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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