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date: 27 February 2024

The Pentateuchfree

The Pentateuchfree

  • Thomas B. DozemanThomas B. DozemanUnited Theological Seminary


The Pentateuch (“five books”) is the title for the first five books of the Bible in the Greek translation, known as the Septuagint (LXX). The more original title is the Hebrew, Torah, meaning “law.” The revelation and composition of the Torah is attributed to Moses, which is reflected in the additional designation of the books as the “Torah of Moses.” The authorship of the Pentateuch is central to its interpretation in Jewish and Christian tradition. The Mosaic authorship characterized the interpretation of the Pentateuch in the precritical period of research. The study of the Pentateuch in the modern era has been dominated by the quest to identify its anonymous authors and the changing social contexts in which the literature was written.


  • Biblical Studies
  • Christianity
  • Judaism and Jewish Studies
  • Literary and Textual Studies

Literature of the Pentateuch

The five books of the Pentateuch separate into two unequal parts: the first comprises Genesis and Exodus, the second Deuteronomy. Genesis traces the ancestral origins of Israel. It is composed in narrative, with no single character dominating the story. Exodus through Deuteronomy recounts the Israelite salvation from Egypt, the wilderness journey, and the revelation of law at the divine mountain; these books are a mixture of narrative and law, with Moses emerging as the central character. The literary structure and the central themes of the Pentateuchal books can be summarized in the following manner:

Genesis: The Creation of the World and the Origin of the Ancestors

Genesis narrates the creation of the world (Gen. 1–11) and the ancestral origins of Israel (Gen. 12–50). It traces the evolution of the world through a series of genealogies that narrow from all humanity (2:4a, Heaven and Earth; 5:1, Adam; 6:9, Noah; 10:1, Noah’s sons; 11:10, Shem) to the Israelite ancestors (11:27, Terah; 25:12, Ishmael; 25:19, Isaac, 36:1, Esau; 37:2, Jacob). Genesis 1–11 narrates a broad sweep of time, which includes nearly two millennia (1876 years from the creation of the world, or anno mundi [A.M.]) between the creation of the first human (Gen. 1:26–27) and the birth of Terah, the father of Abraham (Gen. 11:24). Genesis 12–50 narrows in scope to chronicle the family history of Israel, which takes place over a period of 360 years (1876–2236 am). The main subject matter concerns the first three generations of Israelites represented by Abraham (Gen. 11:27–25:18), Isaac (Gen. 25:19–35:29), and Jacob (36:1–50:26). Genesis ends with the fourth generation of Israelites (i.e., Joseph and his brothers) settling in Egypt (Gen. 47:9). Two themes dominate the narrative of the ancestors: the divine promises of many descendants and of a homeland (Gen 12:1–4).

A central feature of the literature in Genesis is the repetition of stories. Representative examples in Genesis 1–11 include two accounts of creation (Gen. 1 and 2), two genealogies of humanity (Gen. 4:17–26 and 5), and two versions of the flood (Gen. 6–9). The story of the ancestors in Gen. 12–50 is also characterized by repetition. There are two accounts of God entering into covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15, 17); two versions of Hagar being driven away into the wilderness from the camp of Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 16:1–14; 21:8–21); twice Jacob establishes a worship site at Bethel (Gen. 28:11–28; 35:1–8); and Abraham and Isaac falsely present their wives as sisters to foreign kings not less than three times (Gen. 12, 20, 26).

Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy: The Biography of Moses and the Salvation of the Israelite People

Moses emerges as the central character in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. He is idealized as the savior of the Israelites and the mediator of divine law. Exodus through Deuteronomy is framed by the birth (Exod. 2) and death (Deut. 34) of Moses, so that the majority of the Pentateuchal literature is confined to the 120 years of his life (the years 2586–2706 am), as compared to the millennia that transpire in Genesis. During his career, Moses liberates Israel from Egypt (Exod. 5–14), leads them in the wilderness (Exod. 15–18; Num. 11–21), and twice mediates divine law, initially at the mountain of God to the first generation of Israelites (Exod. 19–Num. 10), and again to the second generation on the plains of Moab in Deuteronomy. The leadership of Moses over the period of two generations indicates the separation of the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers from Deuteronomy.

Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers: Moses and the First Generation of Israelites

Exodus, Numbers, and Leviticus are nearly inseparable in the literary design of the Pentateuch and clearly distinct from Genesis and Deuteronomy. Exodus 1 sets the stage for the story of the exodus. It indicates a significant break in time (Exod. 1:6) from the events in Genesis, later described as a period of 430 years, making the date of the exodus the year 2666 am (Exod. 12:40–41). During this period of time, the original family of seventy has grown into a large nation (Exod. 1:5, 7), which threatens Pharaoh (Exod. 1:8–10), who enslaves the Israelites (Exod. 1:11–14) and slaughters the male infants to maintain population control (Exod. 1:15–22). The central themes of the book of Exodus are the power of Yahweh to rescue the Israelite people from slavery (Exod. 2–15), the divine leading of the people through the wilderness (Exod. 16–18), and the revelation of law through the building of the tabernacle at Mount Sinai (Exod. 19–40).

Leviticus and Numbers continue the setting of the Israelite encampment at Mount Sinai (Lev. 1:1; Num. 1:1) in order to build on the themes of the construction of the tabernacle, the appearance of the Glory of Yahweh, and the revelation of law from the book of Exodus. Leviticus describes the sacrificial rituals of the tabernacle (Lev. 1–7), the ordination of the priesthood to mediate the rituals (Lev. 8–10), the rules of purity (Lev. 11–16), and the ethics of holiness (Lev. 17–27). Numbers extends the ethics of holiness from the worship practices outlined in Leviticus to the social world of the Israelite people by describing a religious community organized around the sanctuary (Num. 1–10). Once organized the people leave the divine mountain and set out for the promised land of Canaan, where the first generation dies because of their lack of faith in the leadership of Moses and in the power of Yahweh to fulfill promises (Num. 11–21). Numbers closes with a story of the continuing divine care of the Israelites in the wilderness (Num. 22–24), a warning against intermarriage (Num. 25), and descriptions of the promised land (Num. 26–36).

Deuteronomy: Moses and the Second Generation of Israelites

The book of Deuteronomy is set apart in time from the story in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. The first generation of Israelites has died in the wilderness and Moses teaches the second generation on the last day of his life. The teaching of Moses progresses from the recounting of the exodus, the wilderness journey, and revelation of the Decalogue (Deut. 1–11); to the promulgation of further law (Deut. 12–26), the list of blessings and curses that are tied to the observance of the law (Deut. 27–28), and a concluding section on the establishment of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel as well as poetry and the account of Moses’s death (Deut. 29–34). Moses dies on Mount Nebo (Deut. 34:1–8) at the conclusion of his teaching.

