Two writer disagree on The Documentary Hypothesis

1    Tracing the Bible's Authors
2    The Documentary Hypothesis

Tracing the Bible's Authors

Brian De Kretser

(Investigator 152, 2013 September)

Investigators have been for centuries, trying to find out who actually wrote the Bible.

The first five books known as the Pentateuch [Greek-meaning 5 scrolls] or Torah [Hebrew-meaning instructions] are supposed to have been written by Moses, the book of Lamentations by the prophet Jeremiah, and half the Psalms by King David.
Many scholars have proved that many writings in the Pentateuch were of things unknown in Moses' time or took place long afterwards. This includes places described and language used. For example the 36 Ebonite kings named in Genesis lived long after Moses was dead. The proof produced by investigators and their books from the 3rd century have been condemned by the early church fathers. As late as the 15th century investigators were attacked, their works placed in the Catholic index, the authors excommunicated or imprisoned.

Some stories were told twice with variations, for example:
1.    The world creation story.
2.    The naming of Abraham's son Isaac.
3.    Abraham's claim to a foreign king that his wife Sarah was his sister.
4.    Isaac's son Jacob going to Mesopotamia.
5.    The revelation to Jacob at Beth-El.
6.    God's changing of Jacob's name to Israel.
7.    Moses getting water out of a rock.

There is evidence that the five books of Moses were composed by combining four sources into one continuous story of the Israelite religion:

•    The documents associated with the divine name Yahweh/Jehovah is called J [Yahwist]
•    The documents associated with the deity as God/Elohim is called E [Elohist]
•    The documents associated with legal matters and priests is the largest and is called P [Priestly]
•    The documents in Deuteronomy is called D [Deuteronomist]

The documents combining most of the earlier stories about 200 years later is called R [The Redactor.]

J and E were the oldest versions of the Biblical stories. D came next and showed developments in a later period. P was the Priestly version of the story and the latest of all. P referred to many matters that were unknown in the earlier portions such as the Book of the Prophets. The last P document reflected the latest stage of the Israelite religion base on priestly sacrifices, ritual and law.
Julius Wellhausen [1844-1918] says that J and E reflected the way of life of the nature/fertility stage Israel's religion, the stories and laws of D in Deuteronomy reflected the spiritual/ethical stage, and P reflected the priestly/legal stage.

This model of the combination of the source documents is called the Documentary Hypothesis and became known in English speaking countries through the work of William Robertson Smith, professor of the Old Testament and editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. He was put on trial before the church, charged with heresy, and expelled from his chair. New methods of linguistic analysis have now made it possible to establish relative chronology of the Bible and to describe characteristics of the Biblical Hebrew in various periods.

The God Yahweh would chat to selected persons and give instructions. In Exodus God speaks the 10 commandments out loud to the Israelites from Heaven. Then Moses climbed into the mountains alone to receive the 10 commandments carved in stone.
When Moses came down and found that the people had made a golden calf, worshiping it, he dashed the tablets with the 10 commandments to pieces.
Later a Tabernacle was located [during the time of Samuel a judge and prophet] and, according to the Bible, housed the ark containing the tablets which Moses had smashed (was Super Glue available in Samuel's time?)
A bit later Samuel appointed Israel's first king, King Saul. Israel developed a political structure in which the king was kept in check by tribal leaders, chief priests and prophets.
King Saul and David, who married Saul's daughter, became rivals. David was supported by the priests of Shiloh whom Saul had massacred except for Abiathar who escaped.
Saul reigned until his death in battle against the Philistines. The kingdom was split between Saul's son Ishball who ruled northern Israel, and David who ruled Judah in the south, but both kingdoms worshiped the same God, Yahweh. Ishball was assassinated and David became king over the whole country.
David stands out as a major figure in the Hebrew Bible. He was successful militarily and rule from Egypt's border to Mesopotamia with Jerusalem his religious and political centre.
The Davidic dynasty was the longest lasting of that era — hence the messiah tradition in Judaism and Christianity, the belief in a future ruler descended from David.

