So I had to write a response paper for school to the Documentary Hypothesis regarding the authorship of the Torah/Old Testament… so I figured I’d post it online here if yall are interested in apologetics, general knowledge, or just have a lot of spare time to read it. It’s sort of academic in nature – so might be a little of a dry read… but it deals with something that does come up from time to time about the authority and inspiration of scripture that might be useful to know.
Just recently I saw a documentary called, “Who Wrote the Bible” which I think was shown on either the BBC or Channel 4 (UK). It was quite biased and presented the Documentary Hypothesis as well as other theories as if they were hard facts about the bible and not just theories (some of which have been clearly debunked – of which I think after my own research, the Documentary Hypothesis falls under). Anyways – the documentary seriously undermines the validity of scriptures, and doesn’t present fairly the counter arguments – instead favoring to show ill-equip responses of uneducated people to frailly represent the counter perspective. For the lay-person watching it, this could end up being convincing argument that would lead them to believe that the Bible is not trustworthy based on antiquated and disproved arguments.
Anyways – my paper is by no means exhaustive on the topic (I was limited to 4 pages) and there’s definitely a lot more to say about the topic if you want to research it yourself – I’ll include my bibliography at the end, but I do surmise from my research on the topic that it doesn’t hold water and that the Old Testament/Torah can be trusted as authoritative, coherent and inspired. The bible has been THE MOST heavily scrutinized and examined work of literature ever in history, yet it always seems to rise up to outlive its pallbearers… No other book has undergone more persecution, and more people trying to eliminate its influence yet still it stands today as the most read and bought publication which has changed the lives of countless… I think that in itself is a powerful testimony to its trustworthiness, and if not – at the very least its worthiness of a more closer examination to the skeptic…
Documentary Hypothesis otherwise known as JEDP Theory is the theory that the Torah was not written solely by Moses as held to by conservative biblical scholarship – but was rather a compilation which was edited together at a far later date from four sources J, E, D and P.
J is the Yahweh source (named J because it starts with a J in German and is defined by the reference to God as YHWH)
E is the Elohim source (defined by the reference to God as Elohim)
D is the Deuteronomical source (alleged to have been written later by another author who fabricated it and gave it to Josiah when he “rediscovered” the book of the Law)
P is the Priestly source (supposedly written very late by priests who were editing and redacting the source materials to suit their priestly motives)
It is important to note that none of these sources actually exist in reality – they are theoretical constructs made by trying to recognize alleged patterns, differences in styles, etc within the Torah’s texts.
One of the major dangers the theory poses to traditional biblical scholarship is the late dates it ascribes to the authorship of the Torah’s content which would seriously question its content and give rise to doubts about how historically accurate or trustworthy it is.
My approach to the material was to be unbiased as I interacted with both sides of the Documentary Hypothesis to give the theory a fair chance to make it’s claims and then see how they held up under further investigation. Admittedly, upon first reading, the material seemed to have some credibility as the evidences cited by proponents of JEDP Theory seemed to make sense and be evident in the texts. I even remembered as a child asking about Deuteronomy 34 where it speaks of the death of Moses, obviously it could not be that Moses would write about his own death. Also, other texts such as Numbers 12:3 where it states that Moses was the most humble man on the face of the earth seem to imply another later author as well as it would be very antithetical to his point of being humble if Moses wrote this of himself. Furthermore, other parts of the text are written in the third person – evidence at least for the possibility of another author within the Pentateuch.
The Documentary Hypothesis pointed out various sources, such as J and E which were largely determined by their preference for a certain name to refer to God by either the Tetragrammaton, Yahweh (YHWH) or as Elohim. It seemed clear in the text the distinct uses of these two names to refer to God in various passages and that the styles or content of the passages which were associated with them were different at least at an initial reading of the text. Also the D source, which was basically the book of Deuteronomy had a distinctly different style which sets it apart from the rest of the Torah, in that it is presented as a retelling of the law to the people by Moses before he dies. The P source also seemed to have evidence for it in the way that it pointed to a priestly origin dealing with issues of religious rituals, priestly regulations, laws and genealogies. At first glance this all seemed like it could be compelling arguments towards the plausibility of the JEDP Theory. It also seemed like a convenient way of explaining the seeming contrasts in styles, content and emphasis within the Torah, as well as the existence of multiple retellings of the same story.
