I’m thinking this will be my next-to-last post on JEDP. The topic has not generated much discussion, so I’m going to move on.  Can’t say I’m surprised. I’m not all that interested in composition of the Pentateuch myself. Toward the end I’ll sketch what I think. In this post I want to just give you a taste of what Friedman *doesn’t* tell readers in his book: that several scholars in recent years (not Christian apologetics types) have expressed sincere doubt about JEDP, and have proposed other models.  But all that would be the subject of a doctoral seminar, not a blog. So just a glimpse here.

In the last post, I noted that, while the idea that the Pentateuch has been edited and was not entirely composed by Moses is a coherent (and biblically driven) notion, the standard JEDP theory is dissatisfying. Here are the problems I’ve drawn attention to so far, with standard JEDP responses.

1. Nearly 100 instances where two Hebrew source texts disagree as to the name for God (Yahweh or Elohim). JEDP response: sloppy translator; the problem can’t be the divine name criterion.

2. P vocabulary and concepts showing up in J’s version of the flood story. JEDP: that’s the editorial hand; he made it messy; the problem can’t be the vocabulary criterion.

3. A criterion for P (no anthropomorphisms) not being valid. JEDP response: I haven’t seen any specifically, though I’m betting it would be something like, “well, J and E do *more* anthropomorphizing, so they must be different authors with different religious views.” (A “counting noses” answer; the problem can’t be the “view of God” criterion — of course this also ignores later anthropomorphosms outside the Pentateuch, and anthropomorphic portrayals in Jewish literature after the biblical period — never mind that stuff).

Beside these specific items, I have alluded to the propensity of JEDP to defend itself by assuming what it seeks to prove, and then offering said assumptions as proof of an argument. In this post I want to illustrate this again from Friedman’s second chapter.

Toward the end of Chapter 2, Friedman writes: “J and E were written by two persons . . . the author of J came from Judah and the author of E came from Israel.” Friedman believes this difference in location explains differences in the sources, such as the divergence in names for God. Friedman then goes on for a few pages telling readers how items in the text “belong” to a Judah writer and an Israel writer.  But stop and think about this: Is he “seeing” these things *because* he already has J and E as sources in his head, or would you just read the Torah through and those things be self evident?  I think the former is at play in many respects, and that amounts to assuming what one seeks to prove. Any clever interpreter can come up with some reason why someone living in X location probably wrote this.” But is there any compelling reason why someone NOT living in X location could not also have written this? Friedman never considers such things (and, to be fair, he is trying to explain a theory).

At any rate, a number of scholars don’t buy the neat picture Friedman creates for the lay reader. For example, there is Rolf Rendtorff, a respected German scholar who says, “The positing of ‘sources’ in the sense of the documentary hypothesis can no longer make any contribution to understanding the development of the Pentateuch.”1 And consider this quotation from The New Oxford Annotated Bible (2007; p. 6).

These are just sample, of course.

My take is that we don’t have four sources writers with competing agendas. Rather, there was a Mosaic core, patriarchal traditions that began as oral history, a national history, rules for priests and Levites, and a primeval history section. This sounds a bit like sources, but it’s not quite the same.  By way of a simplistic summary (this is just a loose description; I haven’t systematized this, since I find so many other things more interesting):

1. Israelites before Moses preserve the patriarchal traditions via oral history.

2. The above traditions pre-date arrival in the land, but got written down after Israel arrived at the land (at some point). That is, I don’t think Moses was writing them down during the trip, as most conservatives think. He had better, more pressing things to do. I don’t think this patriarchal document was written by two writers with competing agendas. I think the patriarchal oral history had “El language” for God since that was the name of God prior to the exodus event. The name of God associated with the exodus (Yahweh) was introduced by God as a way of commemorating the re-creation of the nation (this reflects my agreement with F.M. Cross at Harvard who saw “Yahweh” as meaning “he who causes to be”). Someone who took the Mosaic core (#3 below) and married it to the patriarchal material combined the names in various ways to ensure (and telegraph) theological unity.

3. Moses or someone soon after Moses’ death recorded events in Moses’ life and leadership period, from the exodus, to Sinai, and through the wilderness. I think the law and Sinai episodes were recorded, along with narration of events as the Israelites traveled. Who knows how much?

4. Parts of the above were included and re-purposed in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is therefore a hybrid: parts Mosaic; parts much later adapting Mosaic material and composing new material reflecting occupancy of the land, thereby necessitating adaptations in laws, for example. Same thing for Numbers and Leviticus; the material encompasses times, needs, and customs from the Mosaic period well into the monarchy. Moses, the law, the deliverance from Egypt, and the events at Sinai are constant touchpoints. And so the collective whole is, appropriately, the “law of Moses.” I don’t care what the percentages are of each hand. And I consider many hands played a role, not just four “source hands.”

5. Genesis 1-11 was written during the exile, as it has a Babylonian flavoring in terms of what it seeks to accomplish and respond to theologically (creation epics, flood recounting, Sumerian king list [antediluvian history], Babel. This section gives Israel’s rival understanding of the hand of Yahweh in pre-patriarchal history with specific counter-points to Babylon’s claims and the claims of other ANE religions (that is, in the process of composing Gen 1-11, the opportunity was taken to take aim at other belief systems / theologies besides that of Babylon).

All the above operated under the hand of Providence, regardless of how many hands and what order things were written. As many of you know, I view inspiration as a providential process, not a (small) series of paranormal events.

In my next and last post, I want to apply the above a bit to statements about the law of Moses in the NT.

  1. R. Rendtorff, Das überlieferungsgeschichtliche Problem des Pentateuch (Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 147; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 1977), 148. Translation: The tradition-historical problem of the Pentateuch (Supplements to the Journal of the Old Testament scholarship 147; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 1977), 148.