The Documentary Hypothesis Evidence

Richard Elliot Friedman, in The Bible With Sources Revealed, writes:

The Bible With Sources Revealed Friedman

The process of identifying the biblical sources took centuries. The process of refining our identifications of these sources has been ongoing, and it continues to the present day. Initially, it was a tentative division based on simple factors: where the name of God appeared in the texts, similar stories appearing twice in the texts, contradictions of fact between one text and another. Accounts of this early identifying and refining may be found in many introductions to this subject and in my Who Wrote the Bible? The collection of evidence here is not a review of that history of the subject. It is a tabulation of the evidence that has emerged that establishes the hypothesis. It is grouped here in seven categories, which form the seven main arguments for the hypothesis in my judgment.


When we separate the texts that have been identified with the various sources, we find that they reflect the Hebrew language of several distinct periods. The development of Hebrew that we observe through these successive periods indicates that:

• The Hebrew of} and E comes from the earliest stage of biblical Hebrew.
• The Hebrew of P comes from a later stage of the language.
• The Hebrew of the Deuteronomistic texts comes from a still later stage of the language.
• P comes from an earlier stage of Hebrew than the Hebrew of the book of Ezekiel (which comes from the time of the Babylonian exile).
• All of these main sources come from a stage of Hebrew known as Classical Biblical Hebrew, which is earlier than the Hebrew of the post-exilic, Persian period (known as Late Biblical Hebrew).

This chronology of the language of the sources is confirmed by Hebrew texts outside the Bible. The characteristics of Classical Biblical Hebrew are confirmed through comparison with inscriptions that have been discovered through archaeology, which come from the period before the Babylonian exile (587 BCE). The characteristics of Late Biblical Hebrew are confirmed through comparison with the Hebrew of later sources such as the Dead Sea Scrolls.1 Despite the power of this evidence, it is practically never mentioned by those who oppose the hypothesis.


Certain words and phrases occur disproportionately—or even entirely—in one source but not in others. The quantity of such terms that consistently belong to a particular source is considerable. Thus: The mountain that is called Sinai in J and P (twenty times) is called Horeb or “the Mountain of God” in E and D (fourteen times). In thirty-four occurrences of these names, there is no exception to this distinction. The phrase “in that very day” (be’esem hayyom hazzeh) occurs eleven times in the Torah. Ten of the eleven are in P. (And the eleventh is in R, in a passage that R modeled on P; Deut 32:48.) The phrase “the place where YHWH sets his name” or “the place where YHWH tents his name” occurs ten times in D but never in J, E, or P.

The phrase “gathered to his people” as a euphemism for death occurs eleven times, and all eleven are in P.

The phrase “fire came out from before YHWH” occurs three times, all in P.

The phrase “and he [or they] fell on his face” occurs eight times, all in P.

The phrase “be fruitful and multiply” occurs twelve times, all in P.

The phrase “YHWH’s glory” (kebod yhwh) occurs thirteen times, and twelve are in P.

The word “plague” (ngp) occurs fifteen times; fourteen are in P.

The word “possession” (‘ahuzzah) occurs thirty-five times in the Torah, and thirty-three are in P. (The thirty-fourth is an R passage repeating a verse from P, and the thirty-fifth is uncertain.)

The word “chieftain” (nasi’) occurs sixty-nine times in the Torah. Sixty- seven are in P. (The other two are in J and E.)

The word “congregation” (‘edah) occurs more than one hundred times in the Torah, all in P, without a single exception.

The root ‘dp occurs eight times in the Torah, and they are all in P.

The word “property” (rekus) occurs in the anomalous source in Genesis 14 (four times) and once in the words of the Redactor. It occurs eight times in the four main sources, and all eight are in P, never in J, E, or D.

The word “complain” (Hebrew Iwn and telunot) occurs twenty-three times in the Torah, and twenty-two are in P.

The word “cubit” occurs fifty-nine times in the Torah, and fifty-six are in P.

The term “to expire” (gw’) occurs eleven times in P but never in ), E, or D.

The phrase “lengthen your days in the land” occurs twelve times, and eleven are in D.

The phrase “with all your heart and with all your soul” occurs nine times, and all are in D.

The phrases “to go after other gods” and “to turn to other gods” and “to worship other gods” occur thirteen times, all in D.

The phrase “listen to the voice of YHWH” (sm’ bqwl yhwh) occurs twelve times, all in D.

The term “to lie with” as a euphemism for sex (skb) occurs thirteen times in the Torah, and eleven are in J. (The other two occur in a single pas- sage in E; Gen 30:15-16.)

