Chapter 4: The Documentary Hypothesis

The following analysis by Cassuto in his book The Documentary Hypothesis refutes the theory at the time of its formulation; this original character has been entirely forgotten. There was not a scholar who doubted that the Torah was compiled in the period of the Second Temple from various documents or sources. One was J (Jahwish), using the name Yahweh; another E (Elohist), which according to the Tetragrammaton was revealed to Moses, a third P (priestly code emanating from priestly circles); and D (for Deuteronomist compromising the main part of the book of Deuteronomy). This hypothesis enjoyed a position of absolute domination. Any critique of the theory was denounced, often scathingly. The French physician Astruc in 1753 and the German scholar Erkhorn in 1795 contributed to the development of this theory. Julius Wellhausen brought the theory to its most advanced state in about 1880.


The five supporting pillars of the theory are:


1.   Use of different names for the Deity.

2.   Variations in style and language.

3.   Supposed “contradictions” and divergences of view.

4.   Duplication and repetition.

5.   Signs of composite structures in the sections.


(Of these five, the first, second, and fourth are admittedly true.  The other two are matters of conjecture and speculation, says OJG.)


1. The use of the Divine Names. Others of the five principle arguments rest primarily on this. The proper understanding of the names themselves is not explored, seemingly considered unimportant and no longer needing special emphasis. Why the change of names? The Documentary theorist thinks he knows that it is because of different sources. Then, at a later stage, a supposed (totally unproved) “Redactor” took sections from these various sources and pieced together the Torah. Still, the Torah gives clear evidence of design not accident. It is a unity, and that unity is attributed to Moses through the Spirit, not varied sources or some mysterious “Redactor.” A study of the word meanings, Yahweh, Elohim, Adonai (Lord), El Elyon (God most high), Saddai (Almighty), El Saddai (God Almighty) was the starting point for Astruc, called “the father of the Documentary Hypothesis.” This start ought properly to be restored to the origins and significance of the names.


The word Yahweh is the specific name for Israel’s God, whereas Elohim is used of both Israel’s God and heathen gods. It is never used in place of Yahweh however. In Scripture only the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) is used as Israel’s name for God. None of this can be firmly tied, or evidenced, into the speculative notion of four differing sources.


2. Variations in Style and Language. There are such things in the Torah, in its various sections. This is in respect to vocabulary, grammatical form, and diction. Why? To liberal critics this constitutes one kind of proof of fragments being taken from various documents (whatever they be, or even existed). Can this be used as a rule when many authors do change linguistic uses of words and phrases, chapter to chapter, to suit their own purpose of emphasis or shading of meaning? In the Torah, for example, the Tetragrammaton, the unmistakable sign of source J (according to the Documentary theory) does not occur at all in the genealogy of Cain but only in the preceding story of Cain and Abel. The Documentary theorist’s comment on the making of a covenant between God and man attributes this to the so-called Priestly source P. To critics this is a fact, not admitting it is only a theory. Another example is the phrase, “bring up from Egypt,” where they imagine the source is E (Elohistic). Yet “source J” employs the same expression (Genesis 1:24; 46:4). The theorists also point to the difference in personal pronouns, attributing this to two sources ( J and E). When statistical tables are used to show these differing sources, the pronouns are cited in a way completely divorced from their context. The principle rule seems to be this: when the Bible gives us statistical data, it frequently prefers to use the ascending order. This is a fundamental principle in the use of numerals in Hebrew.


