The Slow, Agonizing, Painful Death of JEDP

dscf8478In order to properly clarify the title of this post, I must tell a story. Once upon a time, there were 19th Century Biblical scholars living in Germany. These scholars were perplexed by the text of the Pentateuch (5 Books of Moses) and wondering if it was a conglomeration of various texts/traditions that were later edited together. One scholar, Karl Heinrich Graf, had summarized this theory (1866) into a concept that  there were 4 source documents to the 5 Books of Moses. Shortly after him, another German scholar presented the theory very neatly and clearly. His name was Julius Wellhausen.

Wellhausen published all this into a book in 1878. His book revolutionized the study of the OT and the Pentateuch in particular. The theory works like this: the Pentateuch was either composed or compiled (or both) shortly before Alexander the Great conquered the known world around 330 BC. This theory divides the Pentateuch into four separate sources:
“J”. J is the Yahweh text. In other words, the portions that refer to God, predominantly as Yahweh. This is the majority of the text of the Pentateuch. This is supposed to be from Judah.
“E”. E is the Elohim text. In other words, the portions that refer to God, predominantly as Elohim. There is not much text from “E” and it supposedly preserves Northern Israelite belief.
“D”. D is Deuteronomy. “D” is thought to be composed during King Josiah’s reign (640s – 600ish BC). “D” is a pure legal code that exalts Jerusalem.
“P”. P is the Priestly text. It was thought to be the latest, post-Exile (444 BC forward) and concerned with only the Temple rituals.

To recap, the theory says that all these documents/sources were pulled together around the time of King Josiah, edited, and then VOILA! You have the OT! And the purpose was to provide religious validation of the monarchy of Judah.

This theory became the bedrock or backbone to all Biblical scholarship of the 1900’s. You could compare JEDP’s effect on Biblical scholarship the way Darwin’s theory of evolution has had on biology, geology, and astronomy. It was presumed that the JEDP theory was accurate and it became an assumption by scholars. This directly contradicted traditional Christian and Jewish belief that the Pentateuch was written totally by Moses. As time went on, JEDP became a standard part of seminary and religious school education. Now whether or not it was taught as fact in every school, I don’t know. But typically it receives at least an introduction in probably all schools. I remain open to correction on that statement.

And since it became a standard part of seminary and religious school education, JEDP made its way into the pulpit. How does this look? If the Pentateuch (& the OT) is a propaganda production of King Josiah, how can we trust the text? Is it reliable? What part is original and what part was “doctored”? JEDP focused on the supposed DISUNITY of the text and its “origins” not on its purpose to faith. Heretofore, there hasn’t been an alternative taught to those budding pastors as to how to handle the Pentateuch/OT. So, pastors stopped teaching from/on the OT. It may be referenced, but is no longer a consistent part of preaching the Word of God. The Pentateuch/OT is now believed to be confusing and messy, rather than being a cohesive text whose purpose is to uphold faith in the God of Israel. So, pastors more or less ignored the OT and perhaps even made fun of its difficult names.

Over the years, more conservative leaning scholars began to debate the validity of JEDP. Various methods of studying the text of the Pentateuch came about (such as the canonical approach or the literary approach) and archaeological finds forced adjustments as well.

JUC instructor, Dr. Gabriel Barkay was digging across the Hinnom Valley from JUC in 1979. Under the St. Andrew’s Church of Scotland (where we currently attend worship) he found a huge repository of treasures from the Late Judean Monarchy. In that repository, were found two tiny silver scrolls. These scrolls measure less than 5” high each. They were inscribed by a method that modern science cannot deduce. The scrolls contain portions of the Sh’ma (Hear O Israel! from Deut. 6:4) and the Aaronic blessing (The Lord bless you and keep you… Lev. 6:22-24). The Leviticus portion is from the “P” text which was supposed to be after the Exile. But, here it was in a PRE-Exilic tomb.

Finds like this began to force JEDP scholars to begin to juggle their dates around. This has lead to a total swirlee of options (note: “swirlee” in not yet an accepted scholastic term). The continual revamping and re-working the JEDP dates began to cast doubt on the validity of the theory.

The literary approach also depletes JEDP’s blood supply. The literary approach says essentially this: the Pentateuch is a piece of literature. Any good piece of literature draws on a variety of data and common knowledge to be a part of its tapestry. For example, Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, drew on the current events of Tsarist Russia in the late 1800s, Russian Orthodox Church theology, and also Russian history and, obviously, late 1800s Russian language development. Does this mean that Crime and Punishment had several different authors or several different sources? I’ll let you be the judge. Suffice to say, it is a complete piece of literature and has a holistic use of all the data.

When we were visiting Durham, UK over Christmas, we had the opportunity to visit with some scholars at Durham University. One of them, an OT scholar, said that JEDP and the old German school are “old news” and nobody really cares anymore. The problem is that this moving on from JEDP and that German school of thought is a recent development (last 3 decades). This means that the bulk of scholarly research for the past 150 years is based on JEDP and it (for now) must be addressed, even if the scholar does not accept it.

So, JEDP is dying a slow, agonizing, painful death. As I do research on and write for my Master’s thesis, I can hear it wheezing over my shoulder. I can feel its cold, clammy, claw-like hands desperately trying to grab me and thus exert a measure of its former authority over my research.

But, as we know, all things must come to an end. And JEDPs end has not come soon enough…


~ by eikonministries on March 1, 2009.

3 Responses to “The Slow, Agonizing, Painful Death of JEDP”

  1. Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  2. […] using that name, and hearing God refer to Himself as Yahweh. This is part of the reason why the JEDP Document Hypothesis says there are different textual traditions that create the Old Testament, one being the […]

  3. I very much enjoyed your post on JEDP. I’m currently involved in a Bible study at my church and it was referenced this week. Your summary of the history and source of this theory throws a great deal of light onto the subject. Lot’s of room for reasonable discussion it seems. Thanks.

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