JEPD Theory, Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis, Documentary Hypothesis
Chart | History of theories | Doublets | Other Cultures | Writing development

Moses is commonly assumed to be the author of the first five books of the old testament Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, called the Torah (Law) in Jewish Scripture or the Pentateuch.

The Old testament has various references to Moses authorship:
[Exodus 34:27] - Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel."
[Exodus 24:4-7] - "Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said."

The New Testament alludes to Moses authorship.

e.g. Mark 12:26 "Have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'"
In Josiah's time, 2 Chronicles 34:14 mentions that they "found the Book of the Law of the LORD that had been given through Moses."

Other passages referring to Mosaic authorship: Luke 2:22; Luke 5:14; Luke 20:28; Luke 24:27,44; John 1:45; John 8:5; John 9:28; Acts 3:22; Acts 6:14; Acts 13:39; Acts 15:1; Acts 15:21; Acts 21:21; Acts 26:22; Acts 28:23; 1 Corinthians 9:9.

However current historians and biblical scholars believe there were multiple authors who wrote it in the sixth - fourth centuries B.C. (it was oral before then.)

Pentateuch Authorship Hypothesis:
Current thinking among many if not most scholars, referred to as JEPD scholars, is there are 4 authors (Documentary Hypothesis or Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis)
In most church communities, little of this textual study has filtered down to the pew. But, in their professional training, most mainline clergy have been exposed to this type of literary scriptural analysis.
However, there are still many who argue for a single author.

JEDP Theory, Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis, Documentary Hypothesis
Four authors from the 10th thru 4th century.

Several hebrew words are used to God. Most english versions translate all to God or LORD.
Yahweh or Jehovah is used 6,519 times. Yahweh is first used in Gen 2:4.
Elohim is used over 2,000 times. It is first used in Gen 1:1.

  • J - Author who uses YHWH as the name for God. Spelled with a J in German. Jehovah [Exodus 6:3]
    Current theory says it contained oral traditions of hebrews as well as Babylonians (Mesopotamia) and possibly some other documents. It used old confessions and creeds.
    J's version focused on message and meaning. On the special relationship God had with man.
  • E - Author who uses "Elohim" for God. The Elohim stories present a more elevated and advanced God.
    It contains traditions passed down by the northern tribes. The author was a good story teller and the stories of Moses and Joseph are attributed to this document.
    Some scholars today do not believe that E was ever a distinct document.
  • D - The source that wrote the book of Deuteronomy, and the books of Joshua, Judges, I and II Samuel and I and II Kings. 2 Kings 20 tells the story of Israel's King Josiah recovering the Law and founding that it commanded that worship should only take place in Jerusalem. JEDP theory proposes that in fact Josiah had the Deuteronomist create these laws and add them to the Pentateuch in order to justify his desire to limit worship to Jerusalem. The JE material allows worship of Yahweh at various outlying shrines (Shiloh, Bethel, Gilgal, Shechem).
    It lays down lines of religious reform reaffirming Moses' principles of loyalty to Jehova and repudiation of false Gods. Its purpose was to transform a demoralized Judah into the holy nation pictured by the prophets Isaih and Hosea.
  • P - Written by Priestly writer/writers during the exile.
    They worked out a code of holiness, ways of worship and laws to be observed that distinguish the tribes of Israel.
    They placed emphasis on events, dates, and genealogy. Their version is hymn-like and stresses sacrifice and blessings. Things undoubtedly done at religious ceremonies that a Priest would be presiding over.
    Uses Elohim and El Shaddai as names of God.
    The priestly text appears sporadically in Genesis and Exodus and covers most of Leviticus and a large part of Numbers.
  JEPD Theory, Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis, Documentary Hypothesis
Note: There is still disagreement on the dates of authorship. We've tried to use dates in middle of the speculated ranges. Some say the final version was assembled as late as 200 B.C.
(1) Joshua, leader of the tribes of Israel after Moses died, lead them across the Jordan River into Canaan (the promised land). The bible book of Joshua, following Deuteronomy, was probably written between the 6th and 10th century B.C.
(2) There are several dates for the books of Samuel ranging from just following Solomon's rule to the 6th century by the "D" source.

