Computer Algorithm Identifies Bible's Authors, Say Israeli Researchers

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By Allison Summers, Christian Post Reporter
October 14, 2011|8:34 pm

A group of Israeli researchers have formulated a computer algorithm designed to put an end to one of the greatest century-old debates among religious scholars: who and how many different people contributed to writing the Bible.

Although the program cannot exactly name the authors per say, it can determine changes in writing style by comparing synonyms and common words, such as prepositions, and looking at how they are used in various passages. This allows scholars to identify where one source finishes and another begins, and how many times that person contributed.

The results correspond to the traditional consensus among scholars of differences in writing styles. For example, the algorithm identified what religious researchers have already classified as "priestly" and "non-priestly" styles, which are identified in the first five books, or Torah, of the Bible. The priestly style possesses characteristics such as referring to God by various names and inconsistencies and repetitions, while the rest is made up of the non-priestly style, which is less focused on religious ritual.

The research team consisted of 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, according to the Accociated Press.
"Those for whom it is a matter of faith that the Pentateuch is not a composition of multiple writers can view the distinction investigated here as that of multiple styles," they said.

Over the centuries, the Bible has been a prime focus of speculation for religious researchers and scholars, and this is not the first time algorithms have been applied to the text in an attempt to extract information. Some researchers over the years have claimed to have derived formulas that unveil coded or hidden, meaningful messages in the Bible.

In 1994, researchers Doron Witztum, Eliyahu Rips and Yoav Rosenberg sparked controversy when they published a paper, "Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis," in the scientific journal Statistical Science. The three claimed to have been able to extract information from the Book of Genesis about famous rabbis that lived years after it was written by observing the distance between certain letters in the Bible.

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