Sunday, March 26, 2017

JEDP Theory

I just read an interesting article over at Answers In Genesis. It is an article that attempts to refute the JEDP theory of the origin of the Pentateuch. Another article with the same goal can be read at

I read through both articles with interest and found each to be misrepresenting current thinking of scholars who subscribe to the "documentary hypothesis." I am motivated to respond to the articles.

I have not studied the Pentateuch with a fine-toothed comb but I have studied parts of it well enough to be certain that it was compiled from multiple sources. In many cases, those sources were transcribed verbatim. I have found the documentary source approach to be very helpful and a functional system for reading and understanding the Pentateuch, particularly the books of Genesis and Exodus. In any case, I have a few things to say in response to the article over at Answers in Genesis.

From this point on, I will refer to the "documentary hypothesis" as "source-criticism" or the "source-critical method" or even "the JEDP theory." I am moderately disturbed by the term "documentary hypothesis." I don't know where "documentary hypothesis" came from; but it characterizes the theory as a kind of trial balloon tossed into the community of Bible schorars. A hypothesis has no use until it can be demonstrated. Evolution, for example, is a hypothesis, not a theory. A theory has strong evidence for it; but the evidence does not quite rise to the level of "proof." Relativity, for example, is a theory, not a hypothesis. Einstein's equation "E=mc2" is demonstrably correct in practice. The amount of energy generated from converted matter is correctly calculated by the equation. Unfortunately, Relativity remains unproven. The fact that it cannot be proven does not make it untrue. It makes it a theory. Source-criticism is a theory based upon a lot of strong evidence.

Source-criticism of the Pentateuch is the theory that (1) the Pentateuch was edited together from multiple sources and (2) those sources can at least partly be identified. The working rubric for these sources holds that the main contributors to the Pentateuch were four sources nicknamed J, E, D and P. The J source got his name "The Yahwist" from his preference for the name "Yahweh" when referring to God. "The Elohist," E, got his name from his frequent reference to God as "Elohim." "The Deuteronomist," D, is the author of nearly all of the book of Deuteronomy. His stuff shows up in other places; so it is useful for scholars to give him a nickname. P is "The Priestly Source." The P material comes from, not shockingly, priests. The bulk of the book of Leviticus, maybe all of it, comes from P. Because proponents of this theory have identified these four sources, the rubric has been called "The JEPD (or JEDP) Theory."

Terry Mortenson and Bodie Hodge, the authors of the article at Answers in Genesis, set out to prove that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. Their method was to show that (1) the Bible identifies Moses as the author of the Pentateuch and that (2) source-criticism's claims are faulty. They conclude:
There is abundant biblical and extra-biblical evidence that Moses wrote the Pentateuch during the wilderness wanderings after the Jews left their slavery in Egypt and before they entered the Promised Land.
To prove (1) that the Bible identifies Moses as the author of the Pentateuch, Mortenson and Hodge cite a long list of Scriptures that supposedly identify Moses as the author of the five books. None of the citations identify Moses as the author of the Pentateuch except perhaps two which I will discuss below. The rest reference some variation of The Book of Moses or they report that Moses wrote something. Well, reference to the Law of Moses or the Book of Moses does not come close to saying that Moses wrote the entire Pentateuch. Verses that say that Moses wrote something (Exodus 17:14; 24:4; 34:27; Numbers 33:1-2; Deuteronomy 31:9-11) fail to approach the necessary level of evidence needed to claim that Moses wrote the whole thing! Exodus 24:4, for example, says that Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. The verse is vague in describing what Moses actually wrote. Maybe Moses wrote the "book of the covenant" mentioned a few verses later in Exodus 24:7. Maybe he wrote the whole of the information contained in Exodus chapters 21-23 or chapters 25-31 (Exodus 31:18) or something else. I can play that game. Jesus wrote on the ground (John 8:6, 8). Therefore, he wrote Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Jerusalem elders wrote a letter to the Gentiles in Acts 15:23. Therefore, they wrote Acts. Yes, I am being absurd to illustrate absurdity.