In my research, I came across a documentary done by the Channel 4 (UK), Who Wrote the Bible which seemed to assume the validity of the Documentary Hypothesis wholeheartedly and cited numerous scholars which supported the view as well as archaeological evidences which also corroborated their story. It presented, very convincingly though one-sided, the Documentary Hypothesis as if it were a generally agreed upon fact. Furthermore, its implications on the authority and inspiration of scriptures was most provocative as it would imply solely human authorship and a creation of a religious dogma through much editing and falsification of information with a specific agenda rather than a truthful telling of the history and facts of the Jewish heritage and religion.
Julius Wellhausen himself, one of the major proponents and contributors to the Documentary Hypothesis, stated in his book:
“…in vain that I looked for the light which was to be shed from this source on the historical and prophetical books. On the contrary, my enjoyment of the latter was marred by the Law; it did not bring them any nearer me, but intruded itself uneasily, like a ghost that makes a noise indeed, but is not visible and really effects nothing… I found it impossible to give a candid decision in favour of the priority of the Law… I learned through Ritschl that Karl Heinrich Graf placed the law later than the Prophets, and, almost without knowing his reasons for the hypothesis, I was prepared to accept it; I readily acknowledged to myself the possibility of understanding Hebrew antiquity without the book of the Torah.”
Wellhausen makes it plain to see his aversion to the Law, and his eagerness to accept the hypothesis without even knowing the reasons for it as he saw it as a means perhaps to escape or dismiss the distasteful parts of the Law. This sort of unabashed bias alerted me that this was no objective handling of the text, but seemed to have an underlying agenda behind its interpretation. This reminded me of Romans 5:20a, “Moreover the law entered, that the offense might abound.” (KJV) We have an innate aversion to the Law of God, it grates against our sinful nature and it seemed to me like this was what was happening in Wellhausen and other proponents of the theory to find a way to dismiss the offense of the Law. By trying to prove it was something added on later by a priestly source editor, they could dismiss it as authoritative or historical. Furthermore, the supporters of the hypothesis seemed to presuppose that the miraculous cannot happen, and thus must find another explanation for the Torah other than Mosaic authorship and divine inspiration—hardly an unbiased starting point.
Upon further reading, it seemed like the critics were claiming quite a great deal. It was important to remind myself that the Documentary Hypothesis was a theory and not a fact. However, much of the writers for the theory wrote as if it were established fact and that they were able to prove concretely the existence of these source documents J, E, D and P — of which no archaeological or manuscript evidence exists. These were theoretical constructions determined solely by the critics claimed ability to use word usage groups, difference in style, apparent discrepancies, vocabulary and divine names to consistently separate the text of the Torah into these four sources. However, it seemed to be hardly an exact science and would be open to a wide range of error and variation depending on the presuppositions and purposes of the critic. Writers however often do have variations in their writing style, even within the body of one work depending on the subject matter. Technical work, narratives, poetry and history have very different writing styles and the Torah contains all of these, so it would be logical to expect different styles. Also, a writer can change styles and word usages throughout time—obviously Moses or another author would not have wrote the entire Torah in one sitting and his focus and purpose within its sections could change at different times of writing. What at first seemed like a convenient way of explaining things was turning out to be more complicated that I first thought.
Additionally, Jesus attributed the Pentateuch to Moses. He confirms samples from all the claimed J,E,D and P sources to Moses. Now, I know for the skeptical critic, using Jesus as an authoritative say on the matter would cause hesitation at the least. However, I am coming from an assumption that Jesus was who he said he was and thus was speaking authoritatively and I won’t go into reasons why I believe him to be the Son of God here as this isn’t the purpose of this paper. However, in Mark 10:4—8 he quotes Gen 2:24, which would be a J source, in Mark 7:10 he quotes the Ten Commandments which would be an E source, in Mark 10:3 he refers to Deut 24:1 which would be a D, and in Matt 8:4 he quotes Lev 14 which would be a P source. All of these he attributes to Mosaic authorship. If Jesus’ authority is established, then his say on these matters would hold quite some weight. Also it was noted that just because something is referred to as the book of someone, doesn’t necessarily mean that person wrote the entirety of the book. Take for example the books of Samuel, Samuel died by the second book, however they are referred to collectively as the books of Samuel as a point of reference.
