JEPD Theory

A form and redaction critical approach to the Pentateuch that argues four distinct authors constructed the work; J = the Yahwist, E = the Elohimist, D = Deuteronomist, P = Priestly.

JEPD theory came from the form criticism of the 18th century which began to look at units of Biblical texts in terms of their oral forms before they were recorded in written format. Redaction criticism then began to examine how authors might link these story forms into a single text that supports the argument the author wishes to make.

In the Pentateuch two major names are used for God, YHWH (or Yahweh or Jehovah) and Elohim. Some sections of the Pentateuch exclusively use the name Elohim for God (Gen 1) while others exclusively use YHWH (Gen 2). YHWH tends to be spoken of more in anthropomorphic terms (he walks in the garden and creates with clay, Gen 2), while Elohim is described in more majestic, distant terms (he creates by his voice, Gen 1). This lead some to propose that two different authors, one preferring to use YHWH for God’s name, and another who preferred Elohom, recorded various stories in the Pentateuch and that later editors assembled these stories into the Pentateuch we have today.

Formally, the four author theory is as follows:

  1. The Yahwist - a 10th or 11th century B.C. wrote what is now called the J Document.
  2. The Elohist – a 7th century author added new material to the stories older YHWH stories. The Elohim stories present a more elevated and advanced God. The stories are called the E Document.
  3. The Deuteronomist – 2 Kings 20 tells the story of Israel’s King Josiah recovering the Law and founding that it commanded that worship should only take place in Jerusalem. JEDP theory proposes that in fact Josiah had the Deuteronomist create these laws and add them to the Pentateuch in order to justify his desire to limit worship to Jerusalem. These additional laws form the D Document.
  4. The Priestly Group – the temple was destroyed in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians. While Israel was in exile and after they returned, the Priestly group added additional laws to the Pentateuch. This is known as the P Document.

JEDP theory stands on the two names of God used in the Pentateuch. JEDP supporters also point to several interesting factors within the Hebrew texts, such as doublets (stories told twice, such Elizar’s prayer to find a wife for Isaac), antichronismes (events told in wrong chronological order, such as Judah’s story in Gen 38 which is seemingly inserted between Gen 37 and 39), and apparent social situations behind the Yahwist and Elohist’s story telling (sometimes as a husband names a child, other times the mother names the child).

Yet there are several reasons why the JEPD Theory is not a required, or even perhaps particularly valid, understanding of the construction of the Pentateuch.

  • Multiple names for God is a common feature of many ANE writings. Many Ugaritic texts have recently been uncovered which contain compound names for God which are sometimes separated into two separate words and other times combined into a single word.
  • JEDP scholars often separate texts into J or E groups without those text actually contianing YHWH or Elohim. The justification is that the subject material tends to sound like other J or E texts. These texts are then analyzed for differing vocabulary and, not surprisingly differing the texts are found to contain differing vocabulary. This arguing from the conclusion is not convincing.
  • JEDP theory tends toward ignoring stylistic features of the Hebrew language (such as repetition and doublets) and basic story telling technique. For example, Gen 37 and 39 tell the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers. Gen 38 tells a seemingly disconnected story of Judah and JEPD Theorists conclude that the editors of the Pentateuch did this as a mistake. But Gen 38 serves a very important literary purpose. It shows the character of Judah and why he was able to sell his brother into slavery (Gen 37) and sets up his later transformation into man willing to give himself up for slavery to free one of his brothers (Gen 43-44). Without this story the narrative conflict would not be as tense and Judah’s blessing (Gen 49) would seem unwarranted.

JEDP Theory is a popular academic idea with several lines of weak and unimpressive evidence. Though it enjoys support from a wide range of scholars and remains the accepted theory of the authorship of the Pentateuch, it sits on a poorly constructed foundation and need not be accepted.