The E Source, Ephraimite Lineage, and the 8th Article of Faith

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.)

‡Ibid., 246-255.


  1. For those interested in reading the “Ephraimite Bible” as a single, coherent text (rather than flipping through their Bibles following the list furnished here by John), it can be found here.

    I plan to read it later, John, before I comment. Great post.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    John Sorenson published an article entitled “The Brass Plates and Biblical Scholarship” in Dialogue in which he argued that the OT material on the Brass Plates was actually E, which makes sense given Lehi’s northern background.

    After I published my Dialogue article on the DH, John sent me a very nice personal note of thanks and congratulations, agreeing that Mormons tend to be way over-defensive about the subject.

  3. John Hamer says:

    Brad (#1): Thanks! I was looking for a good version of the assembled text, but my googling ability didn’t turn that up.

    Kevin (#2): Interesting idea. I’m going to look that article up. BTW, I completely agree with your assessment that the brand name may be partly to blame:

    A less appealing name than “higher criticism” could scarcely have been coined if one had tried. The modifier “higher” suggests an immodest haughtiness, and the noun “criticism” suggests an inherently negative, destructive critique of traditional views. (Barney, 59)

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Here’s a link to the Sorenson piece; go to p. 31.

  5. Stirling says:

    John, I’m of the opinion that a focus on Ephraim and being literally “chosen” led to various religious ills. So, while you make the point that “Through their patriarchal blessings, most Mormons view themselves as either adopted or literal blood members of the tribe of Ephraim,” I suggest that the number of people who view themselves as having literal Ephraimite lineage has diminished markedly, and the number who find it important to be “adopted” into any tribe has also grown smaller (how much smaller, I don’t know, but I’d love to see some good surveys on the topic).

    That said, I find your question still relevant. I suggest the story of Ephraim has much to teach us about what it should mean to be “chosen.” Because we used to feel a special literal connection to Ephraim, the O.T. lesson that God chose and loved the tribe of Ephraim for a reason other than merit should be extra useful in teaching us to avoid feeling pride in our assumed (assumed by some, that is) “chosen” state.
    (The reason I suggest Israelites weren’t chosen for merit is that much of the O.T. seems to be a recounting, chapter after chapter, and book after book, of how wicked the “chosen” were and continued to be.

  6. David Clark says:


    It’s an interesting hypothesis. However, I think that the E source has zero interest to Mormons because the Ephraim source has no connection to what Mormons think of as Ephraim. Two points bear this out.

    First, most Mormons think of tribes as at least somewhat fixed, and most probably think it was based on your genealogy. The reality was much more complicated. There are hints of this in the OT. Try and come up with a stable listing of the 12 tribes. Depending on which verses you look at you will get different lists. This shows that the concept of tribe and the contents of the tribes was more an idealization than a reality. It was idealization because there had to be 12 (sacred number) tribes regardless of how they were constituted. My own hunch is that the tribal situation came into being for largely political and organizational purposes as the Israelites were coming into prominence in Canaan. This is simply how things were done in ancient times (for instance Athens was divided into 10 tribes).

    Second, by the time the E source was written Ephraim was associated with the people living in the Northern Kingdom and probably was purely political by this point. Ephraim was simply a synonym for the northern area known as Israel. People writing in the North at this time would be writing for and to an audience defined by the political situation of the 8th century BC, which had nothing to do with tribal affiliations of the 13th century BC.

    As a side note, our continual insistence on associating ourselves with Ephraim/Joseph causes lots of scriptures to be misinterpreted because we interpret many references to Ephraim/Joseph to be references to us. In reality they were references to that Northern Kingdom which produced the E source. For example Ezekiel 37:15-17 is always taken to be a reference to the Book of Mormon because Joseph Smith was of the tribe of Ephraim (I presume) and he translated the Book of Mormon, when the context makes it clear that Ezekiel is prophesying a restored house of Israel/Judah with both kingdoms united under a single ruler.

  7. As the best-known recent defender of the classic four-source hypothesis, Friedman perhaps gets too much press. As I wrote some time ago on my blog,

    (“The Documentary Hypothesis is dead!” one recent article abstract emphatically announces.) The four-source Documentary Hypothesis has a few modern champions, Richard E. Friedman being the most notable among them, but a large quantity of scholarly literature since 1975 has fundamentally challenged the four-source hypothesis. Certainly most scholars still consider Deuteronomy to be distinct from the remainder of the Torah, and usually attribute it to Josiah or to a Josian school of religious reformers. Many scholars also see in the other books of the Pentateuch the hand of a Priestly redactor. But for most proponents of some form of the documentary theory, the E and J sources have all but dissolved into one another. (John Van Seters, Christoph Levin, and Erhard Blum, for example, advocate varieties of this view.)

