The Documentary Hypothesis of the Pentateuch also known as the JEDP Theory

Some of the critics of the Bible have come up with some sophisticated arguments in their attempts to disprove its authenticity and reliability.  One of these attempts is known as the Documentary Hypothesis, or the JEPD theory.  In short, this theory states that the first five books of the Bible, called the Pentateuch, consisting of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, were not written completely by Moses, who died in 1451 B.C. according to Bishop Ussher's Chronology, but by different post-Mosaic authors.  It is alleged that these authors are detectable through the variations of usage of different words within those books.  These supposed authors are known as the Jehovist, the Elohist, the Priestly, and the Deuteronomist.  These supposed authors are known as the Jehovist, the Elohist, the Priestly, and the Deuteronomist.

If you are not aware, YHWH (not to be confused with JEDP) are the four letters used to represent the name of God in the Old Testament.  From YHWH we get the word Jehovah, or Yahweh, the name of God, mentioned in Exodus 3:14.  The word in Hebrew "elohim" is simply the word 'god.'  So, YHWH is the name of God.  Please note, however, that "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" is not really the exactly pronunciation of God's name.  We do not know how it is exactly pronounced.

According to Oswald T. Allis, there were four main areas considered by these critics when supporting the Documentary Hypothesis:1

  1. The Variations in the Divine Names in Genesis;
  2. The Secondary Variations in Diction and Style;
  3. The Parallel or Duplicate Accounts (Doublets);
  4. The Continuity of the Various Sources.

One of, if not the earliest, appearances of this type of approach to Scripture was by H.B. Witter in the early 1700s, who asserted that there were two parallel accounts in the creation story that were distinguishable by the word usage in the text.

This method of analysis really took root in 1753 when a French physician named Austruc analyzed the book of Genesis and asserted that it had two main sources: a Jehovist and an Elohist.  However, he did not deny Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch at this time.

What this analysis entails is the assumption that where the word Jehovah appears in large quantities in a section of writing, it is the result of an author who used the word "Jehovah" or the tetragramatton YHWH predominantly.   Additionally, it is stated that where the term "Elohim" appears more frequently, it is the result of an Elohist, or someone who used that word more frequently than another person.

Another person to use this method was Eichhorn, whose analysis of 1787 was similar to Austruc's.  However, neither of these men denied Mosaic authorship and neither carried the analysis past the book of Exodus.

A few years later, a gentleman named De Wette (1805), assigned Deuteronomy to the time of Josiah (post-Mosaic period).  This prompted other writers to tackle the issue. In 1823, Eichhorn had given up on his claim of Mosaic Authorship of the Pentateuch.

The letters associated with this issue are J and E.


In 1853, Hupfeld proposed that there are two Elohistic source documents in Genesis: chapters 1-19 by one author and chapters 20 - 50 by another. He also put great importance upon the redactor, or the one who assembled the various documents, who used editor rights during the compilation of the book of Genesis.   Therefore, his arrangement of the documents was thus: First Elohist, Second Elohist, Jehovist, Deuteronomist: J, E, and D.


Later, Karl H. Graf in the 1860's and Julius Wellhausen in the 1870's said that "according to the historical and prophetical books of the Old Testament, the priestly legislation of the middle books of the Pentateuch was unknown in pre-exilic time, and that this legislation must therefore be a late development."2 The letter P became associated with this view.

Basically they arranged the Pentateuch authorship in the following manner:

  1. "The earliest part of the Pentateuch came from two originally independent documents, the Jehovist (850 B.C.) and Elohist (750 B.C.).
  2. From these the Jehovist compiled a narrative work (650 B.C.).
  3. Deuteronomy came in Josiah's time and its author incorporated this into the Jehovist's work.
  4. The priestly legislation in the Elohist document was largely the work of Ezra and is referred to as the Priestly Document.  A later editor(s) revised and edited the conglomeration of documents by about 200 B.C. to form the extant Pentateuch we have today."3

There have been slight modifications of this list, but it is basically the same form used by those holding to the Documentary Hypothesis.


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  • 1. Allis, Oswald T. The Five Books of Moses. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1949. p. 22.
  • 2. Ibid., p. 17.
  • 3. McDowell, Josh. More Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Here's Life Publishers, Inc., 1981. p. 45.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.