• Joshua

Did Moses Really Write the Pentateuch? (part 3 of 3)

In the previous two posts in this series, we looked at the problem of Mosaic authorship - namely, that various aspects of the Pentateuch lead scholars to believe that it is an amalgamation of different texts, and some of those specific features. In this final post, we will go into some detail concerning the Documentary Hypothesis - exactly what it is, and how various scholars have refined the theory.


To begin with, we will use Collins' book (Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, Third Edition, pgs. 56-68) to provide an overview.


Collins argues that the Priestly source contains rather formulaic style that is concerned with dates and genealogies, organizing history based on different covenants. There is a great deal of ritual observance in this source, which is seen in the Book of Leviticus. There are no angels, talking creatures, dreams, etc. From a scholarly standpoint, there is general consensus on the identification of the P source, though the date is still under debate. The Deuteronomic source, "D" is less debated it consists of most of the book of Deuteronomy. Some scholars argue for parts of Genesis and Exodus to contain D material, and that the end of the book of Deuteronomy is independent material. Perhaps one of the most important things to remember about D is its emphasis on the centralization of worship, rather than worship at various shrines. This is associated with the reforms of Josiah in 621 BCE.


Sources J and E are more debated. Again, the J source primarily uses the divine name Yahweh, and the E source uses Elohim. The J source is contrasted with a formulaic and boring style of P. In it we have the story of Adam and Eve, God walking in the Garden, along with God smelling odors, becoming angry, and arguing with Abraham. The E source is associated often with dreams, and deals with issues concerning guilt and innocence. The E source begins in Genesis 15 with the Abrahamic covenant, focuses mainly on the patriarchs, and thus does not contain a primeval history.


Before we look at some of the problems of the classical JEDP hypothesis, let's take a look at how some have dated these four sources. Again, see Collins for an easy-to-understand synthesis of this material. As noted above, the D source has been associated with the reforms of Josiah 621 BCE. In second Kings 22, the book of the Covenant was discovered in the temple and was read before the king. when he heard the words of the Covenant, Josiah lamented and enacted a series of major reforms focusing on tearing down the high places. From the time of the vet (early 19th century), the D source has been associated with this event.


Vellhausen dated the sources in the following way:

J - 9th century

E - 8th century

D - 7th century

P - 6th or 5th century.


He was primarily concerned with making P later than D, assuming that both J and E - which endorsed worship at other sanctuaries, rather than centralized worship) - were earlier than D, as D called for the strict centralization of worship. Gerhard von Rad argued that the J source should be dated even earlier, to the time of Solomon. Concerning E, scholars have often dated it later than J as it is generally concerned with sites and events that take place in the north, and consider it a response of sorts to the southern account of Israel's prehistory.


However they are to be dated with respect to one another, Collins emphasizes:


“Neither J nor E shows any awareness of the Deuteronomic prohibition of worship outside of the central sanctuary of Jerusalem. It is most probably then that these sources were compiled before the reform of King Josiah in the late 7th century BCE, although some additions could still have been made later.”

Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, Third Edition. John J. Collins, 2018: 66


To briefly sum up: an anchor point in the dating of these sources was seen in source D, which calls which for the centralization of worship at Jerusalem and is therefore associated with the reforms of Josiah in the late 7th century. Sources J and E were thought to have been composed earlier than D as there is no hint of such a prohibition on worship at various shrines. However, the P source takes the centralization of worship is taken for granted and thus it is often dated later than D.


In short:

J and E = no centralized worship

D = centralized worship mandated

P = centralized worship assumed


Now, I have alluded to the fact that the classic JEDP theory has come under scrutiny by scholars. Let's take a look at some of the issues involved in this discussion.


One of the more significant discrepancies is explained by Baden, who argues for a developed form of the documentary hypothesis:

“In Exodus 6: 2 to 6 God appeared to the patriarchs as El Shaddai,‘God Almighty’, but did not tell them his true name. And this was indeed the case: in Genesis 17:1 God introduces himself to Abraham as El Shaddai; in 28:3 Isaac blessed Jacob in the name of El Shaddai; in 35:11 God introduces himself to Jacob as El Shaddai; and Jacob in recalling this theophany on his deathbed in 48: 3 again uses this title. It is not until Exodus 6:2-6 that God tells Moses that his true name is Yahweh. Before this point in the narrative of the first document, logically enough none of the characters uses the divine name, they say either El Shaddai or employ the generic title of Elohim 'God'."

The Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the Documentary Hypothesis. Joel Baden, 2012: 21


John van Seters questioned the early dating of the J source, arguing that the frequent references to Mesopotamia in the texts fit better with a late, post-exilic date. He also notes that Adam and Eve are never mentioned in the pre-exilic prophets, but become important in the Hellenistic period. Rendtorff and Blume both questioned the validity of J and E sources, and based on these criticisms Blume presented another model to account for the contradictions, doublets, and so on that appear in the Pentateuch - a type of "fragmentary hypothesis". He suggested that, instead of two sources, J and E, the Deuteronomistic editors took two documents from the pre-exilic and exilic periods and edited them together. The first document contained Genesis 12 - 50, and came from the exilic period (originally from the pre-exilic period). The second contain the stories of Moses which was composed after the fall of the Northern Kingdom. In order to connect these two documents, the Deuteronomists inserted the theme of promises that were made to the patriarchs. He refers to this initial stage of editing as the "Decomposition". Following this editorial process, priestly writers reworked the Decomposition, inserting Genesis 1 - 11 along with some other sources.


