Today in class, my Hebrew/OT professor mentioned a recent study on the authorship of the Hebrew Bible using a computer algorithm. The software divided the Hebrew text into two categories: priestly and non-priestly. Regardless of one’s view of this type of study, the results are very interesting.
Israeli software aims to shed light on the Bible
Software developed by an Israeli team is giving intriguing new hints about what researchers believe to be the multiple hands that wrote the Bible.
The new software analyzes style and word choices to distinguish parts of a single text written by different authors, and when applied to the Bible its algorithm teased out distinct writerly voices in the holy book.
When the new software was run on the Pentateuch, it found the same division, separating the “priestly” and “non-priestly.” It matched up with the traditional academic division at a rate of 90 percent – effectively recreating years of work by multiple scholars in minutes, said Moshe Koppel of Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, the computer science professor who headed the research team.
“We have thus been able to largely recapitulate several centuries of painstaking manual labor with our automated method,” the Israeli team announced in a paper presented last week in Portland, Oregon, at the annual conference of the Association for Computational Linguistics. The team includes a computer science doctoral student, Navot Akiva, and a father-son duo: Nachum Dershowitz, a Tel Aviv University computer scientist, and his son, Idan Dershowitz, a Bible scholar at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The places in which the program disagreed with accepted scholarship might prove interesting leads for scholars. The first chapter of Genesis, for example, is usually thought to have been written by the “priestly” author, but the software indicated it was not.
View the article in its entirety here.