Dec 282006

In an earlier post ( I began the topic of who wrote the books of Moses (or the Pentateuch) by pointing out incongruities in the five books attributed to Moses that suggested that someone besides Moses had a hand in writing them.

Students of the Pentateuch had also noticed, from a very early time, a number of “doublets” in the books, where the same story was told twice, with different details. There are two creation stories, two interwoven flood stories, two stories of the naming of Bethel, two stories of the covenant between Abraham and God, and a number of others. Also, the details tend to be somewhat contradictory in some of the different parts of the Pentateuch. Moses wife is a Midianite in some stories and a Cushite in others. The ten commandments change from one book to the next. Moses receives the law on Horeb in one account and Sinai in another. Dozens of apologetic arguments and techniques were developed to try to reconcile apparent contradictions and defend the books as the work of Moses.

Beginning in the 18th century, more critical scholars (beginning with French scholar Jean Astruc) noticed something very peculiar about some of these doublets. Almost without fail, any time there were two versions of a story, ONE of the versions would consistently identify God as “YHWH” (Yahweh) whereas the other version would simply call him God (El or Elohim). As scholars started sorting the material based on the criteria of the name used for God, a fascinating picture emerged. Each group of material told many of the same stories, but the “J” group (the ones using the name Yahweh) and the “E” group (the ones using the name Elohim) were very different in many ways, such as style and vocabulary.

To make things even more interesting, scholars noticed that SOME of the stories in the Pentateuch occur in TRIPLETS. Using vocabulary, grammar and style, a third source was identified. This one (which also used Elohim or El-Shaddai for the name of God) was very concerned with priestly rituals and procedures (it constitutes most of the book of Leviticus, for example) and was thus called “P”. I want to emphasize that it was not simply a matter of looking at the choice of the name for God that was used to identify sources. The sources turned out to be very different in many different respects.

“J” was eloquently written, but in a very early form of Hebrew. It had traces of the dialect of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Many of the places in Judah appear in the “J” stories. J is full of angels, talking animals and supernatural occurrences. Aaron figures prominently. God is referred to as “Yahweh” from the beginning. Women appear prominently in “J”. God is very human-like.

“E” was also well written, in form of Hebrew slightly less old than “J”, and with traces of the dialect of Northern Israel. Many of the place names of the Northern Kingdom appear. Moses and Joshua are the primary heroes. The tribe of Levi is emphasized instead of Aaron alone. “E” is the least complete, and often seems included only to fill in details that are missing in “J”. God is human-like. “El” (especially at first) or sometimes “Elohim” is the preferred name of God until the incident at the burning bush. Then “Yahweh” is also used.

“P” is written in later Hebrew, but is a lower-quality of literary style. God is somewhat remote, distant and abstract, stern and just. He is called “Elohim” or “El-Shaddai”. “P” is full of lists, dates, priestly regulations and laws. Aaron is featured prominently and Moses is slightly minimized. No sacrifice is ever mentioned in “P” until Aaron comes on the scene. Judah and the Aaronid priesthood are critical in “P”. There are no angels, talking animals, magic trees or similar colorful characters. “P” seems to be something of a propaganda piece for king Hezekiah.

Once these three sources were identified, it was discovered that Deuteronomy didn’t fit into any of these categories or styles. A new source, “D” was proposed. “D” uses a later Hebrew but of a more elevated style than “P”. It is concerned with the Levites and the Shiloh priesthood. “D” seems to be something of a propaganda piece for King Josiah.

Perhaps an example of these sources in action would be helpful. Let’s look at the flood story in Genesis. This is a particularly interesting case, because verses from “J” and “P” are interwoven in our current Bible, with a section from one, then a section from another, etc. The really remarkable thing is that when taking apart, both are essentially complete stories – but with interesting differences. I’ve used the WEB (Web Bible) version because it helpfully uses “Yahweh” when that word appears in the Hebrew. I’ve kept the reference verse numbers from our current Bible so you can see how they were spliced together.

Here is:

The Flood According to “J”

Genesis 6

(5) Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

(6) Yahweh was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him in his heart.

(7) Yahweh said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the surface of the ground; man, along with animals, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.

(8) But Noah found favor in Yahweh’s eyes.

[Gen 7]

(1) Yahweh said to Noah, Come with all of your household into [a] ship, for I have seen your righteousness before me in this generation.

