Possible Dates of Biblical Writings as We Know Them Now: Pseudonymy and Retrojection

Date Composed (BCE or "Before the Common Era") Name of Period Book Authors Purpose Innovations & Concerns Fictional setting; Period & Events depicted Contemporary parallels

Late 600s core; frame added by exiled in the 400s

First-temple period


Attributed to Moses, but probably written by the Deuteronomic School (or "D") that fled to Judah (south) from Israel (north) after the Assyrian conquest

Reforms aimed at deflecting powerful invading army by pleasing  Yahweh

Monotheism, Centralized Worship, Separateness from practices of Babylonians and other exile communities

Moses, a legendary Hebrew/Egyptian leader who defied an invincible international power, was thought to have lived in the 1400s BCE

Egypt frequently equated with Babylon

600s to 500s?

Historical writings (Judges through Kings


These events are framed by Deuteronomistic thought. Events depicted increasingly accurate historically the closer they get to the time of King Josiah in the seventh century. They are clearly rewritten by southern writers, however, because they villainize important Northern kings like Ahab and Omri and probably invent kings like Solomon and David, who are more mythic than real. 

500s, possibly Lamentations

Babylonian conflict

Major Prophets (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, 2nd Isaiah): J & E were Deuteronomists

Ezekiel dictated to scribe at time of events; Jeremiah recorded; Isaiah was a school of prophecy dating back to ancient times.

Help Hebrew people in Judah to put invasion of Babylonians into a moral and ethical context

Ezekiel's scribe is the first known "author" of the bible.  Each prophet urged exclusive worship of Yahweh and rejection of other Canaanite gods such as Asherah or the Queen of Heaven

current events. Each work organized differently

"City Laments" were a popular genre in ancient times.


Exile Period

Torah aka Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus

J: southern writer; E: northern writer; P: Priestly writer

Weave together ancient myths of origin as a way of understanding exile

Themes of homelessness, younger sons, sibling conflicts, and encounters with Yahweh; retrojects monotheism into ancient past

Origin of this planet, Two origins stories (peaceful assimilation vs violent conquest), origins of prophets and patriarchs 

Genesis and Exodus reimagine the past to parallel the homelessness and suffering brought on  by Babylonians


Torah aka Pentateuch: Numbers, Leviticus

Mostly "P": an heir of the priestly school like Ezra

Articulate post-exile thinking about living well, sometimes at odds with D

Central role of the priest, not the king; primacy of Aaron over Miriam and other prophetic figures

The period between Egyptian slavery and Canaanite occupation (in reality, Jews were always Canaanites. The Egyptians occupied Canaan for centuries before the first monarchies)

Ezra and the first founders of Second Temple Jerusalem designed a vassal, priest-centered community that would become second-temple Judea. 


Beginning of Second Temple Period

Ezra and Nehemiah

Sources close to Ezra, who was closely connected to Persian monarchy

Present the Torah for the first time, ascribed to Moses

Separation, purity, personal prayer, documentation, pleasing Persian overlords, strict Torah observance

Contemporary events; concerned with proof and historical accuracy



Second Temple Period (Probably Persian period)

Festival Scrolls: Esther, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, Jonah, Proverbs, possibly Job and Song of Songs

Diverse anonymous authors who argued about how to live as a small vassal  kingdom

Semi-secular emphasis; exploration and disputation with established norms

Female figure of wisdom and other explorations of wisdom's nature, women, family life and marriage, relationship with outsiders

Most stories set in the distant past and ascribed to famous mythical figure of the past (David, Solomon, prophets, "time of the judges," etc. 

These works used historical fiction to explore controversies of the second temple past


Hellenistic (Greek) period  (Ptolemaic / Seleucid) 332-140s

Daniel; also less canonical books like Esther revisions, Judith, Tobit, Maccabees, Wisdom  of Solomon, Enoch, Esdras, etc. 

