The JEPD Theory of the Torah

The JEPD Theory, or Documentary Hypothesis, is taught in many university Bible courses today. It was developed in the 19th century by Julius Wellhausen and others, when scholars thought few could write in Moses' time. It claims the Bible's first five books (as well as Joshua) were oral tradition written down many centuries after Moses, by at least four or five different authors.

Jehovist source (c.850 B.C.) for passages where the divine name is used, such as Gen 1-2:3; 7:2-3.

Elohist source (c.750 B.C.) where the word Elohim is used for God, such as Genesis 2:4-3:3.

Priestly source (c.450 B.C.) for verses pertaining to the temple, such as Leviticus and Gen 6:19-20.

Deuteronomist source (c.622 B.C.) for most of the book of Deuteronomy.

Holiness source (575 B.C.) for Leviticus 17-20 is a variation on the JEPD theory.

In general, the JEPD theory used to teach that the Bible misrepresents itself and the Torah was edited into the form we have today about 200 B.C. However, we have a copy of Exodus and Leviticus from the Dead Sea scrolls dated 250 B.C.

What the Bible Writers Said

Moses wrote down what the Lord had said in Exodus 24:4-7 and Exodus 34:27.

The LORD spoke in Joshua 1:7-8 about being careful to obey all the law Moses gave him in the Book of the Law. See also Joshua 8:31-34; 23:6.

In Josiah's time, 2 Chronicles 34:14 mentions that they found the Book of the Law which had Moses gave.

Jesus and the gospel writers mention the Law being through Moses in Mark 7:10; 10:3-5; 12:26; Luke 2:22; 5:14; 16:29-31; 20:28,37; 24:27,44; John 1:45; 5:45-47; 7:19,23; 8:5; 9:29

The apostle Paul in refers to the writings of Moses in Romans 10:5; 1 Corinthians 9:9; and 2 Corinthians 3:15.

Other New Testament books mentioned Moses are Acts 3:22; 6:14; 13:39; 15:1,21; 26:22; 28:23; Hebrews 9:19; Revelation 15:3.

Other verses Evidence That Demands a Verdict volume 2 p.95-98 mentions as saying were written by Moses and/or in his time are: Deuteronomy 31:9,24-26; Exodus 17:14; Numbers 33:2; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6; 23:25; 1 Chronicles 22:13; 2 Chronicles 5:10; 23:18; 25:4; 30:16; 33:8; 35:12; Ezra 3:2; 6:18; 7:6; Nehemiah 1:7,8; 8:1,14; 9:14; 10:29; 13:1; Daniel 9:11,13; Malachi 4:4.

Isaiah 59:21 (NIV) promises, "'As for me, this is my covenant with the.' Says the LORD. 'My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever.' Says the LORD."

Now Moses might have written all the Torah on parchment himself, since he had over 40 years. Alternately, he might have had scribes do it. A few words might have been edited later, and Moses probably did not write of his own death. Apart from these exceptions though, the Bible writers, all Jewish teachers (Philo, Josephus, etc.), early Christian writers, and those who trust the Bible today believe the Torah (Law):

a) Was written down in the time of Moses

b) Was written by Moses or through scribes under his direction.

c) We can believe in it as a reliable transmission of God's word communicated through Moses.

The JEPD theory denies all three points.

Criteria for Judgment

When people say something is true or false, they should state their criteria for making their assessment. In general, when a document claims to be written by someone in a particular time period, the benefit of the doubt goes to the claim, unless there are substantial reasons to think otherwise. For example, we have no record that Julius Caesar ever took his armies on campaigns in Gaul, except for his own history. Yet no one doubts he did this. It is not being objective to have one standard for secular history, and a more skeptical standard for history by religious people.

The following are arguments for and against the JEPD theory, with rebuttals to each point in italics. The "terrain" of the battlefield has changed significantly since the JEPD theory was introduced, with each tiny blow from the archaeologist's pick gradually tearing down the wall of respectability of this 19th century theory.


Multiple Author Arguments for JEPD

Difference in divine names used for God: Elohim is used 33 times in the first 34 verses, and Yahweh-Elohim 20 times in the next 45 verses.

This deliberately expressed first the universal, transcendent nature of God, followed by His more personal aspects. There is a similar situation in the Muslim Qur’an. "Allah" predominates in later, Medina suras, while Lord is often is used, and Allah is seldom used in the earlier Meccan suras.