The term “to know” as a euphemism for sex (yd’) occurs five times in J but never in the other sources.

The term “Sheol,” identifying the place where the dead go, occurs six times in J but never in the other sources. The term “to suffer” (‘sb) occurs seven times, and all seven are in J.2


a) The Revelation of God’s Name

This line of evidence is frequently described as a matter of terminology: namely, that different sources use different names for God. But that is not correct. The point is not that sources have different names of God. The point is that the different sources have a different idea of when the name YHWH was first revealed to humans.

According to J, the name was known since the earliest generations of humans. Referring to a generation before the flood, J says explicitly, “Then it was begun to invoke the name YHWH” (Gen 4:26). The use of the name by humans may go back even earlier in J, because Eve uses it when she names Cain (Gen 4:1). But in E and P it is stated just as explicitly that YHWH does not reveal this name until the gen- eration of Moses. In Genesis YHWH instead tells Abraham that His name is El Shadday, thus:  YHWH appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am El Shadday.”  (Gen 17:1)

And then when YHWH speaks to Moses in Exodus, the text says:
And God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am YHWH. And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shadday, and I was not known to them by my name, YHWH. (Exod 6:2-3)

The sources in the text are then nearly 100 percent consistent on this matter. The E and P sources identify God as El or simply as “God” (Hebrew: Elohim) until the name is revealed to Moses. After that, they use the name YHWH as well. The J source meanwhile uses the name YHWH from the beginning. I added one more element to this picture. The J source never uses the word God (Elohim) in narration. When individual persons in the story are quoted, they may use this word; but the J narrator never uses the word, without a single exception in the Masoretic Text.

For the entire Torah, the picture is as follows: the names YHWH and El and the word God (Elohim) occur more than two thousand times, and the number of exceptions to this picture is three. Despite this phenomenal fact, we still find writers on this subject asserting that “the names of God” do not prove anything.

h) The Sacred Objects: Tabernacle, Ark, Cherubs, Urim and Tummim, Moses’ Staff and Aaron’s Staff

The Tabernacle is mentioned more than two hundred times in P. It receives more attention than any other subject. It is the only permitted site of sacri- fice. It is the place where major ceremonies and laws must be carried out. It is the place where all revelation takes place after Sinai. But it is never so much as mentioned in J or D. It is mentioned three times in E.

The ark is identified as being crucial to Israel’s travels and military suc- cess in J (Num 10:33-36; 14:44), but it is never mentioned in E.

Golden cherubs spread their wings over the ark in P. And cherubs guard the way to the garden of Eden in J. But they are not mentioned in E or D.

In P, the Urim and Tummim are kept in the High Priest’s breastplate and are used in apparent divine consultation in judgment. But they are never mentioned in J, E, or D.3

In E, miracles are performed with Moses’ staff (Exod 4:2-5,17, 20; 7:15-17,20b; 9:23; 10:13; 17:5-6,8). But in P, it is Aaron’s staff that is used for performing miracles (Exod 7:9-12,19; 8:1-2,12-13; Num 17:16-26; 20:8).4

c) Priestly Leadership

In the P source, access to the divine is limited to Aaronid priests. In all the stories in P, there are no mentions of dreams, of angels, or talking ani- mals, though these things occur in J, E, and D. As for human leaders: the words “prophet” and “prophesy” occur thirteen times in E and D, but not in P (or J). The single exceptional occurrence of the word “prophet” in P (Exod 7:1) uses the word figuratively, and it refers to the High Priest Aaron himself!

Judges, too, are never mentioned in P (as opposed to D, which says: go to the priest and the judges in matters of law). In P, only the Aaronid priests have access to the Urim and Tummim. In P, all other, non- Aaronid Levites are not priests. In P, atonement for sin is to be achieved only by means of sacrifices that are brought to the Aaronid priests. It is not achieved by mere repentance or through divine mercy. Indeed, in P the words “mercy,” “grace,” “repentance,” and “kindness” (hesed) never occur.

This is more than a point of terminology. P not only lacks the terms that express divine mercy; its stories as well convey the merciful side of God far less than the other sources’ stories do. For example, in the story of the scouts whom Moses sends into the land, in the J version God says He will destroy the people and start over with a new nation descended from Moses; but Moses intercedes, God relents, and the divine sentence is commuted to forty years in the wilderness instead. But in P there is no such entreaty and relenting; God simply declares the forty-year sentence, and that is that. In both terminology and narrative, P characterizes God as acting according to justice more than as acting according to mercy. If one wishes to be forgiven for an offense, one cannot simply be sorry; one must bring a sacrifice to the priest.

