Liberal Rabbi Mark L. Solomon says:  “We have no way of knowing for certain the authorship of any of the Biblical books, including the prophecies in Neviim (Prophets), since they were probably based on oral teaching handed down for generations before being written down by anonymous scribes.”  What’s your opinion?


My opinion is that Rabbi Solomon is exaggerating the situation, but that there is more truth in what he says than falsehood.  Clearly, not all of the Old Testament was oral teaching, but also clearly some of it was.  Specifically, Genesis was surely oral tradition for hundreds of years before it was written down.  The tradition that Genesis was written by Moses is quite unlikely, as it reflects the culture of Mesopotamia in the 19th century BC, not Egypt in the 15th century BC.
It is quite possible that books such as Job, Joshua and Judges are also the result of oral tradition which was passed along for quite some time before being put into written form.  We do not know the authors of these books.
With the histories—Samuels, Kings and Chronicles, we do not know the authors of these books, but the evidence is that they were first produced in written form (and that the authors used written sources for their written histories), which would make Solomon’s statement about them to be false.
Also, the prophets such as Jeremiah and Zechariah appear to have been put into written form initially, and that the authors are probably the one for whom the book is named.  This is not a slam-dunk fact, but it is the most likely scenario.  Similarly, Ezra was a real person who almost certainly wrote Ezra.  The same can be said for Nehemiah.
The authorship of many or most of the Psalms and the Proverbs is very difficult to establish, and it is not crazy to propose that many of them were initially in oral form.
There is a variety of scenarios through which the books of the Old Testament came into being, but I am quite confident to say that Solomon is exaggerating the situation.  We know the author of several of the Old Testament books, and a number of them existed first in written, not in oral form. Of course, we cannot be absolutely 100% certain who wrote any book. It is possible that Shakespeare did not write Romeo and Juliette and that Dr. Seuss did not write Green Eggs and Ham. However, it is a dubious thing, in my opinion, to make the broad statement that Solomon makes, implying that we have virtually no idea at all of any of the authors of the Hebrew Bible. It is unfortunate that Solomon would make the exaggerated statement. It makes me think that he has a not-very-well hidden agenda behind what he says.  But… Remember that there is significant truth in what he is saying and please do not over-react against his exaggeration.
John Oakes

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