Scholars have been raising doubts about Moses' authorship since the mid-1600s, when Thomas Hobbes noted that certain passages in the five books of the Torah seemed to indicate they had been added by a later writer.
- Genesis 12:6, "At that time the Canaanites were in the land." And they still were in Moses' time.
- Deuteronomy 34, the account of Moses' death, including the phrase in verse 6, "no one knows his burial place to this day."
- Numbers 12:3, stating, "Moses was very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth," which would not have been true if he had written it himself.
About 100 years later Jean Astruc identified pairs of stories, or "doublets", indicating two streams of oral tradition that he believed were combined by Moses in writing the Torah. In these doublets, one story refers to God as "Elohim", and the other uses the divine name "YHWH".
- Creation: Genesis 1:1 - 2:3 ("six days", Elohim); Genesis 2:4-25 ("Garden of Eden", YHWH)
- God's covenant with Abraham: Genesis 15:1-21 (YWHW); Genesis 17:1-27 (Elohim, though it refers to YWHW in verse 1)
- Abraham calls his wife his sister: Genesis 12:10-20 (YHWH); Genesis 20:1-18 (Elohim, though it uses YHWH in verse 18)
Other scholars followed Astruc's lead and identified other doublets.
- God renames Jacob to Israel: Genesis 32:22-32 (after wrestling God at Peniel); Genesis 35:9-15 (at Bethel)
- Moses' father in law: Exodus 2:17-22 (Zipporah's father is Reuel); Exodus 18:1-6 (Zipporah's father is Jethro)
- Covenant of the Ten Commandments: Exodus 34 (on Mount Sinai); Deuteronomy 5 (on Mount Horeb) — Deuteronomy 5 is written as a reminder of the covenant from Exodus 34
By the early 1800s the majority of scholars argued that these two independent sources were combined much later than Moses' day, and that two additional sources could be identified within the Torah.
The four sources were labeled J, E, P, and D:
- J: these always used YHWH to refer to God (most of the scholars were German, and German J = English Y)
- E: these almost always used Elohim (or a related form, e.g. El Shaddai or El Elyon) to refer to God
- P: these passages referred to matters relating to Priests
- D: the book of Deuteronomy did not fit any of these, and was considered to have its own distinct source
Additionally, archaeological findings have not shown any evidence of a written Hebrew alphabet prior to the time of the earliest kings of Israel. If the Torah can be traced back to Moses in any way, it is likely to be only as an oral tradition.