Supposed Anachronisms: In Exodus 6:2-3 God says He did not make Himself known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by His Name of Yahweh. This name appears 197 places prior to Exodus 6:2-3.

Saying "Columbus landed in America" is not anachronistic, and do not forget Genesis was not written down until the time of Moses. Also, it does not say never revealed before then, only not revealed to these three people. Of course, most of the dialogues are likely paraphrases.

Doublets of Separate Events: Gen 1 & Gen 2. Gen 4:17-24 & Gen 4:25-32. Gen 12:19-20 & Gen 26:7-11. Gen 15 & Gen 17.

Similarity does not prove repetition. For example, Genesis 1 is the creation of the earth, and Genesis 2 is the creation of man in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 12:19-20, if a son looked up to his father, and his father passed his wife off as his sister and never told the son this was wrong, the son would be more likely to do the same. Isaac did the same in Genesis 26:7-11.

Doublets of summary or qualification: Gen 9:19-20 & Gen 7:2-3. Gen 12:1-5 & Gen 4b-9. Gen 32:22-32 & Gen 35:9-10.

Ancient literature often summarized too.

Alleged contradictions: Gen 1:12,26 & Gen 2:5-7. Gen 1:24,27 & Gen 2:7,19.

God created plants before man, but the plants of the field (crops) were all after man in Genesis 2:5-7. Genesis 2:7,19 shows the animals had been created, that they were not created until then.

Different writing styles are present.

The same person can use various writing styles for different topics, and at different ages in their life. C.S. Lewis wrote children's stories, science fiction, and theology, and his style varies more than the Torah.

Time Period Arguments Against JEPD

Who would know these time period details? In the 19th century, Bible critics could point to many details of the Torah that had no extra-biblical backing. Hittite cities in Palestine, No evidence of Sodom and Gomorrah, names such as Abram and Arioch, all the peoples, etc. In the 20th century we have found evidence for all of these, including 51 or the 68 peoples mentioned and 13 of 16 cities.

Who would know the details of ancient Egypt? Even Bible critics today sometimes make the mistake of saying things like Egypt must have had a closed border, there is no evidence of Hebrews, etc. However, secular archaeologists such as David M. Rohl have found evidence of Asiatic long-tail sheep in Goshen first appearing in exactly this time period. Lists of slaves in Egypt around 1540 B.C. specifically mention slaves from the tribes of Issachar and Asher. A large villa has been found that might have been Joseph's home. Asiastic names of only that time period have been found such as Shiphrah.

For "J": Genesis 1 appears as a contrast, almost to refute the Gilgamesh Epic, which was c.2500 B.C.

For "E": Genesis 2 has some similarities to the Sumerian Dilmun poem, written about 2400 B.C. Clearly if two works of literature have similarities, that suggests a similar time period.

For "P": There is now no valid reason to date Levitical sacrificial laws late, according to scholar Joseph P. Free, because similarities appear in Ugaritic material from the 14th century B.C.

For "D": The outline of Deuteronomy is very similar to a Suzerainty Treaties prior to 1000 B.C.

Unity Arguments Against JEPD

Over 92 verses are split between different "authors" according to the liberal Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary.

Genesis 2:4; 7:16,17; 8:2,3,13; 10:1; 12:4; 13:11,12; 16:1; 19:30; 21:1,2,6; 25:11,26; 31:18; 32:13; 33:18; 35:22; 37:25,28; 41:46; 42:28; 45:1,5; 46:1; 47:5,6,27; 48:9,10; 49:1,28

Exodus 1:20; 2:23; 3:4; 4:20; 7:15,17,20,21; 8:15; 9:23,24,35; 10:1,13,15; 12:27; 13:3; 14:9,19,20,21,27; 15:21,22,25; 15:13,15; 17:1,2,7; 19:2,3,9,11,13; 24:12,15,18; 25:18; 31:18; 32:8,34,35; 33:5,19; 34:1,11,14

Numbers 13:17,26; 14:1; 16:1,2,26,27; 20:22.

(Deuteronomy is considered entirely "D".)

Just how many verses would need to be split in the middle by this theory, before this theory is no longer tenable? 91 verses is probably too many.