Dr. Richard S. Hess

Old Testament Questions from the desk of Dr. Richard S. Hess

What do you think of the Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP) theory of how the Pentateuch was written?

The documentary hypothesis (also called JEDP theory, and source criticism of the Pentateuch) certainly has had an impact and continues to affect almost every academic commentary on the first five books of the Pentateuch.  I distinguish the literary analysis of this approach from the dating and compositional aspects. The literary affirmation of different emphases in the literature of the Pentateuch (e.g., ceremonial and cultic matters [P], covenantal and social law [D], and narrative [JE]) are helpful. However, this says nothing about the dating of the text or the view that there were multiple authors in the documents. While they may have been updated linguistically, I find that the traditions behind this material reaches back to the early Iron Age and the period which the Bible identifies with the figure of Moses.  

For my published views, including major review and critique of the classic formulation of the hypothesis, see my Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey (Baker, 2007) pp. 45-59. This is the best place to begin. Some newer and related material can also be found in my “Criticism” sections of the chapters on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, in my The Old Testament: A Historical, Critical, and Theological Introduction (Baker, 2016). This includes reference to the Neo-Documentarians who have returned to various aspects of the Documentary Hypothesis as the best explanation of the formation of the Pentateuch.

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