I have been discussing the sources of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), sometimes also called the Torah or the Law of Moses.  So far I have explained the kinds of literary problems that led scholars to realize that these books were not the writing of a single author, but represented a combination of earlier written accounts.  The traditional “documentary hypothesis,” as it is called, was most famously formulated by the nineteenth-century German scholar, Julius Wellhausen, who, along with some of his predecessors, called the sources J E D and P.

This was the standard view of the matter back when I was doing my PhD in biblical studies way back when.  Here is how the hypothesis worked, in nuce.  (Again, this is taken from my textbook on the Bible).


  • The J source was the first source to be written. From it comes a number of the stories in Genesis and Exodus, including, for example the second creation account and the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-3.  The source is called J because its preferred name for the deity is Yahweh – which in German is spelled Jahweh (and so, it is named after the first initial of the deity’s name).   It is widely thought that this source was written in, and based on oral traditions in, the southern part of the land, that is, in Judah (which is a second reason it could be called J).    Blog CTA for Member Only Content