The story of Moses is also characterized by repetition. The narrative of the exodus includes two accounts of Moses’s commission and the revelation of the divine name, Yahweh (Exod. 3, 6), contrasting versions of the plagues (Exod. 7–10), and multiple accounts of the destruction of the Egyptian army (Exod. 14–15). The same technique of repetition continues in the story of the wilderness journey, where there are also multiple accounts of the Israelites’ fear of conquest and loss of the promised land (Num. 13–14). These instances of repetition are reminiscent of Genesis, where multiple versions of the same story also occur. But the significance of repetition in the story of Moses also exceeds the book of Genesis, because of the recurrence of the revelation of law over two generations. The Decalogue (Exod. 20), the Book of the Covenant (Exod. 21–23), and the priestly legislation for the tabernacle (Exod. 25–40, Leviticus, and parts of Numbers) are promulgated to the first generation and the laws of Deuteronomy to the second. The law codes create an extensive series of repetitions beyond the narratives. Examples include two mountains of revelation (Sinai in Exodus and Horeb in Deuteronomy); two versions of the Decalogue (Exod. 20; Deut. 5); conflicting cultic calendars (Exod. 23:14–17; Lev. 23; Num. 27–28; and Deut. 16); competing views of sacrifice (Lev. 1–7, Deut. 15); and different laws concerning warfare (Num. 31 and Deut. 20) to name just a few of the many instances in which laws repeat in the teaching of Moses.

A central task in the interpretation of the Pentateuch is to explain the repetition of the stories and the laws and to identify the author(s) of the literature. The history of interpretation divides between the premodern and modern periods. Interpreters in the premodern period assumed the authorship of Moses and the unified meaning of the different stories and law codes. The modern period introduced a more critical study of the Pentateuch as a composition of many anonymous authors, which contains a collection of narratives and laws with conflicting themes.

Precritical Interpretation of the Pentateuch

Mosaic Authorship

The author of the Pentateuch is not identified within the literature. Yet it became closely associated with Moses, because of his central role in Exodus through Deuteronomy. The Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch was reinforced by scattered references to writing in Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Only God and Moses write in the Pentateuch. God writes laws (Exod. 24:12), the architectural plans for the tabernacle (Exod. 31:18), names of the elect in a special book (Exod. 32:32), and the tablets containing the Decalogue (Exod. 34:1; Deut. 4:13; 5:22; 9:10; 10:2–4). Moses writes four distinct genres of literature: prophecy about holy war (Exod. 17:14), laws (Exod. 24:4; 34:27–28; Deut. 31:9, 34), the history of the wilderness journey (Num. 33:2), and a song (Deut. 31:9, 22).

Mosaic authorship is most likely extended in Deuteronomy 31:24–26 to include the entire book of Deuteronomy, described as the “book of the Torah,” meaning “book of the law.” Joshua 8:31–34 identifies the “book of the Torah” as the “Torah of Moses.” (see also Josh. 23:6; 1 Kgs 2:3; 2 Kgs 14:6; 23:25). The “Torah of Moses” may refer only to the book of Deuteronomy throughout these citations. But over time the designation came to represent all Pentateuchal literature. Thus, when Ezra, the scribe, returns from Persia after the Exile (sometime in the 5th century bce), the “Torah of Moses” which he reads publicly, was associated with the entire Pentateuch (see Ezra 3:2; 7:6; Neh 8:1; and also 2 Chr 23:18; 30:16; 34:14). In the process Moses was also idealized as an inspired author. Thus his authorship became important for attributing divine authority to the Torah. It also laid the foundation for the belief that the Pentateuch contained one unified message, because it had one divinely inspired author.

Jewish and Christian Interpretation

Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch was assumed in Jewish Hellenistic, Rabbinic, and early Christian writings. Philo, a Hellenistic Jewish author writing in the 1st century ce, provides an example in his commentary on creation, stating: “Moses says . . . ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’” (Works of Philo, op. 26). Josephus also asserts that Moses authored the first five books (Against Apion, 1:37–40). The Rabbis too state, “Moses wrote his own book” (B. Bat 14b). Its origin was divine (Sanh 99a). Early Christian writers reinforced the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. The Apostle Paul refers to the Pentateuch as the “law of Moses” (1 Cor 9:9). The author of the Gospel of Luke expresses the same thought, when the Pentateuch is indicated by simple reference to its author “Moses” (Luke 24:27), later described as the “law of Moses” (Luke 24:44). The examples indicate two important developments in the precritical interpretation of the Pentateuch. First, Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch emerged within tradition, and not from historical and critical study of its literary composition. And, second, Mosaic authorship became important for attributing divine authority to Scripture. The rabbis provide illustration when they conclude: God spoke Torah to Moses, who wrote down the words (B. Bat. 15a).

Questions about Mosaic authorship arose, even with the absence of critical literary study. The rabbis, for example, continued to debate whether Moses could have written the account of his own death in Deuteronomy 34:5-12 (B. Bat 15a; Menah. 30a). Jewish medieval commentators noticed other problems. Abraham Ibn Ezra, a 12th-century ce Spanish interpreter, noted passages in Deuteronomy that Moses could not have written, such as the phrases: “beyond Jordan” (Deut. 1:1), since Moses never crossed the Jordan River. Doubts about Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, however, remained at the periphery of interpretation and the problem of repetition in the narratives and laws did not provide a hermeneutical starting point for interpreting Pentateuchal literature. Thus in spite of a variety of literary problems the authoritative teaching of tradition concerning Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch was accepted without serious or widespread opposition, and as a result Jewish and Christian interpreters sought a unified message in Torah from its single author, Moses.

Critical Interpretation of the Pentateuch

The Renaissance and the Protestant reformation introduced a more critical stance toward religious tradition and authority, expressed in the manifesto sola scriptura. This claim meant that only Scripture and not traditional teaching could represent divine instruction on all questions of faith and practice. Study of Scripture, therefore, was used as a countervoice to the authority of the church tradition. The reformers’ critical stance toward tradition would eventually call into question Mosaic authorship, since it too rested on the authority of traditional teaching. John Calvin and Benedict de Spinoza illustrate the emergence of historical criticism of the Pentateuch and the eventual rejection of Mosaic authorship.

Emergence of Historical Criticism and the Rejection of Mosaic Authorship

John Calvin never questioned the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. In the “Preface” to The Four Last Books of Moses in the Form of a Harmony I, Calvin states that “what was dictated to Moses was excellent . . .” (1950, xiv). And in the introductory “Argument” to The First Book of Moses Called Genesis (1948, 58–59) he makes clear his quest to discern the intention of Moses as a source of divine revelation. Uncovering Mosaic intention often served polemical purposes, refuting the claims of papal authority. It also brought literary repetitions and potential contradictions into clearer focus. For example, Calvin is aware of two creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2, and of the name changes for God from Elohim (in Gen. 1) to Yahweh (in Gen. 2). Such repetition, however, does not prompt questions about Mosaic authorship, nor does it challenge the assumption that the Pentateuch contains a unified message about creation. Instead the two creation stories are for emphasis, according to Calvin (1948, 109). In the same way the multiple accounts of Abraham (Gen. 12, 20) and Isaac (Gen. 26) presenting their wives as sisters to foreign kings is not the result of different authors, but a reflection of history, since it happened three times.

Benedict de Spinoza shared the reformers’ rejection of traditional religious authority. He stated in the “Preface” of his Theologico-Political Treatise (1670) that blind adherence to religious authority without free rational and critical inquiry is nothing more than superstition rooted in fear, resulting in prejudice and violence. Thus Spinoza agreed with the reformers’ claim of sola scriptura as a means of opposing the tyranny of tradition. But Spinoza went far beyond Calvin and the reformers. He rooted the superstition of religious tradition in the interpretation of Scripture itself. The clearest evidence of this was the “ungrounded and even irrational” claim of Mosaic authorship. Spinoza reviewed the problems of Mosaic authorship that were noted by Ibn Ezra and others, such as third-person references to Moses (i.e., “Moses talked with God . . . ”) or anachronisms in the comparison of Moses to later prophets (i.e., “there was never a prophet in Israel like Moses . . . ”). The conclusion made it clear that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses, but by someone who lived long after Moses.

