I am interested in the theories on when Deuteronomy was composed, and how it relates chronologically to Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.

As discussed elsewhere on this site, some consider Deuteronomy the work of a later author (or later authors) than the first four books; others consider all five books essentially the work of one author, in roughly the same time period.

I understand that there are, broadly speaking, 4 principal categories of theories:

  1. Moses wrote all 5 books (except the last 8 verses of Deuteronomy) circa 14th-century BC

  2. All five books of the Torah were compiled from earlier sources (oral & written) principally derived from Moses, but they did not reach their final form until the time of the Babylonian captivity

  3. The first four books were compiled from Moses' work after Moses' death, and someone else wrote Deuteronomy, using Moses' books as a source, centuries later

  4. None of the first 5 books are based on the work of Moses; Deuteronomy was written last, but all of them were written centuries later


  1. Which of these theories (or a different theory) is best supported by the evidence?

  2. Was Deuteronomy written in the same era as the first four books, or is it a much later work?

(see this related question: When was the Torah written or compiled?, which asks about the Torah as a whole, but does not really evaluate Deuteronomy's relationship with the first four books)

2 Answers 2


I am of the view that Moses wrote the entire Torah, with a few exceptions and caveats to be noted shortly. However, this does not mean that Moses wrote these five books of the Pentateuch in the same way and style. For example - see the appendix on the most plausible way that Moses probably wrote Genesis.

Unlike Genesis, Moses wrote Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers for the reasons to be stated shortly. That is, while Genesis was compiled and edited, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers appear to be original works of Moses.

Deuteronomy is clearly different because it consists of four speeches by Moses which means we have two possible ways it was created; either

  • Moses recorded and wrote the book (except the last chapter) just before he died about 1400 BC, or,
  • [more probably??] Someone like Joshua recorded Moses' speeches, adding an introduction and final chapter about Moses' death.

In either case, Moses is the author, just as Jeremiah was the author of his book and used Baruch as his secretary (Jer 32:12, 36:4, 14, 32, 45:1, etc.)

I believe Moses composed the book of Deuteronomy for the following reasons:

  1. Moses is the traditional author, without dissent, until the 19th century. Thus, tradition (back to pre-Christian times) is overwhelmingly in favor of Moses as author
  2. The NT authors appear to confirm this unanimously, Matt 19:7, 8 (quoting Deut 24:1), Mark 12:19 (quoting Deut 25:5), John 1:17, 7:19 (quoting Deut 4:44), John 1:45, Acts 3:22 (quoting Deut 18:15), Heb 10:28 (quoting Deut 17:2-7)
  3. The form of Hebrew and its expressions is very old Hebrew, discernibly different from Hebrew of later centuries [I am no expert in this area.]
  4. A number of "irregularities" testify to an ancient origin as well such as the differences in the 10 commandments between Ex 20 and Deut 5 - if this is the product of a later author/editor, these records would be more uniform.

None of this is to say that the text of the Torah was not altered in (hopefully) minor ways in later centuries - the extent of which is almost impossible to know but it is possible to see some later changes such as place names for some cities and locations.

APPENDIX - Origin of Genesis

Almost all commentators now structure the literary form of the book of Genesis around the “Toledoths” – a Hebrew word that is variously translated as, “the generations of”, “the history of”, “the account of”, “the record of”, etc. The debate in Genesis concerns the function of these Toledoths – do they form a heading (for what follows) or a colophon (footnote and “signature” of what has preceded)? Wiseman [Wiseman, P. J. (1936). New Discoveries in Babylonia about Genesis. London: Marsh, Morgan and Scott.] suggested, after studying Akkadian documents, that these Toledoths were colophons containing the identity of the author, and created an elaborate Tablet theory about Genesis. What are the facts? The 11 Toledoths in Genesis are:

