Modern Source Theories
Slowly, with the rise of rationalism, particularly as associated with figures such as Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) and Benedict (Baruch) Spinoza (1632–1677), the view that the Torah was a unified whole, written by Moses, began to be questioned. (For additional information on this development, see the essays on “The Interpretation of the Bible,” pp. 471–497 ESSAYS .) This culminated in the development of the model of the Documentary Hypothesis in the nineteenth century, according to which the Pentateuch (or Hexateuch) is composed of four main sources or documents that were edited or redacted together: J, E, P, and D. Each of these sources or documents is embedded in a (relatively) complete form in the current Pentateuch, and is typified by both vocabulary and theological perspective.
J and E are so called after the names for God that each of them uses in Genesis: J uses the name “Yahweh” (German “Jahwe,” hence “J”), translated in the NRSV as “LORD,” though it is really a personal name, whose exact meaning is unknown, from the root “to be”; E prefers to call the deity “Elohim” (translated “God”), an epithet that also serves as the generic term for God or gods in the Bible. P, which also uses “Elohim,” is an abbreviation for the Priestly material, and D refers to Deuteronomy.
The difference in divine names, however, is not the main criterion used by scholars for suggesting that the Torah is not a unified composition. Much more significant are doublets and contradictions, in both narrative and legal material. For example, it has long been noted that chs 1–3 of Genesis twice narrate the creation of the world. People are created first in 1.27 —“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”— and then again in 2.7 —“Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” Furthermore, the second creation account does not simply mirror or repeat the first, but differs from the first in both outline and detail. Gen 1.1–2.3 , the first account, narrates the creation of a highly symmetrical world by a very powerful deity who creates through the word. In this story, for example, man and woman are created together ( 1.27 ) after the creation of the land animals ( 1.25 ). In contrast, the second story, in Gen 2.4–3.24 , suggests that man was created ( 2.7 ), then the animals ( 2.19 ), and then woman ( 2.21–22 ). Its focus is on the creation of humanity, not of the entire physical world, and God anthropomorphically “forms” various beings, rather than creating them with the word. Thus, these are two separate stories, written by two authors, representing different worldviews about the nature of creation, humanity, and God.
The two creation stories appear as two totally separate blocks of material in Gen 1.1–2.3 and 2.4–3.24 . In several cases, however, such a clear-cut division of sources is impossible for narrative reasons. For example, the flood story culminates in a tradition that God will never again bring a flood on the land (Gen 9.11 ); for this reason, the J and P narratives cannot appear as separate and complete narratives, so they are intertwined. Similarly, the story of the plague of blood (Ex 7.14–24 ) contains two intertwined accounts; in one (J), Moses is the protagonist, and the blood only affects the Nile (e.g., vv. 17–18 ), while in the other (P), Aaron appears as well, and the flood affects all Egyptian water sources (e.g., vv. 19,24 ). In such cases, the narratives are combined with great skill, though careful attention to plot and vocabulary help to discern the original building blocks or sources of the story.
In addition to narrative, the legal material in the Torah is also the product of several sources. For example, slave laws concerning the Hebrew or Israelite slave are found in the Torah in Ex 21.1–6, Lev 25.39–46, and Deut 15.12–18 . These laws cannot be reconciled in a straightforward fashion since they represent three different notions of slavery. Most significant is the way in which Exodus differentiates between the treatment of a male and female slave, whereas Deuteronomy insists that they should both be treated similarly. While Exodus and Deuteronomy agree that a slave who loves his master may opt to remain a slave “for life” (Ex 21.6 ) or “forever” (Deut 15.17 ), Lev 25 insists that slavery does not really exist, since slaves must be treated “as hired or bound laborers,” and they may only serve “until the year of the jubilee” (v. 40 ). Such legal differences are not surprising once we are open to the hypotheses that the Bible is composite, and the different legal collections reflect norms or ideals of different groups living in different time periods.
In fact, it is possible to trace distinctive styles and theological notions that typify individual Pentateuchal sources. For example, the J source is well-known for its highly anthropomorphic God, who has a close relationship with humans, as seen in Gen 2.4–3.24 , which includes, for example, a description of teh LORD God “walking in the garden” ( 3.8 ) and says that the LORD God “made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them” ( 3.21 ). On the other hand, in E, the Elohist source, God is more distant from people, typically communicating with them by dreams or via intermediaries, such as heavenly messengers (NRSV “angels”) and prophets. The P or Priestly source is characterized by a strong interest in order and boundaries (see Gen 1 ), as well as an overriding concern with the priestly family of Aaron and the Temple-based religious system. D, or Deuteronomy, is characterized by a unique hortatory or preaching style, and insists strongly that God cannot be seen, as in this source's description of revelation: “Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice” (Deut 4.12 ). This explains why this source, uniquely, insists that God does not physically dwell in the temple or tabernacle; rather, the temple is “the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name” (Deut 12.11 ). D also emphasizes that this one God must be worshiped in one place only (see especially Deut 12 ); this place is later understood to be Jerusalem.
The narrative sources J, E, P, and D also have legal collections associated with them. The Covenant Collection (see Ex 24.7 ) in Ex 20.22–23.33 is associated with J or E. The Holiness Collection of Lev 17–26 is so named because of its central injunction, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Lev 19.2 ). Though not composed by the Priestly author (P), it represents Priestly theology. The Deuteronomic law collection appears in Deut 12–26 . These blocks of material were called “codes” by earlier scholars; since the blocks are neither complete nor organized for the law court, however, as a “code” might be, the term “collection” is more suitable.
Critical biblical scholarship, through the latter part of the twentieth century, was quite confident in dating each of these Pentateuchal sources along with the legal collections they incorporated. Thus, J was seen as the earliest collection, often dated to the period of David and Solomon in the tenth century BCE, followed by E, which was often associated with the Northern Kingdom. D was connected to the reform of King Josiah in the late seventh century, and P was seen as deriving from the sixth century. Scholars now agree that the reasons usually given for assigning these dates are problematic, and a lively debate has developed concerning such fundamental issues as the relative order of these sources and the extent to which any of them are as early as previous scholars had suggested. The existence of E as a complete source has been questioned as well, especially since E first appears well after the beginning of the Torah and is very difficult to disentangle from J after the beginning of Exodus. Thus, many scholars now talk of JE together as an early narrative source, incorporating diverse traditions. Additionally, most scholars now do not see each source as representative of a single author writing at one particular time but recognize that each may reflect a long historical period within a single group or “school.” Thus, it is best to speak of streams or strands of tradition and to contrast their basic underpinnings, rather than to speak of sources reflecting a single author, period, and locale. For example, despite the unraveling of a consensus on the exact date of the sources, it is still valid to contrast the Deuteronomic view of Israel's fundamental, intrinsic holiness—as seen, for example, in Deut 7.6 , “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God”—with the Priestly view, articulated most clearly in the Holiness Collection (HC), which suggests that Israel must aspire to holiness—as in Lev 19.2 , “You shall be holy.”