Models for the Composition of the Pentateuch


I.                   At the beginning of my career in the 1960s

·        J—10th century; Solomonic; an interpretation of the responsibilities of a people living under an empire.

·        E—9th century; northern kingdom; somewhat fragmentary; traces of the beginnings of the prophetic movement.

·        These “epic sources” were possibly alternate developments of an old oral epic tradition. They were combined into JE following the fall of the northern kingdom.

·        D, or at least Ur Deuteronomium, connected with the reform of Josiah in the 7th century

·        P—exilic or post exilic.  Debate about whether P was a separate source that was combined with JE to form the Tetrateuch or whether P was the final redaction of the Pentateuch

·        Deuteronomistic history was a telling of Israel’s history in Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, based on the theology of Deuteronomy and beginning with a four chapter sermon now comprising Deuteronomy 1-4.  The majority in North America dated this to late pre exilic times, with a second edition about 550 BCE.

·        The Pentateuch was created by adding Deuteronomy to the Tetrateuch and moving the death of Moses to the end of Deuteronomy from the end of Numbers.  The remnant of the Deuteronomistic History became the Former Prophets.


II.                Challenges to this consensus.


·        Reactions to the mechanical assignment of verses (or half verses) to sources.  Recognition that the source hypothesis carries little conviction after Exodus 3, when Yahweh begins to appear in all of the sources.  More emphasis on the flexible development of tradition.

·        Questioning of the date of J and of the existence of E (Van Seters and Schmid dated J to the exile; the existence of E was challenged by Volz and Rudolph already in the 1930s).  Challenge to the notion of a Davidic-Solomonic empire.  Is a comprehensive history such as J conceivable in the 10th century?  What would the eighth century prophets have known of the traditions in Genesis?  The Copenhagen school pushes the composition of the Pentateuch down into the Hellenistic period

·        More interest in the world of the text than the world behind the text as the proper sphere for exegesis.




III.             Current North American positions


·        The position outlined in I above more or less maintained by some.  The most radical form of this position is by Richard Friedman who has identified specific people as J, E, D (Jeremiah and Baruch), the Deuteronomistic History (two editions written by the same person), and P (written during reign of Hezekiah).  The sources were woven together by R, identified by Friedman as Ezra.  The recent introduction of Collins, while cognizant of the current problems with the documentary hypothesis, maintains the standard JEDP position.

·        While there are debates about dating and other issues, there is still more or less unity on the identity and message of D and P.  Most date P to exilic or post-exilic times (but see Friedman and many Israelis), but there is sharp disagreement on whether P is a source or a redaction.  Great uncertainty about J and E.  Van Seters has dated J to the exile.

·        Various kinds of the final form hypothesis (synchronic readings) that presume that the reconstruction of earlier stages is either impossible, unnecessary, or theologically suspect.  Canonical criticism, rhetorical and narratological criticism, feminism, etc.  Childs, Alter, Fretheim, Brueggemann, Trible, many others

·        Except for David Carr and a few others, ignorance of and/or repudiation of current developments in Europe.


IV.              Current European Models[1]


  1. Rendtorff-Blum


    • Rendtorff:  The Pentateuch is the creation of a Deuteronomistic Redactor who combined originally independent tradition complexes into a history of Israel from the patriarchs to the settlement.  The individual books or book parts have their own separate history before they were incorporated into Pentateuch, and much of this history is unrecoverable.  The “sources” do not form a bridge between Genesis and Exodus.
    • Blum:  The Jacob narrative comprised the Bethel story in Gen 28:10-19 and the Jacob-Esau-Laban narrative in 25:19ff, Gen 27-33.    Historical background of Jacob narrative was the formation of the northern state under Jeroboam I. 
    • This narrative was expanded into the Jacob history by additions which linked it to the Joseph narrative in 37-50.  8th century.  After 721, this was given a Judean orientation by incorporating Genesis 38 and 49.
    • The Jacob history was expanded into the patriarchal history. There was an original Abraham-Lot narrative in Genesis 13, 18-19.  This Abraham-Lot narrative was combined with the Jacob history sometime between 721 and 586.    In the exilic period this was expanded by independent stories about Abraham and by the Isaac narrative.  A Deuteronomistic editor subsequently added chs. 15 and 24.
    • The D composition (K-D) arose in the generation immediately after the exile.   This composition inherited Genesis 12-50 and a life of Moses from his birth to his death (latter was composed in the pre exilic period, shortly after fall of north in 722).   K-D was composed after the Deuteronomistic History but not as a prologue to it.  Before K-D there was no literary connection between the patriarchal history and the exodus-wilderness narrative.
    • A priestly writer revised K-D into the work known as K-P, with no great chronological distance between these two compositions.  More a composition than a redaction.   P never was an independent source.  Developed the Sinai accounts into a comprehensive description of the foundation of cultic worship.  The building of the temple came not at the initiative of the king, but but of Yahweh and Moses and their responsibility for the tabernacle.  This priestly composition added creation and primeval history.


  1. Muenster model (Zenger) (For a graphic depiction of this model, click here)


    • Between 900 and 700:  Complex development of Abraham cycle, Jacob cycle, Joseph story, Exodus story, conquest cycle, and the Book of the Covenant (Exod 20:22-23:33).  All these are non priestly texts.
    • The first five of these were incorporated into the Jerusalem Historical Work, comprising large parts of Genesis 12—Joshua 24 in the seventh century in reaction to the fall of the northern kingdom, the saving of Jerusalem from the Assyrian threat in 701, and the growing Judean independence from Assyria.
    • In the next stage there developed the primeval history (Gen 2:4b-8:22), [2]  Ur Deuteronomium (based on the Book of the Covenant)[3] and parts of Joshua (Deuteronomy 1-Joshua 22), and the Deuteronomistic redactions of Judges and Samuel-Kings.
    • Sometime after 586 these four sources were blended with the Jerusalem Historical Work into the Exilic Historical Work extending from Gen 2:4b-2 Kings 25.  History evaluated under perspective of obedience or disobedience to divine law. 
    • After 520 the priestly work was composed as an independent document
    • After 450 it was joined to the Exilic Historical Work and became the Great Post-exilic Historical Work extending from Genesis 1-2 Kings 25
    • About 400 this was divided into the Pentateuch and the Former Prophets.
    • In Maccabean times the chronological scheme was modified so that the rededication of the temple in 164 BCE took place in the year 4000 after creation. 

[1] Many Europeans follow the thesis of Frei that the Pentateuch was accepted by the Persians as the law of the realm for dealing with Israelite issues.   This would account for Ezra being sent by Artaxerxes to govern Yehud according to the law that was in his hand.

[2] The primeval history can be read as a unit by itself without reference to the patriarchs or the Exodus.  Humans are farmers in these chapters whereas they are half nomads in the patriarchal accounts.  Gen 12:1-4a is a bridge text composed as part of the exilic historical work.

[3] Exod 20:22-23:33.  The oldest parts of this law code go back to pre state times.