
  • New Testament writings, 1st century CE (see table IV).

Hebrew Bible

Table II: Hebrew Bible/Protestant Old Testament

The Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh, is the collection of scriptures making up the Bible used by Judaism; the same books, in a slightly different order, also make up the Protestant version of the Old Testament. The order used here follows the divisions used in Jewish Bibles.

Scholars are broadly agreed in placing the Torah in the mid-Persian period (the 5th century BCE). Deuteronomy, the oldest of the five books, originated in the second half of the 7th century BCE as the law-code contained in Deuteronomy 5-26; chapters 1-4 and 29-30 were added around the end of the Babylonian exile when it became the introduction to the Deuteronomistic history (Joshua-2 Kings), and the remaining chapters were added in the late Persian period when it was revised to conclude Genesis-Exodus-Leviticus-Numbers. The tradition behind the books stretches back some two hundred years to a point in the late 7th century BCE, but questions surrounding the number and nature of the sources involved, and the processes and dates, remain unsettled.

Many theories have been advanced to explain the social and political background behind the composition of the Torah, but two have been especially influential. The first of these, Persian Imperial authorisation, advanced by Peter Frei in 1985, holds that the Persian authorities required the Jews of Jerusalem to present a single body of law as the price of local autonomy. Frei’s theory was demolished at a symposium held in 2000, but the relationship between the Persian authorities and Jerusalem remains a crucial question. The second theory, associated with Joel P. Weinberg and called the “Citizen-Temple Community”, proposes that the Exodus story was composed to serve the needs of the post-exilic Jewish community, serving as an “identity card” defining who belonged to “Israel.”

Former Prophets:


The proposal that Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings make up a unified work (the Deuteronomistic history) was advanced by Martin Noth in 1943 and has been widely accepted, with revisions. Noth proposed that the entire history was the creation of a single individual, who was working in the exilic period (6th century BCE). Since then, there has been wide recognition that the history appeared in at least two “editions”, the first in the reign of Judah’s King Josiah (late 7th century BCE), the second during the Babylonian exile (6th century BCE). Few scholars accept his idea that the History was the work of a single individual.
Three Major Prophets:


Isaiah includes the work of three or more prophets. The nucleus of Proto-Isaiah (chapters 1-39) contains the words of the original Isaiah; Deutero-Isaiah (chapters 40-55) is from an anonymous Exilic author; and Trito-Isaiah (chapters 56-66) is a post-exilic anthology. Other anonymous authors and editors have inserted various passages into these three: chapters 36-39, for example, have been copied from 2 Kings 18-20, and the Suffering Servant poems, now scattered through Isaiah 42, 49, 50 and 52, were probably an independent composition.

Jeremiah exists in two versions, Greek (the version used in Orthodox Bibles) and Hebrew (Jewish, Catholic and Protestant Bibles), with the Greek probably finalised in the early Persian period and the Hebrew dating from some point between then and the 2nd century BCE. The two differ significantly, with the Greek version generally regarded as being more authentic. Scholars find it difficult to identify the words of the historic prophet Jeremiah, although the text presumably preserves his orally-delivered sayings, but the text itself is the end-product of a long process involving, among others, Exilic Deuteronomists, post-exilic restorationists, and later editors and authors responsible for the modern Greek and Hebrew texts.

Ezekiel presents itself as the words of the Ezekiel ben-Buzi, a priest of Jerusalem living in exile in Babylon. While the book probably reflects much of the historic Ezekiel, it is the product of a long and complex history. There is general agreement that the final product is the product of a highly educated priestly circle, which owed allegiance to the historical Ezekiel and was closely associated with the Second Temple. Like Jeremiah, it exists in a longer Hebrew edition (Jewish, Catholic and Protestant Bibles) and a shorter Greek version, with the Greek probably representing an earlier stage of transmission.

Twelve Minor Prophets The Twelve Minor Prophets is a single book in Jewish bibles, and this seems to have been the case since the first few centuries before the current era. With the exception of Jonah, which is a fictional work, it is generally assumed that there exists an original core of tradition behind each book that can be attributed to the prophet for whom it is named, but the dates for several of the books (Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Zechariah 9-14 and Malachi) are debated.