A popular position is that the Torah was canonized circa 400 BCE.
See bible timeline.
See Documentary Hypothesis at Wikipedia for a more complicated relationship.

History of questions about the authorship of the Pentateuch:

  • 1st and 2nd centuries - Several christian groups contended that Moses was not the author.
  • 1711 - Protestant Priest H.B. Witter was the first to say there were two parallel accounts of creation.
  • Early 1800's - French Physician Jean Astruc first introduced the terms Elohist and Jehovist.
  • 1823 - Heinrich Ewald proposes a new theory defending the unity of Genesis.
  • 1853 - Herman Hupfeld established the order of the documents as P E J D
  • 1860 - Karl H. Graf changed the order to J E D P
  • 1895 - German scholar Julius Wellhausen proposes the Documentary Hypothesis.
    This becomes know as the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis; still the most popular.
    He also recognized a Redactor, who edited the four accounts into one text. (Some argue the redactor was Ezra the scribe).
  • 1900-10 - Form Criticism says it was assembled around 586 BC from numerous compilations of documents containing oral tradition. Gunkel & Gressmann.
  • 1930-45 - Oral traditionalists (Uppsala school) - Genesus - Numbers was written by a Priestly group, Deuteronomy - 2 Kings was from a Deuteronomic goal to reform the current state around fundamental principles of Moses time. J. Pedersen & I. Engnell.
  • In the 1950s the Israeli historian, Yehezkel Kaufmann, published The Religion of Israel, from Its Beginnings to the Babylonian Exile, in which he argued that the order of the sources would be J, E, P, and D.
Other theories distinguish the "redactors" (editors), another proposes a fifth author.

Criticism of the Documentary Hypothesis:
I found one account on the internet that claimed that Abraham was the author or collector of the accounts in Genesis and Moses was the final editor.

In Another Good Critique of JEDP at Matt Kennedy says:
"The twentieth century has essentially seen the downfall of the Documentary Hypothesis in scholarly circles, although it continues unabated in educational institutions and in popular literature."
... "The very idea that a single author is incapable of writing on more than one subject, using more than one style, or employing different modes of writing in different genres is preposterous and easily demonstrated to be false."

In "The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict Fully Updated To Answer The Questions Challenging Christians Today", Josh McDowell devotes 13 chapters, 140 pages, to criticism of the Documentary Hypothesis. Among other things he quotes numerous sources or states himself:
- There is no evidence that any of the documents J, E, ... ever existed.
- Literary analysis is not a scientific method.
- "The logical fallacy committed by the radical critics is variously refferred to as petitio principil, begging the question or arguing in a circle. Putting it simply, this is the practice of building one's desired conclusions into his premises so as to assure that said conclusions will result."
However, he never addresses the Language issue (see below).

Contrasting Views between J E D P:
The JE version is more ecumenical. Exodus 12:38 (a JE passage) says: "Many other people went up with them."
P is aimed more at the uniqueness of the Jews. Exodus 12:43 (a P passage) says: "These are the regulations for the Passover: "No foreigner is to eat of it."

Doublets and Parallels:
E parallels J, often duplicating the narratives. Makes up a third of Genesis and half of Exodus, plus fragments of Numbers.

There are several doublets (two versions) of separate events: Gen 1 & Gen 2 (creation. see below). Gen 4:17-24 & Gen 4:25-32. Gen 12:19-20 & Gen 26:7-11. Gen 15 & Gen 17.

The creation stories Genesis 1-2:4a (creation of the earth) is speculated to come from the 'P' (Priestly) source.
Genesis 2:4-25 (creation of man in the garden of eden) is from the 'J' (Yahwist) source.