Spinoza introduced a whole new problem that has dominated the historical and critical study of the Pentateuch in the modern era. It is that “the history of the Bible is . . . untrustworthy.” Calvin never entertained such a possibility. For Spinoza the defense of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch advances the unreliable character of Bible, and those who advocate for it provide one more instance of the superstition of traditional religious authority. In view of this he writes that the new aim of biblical interpretation is to uncover a trustworthy history of the sacred writings. Three principles shape his new approach to the Pentateuch: (1) a reliable history must be built on a study of the Hebrew language; (2) knowledge of the Bible must arise only from a study of the text and not from traditional teaching about it; and (3) the interpreter must identify the genuine authors of the biblical books, who were channels of divine revelation.

Identification of Anonymous Author and the Documentary Hypothesis

Spinoza’s principles of interpretation laid the ground for the critical study of Pentateuchal narrative and law in the modern period as a quest for anonymous authors, whose identification would provide a window into the history and the religion of ancient Israel. The repetitive nature of the narratives and the laws led interpreters to presume that many anonymous authors contributed to the composition of the Pentateuch, and that the literature could not be harmonized into a single, unified message.

Two goals comprise the core of the historical-critical study of the Pentateuch. First, repetitions and contradictions were separated, not harmonized, into different bodies of literature (“sources” and “law codes”) in order to identify authors with distinct religious worldviews. Second, interpreters sought to arrange the order in which the authors wrote, thus fashioning the history of Israelite religion. The identification of literary contradictions with distinct authors and the establishing of their chronology became the building blocks for historical critics to establish the “trustworthy history of the sacred writings” advocated by Spinoza. Some shared Spinoza’s belief in divine inspiration, others did not. But, in either case, the quest for anonymous authors created tension with the traditional teaching that the Torah was written by Moses and thus contained one unified message. Jean Astruc and W. D. L. de Wette provide early examples of the identification of anonymous authors in narrative and legal literature in the Pentateuch.

Jean Astruc and the Identification of Two Narratives

Jean Astruc identified the anonymous authors of the narratives of the Pentateuch from an inductive study of the literature, especially in the book of Genesis, in his Conjectures sur les mémoires originauz don’t il paroit que Moyse s’est servi pour composer le livre de la Génèse: Avec des remarques qui appuient ou qui éclaircissent ces conjectures (1753). Lack of chronology, repetition, and contradiction of content were considered indicators of different writers. The divine names emerged as an important starting point for tracing the literary thread of the distinct bodies of literature and the identification of the authors. In some stories the deity is named Elohim (translated “God” in the New Revised Standard Version=NRSV), while in others Yahweh (translated “Lord” in the NRSV). The opening chapters of Genesis provide an example. The deity is Elohim throughout Genesis 1:1–2:4, while the divine name, Yahweh, is used in Genesis 2:5–25. Calvin saw this already in his commentary on Genesis, but interpreted it as a literary technique by Moses for emphasis. Historical critics, by contrast, judged the different divine names to be a contradiction, revealing authors with distinct views of the deity.

Astruc separated the literature in Genesis 1–Exodus 2 into sources A and B based on the divine names. The author of A used the divine name, Elohim, while B preferred Yahweh. For Astruc, the two creation stories (Gen. 1:1–2:3 and 2:4–25) are a doublet, which represents conflicting views of creation. The accounts of the patriarchs, Abraham and Isaac, falsely presenting their wives as sisters to foreign kings are also stories from different authors, who refer to the deity with distinct names. When Abraham first lies to Pharaoh about Sarah (Gen. 12:10–20) it is Yahweh that plagues the Egyptians. Thus it is an episode in Source B, according to Astruc. But when Abraham repeats this action with Abimelech (Gen. 20:1–18) Elohim, not Yahweh, threatens the king with disease and death, indicating a story in Source A. The divine name, Yahweh, returns in the account of Isaac, Rebekah, and Abimelech (Gen. 26:1–16), making it an episode in Source B, along with the first story of Abraham and Sarah in Egypt (Gen. 12:10–20). Astruc employed historical and critical methodology to confirm the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. He argued that the anonymous sources A and B were pre-Mosaic and used by Moses in composing the Pentateuch. Subsequent interpreters would identify the anonymous authors well beyond the time of Moses and thus support Spinoza’s conclusion concerning the non-Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.

W. D. L. de Wette and the Identification of Two Laws

The starting point of W. D. L. de Wette’s research was the repetition of Moses mediating divine law twice in the Pentateuch to subsequent generations of Israelites; see de Wette’s Beiträge zur Einleitung in das Alte Testament (1806–1807). First he transmits law at Mount Sinai in the year of the exodus (Exod. 19–Num. 10) and a second time, forty years later, on the plains of Moab in the book of Deuteronomy. De Wette provided new direction for interpreting this repetition by focusing on the second body of law contained in the book of Deuteronomy. He noted that the story of Moses comes to an end at the close of Numbers. His impending death is confirmed (Num. 27:12–14), the land of Canaan is divided (Num. 26:52–56), and Joshua is appointed as successor (Num. 27:15–23). Then somewhat unexpectedly Deuteronomy begins the story anew, by repeating much of the material that occurs in Leviticus and Numbers. New law is given (Deut. 4–5, 12–25), the story of Israel’s wilderness journey is retold (Deut. 1–3), many specific laws repeat (Lev. 26; Deut. 28), Joshua is appointed a second time to succeed Moses (Deut. 31), and God tells Moses again of his impending death (Deut. 31, 34). The repetitions suggest that the history of Moses is completed at the close of Numbers.

De Wette also noted that the style of writing and religious outlook in Deuteronomy were unique. He judged the language to be more reflective and theologically sophisticated than the literature in Genesis through Numbers, with distinctive phrases (i.e., “that you may live in the land which Yahweh our God gives you”) and a unique view of the cult that advocated worship at a single sanctuary (Deut. 12). The theme of centralized worship was at odds with the biblical portrait of Israel as having many sanctuaries throughout the Mosaic (e.g., Exod. 20:24–25) and monarchic (e.g., Saul in 1 Sam. 13; David in 1 Sam. 21; and Solomon in 1 Kgs 3) periods. As a consequence de Wette argued that Moses could not have written the book of Deuteronomy. No trace of the wilderness community or their form of worship in Deuteronomy was evident in the stories of Israel’s’ life in the land either under the judges or the monarchy. He concluded that the earliest portions of Deuteronomy were written in the closing years of the monarchic period, during the Josianic reform (621 bce), which introduced the centralization of worship (2 Kgs 22–23). De Wette’s fixing of the date of Deuteronomy to the end of the monarchic period became a fulcrum point for establishing the chronology of the literature in the Pentateuch. Deuteronomy was a separate account of the origin of Israel, written at a later point in time than the laws in Exodus through Numbers. The influence of de Wette continues into the present, especially the conclusion that of the Book of the Covenant is an older law code than the laws in Deuteronomy 12–26.

