Computer Determines If Torah Is Mosaic … or a mosaic - Miller-McCune
This method correctly grouped the texts back into the original books with 99-percent accuracy, Dershowitz says. “It makes sense,” he says, “because you would expect any stylistic preference to manifest itself in different preferred words.”
Having proven the synonym-based sorting concept, the researchers applied it to the Torah. Over the past century scholars poring over biblical texts have proposed different theories about the authorship of the first five books, with some suggesting that as many as four distinct sources were intertwined over time, Dershowitz says.
The least-controversial theory identifies a “priestly” writing style that is distinct from the non-priestly portions of the text, he says. “Almost everyone agrees that you have a whole lot of material that was written by priests, and that material is unique in style and content and form,” he says. “We’re probably not talking about a single author, but nevertheless, all of the priestly material is extremely similar.”
With that in mind, “We asked the computer to split up the Pentateuch into two and see what we get,” Dershowitz says. “When we compared our results to the priestly/non-priestly business, we found them to be very similar. It’s in the vicinity of 90-percent agreement with the [scholarly] consensus.”
The team is still trying to figure out what accounts for the discrepancy with the accepted scholarly view in the remaining 10 percent of the samples, Dershowitz says. “When we disagree, what’s going on? Is it because they’re wrong or is it because we’re wrong?”
The use of statistical analysis to determine authorship dates back to 1964, when Frederick Mosteller and David Wallace tackled the problem of who wrote each of a dozen disputed Federalist papers. After analyzing the frequency of 265 “function” words (such as “and” “of” and “the”), they cast their vote for James Madison (as opposed to Alexander Hamilton), a verdict that has since been affirmed by other researchers. Computer-assisted studies of Shakespeare’s writings date back to the late 1960s and word-frequency analysis since have been applied to poetry, song lyrics and other literature.
Dershowitz views the synonym-based method as a step forward, but could it possibly be applied to other ancient texts?