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13 - Spurious attribution in the Hebrew Bible

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2009

Philip R. Davies
Professor in the Study of Religion Durham University
James R. Lewis
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Olav Hammer
University of Southern Denmark
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“Spurious attribution” in the Hebrew Bible is a complex issue. Much of it is retrospective, of course, the result of pious tradition. Indeed, in this respect the Bible as a whole suffers from spurious attribution when referred to, indiscriminately, as the “word of God” or of divine authorship. Some biblical texts explicitly claim to be from God: the law dictated to Moses or oracles to prophets. But these passages are distinguished from their narrative framework as well as from the voice of the recipient until he says, “Thus says the Lord.” For, unlike the Qur'an, the Bible does not claim to consist entirely of divine speech, or to have been entirely dictated.

Spurious attribution within the Bible, with which this chapter mainly deals, is another matter. But in order to understand the nature and implications of the issue, we need first to consider, briefly, the question of “authorship” in its historical and cultural context.


While the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) shares with the New Testament a similar attitude to the distinction (or lack of it) between fact and fiction, it differs over attribution of authorship. Over half of the Old Testament books are not explicitly credited, in whole or in part, to individual authors (i.e. Genesis–Job, Chronicles). This is not unexpected, but follows the scribal culture of the ancient Near East – the territory stretching from Egypt to Mesopotamia, the so-called “Fertile Crescent” – which largely determined the conventions governing the composition and transmission of the Jewish scriptures (composed in Hebrew, with a few chapters in Aramaic).

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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