Stories borrowed from other cultures:
The Epic of Gilgamesh has been said by some to embody the values and aspitrations of the Sumerian people. Gilgamesh as a semi-divine king of the city of Uruk (biblical Erech, see Genesis 10:10) during the Second Early Dynastic Period of Sumer (Sumeria) (ca. 2700-2500 BC). The earliest written stage of portions of the Epic written in cuneiform are presumed to date from the Ur III period, approximately 2000 BC.

The most well-known parallel between the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible is the story of the Flood, in Genesis 6-8. This is essentially equivalent to the story that Utnapishtim, the Sumerian Noah, tells to Gilgamesh on Tablet XI. Even the way the narrative is laid out is similar - the gods put a bug in Utnapishtim's ear; a description of how the ark is built ("daubed with bitumen," a common glue or mortaring agent in Mesopotamia); everyone piles in, and it starts to rain. When it's over, Utnapishtim releases a dove, then a swallow, and finally a crow.
Flood stories widespread among many cultures.

Note: Abraham came from the area of Mesopotamia, so it likely that both accounts refer to the same flood and could have been passed on as oral tradition, however it is amazing that both stories are so similar after more than 1,000 years.

The Enuma Elish (Enûma Eliš) has a creation story similar to that in Genesis. The oldest copy, dated to the 7th century B.C., is recorded in Old Babylonian on seven clay tablets. But the present form of the epic itself goes all the way back to the days of Hammurabi (1,700 B.C.), while the story descends from the days of the Sumerians (3,000 B.C.) It is not an exposition of theology or theogony, but the elevation of Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, above other Mesopotamian gods.
The Enuma Elish is often compared to the creation account in Genesis. For example, the Babylonian god finished his work within the span of 6 tablets of stone and Genesis reports six days of creation. In the Enuma, the last and 7th stone exalted the handiwork and greatness of the diety's work while Genesis reports the seventh day as Rest of God. Mankind formed on tablet 6 of the Enuma Elish and Adam and Eve are formed on day 6 in the Genesis account. Other similarities include the following: Earth and sky are formed on tablet four in Enuma Elish and earth and sky separated on day two of Genesis account; The sun and moon and stars are created in the sky to mark seasons on tablet 5 of Enuma Elish and on day four of Genesis account.
See: Theology WebSite: Enuma Elish

Language Issue:
It would be hard for Moses to have written the Pentateuch because he died in the 13th century BC and the Hebrew language wasn't developed until 10 generations later in the 10th century. There are over 20,000 words in Genesis alone. There is no evidence Moses wrote anything in Egyptian Hieroglyphics, anyway, with only 700 glyphs hieroglyphics was not robust enough to express the concepts in the Pentateuch.

JEDP theory - Discussion and Encyclopedia Article. Who is JEDP theory? What is JEDP theory? Where is JEDP theory? Definition of JEDP theory. Meaning of JEDP theory.
Who wrote the Bible, Richard Elliott Friedman, 1987
JEDP: Sources in the Pentateuch, by Dennis Bratcher
The Hidden Book in the Bible, Richard Elliott Friedman, 1998
The Book of J, Bloom, Harold and Rosenberg, David USA 1990.
The Date of Deuteronomy: Linch-pin of Old Testament Criticism.
Theology WebSite: Gilgamesh Epic
Comparing Epic of Gilgamesh and Book of Genesis
Empirical Models for Biblical Criticism Ed. Jeffrey Tigay. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986
"The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict Fully Updated To Answer The Questions Challenging Christians Today", by Josh McDowell
The JEPD Theory of the Torah
Bible Query from the Torah

See Also:
The name of God
"How to Read the Bible: History, Prophecy, Literature--Why Modern Readers Need to Know the Difference and What It Means for Faith Today"
Torah & Hebrew

last updated 4 Apr 2010