For over a century Higher Criticism (aka Source Criticism) has plagued Christianity with theories and hypotheses about the reliability of Scripture. One such hypothesis is what is known as Documentary Hypothesis (DH). DH is simply that; it is a hypothesis, an educated guess as to the authorship of certain texts within Scripture, specifically speaking of the first five books of the Bible: the Books of Moses. The proponents of DH claim that because the books differ stylistically, use varying names for God, have updated names for towns, cities, people, supposed repetitions of accounts, etc., Moses could not have been the one who wrote the Pentateuch. Instead, the educated guess is that there were two, three, or even four writers from four different centuries, with perhaps four different motives who wrote what we now read as Genesis through Deuteronomy. The first collaborator was a Yahwist (“J” for short [for Jehovah]) around 850 B.C. Most of Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers was sourced by the Yahwist. One can find his handiwork because of his affinity to call God by His proper name: YHWH. It is assumed that the Yahwist was from Judah (the Southern Kingdom) since Judah was more faithful to the traditions of Judaism. However, about a hundred years later, one from Ephraim (the Northern Kingdom who were not so faithful to the traditional Judaism to say the least) sourced other portions of Genesis similar to that of the Yahwist, using Elohim–the generic name for God–in reference to the Almighty. For that reason, the second source is named after his favorite designation: Elohim (“E” for short). At some point, when the Northern Kingdom was overthrown by Assyria, the two sources (J and E) were brought together by some good-hearted refugees.
The third source for the DHers, is simply known as Deuteronomy (“D” for short) which covers the book by that name. The thought process is that when Josiah ordered the reformation of Judah in his twelfth year on the throne, “D” got to work. Since the material only covers the one book of the Pentateuch, it is not much help with the other four.
The fourth source: those were the Priests (“P” for short). The priests, by the very nature of man and office, sought to conserve their position and their jobs. Thus the portions of the Law that dealt with religious matters (practices, tabernacles, instruments, etc.) were sourced by the post-exilic priests.
All in all, the DH denies the possibility of one author. It also denies the possibility of these books being original. Some men like Delitzsch would argue that they simply plagiarized from the Babylonians, going so far as to say that the Law and perhaps the entire Old Testament is not to be trusted and is which is to be done away.
That being said. . .like all hypotheses, DH must be tested to assure its truth. If it cannot pass the test–multiple tests–then one must admit that the guess is untrue and begin again. DH cannot pass the tests that it must face. The issues that it seeks to answer, DH complicates. William of Ockham was correct: “The simplest answer is usually the correct one.” DHers tend to seek complicated guesses to explain the apparent discrepancies or questions they have. They began with two sources and worked their way up to four, and now are unsure if there were four or if there are four when they actually sourced the material. The simpler (and probably the correct answer) is that Moses did write the first five books as traditionally held. Within those books, he cites his sources. The varying names for God are varying for good reason: they describe God in the way that fits with the story; using God’s name (YHWH) before telling us when he learned it (Genesis 2 vs. Exodus 3) does not mean multiple sources. It does mean that the Uncreated One created all life. Updated place names were probably updated by scribes since location was a major component for the Jews to understand their history. It is not much different that the scribes who translated the Hebrew to Greek, forming the Septuagint. Repetitions of stories, if read closely, are not repetitions; sometimes it takes people a while to learn their lessons, and often times their descendants must go through the same type of circumstances. Common sense can answer virtually every problem that DH presents without muddying the waters or complicating the issues.
What DHers have done, whether advertently or inadvertently, is brought doubt into the hearts and minds of Christians wanting to be faithful to God’s Word. By nature, Documentary Hypothesis leads to question authenticity, historicity, and reliability. Rather than spark doubt, one can easily explain the supposed difficulties.
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