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I read, what was to me, quite an interesting story from USA Today about different authors' contributing to different parts of the bible measured by analysing "linguistic fingerprints":

For millions of Jews and Christians, it’s a tenet of their faith that God is the author of the core text of the Hebrew Bible – the Torah, also known as the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses. But since the advent of modern biblical scholarship, academic researchers have believed the text was written by a number of different authors whose work could be identified by seemingly different ideological agendas and linguistic styles and the different names they used for God.[...]

The places in which the program disagreed with accepted scholarship might prove interesting leads for scholars. The first chapter of Genesis, for example, is usually thought to have been written by the “priestly” author, but the software indicated it was not.[...]

Similarly, the book of Isaiah is largely thought to have been written by two distinct authors, with the second author taking over after Chapter 39. The software’s results agreed that the book might have two authors, but suggested the second author’s section actually began six chapters earlier, in Chapter 33.

I asked a question more related to nature and operationalization of "linguistic fingerprint" on linguistics.SE. Here I would like to know, how many authors are thought to have been contributing to bible according to current state of knowledge. Where do these "old-school" and computer-based techniques of analysing overlap and where not? I assume it's more a graphological way of analysis in biblical hermeneutics. Is the term "linguistic fingerprint" used here at all?

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    Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! I think the question is too broad for the site at the moment and it would be best to narrow the question down to one book or class of books (Torah, New Testament letters, Psalms, Proverbs, etc.). One of your answers, for instance limited itself to just the Torah and if you edited your question to just ask about that, it would be easier to answer. (I'm quite interested in the topic and will look at the Linguistics question too.) – Jon Ericson Oct 31 '11 at 19:09
  • @JonEricson Feel free to edit, I'm no bible expert and was more interested in this "linguistic fingerprint" phenomenon and if experts in manual exegesis here can back this blog post up. Just replace bible with book you think most research on authorship was done. I would like to know what methods (probably grapholocigal) theologians use to differ authorship, but don't know if on-topic or you mainly concentrate on exegesis and content here. – Hauser Nov 1 '11 at 0:49
  • I tried editing the question (mostly the title and tags) to narrow the focus a bit. The number of authors question gets complicated quickly, but the "linguistic fingerprints" aspect might be manageably answered. I didn't know exactly what to do with the text of the question, because I don't understand all your terms. If you haven't got the answers you'd like, I suggest providing a bit more detail about what you mean by "graphological" and "old-school" vs. "computer-based techniques". – Jon Ericson Nov 1 '11 at 21:20
  • I seem to recall an article very much like this being passed around a year or two ago. Now, as then, I'm frustrated by the lack of detail on exactly what the technique entails. Obviously, a news article can't be expected to be heavy on technically details, however. Perhaps someone can dig up a journal article or paper to help us understand what textual markers are being proposed. – Jon Ericson Nov 1 '11 at 21:24
  • Check out the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method. – Dan Dec 19 '13 at 1:18
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To say that "God is the author" of the Bible is not entirely a correct statement of the Christian position. Christians do not believe that God dictated the words of the Bible, in the way that Islam believes about the Koran. The Catholic and Protestant positions are summarized here.

To induce a person to write is not to take on oneself the responsibility of that writing, more especially it is not to become the author of that writing. If God can claim the Scripture as His own work, it is because He has brought even the intellect of the inspired writer under His command. However, we must not represent the Inspirer as putting a ready-made book in the mind of the inspired person.

Because of this it is not critical to its validity how many authors of the Bible there were. The book of Isaiah can still be inspired, even if it was written by two people. 'Traditional' authorships are sometimes strongly defended, but in the end they are not fundamental to the faith.

I realise this doesn't actually answer the question you asked, and is more suited to the 'Christianity' site, but I thought I'd add it in anyway.

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    Please provide a link or author/book/page reference to the text you are citing. Also could you add to our knowledge of how many authors wrote the Bible - for example can you support the view that 2 (or 3) persons wrote Isaiah? – Dick Harfield Jan 26 '15 at 20:36
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"Linguistic Fingerprints" are a concept arising from the field of linguistic forensics. This discipline is divided into the examination of the written word and the spoken word. For the written word, we are concerned with forensic stylistics or stylometry, a sub-discipline within forensic linguistics.

While this discipline can have accuracy rates as high as 70-95% in some cases, it is doubtful that scriptural analysis would yield results this accurate due to a number of limitations.

Firstly, the National Clearinghouse for Science Technology & the Law1 notes that in courtrooms, forensic linguists typically would not conclude that someone had authored a particular work, but instead that an author had not authored a particular work:

In most cases, the expert can say with confidence that ... it is not likely that a certain person was the author of a particular written piece. ...[however,] it is easier to eliminate a person than to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person is the speaker or author.