David appointed two chief priests in Jerusalem, one from the north Abiathar (who escaped Saul's massacre) and from the south, Zadoc. David had many wives from regions of political importance to strengthen his empire.

David's oldest son and heir, Amnon, raped his half-sister Tamar. Tamar's full brother Absalom killed Amnon in revenge and later rebelled against David. But David's army was the stronger and Absalom was killed.

David's sons in line for succession were Adonijah and Solomon. After David's death Solomon executed Adonijah and his general Joab, and expelled the high priest Abiathar from Jerusalem.

Soloman was famous for his wisdom and maintained the empire through skill rather than war. The Bible states he had 700 wives (the daughters of other kings) and 300 concubines [a sex maniac no doubt]. He amassed enormous wealth, great quantities of gold and silver. The holy of holies, an inner sanctum of the temple had a magnificent throne platform for Yahweh invisibly enthroned there. Under it was the most sacred object, the ark, the golden box containing the tablets of the 10 commandments.

The fairy tale continues full of death, destruction, murder, lies and sadistic kings — more like a horror story than the word of God:
Although the Bible pictures Solomon as a great king his domestic and foreign policies alienated the north. Under his son King Rehoboam the northern tribes broke away, were called "Israel" and were ruled by Rehoboam, while King Jeroboam ruled Judah in the south. The two nations had a common language, traditions and religion.

    J, E, P and D

The two writers known as J (who came from Judah) and E (who came from Israel) lived at this time. E's stories referred to the creator as God; J referred to the creator as Yahweh.
A third source was found hidden within E and contains stories about priests, religious laws and rituals and became known as P (priestly source). The fourth source who wrote Deuteronomy was called D.
The Noah flood story combines two stories, one by P and one by J.
P gives measurements of the ark made of gopher wood, pitch applied inside and outside, in cubits [an ancient unit of linear measure, the length of a forearm]:
Length = 300 cubits (500-550 feet). Width = 50 cubits (80-90 feet). Height = 30 cubits (45-55 feet). The ark had a window, 20-22 inches square, and an entrance in its side.
The ark would house approximately 100,000 insects, 40,000 to 50,000 mammals, 2000 to 3000 reptiles, and Dinosaurs such as Supersaurus (130 feet long) and Diplodocus (90 feet tall) — about 25 to 35 of these extra large species.
According to P, Noah took two of each kind of all birds, beasts and creeping things into the ark plus his own family, his three sons and their wives.
The waters were on the earth 150 days. Then Noah sent out a raven to check if the flood was over. Noah was 600 years old at the time of the flood. In the story by J, Noah had to take 7 of each, bird, beast and crawling things. The flood lasted 40 days. Noah sent out a dove to check if the flood was over. J was not interested in the measurements of the ark. And so on with the fairy tales.     .
There were 5 identified groups of writers of the Bible:  
  1. E-Elohists — Names unknown to this date. Were male Israelite Shiloh priests, claimed descendents of Moses. These writers calls their god God/Elohim. E was one of the oldest, written between 922 and 722 b.c.
  2. J-Yahwists — Names unknown to this date. They were from Judah. The writers called their god- Yahweh. They claimed descent from David's line. Was written between 848 and 722 b.c.
  3. D-Deuteronomists — Writers identified as Baruch son of Neriyah, a scribe, with tbe help of Jeremiah a Shiloh priest. They are credited with writing 8 books of the Bible — Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel 1 & 2, Kings 1 & 2, Jeremiah.
  4. P-Priestly — Names unknown, writers were of the Aaronid priests claiming descent from Aaron, written well before 587b.c. by writers who knew both the E and J texts.
  5. R-Redactor - Identified as Ezra an Aaronid priest who combined stories from J and E. He may have had helpers.
E was written approximately 100 years before P, and P was written about 200 years before R.
In the New Testament St. Paul played a great part. His [partially pseudonymous] authorship accounts for over half the books of the New Testament.

