By the late nineteenth century, there was a general consensus among biblical scholars that the “Five Books of Moses” (the primary books of the Hebrew Bible/Old
Testament) actually contained four
voices — a theory that is known as the Documentary Hypothesis.
This consensus began to erode in the late 1970s and contemporary
scholars argue for a wide variety of theories, though variations of the
Documentary Hypothesis are still popular and continue to inform
contemporary debates on the origins of the Torah. The four authorial
developed in the original theory, are:
- Refers to God as
- Presents God as an anthropomorphic
(i.e. human-like) figure, who walks in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:8),
shares a meal with Abraham (Gen. 18), wrestles with — but does not defeat — Jacob (Gen. 32:22), and can even be dissuaded from pursuing a course of action, as when Abraham bargains with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18: 16-33) or when Moses convinces God not to destroy the people of Israel after they worship the golden calf (Exodus 32:9-14).
- Prior to division of
into two kingdoms in 922 BCE (see map below), but emphasizing southern localities and the role of
Abraham as the patriarch of the tradition.
- Refers to God as Elohim (until God reveals his name to Moses in Exodus 3, after which Yahweh is used).
- More awesome
and remote (with an emphasis on the phrase “fear of God”),
though still anthropomorphic. For example, Moses is
the only figure who has any direct communication with God, and even
here it is less direct than the examples listed above for the Yahwist.
Instead, God appears in the form of a cloud (by day)/flame (by night), or in dreams and
visions, or by a messenger — but always at a distance.
- Focuses on the northern traditions of the Kingdom of Israel (as opposed to the southern Kingdom of Judah).
to Mount Sinai as Mount Horeb (which may have been a different name for
the same mountain or a different mountain in the north).
- One scholar summarizes the Elohist perspective as follows: “Israel
must fear God and be obedient. That obedience must be shaped by the
covenant. God is present to his people, but at a distance and in a
veiled way, because he is so terrifying.” (Elohist Texts)
Yahweh was previously worshiped at many sites, Deuteronomy 12:13
restricts worship to one
location: the temple that King Solomon will ultimately build (or rather, has already built) in Jerusalem.
- The narrative
is presented as the recollections of Moses, but they begin only from the
Ten Commandments and focus on the laws by which the Israelites are
to live once they reach the Promised Land.
- Theology of national morality:
Israel is conceived of as a theocracy in which the Jewish people will be collectively
rewarded and/or punished according to their collective conduct. For example, when the people
fail to refrain from sin, the northern Kingdom of Israel is conquered
by the Assyrians in 721 BCE and the southern Kingdom of Judah is conquered by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.
- Concerned with ritual in
general and the promotion of Moses’ brother Aaron as the
progenitor of the legitimate line of the priesthood.
- Treats God as transcendental and distant — justifying the need for a priesthood to act as intermediary between God and the people.
- Written during the Babylonian exile:
descriptions of the temple (implying post-temple period), yet
older material as well.
- Details of temple worship are associated with
Moses (c. 13th-12th centuries BCE), even though the first temple wasn’t built until the
reign of Solomon (961-931 BCE).