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Who Wrote the Pentateuch? The JEDP Hypothesis

In response to my recent posts about the historical accuracy of the Hebrew Bible, especially in the opening five books, the “Pentateuch” (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) I have had several members of the blog ask about the “Documentary Hypothesis” which postulates that one reason for the discrepancies is that whoever published these five books was not a single author (Moses or anyone else) but an editor who combined earlier sources of information together, without smoothing out their differences.

Like just about all scholars of the Bible, I agree with the basic premise of the documentary hypothesis, though these days most real experts think it is much more complicated than what we present to our first-year students.  If you’re interested in a bird’s eye view of it, I have a discussion in my book The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction.  If you want an intriguing full presentation written for lay folk, in a convincing fashion, see Richard Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible.

The traditional form of the documentary hypothesis was most famously promoted by the nineteenth-century German scholar, Julius Wellhausen, who, along with some of his predecessors, called the sources J E D and P.  Here is how the hypothesis worked, in nuce.  (This is the summary taken from my book, given after I highlight the evidence for it.)

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    fishician  October 6, 2019

    JuAfter reading Friedman’s book I went through Genesis, and my NASB bible translates Yahweh and Elohim differently, so I could see the different story lines that had been woven together. Noah’s story was particularly interesting, as I could now appreciate the differences, like pairs of animals vs. 7 pairs of clean animals, and the rainbow as God’s sign vs. the change of seasons. Also explained some of the repetitive events in the Abraham story. A great example of how serious Bible study is more enlightening than the traditional Sunday School stories and sermons we grow up with.

  2. Avatar
    Nichrob  October 6, 2019

    I downloaded on my IPAD Richard Friedman’’s “The Bible with Sources Reveled. It’s basically the printed Pentateuch but the JEDP material is separated by fonts, bolding, and italics. It’s very creative. For one thing, you get to see the JEDP breakout as you read the Old Testament and for me it was simply fun to read the Old Testament (again). I recommend it…!

  3. Avatar
    mkahn1977  October 6, 2019

    I’m finishing up his Who Write the Bible? now. Are you familiar with any books that go into detail on the formation of the Supplementary Hypothesis? I just learned about this competing paradigm after reading Thomas Romer’s “The Invention of God.”

    • Bart
      Bart  October 7, 2019

      I’m afraid I don’t.

      • Avatar
        mkahn1977  October 7, 2019

        Is the Decalogue original to the Pentateuch or borrowed from another culture in the region?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 8, 2019

          Turns out there are three decalogues in the Pentateuch (one completely not like the others; see Exodus 34:17-28!), and the most familiar one, from Exodus 20, can be numbered so as to make “ten” of the commandments/words in different ways! But the normal assumption, I think, is that each of them has come to the author’s through their communities, not that the author made them up. Maybe I’ll say a bit more about this on the blog.

          • Avatar
            mkahn1977  October 8, 2019

            Please do! I’d love to read it! It’s your insight and explanations that keep me renewing my membership!

          • Avatar
            mkahn1977  November 5, 2019

            follow up question on this, just because I’m reading more on the subject now and I’m referencing your blog- you mention three Decalogues but you only cite two here. Can you tell me which chapter and verse contains the third? Thanks! (Can’t wait for you to blog more on this!)

          • Bart
            Bart  November 7, 2019

            Deuteronomy 5:6-21

  4. Avatar
    lobe  October 6, 2019

    A subject that’s more complicated than the picture presented to freshmen…weird, it’s almost like an entry level class isn’t sufficient to give someone the full depth of understanding that a PhD would have. There’s a lot of people on the internet that are going to be very disappointed to hear this, lol.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 7, 2019

      I know! You mean you can’t learn everything about the Bible by reading an article in Time?

  5. Avatar
    saavoss  October 6, 2019

    When did the Pentateuch (Torah) become what we have today? Is this the form the scripture had during the lifetime of Jesus of Nazareth?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 7, 2019

      It had it’s current form already by the time of Jesus — probably at least a century or so before that.

