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The Sources of the Pentateuch

The Pentateuch was not authored out of whole cloth by a second-millennium Moses but is the end product of a complex literary process—written, oral, or both—that did not come to a close until the postexilic period. This… is a virtual scholarly consensus after one and a half centuries of debate” (Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam, page 23).

A full online review of the history of Pentateuch scholarship have been provided by Dr. John Anderson. See his online resource “The Composition of the Pentateuch in Recent Research: A Teaching and Study Resource (By Me).

Problems with the Traditional View of Mosaic Authorship

  • Moses dies and no one knows where he is buried in Deuteronomy 34.
  • Some statements appear anachronistic in the time of Moses (e.g. Genesis 12:6 and 36:31). It is unlikely that Moses called himself the most humble person in the world (Numbers 12:3).
  • Different names (Elohim/Yahweh, Sinai/Horeb), linguistic and stylistic variation, depictions of the deity (e.g. transcendent, anthropomorphized), doublets (e.g. creation narratives, Abraham/Isaac lying about his wife), and differences in literary details or legal codes.

A Closer Look at the Flood Stories (Genesis 6-8)

  • See Barry Bandstra’s handout on the “Combined Yahwist-Priestly flood story” and notice which divine name (YHWH or Elohim) is used in which section.
  • What did humans do before the flood (6:1-5 and 6:11-12)?
  • How many animals board the ark (6:19-20, 7:9 and 7:2)?
  • What was the mechanism that caused the flood (7:4, 12 and 7:11, 8:2)
  • How long did the flood last (7:12, 17 and 7:24, 8:3-5)?
  • Did Noah send a dove or a raven (8:8-12 and 8:7)?

The Classic Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP)

  • Thomas Hobbes and Baruch Spinoza question Mosaic authorship. Jean Astruc detects two sources behind Genesis and Gottfried Eichhorn applies this to the Pentateuch. Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette dates Deuteronomy to Josiah’s religious reforms in 2 Kings 22-23. Hermann Hupfeld and Karl Heinrich Graf isolate a priestly source.
  • Julius Wellhausen’s Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel argues the Pentateuch was compiled in the Persian period from four older sources. He had an evolutionary, anti-Jewish view of ancient Israelite religion.
  • Yahwist (J): from the southern kingdom of Judah during the Davidic monarchy in the 10th century BCE.
  • Elohist (E): from the northern kingdom of Israel in the 9th century BCE.
  • Deuteronomist (D): a first edition of the book of Deuteronomy may date around the time of its discovery ca. 621 BCE (2 Kings 22:8).
  • Priestly source (P): a post-exilic writer that may be influenced by Ezekiel.

Alternative Models

  • Skepticism about the isolation of literary sources (especially an “E” source).
  • Fragment Hypothesis (Rolf Rendtorff; Erhard Blum): oral stories developed into independent large units of tradition (e.g. Primeval History, Patriarchs, exodus) and later combined in the written text.
  • Supplementary Hypothesis (John Van Seters): a written source (Deuteronomy) was expanded and supplemented by the Yahwist historian and the Priestly writer.



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