3. Contradictions and Divergences in View. There are differences, but not necessarily contradictions, in the texts, especially in Genesis. The most important example cited is the conception of the Deity and His relationship to mankind. He is the God of Israel, the God of this world, and the Creator of heaven and earth, Lord and Judge over all humanity. The distance between God and man is portrayed in differing degrees. Man is separated from God by a great spiritual gulf that cannot be crossed in any purely human way. The picture of God is multi-faceted, and He is seen in differing roles, much as any child would perceive a parent or any other author would treat a character. These are not contradictions. Do the moral standards differ Jacob’s decision to deceive his father (Genesis 27)? Yes, it was a frank statement of his sin as an imperfect man but with not the slightest indications that God approved His actions or of some differing moral viewpoint by God based on the source theory. Finally there are differences in family and communal customs. For example, did the father or mother name a newborn son? The answer is that this depends upon whether it is connected with an explanation of the word meaning. In another instance, there are two records of the names of Esau’s three wives (Genesis 26:34; 28:9; 36:2-3). This will be explained in the next section.


4. Duplications and Repetitions. Many stories occur twice or even three times. Sometimes they are parallel, pertaining to one subject, with variation or amplification of details. An example of this is the creation of the world and then in connection with the Garden of Eden. This is no proof of differing sources being united in a later writing by a supposed “Redactor.”


It is not a matter of recapitulating a single event into conflicting forms. It is true that in the day when the Torah or Pentateuch was written, there were many traditional accounts concerning the beginning of life on earth through a creator. Many Oriental writers put down these traditions in their accounts. These “folk tales” do not prove that Moses (or other supposed sources) obtained his ideas from them. They undoubtedly came from the commonly perceived evidence of an Intelligent Designer who had a purpose. Moses, by divine revelation, simply stated the truth, which proceeded from God. The order of God’s creation is the object of critical objections as though they proved a contradiction. The use of general terminology in presenting details should not be labored to prove conflict.


5. Composite Structures in the Sections. There are numerous parallels in the various sections of the Pentateuch. These are no proof of contradictions. It is pure speculation to imagine that some supposed Redactor pieced a mysterious “tapestry” of statements taken from various “sources” to formulate what are a unified, agreed Biblical document according to the “canon” standard.



The Documentary Hypothesis of the Pentateuch


How was the Pentateuch formed? The Old Testament says it was given by God to Moses (Exodus chapters 20-23). “God spoke all these words” (Exodus 20:1) (see also Leviticus 19:27; Deuteronomy 5:6-22). It was written by “the finger of God” (Exodus 31:8). It was “God’s Word” (Exodus 32:16). By contrast, the modern liberal critics say the Mosaic Law “grew” out of the writings of other ancient codes, pious legends, and “cultural antiquity.” These were formulated, they speculate, during the Babylonian captivity. This is without the slightest historical or archaeological evidence, only “literary analysis.”


By the end of the twelfth century AD, more questions were raised against the Biblical account. How could Moses write the story of his own death (Deut. 34)? Of course, he didn’t. It was added to the Pentateuch upon his death, likely by Joshua, his successor. The latter’s book logically follows Deuteronomy, and the six books are sometimes called “the Hexateuch.”


The use of different names for God in the Pentateuch was noted, and a theory developed about 250 years ago that the names denoted different authors, at first three, then four, then multiple others by many speculations. These names were often code-named J.E.P.D. for Jehovist, Elohist, Priestly, and Deuteronomist. At the beginning of the 19th century, liberal Bible teachers suggested that the Pentateuch was the result of a “long period of formation.” The hypothesis, using the so-called “higher criticism” of literary analysis, with its “assured results,” was carried on mostly in Germany. Until 1880, the majority of western Biblical “scholars” supported the Biblical view of a single, Mosaic authorship. It was a later development through the Documentary Hypothesis that largely overturned this view, especially in liberal theological circles. This was without any historical or archaeological evidence. Preliminary studies on behalf of the liberal approach were done by DeWette in 1807 and Reuss in the mid-1800s. However, the best known, classic formulation was presented by Julius Wellhausen in 1883. This became widely accepted as “truth” in the academic and church world, whether Protestant or Catholic, even Jewish.


