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This source claims, and walks through proof, that the 5 Books of Moses (Pentateuch) date all the way back to at least the era of Joshua ~1200 years B.C.E. Is this really true?

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    Hermeneutics.SE is a site with relevant experts on it; you might be better off asking this there. – Oddthinking Oct 10 '16 at 6:04
  • Is this about the oral or the written Torah? My understanding is that the Torah was in oral form (with perhaps pieces written down) for a long time, but was only written around the Babylonian Exile in ~600-400 BCE. Most scholars seem to agree with this as described in my previous wikipedia link. But your source seems to be mentioning a subtantially earlier written Torah, which is confusing me. – KAI Oct 11 '16 at 17:52
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    I removed the word "Torah" as there are many kinds of things called Torah in Judaism – Avery Oct 12 '16 at 12:50
  • Link is broken. – DonielF Dec 17 '17 at 12:13
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The source you quote makes the case for authorship in the Mosaic era (or even by Moses himself, as is the tradition), based on internal textual evidence and where there is an apparent lack of motive for forgery. This is a reasonable example of one form of evidence for dating the Bible.

A more concrete archaeological example, which you can read on hermeneutics.SE, is the resemblance of the 10 Commandments and Deuteronomy to Hittite covenants of the period 1200-1500 BC. There is a counter-argument that this could be coincidental, but some recent scholars find the resemblances convincing, and again there is no motive for forgery.

Another internal example, which I summarized here on skeptics.SE, is the word choices and writing style of the story of Exodus. Although this story contains some elements that people might reasonably find dubious (such as miraculous plagues and sea splitting), and there is no archaeological evidence of a massive flight from Egypt, the writing closely matches a historical context of 13th-14th century BC.

On the other hand, as I previously discussed here, as best we understand it today, what was practiced in Israel in the 13th-14th century B.C. probably did not resemble the strict monotheism of today's Rabbinical Judaism and Christianity. We have no certain textual evidence one way or the other, but it's reasonable to believe that the text of the Bible may have been redacted after its initial composition.

The 19th century Documentary Hypothesis proposed that the Bible was written around 800 BC. Although this held sway in the secular academy for many decades, it is no longer considered as valuable as a method of historical dating for the Bible narrative. Instead, it is used as a way to analyze the literary composition of the Bible, from a historically agnostic perspective. There are still some Biblical scholars who support historical datings of 800 BC or even ongoing redaction as late as 120 BC, but R.N. Whybray's The Making of the Pentateuch (1987) remains a strong counterpoint to overly historicist theses.

  • +1, I really like your answer! I will wait to accept to see if there are other opinions. – OldBunny2800 Oct 10 '16 at 20:10
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    I’m always weary of the argument “this would be unreasonably clever”: It’s in fact an argument from lack of imagination, i.e. a logical fallacy. And in the context of archaeology it often implicitly appeals to our beliefs that our ancestors were less intelligent than we are (which is false, they were at least as intelligent). — Note that I don’t doubt the age of the pentateuch, but this particular line of reasoning is poor evidence. – Konrad Rudolph Oct 12 '16 at 17:24
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    @KonradRudolph - You're right, instead of saying "clever" I should have been clear that there would have been no reason to do this. – Avery Oct 12 '16 at 17:27
  • I would respectfully question the quality of sources in this answer. Three of them are other discussions at SE, two of them are personal blogs, and one Wikipedia article. Other facts, such as the lack of archeological evidence for mass migrations, are not cited at all. – denten Oct 17 '16 at 22:23
  • @Avery I have no relevant subject area knowledge so I am merely saying this to make the conversation clear: if the stories are or are not fictional, they affect your repeated argument to lack of motivation for forgery. Right? Indeed a "lack of motivation" argument is always suspicious as there could be a host motivations to individuals and groups at the time which we do not know about or understand. – Richard Rast Oct 18 '16 at 1:27

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