The Pentateuch, or the five books of Moses—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy—how was it formed? What is the history of its composition?
The traditional view of both Judaism and Christianity has been that it was written by Moses under divine inspiration.
As early as the 12th century, however, the Jewish commentator Ibn Ezra raised questions about certain references that seemed to point unmistakably to events that occurred or circumstances that existed much later than Moses’ time. Some of the difficulties besetting the traditional dogma—for example, the circumstantial account of Moses’ death and burial at the end of Deuteronomy—are obvious to us today. This was not the case in the early modern period, however. Richard Simon, a French Oratorian priest now regarded as one of the pioneers in the critical study of the Pentateuch, discovered this the hard way when he published his Histoire critique du Vieux Testament (Critical History of the Old Testament) in 1678. Simon tentatively attributed the final form of the Pentateuch to scribes from the time of Moses to the time of Ezra. Simon’s work was placed on the Roman Catholic index, most of the 1,300 copies printed were destroyed and Simon himself was exiled to a remote parish in Normandy.