The four gospels were written by unknown authors between 170 and 180 a.d. The authors contradicting themselves in numerous places. The New and Old Testament at present estimate approximately 150,000 variant readings. So much for the "Infallible word of God" What a joke.

It is full of recycled myths from other older religions.

The four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John — not the real names of the authors, were chosen by the Bishop of Lyons Irenaeus [120-200 a.d.] from dozens of other gospels of that time. They were written:  Luke 170a.d.;    Mark 175a.d.;     John 178a.d.;    Matthew 180a.d. All others were destroyed by the church as they were in contradiction of the false dogma formulated by the dishonest early church fathers.

In summary: The Bible had 66 books, written by 42 independent authors, representing 22 occupations living in 7 different countries, during an elapsed time-span of approximately 750 to 800 years. The mythology used a cast of approximately 3000 characters in almost as many events that occurred in approximately 1500 to 6000 locations.


The Crucifiction of truth Tony Bushby
Deceptions and myths of the Bible Lloyd M. Graham
The great lie Michael Kalopoulos
 Suns of God Acharya S.
The Jesus puzzle Earl Doherty
The non-existence of God Nicholas Everitt.
God the failed hypothesis Victor Stenger.



(Investigator 153, 2013 November)


De Kretser in Investigator 152 made multiple dubious claims.

I'll answer the easy ones first, and the Documentary Hypothesis afterwards.


1 Did 36 Edomite kings named in Genesis live long after Moses wrote Genesis?

Response: Genesis 36:15-30 lists Edomite clan-leaders, and 36:31-39 lists eight "kings". The Bible identifies them as offspring of Esau's sons, and Esau lived about 300 years before Moses wrote Genesis. Esau already led 400 men in his lifetime (Genesis 32:6) and these could in 300 years have generated a sizeable population along with clan leaders and kings.

The kings of Israel, however, came after Moses wrote Genesis. What then do we make of the phrase "kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any kings reigned over the Israelites"? (36:31) The previous chapter foretold that Jacob's descendants (i.e. the Israelites) would include kings. (35:11) Therefore although 36:31 seems anachronistic, it was instead a restatement of the earlier prediction.

2 Some Bible stories are told twice with variations.

Response: Telling a story twice would not make it false. De Kretser, however, seems to refer to different stories with similar details such as the two occasions when Abraham passed his wife off as his sister. That, however, is just something Abraham did twice. Every person's life contains repetition. I've visited Israel twice. I've also been to Darwin and thereby copied my father who, years earlier, also went to Darwin. Note also that the so-called "second creation story" (Genesis 2) is not a second creation story but is the story of the Garden in Eden and its inhabitants. Regarding this, see the "Genesis and Human Origins" debate in #109 - #114 particularly #110.

3 Were the two stone tablets with inscribed Ten Commandments, which Moses smashed, repaired with "Super Glue"?

Response: The smashed tablets were replaced with two new stone tablets. (Exodus 34:1)

4 Was Solomon a "sex maniac"?

Response: Solomon's 700 wives and 300 concubines were probably accumulated for political alliances and prestige. There's no record of Solomon having thousands of children — his sex-life appears limited.

5 Does "death and destruction" in the Bible make it "more like a horror story than the word of God?"

Response: The Bible reports evil to encourage people to avoid it, but also teaches which standards are right and good. The Bible initiated a 4000-year program to "bless all the nations of the earth" (Genesis 18:18) and make the world a better place. Through the Bible's influence we have modern science and medicine, pensions, prosperity, fairer laws, justice based on witnesses, and the values of freedom, equality, and mercy. Evils previously common but against the Bible and now illegal include sacrificing people on altars, mutilating children for careers as beggars, burning widows to death, buggering prisoners of war and castrating them, making teenage girls prostitutes in temples, infanticide, forcing people to fight and kill in amphitheatres, determining guilt of accused people by torture. (See #152) The real horror is when people reject the Bible!