Julius Wellhausen and the New Documentary Hypothesis

Astruc’s identification of multiple narratives and de Wette’s description of two law codes became building blocks in the modern interpretation of the Pentateuch. But the identification of the authors, the nature of the literature, and the process by which the Pentateuch was formed were far from settled. Astruc’s sources quickly took on the names of the deity prominent in each. Thus scholars such as Johann Gottfried Eichhorn referred to Elohistic (E) and Yahwistic (J=the German, Jahwist) sources (see Einleitung ins Alte Testament, 1780–1787). Other interpreters began to identify more than two authors from the divine names. Already in 1798 Carl David Ilgen suggested a three-source theory of composition in Genesis, with two Elohistic authors , in his Die Urkunden des ersten Buchs von Moses (1798). Hermann Hupfeld addressed the problem anew with his separation of Elohist one (E1) and two (E2), in which E1 was a foundational document beginning with creation in Genesis 1 and continuing through the book of Joshua, while E2 had a more narrow focus on the patriarchal literature beginning in Genesis 12 (see his Die Quellen der Genesis und die Art ihrer Zusammensetzung, [1853]). This separation would eventually lead to the renaming of E1 as the Priestly (P) code, which would result in the identification four distinct bodies of literature in the composition of the Pentateuch: J (Yahwistic source), E (Elohistic Source), D (Deuteronomy), and P (Priestly source).

The research of Julius Wellhausen illustrates the documentary hypothesis and its impact for interpreting the history of Israelite religion in Die Composition des Hexateuchs und der Historischen Bücher des Alten Testament (1899). The innovative aspect of Wellhausen’s research concerns the Priestly source, which is focused on cultic law associated with the wilderness tabernacle (i.e., Exod. 25–31, 35–40; Leviticus; Num. 1–10). Prior to Wellhausen, interpreters identified the Priestly source as the oldest body of literature in the Pentateuch. Its presumed antiquity was indicated by the various designations: E1, the Older Elohist, the foundational document, the main stock, and the German word Quelle (Q)—meaning spring, source, or origin. It was considered the foundational text upon which other documents were added. As a result interpreters assumed that the revelation of law, the tabernacle cult, and its priestly hierarchy were part of the earliest history of ancient Israel, preceding even the prophets and kings of the monarchic period. This was de Wette’s position. He assumed that Deuteronomy was a reinterpretation of the tabernacle legislation (e.g., Exod. 25–40; Leviticus).

Wellhausen proposed just the reverse, that the Priestly source was dependent upon Deuteronomy, and that its author wrote after the Josianic reform in 621 bce, probably as late as the post-Exilic period. De Wette provided the clue. He had demonstrated that centralized worship was an innovation in Deuteronomy, which was evident in the polemical tone of the book. Repeatedly multiple sanctuaries are condemned, while the law of a single sanctuary is carefully outlined. The Priestly author, Wellhausen contended, is so dependent on Deuteronomy that there is no need for further argument about centralized worship at a single sanctuary. It is simply assumed. The absence of conflict indicated a much later date, when Israel was a theocracy in the post-Exile, organized around one sanctuary and ruled by clergy now separated between Aaronide priests and Levites, something that is also lacking in Deuteronomy. The dating of P to the post-Exilic period provides the basis for the classical theory of the documentary hypothesis, in which the order of the sources in the Pentateuch is J, E, D, and P.

Wellhausen’s research on the Priestly source had far-reaching implications for interpreting the history of ancient Israelite religion. Neither Mosaic authorship, nor even the Mosaic period play a role in his interpretation of the Pentateuch, nor is the literature unified in theme or composed by a single author. Instead, the Pentateuch was judged to be an anthology with competing views of theology, worship, and social life. J and E are narratives from the monarchic period, with the J source written in the southern kingdom of Judah, while E was a northern version of the same story (although Wellhausen did not work out the literary separation between the two sources in any detail and often simply employed the designation JE [“Yehovist”] as a more general reference to the two bodies of literature). Yet, it was clear to Wellhausen that both J and E were written earlier than Deuteronomy and the Priestly source. They assume multiple cultic sites, worship is closely tied to agrarian life, and there is a minimal role for law. Wellhausen placed the two histories in the early Assyrian period (9th–8th century bce). The D source remained firmly fixed as the document of the Josianic Reform in the late-7th-century bce. And now P was judged to be a late history from the post-Exilic period, not early than the 5th century bce.

Once the sources were dated and interpreted in chronological order, the different laws provided a window into the development of Israelite religion, as shown in the Prolegomena to the History of Israel (1957). The different festival calendars in the source documents provide an illustration. Wellhausen argued that J and E were organized around harvest festivals (Exod. 23:14–17; 34:21–23). In D (Deut. 16) and especially P (Lev. 23) worship became more abstracted from nature, until their festivals were no longer attached to harvest cycles. The central role of law envisioned in D and P, moreover, emerges late in the history of Israel, according to Wellhausen, not at its origin as the Pentateuchal story suggests. As a consequence the prophets represent an older form of religion, prior to the legal traditions of D and P. Wellhausen concluded that Moses, the lawgiver at the wilderness tabernacle in P, is a literary fiction, meant to lend authority to the Priestly theocracy and cult of the post-Exilic period.

Modifications to the Documentary Hypothesis

The documentary hypothesis continues to be a model for the interpretation of the Pentateuch, even though it has undergone extensive criticism and revision. Five areas of research have modified the documentary hypothesis, while maintaining its basic framework: (a) the emergence of form criticism and tradition history, (b) the broader study of law within the context of the ancient Near East, (c) the combining of the J and E sources, (d) the literary scope of the sources, and (e) the reevaluation of the Priestly source.

Form Criticism and Tradition History

The methodology of form criticism shifted the focus of the interpretation of the Pentateuch from the authors of the written sources to the origin of the individual stories as oral tradition. The shift in focus marginalized the creative role of the authors in the documentary hypothesis and emphasized, instead, the influence of oral tradition in the formation of the Pentateuch. Form critics wanted to know what social setting (Sitz im Leben) would have produced the oral stories, since these were judged to be the creative stage in the development of the Pentateuch. Hermann Gunkel probed the oral, preliterary stage of the Pentateuchal literature, rather than the composition of the sources, in Genesis (1901). He concluded that Wellhausen’s sources of the Pentateuch were collections of more ancient etiological legends and not the creation of an author. Jacob’s dream at Bethel (Gen. 28:10–17) provides an example. It is an independent story that is meant to explain the presence of a sanctuary at the location of Bethel (= “house of El”). The focus on oral stories also developed into the study of larger units of oral tradition such as cultic legends of the exodus or the establishment of covenant, especially among Scandinavian researchers, such as I. Engnell in A Rigid Scrutiny (1969).

