The Torah Redactor (R) is, according to the Documentary Hypothesis (DH), the figure who assembled hypothetical source texts of the Torah—the Deuteronomist text (D), the Priestly text (P), and the postulated source text (JE), which was an earlier joining of the Jahwist text (J) and the Elohist text (E)—resulting in a single work.

The Torah Redactor

The Documentary Hypothesis postulates that the Persian emperor, wishing to promote Hebrew national unity after the Babylonian exile, promulgated the redaction of the hypothetical JE, P, and D texts. JE and P contained rival histories and rival religious views; P and D contained rival law codes. Both had to be kept to avoid alienating each group, but the differences needed to be minimized so that people could be certain what the law code and history was.

Many scholars think that the redactor, R, was Ezra, as he was the priest empowered by the Persian emperor to arbitrate and assert the state religion. Ezra was instructed to uphold the religious text that he carried back with him from the Babylonian exile. According to the Biblical Book of Nehemiah, when Ezra read it out to the assembled people returning from exile, many thought that certain things were new and had not been read before. In particular, a law, usually ascribed to R, concerning the Festival of Booths, is reported as never having been carried out before.

Ezra was an Aaronid priest (a priest claiming descent from Aaron), and as such would have favoured P-like texts, which is also a characteristic of the texts added by R. The similarity between P and R led many early scholars to conclude that R was part of P, although this neglected the fact that in such a situation, P would have needlessly duplicated JE in the Torah, when it could have just rewritten and replaced it, and consequently today such an idea is generally discredited.

Ezra was also a scribe and had a great interest in the Torah ("set his heart on seeking out the Lord's Torah" - Ezra 7:10). An ancient tradition, recorded in the 2nd century AD in the apocryphal Fourth Book of Ezra (the 1st book is the Book of Ezra, the 2nd is the Book of Nehemiah), claims that Ezra wrote the Torah himself as the result of a revelation from God, the original having been destroyed when the earlier temple was burnt down by the Babylonians. Jerome reports this tradition in the 4th century AD, stating that there was no objection to people stating Ezra was the renewer of the Torah.

The redaction

The majority of the hypothesized redaction is composed by splicing together the JE version and P version of each story (and inserting the text where there is no opposing version) either dispersing small parts of each story into the text of the version in the other text, or placing the other version of the story afterward.

It appears that the redactor felt it necessary to add minor details to make the resulting combination of each story appear sufficiently whole (such as adding the names from the JE version text to the P version text in the story of rebellion against the priesthood at Numbers 16, or adding a description of the Pharaoh's opinion to the Plague story at Exodus 8,9,10,11).

The hypothetical JE, P, and D texts appear to have had very little cut from them, and separating the Torah along these lines produces consistent narratives with few gaps. However, a few stories appear to have had parts cut to improve the flow between two narratives, such as the Heresy of Peor (Numbers 25), in which the end of the JE version and the start of the P version appear to be missing.

R appears to have inserted parts of other minor source texts to the P and JE redaction to form a more continuous work than it otherwise would have been. These texts are

  • The Book of Generations, a hypothetical early text apparently simply describing genealogies, and having a textual style similar to P. This text appears to have been used to add a stronger narrative continuity to stories in Genesis. This is used only in Genesis, at 5:1 - 28, 5: 30-32, 7:6, 9:28 - 29, 11:10(ii) - 26, 11:32, 25:12, 25:19, 36:2 - 30
  • The Stations list, a hypothetical text describing the places that the Hebrews wandered during the exodus. It is present in Numbers, at 33:5 - 37, 33:41 - 49. Many, or all, of the more narrative elements composing the remainder of Numbers 33 may also be part of this text. Parts of the text are also used throughout Numbers and Exodus by R to provide narrative continuity between stories. The text itself may be an independent record of the exodus story.
  • Additional sacrifice laws have been added in Numbers at 15:1 - 31, 28, 29, and an additional ritual is specified for the feast of Booths in Leviticus at 23:39 - 43 (insisting that people actually live in a tent during the feast). These appear to take a similar form to laws in P, and may be later developments amongst the Aaronid Priests.

In combining the relevant part (i.e. that finishing the story of Moses, and containing the law code) of D into the Torah, it appears that R chose merely to move the stories in JE and in P of Moses' death, and the appointment of Joshua, to the other side of D, so as to avoid Moses appearing to die twice.


Richard Elliot Friedman. The Bible with Sources Revealed. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003.

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