(2) You shall take seven pairs of every clean animal with you, the male and his female. Of the animals that are not clean, take two, the male and his female.

(3) Also of the birds of the sky, seven and seven, male and female, to keep seed alive on the surface of all the earth.

(4) In seven days, I will cause it to rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights. Every living thing that I have made, I will destroy from the surface of the ground.

(5) Noah did everything that Yahweh commanded him.

(7) Noah went into the ship with his sons, his wife, and his sons wives, because of the waters of the flood.

(10) It happened after the seven days, that the waters of the flood came on the earth.

(12) The rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights.

Gen 7

(16b) And Yahweh shut him [Noah] in [the ship].

(17) The flood was forty days on the earth. The waters increased, and lifted up the ship, and it was lifted up above the earth.

(18) The waters prevailed, and increased greatly on the earth; and the ship floated on the surface of the waters.

(20) The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered.

(22) All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, of all that was on the dry land, died.

(23) Every living thing was destroyed that was on the surface of the ground, including man, livestock, creeping things, and birds of the sky. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ship.

[Gen 8]

(2b) And the rain from the sky was restrained.

(3a) The waters receded from the earth continually.

(6) It happened at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ship which he had made,

Gen 8:8-22

(8) He sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from the surface of the ground,

(9) but the dove found no place to rest her foot, and she returned to him into the ship; for the waters were on the surface of the whole earth. He put forth his hand, and took her, and brought her to him into the ship.

(10) He stayed yet another seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ship.

(11) The dove came back to him at evening, and, behold, in her mouth was an olive leaf plucked off. So Noah knew that the waters were abated from the earth.

(12) He stayed yet another seven days, and sent forth the dove; and she didn’t return to him any more.

(13b) Noah removed the covering of the ship, and looked. He saw that the surface of the ground was dried.

(20) Noah built an altar to Yahweh, and took of every clean animal, and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.

(21) Yahweh smelled the pleasant aroma. Yahweh said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for mans sake, because the imagination of mans heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again strike everything living, as I have done.

(22) While the earth remains, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.

Now let’s see:

The Flood Story According to “P”

(the priestly source.)

Genesis 6

(9) This is the history of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time. Noah walked with God.

(10) Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

(11) The earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.

(12) God saw the earth, and saw that it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.

(13) God said to Noah, The end of all flesh has come before me, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

(14) Make a ship of gopher wood. You shall make rooms in the ship, and shall seal it inside and outside with pitch.

(15) This is how you shall make it. The length of the ship will be three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.

(16) You shall make a roof in the ship, and you shall finish it to a cubit upward. You shall set the door of the ship in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third levels.

(17) I, even I, do bring the flood of waters on this earth, to destroy all flesh having the breath of life from under the sky. Everything that is in the earth will die.

(18) But I will establish my covenant with you. You shall come into the ship, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons wives with you.

(19) Of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ship, to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female.

(20) Of the birds after their kind, of the livestock after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every sort shall come to you, to keep them alive.

(21) Take with you of all food that is eaten, and gather it to yourself; and it will be for food for you, and for them.

(22) Thus Noah did. According to all that God commanded him, so he did.

[Gen 7]

(8) Clean animals, animals that are not clean, birds, and everything that creeps on the ground

(9) went by pairs to Noah into the ship, male and female, as God commanded Noah.

(11) In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day all the fountains of the great deep were burst open, and the sky’s windows were opened.

(13) In the same day Noah, and Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, entered into the ship;

(14) they, and every animal after its kind, all the livestock after their kind, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, every bird of every sort.

(15) They went to Noah into the ship, by pairs of all flesh with the breath of life in them.

(16a) Those who went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God commanded him;

(19) The waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth. All the high mountains that were under the whole sky were covered.

(21) All flesh died that moved on the earth, including birds, livestock, animals, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man.

(24) The waters prevailed on the earth one hundred fifty days.

[Gen 8]

(1) God remembered Noah, all the animals, and all the livestock that were with him in the ship; and God made a wind to pass over the earth. The waters subsided.

(2a) The deeps fountains and the sky’s windows were also stopped

(3b) After the end of one hundred fifty days the waters decreased.

(4) The ship rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on Ararat’s mountains.

