Do computers confirm – or deny – the Torah’s divinity?

Biblical criticism has been around for centuries, and those who choose to believe have ignored it until now.

Between pogroms, disputations, Inquisitions – and now, computers – it’s hard to be a Jew, or a believing one, at least. The latest challenge actually comes from right here in Israel – in the form of a computer program designed by a team at Bar-Ilan University led by Prof. Moshe Koppel, an expert in the field of Authorship Attribution, the analysis of texts to determine information on who the actual writer was.

Together with several other professors, Koppel’s system analyzes word use in a document to determine information about an “unknown author,” figuring out his/her gender, demographics, personality, cultural background, etc. The texts are analyzed by a computer using specially designed algorithms, which the team says has a very high level of accuracy.

In a landmark paper on the subject, Koppel, along with fellow researchers Shlomo Argamon, Jonathan Schler and James W. Pennebaker, wrote that “authorship profiling can help police identify characteristics of the perpetrator of a crime when there are too few (or too many) specific suspects to consider,” or help corporate officials analyze blogs and postings on websites to sharpen their message.

It sounds like a sort of modern version of “biblical criticism,” which has its roots in the 17th and 18th centuries and is accepted by modern scholars as authoritative. So it would make sense that Koppel would apply the Authorship Attribution algorithms to the Tanach, especially the Torah. The result was what any scientist would expect: The software “confirmed” 90 percent of the accepted findings of biblical critics – the three authors of the first chapters of Genesis, the “priestly” and “non-priestly” authors of the middle books, etc.

“We have thus been able to largely recapitulate several centuries of painstaking manual labor with our automated method,” Koppel and fellow scientists Navot Akiva, Nachum Dershowitz and Idan Dershowitz said in a statement after presenting the results at a conference last week.

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