      • Avatar
        Matt2239  October 8, 2019

        You mean Jesus and his disciples were not waging a war to make the septuagint codex the world standard? Oh, that’s right. Jesus and his disciples didn’t speak Greek. When he said he brought a new law, he didn’t mean a new translation in the new medium of the bound manuscript. He meant some new rules that exceeded the current rules that no one could live up to even then.

  6. Avatar
    jtortori  October 6, 2019

    This so fascinating

  7. Avatar
    Hormiga  October 6, 2019

    Is there any common name for the general idea that the Pentateuch is the product of multiple authors rather than one (Moses)? Perhaps Composite Hypothesis vs Unitary Hypothesis? Then JEDP would be one of several subhypotheses proposing a background to the Composite Hypothesis.

  8. Avatar
    godspell  October 6, 2019

    All these works would have had human authors, but quite probably their names had been forgotten–did this make it easier to think of them as divinely inspired?

    If you know somebody who has been working on a book, and is talking to you about how he or she is struggling with it, thinking about different ways to structure and present the story, undecided how to begin or end it–you can’t think of that as divinely inspired, even if authors with no religion may speak at times of ‘The Muse’ which is in fact a sort of deity, or was.

    But if you were to just find a forgotten book cached somewhere, even if you know a fellow human must have written it down, you can begin to imagine it as something that was meant to be; it takes on a divine aura. A found object waiting for you to find it, and bring it to a larger audience. And that does (I know from experience, though not with ancient manuscripts) lead to feelings of destiny, fate–divine intervention.

    And after all, you do need to say that some texts have more authority than others for them to be used as guidelines for the faithful, and where does religious authority always ultimately come from?

    So to restate my question, where is the earliest source we have where the concept of divinely inspired writing can be found?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 7, 2019

      The idea of inspired writings probably arose as a consequence of ancient “oracles,” prophets/prophetesses who were inspired to speak by God, e.g., through ecstatic experiences. These go back as far as we have records in the West.

  9. Robert
    Robert  October 6, 2019

    Bart: “Finally, the P source is so named because it is chiefly concerned with matters of interest to priests – for example, laws given by Moses about sacrifices, rituals, the observance of festivals, kosher foods, circumcision, genealogies (such as in Genesis 5 and 10) and so on.”

    I’m curious why kosher foods and circumcision would be considered specifically priestly concerns.

    • Robert
      Robert  October 7, 2019

      Upon reflection, I do see that proper sacrificial practice is indeed an important part of obtaining kosher meat.

      I’m still puzzled by why priestly authors would be especially concerned with circumcision. Perhaps this too was entrusted to priests, who would have sharp knives used in the slaughter of animals?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 7, 2019

      Because they are about “purity” broadly defined, as setting the “holy” people apart from everyone else.

  10. Avatar
    HawksJ  October 7, 2019

    It seems that many of the earliest critical scholars were German, rather than, say, from England or France.

    Is that simply because Germany was the center of the Protestant Reformation and there was more freedom to think outside of traditional orthodoxy, or was there more to it than that?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 7, 2019

      That’s the main reason, but I don’t think I would call it simple. It’s a complex set of historical, cultural, and religious phenomena. But, yes, short story: if your view is Sola Scriptura, then a focus on the interpretation of the text of Scripture now become a (historical, cultural, and religious) priority. France remained Catholic for the most part, and England went back and forth. Germany had not just the theological but also the cultural commitment to scholarship that made it the ideal place.