In his masters thesis, Colin Mitchel of the University of South Africa2 notes the difficulty of establishing a means of determination:

Grant (2010) adduces that even if we accept the notion that “every native speaker has their own idiolect” (Coulthard 2004, 432) it is not necessarily true that an individual’s idiolect will be measurable in every text written by that individual, irrespective of the length of the text. Moreover, it would require a fairly substantial length of text before any measurable idiolect could be discerned, and in order to be useful in a forensic analysis, the idiolectal features would have to be repeated either in one text, or in a range of texts by the same author. Grant (2010) talks of the need to make a distinction between observation and theory when discussing idiolect. Even though the theory of an idiolectas distinctive variety of language may be necessary for authorship identification, the practical applications require the ability to detect consistent patterns of usage.

The typical way of determining the authorship of a piece is by comparing a work to another known work of the author using writer invarients. These are characteristics or distinctive which are consistently found in their writing. In English, many of these distinctive are centered around punctuation, though others can center on word choice and sentence structure. Because Biblical Hebrew has traditionally lacked many punctuation features of English and other modern languages, this would make comparisons comparatively more difficult.

For a very short work like Jude, there simply isn't a great body of writing to base this comparison on while something like Isaiah has a significantly larger body of writing to work with. Furthermore, there are often few other writings for comparison. Due to the nature of this discipline, a reference sample is generally required for comparison, otherwise opinions are based merely on an expert's intuition and "feel". But as Koppel and Schler3 note,

the examiner’s intuition about the significance of a stylistic feature can lead to methodological subjectivity and bias

They also go on to point out that for edited works, many distinctive features used in the identification process can be normalized. This means that scribal editing done to Biblical manuscripts removes idiosyncrasies needed for "fingerprinting"

Another concern is that in Forensic Stylistics, the assumption is typically that works can be clearly distinguished as to their beginning and end and that works consist of a sole author. Documentary Hypotesis dictates however that many sections of scripture have 2 or more authors and finding the boundaries between works is nearly impossible. For example, perhaps the reason Computer software referenced in the OP thought the authorship change of Isaiah started 6 chapters earlier could be due to a splicing in which works of both authors were redacted together and fingerprints of both authors are seen in those 6 chapters as a result.

While we might be able to determine if Paul did not author a purported Pauline epistle using these techniques with relative certainty, it would be nearly impossible to determine an exact number of authors in total. What works in one case for one book or passage of the Bible will not always be applicable in another. This doesn't mean that we cannot make educated guesses about texts and that this analysis would not be insightful, but to boil this down to an exact number of authors or to correctly divide texts into an exact number of John Doe authors would firstly be unverifiable and secondly be difficult to do with a high degree of confidence.


1 Angela Lack, July 2008, "It's Evident" newsletter, National Clearinghouse for Science Technology & the Law

3 Colin Mitchell, University of South Africa "Investigating The Use Of Forensic Stylistic And Stylometric Techniques Inthe Analyses Of Authorship On A Publicly Accessible Social Networkingsite (Facebook)"

3 Moshe Koppel and Jonathan Schler; Dept. of Computer Science Bar-Ilan University Exploiting Stylistic Idiosyncrasies for Authorship Attribution

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Samuel Davidson, D.D undertook a comprehensive study of the Old Testament in An Introduction to the Old Testament, Critical, Historical, and Theological, Containing a Discussion of the Most Important Questions Belonging to the Several Books (published 1862). In particular he looked at the evidence for and against multiple authors of the Pentateuch. Some of the evidence he uses, to identify different authors of passages in the Pentateuch, are not relevant here because they are not about linguistics as such. However, he does find linguistic differences that we could call linguistic fingerprints and finds that they confirm the findings of other evidence. Davidson says (pages 26-29) the Yahwist’s manner is more elaborate than that of the Elohist and that he evinces more fullness, throwing in traits which make a better picture, and secondary circumstances which add life to the description. He says the descriptions of the Elohist are regular, orderly, clear, simple, inartificial, calm, free from the rhetorical and poetical. His language is less cultivated ; for though it be occasionally of an intermediate character between poetry and prose, it is not commonly facile, smooth, or flowing. So, the Yahwist’s manner is more elaborate than that of the Elohist. A prominent feature of the Yahwist is the propensity to make or find etymologies. On page 30, Davidson gives some examples of phraseologies he finds characteristic of the Yahwist and those of the Elohist.

Many scholars now consider the Book of Isaiah to have had three different authors, with striking stylistic variations and differences in vocabulary between each. First Isaiah (Isaiah, son of Amoz) used brief, emphatic diction. Second Isaiah (Chapters 40-55) has a more extensive vocabulary and a more lyrical style. Third Isaiah (Chapters 56-66) has a similar style to Second Isaiah, but wrote after the Return from Exile. A clear fingerprint is in the use of the name 'Isaiah', which is used 16 times in chapters 1-39, but not at all in the subsequent chapters. Not only were chapters 40-66 not written by a person named Isaiah, the authors of the later chapters had not intended their writings to be attributed to Isaiah, although inclusion of their books on the same scroll eventually led to that attribution.