Although the focus on the formation of oral tradition challenged the creative role of the authors, it did not represent a rejection of the documentary hypothesis. Instead, the authors of the sources became collectors of traditional material. Thus the story of Jacob’s dream at Bethel was no longer viewed as a composition of the J author but an example of traditional material preserved in the J source. The emphasis on oral tradition also shifted interpretation to the premonarchic period as the creative time in the formation of Israelite tradition, as compared to the monarchic and Exilic periods in the documentary hypothesis. The shift in emphasis encouraged earlier dating for the formation of the J and E sources as is evident in the work of Gerhard von Rad and Martin Noth, who merged the study of oral tradition and source criticism in their interpretation of the Pentateuch. Both interpreters assume a creative oral stage in the formation of Pentateuchal tradition, a clearer separation of the sources of J and E than is evident in the work of Wellhausen, and a much earlier date for the J source in the period of the United Monarchy (10th century bce), even while they continued to research within the framework of the documentary hypothesis.

Comparative Study of Ancient Near Eastern Law

The study of Israelite law in the setting of the ancient Near Eastern legal tradition also created tension with the documentary hypothesis, without requiring interpreters to abandon the theory. Central to Wellhausen’s thesis was that law developed late in Israelite tradition and that the oldest form of Yahwism was more charismatic and not legal. This hypothesis influenced the dating of the literature in the Pentateuch. Thus, for example, the more limited role of the Book of the Covenant in the J source eventually gives way to the prominent role of law and covenant in the later composition of the book of Deuteronomy and in the P source.

The comparative study of law in the ancient Near East raised two areas of tension with the documentary hypothesis. First, it became apparent that legal traditions are ancient, going back to the 3rd millennium (e.g., the Laws of Ur-Nammu). The antiquity of law in the ancient Near East called into question the developmental view of Israelite religion that under-girded the documentary hypothesis. The change in perspective is evident in A. Alt, who sought the origin of law in the pre-monarchical period indicating the ancient character of Israel’s legal traditions; see Essays in Old Testament History and Religion (1966). Second, the comparative study of ancient Near Eastern law also prompted scholars to detach the laws of the Pentateuch from their narrative context, in order to study them as distinct genres of literature with their own oral and literary development. A. Alt again provides an example with his investigation of casuistic and apodictic laws to uncover the history of Israelite law. B. Bäntsch, in Das Bundesbuch, also illustrates the isolation of an entire law-code from its narrative context, when he concluded that the Book of the Covenant was independent and only later incorporated into the E source (1892). The research on law in the Pentateuch had the same effect as the form-critical study of narrative; it tended to identify the creative formation of the law codes independently from the Pentateuchal sources, transforming the authors of the sources into collectors of legal tradition. Thus, M. Noth wrote of the Book of the Covenant: “It is probable that this collection once formed an independent book of law, which has been inserted into the pentateuchal narrative as an already self-contained entity”; see his Exodus Commentary (1962).

Incomplete Character of the E Source

The E source remained somewhat undefined already in the work of Wellhausen and advocates of the documentary hypothesis continued to question its presence in the Pentateuch. The E source represents the non-P stories in the Pentateuch where the divine name, Elohim, occurs. It is less formulaic than P, emphasizing a prophetic interpretation of Israel’s origins. Central examples in Genesis include the second episode of Abraham falsely presenting Sarah as his sister to Abimelech of Gerar (Gen. 20) and the testing of Abraham in the divine command to sacrifice of Isaac (Gen. 22). Examples in Exodus through Numbers include the use of the name, Elohim, in the story of the midwives (Exod. 1:15–21), the call of Moses (Exod. 3), the meeting between Moses and Jethro (Exod. 18), and the theophany at Sinai (Exod. 19). This list is not exhaustive, but it indicates a central problem, namely the scarcity of material in the Pentateuch that can be attributed to the Elohistic author.

The limited literary basis for E has raised questions about its independence from the Yahwistic source. This was already evident in Wellhausen’s use the symbol JE and scholars have continued to debate whether there ever was an independent E source. If it existed most of the document is now lost, since the literature of J, D, and P dominates the Pentateuch. Those who favor the existence of an E source locate the document in the northern kingdom, with a time of composition around the 8th century bce; see A. W. Jenks, The Elohist and North Israelite Tradition (1977). Those who reject the hypothesis interpret the E stories as additions to the J source, such as W. Rudolph in his Der “Elohist” von Exodus bis Josua (1938). In either case, it is possible for interpreters to suspend a decision on the strength of the documentary hypothesis by simply referring to JE as one body of literature in the Pentateuch, while continuing to work within the framework of sources.

Literary Scope of the Sources

Interpreters debated the extent of the sources, especially whether they continue into the book of Joshua, where the conquest of land is narrated. The central theme of the promise of land to the ancestors throughout the Pentateuch suggests that the story would continue into the account of the conquest in Joshua; yet the language of the book of Joshua creates literary problems. Wellhausen already noted that even though Joshua presupposes the Pentateuch, the literature is not the same, while the book often appears to be a supplement of the entire Pentateuch rather than a specific source. In the end, Wellhausen concluded that the sources J and E did include an account of the conquest of the land. Those who agreed with Wellhausen spoke of a six-book Hexateuch (Genesis through Joshua), rather than a five-book Pentateuch (Genesis though Deuteronomy). Martin Noth disagreed in his Das Buch Josua, arguing instead that the motifs in Joshua reflected only the language from the book of Deuteronomy and not the sources in Genesis through Numbers (1971). As a result, Noth restricted the scope of the sources to Genesis through Numbers, which introduced the new term, Tetrateuch, as the boundaries of J, E., and P; see A History of Pentateuchal Traditions (1981). Noth also separated Deuteronomy (D) from the Tetrateuch and combined it with the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings), which formed a single body of literature that he described as the “Deuteronomistic History” (1981). Even with these significant alterations, Noth continued to research within the framework of the documentary hypothesis.

Date of the Priestly Source

Wellhausen’s identification of P as the latest source in the Pentateuch was a linchpin in the formation of the documentary hypothesis. It provided the basis for the judgment that priestly ritual was a late development in Israelite religion. Research by Y. Kaufmann in The Religion of Israel (1960), M. Haran in Temples and Temple Service in Ancient Israel (1985), J. Milgrom in Leviticus 1, Anchor Yale Bible Commentary (1991), I. Knohl in The Sanctuary of Silence (1995), and others has demonstrated the dynamic character of ritual, law, and priestly hierarchy throughout the religious development of ancient Israel, in contrast to the position of Wellhausen, where the rituals of the tabernacle were viewed as innovations from the Exilic or post-Exilic period. As a consequence, Wellhausen’s evaluation of the Priestly source has undergone revision, prompting some interpreters to date the P source earlier than the Exilic and post-Exilic periods, or to identify more than one source, without abandoning the framework of the documentary hypothesis. R. E. Freidman, for example, identifies two Priestly sources, while maintaining the basic structure of the documentary hypothesis: the first is a response to the Josianic reform (P1) and the second is a response to the Exile (P2), which corresponds more closely to the date of Wellhausen in The Bible with Sources Revealed (2005). More recently, Baruch Schwartz has argued for a more extensive reevaluation of the documentary hypothesis with a more limited focus in which the methodology is restricted to providing a literary solution to the unintelligible character of the canonical Pentateuch rather than as a comprehensive model for historical reconstruction (2011).

