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The Elohist (E) is one of four sources of the Torah described by the Documentary Hypothesis. Its name comes from the term it uses for God: Elohim. It portrays a God who is less anthropomorphic than YHWH of the earlier Jahwist source ("J").
Since the end of the 19th century, it has been argued that the Elohist was composed in northern Israel (Ephraim) c 850 BC, combined with the Yahwist to form JE c 750 BC, and finally incorporated into the Torah c 400 BC. The Elohist promotes Israel over Judah, and Levitical priests over Judah's Aaronite priests. E includes Abraham's mission to sacrifice Isaac, Moses calling down plagues on Egypt, Aaron and the golden calf, the Covenant Code, and Joseph as an interpreter of dreams.
Recent reconstructions suggest that the Elohist may have been written before the Jahwist, or else they leave out the Elohist altogether, proposing a DJP sequence, written from the reign of Josiah into post-exilic times.
Nature of the Elohist text
In this source God's name is always presented as Elohim until the revelation of God's name to Moses, after which God is referred to as Yahweh. E treats God as a human-like figure, capable of regret, and appearing in person at events.
E has a particular fascination for traditions concerning biblical Israel and its heroes such as Joshua and Ephraim (a son of Joseph, and the tribe to which Israel's king belonged). E supports Israel against Judah, in the case of Shechem claiming that it was purchased rather than won via a massacre.
E supports the Levitical priests of Shiloh (who were not descended from Aaron), who were not given authority in Israel, both against the new priesthood set up in Israel, and against the priesthood of Judah (which priests were descended from Aaron). E tries to show Aaron and his supporters in a bad light, for example via the story of the golden calf (which also happened to be the symbol of the new version of the religion set up in Israel).
Contrasted with the Jahwist
Abram and Isaac
The Elohist's story appears to begin after Abram has begun migration, with the wife vs. sister story that is also present in the Jahwist tale. The first major story is that of the sacrifice of Isaac. In the Elohist work, Isaac does not ever appear again after this story, and the story appears to imply that Isaac was sacrificed. However, the Jahwist does not mention this tale, although the Jahwist mentions Isaac extensively, and thus when the redactor combined their writings, Isaac's continued presence would need to be explained. Text attributed to the redactor presents a literal scape-goat, allowing Isaac to live, but nevertheless, an early tradition recorded in a midrash still preserves a version of the tale in which Isaac was killed. Understandably, the next tale in the Elohist is of other children for Abram.
Role of Angels
While the Yahwist presented an anthropomorphic God who could walk through the Garden of Eden looking for Adam and Eve, the Elohist frequently involves angels. For example, it is the Elohist version of the tale of Jacob's ladder in which there is a ladder of angels with God at the top, leading to Jacob later dedicating the place as Beth-El (House of God), whereas in the Jahwist tale, it is a simple dream in which God is simply above the location, without the ladder or angels. Likewise, the Elohist describes Jacob actually wrestling with God; later, it features the tale of Balaam and his divinely talking donkey, although this is often considered a tale that was accidentally added to the manuscript, as it appears quite unconnected to the rest of the work.
Favor of Northern Tribes?
Further into the text, the Elohist exhibits a noticeably positive attitude to the main northern tribes—those of Joseph. Unlike the Jahwist, the Elohist contains stories of the political position of the Joseph tribes: the birth of Benjamin, and the pre-eminence of Ephraim. Also, whereas the Jahwist portrays Joseph as the victim of an attempted rape in the tale of Potiphar's wife, which would have been mildly humiliating to the Joseph tribes, the Elohist instead portrays Joseph as an interpreter of dreams—as one who can understand God. This pre-occupation with northern concerns extends to the Elohist explaining the northern cultic object known as the Nehushtan.
Criticism of Aaron and Miriam
Contrasting with this is the profoundly negative attitude the Elohist exhibits toward Aaron and his family. It is the Elohist source that contains the tale of the Golden Calf, in which Aaron is implicitly condemned for allowing heresy, and later the Israelites suffer by being banned from Canaan in consequence, explicitly identified as being because of the calf which Aaron made [emphasis added]. It is the Elohist source that also contains the story of Snow-white Miriam that superficially appears to be a condemnation of racism, but is also an attack on Aaron via Miriam his sister, for the opinions they share.
Departure from Egypt
With regard to leaving Egypt, the Elohist presents a more elaborate tale than the Jahwist. Firstly, the Elohist version expands on the supposed cruelty of the Egyptians by presenting them as asking for difficult work such as bricks without straw. And secondly, whereas the Jahwist version of the Plagues of Egypt involves Moses only acting as an intercessor to ask God to stop each plague that God has wrought, the Elohist instead presents Moses as threatening the Pharaoh, and then bringing the plague down on the Egyptians himself. To the Elohist, the threat of the passover is enough to cause the Egyptians to chase the Israelites out, whereas the Jahwist presents the Egyptians as reluctantly giving in, and then changing their mind, and chasing after them to bring them back.
Ten Commandments and Covenant Code
Notably, where the Jahwist simply presents its version of the Ten Commandments as the law given by God at Sinai, the Elohist instead presents the more extensive Covenant Code. The Elohist then goes on to deal with how such an extensive code can be used in practice, by using a relative of Moses, Jethro, as a mouthpiece to explain the reason for the appointment of judges. To enforce the code further, the Elohist describes the process of the law code being read out to the people.
Origin of the Elohist text
E is theorized to have been composed by collecting together the various stories and traditions concerning biblical Israel and its associated tribes (Dan, Napthali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin), and the Levites, and weaving them into a single text. In particular it records the importance of Ephraim, which was the tribe from which the King of Israel happened to derive.
E is thought to derive from amongst the Shiloh priesthood, and to reflect their polemic opinion in the text. E denigrates the priesthood of Aaron, having a reduced focus on Aaron's importance (the rival priesthood in Jerusalem being Aaronids), and sometimes indirectly (since Aaron was too much of a past hero to attack directly) attacking Aaron (e.g. via the stories of the Golden Calf, and the story of Aaron's criticism of Moses' wife). E also denigrates the rival non-Levite priesthood created by the King of Israel, for example by one of its version of the ten commandments, which condemns Golden and Silver statues (condemning the molten gold calves of the non-Levite priesthood and the plated gold Cherubim of the Aaronid priesthood).
E explains the importance of the symbols controlled by the Shiloh priesthood such as the Nehushtan (a bronze snake on a pole) and the religious importance of Shiloh itself (associated with the Tent of Meeting, which tradition stated had rested there until the Temple was built at Jerusalem). E never mentions the Temple or the Ark associated with the Aaronid priesthood.
As it is highly critical of the view of Samaritan claim to pre-eminence in Israel, it has been argued by Israel Finkelstein that it reflects the views of northern refugees who came to Judah after the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC.
An anonymous scribe or scholar combined E with the Jahwist c 750 BC into JE. When J and E each recounted a single story, the redactor included both, sometimes interweaving them. Approximately 400 BC, after the Babylonian exile, a priest or priests redacted JE with Deuteronomy, plus other material (the Priestly source), to complete the Torah.