The J.E.D.P. Theory: An Explanation and Refutation

By Brian Davis


I. Introduction: Importance of the Issue and Intent of the Paper.

The JEDP theory, also known as the Documentary Hypothesis or the Graf­-Wellhausen theory, essentially states that the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Old Testament) is not the work of Moses as both the Old and New Testaments claim. Rather, those books are the work of editors called redactors who compiled and wove together various myths, legends and historical events long after the time of Moses. Since Graf and Wellhausen presented it in its classic form in 1895, the theory has gained wide acceptance. The JEDP theory served as a foundation for much of the modern hyper critical views of scripture. Moreover it is taught in both liberal and secular schools with little question as to its validity.1

 

Obviously a theory which reduces scripture to mere fables, yet is accepted by so many, merits a thorough investigation for the profound impact it might have on our theology and faith. By compiling the main arguments of various scholars, my intent is to define the theory and its basis, refute the theory, and state the basis for believing that Moses did write the Pentateuch.


II. Definition of the JEDP Theory

There are many complex versions of the theory, but the basic document definitions can be outlined here. "J" represents the unknown author of a document composed from 1000 to 900 B in South Judea. "E" represents a document composed in North Israel in 721 B "J" and "E" are said to have been put together and edited during the Babylonian exile in the sixth century B "P" stands for the "priestly document" which the theocracy in Judea created for a record of worship, genealogies, dates, and measurements. "D" stands for the Deutoronomic code supposedly written for religious reform at the time of Josiah in 621 B These four documents were compiled and edited as the Pentateuch.

 

III Five Major Reasons for the Theory and corresponding Refutations

A Multiple divine names.

The words "Lord" (YHWH or Jehovah) and "God" (Elohim) are the two words commonly used to speak of divinity. Throughout the Pentateuch, different sections of the text refer to God using the different names. The documentary theory says that there must be at least two authors, each referring to God by a different name. After all, why would one God have two names? Therefore, they assign a section such as Gen. 1 2:3 ; (or any section using Elohim) to the "E" document, and Gen. 2:4 3:1; (or any section using Jehovah) to the "J" document.2

 

Refutation: Subjectivity. The problem with this view is simply that it is not consistent. "J" sections will contain "Elohim" and "E" sections will contain Jehovah.3 The result is that no two documentarians seem to agree on the document divisions, thereby exposing the subjective nature of this criterion. Furthermore, this criterion splits almost 100 verses into different sources, leaving a hopelessly incoherent text.4


At this point the documentarian often blames the inconsistency on the mistake or whim of a redactor. This shows a common weakness of the documentarian: it is a display of circular reasoning when they use part of the theory (that redactors existed) to explain the theory, instead of working from known facts.

 

On the other hand, conservative scholars have exhibited two strong reasons to accept Moses' use of multiple divine names. First of all, the context varies with the name used. When Elohim (a common noun) is used, the context is one where God's almighty power or supreme character is being expressed.5 Where Jehovah (a personal noun) is used, the con­text conveys God's relation to man; it is often used in covenants and God's personal dealings with men.6 This makes sense in the same way we might say "city" or "Columbus", yet mean the same place.

 

Refutation: Examples exist in other literature. Second, scholars note it is common practice in ancient eastern literature for authors to refer to gods, people, or places by multiple names. The Koran, for example, uses two names for the same God,7 yet with no question of multiple authorship raised by scholars. Other refutations of the "multiple names" criterion caused Wellhausen himself to admit that the opponents had "touched the weak point of his theory:8

 

B. The "doublets" argument

Events in the Pentateuch which seem to be repeated in the text with different details are called "doublets:" For example, the creation account is said to actually be two accounts: Gen. 1 2:4 is one account, and Gen. 2:4 2:25 is another. The flood story is said to be another of eight or so doublets. For brevity we will only deal with one here: a story that seems to be repeated in Gen. 12, Gen. 20, and Gen. 26.


In Gen. 12 and 20, Abraham and Sarah are traveling to the Negev desert. In Gen. 12 the couple fools Pharaoh by telling him Sarah is Abraham's sister in order to protect Abraham's life. The same occurs in Gen. 20, except that it is King Abimelech being fooled this time. In Gen. 26 Abraham's son, Isaac, repeats this incident with King Abimelech and his wife Rebekkah. There is a remarkable resemblance in the three accounts.


The documentarian speculates that these accounts are far too coincidental to be factual, especially since King Abimelech shows up in an incident occurring many years after the first incident. Therefore, he concludes that different authors were using a common legend.


Refutation: historical support. Regarding the Gen. 12, 20, and 26 accounts, we don't have a strong reason to believe they are not authentic. First of all, it is entirely possible that the King Abimelech in Isaac's case could have been Abimelech the II or III. It was a common practice in Egypt at this time for kings to re use a predecessor's name (e.g., Amenemhat I, II, III or Senworset I, II, III).

 

It is also feasible that a son would follow his father's example, especially since his father profited well from the scheme.