Alternatives to the Documentary Hypothesis

The documentary hypothesis was formulated in relationship to other competing theories of the formation of the Pentateuch. Already in the 18th century interpreters questioned whether continuous themes could be identified in sources that run throughout the Pentateuch, because of the complexity of the literature. Alexander Geddes in his Critical Remarks on the Hebrew Bible (1800) and J. Serverin Vater in the Commentar über den Pentateuch (1802–1805) advocated a fragmentary hypothesis, in which independent literary units, especially laws, were woven together to form the larger story of the Pentateuch. August Ewald, in Die Composition der Genesis kritisch untersucht (1823) suggested yet another hypothesis, in which a base document was supplemented by additional material. Alternative theories of the composition of the Pentateuch continue into the present time. The following summary will focus on four areas of ongoing research: (a) the interpretation of the present form of the Pentateuch in conjunction with its history of composition; (b) the late dating of the Yahwistic literature, c) the methodological problems surrounding the relationship of tradition history and the literary composition of the Pentateuch; and (d) the reinterpretation of sources as redactions.

Interpretation of the Present Form of the Pentateuch

The emergence of literary criticism in the late 20th century created tension with the theoretical assumptions of source criticism. The starting point of the documentary hypothesis was the recognition of literary repetitions, which revealed contradiction in content, allowing for the identification of different authors (J, E., P, D) who lived at different times. The narrow focus on the individual sources, however, left the function of the literature unexplained in the present form of the Pentateuch.

The rise of literary criticism in the late 20th century focused interpretation more intensely on the present form of the Pentateuch. In so doing, the interpreters raised new questions about the function of repetition and the conflicting content of the narratives and the laws in the Pentateuch, which challenged the assumption of the documentary hypothesis that the present form of the Pentateuch lacked meaning. The rhetorical criticism of James Muilenburg in “Form Criticism and Beyond” (1969, 1–18), the literary readings of Robert Alter in The Art of Biblical Narrative (1981), the inner-biblical exegesis of Michael Fishbane in Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (1985), the thematic study of the Pentateuch by David J. A. Clines in The Theme of the Pentateuch (1999), and the canonical criticism of Brevard S. Childs in Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (1979), demonstrated strategies of coherence in ancient texts that did not conform to the literary assumptions of the documentary hypothesis. These interpreters did not advocate a return to the presupposition of the precritical period, in which the Pentateuch was assumed to have one author and one unified meaning. The multiauthored nature of the Pentateuch was assumed. But the more detailed focus on the late formation of the Pentateuch and its present literary design underscored that repetition and the mixing of traditions need not create incoherence, but may function as devices to relate competing texts and thus encourage multiple interpretations of the same story or law.

Often the more synchronic literary readings of the Pentateuch were undertaken independently from the diachronic focus of the documentary hypothesis, so that they did not directly challenge source criticism. But they did change the nature of the discussion with regard to the techniques of composition, repetition, inner biblical links between literature, and what constitutes the literary coherence of the Pentateuch. And these insights had the potential of altering the documentary hypothesis. David M. Carr argued that the divine names, Yahweh and Elohim, or the repetition of stories like the wife-sister episodes required both synchronic and diachronic interpretation (see his Reading the Fractures of Genesis [1996]), while Bernard Levinson illustrated that competing laws may actually be in conversation with each other in his Deuteronomy and Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation (1997). In the case of Carr, attention to the present literary design of the Pentateuch resulted in the identification of only two authors in the book of Genesis (non-P and P), while Levinson was able to describe an exegetical tradition that related Pentateuchal law-codes by means of hermeneutical transformations.

Late Date of the Yahwist

There is growing debate concerning the authorship and date of J. Throughout the modern historical-critical period there has been a strong consensus for dating the Yahwistic source to the early monarchy. Wellhausen placed J in the 9th–8th centuries bce Subsequent scholars like Gerhard von Rad pushed the date of J to the 10th century bce (see his Problem of the Hexateuch [1982]). In either case there was agreement that ancient Israel began to write historical narrative early in the monarchical period. Scholars raised questions of genre. Could such writing be called history, or were other categories such as epic, myth, legend, or folklore more appropriate? Within this debate, however, there was general agreement that some form of historiography emerged during the early monarchical period and the consensus influenced the interpretation of ancient Israelite religion. An early date for J allowed interpreters to use it as an avenue for discerning the social and religious worldview of the monarchy. It also assumed that the J source was written to support the rise of kings and the formation of the Israelite state. According to Gerhard von Rad, it reflected the Solomonic enlightenment.

Interpreters are increasingly arguing for a later date to the Yahwistic literature. The hypothesis of Martin Noth, in which he separated the Tetrateuch from the Deuteronomistic History, has tended to provide the framework for the debate. The central arguments surround the relationship of the Yahwist literature in the Tetrateuch to Deuteronomy (D) and the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings). In the 1970s, H. H. Schmid undertook a literary study of Yahwistic stories, terminology, and themes (see Der sogenannte Jahwist [1976]). He concluded that there was similarity between the J literature in Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers, and the prophetic themes and genres in the Deuteronomistic History (e.g., the commissioning of Moses in Exodus 3–4 is a prophetic genre repeated in Judges and Samuel). Schmid argued that the J literature was the product of the Deuteronomistic writers, who wrote during the Exilic period, which accounts for the thematic emphasis on blessing, nationhood, and the promise of land. Martin Rose extended the thesis Schmid, concluding that the J version of the Tetrateuch was written to be a prologue to the Deuteronomistic History (see Deuteronomist und Jahwist: Untersuchungen zu den Berührungspunkten beider Literaturwerke [1981]). Christoph Levin developed a similar position concerning the late date of the J literature, in which he identified the corpus as a post-Deuteronomistic redaction. The Exilic Yahwist, according to Levin, was critical of the centralization of the cult in the book of Deuteronomy, advocating, instead, the ability of Yahweh to be present with the diaspora Jews of the exile (see Der Jahwist [1993]).

John Van Seters also reinterpreted the Yahwist within the framework of Noth’s separation of the Tetrateuch and the Deuteronomistic History. He, too, argued that the Tetrateuch was written to be the prologue to the Deuteronomistic History, and thus was composed later than Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History. This conclusion, as is also the case with Rose and Levin, reverses the literary relationship between the Tetrateuch and Deuteronomy in the documentary hypothesis, as stated in Prologue to History: The Yahwist as Historian in Genesis (1992) and Life of Moses: The Yahwist as Historian in Exodus-Numbers (1994). Like Schmid, Van Seters focused on terminology and the relationship of literature in Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers to Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History. But he has also added the comparative study of historiography to sharpen the definition of the genre of the prologue in the Tetrateuch as ancient history writing, which is similar to the emergence of Greek historiography in the Persian period; see his In Search of History: Historiography in the Ancient World and the Origins of Biblical History (1983).

Even though these interpreters employ the word “Yahwist” to describe the author of the Tetrateuch, their theories of the composition of the Pentateuch have nothing to do with the documentary hypothesis. The anonymous author, whether writing as a redactor or a historian, is not identified by the use of the divine name, Yahweh. The composition is not part of the social development of the monarchy under David and Solomon, but is actually critical of the monarchical period. These interpreters also agree that the Yahwist shares many of the perspectives of the book of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History, while also providing a later reinterpretation of its central themes.

