Biblical scholars have long identified distinct sections within the early books of the Bible that employ a consistently different tone, language, and content from one other. In what is generally called the “documentary hypothesis,” these scholars have labeled the major underlying sources with letters: J, E, P, and D, along with R (the redactor, who assembled the whole). J takes its letter because the author freely uses the name Jehovah (Yahweh) for God, whereas E uses the word Elohim until God reveals the name Yahweh to Moses. P stands for that author’s obsession with Aaronid priestly claims and priestly law. And D is for the Deuteronomist, reflecting the fact that most of Deuteronomy comes from a separate source.
Kevin Barney has an excellent summary of the general Mormon response to the documentary hypothesis along with his own argument in its favor in Dialogue (32:1). Without knowing Hebrew myself, I have only followed the debate through secondary sources and translation of the original, but like Kevin I find the documentary hypothesis compelling. (On Kevin’s 6-point scale of liberal to conservative views of the hypothesis, I probably place at 1 or 2, while he’s at 3; he believes the majority of Mormons are at 5, while folks like Bruce R. McConkie are 6s.)
Like Kevin, I personally think that the documentary hypothesis needn’t contradict LDS beliefs, especially if one has a broad view of the 8th Article of Faith on the translation of the Bible. Given Joseph Smith’s own Hebrew study and the notice he took of the different names for God (Elohim and Yahweh), I also imagine that if he had been exposed to the documentary hypothesis, he would have embraced it and elaborated on the identities of J, E, P, D, and R.
I don’t propose here to re-hash a debate as to whether the documentary hypothesis is compatible with Mormonism. Instead, if we merely assume for the sake of argument that it is compatible, I’ve wondered if the existence of the different sources might have any special significance for Mormons.
A number of scholars have focussed on the J source, with its earthy depiction of Yahweh, its seeming nonchalance about religious practice and its many strong heroines. (In contrast to the non-presence of women in the Book of Mormon, J is filled with forceful women: Eve, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Tamar, and Zipporah.) J is generally believed to have been written in the post-Solomonic Kingdom of Judah prior to the Babylonian exile, probably by a secular courtier rather than a priest, and possibly (intriguingly) by a female courtier, such as a Davidic princess.*
E, the other early source, has been less celebrated than J.† E has Levite concerns, but isn’t concerned with the rights of Aaron’s descendents, the high priests in Jerusalem. In fact, E stories are hostile to Aaron, while giving special reverence to Moses. In E, Aaron addresses Moses as “my lord” (Exodus 32:22), and it is E that describes Aaron’s heresy of fashioning a golden calf (Exodus 32). (P, by contrast, lionizes Aaron and denigrates Moses.) E is also extremely concerned with locations in the northern Kingdom of Israel, and heroes who hail from the Ten Northern tribes, especially the north’s leading tribe of Ephraim.
It is the Ephraim connection has the potential to hold a special interest for Mormons. Through their patriarchal blessings, most Mormons view themselves as either adopted or literal blood members of the tribe of Ephraim. Isolated from the rest of the text, E remains a coherent story that literally becomes the Ephraimite Bible. The question I’ve been pondering is whether this Ephramite Bible holds any special lessons for Latter-day Ephraimites?
* * *
To consider the question, you need to isolate the E Source. Richard Friedman, a major proponent of the documentary hypothesis, makes the following identifications of E Source stories‡:
Abraham and Sarah wife/sister (Gen. 20:1-18)
Birth of Isaac (Gen. 21:6)
Hagar and Ishmael (Gen. 21:8-21)
Abraham and Abimelek (Gen. 22-34)
The binding of Isaac (Gen. 22:1-10, 16b-19)
The sons of Keturah (Gen. 25:1-4)
Jacob at Beth-El (Gen. 28:11b-12, 17-18, 20-22)
Jacob’s children (Gen. 20:1b-3, 4b-24a)
Jacob and Laban (Gen. 31:1-2, 4-16, 19-48, 50-54; 32:1-3)
Jabob’s return (Gen. 32:14-23; 33:1-17)
Jacob becomes Israel (Gen. 32:25-33)
Shechem (Gen. 33:18-20)
Return to Beth-El (Gen. 35:1-8)
Rachel dies in childbirth (Gen. 35:16-20)
Joseph and his brothers (Gen. 27:3a, 4, 12-18, 21-22, 24, 25a, 28a, 29, 30, 36)
Pharaoh’s butler and baker (Gen. 40:1-23)
Joseph and Pharaoh (Gen. 41:1-45a, 46b-57)
Jacob’s sons in Egypt (Gen. 42:5-7, 21-25, 35-37; 43:14, 18-23, 45:3)
Jacob in Egypt (Gen. 46:1-5a; 47:7-10; 48:1-2, 8-22; 50:23-26)
The enslavement (Ex. 1:8-12)
Killing the infants (Ex. 1:15-21)
Yahweh summons Moses (Ex. 3:1, 4b, 6, 9-18; 4:1-18, 20b, 21a, 22-23, 27-31)
Moses and Pharaoh (Ex. 5:3-6:1; 7:14-18, 20b-21a, 23-29; 8:3b-11a, 16-28; 9:1-7, 13-34; 10:1-19, 21-26, 28-29; 11:1-8)
The Exodus (Ex. 12:21-27, 29-36, 37b-39; 13:1-16)
The Red Sea (Ex. 13:17-19; 14:11-12, 19a, 20a, 25a; 15:20-21)
The Commandments (Ex. 15:25b-26)
Water in the wilderness (Ex. 17:2-7)
Amalek (Ex. 17:8-16)
Jethro (Ex. 18:1-27)
Horeb (Ex. 19:2b-9, 16b-17, 19; 20:18-26)
The Covenant Code (Ex. 21:1-27; 22:1-30; 23:1-33)
Horeb continued (Ex. 24:1-15a; 18b)
The golden calf (Ex. 32:1-33:11)
Theophany of Moses (Ex. 33:12-23)
Taberah (Num. 11:1-3)
Food in the wilderness (Num. 11:4-35)
Moses’ Cushite wife (Num. 12:1-16)
The bronze serpent (Num. 21:4b-9)
Balaam (Num. 22:2-24:25)
The appointment of Joshua (Deut. 31:14-15, 23)
The blessing of Moses (Deut. 33:1)
The death of Moses (Deut. 34:1-6)
More simply, you can acquire Friedman’s The Bible with Sources Revealed (New York: HarperSanFancisco, 2003), which marks out the different sources and which has been on my nightstand for the better part of the last year.
*For this argument and more on J, see David Rosenberg and Harold Bloom, The Book of J, (New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1990).
†Richard Friedman, the most eloquent proponent of the documentary hypothesis, works to put E on the same level as J in Who Wrote the Bible? (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1987.)