It should be noted that Wellhausen’s book came at a time of a critical attitude toward the Bible, Christianity and Judaism. It was greatly influenced by the writings of Hegel, and in 1879 by Von Treitschke’s writings in which he said, “The Jews are our misfortune,” which was widely used by the Nazi government. It is understandable that Wellhausen should be thought of as an “anti-Semite.” He was just as clearly “anti-Christian” and anti-Biblical. Jewish “scholars,” such as Umberto Cassuto and Kaufman, completely rejected the Documentary theory. German “scholar” Rendorff abandoned it. Childs of Yale University insists on the veracity of the present form of the Pentateuch, rather than as “hypothetical sources” as only proper object of exposition.


Further analytical details and criticism are available in Joseph Blenkinsopp’s article, “The Documentary Hypothesis in Trouble” in Winter 1985 Bible Review (sister publication of Biblical Archaeology Review). Most of the documentary contained above is based on this article.


Kyle McCarter, renowned for his work in this field, wrote a detailed analysis in the April 1988 edition of Bible Review titled “New Challenge to the Documentary Hypothesis.” It essentially reviewed a work by Kiwada (visiting lecturer in New Testament studies at U.C. Berkeley) and Quinn. They challenged the theory as having “outlived its usefulness.” They made the case for the Pentateuch as the work of a single author. This is a Biblical view by non-believers. The entire work of opposing the theory is made difficult because so many generations of liberal academics have “labored to demonstrate its disunity.” The structural analysis of objections to the Documentary theory are detailed in the work of Kiwada and Quinn.



Evidence from the Babylonian Talmud


There are a few clear references to Jesus in the Babylonian Talmud, a collection of Jewish rabbinical writings compiled between approximately AD 70-500. Given this time frame, it is naturally supposed that earlier references to Jesus are more likely to be historically reliable than later ones. In the case of the Talmud, the earliest period of compilation occurred between AD 70-200. The most significant reference to Jesus from this period states:


On the eve of the Passover, Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald …cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy.”


Let’s examine this passage. You may have noticed that it refers to someone named “Yeshu.” So why do we think this is Jesus? Actually, “Yeshu” (or “Yeshua”) is how Jesus’ name is pronounced in Hebrew. But what does this passage mean by saying that Jesus “was hanged”? Doesn’t the New Testament say he was crucified? Indeed it does. But the term “hanged” can function as a synonym for “crucified.” For instance, Galatians 3:13 declares that Christ was “hanged,” and Luke 23:39 applies this term to the criminals who were crucified with Jesus. So the Talmud declares that Jesus was crucified on the eve of Passover. But what of the cry of the herald that Jesus was to be stoned? This may simply indicate what the Jewish leaders were planning to do. If so, Roman involvement changed their plans!


The passage also tells us why Jesus was crucified. It claims He practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy!


Josephus, the Jewish historian, on two occasions in his Jewish Antiquities, mentions Jesus. The second, less revealing reference, describes the condemnation of one “James” by the Jewish Sanhedrin. This James, says Josephus, was “the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ.” F.F. Bruce points out how this agrees with Paul’s description of James in Galatians 1:19as “the Lord’s brother.” And Edwin Yamauchi informs us that “few scholars have questioned” that Josephus actually penned this passage.


As interesting as this brief reference is, there is an earlier one, which is truly astonishing.  Called the “Testimonium Flavianum,” the relevant portion declares:


About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he …wrought surprising feats … He was the Christ. When Pilate …condemned him to be crucified, those who had …come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared …restored to life… And the tribe of Christians …has …not disappeared.


Did Josephus really write this? Most scholars think the core of the passage originated with Josephus, but that it was later altered by a Christian editor, possibly between the third and fourth century AD. But why do they think it was altered? Josephus was not a Christian, and it is difficult to believe that anyone but a Christian would have made some of these statements.