Methodological Problems Between Tradition History and the Literary Composition of the Pentateuch

The question of whether continuous themes could be identified in the sources of the Pentateuch/Hextateuch has lingered throughout the modern period of interpretation, but it intensified with the emergence of form criticism and tradition history. R. Rendtorff returned to this problem in the 1970’s by reevaluating the synthesis of Martin Noth and Gerhard von Rad, which came to dominate the study of the Pentateuch in the mid-20th century, in his Das überlieferungsgeschichtliche Problem des Pentateuch (1997). Noth’s identification of the five themes in the Pentateuch (patriarchal promise, exodus, Sinai, wilderness wandering, land) provided the framework for Rendtorff’s study, while the thesis of von Rad concerning the creative role of the Yahwist author in combining the themes presented the problem. Rendtorff argued that neither Noth nor von Rad examined how the individual stories within the five themes developed into the larger literary complexes. The reason was their dependence on Gunkel, who did not develop a methodology for discerning the collection of traditional material; his focus remained, instead, at a more general level, which moved too quickly from oral tradition to written sources. Thus, von Rad’s assumption concerning the creative role of the Yahwist in fashioning a comprehensive story of salvation was based on tradition history, without demonstrating a literary cohesion among the passages ascribed to the Yahwist.

Rendtorff’s study of the intermediate formation of the traditional material indicated that the themes underwent literary development independently and were only related to each other at a late stage by collectors, not source authors. The study of the theme of the promise to the ancestors indicated its central role in Genesis, but it is nearly absent in the account of the Exodus, suggesting the late combination of these bodies of literature, perhaps by Deuteronomistic tradents. Rendtorff’s thesis implied the breakdown of the documentary hypothesis in general and the loss of the Yahwist in particular. It also suggested that the story of salvation history in the Pentateuch/Hexateuch is a very late creation in the history of ancient Israel, not earlier than the exile.

The hypothesis of Rendtorff has given rise to a wide range of research that is presently incomplete. Erhard Blum extended the work of Rendtorff in two studies, Die Komposition der Vätergeschichte in 1984 and Studien zur Komposition des Pentateuch in 1990, first on the ancestral material and second on the story of Moses. The research on the ancestral material yielded a complex history of composition, while the Moses story resulted in a more streamlined hypothesis that focused on two Exilic and/or post-Exilic compositions, a lay-oriented work that reflected themes from the book of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History (D-Komposition or KD), and a Priestly-oriented work that included the traditional literature of the P source (P-Komposition or PD). These independent documents were combined in the Persian period to form the Pentateuch. Joseph Blenkinsopp’s identification of a Deuteronomic corpus and a Priestly stratum of literature, which were combined in the Persian period, also corresponds to many aspects of Blum’s hypothesis; see The Pentateuch: An Introduction to the First Five Books of the Bible (1992).

The study of the individual complexes of the Pentateuch has also continued beyond the ancestral literature. Marcus Witte has researched the independent development of Genesis 1–11 (Die biblische Urgeschichte: Redakions- und theologiegeschichtliche Beobachtungen zu Genesis 1,1-11,26 [1998]); Jan Gertz, the formation of the exodus (Tradition und Redaktion in der Exoduserzählung: Untersuchungen zur Endredaktion des Pentateuch, [2000]); Thomas Dozeman, the Sinai literature (God on the Mountain: Redaction, Theology and Canon in Exodus 19-24 [1989]); and Reinhard Achenbach, Numbers (Die Vollendung der Tora: Studien zur Redaktionsgeschichte des Numeribuches im Kontext von Hexateuch und Pentateuch [2002]). Thomas Römer, in his Israels Väter: Untersuchungen zur Väterthematik im Deuteronomium und in der deuteronomistischen Tradition (1990) has argued that the combination of the different complexes is first evident in the Priestly source, thus pushing the formation of the Pentateuch to an even later date. Konrad Schmid has advanced a similar argument by identifying the book of Genesis as a distinct origin tradition from the story of Moses and the exodus from Egypt, making the relationship of Genesis to Exodus through Kings a significant development in the formation of the Pentateuch now conceived of as an Enneateuch; see his Genesis and the Moses Story: Israel’s Dual Origins in the Hebrew Bible (2010). A common thread throughout the different interpretations is the abandonment of the documentary hypothesis and the later dating of the literature to the exilic and post-exilic periods.

Reinterpretation of Sources as Redactions

The role of redactors in combining the distinct sources was a central feature in the documentary hypothesis. Wellhausen, for example, attributed the combination of the J and E sources to a Yehovist redactor. Subsequent interpreters have begun to attribute a more prominent role to redactors, which over time has created conflict with the documentary hypothesis. The identification of extensive redactions left only minimal literature for the traditional sources, as in the work of Lothar Perlitt, who attributed large portions of the narrative and law in Exodus 19–34 to Deuteronomistic redactors, rather than to the J and E sources, in his Bundestheologie im Alten Testament (1969). The combination of sources and extensive redactions also resulted in complex theories of composition, such as Erich Zenger’s identification of successive stages of narrative cycles from the monarchical period undergoing multiple revisions, including the incorporation of law-codes in the “Exilic Historical Work,” and the further additions of the P source and Deuteronomy in the “Exilic History”; see his Die Sinaitheophanie (1971).

Interpreters are increasingly limiting or abandoning the sources of the documentary hypothesis and attributing the entire composition of the Pentateuch to redactors. Christoph Levin, in Der Jahwist (1993), identified the Yahwist as an exilic editor or redactor, who fashioned literary fragments into the foundational document of the Tetrateuch. Frank M. Cross argued that Priestly tradition was not a source, but a supplement of early non-Priestly tradition, because of the incomplete character of the narrative, in his Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of Religion (1973). Jean-Louis Ska agreed with Cross, while adding that P is not simply a supplement to early literature, but a more critical revision in his “De la relative indépendance de l’écrit sacerdotal.” (1995, 396–415).

Many interpreters are beginning to attribute a significant role to post-Priestly redactor(s) in the composition of the Pentateuch. The starting point for this interpretation represents a reversal of the documentary hypothesis, in which the P source is not judged to be the last source, but the first to provide the basic structure of the Pentateuch. The P source undergoes expansion and revision by post-Priestly authors, who merge the language of Deuteronomy and the Priestly source. Thomas Römer, Konrad Schmid, and Jan Christian Geertz attribute a significant role to the post-Priestly redactor in the composition of the Pentateuch and the Former Prophets; see J. C. Gertz, Abschied vom Jahwisten: Die Kompostion des Hexateuch in der Jüngsten Diskussion (2000). Eckart Otto, in Das Deuteronomium im Pentateuch und Hexateuch: Studien zur Literaturgeschichte von Pentateuch und Hexateuch im Lichte des Deuteronomiumrahmens (2000) provides an even more nuanced description of the post-Priestly composition of the Pentateuch and Joshua which includes three redactions: a Hextateuchal redaction that is inclusive, prophetic, and focused on the land; a Pentateuch redaction that emphasizes Torah; and a theocratic redaction that identifies Israel as a people organized around the temple. Although the research on the post-Priestly composition of the Pentateuch/Hexateuch/Enneateuch is ongoing and includes significant variation, the effect of the research is to push the composition of the literature later from the monarchical and Exilic periods into the late Persian period.