It would seem also that the Documentary Hypothesis is analyzing the texts from a very modern and even western understanding of literature instead of understanding the literary culture and climate of the time in which the books were written. Some literary styles used in the ancient literature are simply not in use today and would seem strange to our modern readings. Most of the ancient world would have been illiterate, so writing styles for the Bible would have had to accommodate for this in order to facilitate easy memorization and comprehension. Not to mention, some of the stories recorded in the Bible would have stemmed from oral traditions which would utilize such tools as repetition and structures facilitating easy recital and memorization. We see evidence of this all throughout scripture by use of tools such as repetition, poetry and prose, and chiasms. Take for example chiasms; where the order of terms in a first clause are reversed in the second in order to make a statement more memorable. An example of such would be like the saying, “quitters never win and winners never quit.” We see examples of this in the New Testament, as in Matt 23:11—12, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” and also in the Torah in Gen 9:6, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed…” This structure is further seen in the flood narrative in Gen 6:1—9:19 where the events leading up to the flood in 6:9—7:24 are then told unwinding in reverse order in 8:1—9:19. This sort of structure clearly points to a single authorship of the narrative, rather than the way the Documentary Hypothesis proposes to chop up the story into alternating segments of J and P sources.
One of the big claims of J and E sources is based off the names of God used as an indicator of different sources or authors because they preferred those names, or that due to the date of their authorship they would not have known the name of Yahweh. However, this too turns out to be a weak claim. Take for example a man, Bob. Bob can be referred to using several different names and titles by the same person speaking about him depending on the setting he is being referred to. Bob can be, husband, father, have a work title such as president, and even a proper name such as Robert. Depending on the circumstance, if it is a formal setting, one may refer to him as President Robert. However, in a casual situation, just Bob might suffice or be preferred in order to convey relation and intimacy. Moses might have chosen to use God’s revealed name to him, Yahweh, which implied an intimate relationship in settings where he wanted to show the personal relationship between the Father and his children the Israelites. However, Moses may have preferred to use Elohim, which is the plural form of El, meaning “Strong One” and which speaks of God’s universality as Creator and God of all the earth when Moses wanted to convey themes of that nature of God. Elohim is what God is and Yahweh is who He is, so the different usages can be very easily accounted for in this manner and proof is seen simply in the two creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2. In the first chapter dealing with God’s creation of the world, Elohim is preferred. However, in the second chapter dealing with God’s relationship to humans, Yahweh is preferred. And even the usage of the two together is seen in the second chapter as the Lord God. This therefore is not convincing proof as to various sources or authorship, but rather differences in the connotations and meanings the specific names of God implied.
Another criticism of proponents of the Documentary Hypothesis is the alleged discrepancies in the texts pointing to multiple sources contradicting. One popular example is in the story of Abram leaving Haran in Gen 11—12. In Gen 11:26 Terah begins fathering children and in Gen 11:32, Terah dies at the age of 205 which would make Abram 135 when he was called to leave Haran; however, in 12:4 it says that he was only 75. Critics would cite this as an obvious discrepancy. However it is not a contradiction at all, because the text only says that Terah started having children at 70 but doesn’t state that Abram is the firstborn. It is common knowledge that the Bible often lists names by prominence, and Abraham is one of the most prominent names in the Bible so it would be expected that he was mentioned first. Therefore, the text doesn’t say that Abram was the firstborn, but simply that at 70 Terah started having kids, then goes on to list his three sons listing the most prominent first. Many of the supposed discrepancies that critics point at to support their theory break down when examined more closely from what the text actually says.
