World

Moses’ many co-authors

An Israeli computer science professor is trying to prove that several different people wrote the Torah together
FILE - In this Sunday, March 14, 2010 file photo, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man writes some of the last words in a Torah scroll before it is taken from the Western Wall into the Hurva synagogue in Jerusalem’s Old City. Software developed by an Israeli team of scholars led by Moshe Koppel, of Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, is giving intriguing new hints about what researchers believe to be the multiple hands that wrote the Bible. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty, File)
Moses’ many co-authors
Dan Balilty/AP

To Jews and Christians, Moses was the author of the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Torah. But an Israeli computer science professor is trying to prove that several different people actually wrote them together. Working with a team of collaborators, including his son, Tel Aviv University’s Nachum Dershowitz developed computer software that searches a text for hints like word preference—using “said” instead of “spoke,” for example—to divide it up according to how many people probably helped write it.

To test out the algorithm and make sure it was working, the team deliberately mixed up passages from the two Hebrew books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, then had the computer separate them. It did so with 99 per cent accuracy. The software still can’t decipher exactly how many people worked to write the Bible, but it can flag transition points, where one voice shifts to the next.

Experts say the algorithm could have all sorts of applications, such as shedding new light on other mysterious or very old writings, like the nature of Shakespeare’s collaborations, for example. Dershowitz said that providing new detail to Biblical scholarship was gratifying in and of itself.