In New Testament times, people cited the Pentateuch (Torah) as the "Book of Moses" and sometimes even as the writing of Moses. Such verbiage should not be taken as proof that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. Here is a helpful comment by a Facebook buddy Matt Parkins:
We use similar phrases without that implication. For instance, the word "Internet," according to Merriam-Webster means "a global network of inter-connected computers," yet both Merriam and Webster were long dead before the word "Internet" was coined. These dictionaries have in the past been updated by other people, and are still being updated―yet we are still happy to say "Merriam-Webster says xyz" because that is how the books are presented to us.
To put it another way, the end of the Pentateuch says that Moses wrote down the law (Deuteronomy 31:9) and so he is credited with the authorship of most of the book of Deuteronomy. In honorary fashion, he is credited with authoring all five books of the Pentateuch. Thus, the two verses in the entire Bible that in a passing way seem to indicate Moses as the author of the Pentateuch are referencing Moses as the honorary author.
If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. (John 5:46)
Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that "the person who does these things will live by them." (Romans 10:5)
Mortenson and Hodge's article has a section called "Fallacious Reasoning of the Skeptics" (by skeptics they mean the scholars who subscribe to source-criticism). They offer straw-man arguments on behalf of source-critics and quickly show them to be weak. I will not dignify their fallacious arguments with a response.

Several of the points under the section "Answering a Few Objections" are also answers to straw-man arguments; but one deserves a response. Genesis 14:14 mentions a place called "Dan" as a place existing in Abraham's time. Mortenson and Hodge try really hard to explain how Dan could exist in Abraham's day. Then they admit:
But again, even if "near Dan" was added by a later inspired editor, this would not mean that it was inaccurate to say that Moses wrote Genesis.
I agree, but it is evidence against Mosaic authorship. Nobody would cite Genesis 14:14 as proof of the JEDP theory; but is it sure suspicious that Dan is mentioned as existing in the time of Abraham! I nevertheless agree with the "later inspired editor" explanation.

It is nearly certain (and there is no doubt in my own mind) that Moses did not write the whole of the Pentateuch. Even Duane Garrett, the JEDP critical author of the article at Bible Archeology, admits the possibility that there are multiple sources:
It is possible that [Genesis] 1:1 and Genesis 2:4ff do in fact spring from separate sources, but that these sources have nothing to do with the four documents of the Documentary Hypothesis.
The evidence for the Pentateuch being a collection from various sources is near irrefutable. There are a few evidences that stand out extra-loudly. The first evidence, and one that probably motivated scholars to look into the sources in the first place, is how God is referenced throughout the Pentateuch. Note that from Genesis 1:1 when "God created the heavens and the earth" through Genesis 2:4a which concludes the creation as "the generations of the heavens and the earth" God is referenced 100% as "Elohim." Then, from Genesis 2:4b to Genesis 3:24 God is referenced as "Yahweh Elohim." Also, notice how Genesis 2:4 reads:
These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens....
The verse gives notice of a second account of the creation. In the first account, God created the "heavens and the earth." In the second account, God created the "earth and the heavens." In the first account, humankind was created last. In the second account, the man was created first, then all the animals and, finally, God created the woman from a rib of the man. The inclusion of two different creation accounts strongly suggests (but does not prove) multiple sources.

Next, consider Genesis 25-28, 36.
25 Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt.
26 Then Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood?
27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers agreed.
28 When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
36 Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh's officials, the captain of the guard.
Who took Joseph? the Ishmaelites or the Midianites? It is confusing. Judges 8:24 suggests that the Ishmaelites were a subset of Midianites. That notion is even more confusing. It does not make sense. Perhaps the two families intermixed? Why would a single author keep referring to these people by alternating names? The solution offered by the source-critics is that the Yahwist (J) called them Ishmaelites, and the Elohist (E) called them Midianites. An editor then tightly pieced together the two sources without rewriting. To add to the confusion, the people in verse 36 are not Midianites but Medanites! John Goldingay, in his "For Everyone" commentary, takes pains to avoid getting into the source-critical weeds but on this text he permits himself a few weeds.
It is puzzling that the caravan is referred to first as Ishmaelite, then as Midianite, then as Medanite. Maybe this again reflects the combining of different versions of the story. But "Ishmaelites" seem here to refer not to Ishmael's physical descendants but to people involved in trade, so that Midianite can be a subset of Ishmaelite (we know from Genesis 25 that Midian was not a descendant of Ishmael but of another of Abraham's wives). And translations usually assume that Medanite is a textual slip for Midianite (in Genesis 25, Medan was Midian's brother). (133)
The next case comes from Exodus 11-13. In those chapters, the Passover is instituted. One would expect that the institution of such an important Jewish celebration would be well documented in the Bible, and indeed it is. Exodus 11-13 explains the Passover five times! Perhaps (!) the editor, when came his time to write about the Passover, did not want to leave out a single source or a single written tradition. He included them all so the Jews had a single go-to document for reading about that important day. Even if you cannot identify what section comes from whom, you can identify the sections. If you approach the text with a little bit of openness that there just might be several sources brought together in the section, the whole account makes a lot more sense. The divisions are: Exodus 11:1-9; 12:1-20; 12:21-39; 12:40-50; 13:1-16. Whoever wrote Exodus, it was not Moses. The Mosaic author fanatics have a problem and it is they that need to deal with Romans 10:5.

