Most Bible scholars will tell you that Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament known as the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. However, not everyone believes Moses penned all five.
The JEDP Theory supposes four authors (or groups of authors) wrote the five books, each with a different literary flair. Stemming from something known as the Documentary Hypothesis, a number of Jewish and liberal Christian scholars placed the authorship and dates of the Pentateuch far outside what we have attributed to them.
In this article we’ll dive into the JEDP Theory, whether it has a biblical basis, and why this matters today.
What Does JEDP Stand For?
Although those who supported the Documentary Hypothesis differed on authorship, they seemed to settle on four anonymous authors, or four groups of authors, who wrote the first five books of the Bible. They gave each author a different letter, forming JEDP.
J (Jawist/Yahwist)— This writer uses “Jehovah” whenever he or she describes God. Supposedly, according to this theory, the author wrote their portions of the Pentateuch in 900 BC, around the time of Solomon and the divided kingdom of Israel.
E (Elohist)— As you can guess from the name, the author uses the word “Elohim” as the name for God. JEDP theory suggests this author wrote the E portion during 700 BC, during the time of Isaiah.
D (Deuteronomist)— This author supposedly wrote the book of Deuteronomy, written during Josiah’s time, according to the JEDP.
P (Priestly)— This author penned the portions of Leviticus, penned during the captivity in Babylon.
What’s the Biblical Basis for This Theory?
The JEDP doesn’t really have a biblical basis. It stemmed from attacks on Moses’ authorship. Some of the reasons for which comes from Moses referring to himself in the third person and calling himself the most humble man in the land (Numbers 12:3). In essence, liberal scholars attempted to split hairs.
However, scholars refuted these claims over the years. JEDP keeps having to adjust with newer findings and doesn’t have a solid consensus across the board in terms of who wrote what section and when they did.
Furthermore, Scripture itself attests to Mosaic authority in the Old Testament writings. You can find a chart of instances in the Old and New Testament that back up Moses’ authorship, but I’ll highlight a few below:
- Paul (1 Corinthians 9:9)
- Nehemiah 13:1
- Joshua (Joshua 23:6), important because he was Moses’ helper, so he knew who wrote the book. His own teacher.
- Most importantly: Jesus (Matthew 8:4). Jesus proved his divine authority. Anything he says is truth.
Why Does This Matter?
Why should we care about a theory that attempts to debunk the authorship of Moses?
Scholars throughout history will try to split hairs on biblical texts to prove the falsity of the entire thing. They’ll point to passages with names that haven’t been found in archeological records and say, “Look, we haven’t found any evidence this person existed. Therefore, the whole Bible is false.”
Even though Scripture has the strongest archeological evidence out of any other ancient book, people will still attempt to comb through verses to find any possible way for reason to doubt it.
Why? Because Scripture contains harsh truths. And if they can prove Scripture isn’t true, they can prove those harsh truths don’t apply to their lives.
It matters because people will try to uproot Scripture in any way possible. No matter what attacks you see on the Bible, know truth emerges eventually.
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Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 500 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, Blaze, (Illuminate YA) released in June, and they contracted the sequel Den for July 2020. Find out more about her here.