 

C. The presence of anachronisms

Anachronisms are words that are chronologically out of context in a writing. For example the word, "Christian" is used in a Mormon scripture supposedly written in 73 BC, before there could be any Christians.9 Hence this Mormon scripture must have been altered or written after Christians came into being.

 

Refutation: Some examples. Critics have asserted that there are a number of anachronistic ideas and words in the Pentateuch. These would include such things as the manufac­ture of iron in Gen. 4, camels in Gen. 11 and 12, etc. Yet in most cases these supposed anachronisms were based on faulty archeological data. For example, Kitchen cites Mesopotamian lexical lists originating in the Old Babylonian period which evidence domestication of the camel back to 2000 BC, as well as five other ancient finds regarding camel domestication. Likewise furnaces, dating to the early second millennium, in what is now Turkey, show signs of iron working.10

 

In a very few cases it is likely that a scribe has updated the text.11The scribe might do this in order to make the text relevant to a contemporary audience, but this gives no basis to claim multiple authorship or to date the work later than Moses.

 

D. The aramaisms argument

Aramaisms are words appearing in the text of the Pentateuch before the Babylonian captivity when the Jews began to use Aramaic. This causes critics to suspect the author could not be Moses, who lived around 1500 B Although Aramaic was used during Moses' time, critics did not believe that Jews had access to it until the captivity (around 600 B).

 

Refutation: Some examples. Once again archaeology has eliminated this criticism by the finding of the Ras Shamra tablets (15th century B) and others which show the commonplace mixing of the two languages.12 Furthermore, it can be shown from Genesis that Abraham, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel all came from Aramaic speaking people, long before the captivity.


E. The rare words argument.

Rare words, claim the documentarians, are words which seldom show up in ancient literature, yet which become common in later literature, like the Talmud. They conclude the text containing such rare words should be dated later, when the words are used commonly.

 

Refutation: Archeological light. McDowell cites the word studies of several scholars that show the early origin of some of these words. Another consideration is that the literature of 4000 years ago has a relatively small survival rate of comparative texts; therefore many words would only seem rare.13 Therefore many words may have been known and used for centuries before we have any extant manuscripts.

 

Robert Wilson, who performed a percentage comparison of rare words in the Old Testament and the Talmud, exposed the unreliability of this criterion. The results show known late documents to be early and vice versa when this criterion is used, disqualifying it as a sound argument.

 

F Basic criticisms against Mosaic authorship

The documentarians assert that a quick scan of the Pentateuch will reveal that it is written almost entirely from the view of someone other than Moses. The text reads "the Lord said to Moses" in hundreds of places. If Moses wrote the book, it seems that he would say "the Lord said to me:" Another criticism leveled against Mosaic authorship is the fact that he could not record his own death which we find in Deuteronomy 34.

 

At first glance these are very good arguments, ones that we would expect any critical reader to raise, but scholars have suggested two possibilities that adequately explain why the Pentateuch can still be Mosaic.

 

Refutation: Ancient authors wrote in the third person.

One possibility is that Moses simply wrote in the third person. Many scholars accept this because it was the practice of other ancient writers, such as Julius Caesar, Josephus and Xenophon. However, we don't have examples of such writing from Moses' era, so we really don't know if it was common

practice at that time.

 

The other possibility is that Moses dictated the Pentateuch. There are known examples of this occurring in Moses day.14 When the weight of the evidence favors Mosaic authorship, as will be shown, then we shall see that one or all of these explanations are highly plausible.15

 

Refutation Joshua wrote the ending of Exodus. The most likely explanation for the recording of Moses' death at the end of Exodus is that the next author of scripture, Joshua, added the account to make Moses' work complete and began his own.16

 

If this or even some other explanation is the case we certainly have no reason to discredit Mosaic authorship, especially in light of the magnitude of evidence supporting Mosaic authorship. We may now turn to those positive evidences for Mosaic authorship.

 

IV. Reasons to Believe Moses Wrote the Pentateuch.

A Internal evidence: the claims of the Bible.

The Pentateuch, other Old Testament books, and New Testament authors all make claims that the Law, or Pentateuch, is from Moses.17

 

The validity of the New Testament and the claims of Christ add further weight to this claim. These quotes are the basis for claiming Moses wrote the books. This, of course, does not prove that he did, but we shall see that this is much easier and more logical to believe than to believe it is an incredible fabrication of several authors.

 

B Evidence for eyewitness accounts.

The detailed narrative in passages like Num. 11:7 8, where the author explains the appearance of manna, or Ex. 15:27, where he describes a desert oasis, is strong evidence of a genuine, eyewitness account. Scholars point out that detail of this sort in a fiction work doesn't occur until the 18th century A.D.18

 

C. Writer's perspective.

The documentarians hold that the oral tradition and myth of the Old Testament is created by natives of Palestine, yet a brief reading shows the perspective is obviously that of a desert dweller in Egypt, as Moses was purported to have been.19

 

D. Archaeological support

Objective evidence supporting the historical accuracy of the Pentateuch is given by archaeology, a science that has not really bloomed until this century. One hundred years ago when the JEDP theory was developed, many of its arguments were challenging. However archaeologists are repeatedly embarrassing the assumptions of JEDP as evidence turns up.