  11. Avatar
    FocusMyView  October 7, 2019

    Its a great starting point. It attempts to explain the odd way in which, for example, Noah has two sets of instructions for loading the ark with animals and two different lengths of the rainfall.
    The underlying idea is that both (or all) sets of instructions are important and cannot be left out or changed for the presumed lower purpose of a readable story. (Apologies to the final redactor. The rain cannot fall 40 days AND 150 days. Yet it was readable enough that I did not catch this contradiction myself. It was pointed out to me.)
    This brings two situational objections, before I even attempt to read the now myriad interpretations as to which verses belong to J, or E or D, or P.
    First, it seems the very first postulate seems self contradictory. Scripture too sacred to change, and thus forcibly fit together and inevitably changed. Those who endeavor to write the J story or the E story are writing stories that are different than the what the Pentateuch presents as a whole.
    Second, it presupposes a spirit of cooperation among the literate in power that is undermined by every Bible story about those in power (in Palestine or anywhere in the world, to be fair.) From Elijah to Mattathias, differing ways of worship are destroyed by the sword. The Qumran sect chose to cut themselves off completely to preserve their way of worship and not offend those in power.
    The Persian Imperial Authorization theory attempts to set up a circumstance where various factions were forced to come up with a plan to live together in peace in the Persian Yehud. The J, E and D factions were put together, and the result was tinkered with for centuries by the literate Priestly class. This theory has fallen into disfavor in part because the centralization of worship in Jerusalem that a D or P writer seems to favor is not found in archeological finds. Especially the lack of embarrassment in the letters found in Elaphantine concerning the multiple (more than one!) temples and how they are to be built.
    My question (finally!!) is this: Have you heard any proposals being brought forward to replace the Persian Imperial Authorization theory over the last two decades? Any hypothetical contexts providing a kiln for the Pentateuch to be baked in?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 7, 2019

      My sense is that most scholars think it is too neat by half, but I haven’t really delved into it.

  12. Avatar
    Mhamed Errifi  October 7, 2019

    Hello Dr Bart

    I just want you to tell me your opinion about this narration from Muslim sources and if you have anything like it in writing of the new testament. what I mean by that was there any author of any book in the bible is asking his secretary to read what he just dictated to him in order to see if there is any error ? . Here is the narration

    Zaid bin Thabit, one of the chief scribes of prophet Muhamed , relates: “I used to write down the revelation (koran ) for the blessed Prophet – may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. When the revelation came to him he felt intense heat and drops of perspiration used to roll down his body like pearls. When this state was over I used to fetch a shoulder bone or a piece of something else. He used to go on dictating and I used to write it down. When I finished writing the sheer weight of transcription gave me the feeling that my leg would break and I would not be able to walk anymore. Anyhow when I finished writing, he would say, ‘Read!’ and I would read it back to him. If there was an omission or error he used to correct it and then let it be brought before the people.”

    Many thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  October 7, 2019

      No, there is nothing like this in the NT.

    • Avatar
      Charlene  October 7, 2019

      I’m sure this was often the case in the Bible because it did happen and has continued to happen to this day. For example Edgar Casey and Helen Shuckman. The end result is always the same. Also, take into consideration the enlightenment of medicinal plants used in those days such as Ayahuasca. You will find when you research that those experiences were at that time and still are significant in understanding ancient writings.

  13. Avatar
    jhague  October 7, 2019

    “Many scholars have thought that the J source was written during the United Monarch, possibly in the 10th century BCE during the reign of Solomon.”

    Do you think there really was a United Monarch?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 8, 2019

      Sure, I think there was a kingdom in that land area at some time, and I think there was a David. But I think all the actual stories we have are legnedary.

      • Avatar
        jhague  October 8, 2019

        So your thought is that there was a spilt of the united kingdom into a northern and southern kingdom?
        I have read that some do not think the two kingdoms were ever together as one.

        • Bart
          Bart  October 9, 2019

          Well there definitely were two different kingdoms at some point. And my *sense* is that at one point the whole area was under a single king — but I’m not dogmatic about it. The stories of David, e.g., *could* have been only about a king in the south. And I think “king” maybe has the wrong connotations for us today, since we think of massive empires and castles and bureaucracies and the like, and it probably wasn’t so much like that at all.

          • Avatar
            jhague  October 10, 2019

            So maybe “David” was more of a tribal chief than a king?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 11, 2019

            Well, it completely depends on how we define both terms; they’re just words, so what matters is how we conceptualize what he was doing and with what authority

  14. Avatar
    jhague  October 7, 2019

    Since Deuteronomy was the “last one in,” was it the most observed book for most Jews in the first century CE?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 8, 2019

      No, I don’t think so. They saw the whole collectoin as a unity.