6 Did Noah's Ark house dinosaurs and 100,000 insects?

Response: No — only animals and birds from the area where Noah lived, scores of species, not thousands. See the Noah's Ark debate in #134, #135, #138, #139, #145.

7 Were the four gospels written by unknown authors between 170 and 180 AD?

Response: See my article "The New Testament Canon" (#127) which summarizes standard history showing that Clement, Papias and Polycarp were quoting New Testament books around 100 AD, and Tatian, Marcion and Irenaeus did so about 50 years later. Tatian's "Diatessaron" (160 AD) combined the four Gospels into one book. A John Rylands papyrus (P52) with words from Johns Gospel is dated 120-150 AD. The Gospels were completed in the 1st century exactly as the Bible teaches!

8 Do 150,000 variant readings of the New Testament (NT) make it a "joke".

Response: No. Variant readings prove that 1st-centrury originals existed and enable "textual critics" to establish the original wording. Most variations are spelling variations. See the "Transmission of Scripture" debate in #96 to #102.

9 Did Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, create the NT and destroy rival "gospels"?

Response: No. How the NT Canon was established and how to check that the correct books were included is explained in #127. Irenaeus lacked the power and communications to destroy rival gospels. The Roman State tried to eradicate Christianity and its Scriptures in the "Great Persecution" of 303 AD when Scriptures were burned and Christians imprisoned or killed. If the State failed to eradicate the Scriptures how could one man do it?

10 Is the Bible including the NT a "fairy tale"?

Response: No. Year after year more and more is getting confirmed with geographical locations being identified, people proved historical, alleged contradictions cleared up, miracles explained, prophecies shown to be true, and ethics and morals revealed to be beneficial.


De Kretser writes: "There is evidence that the five books of Moses were composed by combining four sources…J [Yahwist], E [Elohist], P [Priestly], D [Deuteronomist]."

It is true that by 1900 AD Bible-criticizing theologians accepted the "Documentary Hypothesis" which teaches that the five books or "Pentateuch" were not authored by Moses but were created about 450 BC by combining four independent sources — J (c.900 BC), E (c.800 BC), D, (c.600 BC), and  P (c.500 BC).

German theologian Karl H Graf (1815-1869) argued that the Pentateuch was written after the Jewish Exile in Babylon. Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) accepted this dating and added that the Pentateuch began with oral traditions that evolved over time. Around 500 BC a "redactor" whom Wellhausen labels "R" composed the Pentateuch by combining four earlier texts.

Preliminary versions of this "hypothesis" had floated around since 1651 when political philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote Leviathan wherein he mentioned the idea of multiple authors. Over the next 200 years various theologians elaborated.

Wellhausen published The Composition of the Hexateuch and the historical books of the Old Testament (1877) in which he set out the four-source hypothesis. In 1886 Wellhausen published Prolegomena to the History of Israel in which he assumed a secular, non-supernatural standpoint to trace the origin and development of Israel's religion. He didn't contribute much that was new, but sifted and combined the previous century's scholarship into a coherent "hypothesis".

About 100 other hypotheses of the Pentateuch's origin existed but the Graf-Wellhausen version soon dominated. However, it had critics from the start. One critic, Wilhelm Möller, wrote in 1903:
"I myself was immovably convinced of the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis, so long as I allowed it alone to have an effect on me. But after my attention was once directed to its weaknesses (first by Köhler in Erlangen), after I had studied with some thoroughness the scientific literature on the other side, this hypothesis seemed to me more and more monstrous. By discussions on the subject in the Theological Societies at Erlangen and Halle, in the Tholuck Institute at Halle, and in the Theological Seminary at Wittenberg…my own view was confirmed and elucidated…"

Most academic 20th century theologians accepted Graf-Wellhausen as a framework but made numerous specific changes.