Another version of Josephus’ “Testimonium Flavianum” survives in a tenth-century Arabic version (Bruce, Christian Origins, p. 41). In 1971, Professor Schlomo Pines published a study on this passage. The passage is interesting because it lacks most of the elements that many scholars believe to be Christian interpolations. Indeed, as Schlomo Pines and David Flusser stated, “It is quite plausible that none of the arguments against Josephus writing the original words even apply to the Arabic text, especially since the latter would have had less chance of being censored by the church” (Habermas, The Historical Jesus). The passage reads as follows:


At this time, there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders. (Quoted in James H. Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism, Garden City: Doubleday, 1988), 95; cited in Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 194)


Even if we disregard this passage, we are still left with a good deal of corroborating information about the Biblical Jesus. We read that he was a wise man who performed surprising feats. And although He was crucified under Pilate, His followers continued their discipleship and became known as Christians. When we combine these statements with Josephus’ later reference to Jesus as “the so-called Christ,” a rather detailed picture emerges which harmonizes quite well with the biblical record. It increasingly appears that the “Biblical Jesus” and the “historical Jesus” are one and the same!

Rules for Copying the Old Testament


The Massoretic rules are eight .


The Massorites (from word meaning tradition) were the guardians of the Old Testament text.


1.   The whole scroll must be carefully ruled before a word is written.

2.   The ink must be black, made from soot, charcoal, and honey.

3.   Each line is to contain 30 letters exactly.

4.   Each column is to contain an even number of lines, the same number throughout the scroll.

5.   No letter or word is to be written from memory.

6.   Each word must be studied in the original manuscript and spoken aloud before being copied.

7.   The document is to be carefully checked using word and letter counts.

8.   The entire scroll is to be checked by a supervisor.


The Massorites arose hundreds of years after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. They rose up in Tiberias where work was done in copying the Hebrew text.


This group worked out a system by which they counted each letter of each page of the Scriptures.  They could tell you what the first letter was on any given line of any given page of any given scroll.


The Massorites had a passionate concern with their special statistics. They went into a bizarre counting successively of letters, words, verses, sections, and chapters in each Scriptural writing and in all the twenty-four books of the Bible.” (Nathan Ausubel, The Book of Jewish Knowledge, page 272)


The Massorites also worked up a system of vowel pointing for the Hebrew text.  This helped to fix the pronunciation of the Hebrew words (the Hebrew language contains no written vowels).




The Copying of the Old Testament


The Talmud contains a strict set of rules for copying the Old Testament Scriptures. An examination of these rules will show that it was very difficult for errors to creep into the codex. A synagogue scroll was to be:



¨ Written on the skin of a clean animal.

¨ Prepared by a Jew.

¨ Fastened together with strings taken from clean animals.

¨ If a mistake were made in the copying, he was not allowed to erase it or cross it out, but must throw the ruined page away and start anew.


With this kind of care being taken to ensure a perfect copy, it is no wonder that the scribes considered the new copy to be just as authoritative as the original.


The codex must meet the following requirements:


¨ The length of each volume must extend not less than 48 lines and not more than 60 lines and the breadth must consist of 30 letters.

¨ The whole copy must first be lined; if three words were written without first being lined, the copy must be discarded.

¨ The ink must be black, developed according to a special recipe.

¨ The transcriber could not even deviate the least from the original.

¨ No word or letter, not even a yod, could be written from memory. The scribe must look at each word before writing.

¨ Between every consonant, the space of a hair or thread must intervene.

¨ Between every new paragraph or section, the breadth of nine consonants must intervene.

¨ Between every book, three lines must intervene.

¨ The fifth book of Moses must terminate exactly with a line.


Besides this, the copier must:


¨ Sit in full Jewish dress.

¨ Wash his whole body.

¨ Not begin to write the name of God with a pen newly dipped in ink.


