Four Source Theory


The Documentary Hypothesis or Four Source Theory

Starting point of the hypothesis:

  1. Variations in the name used to designate the Israel’s God (some passages “Elohim” and others “Yahweh”).
  2. Diverse names for the sacred mountain (‘Sinai’ and ‘Horeb’).
  3. Different names for Moses’ father (‘Ruel’ and ‘Jethro’).

These clues led the scholars to separate four separate stands or sources or layers which seems to have been woven together into composition which we know as Pentateuch. The four sources can be reduced to a combination of two dualities: –

  1. The duality involving the kind of material represented in the sources; and
  2. The duality involving the milieu or geographical origin.

The two kinds of material involved in the story are narrative and legislative and the two geographical origins of the materials South and North. Thus, we have the narrative source that took shape among the various group living in the southern kingdom (Judah) and narrative sources took shape among the various group living in the northern kingdom (Israel) of Palestine (in 922 BCE after the death of Solomon, the united kingdom of Israel was divided into southern and northern kingdoms. Northern kingdom retained the name ‘Israel’ and the southern kingdom assumed the name ‘Judah’).

Narrative Source

Narratives Source in the South: In the southern kingdom the narrative regarding the origin of Israel is know as ‘Yahwhist’ designated by ‘J’ because here the people addressed God as Yahweh.

Narratives Source in the North: The narrative regarding the origin of Israel in the northern kingdom is known as ‘Elohistic’ designated by ‘E’ because here God was addressed as ‘Elohim’.

Legislative Source

The second kind of material answers a consequent question how should we live? The kind of material is thus concerned primarily with legislation. This is the collection of social-economical organizational and religious laws and customs.

Legislative Source in South: The legislative material coming from south is known as ‘Priestly’ designated by ‘P’. This source reflects in large, part of the language, outlook and ritual concern of the Levitical priesthood, whose locus was in the South and specially in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Legislative Source in the North: The people in the North developed their own set of customs, legal traditions and laws parallel to the Southern known as ‘Deuternomic’ (Since much of the material is gathered into the fifth book of the Pentateuch, the Book of Deuteronomy) designated by ‘D’.

Summary of the Documentary Hypothesis

                                                Narrative                       Legislative


This Four Source Theory is known as JEDP tradition.

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