A minority such as Umberto Cassuto (1883-1951), professor of Hebrew and literature in the University of Florence, challenged the consensus. Wikipedia says:
The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch (Hebrew, Torat HaTeudot, 1941; English translation, 1961) was one of the first mainstream works to offer a detailed critique of Wellhausen… Cassuto proposed the Pentateuch was written down as a single, entirely coherent and unified text in the 10th century BC and not thereafter altered in any meaningful way.
In the 1970s Wellhausen's edifice began to crack. In 1974 Rolf Rendtorff (b.1925), Emeritus Professor of Old Testament in Heidelberg (Germany), addressed the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament (Edinburgh), and questioned the century-long scholarly support of Wellhausen.

There followed scholarly works critical in part of Wellhausen:
In the 1980s three basic models for the Pentateuch's composition were being considered:

1.    The "documentary hypothesis" viewed the Pentateuch as originally consisting of separate but complete books.
2.    The "fragmentary" hypothesis assumed many fragmentary works and editions.
3.    The "supplementary" hypothesis saw a single original book edited with later additions and deletions.

Variations upon these models proliferated until Wellhausen's model no longer dominated the debate. Some scholars abandoned one or several of J, E, P or D, or argued that whole ancient communities edited rather than one or several "redactors". Others argued for different dates and even for a single author!

Wikipedia says: "The verities enshrined in older introductions have disappeared, and in their place scholars are confronted by competing theories which are discouragingly numerous, exceedingly complex…"


Many if not most books are "spliced together" from multiple sources.

A historian writing a history of the Vietnam War might, for example, consult 1000 references and interview 100 eye-witness participants and "splice" summaries of everything together. Tatian a 2nd-century Syrian bishop spliced and recombined the four Gospels between 150 and 160AD to write the Diatessaron, a single biography of Jesus.

Wellhausen's hypothetical "redactor", however, did something much more difficult. He supposedly spliced and recombined centuries-old sacred documents, and got whole communities of believers to reject their own sacred originals so thoroughly that no copies remain and adopt his new version. After that everyone forgot the "redactor" although he had revised their religion. That's like Christianity discarding the Gospels to accept Tatian's Diatessaron and forgetting Mathew, Mark, Luke, John, and Tatian!

Rabbi Yosef Reinman (Biblical Archaeology Review (May/June 2008) reasoned:
"How is it possible that these mythical redactors who allegedly managed to pull off one of the most colossal hoaxes in the history of the world were not careful enough to avoid the red flags that drew the attention of the critics? If the first creation story is followed by a second creation story that contradicts the first, why didn't the redactor fix it? …After all, these people were brilliant. They supposedly put together a masterpiece…"
Eta Linemann (1926-2009) was a German theologian and university professor. In 1988 she renounced the "historical critical method" and requested that her previous work be destroyed. Subsequently she authored:
•    Biblical Criticism Tested (1998)
•    Science or Opinion? (1999)
•    Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology? (2001)
•    The Bible or biblical Criticism? (2007)
Many critiques of Wellhausen can be found by searching on "graf documentary hypothesis" in Google.

One webpage says:
"…a 1980 computer-based study at Hebrew University in Israel concluded that a single author most likely wrote the Pentateuch. However, others have rejected this study for a number of reasons, including the fact that a single later editor can rewrite a text in a uniform voice."
Of course if the text has a "uniform voice" then the evidence for a "redactor" based on different "voices" is gone!

Acceptance of Wellhausen is still popular in university theology, not because the hypothesis is proved but because of disagreement on alternatives.

To assess the Bible's reliableness don't trust dubious hypotheses or conspiracy theorists, instead consider the hundreds of biblical points already scientifically confirmed! 


Möller, W. 1903 Are The Critics Right? Historical & Critical Considerations Against The Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis, Second Edition, Religious Tract Society, p. xvi

Smith, C. A Critical Assessment of the Graf-Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis (2002)

Bible defenders versus skeptics and atheists on this website: