Books and Authors, Documentary Hypothesis, Hebrew Bible

Who said Moses Wrote the Pentateuch?

Modern document hypothesis

The Documentary Hypothesis

I will leave each to answer the above question for them self, but in the meantime, I thought it might be enjoyable to share one idea from people who actually spend their lives studying the Hebrew bible.  I think that it is relatively safe to propose that the bible is the most studied book in Western culture.  (It’s also the most misquoted, misinterpreted and misused book in Western culture as well, I sez)  But people’s been studyin’ the bible for a long, long time.  At the heart of the Christian bible is the Old Testament, or what I call the Christianized Hebrew Bible, not to be confused with the Hebrewized Christian Bible.  At the heart of the Hebrew Bible is the Torah.

Anyway….Even before “The Church” allowed questioners to question, questioners questioned.  I mean, let’s be real, folks, could Moses write about his own death and burial;  could he, one of the most humble men to ever live, write that he was one of the most humble men who ever lived; or why-come does one verse call the deity El or Elohim but a few verses later he is called YHWH?  Well here’s the rub.   Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, including Matthe…oops, sorry,  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, is religious myth and tradition, not historical reckoning.  Moses is a character in a book.

So if Moses didn’t write the very core of the sacred texts of the Jews, later stolen by the Christians, who the hell did?

Well I just think that’s a Jim Dandy of a question to ask.  Here is a brief introduction to what is called the Documentary Hypothesis, with a groove.

Yes that was a naked lady, half-way through.  You’re welcome.

As general information, and as a home for this printed data, I’m going to include the references to each of the four sources from “The Oxford Companion to the Bible“, Oxford University Press, eds. Metzger and Coogan, 1993.

J. The abbreviation for the Yahwist “source” in the Pentateuch, derived from the German spelling (Jahwe) of the divine name Yahweh.  Beginning in the eighteenth century, scholars noticed that two different names were used for the deity in the book of Genesis, and using this as a criterion, identified separate sources or traditions or documents.  As this analysis matured, the J tradition was traced in the rest of the Pentateuch (and by some in the books of Joshua and Judges and beyond), and was dated to the ninth (or perhaps the tenth) century BCE, though presumably using earlier sources.  It is thought to have originated in Jerusalem.  Its characteristics include the frequent use of anthropomorphism in depictions of Yahweh (e.g., Gen. 2.7, 8, 21; 3.8, 21; 7.17b; 8.21); the theme of divine promise of land, descendants, and blessing and its fulfillment; and a focus in the ancestral narratives in Genesis on the territory later controlled by Judah.  Subsequent scholars postulated the existence of multiple editions and revisions of J.  More recently, several scholars have questioned much of the above analysis, particularly J’s date, which has been set by some after the exile. – Michael D. Coogan, p. 338

E. The abbreviation for the Elohist source or tradition in the Pentateuch.  The term “Elohist” is derived from ‘elohim, a Hebrew word for God.  Eighteenth-century analysis of the book of Genesis distinguished two “documents,” one in which God was referred to as Elohim, and another in which he was called Yahweh; later scholars concluded that in Gensis two different sources used the name Elohim (E and P), and that the Elohist tradition was to be found beyond the book of Genesis (all sources use Yahweh after the first revelation to Moses; see Exod. 3.13-15 [E]; 6.2-3 [P]).  The Elohist tradition is generally thought to have originated in the northern kingdom of Israel in the ninth or eighth century BCE.  Its characteristics include a northern setting for most of its narratives in Genesis, divine communication with humans by means of dreams or messengers, and an emphasis on prophecy.  These views are widely held by scholars, though recently some have questioned various details and even the very existence of the Elohist. – Michael D. Coogan, p. 173