I truly am dumbfounded that Mortenson and Hodge consider source-criticism as "one of the major attacks on the Bible!" Source-criticism does not attack the Bible. It does, however, challenge Mosaic authorship. It challenges believers to rethink how they read the Pentateuch. That challenge is not the same thing as discrediting the Pentateuch or even inspiration in general. Challenging people's assumptions about the Bible is not the same thing as attacking the Bible. Such challenges should not be seen as an attack on faith either; but some people have a lot of trouble with their faith when their assumptions are challenged. It can be turbulent waters; but working through these challenges results in spiritual growth. People need to think about what they believe. Does your faith rest upon Moses having written the Pentateuch or are you content with the Pentateuch's divine inspiration regardless of who wrote it?

While it is the case that Moses did not pen the Pentateuch, who did? Source-critics like to try to figure it out. In many cases, source-criticism clears up passages that are otherwise confusing. How to categorize what they are finding is a still growing science. The JEDP rubric is a working theory. Scholars adjust how they define these sources as they go along. No scholar that I know of is committed to a particular solution. E. A. Speiser writes in his commentary on Genesis,
The fact is that the Pentateuch, with a long history of growth, compilation, and transmission behind it, cannot be dissected at this late date with the confident assurance that all its original components have been duly isolated and identified.

The thing to bear in mind, however, is that, where so many unknowns are involved, a reasonable margin of error must be allowed. While the vast majority of passages can now be ascribed to one source or another with considerable confidence, there is still a residue that leaves room for doubt. (xxi)
Terence Fretheim writes,
More conservative scholars (in Judaism and Christianity) have always been critical, but their objections were too often grounded in a view of the Bible and its inspiration rather than in an analysis of the texts themselves.

As a result, source-critical work is presently in a state of disarray, with no consensus in sight.

Generally, it can be said that one basic result of source-critical study remains in place: the Pentateuch is a composite work that grew over the course of a half millennium or more. In addition, the identification of the Priestly material (and to a lesser degree the Deuteronomic) is agreed upon to a great extent. (The Pentateuch, Abingdon, 26)
Peter Enns feels a lot more comfortable than does Fretheim on the current state of source-criticism. He diffuses as fallacious any arguments leveled at the father of the JEDP theory, Julius Wellhousen.
Rather than accepting the traditional view that Moses wrote the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) in the middle of the second millennium BC, source criticism claims that scribes living after the Babylonian exile (after 539 BC) created the Pentateuch out of various pre-existent “sources.”

Source criticism has been a major thorn in the side of conservative Christians since the 19th century. But again, like it or hate it, source criticism is not dead. What is dead is how the earliest source critics theorized about these sources, most notably Julius Wellhausen in the late 19th century. His theories have been criticized from almost the beginning, but you’d have a hard time finding a research institution where the basic outlines of source criticism that Wellhausen popularized aren’t a given.

In my experience, the motivation behind this claim is apologetic. Casting doubt on the reigning theory of the Pentateuch supposedly elevates by default the traditional view.  But this does not address the serious problems with the traditional view that gave rise to alternate explanations in the first place.


Enns, Peter. 3 Things I Would Like to See Evangelical Leaders Stop Saying about Biblical Scholarship. Accessed 2017 03 26.

Fretheim, Terence. The Pentateuch. Abingdon, 1996. Print.

Garrett, Duane. The Documentary Hypothesis. Accessed 2017 03 26.

Goldingay, John. Genesis for Everyone, Part 2. Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. Print.

Mortenson, Terry and Bodie Hodge. The Documentary Hypothesis: Moses, Genesis, and the JEDP? Accessed 2017 03 26.

Speiser, E. A. "Genesis. Introduction, Translation, and Notes." The Anchor Bible. Doubleday, 1983. Print.

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