AI software, the Bible and Belief.

Moish Koppel professor at Bar Ilan is famous for his being a real frum yid with a true sense of yiddishkeit, his Purim pashkevils and his generally great Purim latzanus. Today’s paper, announces that he and his team have created software to identify authors and applied it to the Bible. When asked about his faith, he sharply distinguished between his firm faith in the Divine source and the question of the text.

Software developed by an Israeli team is giving intriguing new hints about what 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 in the holy book.
Bible – AP – March 2011

The program, part of a sub-field of artificial intelligence studies known as authorship attribution, has a range of potential application – 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 – the Torah, also known as the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses. 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.” Scholars have meticulously gone over the text to ascertain which parts belong to which strand.

When the new software was run on the Pentateuch, it found the same division, separating the “priestly” and “non-priestly.” It 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 near Tel Aviv, the computer science professor who headed the research team.

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.

Similarly, the book of Isaiah is largely thought to have been written by two distinct authors, with the second author taking over after Chapter 39. The software’s results agreed that the book might have two authors, but suggested the second author’s section actually began six chapters earlier, in Chapter 33.

The differences “have the potential to generate fruitful discussion among scholars,” said Michael Segal of Hebrew University’s Bible Department, who was not involved in the project.

Over the past decade, computer programs have increasingly been assisting Bible scholars in searching and comparing texts, but the novelty of the new software seems to be in its ability to take criteria developed by scholars and apply them through a technological tool more powerful in many respects than the human mind, Segal said.

Before applying the software to the Pentateuch and other books of the Bible, the researchers first needed a more objective test to prove the algorithm could correctly distinguish one author from another.

So they randomly jumbled the Hebrew Bible’s books of Ezekiel and Jeremiah into one text and ran the software. It sorted the mixed-up text into its component parts “almost perfectly,” the researchers announced.

What the algorithm won’t answer, say the researchers who created it, is the question of whether the Bible is human or divine. Three of the four scholars, including Koppel, are religious Jews who subscribe in some form to the belief that the Torah was dictated to Moses in its entirety by a single author: God.

For academic scholars, the existence of different stylistic threads in the Bible indicates human authorship. But the research team says in their paper they aren’t addressing “how or why such distinct threads exist.”

“Those for whom it is a matter of faith that the Pentateuch is not a composition of multiple writers can view the distinction investigated here as that of multiple styles,” they said.

In other words, there’s no reason why God could not write a book in different voices.

“No amount of research is going to resolve that issue,” said Koppel. Read Full version here

I guess this agrees with his famous pashkevil about the dangers of studying Navi.

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