  1. Gen 2:4 toledoth of Heavens and Earth
  2. Gen 5:1 toledoth of Adam
  3. Gen 6:9 toledoth of Noah
  4. Gen 10:1 toledoth of Shem Ham and Japheth
  5. Gen 11:10 toledoth of Shem
  6. Gen 11:27 toledoth of Terah
  7. Gen 25:12 toledoth of Ishmael
  8. Gen 25:19 toledoth of Isaac
  9. Gen 36:1 toledoth of Esau
  10. Gen 36:9 toledoth of Esau in Hill Country
  11. Gen 37:2 toledoth of Jacob

If the Toledoths are intended as a Colophon (footnote containing the author’s “signature”) to each section, then:

  • The last third of Genesis has no author
  • Some sections were written by people who did not witness the events or were antagonistic to the events and people, eg, most of the last 5 except Gen 36:9.
  • The first section was written by the heavens and the earth (!?!)

By contrast, if each Toledoth is a section heading:

  • Each section is about what the heading states without exception
  • Gen 1:1 – 2:3 is clearly written separately and in a very different style, verging on poetic.

This leads to a simple idea about the possible origin of the book of Genesis. It is probable (in agreement with Wiseman) that each Toledoth was written by a different (unstated) person (NOT the person in the Toledoth), and later, Moses collected and collated them, edited and arranged them, with an added introduction about creation, to create the book of Genesis, essentially as we now have it.


Deuteronomy was probably written during the reign of King Josiah (c. 640-609 B.C.E.). While this view is rejected by those who hold to biblical infallibility, it is accepted not only by skeptics but also by many mainstream Christians including Catholics. The US Conference of Catholics Bishops, in its introduction to Deuteronomy, states:

The book was probably composed over the course of three centuries, from the eighth century [Josiah's reign] to the exile and beyond. It bears some relation to “the Book of the Law” discovered in the Jerusalem Temple around 622 B.C. during the reign of King Josiah (2 Kgs 22:8–13). It gives evidence of later editing: cf. the references to exile in 4:1–40; 28:63–68; 29:21–28; 30:1–10.

This theory is based on a reading of 2 Kings 22:

Hilki′ah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord.” And Hilki′ah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. And Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the Lord.” 10 Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilki′ah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king.

After Josiah reads the book, he immediately institutes a major religious reform which can only be based on the Book of Deuteronomy, including not only the destruction of non-Israelite religions but also the centralization of Israelite worship in Jerusalem. Even altars dedicated to the God of Israel are destroyed in accordance with Deuteronomy's instruction that worship be allowed only in the "the place which the Lord your will will choose,' namely Jerusalem.

But when you go over the Jordan, and live in the land which the Lord your God gives you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you live in safety, then to the place which the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, thither you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the offering that you present, and all your votive offerings which you vow to the Lord. (Deut. 12:10-12)

The idea that Hilkiah's "book of the Law" was Deuteronomy has been discussed since ancient times by the Rabbis. In the Middle Ages, Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra (c.1093-1167 C.E.), noted the distinctly different meditative style and language of Deuteronomy. He stated that a number of verses must have been written by a later author, possibly Joshua. Similarly, in his introduction to Deuteronomy, Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) suggested that Deuteronomy was written by a different author than the rest Torah.

In the 19th century, with the advent of the documentary hypothesis, the idea that Deuteronomy was written Josiah's time gained wide acceptance among European biblical scholars. It remains an accepted view today, although often criticized by Evangelical scholars. An article entitled The Composition of Deuteronomy: When it was Written, published by The Rational Believer, provides both sides of the argument over date and authorship. It concludes:

The mainstream scholarship view is that Deuteronomy is a Josiah-era product, and the evidence seems to concur with that.

Further reading: Richard E. Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? (San Francisco: Harper, 1997, ISBN 978-0060630355).

  • @ Dan great A and helpful information Sep 27, 2022 at 13:56
  • Happy you feel that way. BTW there's another user named just plain "Dan" so he'll get notified instead of me if you don't include my last name. Sep 27, 2022 at 14:58

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