  • Book of Hosea: The historic Hosea was active in Israel (the northern kingdom) in the second half of the 8th century BCE The book probably preserves much that is from the prophet, mixed with much from exilic and post-exilic times.
  • Book of Joel: late Persian or Hellenistic
  • Book of Amos: first half of the 8th century
  • Book of Obadiah: around the time of the fall of Jerusalem, 586 BCE
  • Book of Jonah: Persian or Hellenistic, no later than 2nd century BCE
  • Book of Micah: c. 750–700 BCE
  • Book of Nahum: an “oracle concerning Nineveh”, the Assyrian city destroyed in 612 BCE
  • Book of Habakkuk: possibly shortly before the Battle of Carchemish, 605 BCE
  • Book of Zephaniah: reign of Josiah
  • Book of Haggai: self-dated to the second year of the Persian king Darius (Darius the Great), 520 BCE
  • Book of Zechariah: first eight chapters contemporary with Haggai; chapters 9–14 from the 5th century
  • Book of Malachi: 5th century BCE, contemporaneous or immediately prior to the missions of Nehemiah and Ezra (which, however, are themselves difficult to date)
Poetic books:
  • Psalms: The psalms making up the first two-thirds of the psalter are predominantly pre-exilic and the last third predominantly post-exilic. The collection was given its modern shape and division into five parts in the post-exilic period, although it continued to be revised and expanded well into Hellenistic and even Roman times.
  • Job can be dated to the Persian period. The author is unknown, but various inconsistencies and apparent insertions suggest later editing and additions. It contains some 1,000 lines, of which about 750 form the original core.
  • Proverbs consists of several collections originating from various sources, notably Egyptian. The book reached its final form around the 3rd century BCE.
Five Scrolls
  • Song of Songs (or Canticles): Scholars still debate whether the Song of Songs is a single unified work (and therefore from a single author), or more in the nature of an anthology.
  • Ruth: Proposed dates for Ruth range from the time of David to the late post-exilic.
  • Ecclesiastes is usually dated to the mid-3rd century BCE, and a provenance in Jerusalem is considered likely. The book’s claim of Solomon as its author is a literary fiction; the author also identifies himself as “Qoheleth”, a word of obscure meaning which critics have understood variously as a personal name, a pen name, an acronym, and a function; a final self-identification is as “shepherd”, a title usually implying royalty.
  • Lamentations is set against the destruction of Jerusalem by the Neo-Babylonian Empire in 586 BCE. The language fits an Exilic date (586–520 BCE), and the poems probably originated from Judeans who remained in the land.
  • Esther is a novella from the eastern diaspora (i.e., Babylon), composed probably in the late 4th or early 3rd century BCE.
  • Daniel was composed in the time of the Maccabees (2nd century BCE). The author seems to have taken the name of the book’s hero from the legendary Daniel mentioned in Ezekiel for his wisdom and righteousness.
  • Chronicles is an anonymous work from Levitical circles in Jerusalem, probably composed in the late 4th century BCE.
  • Ezra and Nehemiah developed independently before being drawn together by an editor into a single work, Ezra-Nehemiah possibly in the Ptolemaic period (3rd century BCE).

Table III: Deuterocanonical Old Testament

The deuterocanonical works are books included in Catholic and Orthodox but not in Jewish and Protestant Bibles.

Book of Tobit Tobit can be dated to 225–175 BCE on the basis of its use of language and lack of knowledge of the 2nd century BCE persecution of Jews.
1 Esdras 1 Esdras is based on Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah.
2 Esdras 2 Esdras is a composite work combining texts from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd centuries CE.
Book of Judith Judith is of uncertain origin, but probably dates from the second half of the 2nd century BCE.
1 Maccabees 1 Maccabees is the work of an educated Jewish historian writing around 100 BCE.
2 Maccabees 2 Maccabees is a revised and condensed version of a work by an otherwise unknown author called Jason of Cyrene, plus passages by the anonymous editor who made the condensation (called “the Epitomist”). Jason most probably wrote in the mid to late 2nd century BCE, and the Epitomist before 63 BCE.
3 Maccabees 3 Maccabees was probably written by a Jew of Alexandria c. 100–75 BCE.
4 Maccabees 4 Maccabees was probably composed in the middle half of the 1st century CE by a Jew living in Roman Syria or Asia Minor.
Wisdom of Sirach Sirach (known under several titles) names its author as Jesus ben Sirach, probably a scribe offering instruction to the youth of Jerusalem. His grandson’s preface to the Greek translation indirectly dates the work to the first quarter of the 2nd century BCE.
Wisdom of Solomon The Wisdom of Solomon probably dates from 100 to 50 BCE, and originated with the Pharisees of the Egyptian Jewish community.
Additions to Esther The Additions to Esther in the Greek translation date from the late 2nd or early 1st century BCE.
Additions to Daniel The three Additions to Daniel – the Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon – probably date from the 2nd century BCE, although Bel is difficult to place.
Prayer of Manasseh The Prayer of Manasseh probably dates from the 2nd or 1st centuries BCE.
Baruch Baruch was probably written in the 2nd century BCE – part of it, the Letter of Jeremiah, is sometimes treated as a separate work.
Letter of Jeremiah The Letter of Jeremiah, part of Baruch, is sometimes treated as a separate work.
Additional psalms The additional psalms are numbered 151–155; some at least are pre-Christian in origin, being found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Mantegna's St. Mark