(5) The waters receded continually until the tenth month. In the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.

(7) and he sent forth a raven. It went back and forth, until the waters were dried up from the earth.

(13a) It happened in the six hundred first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth

(14) In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry.

(15) God spoke to Noah, saying,

(16) Go out of the ship, you, and your wife, and your sons, and your sons wives with you.

(17) Bring forth with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh, including birds, livestock, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, that they may breed abundantly in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply on the earth.

(18) Noah went forth, with his sons, his wife, and his sons wives with him.

(19) Every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, whatever moves on the earth, after their families, went out of the ship.

[Gen 9]

(1) God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.

(2) The fear of you and the dread of you will be on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the sky. Everything that the ground teems with, and all the fish of the sea are delivered into your hand.

(3) Every moving thing that lives will be food for you. As the green herb, I have given everything to you.

(4) But flesh with its life, its blood, you shall not eat.

(5) I will surely require your blood of your lives. At the hand of every animal I will require it. At the hand of man, even at the hand of every mans brother, I will require the life of man.

(6) Whoever sheds mans blood, his blood will be shed by man, for God made man in his own image.

(7) Be fruitful and multiply. Bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply in it.

(8) God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying,

(9) As for me, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your offspring after you,

(10) and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the livestock, and every animal of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ship, even every animal of the earth.

(11) I will establish my covenant with you: all flesh will not be cut off any more by the waters of the flood, neither will there ever again be a flood to destroy the earth.

(12) God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:

(13) I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it will be for a sign of a covenant between me and the earth.

(14) It will happen, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow will be seen in the cloud,

(15) and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh, and the waters will no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.

(16) The rainbow will be in the cloud. I will look at it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.

(17) God said to Noah, This is the token of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.


Some points to notice.

  • In “J”, Yahweh is quite human-like. He grieves, he is sorry, he favors Noah, he enjoys the smell of sacrifice, he has a heart.. In “P”, he is more distant. No human emotions or characteristics are mentioned. This corresponds to the theology of the priestly source, who see God as a distant power who can only be approached by priestly sacrifice.
  • In “J”, Noah brings seven pairs (14) of all clean animals and a pair (2) of all unclean animals. In “P” he only brings a pair of all animals. Why? As we see, in “J”, a sacrifice will be offered, and those extra animals will come in handy. In “P”, no sacrifice occurs, so no extra animals are needed. Why no sacrifice in “P”? Because one of the main points of “P” is that ONLY Aaronid priest can offer sacrifice! There is no sacrifice in “P” until Aaron. “P” would not want to admit that Noah or anyone else before Aaron could offer a valid sacrifice.
  • In “J”, There are no elaborate instructions. Noah just grabs a ship. In “P” there are elaborate instructions. This fits the priestly mentality that pleasing God requires obedience to explicit ritual instructions.
  • In “J”, no exact dates are given. There is more of a story-like quality. “P” likes exact dates and lists.
  • In “J”, The flood is caused by 40 days and nights of rain. In “P”, it’s a cosmic catastrophe, with the fountains of the deep opening and the windows of heaven opening, and the flood prevails for 150 days before beginning to subside. The flood has definitely become more grandiose in the interval between “J” and “P”.
  • In “J”, The waters of the flood are 15 cubits deep (about 45 feet) Enough to wipe out cities and cover small local hills. In “P”, the floodwaters are so huge that the take the ark to Mt. Ararat – clearly a global catastrophe.
  • In “J”, The flood stops in 40 days, and Noah is able to leave after waiting 14 days for the waters to dry. In “P”, the flood stops in 150 days (P records the date precisely) and Noah doesn’t leave the ship till more than a year from the day he entered it.
  • In “J”, Noah sends out doves. In “P” he sends out a raven.
  • In “J”, Noah offers a sacrifice and it convinces God never to send a flood again. In “P”, it’s a sovereign decision on Gods part, ratified with a religious covenant contract and a cosmic sign (the rainbow), again corresponding to the priestly view of God as a remote and abstract force interested in precise laws.


Not only does each of the sources have its own very identifiable character, but each story makes much more cohesive sense when extracted from the other and read in isolation. I believe this is a very good illustration of why the explanatory power of the documentary hypothesis makes it a good working model of the sources of the Pentateuch.

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