"An apology for the devil: it must be remembered that we have heard only one side of the case. God has written all the books."

- Samuel Butler



When were the biblical books written?


"Christian doctrine was shredded to pieces by biblical scholars in the 18th and 19th centuries, but the information didn't get out to the bulk of the people..."

- Farrell Till, The Skeptical Review

"Strictly speaking, there is no such book [as the Bible]. To make the Bible, sixty-six books are bound into one volume. These books are written by many people at different times, and no one knows the time or the identity of any author."

- Clarence Darrow

4.1 A prerequisite disclaimer.

While many parts of this site can stand alone, this section is uniquely dependent on the previous one. The previous question was a critical prerequisite to understanding that document dating, like archaeology, is an ongoing process of refinement. With that understanding, we can proceed to examine what just might be the best set of dates to come out of twentieth-century study for the books of the Bible. The scholarly work herein is credited mostly to R.K. Harrison, Gleason Archer, and F.F. Bruce. Of course, even their work may be subject to further refinement in the future.

Confirming the author of each biblical book will not be dealt with here as it's not as important as discovering when the books were written. Authorship is of lesser importance because the chief appeal of Jesus' divinity by first century Christians, as by many today, was Jesus' fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. It is therefore far more important to place dates on those prophecies than to identify who spoke them (though many of those identities are confidently established). So by establishing the dates of the Old Testament works, we can then know that the prophecies of Christ's appearance were written long before the fact, not afterwards.

4.2 The effect of the Enlightenment on document dating.

One method of establishing dates for scriptural writings which was popular several hundred years ago entailed counting the generations of descendants mentioned in the Bible and then calculating backwards. This method assumed the completeness of the genealogies in the Massoretic copies of Scripture (the earliest biblical documents available at that time). It also assumed the listed descendants were not just representative of larger genealogies (some were). Authorships were simply taken at face value (e.g. Jeremiah wrote Jeremiah) or upon rabbinical tradition (Jeremiah also wrote 1 & 2 Kings).

In the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries, a period also known as the Enlightenment, the emphasis on rationalism came to seriously challenge the validity of this dating method as well as the believed authorship of many of the writings. It is during this period that doubt was stirred up about the age and authorship of the biblical writings. This doubt was so embraced by critics of that time that even today emerging archaeological facts on the authenticity of Scripture are refused consideration by those wishing to remain content with nineteenth century conclusions.

4.3 Scholarship of the Enlightenment.


The Enlightenment was a period of multi-faceted change mainly from the late seventeenth to the late nineteenth-century. Typical of historical paradigm shifts, there were a number of factors that shaped this period; one of which were Isaac Newton's scientific laws. His simplification of basic mechanical principles in an earlier era had given rise to a philosophical direction called mechanism or determinism.

Determinism basically viewed the universe as an enormous but fundamentally simple mechanism that could be completely understood with mathematics. This manner of thinking seemed to provide an empirical basis for deists who believed that God existed in some remote form, but not in an intimate closeness as described in the Bible. The Bible's more personal view of God was the previously more popular belief in the western world (which Newton himself held).

Over the years, the tremendous success of Newton's laws in predicting the behavior of objects in motion progressively supported the idea that formulae and theories could be equivocated to actual facts. The most recognizable of such equivocations is that of evolution. Belief that human life evolved from lower forms of life was initially most prevalent in France and Germany. The theory of evolution helped catapult a revolution in the former, and reshaped both science and philosophy in the latter.

As a consequence to France and Germanys' popular acceptance of evolutionary theory as fact, from those same nations arose a similar theory of formation concerning the Bible.


As man was being theorized to have evolved, so critics began to theorize that the biblical writings evolved. Philosophical reasoning of that era generally followed this line:

Seventeenth-century deistic philosopher Thomas Hobbes believed in the great antiquity of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and in Moses as its author, but Hobbes assigned late dates to at least five other Old Testament books. Jewish philosopher Benedict Spinoza similarly assigned late dates to many books, but believed the biblical prophet Ezra to have authored the Torah.

In 1753, French physician Jean Astruc anonymously published his thoughts that Moses was indeed the author of Genesis. However, he also believed that certain repetitions and discrepancies alleged by earlier critics was answered by the conjecture that Moses merely compiled pre-existing documents of separate authors. 2


Beginning with his 1780's work Einleitung, German scholar J. G. Eichhorn eliminated Moses as either author or compiler of the Torah. Eichhorn instead divided Genesis and part of Exodus into the work of two anonymous compilers on the criteria of whether God was addressed as Elohim or Jehovah (Yahweh).