Mantegna’s St. Mark

Table IV: New Testament

Gospels and Acts
  • Gospel of Mark, 68–70 CE. Mark, like all the gospels, is anonymous. It relies on several underlying sources, varying in form and in theology, which is evidence against the tradition that its author was John Mark (Mark the Evangelist), the companion of Peter, or that it was based on Peter’s preaching. Various elements within the gospel, including the importance of the authority of Peter and the broadness of the basic theology, suggest that the author wrote in Roman Syria or Palestine for a non-Jewish, Christian community. The community had earlier absorbed the influence of pre-Pauline beliefs, and then developed them further independently of Paul the Apostle.References to persecution and to war in Judea suggest that the context in which Mark was written was either Nero’s persecution of the Christians in Rome or the First Jewish–Roman War (66-73 CE).
  • Gospel of Matthew, 80–90 CE. The majority of modern scholars believe it is unlikely that this gospel was written by an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus. Internal evidence suggests that the author was an ethnic Jewish male scribe from a Hellenised city, possibly Antioch in Syria, and that he used a variety of oral traditions and written sources about Jesus, most importantly Mark and the hypothetical collection of sayings known as the Q source. The date is based on three strands of evidence: (a) the setting of Matthew reflects the final separation of Church and Synagogue, about 85 CE; (b) it reflects the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Templeby the Roman Empire in 70 CE; (c) it uses Mark, usually dated around 70 CE, as a source.
  • Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles, 80–90 CE, with some scholars suggesting 90–100. There is general agreement that Luke and Acts originated as a two-volume work by a single author. This author was an “amateur Hellenistic historian”, who was versed in Greek rhetoric, that being the standard training for historians in the ancient world. In the preface to Luke, the author refers to having eyewitness testimony “handed down to us” and to having undertaken a “careful investigation”, but does not mention his own name or explicitly claim to be an eyewitness to any of the events. The we passages in Acts are written in the first person plural — the author never refers to himself as “I” or “me” — and these are usually regarded as fragments of some earlier account which was incorporated into Acts by the later author, or simply a Greek rhetorical device which was used for describing sea voyages. If Acts uses Josephus as a source, as has been proposed, then it must have been composed after 93 CE; the social situation is one in which the faithful need “shepherds” to protect them from heretical “wolves”, which again reflects a late date. There is evidence, both textual (the conflicts between Western and Alexandrian manuscript families) and from the Marcionite controversy that Luke-Acts was still being substantially revised well into the 2nd century. (Marcion of Sinope was a 2nd-century heretic, who produced his own version of Christian scripture, based on Luke’s gospel and Paul’s epistles).
  • Gospel of John, 90–110 CE.  John 21:24 identifies “the beloved disciple” as the author of at least some of the gospel, and from the late 2nd century this figure, unnamed in the Gospel itself, was identified as John the Evangelist, the author of the entire gospel. Today, however, most scholars agree that John 21 is an appendix to the Gospel, which originally ended at John 20:30–31, and believe that the author made use of two major sources, a “Signs” source (a collection of seven miracle stories) and a “Discourse” source. The lower date of c.90 CE is based on internal reference to the expulsion of Christians from the synagogues, and the upper on external evidence that it was known in the early 2nd century.
Pauline epistles
Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon
Epistle to the Romans c. 57 CE. Written to the Romans as Paul the Apostle was about to leave Asia Minor and Greece. He was expressing his hopes to continue his work in Hispania.
Corinthians c. 56 CE. Another of the genuine Pauline letters. Paul expresses his intention to re-visit the church which he had founded in the city of Corinth c. 50–52 CE.
Galatians c. 55 CE. Paul does not express any wish to revisit the church in Galatia, which he had founded, and so some scholars believe the letter dates from the end of his missionary work. The letter concerns the question of whether Gentile converts to Christianity are required to adopt full Jewish customs.
