JEDP’s Death Throes: Part III Divergent Views

OT and History

Cassuto and JEDP’s Death Throes: Part III, Divergent Views

If it is true that the Pentateuch is the result of merging documents and epics into a single literary work, then it would make sense to expect different views of the deity emerge.  This would be the result of geography, naturally, because one epic, J, might be a tradition written by or orally recited by those located in the south.  The southern community might have a different take on how the deity operates with humans than the northerners and their epic, E.  A second factor to consider is how authors might emphasize one aspect of the deity over another.  One example would be that of prophets vs. priests.  Prophets, in their writings and ministry, tend to emphasize the remoteness of the deity who is separate from and different than the sinners.  Priests, however, may emphasize the importance and necessity of the priesthood for proper worship.  Mystics, however, may be so caught up in the God-is-near moment that God speaks directly to them without temple worship or prophetic help.

These are just examples, and are not totally indicative of how those who subscribe to JEDP would describe their position.  But, I hope it helps to see just exactly what we are talking about.  This pillar describes a certain viewpoint that characterizes the so-called JE, and P sources.

J:  the deity is characterized as  personal and corporeal.
E:  the deity is characterized as more distant.  Instead of appearing physically, the deity appears only in dreams and visions.
P: the deity is characterized as more separate.  Communication is done by speech alone. 1

Before continuing, it may be helpful to note that this pillar is somewhat dependant on the others.  The pillars are used in a circular fashion that, while not inherently fallacious, can be used fallaciously.  These divergent views depend on whether or not there are distinct sources and that these sources use the divine name differently and use a different vocabulary (pillars 1 & 2).

Cassuto notes: 2

There are seven visions that occur prior to Moses’ appearance.  Out of these seven, three conflict with the theory.  So, 42% of the time the theory doesn’t work.  This makes for a poor theory indeed.

In Genesis 15:1

15 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ge 15:1.

Notice, here, that Yahweh is used as appearing to Abraham in a vision.  Thus, we have J, not E being “distant.”  Cassuto argues the same thing happens in Genesis 26 with Isaac.

In Genesis 28,

11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ge 28:11–13.

Yahweh is the term used once again for referring to an encounter with man via dream.

The evidence does not fit, and so often the text is emended to put the “right name” for the deity in its place.  Gunkel does this in Gen. 15. (59)  But, as Cassuto has already shown, there is a better framework for interpreting why different names are used.  In these three visions above, men in Yahweh’s covenant are being communicated with and that is why all three have revelations from Yahweh.

But in the remaining four, we should take note of these things:

1. Two dreams are to gentiles, and therefore Elohim is to be used (and is).

2. In Gen. 31:10-11, Elohim is used because of the content of the revelation.  Nothing covenantal is being relayed, and the God of Laban (not in covenant), of Jacob and their cattle are in view.

3. Gen. 46:2 Elohim is used when narrating the account of Jacob going down to Egypt.  Cassuto notes that until Moses, Yahweh is never used in association with Egypt.

In other words, the different names for the deity can be made sense of in terms of the rules for using Elohim and Yahweh that Cassuto outlined.  The JEDP theory cannot make sense of the discrepancies, and so some actually change the words.   But why do this when there is a better way?





1. Umberto Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch, (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1961), 59-61.

2. Ibid.

Leave a Reply