Mosaic Authorship of the Torah: Problems with the Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP), Part 1

Posted By on February 16, 2012

In my last several posts on this topic, I have tried to demonstrate via the data of the text of the Hebrew Bible why it is reasonable to argue (from the text) that Moses did not write all or perhaps even most of the Pentateuch (Torah). I have made it clear, though, that I don’t buy the consensus view of Mosaic authorship held by nearly all critical scholars, the Documentary Hypothesis. (I’m what used to be called a Supplementarian, but we’ll get to that).

For those unfamiliar with this hypothesis, known popularly as the JEDP theory, I was fortunate enough to find a PDF copy of the NY Times bestselling popular book on the subject: R. E. Friedman’s, Who Wrote the Bible (it sold over a million copies; we actually had to read this in my doctoral program, too). I would highly recommend reading Chapter 2 of that book to get into the subject along with the Wikipedia link above. In this post and others that follow, I’m going to be explaining why I think the theory over-reaches the data and falls victim to circular reasoning in several instances.

J and E (Yahweh vs. Elohim names for God)

In a nutshell, the JEDP theory posits that Moses didn’t write any of the Torah. Rather, the Torah is (in simplest terms) composed of four separate documents, named J, E, D, and P. J and E are named as such because the authors of those alleged sources respectively used Yahweh (J = Jehovah) and Elohim (or other El names) for God. That is, these authors didn’t use the other names. When the names are found combined in these respective sources (e.g., Yahweh-Elohim), that is the work of the editor who put the two sources together. Same for where the names are not consistent.

I’m skeptical of the name criterion for determining two of the Torah’s presumed sources. One significant reason is that the respective names are not consistent in other texts of the Hebrew Bible. That is, in other texts (namely the Septuagint) the “J” name is in E, and the E name is in J in many places. Friedman dismisses this fact of textual criticism in his Anchor Bible Dictionary article on the Torah:

Though periodically challenged in scholarship, this remains a strong indication of authorship. J excludes the word “God” in narration, with perhaps one or two exceptions out of all the occurrences in the Pentateuch; P maintains its distinction of the divine names with one possible exception in hundreds of occurrences; E maintains the distinction with two possible exceptions. (The LXX and Samaritan Pentateuch have minimal differences from the MT in divine names and have been shown by Skinner to confirm these authorial identifications.)

Friedman claims that there are “minimal differences” from MT (Masoretic Text) and LXX (Septuagint). Really? This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Friedman overstate a case. These days, anyone with the right databases can test this “minimal” claim. So I did. Frankly, I wouldn’t call nearly 100 instances minimal (by my quick-and-not-attempting-thoroughness search).  You can check the results here. Granted, some of the divergences in translation choices in LXX *may* just be the whim of the translator, but it stands to reason (until coherently demonstrated otherwise — and I will get to Skinner’s article to which Friedman alluded) that most of these divergences reflect a different text. And that means that the original text of the Torah may not lend itself to the neat divine name criterion JEDP upon which JEDP is (in part, mind you) defended.

As you digest these results and read through Chapter 2 of Friedman’s book, I’m guessing other potential reasons for skepticism about the divine name argument for JEDP may become apparent.We’ll surely revisit its problems.

 

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24 Responses to “Mosaic Authorship of the Torah: Problems with the Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP), Part 1”

  1. I’ve always felt that Psalms 14 and 53 are the strongest argument for different sources with different preferences for divine names being plausible. The only way I’ve found to make sense of these psalms, which are basically the same psalm except that one uses YHWH and the other does not, is to posit different groups/communities/regions/kingdoms having different preferences with respect to how the deity is referred to.

    • MSH says:

      We could throw in the Elohistic psalter here, too. But since that grouping *may* have had a liturgical purpose behind the divine name issue, other psalms may as well. I’m just not confident in the criterion as a means of determining that each were written by authors who lived at different times and never knew each other. I just can’t see how we could be sure of that. Did all the authors who wrote elohistic psalms live at a different time than any / all of the other ones? How would we know? When we simply accept that as reasonable, it becomes easy to assume what we really need to prove, and use what we assume as a proof.

  2. jayman777 says:

    “When the names are found combined in these respective sources (e.g., Yahweh-Elohim), that is the work of the editor who put the two sources together. Same for where the names are not consistent.”

    Isn’t such a method unfalsifiable? The DH is supported regardless of the text.

    • MSH says:

      What’s really odd is that the YHWH-Elohim combination is found nearly ONLY in Gen 2-3 (there are less than ten instances found elsewhere in the Pentateuch). So, if J and E wind their way through much of Genesis and Exodus, and an editor did that work, WHY did the editor only create this combination in such a narrow section? I’ll be raising this issue in another post — nice catch.

