Remarks on the Pentateuchal Sources

barre at barre at
Sun Dec 19 01:00:05 EST 1999

Dear Forum,

As one who ascribes to the Documentary Hypothesis, I thought I might offer some comments 
from the point of view of an advocate.

1)  The Priestly Writer is easily recognized by his formalistic style, his diction, mood, leading 
motifs and by his consistently priestly perspective.  In his version of Israel's sacred epic, both 
the cosmos and history are "sacralized."  He is a deliberate monotheist and advocates the 
view that Israel must be "holy," that is, it must confirm to the cosmic cultic order established 
by Elohim.  The Priestly Writer both knows and demonstrates a good understanding of both 
J and E.

2) J and E appear to be independent recessions of a common source commonly called "G."  
If we take our cue from the twice quoted poetic epic called, "The Book of the Just" (Josh 10: 
13; 2 Sam 1:18), we may suspect that G belonged to this same literary genre.

3) From my study of J, I am impressed with its programmatic intention with respect to Israel 
becoming a great nation (Gen 12:1-3; Ex 34:10) and its call in several traditions for the 
support of the cultus, mostly clearly in evidence when one compares the Yahwist's "Ten 
Words" (Ex 34:10-28) with that of the Elohist (Ex 20:1-21).  Other traditions advocating the 
support of the cult include the establishment of the Levites as temple guards, Abram paying a 
ten percent tithe to Melchizedek, and the general portrayal of the Sinai theophany as defining 
sacred space.  Most of all, a comparison with Nathan's oracle confirms the tendenz of the 
Yahwist's version in which David is made out to be the imminent realization of the promises 
to Abraham.  Note the complementary form and contents of the two texts:

Yahweh said to Abram, "Leave your country, your family and your father's house, for 
the land I will show.

	I will make you into a great nation;
	I will bless you and make your name so great
	that you will become a blessing,
	so that all the tribes of the land
	will obtain blessing through you." 

Of Nathan and David we read:

This is what you must say to my servant David.  "Yahweh Sabaoth says this:"

'I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be leader of my 
people Israel:

	I have been with you on all your expeditions; 
	I have cut off all your enemies before you.

	I will give you fame as great as the fame of the greatest on the earth.
	I will provide a place for my people Israel.
	I will plant them there 
	and they shall dwell in that place 
	and they shall never be disturbed again.'

In both cases, national well-being is the guiding concern of the texts.

4) For reasons that are not easy to comprehend, source critics have assumed that after E 
revealed the meaning of the Tetragrammaton, he did not use it in his source thereafter.  As far 
as I can see, the only reason to conclude this is the reemergence of the use of Elohim in the 
Balaam narrative.  However, I do not think that this phenomenon excludes the possibility that 
E did use the Tetragrammaton after Exodus 3.  Here I think that he reverted to this diction 
because his source, Balaam's oracles, refers to the deity as El.  When we consider that E did 
indeed use YHWH following its revelation, then there are two texts in Numbers that accord 
very well with what we otherwise suspect about the thinking of the Elohist.  Both texts deal 
with an issue that seems to be at the very center of the Elohist's thought--prophetic authority 
within a fully ideal and charismatic society (as opposed to "official' authority).  Numbers 
12:6-8 seems very Elohistic:

If any man among you is a prophet,
I make myself known to him in a vision,
I speak to him in a dream.
Not so with my servant Moses:
he is at home in my sanctuary,
I speak with him face to face,
plainly and not in riddles,
and he sees the form of YHWH.

With Moses' preeminent status proclaim, the Elohist builds a charismatic hierarchy with the 
story of the anointing of the elders in Numbers 11 that looks like this:

Moses (Prophet)
Chief Elder and Chief Scribe
The Council of the Seventy
(Elders and scribes)
(Immediate and extended families)

With such social concerns to augment his theological teachings, the Elohist emerges as 
something of a religio-political theoretician, a stance that is in one place set in direct 
opposition to a non-charismatic, dynastic kingship with now Samuel becoming direct 
mouthpiece of the Elohist.  While it is certain that many will resist my conclusion that 
the Elohist's epic extends to at least 1 Samuel 12,  I am partially moved to this 
conclusion by a comparison of Moses' speech at Horeb and Samuel's address to the 

Facing the mountain Israel pitched camped.  Moses then went up to El 
(ohim).  YHWH said to Moses, "I am coming to you in a dense cloud so 
that the people may hear when I speak to you and may trust you always."  
Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet El (ohim); and they 
stood at the bottom of the mountain.  Then Moses called out and El 
(ohim) answered him with peals of thunder.

All the people shook with fear at the peals of thunder and they drew 
back.  "Speak to us yourself," they said to Moses, "and we will listen.  
But do not let El(ohim) speak to us or we will die!"  [Moses responded], 
"Do not panic; El(ohim) has appeared to test you, so that your fear of 
him, being ingrained upon your mind, may keep you from sinning."  So 
the people kept their distance while Moses approached the dark cloud 
where El(ohim) was.

And. . .

Samuel then called on YHWH, and YHWH sent thunder and rain the 
same day, and all the people held YHWH and Samuel in great awe.  Then 
all said to Samuel, "Plead for your servant with YHWH your god that we 
may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil of asking to have a 
king!"  Samuel said to the people, "Do not panic; you have indeed done 
all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following YHWH, but serve 
YHWH with all your hearts.  Do not turn aside after empty idols which, 
being empty, are useless and cannot save, since for the sake of his great 
name YHWH will not desert his people for it has pleased YHWH to 
make you his people.  For my part, far be it from me that I should sin 
against YHWH by ceasing to plead for you or to instruct you in the good 
and right way.  Only fear and serve YHWH faithfully with all your heart, 
for you saw the great wonder he did before you.  But if you persist in 
wickedness, you and your king will perish." 

As for dating, I think it most probably that J and E were 
contemporaneous compositions, likely commissioned at the same time 
during David's early reign.  All things considered, I am inclined to date P 
between the release of the exiles and the failure of the Messianic hopes 
that failed with Zerubbabel (c. 538-520).

So there are some concrete observation from one who works with the 
Pentateuchal sources.

With regards,



L. M. Barre, Ph.D.

barre at
La Jolla, California

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