As with the absence of angels and prophets, in P the priesthood is the only sanctioned path to God. In D, on the other hand, all Levites are priests. P regularly refers to “the priests and the Levites” (that is, as two separate groups) while D just as reg- ularly refers to “the Levitical priests” (that is, as a single group).

Further conveying the idea in P that priests are the only channel to God, there are no blatant anthropomorphisms in P. In J, God walks in the garden of Eden, personally makes Adam’s and Eve’s first clothing, person- ally closes Noah’s ark and smells Noah’s sacrifice. In E, God wrestles with Jacob and stands on the crag at Meribah as Moses strikes it and water comes out. And in E and perhaps J as well, Moses actually sees the form of God at Sinai/Horeb. In P there is nothing so direct and physical as this. In P such things are metaphorical, as when the Egyptian magicians say that a plague is “the finger of God,” or they are mysterious, as when humans are said to be created “in the image of God,” which may or may not mean something physical.

d) Numbers

Ages, dates, measurements, numbers, order, and precise instructions are an obvious, major concern in P. There is nothing even nearly comparable in degree in J, E, or D.


One of the most compelling arguments for the existence of the source documents is the fact that, when the sources are separated from one another, we can read each source as a flowing, sensible text. That is, the story continues without a break. One of the primary purposes of this book is to demonstrate this fact. One can read the texts and see that, when we separate the two flood stories and read each of them (J and P, Genesis 6-9), for example, each reads as a complete, continuous story.

And we can observe this kind of continuity through at least 90 percent of the text from Genesis to Deuteronomy. Specifically, the combined JE text that was assembled by RJE reads as a flowing narrative, with only an occasional gap. When interrupted by material from P or other sources, it picks up after the interruption where it had left off.

The P text likewise is a flowing narrative, with only an occasional lacuna. Within JE, each of its source texts, J and E, flows sensibly much of the time as well, but not always. It appears that RJE was willing to make cuts in his received texts (J and E) to a far greater degree than was R in his received texts (JE, P, D, and other, smaller texts). This high degree of narrative continuity in P also weighs against supplementary versions of the hypothesis, in which some scholars propose that P was never an independent document. They argue that P was rather composed around the JE text as a supplement to it. The narrative flow of P is entirely contrary to these models.  One might object that the scholar has simply divided the text in such a way as to produce this result. But that is not possible.

So much of the text flows smoothly in this way that it is not possible that any scholar could have constructed it to do so while keeping all the evidence consistently within sources. The scholar would still have to keep all the sources’ similar versions of common stories (known as “doublets”) separated. The scholar would still have to keep all the characteristic terminology of each source within the passages attributed to that particular source. The scholar would still have to keep all the linguistic evidence for the stages of Hebrew intact, all the occurrences of the divine name consistent within sources, and all the other lines of evidence intact—all of this while producing stories that flow smoothly. I submit that no such phenomenally consistent results would be possible to construct.


When distinguished from one another, the individual sources each have specific affinities with particular portions of the Bible. D has well-known parallels of wording with the book of Jeremiah. P has such parallels with the book of Ezekiel. J and E are particularly connected with the book of Hosea. This is not simply a matter of a coincidence of subject matter in these parallel texts. It is a proper connection of language and views between particular sources and particular prophetic works.

a) Jeremiah and D

In treating the book of Jeremiah, it is customary to distinguish the poetic portions of the book from the prose. When we do so, we find that D has marked connections to both the poetry and the prose of the book of Jeremiah.6 In the poetry, there are at least forty-five occurrences of terms or phrases that are characteristic of D and/or the Deuteronomistic history. For example:  from the smallest to the biggest
• stubborn and rebellious • early rain and late rain in its time • grain, wine, oil, herd, flock • they left me • go after Baal (or: other gods) • [domen] on the face of the field • circumcise your heart • they went after emptiness and became empty

When we examine the prose of Jeremiah, we find an even more perva- sive array of parallels with the language of D and the Deuteronomistic his- tory. Thirty chapters of prose in Jeremiah have terms and phrases that are characteristic of Dtr. For example:
• with all my heart and all my soul
• brought them out from the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace
• all the array of the skies
• and it will be, if you listen to YHWH
• they left me and burnt incense to other gods
• on every high hill and under every attractive tree
• obstinacy of heart
• an alien, an orphan, or a widow
•  [God’s] name is called on this house
• cast them out from before His face
• your carcass will become food for every bird of the skies and for the animals of the earth, with no one making them afraid
• I call witness
• here, I’m bringing a bad thing
• everyone who hears it: his two ears will ring
• fire has ignited in my anger

External links

The Death of the Documentary Hypothesis? (No) David Bokovoy