      • Jayman777 says:

        “So, if J and E wind their way through much of Genesis and Exodus, and an editor did that work, WHY did the editor only create this combination in such a narrow section?”

        According to R. E. Friedman: “It . . . appears to be an effort by the Redactor (R) to soften the transition from the P creation, which uses only ‘God’ (thirty-five times), to the coming J stories, which will always use only the name YHWH” (The Bible with Sources Revealed, p. 35). I’m not sure it’s a very convincing explanation but there it is.

        • MSH says:

          it’s not convincing at all if these were two sources that extend well into and beyond the patriarchal story — why not do it a bunch of other places if you editing job is supposed to be aligning these two sources?

      • Jean Claude Lagrange says:

        MSH says:
        February 16, 2012 at 3:54 PM

        What’s really odd is that the YHWH-Elohim combination is found nearly ONLY in Gen 2-3 (there are less than ten instances found elsewhere in the Pentateuch).

        ———–

        “less than ten instances” … much less than ten … just one in Exodus 9:30 in the MT … and it smells like the work of the Ezra and/or Ezrahite redactor(s) … the predecessor(s) of the infamous Masoretes?

  3. Josh says:

    The difference in usage of the divine name has always struck me as a particularly weak argument, or supporting evidence for the argument of the DH.

    In general, for something to be evidence, let alone proof, for a specific view, it must support ONLY that view. If it can be explained in other viable ways then its use as evidence is mere assumption.

    For example, why would a person assume that the usage of YHVH vs. Elohim indicates different authors, rather than assuming that the different terms are used purposely to convey a theological point?

    • MSH says:

      I take it as a good example of affirming the obvious and then extrapolating to the unnecessary. If you read through Genesis in Hebrew beginning at 1:1, the divergent use of the names from ch 1 to ch. 2 is indeed striking, but is the answer for the phenomena two sources? Now, JEDPers will at this point say, “one argument doesn’t make the case — it’s about the preponderance of the arguments taken together.” Understood – but a collection of poor arguments that agree with each other does not make a coherent case. We’ll get to other problems.

  4. Nick Laurence says:

    “J and E are named as such because the authors of those alleged sources respectively used Yahweh (J = Jehovah) and Elohim (or other El names) for God. That is, these authors didn’t use the other names.”

    As I understand it, the JEPD hypothesis maintains that this only holds true as far as the theophany of the burning bush (Exodus 3) where E (in 3:9-15) now and hereinafter concedes the name Yahweh.

    On another point, in the Eden story, whilst it is generally the case that ?????? ???????? is used, it is quite noticeable that this reverts to ???????? on its own when on the lips of the serpent or the woman – Gen 3:1, 3, and 5 (twice). The man doesn’t get to utter either form. I don’t really have a cogent suggestion as to why this is the case; there doesn’t seem to be a problem in the rest of the Pentateuch for humans to say Yahweh.

    • MSH says:

      yep – and it’s details like that (the YHWH-Elohim observation) that sort of defy a neat explanation. You will see J and E material referenced / labeled as such through the books of Gen and Exod (like in commentaries), and so the approach isn’t restricted to the early chapters.

      • Nick Laurence says:

        “You will see J and E material referenced / labeled as such through the books of Gen and Exod (like in commentaries), and so the approach isn’t restricted to the early chapters.”

        Indeed, but the way I understand those supporting the documentary hypothesis to be arguing is that the Elohim/Yahweh distinction can only be used to separate J from E/P until the theophany. Following this point, other criteria need to be applied to make the distinction (man/woman vs male/female, revelation to Moses on Mt Horeb/Mt Sinai, distinctive vocabulary, anthropomorphism/transcendence etc.), because E’s view is that God was called Elohim up to the theophany at which point the name Yahweh was revealed. So, for example, Michael Coogan in The Old Testament A Historical And Literary Introduction, pg 26, “The E, or Elohist, source gets its name from its consistent use of the divine title Elohim (“God”) in Genesis and until the revelation of the name Yahweh to Moses in Exodus 3.”

        P is also said to have a transition to using “Yahweh” in Exodus 6:2-3. But in addition to “Elohim” it uses El in combinations such as “El Shadday”, and does so throughout.

        I think it would be fair to say that the documentary hypothesis got off the ground with the Elohim/Yahweh distinction in Genesis and the early chapters of Exodus, but other characteristics then came to light which continue to be applicable following Exodus 3/6, and this is how the hypothesis works after that point.

        • MSH says:

          Think about this sentence: “Elohim/Yahweh distinction can only be used to separate J from E/P until the theophany.”