Epistle to the Philippians c. 54–55 CE. A genuine Pauline letter, it mentions “Caesar’s household,” leading some scholars to believe that it is written from Rome, but some of the news in it could not have come from Rome. It rather seems to date from an earlier imprisonment of Paul, perhaps in Ephesus. In the epistle, Paul hopes to be released from prison.
First Epistle to the Thessalonians c. 51 CE. One of the earliest of the genuine Pauline epistles.
Philemon c. 54–55 CE. A genuine Pauline epistle, written from an imprisonment (probably in Ephesus) that Paul expects will soon be over.
Deutero-Pauline epistles
Ephesians c. 80–90 CE. The letter appears to have been written after Paul’s death, by an author who uses his name.
Colossians c. 62–70 CE. Some scholars believe Colossians dates from Paul’s imprisonment in Ephesus around 55 CE, but differences in the theology suggest that it comes from much later in his career, around the time of his imprisonment in Rome.
Second Epistle to the Thessalonians c. 51 CE or post-70 CE. If this is a genuine Pauline epistle it follows closely on 1 Thessalonians. But some of the language and theology point to a much later date, from an unknown author using Paul’s name.
Pastoral epistles
c. 100 CE. The three Pastoral epistles – First and Second Timothy and Titus — are probably from the same author, but reflect a much more developed Church organisation than that reflected in the genuine Pauline epistles. Most scholars regard them as the work of someone other than Paul.
Epistle to the Hebrews
c. 80–90 CE. The elegance of the Greek language-text and the sophistication of the theology do not fit the genuine Pauline epistles, but the mention of Timothy in the conclusion led to its being included with the Pauline group from an early date. Pauline authorship is now generally rejected, and the real author is unknown.
General epistles
James c. 65–85 CE. The traditional author is James the Just, “a servant of God and brother of the Lord Jesus Christ”. Like Hebrews, James is not so much a letter as an exhortation; the style of the Greek language-text makes it unlikely that it was actually written by James, the brother of Jesus. Most scholars regard all the letters in this group as pseudonymous.
First Epistle of Peter c. 75–90 CE
Second Epistle of Peter c. 110 CE. The epistle’s quotes from Jude, assumes a knowledge of the Pauline letters, and includes a reference to the gospel story of the Transfiguration of Christ, all signs of a comparatively late date.
Johannine epistles 90–110 CE. The letters give no clear indication of their date, but scholars tend to place them about a decade after the Gospel of John.
Jude Uncertain date. The references to the “brother of James” and to “what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold” suggest that it was written after the apostolic letters were in circulation, but before 2 Peter, which quotes it.
Revelation c. 95 CE. The date is suggested by clues in the visions, which point to the reign of the emperor Domitian (reigned 81-96 CE). Domitian was assassinated on 18 September 96, in a conspiracy by court officials.The author was traditionally believed to be the same person as both John the Apostle/John the Evangelist, the traditional author of the Fourth Gospel – the tradition can be traced to Justin Martyr, writing in the early 2nd century. Most biblical scholars now believe that these were separate individuals. The name “John” suggests that the author was a Christian of Jewish descent, and although he never explicitly identifies himself as a prophet it is likely that he belonged to a group of Christian prophets and was known as such to members of the churches in Asia Minor. Since the 2nd century the author has been identified with one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. This is commonly linked with an assumption that the same author wrote the Gospel of John. Others, however, have argued that the author could have been John the Elder of Ephesus, a view which depends on whether a tradition cited by Eusebius was referring to someone other than the apostle. The precise identity of “John” therefore remains unknown. The author is disambiguated from others as John of Patmos, because the author identified himself as an exile to the island of Patmos.


Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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