The Levites created a system of making new copies of the Bible as old copies wore out and had to be destroyed. They knew it would be easy to make a mistake in copying a new transcript, so here is what they did. They developed elaborate and meticulous rules for transcribing. They decreed that when a person was making new text, he had to copy the original page with such exactness that the number of words on a page could not be changed. If the original page had 288 words, then the page being copied had to have the same 288 words. Each line on a new page had to be the exact same as the line on the old page. If the first line on the original page had nine words, the first line on the copy page had to have nine words. After a page was copied, the number of letters on that page was counted and compared with the original.


After a page was copied, someone would check to see what the middle letter was on the copy and the original. “A synagogue roll must be written on the skins of clean animals, the length of each column must not extend less than 48 or more than 80 lines; the breadth must consist of 30 letters. No word, or letter, not even a yod, must be written from memory…. Between every consonant the space of a hair or thread must intervene, between every book, three lines. Besides this, the copyist must sit in full Jewish dress, and wash his whole body” (Hebrew text of the Old Testament, Davidson). The scribes were not allowed to copy sentence for sentence or even word for word. They had to copy letter for letter. After a page was copied and checked by another, still a third person would check to see that the middle word was on the page. Then, when the whole book was finished, another would count the phrases. This process was so accurate they could pinpoint the exact middle of a book simply by letter count and would check the verse at that point as one of the methods of confirmation. If a single error was found, the entire manuscript was destroyed to ensure that it could never be used as a master copy in the future.


After the Jews returned to Palestine, the Scribes continued to take an active part in preserving and distributing the Scriptures. When the second temple was built, another master copy was put in the Holy Place. Even after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70, the Scribes continued their work. They were eventually replaced by the Massorites, who were in charge of preserving the Scriptures from approximately 500-1000 AD. These new custodians of the Scriptures have left us the Massoretic text. Has the Old Testament been accurately preserved for us today? Absolutely! Jack Finegan, a noted Bible scholar said, “It has been … estimated that there are … variations in hardly more than a 1000th part of the text.” This means the Old Testament is at least 99.9% true to the original! According to Jewish Talmuds and Targums, the Scribes whose job it was to copy and preserve Old Testament books were called Massoretic. The Hebrew Word means wall or fence. Their careful and meticulous copying of the Old Testament manuscript, which today is known as the Massoretic Text, was a fence of protection in keeping the text absolutely accurate to the original. When I say absolutely accurate, I mean just that. They did not just copy the text like we do when we copy a verse from the Bible by reading the phrase and then copying the phrase. They were absolutely meticulous. How meticulous? They had counted and knew exactly how many letters, for example, were in the book of Genesis: 78,064. They knew more than that: they knew exactly how many letters of each letter of the alphabet were in the book of Genesis. They also knew how many letters there were from the beginning of the text and from the end of the text to the middle of the text. They also knew what the middle letter in the book of Genesis was to be. After copying a book of the Bible, if after counting from the ends to the middle the count was not accurate or the letter in the middle was not correct, or there were more or less letters of any given letter of the alphabet than there should have been, that manuscript was discarded and burned because of its unreliability to the original text. As proof of this accuracy, consider the Massoretic and Yemenite translations of the Torah. Some time ago, the Yemenite Jews were separated from their brother Jews in the Middle East and Europe. Despite a thousand years of copying their manuscripts in isolation, only nine Hebrew letters in the entire Torah were found to differ from the accepted Hebrew Massoretic text. Not one of these nine changes the meaning of a word. Concerning this accuracy, Robert Dick Wilson concludes: “The proof that the copies of the original documents have been handed down with substantial correctness for more than 2,000 years cannot be denied. That the copies in existence 2000 years ago had been in like manner handed down from the original is not merely possible, but, as we have shown, is rendered probable by the analogies of documents now existing of which we have both originals and copies, thousands of years apart, and of scores of papyri which show, when compared with our modern editions of the classics, that only minor changes of the text have taken place in more than 2,000 years and especially by the scientific and demonstrable accuracy with which the proper spelling of the names of kings and of the numerous foreign terms embedded in the Hebrew text has been transmitted to us.”