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Varying authors of Bible’s books can be detected by computer algorithm

By Nancy Szokan,

Software finds multiple biblical authors

In both Jewish and Christian traditions, Moses is believed to have written the Torah — the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Pentateuch. But for many years, scholars have presented evidence that these books, as well as much of the rest of the Bible, were the work of many unknown authors.

Now Israeli researchers have come up with a computer algorithm that, they say, can recognize linguistic cues and separate, if not identify, writers who contributed to various parts of the Bible.

Nachum Dershowitz of Tel Aviv University’s Blavatnik School of Computer Science said the new software searches for and compares details that might be as simple as one author’s preference for the word “said” instead of “spoke.”

To test the algorithm, the researchers put together a text that combined randomly mixed passages from the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, two books whose authorship is generally not challenged. The computer program categorized chapters by the author’s preference for certain synonyms and assessed the usage of common words. It identified which passage had come from which book with 99 percent accuracy, the researchers said. The algorithm cannot identify the number of probable authors involved, Dershowitz said, but it can help identify transition points where the source of the text changes.

— Nancy Szokan

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