Authors who explored meaning of life under Greek occupation

By the 2nd century, Jews were increasingly hostile to Greek rule, but outliers existed

Apocalyptic visions, resurrection, internal conflict, militarism vs passive resistance vs peaceful coexistence; literal truth of the bible; "right" living, magic and mysticism Increased interest in an afterlife and the end times 

Many writers wrote about the present, but others ascribed wisdom or apocalyptic visions to biblical figures of the past

For another depiction of the events Daniel focuses on, see 1 Maccabees chapter 1.

Date Composed (CE or "Common Era")

Name of Period




Innovations & Concerns

Period & Events depicted

Contemporary events; Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) parallels



Thessalonians through Romans

Paul as dictated to scribes

Letters to Pauline communities established in Roman period to settle disputes

Paul didn't know Jesus and was more concerned with the "mystery" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greco-Roman_mysteries) of Jesus's death; imminent end-time and resurrection of chosen people; collaboration with Rome; universal conversion, especially of pagan communities

Paul dealt with contemporary problems known to his audience, occasionally referring to events of the recent past since his conversion in the 1930s. 

Josephus wrote about historical events at this time. Paul was a Pharisee (a kind of Jew who was literate and well educated). 


First gospel (later attributed to Mark)

Greek speaker to a non-Jewish Christian audience

To assemble stories of Jesus's miracles for a community anticipating martyrdom

Jesus at odds with family, followers, Sadducees,  and Romans; imminent end-time; ignoble death separated from friends

Destruction of the temple in 70; Jewish and Christian martyrdom.  

Several events suggest that this gospel was written after the death of Paul and the destruction of the temple. It also tries to link Jesus to the messiah (Hebrew king from the line of David) foreseen by the prophets at the time of the last Judean monarchs. 


Tanakh (TNK) or Rabbinical Jewish canon fixed (maybe)

Rabbinical school (Academy of Jamnia?)






Gospel (later attributed to Matthew)

Jewish Christian author to Jewish Christians

To suggest that the Jewish Jesus movement are the truest Jews and Christians

Strict Torah observance and importance of Jewish tradition (especially circumcision); Imminent end times

Tensions with Jewish non-Christians and pagan Christians. Five original sections correspond to five Torah scrolls

Academy of Jamnia expels Jesus movement from synagogues. The author of this gospel used Mark and a book of sayings called "Q" as sources.  Matthew works hardest to link Jesus to Moses. 


Gospel (later attributed to Luke)/ Acts

Non-Jewish Christian, probably in Rome

To reassure Roman authorities that Christians can be good citizens--for one

Acts, speaking in Tongues, the primacy of Paul

The author of Acts is the main biblical source for early events in the Jesus movement

The martyrdom of Peter and Paul. The author of this gospel used Mark and a book of sayings called "Q" as sources. 


Gospel (later attributed to John the Apostle or "one whom Christ loved)

A citizen well schooled in the Torah and Greek philosophy. 

This most "gnostic" of the canonical gospels argues that Jesus is God and that He and his followers were "born from  above."

Eternity and extra-temporal thinking. This author wants to show the superiority of the Jesus movement to Judaism. 

Full rejection of the Jesus movement by Rabbinical Jews. 



Revelation (aka "apocalypse")

John of Patmos

To maintain that enemies to Christianity, including fellow Jews, will not see resurrection

This book actually is very formulaic and borrows themes and imagery from other apocalyptic works. But a central new Christian theme here is the "return of prophecy" thought to have ended by the second-temple period

End times,  events surrounding Nero and the churches of Rome; Imperial persecution of the church.  This work was set in the past so that it seemed to predict that current events in Rome were predicted by ancient visionaries. 

Much of the language in this gospel comes out of apocalyptic works such as Daniel and Enoch (apocalyptic literature was extremely popular in the Intertestamental period  and always attributed to a figure of the ancient past so as to seem "prophetic."


Mishnah (first part of the "oral Torah" or Talmud) completed








New Testament canon fixed (depending on which canon you mean)

Paul and others

The canon was fixed by various groups to exclude outlying views; its three parts were to mimic the tri-part structure of the Tanakh or Hebrew bible (Old Testament)

For the first attempt to fix the canon, read about Constantine, his 50 gold bibles, and the council of Nicaea.





Gemara (second part of "Oral Torah" or Talmud) completed