Review of Literature

The review has sought to demonstrate the dynamic and incomplete character of the research on the Pentateuch. Debate over its formation, genre, and the best designation for the anonymous author(s) is far from settled. Interpreters continue to argue both for sources and for a process of supplementation to account for the formation of the Pentateuch. Yet, there is also a trend toward progressively later dating of the Pentateuch, which will undoubtedly have implications for interpreting Israelite religion and the formation of the Canon. Early historical critics disputed the historical presentation of the Mosaic age. The loss of the Yahwist of the Solomonic enlightenment has prompted contemporary interpreters to dispute the biblical portrait of the monarchical period, especially of the United Monarchy (see T. L. Thompson, Early History of the Israelite People: From the Written and Archaeological Sources [1992]), but also of the social circumstances of the Exile (see L. L. Grabbe, Leading Captivity Captive:“The Exile” as History and Ideology [1998]). The later dating of the Pentateuch suggests further that the creative period for the emergence of the Yahwism represented in Torah is the Exilic and post-Exilic periods, not the monarchical period, which is prompting scholars to explore more carefully the formation of the Pentateuch in the Persian period and even the Hellenistic period.

Primary Sources

Biblical sources that can be usefully consulted include J. A. Allegro’s (1968) rewritten version of Genesis and Exodus (in particular pp. 1–6). Baillet et al. (1962) includes Hebrew manuscripts of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (please note especially pages 48–62, 105–107, 136, 142–143, 147–148, 169–171), and Elliger and Rudolph (2006) provides a critical edition of the entire Hebrew Bible. Skehan et al. (1992) examines Palaeo-Hebrew manuscripts of Genesis, Exodus, and Deuteronomy (see pp. 17–15) and Greek manuscripts of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (pp. 161–197), while Ulrich et al. (1994 and 1995) examines Hebrew manuscripts of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (see especially pp. 7–142).

Focusing on additional texts, Kelley et al. (1998) provides valuable guidelines for reading the Masoretic Notes, while Rahlfs (1935 is a standard critical edition of the Septuagint in the 20th century.

von Gall (1966) is a critical edition of the Samaritan Pentateuch, while Würthwein (1995) provides a historical overview of the different ancient versions of the Pentateuch. Finally, with regard to the Pentateuch as a whole, Attridge et al. (1994) examine reworked and rewritten versions of the Penteteuch in Manuscripts 4Q364-367 (especially pp. 187–351).

  • Allegro, J. A. Qumran Cave 4: I (4Q158–4Q186). Discoveries in the Judaean Desert 5. Oxford: Clarendon, 1968
  • Attridge, H., T. Elgvin, J. Milik, S. Olyan, J. Strugnell, E. Tov, et al.,, eds. Qumran Cave 4, VIII: Parabiblical Texts, Part 1. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert 13. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994
  • Baillet, M, J. T. Milik, and R. de Vaux, eds. Les “Petites Grottes” de Qumran: Exploration de la falaise Les Gottes 2Q, 3Q, 5Q, 7Q à 10Q. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert 3. Oxford: Clarendon, 1962
  • Elliger, Karl, and Willhelm Rudolph. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. 4th Ed. Boston: Hendrickson, 2006.
  • Kelley, Page H., Daniel S. Mynatt, and Timothy G. Crawford. The Masorah of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: Introduction and Annotated Glossary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998.
  • Rahlfs, Alfred, ed. Septuaginta: Id est Vetus Testametutm gaece iuxta LXX interpretes. Vols 1–2. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelstiftung, 1935
  • Skehan, P. W., E. Ulrich, and J. E. Sanderson, eds. Qumran Cave 4: IV: Palaeo-Hebrew and Greek Biblical Manuscripts. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert 9. Oxford: Clarendon, 1992
  • Ulrich, E, F. M. Cross, S. W. Crawford, J. A. Duncan, P. W. Skehan, E. Tove, et al., eds. Qumran Cave 4: IX: Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Kings. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert 14. Oxford: Clarendon, 1995
  • Ulrich, E., F. M. Cross, J. R. Favila, N. Jastram, J. E. Sanderson, E. Tov, et al., eds. Qumran Cave 4: VII: Genesis to Numbers. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert 12. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994.
  • Von Gall, August Freiherr. Der hebräische Pentateuch der Samaritaner. Geissen, Germany: Töpelmann, 1914–1918.
  • Würthwein, Ernst. The Text of the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Biblia Hebraica. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1995.
  • Zahn, Molly M. “The Problem of Characterizing the 4QReworked Pentateuch Manuscripts: Bible, Rewritten Bible, or None of the Above?” Dead Sea Discoveries 15, no. 3 (2008): 315–339.

Further Reading

  • Baden, Joel S. The Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the Documentary Hypothesis. The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012.
  • Blenkinsopp, J. The Pentateuch: An Introduction to the First Five Books of the Bible. The Anchor Bible Reference Library. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
  • Campbell, A. F., and M. A. O’Brien. Sources of the Pentateuch: Texts, Introductions, Annotations. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993.
  • Crüsemann, F. The Torah: Theology and History of Old Testament Law. Translated by W. Mahnke. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996.
  • Dozeman, Thomas. The Pentateuch: Introducing the Torah. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2017.
  • Dozeman, Thomas B., Konrad Schmid, and Baruch J. Schwartz, eds. The Pentateuch: International Perspectives on Current Research. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 78. Tübingen, Germany: Morh Siebeck, 2011.
  • Edelman, Diana V., Philip R. Davies, Christophe Nihan, and Thomas Römer. Opening the Books of Moses. Bible World. Bristol, CT: Equinox, 2012.
  • Eissfeldt, O. The Old Testament: An Introduction. Translated by P. R. Ackroyd. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.
  • Houtman, C. Der Pentateuch: Die Geschichte seiner Erforschung neben einer Auswertung. Contributions to Biblical Exegesis and Theology 9. Kampen, The Netherlands: Kok Paros, 1994.
  • Knight, Douglas A. Rediscovering the Traditions of Israel. Studies In Biblical Literature. 3rd ed. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006.
  • Knoppers, Gary N., and Bernard M. Levinson, eds. The Pentateuch as Torah: New Models for Understanding Its Promulgation and Acceptance. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2007.
  • Kraus, Hans Joachim. Geschichte der historisch-kritischen Erforschung des Alten Testaments. 2. Überarbeitete und Erweiterte Auflage. Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany: Neukirchener Verlag, 1969.
  • Levinson, B. M., ed. Theory and Method in Biblical and Cuneiform Law: Revision, Interpolation and Development. Journal of the Study of the Old Testament 181. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic, 1994.
  • Nicholson, Ernest. The Pentateuch in the Twentieth Century: The Legacy of Julius Wellhausen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Pury, A. de, and T. Römer, eds. Le pentateuque en question: Les origines et la composition des cinq premiers livres de la Bible à la lumière des recherches récentes. Monde de la Bible 19. Geneva, Switzerland: Labor et Fides, 1989.
  • Reventlow, Henning Graf. History of Biblical Interpretation: From the Enlightenment to the Twentieth Century. Vol. 4, From the Enlightenment to the Twelfth Century. Translated by Leo. G. Perdue. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2010.
  • Ska, J.- L. Introduction to Reading the Pentateuch. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2006.
  • Sparks, Kenton. The Pentateuch: An Annotated Bibliography. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002.
  • Van Seters, John. The Pentateuch: A Social-Science Commentary. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic, 1999.
  • Whybray, R. N. The Making of the Pentateuch: A Methodological Study. Journal of the Study of the Old Testament 53. Sheffield, UK: University of Sheffield Press, 1987.