The Literature of the Old Testament (1913) [Chapter 7]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]

Age of the Sources: Composition of the Pentateuch


A) About the author of the chapter:

George Foot Moore “graduated from Yale College in 1872 and from Union Theological Seminary in 1877, in 1878 Moore was ordained in the Presbyterian ministry and until 1883 was pastor of the Putnam Presbyterian Church, Zanesville, Ohio.

He was Hitchcock professor of the Hebrew language and literature at Andover Theological Seminary, 1883–1902. In 1902 he became professor of theology and in 1904 professor of the history of religion at Harvard University.” [1]


B) Chapter Summary:

“Deuteronomy is a fixed point, by reference to which the age of other strata in the Pentateuch may be determined, at least relatively.”1

“The inference is plain that P was written at a time when the principle of the unity of the sanctuary for which Deuteronomy contends with the zeal of innovation was no longer disputed, at least in the author’s surroundings, so that he has no need to enjoin it, and can, indeed, ignore the fact that there ever had been other sanctuaries of Jehovah. Such a state of things never existed while the kingdom stood; it was only in the Persian period, when Judæa was reduced to a circle of a few miles about Jerusalem, that the conditions implied in P arose.”2

“… the older laws in P go back, substantially in their present shape, to the days of the kingdom, and in many cases represent a prescriptive usage which is of remote antiquity; while the latest additions to P were made at a time so recent that they had not found entry into the copies from which the earliest Greek version was made in the third century B.C.”3

“It must be enough here to say that the older laws in P go back, substantially in their present shape, to the days of the kingdom, and in many cases represent a prescriptive usage which is of remote antiquity; while the latest additions to P were made at a time so recent that they had not found entry into the copies from which the earliest Greek version was made in the third century B.C.

J and E are both older than Deuteronomy. In Genesis, as has already been noted, they recite the foundation legends of Shechem, Bethel, Hebron, Beersheba, and other of the holy places of Canaan, telling how the patriarchs built the altars, set up the sacred stones, planted the sacred trees, dug the holy wells, and offered sacrifice to their own God at these spots, by this origin legitimating as Israelite sanctuaries what were, at the time of the conquest and long after, Canaanite “high places.””4

“On the other hand, the strong interest in the origins of the holy places of Canaan indicates that when J and E were written these high places were Israelite sanctuaries, which had as such their sacred legends; indeed, a considerable part of the patriarchal stories is ultimately derived from these legends of local sanctuaries, which form a cycle, harmonized and connected by a migration motive. That both J and E were written long after the settlement of the Israelites in Palestine is proved even more conclusively by the fact that the obligatory religious observances are those of an agricultural people.”5

“It is difficult to reconstruct the narratives of the exodus and the wanderings in the desert in J and E as they originally were. Extensive transpositions seem to have been made at some stage in the transmission, by which parallel relations of the same occurrence are separated and appear as distinct events. There were evidently considerable differences in the traditional accounts which the earliest authors found current. The holy mountain is in E named Horeb, in J (probably) as in P, Sinai; Moses’ father-in-law in the one is Jethro, in the other Hobab. In J there are some traces of a tradition, perhaps the oldest of all, in which there was no mention of Sinai; the Israelites made their way straight from the Red Sea to Kadesh.”6

“A comparison of J and E with the history of the times of Saul and David in Samuel, and with the stories of Elijah and Elisha in Kings, would lead us to ascribe them both to the classic age of Hebrew prose of which those narratives are specimens. On the other hand, in J and the older stratum of E there is no influence of the prophetic movement of the eighth century which left so deep a mark on religion and literature. On these grounds J may be probably ascribed to the ninth century, and E, which is somewhat younger, to the first half of the eighth. Both used older sources, and both were revised and enlarged by later hands; we have had more than one occasion to refer to an edition of E which reflects the teaching of the prophets, particularly of Hosea.”7

“At a considerably later time, perhaps in the fifth century B.C., or even in the fourth, the Origins of the Religious Institutions, a product of the Persian period, with the mass of laws that had been incorporated in it (see above p. 57), was united with JED, thus bringing together into one volume all that was preserved about the history down to the conquest of Canaan and all the various institutions and collections of laws which were attributed to Moses. The author of this comprehensive work, as was most natural, took P, with its sharply marked divisions and outstanding epochs, as his basis, and introduced in each period the parts of JE which seemed to him to belong there. Where P had a parallel narrative, as in the story of the Flood, he wove the strands together with more or less ingenuity, omitting, in ordinary cases, only the most palpable doublets. It is possible that the same author first incorporated in P a large part of the so-called priestly laws; it is more certain that, besides the harmonistic changes necessary in combining his sources, he made numerous additions; but there is usually no way of distinguishing his hand from that of earlier or of still later editors.”8

This hypothesis, which, for all its seeming complexity, is doubtless a great simplification of the actual literary history, is accepted by the majority of Old Testament scholars—with many variations in particulars, it need hardly be said. It is commended to the historian, not merely by the fact that it explains the confusion and contradiction which reign in the Pentateuch and offers a solution of its literary problems, but that, when the sources are distinguished and reconstructed and their age and relations determined, they become historical sources of great value for the times in which they were respectively written, confirming, supplementing, or interpreting the evidence of the historical books and the prophets, and contributing important material of various kinds to our knowledge of civilization in ancient Israel and of its religious development.”9

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