2 Critiques of the JEDP Theory/Documentary Hypothesis
By Luke Lancaster
I explained the Documentary Hypothesis or JEDP Theory here, but I wanted to offer some critiques of it.
1. Based on the evidence from various ancient Near Eastern scholars, the central contention of JEDP theorists is anti-historical. For the JEDP theory claims that the Jewish priesthood was invented in the 6th or 5th centuries BC through the P source. Yet priests, sacrifices, and Temples were immensely common in the ancient Near Eastern religions of the 2nd millennium (2000-1000 BC). With such a glaring issue, one needs to reflect on whether the entire JEDP theory should be scratched. Consider a few of the findings from the 2nd millennium BC.
The Madain Project found an Arad sanctuary/Temple from the 10th century BC with an altar and holy of holies. That sanctuary mimics the dimensions of Solomon’s Temple as well, which claims to have been constructed in the 10th century BC. Yet JEDP scholars are convinced that Solomon’s Temple came about with the D source in the 7th century BC. This ignores the evidence. Such a late dating for the D (Deuteronomy) source would also ignore the similarities between it and the Hittite covenant treaties from 1500-1200 BC. Dr. Richard Hess demonstrated this in his book, “The Old Testament: A Historical, Theological, and Critical Introduction” (pgs. 135-138). If other Near Eastern documents from the 2nd millennium mimic the D source, then why assume that it was concocted really late in the 7th century? That is a problem.
2. The JEDP theory does not consider the literary unity of the Pentateuch. If there is literary unity, then that should make one question whether there needs to be four (or more) separations into different sources. Dr. Robert Alter, Emeritus Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at Berkeley, said in his book “The Art of Biblical Narrative” that there are strong literary connections within the Pentateuch. One such example that he gives of this is the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38, which JEDP theorists say was added in at a later date by a separate source, for it was unrelated to the main story. Alter rebuts such a suggestion by pointing out that Gen. 38 shares some fascinating contextual connections to the stories before and after it. To follow along Alter’s arguments, stop reading this section and first read Genesis 37-44.
The first argument Alter offers is Judah’s “recognition” of his cloak from Tamar (Gen. 38:25-26). That word is the same Hebrew word used for Jacob’s “recognition” of Joseph’s tunic in the previous chapter (Gen. 37:33). Judah had deceived his father Jacob, and Judah then received the consequence of being deceived by Tamar. Another example Alter provides is the reference to a goat. Just as Jacob was deceived with the blood of a goat (Gen. 37:31), so also Judah was deceived with a goat (Gen. 38:17). This parallel is strengthened by the fact that the ancient Jewish rabbis of the Mishnah also recognized this connection between Gen. 37 and 38. Alter’s commentary shows that, just as Judah deceived Jacob with goat, so also Judah is deceived with a goat, connecting the two stories together. Genesis is teaching that the deceiver (Judah) was deceived!
Not only that, but Gen. 38 also connects to Gen. 43-44. Judah experienced a sort of conversion in Gen. 38 after being deceived by Tamar, and this set up the stage for him to offer his life for his brother Benjamin’s in Gen. 43-44. Judah would not have done the good deed of offering his life for Benjamin’s had Judah not had his bad deed with Jacob thrown back at him with Tamar. This connects the two stories together, and further leads to Joseph revealing his identity. Joseph would not have revealed his identity to his brothers had Judah not offered his life for Benjamin’s. Gen. 38 relates significantly to the context.
There are other examples of how Judah relates to the larger context of the Genesis narrative about Joseph, for both of them left their families, married gentile women, had two sons that fought over primogeniture, etc. Just as Joseph was sexually continent towards Potiphar’s wife (Gen. 39), so Judah was sexually incontinent with Tamar (Gen. 38). These connections have been completely ignored by JEDP theorists and have led them to say that Gen. 38 was not original to the text.
The reason that scholars separated Gen. 38 into another source was because they approached the text with a dissecting knife in their hands, rather than looking for the literary connections like Alter. Yet JEDP theorists may simply dismiss Alter, saying that the unity within the Pentateuch is because of a redactor that combined their four sources (JEDP) together in a masterful way. This response is begging the question, and not only that, but it ignores the unique vocabulary within the texts.
Jewish scholar Umberto Cassuto points out the unique vocabulary organization within the books of Genesis and Exodus, suggesting that both documents were independent and coherent. This can be seen in his “Commentary on the Book of Genesis” and “Commentary on the Book of Exodus.” He says that there are unique phrases that are spread throughout the texts and are arranged in a total 7, 10, or 12 occurrences. This suggests a single author that organized his written work (ex. Genesis) with certain vocabulary. For example, the phrase “over the face of all the earth” occurs 7 times throughout the book of Genesis and only the book of Genesis. Or the phrase “in all the land of Egypt” is spread 12 times over the book of Exodus. If the JEDP theory were correct, then shouldn’t there be a piecemeal number of phrases? The Jews were very big on numbers as any bible scholar will say, and this should be taken into consideration.
Finally, many JEDP theorists argue for their theory by pointing to the doublets of stories in the Pentateuch. A single author certainly would not repeat a story in his writing, right? However, this might be explained by the literary unity of the text as well. The Pentateuch is united by chiastic structures, like two mirror triangles flipped and connected, which may explain the doublets of stories. A chiasm is a technique used to organize and arrange one’s literature. For example, if I said, “Marcus is an excellent apologist; great apologists need to look to Marcus.” This sentence has a AB A’B’ structure to it. Marcus is mentioned in the beginning and the end like bookends, and “apologist” is referenced twice in the middle. Scholars Kikawada and Quinn explain how the Pentateuch uses chiasms in their book, “Before Abraham Was: The Unity of Genesis 1-11.” JEDP theorists say that there are two sources that wrote out the doublet, yet they do not seem to recognize that the doublet was likely intentional by the author!