Critical scholars have identified Paul's linguistic fingerprint from his undisputed epistles, saying that his writing can be identified by, among other things, the use of relatively short sentences. They have reached a consensus that he did write Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Galatians, Philippians and 1 Thessalonians, but a varying majority dispute the authenticity of the other Pauline epistles. A. Van Roon (The Authenticity of Ephesians, page 105ff) says that Ephesians uses very many long sentences. As a yardstick he says that sentences that comprise more than 14 lines of the Nestle edition can properly be called 'exceedingly long sentences'. Van Roon identifies six sentences that fit this criterion in Ephesians, including one sentence that, in Greek, occupies all of Ephesians 1:3-14. Colossians actually has the longest sentence of any epistle attributed to Paul: Colossians 1:9-20. The quite short 2 Thessalonians contains one 'exceedingly long sentence' and a high proportion of long sentences. There is no suggestion that sentence length is enough, by itself, to declare an epistle inauthentic, but these are three of the epistles which, on other grounds, are generally regarded by scholars as pseudepigraphical.

It would be too broad and imprecise to state how many authors are thought to have been contributing to the Bible according to current state of knowledge, and in any case some of the evidence is not linguistic. The author of Second Peter claims stridently to be Simon Peter, even to the extent of calling himself "Simeon Peter" - Simeon being the Hebrew form of the Aramaic name that Peter would have used. This is one linguistic evidence that the real Peter did not write 2 Peter, as it is unlikely that he would ever have used the Hebrew form of his own name.

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  • "as it is most improbable that he would ever have used the Hebrew form of his own name." Why?? – curiousdannii Aug 8 '16 at 9:35
  • @curiousdannii First, he was writing in Greek, so a Hebrew name here would be an affectation; 2: no one - not even Jesus - ever refers to Peter as Simeon so it is most natural for Simon Peter to refer to himself by using the name by which everyone knew him; 3: it is doubtful if Peter or his readers ever used Hebrew; 4: (by example) if I wrote a letter in which I declared that I was the author, but I used an unfamiliar version of my name, such as Richie Harfield, you would be suspicious and the author would not wish to arouse suspicion (some Church Fathers were suspicious of 2 Peter). – Dick Harfield Aug 8 '16 at 21:31
  • Well there is Acts 15:14. – curiousdannii Aug 8 '16 at 21:50
  • @curiousdannii Good point, but there is no suggestion that Acts was written by Peter or to people who knew Peter. It was written to a Greek-speaking audience who would not have queried a third party referring to Peter as 'Simeon'. If you like, I'll amend my answer, since this is only one clue as to the authorship of 2 Peter. – Dick Harfield Aug 9 '16 at 0:17
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In sensus plenior it is proper to say that God dictated the words of the Bible, but he did it subliminally, not orally. He was so involved in the history of the development of language that all the words that need double meanings have them. He was involved in the genetic makeup, education, circumstances, etc surrounding the human authors that when they wrote the scriptures they could write nothing but what they wrote.

There are authorial fingerprints in the sensus plenior. Genesis appears to be written by the Father, wherein the perspective is always focused on the finished work of the Son. Sin is acknowledged, but the Son has it covered. The second portion, the history of Israel, appears to be written by the Son for whom the Father has chosen a prostitute for a bride, but he loves her and works for and woos her. He goes into great detail concerning his love for her and the anguish she causes him. The third portion, the gospels, seems to be written from the perspective of the best man proclaiming "Behold the bridegroom comes!"

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    Do you have a reference to back up this position? It certainly contradicts the Christian viewpoints that I am aware of. And it does not appear to be fundamental to sensus plenior. – DJClayworth Jan 6 '12 at 17:44
  • What is the contradiction? What Christian viewpoints are you aware of that have an interpretation of sensus plenior that contradict this? What reference would you use to define the fundamentals of sensus plenior? The reason I ask is that the only 'standard' with which I am aware is that sensus plenior does not exists, or if it does, Christians are not permitted to try to understand it since they are not apostles. If there is another standard, I would like to research it. Thanks. – Bob Jones Jan 14 '12 at 19:50
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    "Sensus plenior" means "fuller sense." Your answer deals with allegorical interpretations of the text, not a fuller sense. Also, most Christians I know hold to a "verbal plenary" theory of inspiration. This means that God inspired all (plenary) of the Bible by the very words (plenary). – Frank Luke Jan 17 '12 at 18:40
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    Although sensus plenior means 'fuller sense' literally, it is used in the discussions among evangelicals and Catholics to refer to the meaning intended by God but unknown to the human author, and is closely related to the sod of Pardes. As such, the way I use it is proper. Sensus plenior is a type of allegory but it is not a free-for-all. Also, it does not contradict, but asserts, that God inspired every jot and tittle. – Bob Jones Jan 21 '12 at 14:29

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