I often encounter the idea that the Hebrew Scriptures, or at least many of them, are summaries or fragments of larger works. However, considering the value and tight control that the Jews seem to have had in retaining the accuracy of them, it seems more to me that most books are more like continuous writings by single authors. Is there any evidence that settles the notion one way or the other, or is this a matter of unresolvable conjecture either way?

  • Walter Kaiser has a book Recovering the Unity of the Bible where he addresses themes appearing throughout the Bible. Also Gleason Archer's A Survey of Old Testament Introduction addresses the multiple author arguments of the Old Testament works. To me, they are settled as single author (with a few later edits).
    – Frank Luke
    Jul 30 '13 at 21:08
  • This has some decent answers already, but the question lacks focus, and some textual examples would provide clarity.
    – Dɑvïd
    Jun 20 '14 at 22:09

You might cast a glance at "Peshat and Derash" by Halivni. This book, by an Orthodox Jewish scholar, puts forward the thesis that the original text, as delivered via revelation, had a few mishaps during the era of the Judges, thus explaining some of the more obvious flaws.

Backing up a bit ...

Jewish in-tradition scholarship has always recognized that the text is (a) somewhat pieced together, and (b) has some problems. For (a), see the 'inverted nuns' that bracket certain passages. For (b), see the dots over some words and letters. Halivni's book is a consise place to read up; otherwise the data are scattered all over the place.

Meanwhile, critical scholarship looks to 'the Deuteronomist' as the group of people who assembled a set of disparate textual and/or oral materials into a coherent whole. The overall narrative and thematic cohesion results from this group's desire to reflect their beliefs; the cases of not-so-coherence that gave rise to the original 'critical theory' and its heirs and successors are the result of this group's limited willingness to modify the materials they started from.

I don't find the expressions 'summaries' or 'fragments' to be a particularly helpful way of characterizing the process. If you are {o|O}rthodox, you believe that there was an original text, given by revelation, and subsequently perhaps somewhat damaged. However, 'somewhat damaged' is not the same as 'summarized' or 'fragmented'.

If you are of a more text-critical sensibility, you believe that the text we receive is the result of an intensive literary process that wove together much material. However, the weavers were much more interested in inclusion than exclusion. Yes, some entire texts were not canonized, but the texts we have aren't summaries or fragments.


Literary structure would be a factor that supports them being single works (with some obvious redactions). To modern eyes, the books of Moses, for instance, do appear fragmentary, resulting in theories like JEDP. But as David Dorsey observes in his book "The Literary Structure of the Old Testament," the reason for this is literary conventions of which we are not always aware, such as symmetry. I have done a detailed study on the book of Numbers and it is "fractal" in nature. It is constructed of seven cycles, each of which images the whole. I have no doubt that all the Hebrew scriptures follow the same convention, having covered the basic structure of many of them. In some cases, this sort of analysis can actually make the "incorrect" textual variants obvious, because they distort the common string of ideas. Interestingly, Dorsey observes that the book of Isaiah was likely written by a single author because there is a symmetry inherent in the entire text. This would be extremely unlikely if it were written by two authors with a historical gap in between their works.


there are different authors, and some dispute as to who wrote what. although books written by someone in the story, are usually more fragmented, reason being that it was written in parts, over time. this applies especially to the five books of moses, written over 40 years, (if in fact written by Moses) over which time there were many major events in his life; and some parts he was more familiar with, even experienced first-hand, while others were over a thousand years previous. Lamentations as well was written in two parts, chapters #1,2, and 4, (which all have 22 verses going in alphabetical order) and chapters #3 and 5.

it is precisely because of the tight grip of jews, that we dont have all the books. not because they were lost, but because they weren't included intentionally, as the Babylon Talmud states (megilah 14a):

There were actually very many, as it has been taught, ‘Many prophets arose for Israel, double the number of [the Israelites] who came out of Egypt’, only the prophecy which contained a lesson for the future generations was written down, and that which did not contain such a lesson was not written. here is a link its on page 52

(for those who dont know 600,000 Israelite's exited Egypt = one hell of alot)

  • here is what i said "it is precisely because of the tight grip of jews, that we dont have all the books. not because they were lost, but because they weren't included intentionally" Aug 18 '13 at 2:54
  • There are some indications of books being written (i dont have a good source sorry) and not accepted as mainstream, i.e. part of the 24 books. i think there are some in other traditions, and/or discovered somewhat recently, im very sorry that i dont have a good source for this. you may want to google this. Aug 18 '13 at 3:03

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