P. The abbreviation for the Priestly source in the Pentateuch.  Definitively identified in the nineteenth century, P is classically described as a creation of the exilic or postexilic period (sixth or fifth century BCE) that stresses Israelite ritual and religious observance.  As such, its narratives, especially in the book of Genesis, are often etiological, providing explanations for the Sabbath (Gen,2.2-3), circumcision (Gen. 17.9-14), and dietary laws (Gen. 9.4).  This priestly tradition describes in detail the Passover ritual, the ordination ceremonies and vestments of the high priest, and the tabernacle and its furnishings.  Much of this material is derived from older sources that have been shaped by the priestly writers; this is evident in the prominence given to Aaron in P, in contrast with the dominant role of Moses in J and E, and the legal materials in the books of Leviticus and Numbers.  Priestly tradition unites its own contribution and the older material (including J and E) it incorporates by genealogies and by a series of covenants, those with Noah, Abraham, and finally all Israel in Mount Sinai.  P’s deity is more transcendent and less anthropomorphic than J’s; his glory both reveals and conceals him.
Recently some scholars have proposed that the date of the primary work of the priestly writers was preexilic, perhaps even as early as the reign of Hezekiah (late eighth/early seventh centuries BCE).
The most significant contribution of priestly tradition is the Torah in its present shape; Genesis begins with the P account of creation, and Deuteronomy ends with the P account of the death of Moses. – Michael D. Coogan, p. 567

D. Scholarly shorthand for the author of Deuteronomy, the fourth source in the Pentateuch.  D depicts Moses giving a series of speeches, which urge Israel to follow the “torah.”  But the law of which Moses speaks represents a massive revision of earlier laws.  Among the Pentateuchal sources (J, E, D and P), D is unique in mandating the centralization of the Yahwistic cult and the suppression of all Canaanite cults (Deut. 12).
Most scholars believe that Deuteronomy achieved its final form as the result of a long process of composition.  Since the nineteenth century CE, they have identified “the book of the law” (2 Kings 22.8) discovered during the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign (ca. 621 BCE) as an early form of Deuteronomy.  The books of Kings mention other reformers (e.g., Hezekiah, 2 Kings 18.4), but Josiah’s exhaustive reforms and national Passover (2 Kings 23.4-23) explicitly conform to Deuteronomic prescriptions.  Hence, dating the substance of the D source (i.e., the laws in Deut. 12-26) to the seventh century BCE seems sound.  A minority of scholars view the description of Josiah’s reforms as a utopian projection and date D to the exilic or early postexilic age (mid-to late sixth century). – Gary N. Knoppers, p. 147



7 thoughts on “Who said Moses Wrote the Pentateuch?

  1. NEVER ask a preacher.

    Posted by Water_Nymph | February 26, 2011, 7:36 pm
  2. Thanks for the exposition! It’s very informative.

    Posted by Ed-M | February 4, 2011, 5:31 pm
    • The Documentary Hypothesis is probably the most fascinating biblical topic that I have ever researched. It has dominated my thoughts for more than a half-decade. The problem is that not too many people outside of biblical studies are interested in the topic, but it is covered thoroughly in scholarly circles. The evidence that drives the theory is as strong, if not stronger, now than it has ever been.

      One of the best introductions that I have found regarding the study of the authorship of the Torah, IMO, is Richard Elliot Friedman’s “Who Wrote the Bible“. I noted that the “Oxford Companion to the Bible”, 1993, discusses it in some detail. More recently, the “Cambridge Companion to the Bible, Second Edition“, 2008, dedicates 20+ pages or so to the theory and the supporting evidence. It also treats the theory as a fundamental throughout the sections dedicated to Hebrew history. The documentary “The Bible’s Buried Secrets“, by PBS-NOVA looks at Hebrew/Jewish history in the light of information provided by historians, scholars and archaeologists and is based partially on the findings of scholars working with the DH.

      It opens up the world of the bible like nothing I have ever studied. I plan on spending more time with it.

      Posted by Xcntrik | February 6, 2011, 5:05 pm
      • Thanks. It reminds me of the Israeli archaeologist Finkelstein who completely exploded the Exodus story as myth; i.e., pure fiction. Here’s my understanding of what Finkelstein revealed: instead of the Israelites being delivered by Yahweh, Moses and Aaron (another trinity!) from slavery and out of Egypt, they had their OWN slaves’ rebellion right in Canaan ~ just like Haiti in 1804 CE ~ because they finally had ENOUGH of all the overwork and abuse.

        The stones cried out and exposed the religionists.

        Posted by Ed-M | February 18, 2011, 10:22 pm
      • Prolly the same Finkelstein.

        That appears to currently be the predominant perspective, unless you ask a preacher.

        Posted by Xcntrik | February 22, 2011, 5:14 pm


  1. Pingback: Them Baby Eatin’ Jews ! | My Blog - January 18, 2012

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