In short, Blumes version of the fragmentary hypothesis argues for two documents: Genesis 12 - 15 and the Moses stories that were edited together by the Deuteronomist, connecting the texts with the theme of “promises to the patriarchs”. This edited work was later re-edited by the priestly writers who added Genesis 1 - 11.


Finally, some scholars hold to a supplementary or revisional hypothesis,which argues for a ‘basic text’ for D, P and non-P, instead of J and E, which was supplemented with older materials and successively expanded and edited throughout the first millennium BCE. For example, Kratz argues that, as early as the 8th century, individual narratives were in circulation. In the 7th century, prior to the fall of the southern kingdom of Judah, many of these narratives were brought together, and first Samuel 1 - first Kings 2 were composed, along with Genesis 2 - 35 (the primeval and patriarchal history), and Exodus 2 - Joshua 12 (the Exodus story). After the fall of Jerusalem, additions and revisions were made, followed by additions in the Persian period down into the fourth century BCE. In other words, individual narratives were brought together into three literary texts, which were expanded and revised throughout the following centuries.

I would like to briefly note that there are many scholars who are ‘source sceptics’ - they have concluded that the Pentateuch is an edited text, but that some of these difficulties are intentional literary devices, and they are dubious that we can identify the original sources of fragments at all. In addition, there are some who would hold that, while there were original source materials that were edited together into the final form known as the Pentateuch, the person that did this editing was, in fact, Moses, who used the earlier source materials were used to form the text we have today. While there are,, in my opinion many problems with this view, for example the dating of the individual sources used for the Pentateuch relative to the time that Moses would have lived, I will not deal with this view here.


While these explanatory models might seem complex (they definitely are), they are by no means arbitrary. They have been developed to deal with the problems in the texts that make up the Pentateuch. While these three approaches may be at odds with one another and debated by a variety of Scholars, they all agree that the Pentateuch should not be considered the work of a single author – particularly Moses.


In conclusion, ancient texts are rarely straightforward and easy to understand - including how they came into being, and how they were transmitted through time. Many have taken for granted that the first five books of the Bible - the Pentateuch – were written by Moses and underwent little-to-no redaction or editorial history throughout their transmission to us today.

When mosaic authorship is challenged, based on the data found in the Pentateuch itself, this can be seen as a direct attack on the God of the Bible, Christianity, or a person's faith in Jesus Christ. In addition, many proponents of mosaic authorship view such critical analysis of the text as motivated by an anti-God or anti-Christian bias. Critical scholars are simply out to prove the Bible wrong in any way that they can, to advance their "anti-God" agenda. This is simply not the case. As I have hopefully demonstrated, there are literary problems with adhering to a single Mosaic authorship, including doublets, contradictions, and other such narrative and textual inconsistencies. This – not some anti-Christian agenda - is what leads biblical scholars to critically examine the formation of the Pentateuch. The Bible is indeed a complicated book, and advancing our knowledge and understanding of its compositional history can only move forward by seeking to honestly engage the text in an unbiased and open-minded way.


Finally, you may be interested in a recent interview with Dr. Joel Baden, on this very topic!


Alternatively, you can listen to this interview on the HeBANE podcast.


Don't take our word for it - read for yourself!

  • Baden, J. 2012. The Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the Documentary Hypothesis.

  • Blum, E. 1990. Studien zur Komposition des Pentateuch, BZAW 189.

  • Carr, D. 2011. The Formation of the Hebrew Bible: A New Reconstruction

  • Collins, J. 2018. Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, 3rd Edition.

  • Dozeman, T. & K. Schmid (eds.), Farewell to the Yahwist? The Composition of the Pentateuch in Recent European Interpretation.

  • Dozeman, T. et al. (eds.), 2011. Pentateuch, Hexateuch, or Enneateuch? Identifying Literary Works in Genesis through Kings.

  • Gertz, J. et al. (eds.), 2016. The Formation of the Pentateuch: Bridging the Academic Cultures of Europe, Israel, and North America.

  • Kratz, R. 2016. “The Analysis of the Pentateuch: An Attempt to Overcome Barriers of Thinking”, ZAW 128.

  • ________, 2005. The Composition of the Narrative Books of the Old Testament.

  • Rendtorff, R. 1990. "The Problem of the Process of Transmission in the Pentateuch", JSOTSup 89.

  • Römer, T. 2007. The So-Called Deuteronomistic History: A Sociological, Historical and Literary Introduction.

  • Schmid, K. 2010. Genesis and the Moses Story: Israel’s Dual Origins in the Hebrew Bible.

  • Schmid, K. & R. Person, Jr. (eds.), 2012. Deuteronomy in the Pentateuch, Hexateuch, and the Deuteronomistic History.Ska, J.-L. 2006. Introduction to Reading the Pentateuch.

  • Tigay, J. 2012. “The Documentary Hypothesis, Empirical Models and Holistic Interpretation,” pp. 116-143 in J. Ikeda (ed.), Modernity and Interpretations of Ancient Texts: The Collapse and Remaking of Traditions.

  • ________, 2002. The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic

  • van Seters, J. 1992. Prologue to History: The Yahwist as Historian in Exodus-Numbers.

  • ________, 2015. The Pentateuch: A Social-Science Commentary, 2nd Edition.

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