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 distinct authorial 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 voices, as developed in the original theory, are:

  • Refers to God as YHWH (Yahweh/Jehovah).
  • 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 Israel 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).
  • Refers 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)
  • Although 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: provides detailed descriptions of the temple (implying post-temple period), yet incorporates 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).