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JEDP Theory

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The JEDP theory seeks to understand the authorship of the Pentateuch in light of the Documentary Hypothesis. This view believes that the Pentateuch represents the conflation of four different sources rather than the work of primarily one author, traditionally Moses. The results of Source Criticism first proposed two authors (or sources) for the Pentateuch supposedly distinguishable by the use of the terms Yahweh and Elohim. Two additional sources were later proposed as P for Priestly, and D for Deuteronomic resulting in the JEDP theory of authorship, most notably associated with German scholar Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918).

JEDP are initials representing the four hypothetical sources as follows:

  • Jawist (or Yahwist, from Yahweh) - describes God as Yahweh, starting in Gen 2:4, it includes much of Genesis and parts of Exodus and Numbers. It is dated around 850 B.C.
  • Elohimist (from Elohim) - primarily describes God as El or Elohim. Starting with Gen 15, it covers material similar to "J". It is dated around 750 B.C. (J and E are said to be difficult to distinguish).
  • Deuteronomy - a different source (or author) is associated with Deuteronomy alone, and is usually dated around 621 B.C.
  • Priestly - this encompasses writings scattered from Gen 1 through the notice of Moses' death at the end of Deuteronomy. It is supposedly dated around 500 B.C.

Traditionally, Moses is viewed as the author of the Pentateuch, and this has caused proponents of the JEDP theory to question: what role did Moses play? Some have suggested that his role was minimal, with the majority of the Pentateuch having been written after his death. On the other hand, it has been put forth that Moses developed the core of the Pentateuch, or in other words, the basis for which all other material would follow. There are examples in the Pentateuch of other known sources, for instance, "the Book of the Wars of the LORD" (Num 21:14) that may have been used. So although a different writing style or varying language-use may be found, scholars still believe that Moses composed the more essential and theological portions of the Pentateuch.


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