  15. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  October 7, 2019

    There appears to be a split between the common people who were reading the texts or having them read to them, and those who were actually involved in writing the texts and editing them. Surely the P source knew what he or she was up to. Surely the other sources knew what they were doing– slanting the text, making it conform to their presuppositions, attempting to change meanings to elevate the status of their particular group. It is hard to believe that those people would have believed that the texts they worked with were divinely inspired. On the other hand, the common people, knowing nothing of these machinations, might have supposed that the texts were divinely inspired and free from error.

    • Avatar
      Bewilderbeast  October 8, 2019

      Like Joseph Smith jr writing in New York? I’m sure you’re right. Writing gave them power over those just reading. ‘Producers’ had the power over ‘consumers.’ We had a fascinating equivalent in South Africa in the early 1900’s. Isaiah Shembe starting writing a whole new book like Joe Smith did – starring him, funnily enough – and started a movement which grew HUGE among the Zulus.

  16. Avatar
    Charlene  October 7, 2019

    Interesting but always the same story. J being Judah, Judus, (physical). E being Elohim (spiritual) P and D being the (the law) and JEPD in the end, they are all one. Over and over you will find the simple Truth once you begin to see it.

    • Avatar
      Bewilderbeast  October 8, 2019

      ‘The Eternal and Immutable TRUTH’ – as amended time and time again over the years . . .
      By . . . . humans. Fallible, ordinary humans.
      No?

  17. Avatar
    jrhislb  October 7, 2019

    How do experts think the real story is more complicated? Are there more sources involved, or more editing steps or what are we talking about?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 8, 2019

      More sources, more steps, more interweavings — massive complications, other than four sources stitched together.

  18. Avatar
    Boltonian  October 7, 2019

    I have just started reading A History of the Bible by John Barton (on your recommendation) and he describes the JEDP hypothesis but then says that modern scholars distinguish merely between P and non-P. His categorisation is interesting in that he identifies three styles: Saga; Deuteronomistic; and Priestly. He also thinks that Saga predated Priestly and that (as per Friedman) Deuteronomistic was a product of Josiah’s reign. He soesn’t seem to have strong views about dates – I think he goes for earlier rather than post-exilic but not dogmatically so. Which way do you lean in describing the styles and the dates for composition? Thanks.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 8, 2019

      He’s a serious Hebrew Bible scholar, so I certainly won’t go toe-to-toe with him. My own view is that the JE source(s) were pre-exilic, but I don’t have massively strong opinions about it.

  19. Avatar
    darren  October 7, 2019

    Really enjoying this topic, and the discussion. It’s something I’ve never thought about, but it is funny to think in Genesis, it took God six whole days to create the world — and then he needed to rest! You don’t normally think of an all-powerful being needing a nap. Which makes me wonder, is there a consensus theory on the origins of Yaweh? Do we know much about where he originated? And maybe you have posted on this and I haven’t found it, but did the food, intermarriage other purity laws develop largely as a result of Jewish leaders trying to prevent assimilation during the exile in Babylon, and then brought to Jerusalem when the second temple period began? Is that largely when the obsession with purity began?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 8, 2019

      I don’t know if there’s a consensus view, but my sense is that it is usually thought that Yahweh was a tribal deity among a group that acknowledged other gods as well, but chose to worship only him, and that over time, their views took over, and changed, until he came to be the ONLY God. And yes, many of the purity laws are apparently deisgned to establish the distinctiveness of this people over against everyone else.

  20. fefferdan
    fefferdan  October 7, 2019

    Bart, you say: “It is often thought that the D traditions, like E, originated in the northern part of Israel.”

    Why? Especially given the idea that the core of D originated with priests in Jerusalem during the reign of Josiah?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 8, 2019

      Ah, I feel like I’m at my PhD oral exam again, and have to come up with a vague recollection of something I should know about (I’m out of town and not near any of my books!). If I remember correctly, it’s because the place names (cities) focus on northern locations. But as I say, the account was clearly edited with a Jerusalem focus.

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