          Isn’t this convenient and self-serving? The JEDP approach is full of such home-made qualifications to make the theory work.

          Exod 6:2-3 may actually say the opposite of what the theory says (if Francis Andersen is correct). I’ll get to more … I promise.

  5. craig says:

    Problem I have with this type of theory is what does the New Testament says, specifically the Gospels, Moses is given credit for what is written in the Pentateuch. It even goes as far as calling it the Book of Moses. Jesus tell the Jews you have the Moses and the prophets….. If someone else is to have credit for writing the Torah wouldn’t Jesus have known? This is kind of like the Deutro-Isaiah theory. Yet, in John 12:38-39 Jesus blows that idea out of the water because he quotes from both portions of Isaiah and attributes the quotes to the same Isaiah in the same chapter; showing God anticipated these issues.

    I believe you can find quotes or references from each book of the Torah in the Gospels and Moses is given the credit for speaking those things. Maybe all this JEPD is just getting stories from different perspectives, God the Father and God the Son. In your observations you make distinctions showing two God-personages.

    Someone told me that in Hebrew writing the writers would state a portion of the story and then elaborate on it in more detail later in their writings. Is that a possibility of what’s going on?

    JEPD theory to me just suggests that there is another level of design to the Bible, which further suggests divine authorship. Yet, it is all interesting.

    • MSH says:

      You need to read the previous posts. The fact that the phrase “law of Moses” is used in the NT doesn’t mean we can take that phrase as meaning Moses wrote XYZ. It may mean “the law associated with Moses” (sort of like Psalm “of David” – Hebrew, le-dawid – can mean “by”, “for”; “about” David — it may not speak to authorship at all).

    • blop2008 says:

      Please read the previous posts.

      “” Problem I have with this type of theory is what does the New Testament says, specifically the Gospels, Moses is given credit for what is written in the Pentateuch. It even goes as far as calling it the Book of Moses. Jesus tell the Jews you have the Moses and the prophets….. If someone else is to have credit for writing the Torah wouldn’t Jesus have known? This is kind of like the Deutro-Isaiah theory. Yet, in John 12:38-39 Jesus blows that idea out of the water because he quotes from both portions of Isaiah and attributes the quotes to the same Isaiah in the same chapter; showing God anticipated these issues. “”

      The above “sounds” like Chuck Missler. Looks good on the water surface, but the depths of this topic are ignored. It doesn’t hold much water.

      • MSH says:

        Agreed; “law of Moses,” if that means (ever) “the law that is about Moses, his lifetime, and his ministry” the title is justified and makes sense. And Jesus would have had no qualms in using it. (What else would he use if he knew Moses had NOT written every word? “The law mostly by Moses”? “The law nearly half by Moses”?). Seriously. Same thing for Isaiah. If (my view) Isaiah 40-66 reflect redactional reworking of Isa 1-39 by Isaiah’s followers + new material that was late, reflecting their belief that the words of their teacher were coming true in their own lifetime, including futuristic hope statements of more (kingdom) to come, then calling the whole thing “Isaiah” is not only understandable, it’s appropriate. They could in no wise put their own name on such work. Just like today’s editors would never do such a thing (and editors do contribute new lines and sentences to books that are submitted, but the work could never legitimately bear their name, or need silly qualifiers like the above).

  6. Shaun Swanson says:

    A neat project would be to apply Documentary Hypothesis methods to a text we know for certain has only one author (like the Sherlock Holmes stories). How many imaginary sources/authors would we find?

  7. [...] (First post): Nearly 100 instances where two Hebrew source texts disagree as to the name for God (Yahweh or [...]

  8. Jonie says:

    Has anybody noticed that in Friedman’s 2003 book, he assigns Genesis 1 to P when it contains elohim? Anybody have a clue to why? In the introduction he says he won’t publish his reasons. Can anybody point me to the article that first made this assignment in case it says why?

    • MSH says:

      elohim is also the P word for deity (that is, P is distinguished from E on the basis of other criteria).

      • Jonie says:

        what’s the source of that claim? that was the other part of my question

        • MSH says:

          P is going to be distinguished on the basis of “advanced” religious ideas (which of course is interpretive and circular in reasoning at points) and legislative / legal material that presumes a monarchy and in places a post-monarchic period (i.e., well after Moses). I just think editing / the editorial hand is a better explanation for these sorts of things than wholesale documents. You could read Friedman’s “Who Wrote the Bible” for the specific arguments, but I find a good bit of his presentation circular (i.e., he’ll defend a point in one chapter by a seemingly coherent *assumption* and then use that assumption elsewhere to produce the original point; that is simply circular reasoning).

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