 

For example, theorists once said the art of writing could not have existed in Moses' day. Archaeologists have found the following evidence of writing back as far as the 14th century B: 20,000 tablets at Ras Shamra, 35,000 tablets in King Sargon's library, Egyptian letters, calendars and Mt. Sinai inscriptions.

 

Other biblical passages which the JEDP thought were mythical that we now have archaeological evidence for are: i the existence of the Hoarites, the Kingship of Belshazzar, the city of Ur, and the existence of domesticated camels in the second millennia BC.20

 

It is true that there are problems in the Pentateuch, but it seems that when the evidence repeatedly resolves these problems, the honest critic would suspend judgement until the facts are in. The documentarians discredit themselves and their theory when they ignore these finds or modify the theory to uphold it in the face of the strong, contradictory evidence.

 

V. Conclusion

The foregoing arguments are only a handful of points brought up in the JEDP issue. One could debate endlessly the details and variations of the theory. I think it has been shown that there are sound refutations of the critiques of the Pentateuch put forth by higher criticism, but we also may reject JEDP based on some very foundational problems.

 

First of all it must be remembered that the JEDP theory is just that: a theory! There are no extant manuscripts showing a collection of writings into a unit corresponding to a J, E, D or P book. If these documents or books existed, why have we not found them? After all, we have found documents of more ancient origin. Furthermore, the earliest fragments of the Pentateuch, found in cave 4 at Qumran, date from 100 BC and show very few significant textual variants from more re­cent manuscripts. This implies that a consistent, unified text was firmly in place by the second century BC. It is difficult to imagine the work of a nameless redactor being accepted so widely, so quickly.

 

Second, the JEDP theory originated at the same time and admittedly in cooperation with Darwinian evolutionary thought. The JEDP theory states that religion evolved from polytheistic origins into monotheism, thus explaining the de­velopment of Israel. The evidence of the last century decisively contradicts this and many anthropologists and scholars have rejected the validity of monotheistic evolution.21


We must give the documentarians credit for employing critical thinking on issues that many Christians would never question. Their challenges are often startling and well founded at first glance. By no means do we want to reject liberal scholarship all together; their work is often better researched and more useful than that of conservative scholars. Yet the reader would be wise to know the bias of an author he is reading for biblical study.

 

It must be remembered how crucial this issue is for the Christian. The theory doesn't stop with the Pentateuch: it is used to tear down the authority of the entire Bible. The words of Paul apply well here when he warns the Colossians to "see to it that no one takes you captive through empty deception according to the tradition of men rather than according to Christ."

 

Finally, it was Christ who said, "For if you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?"

 

Brian Davis is a home church leader in Xevos Christian Fellowship. After taking a Hebrew class at Ohio State University, Brian's faith was challenged by the JEDP theory forwarded by the professor. This paper was written in response to that challenge.


1 See Introduction of R. Laird Harris' Inspiration and Cannonicity of the Bible. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1969) p. 42.

2 The documentarians also cite Ex. 6:2 3 in support of this portion of their theory. For brevity 1 have Left this out, but the reader should investigate this problem for thorough understanding. Josh McDowell gives lengthy attention to this in More Evidence That Demands a Verdict. (San Bernadino, CA, Here's Life Publishers, 1981) p. 127 132.

3 Ibid., p. 132.

4 McDowell: More Evidence, p.134.

5 For example, in Gen. 1: the creation of the universe.

6 For example, God's dealings with Cain in Gen. 4
7 Both Archer and Kitchen have a list of examples in their books. Gleason Archer: A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974) p. 119 121. K.A. Kitchen: Ancient Orient and Old Testament (Downers Grove, it: Intervarsity Press, 1966) p. 123.

8 See McDowell, More Evidence That Demands a Verdict, p. 135.

9 See Archer: Survey, p. 501.

10 10 See Kitchen: Orient, p. 79.

11 11 McDowell: More Evidence, p. 15

12 See Harris: Inspiration, p. 154-155.

13 See Mcdowell: More Evidence, p. 154.

14 For example, Hammurabi's code 1700 B; see McDowell: More Evidence, p. 159.

15 Ibid., p. 160.

16 Ibid., p. 160.

17 Deut. 31:9 "so Moses wrote this Law and gave it to the Priests . . . and to all the elders of Israel." See Num. 33:2, Josh. 8:32, Mt. 19:8, Lk. 24:44, Jn. 1:45, Heb. 9:19. McDowell lists 2 O.T. and 28 N.T. examples. More Evidence, p. 96.

18 See Archer: Survey, p.111.

19 Gen. 13:10; Deut. 23:12 13; Lev. 16:10. For a thorough discussion of this as well as more JEDP refutation, see Archer: Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. p. 45 54.

20 See Archer: Survey, Ch.13. Kitchen: Ancient Orient, p.79.

21 See Richardson: Eternity In Their Hearts