This criteria was modified by other German scholars including Hermann Hupfeld around 1853. He noted that passages using Elohim nonetheless appeared to express more than one particular interest and, therefore, the Elohim passages themselves must have had more than one author. 3 Of Hupfeld's beliefs, Harrison writes,

He further maintained that the second scribe was closer in linguistic peculiarities and style to the Jehovistic author than to the first Elohistic scribe (die Urschrift), who distinctly manifested priestly tendencies. There were now four principle sources to be borne in mind in all considerations relating to the compilation of the Pentateuch or Hexateuch: these consisted of a Jehovistic (J) document, and Elohistic (E) compilation, a Priestly (P) source ..., and the book of Deuteronomy (D). 4

This construction was further modified in 1865 by K. H. Graf, and later Julius Wellhausen, with an assignment of very late dates to the documents. Wellhausen, as did many of his contemporaries like Nietzsche, Darwin, and Freud, sought to explain all things in terms of singular, simple principles. Harrison describes Wellhausen's methods, which became the foundation for critics of the Bible until the mid-twentieth century:

Starting from the Positivist premise that religion was merely an offshoot or product of human cultural activity, he applied the evolutionary philosophical concepts of Hegelianism to a study of the faith of Israel. On the view that little could be known for certain with regard to Hebrew history and religion prior to the beginning of the monarchy, Wellhausen rejected the idea that the Torah... was the starting-point for the history of Israel as a community of faith. 5

As a result of his premise, Wellhausen concluded that the first five books of the Bible evolved into their present form only as late as 200 BC. He also asserted that, for centuries, oral tradition alone had preserved the writings, and that Israelites did not even exist prior to Moses. 6


As late as 1893, supporters of Wellhausen believed his document hypothesis to be correct based upon literary style and mostly upon the belief that writing had not been developed prior to 1000 BC. 7 Although biblical archaeology was still some fifty years from its greatest discoveries (like dating writing back to 3100 BC), there still existed evidence in Wellhausen's day clearly proving that writing developed far earlier than he claimed. Yet as Germany was about to begin the twentieth century, its scholarship in more fields than just biblical studies was taking on the character of "intellectual aggression and domination and a self-assured ideological superiority". 8

With great stubbornness, Wellhausen and his colleagues continued to reject the mounting evidence for the antiquity of Jewish writings. This rejection reflected the character in Germany which, at that time, was increasingly expressing a hatred of all things Jewish, including the rabbinical traditions in regards to the scriptures.

Theologically, this stubborn and bitter atmosphere culminated in the German State Church and, later in the 1930's, the German Christian movement. This movement paralleled the rise of the Nazi movement and sought to completely purge the Bible of its Jewish aspects and references including, unbelievably, even the Jewishness of Jesus.

4.4 Modern scholarship.

Current biblical scholarship is utilizing all of the methods of dating outlined in the previous section. Although the modern researcher is still not without his or her own bias, the rabid anti-Semitism and archaeological infancy of the previous era are no longer the monumental problems they once were.

In Wellhausen's day, conservative scholars never accepted his documentary hypothesis, and in the last half of the twentieth-century, that hypothesis is being shunned even by many of its liberal proponents. The current return to more conservative dates and authorships can be attributed to several things according to scholars Gleason Archer and Oswald T. Allis: 9

1) The anti-supernatural premise in the previous age by certain French and German scholars begged for anti-supernatural conclusions; this premise included bias against revelation, prophecy, and even belief in God.

2) The Wellhausen theory was not coherent unless it was inconsistently applied. If any passages, for instance, exhibited more than one style by the rules of those who supported the document hypothesis, those passages were written off as having been contaminated by later scribes. Therefore, in Archer's words, "...the same body of evidence which is relied upon to prove the theory is rejected when it conflicts with the theory." 10

3) Scholars critical of the Bible have been proven mistaken in assuming that any singular author could not refer to the Almighty by more than one title, or create a document with more than one theme.

4) The quick retreat to attribute any alleged discrepancy to a later author or compiler has proved unnecessary, thanks to a better understanding of ancient cultures and practices as being gained through modern archaeology.

5) Current scholars have additional ancient Hebrew writings with which to compare the scriptures which earlier scholars did not. Scholarship as late as World War II did not know of the material that we have today, including the Dead Sea Scrolls; one of the greatest archaeological finds of all time.

4.5 Dates of origin for each book of the Bible.

As a culmination of modern scholarship, the link below is a chart listing each book and letter of the Bible with the approximate date, or date range, for each work's completion (not beginning). This chart is a compilation of research by the aforementioned scholars Archer, Harrison, and Bruce. 11 It is intended to represent the general consensus of many eminent scholars' lifetime studies and, therefore, is not intended to represent any single scholar's point of view.




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What early manuscripts of the Bible exist today?

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Determining the age of the biblical documents confirms their historicity.

It is also a first step in determining their authenticity (e.g., were these documents written when the authors claim they were written?).

(Jump to the date chart.)