Software developed by an Israeli team is giving intriguing new hints about what some 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.
The program, part of a subfield of artificial intelligence studies known as authorship attribution, has a range of potential applications - from helping law enforcement to developing new computer programs for writers. But the Bible provided a tempting test case for the algorithm's creators.
For millions of Jews and Christians, it's a tenet of their faith that God is the author of the core text of the Hebrew Bible. But since the advent of modern biblical scholarship, academic researchers have believed the text was written by a number of different authors whose work could be identified by seemingly different ideological agendas and linguistic styles and the different names they used for God.
Today, scholars generally split the text into two main strands. One is believed to have been written by a figure or group known as the "priestly" author, because of apparent connections to the Temple priests in Jerusalem. The rest is "non-priestly."
When the new software was run on the Torah, it found the same division, and 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, 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 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.