New Testament Documentary Hypothesis Essay

A Summary of the Documentary Hypothesis

Introduction to Biblical Literature

1. The Documentary Hypothesis claims that the Pentateuch is a composite of four separate, complete, and coherent documents.

2. Those documents are:

  • J — the Yahwist. J gets its name because it uses and allows humans to use the name (Jahwe in German) before Israel exists (see Genesis 4:26; cf. E and P, below). J appears to have been composed in Judah, perhaps during Solomon's day, around 950 B.C.E.
  • E — the Elohist. The name is derived from E's use of Elohim (Hebrew for "God") rather than YHWH in the early period. E reserves the name Yahweh for the time from Moses on (see Exodus 3:13-15). E appears to have been written in the north, around 850 B.C.E.
  • P — the Priestly source. P is especially concerned with stories and laws relevant for priests. Like E, it reserves the name YHWH for for the period from Moses on (see Exodus 6:3). Many scholars date P either during the exile (6th century B.C.E.) or shortly after (5th century B.C.E.). Others date it as early as the beginning of the 7th century B.C.E.
  • D is essentially the book of Deuteronomy. It is not mingled with J, E and P.

3. J, E and P are either placed end-to-end or intertwined (as in the flood narrative) throughout the first four books of the Bible.

4. The major strength of the hypothesis is that it accounts for the differences in ideas and terminology between various sections and stories in the Pentateuch. In particular, it provides a good explanation for the peculiar character of the material labeled P, by suggesting that P reflects the perspective and concerns of Israel's priests.

5. Recent criticisms of the hypothesis have included:

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