The existence of doublets is another thing which critics point to in favour of the theory. One example is in the flood narrative in Genesis, critics say that one source says the flood lasted forty days and nights, and the other says it lasted for one hundred and fifty. However, from a careful reading of the texts it is clear to see that the two accounts are referencing two different time periods. Without any manipulation of the texts, just reading what is there, the first is in reference to how long the rain fell in Gen 7:12, and the second for how long the waters prevailed over the earth in Gen 7:24. Other ancient Semitic literature have other similar examples of repetition as found in the Biblical texts for the purposes of emphasis.
With regards to variations in style and vocabulary, and article published in the St. Petersburg Times in 1981 states:
“A five-year long computer study of the Bible strongly indicates that one author and not three as widely held in modern criticism wrote the book of Genesis. “The probability of Genesis’ having been written by one author is enormously high – 82 percent statistically,” a member of the research team said…”
When a mathematics expert ran the computer check against classical German works by Goethe, Herder and Kant they found that the probability of their being the sole authors of their own work to only be 22 percent, 7 percent and 9 percent respectively. I think this speaks volumes to the authenticity of the authorship of the Bible text. With the wide range of themes and content dealt with in the Torah, variations in style by the same author is to be expected as one does not write about history and narrative the same you would about religious laws, genealogies and poetry.
In conclusion, while I thought that some of the concepts brought forward by the Documentary Hypothesis were interesting and provoked me to think more deeply about how I interpret the authorship of the Torah, I do not see sufficient solid evidence to give much credence to this theory as a whole. The theory seems methodologically unsound to me and uses too simple an approach of textual analysis and an evolutionary linear understanding of Israelite history which has been convincingly discredited. Also it breaks down in what the purpose of the theoretical editing redactor of these J, E, D and P sources would be. Why would someone wanting to manipulate the information to build a religious system leave in the details and even embarrassing stories, or leave in doublets right next to each other, or just use a simple cut-and-paste method of splicing the sources together instead of coherently smoothing their merger? The structures of the Torah which the critics tend to point to as evidences for the hypothesis actually end up as strong proof for just the opposite. While I do see that there is definite possibility for other authors contributing certain texts, I don’t agree with the late dating of Documentary Hypothesis and the JEDP source theories outright nor do I see convincing evidence that the Torah isn’t a coherently authored work, even if there are other contributing authors to it. It was an interesting exercise reading the material, however in the end it was not convincing to me but I do think it important to deal with the material as the documentary and critics tend to present it as factual rather than theoretical which undermines the integrity and authority of scripture.
Documentary Hypothesis or JEDP Theory turns out in my opinion to be little more than another biblical conspiracy theory similar to that seen in The DaVinci Code, etc… for further more in depth reading you can check the bibliography below and see for yourself.
1. Beckford, Robert. “Who Wrote the Bible”, Diverse Productions, Channel 4 (UK), December 25, 2004.
2. Wellhausen, Julius. “Prolegomena to the History of Israel”, Translated by J. Sutherland Black, M.A., 1878. Online: http://www.aren.org/prison/documents/religion/Misc/Prolegomena%20to%20the%20History%20of%20Israel–Julius%20Wellhausen.pdf
3. Kulikovsky, Andrew. “Creation, Fall, Restoration: A Biblical Theology of Creation” Mentor, 2009.
4. Andrews, Edward D. “Bible Difficulties: Debunking the Documentary Hypothesis” Bible-Translation.Net Books, 2011.
5. Holding, James Patrick. “Debunking the Documentary Hypothesis: A Review of The Inspiration of the Pentateuch by M.W.J. Phelan” Twoedged Sword Publications, Waterlooville, UK, 2005. Online: http://creation.com/debunking-the-documentary-hypothesis#r5
6. Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, CARM.org, “Answering the Documentary Hypothesis” no pages. Online: http://carm.org/answering-documentary-hypothesis
7. Enns, Peter. “When was Genesis Written and Why Does it Matter?: A Brief Historical Study” Handout.8. https://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2010/09/24/The-Documentary-Hypothesis.aspx