  8. Stirling says:

    Chris, in Yale professor Christine Hayes’ course, “Intro to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible),” which is available on-line, she makes frequent use of the DH. In Lecture 5, “Critical Approaches to the Bible: Introduction to Genesis 12-50,” she says of the DH:

    So most biblical scholars today do accept some version of Wellhausen’s theory–yes, we feel the Bible is composed of different sources. We don’t always have tremendous confidence, though, in some of the finer details and conclusions of his work and the work of other scholars who followed after him. Some doubt the existence of E altogether–it is so fragmentary and so isolated. Others defend the antiquity of P –we’ll be coming back to that. Others argue that everything is post-exilic, everything’s after the fifth century. It was written in the fourth, third century in the Persian period. None of it comes from an older period. Scandinavian scholars, they’re not enthusiastic about source criticism at all. The whole Copenhagen School of Bible scholarship prefers–many of them prefer–to see the Bible as basically an oral narrative that just grew through accretion over time. So I did assign readings in the documentary hypothesis–it’s extraordinarily important–but you do need to understand that it is one hypothesis, a major and controlling hypothesis out there, but it’s not without criticism.”

    Any thoughts on that?

  9. John Hamer says:

    I’m going to admit that this notion is still half-baked — or possibly needs even more time in the oven than that, since it relies on two component ingredients whose status is uncertain:

    (1) How do Mormons today conceive of their connection with Ephraim?
    (2) Do Mormons accept the idea that the first five books of the Bible are a compilation of component sources?

    I tried to skirt the second question, but as Chris (#8) points out, it’s not a foregone conclusion. In terms of Richard Friedman’s formulation of the documentary hypothesis, I certainly don’t agree with him on every point. For example, he seems to believe that a large, unified kingdom actually existed under David and Solomon, an idea that doesn’t seem to be supported by archaeology. I personally think that David and Solomon were Judahite chiefs of not much greater relative significance than other tribal chiefs, during the time of the real kings of Israel were the Omrids of the north. Then, after the destruction of the real kingdom by the Assyrians, northern exiles fled south to the poor hills of Judah and created a unified past for themselves and Judeans by elevating the ancestors of the current Davidic kings to mythic stature. That’s a fairly significant difference of opinion between Friedman and myself, but I cite him because his books are very accessible to lay people who aren’t familiar with the ineptly named “higher criticism” of the Bible.

    On the first question, Stirling (#5) and David (#6) raise some interesting points. Should Mormons chuck their traditional identification with Ephraim?

    I have no idea if the tradition is already dead. Growing up, I was taught by my mother that I was a blood descendent of Israelites — not just any Israelites, but the kings of Israel themselves. You folks might have been adoptees, but not us.

    I agree with David that the story of the tribes of Israel being descended of a number of eponymous heroes who were all brothers (or, in the assembled list that has come down to us, 10 brothers and 2 nephews) is surely a later myth to create and explain kinship. (The E source, for example, may have had many fewer than 12 tribes.) However, the fact that “Ephraim” in the Bible is not just a tribe but a synonym for the whole north, coupled with my view that there never was a unified kingdom under David and Solomon and that the north was originally the whole story, only makes Ephraim all the more interesting to me.

    Stirling mentions that Mormon thinking on Ephraim “led to various religious ills,” and David points out at least one of these: misreading scripture, which I think is a point well taken.

    I don’t think the old literal approach is necessarily helpful here. To use another example from the Pentateuch, it probably doesn’t get you anywhere if you were to scour the text and label all the instances of “Yahweh/Jehovah” as “the pre-mortal Jesus,” and label all instances of “Elohim” as “God the father.” However, setting off from the root idea — that there were multiple Gods in the pre-Biblical pantheon, including “El” and “Yahweh” — may actually lead places that are useful in Mormon cosmological thought.

    Knowing what we now know of Ephraim and ancient Israel, while working to avoid past traps that come from overly literal readings of the text, can the idea of a connection to Ephraim lead us anywhere interesting in modern Mormon thinking? Again, it’s a notion half-baked at best, but it’s one I’ve been pondering.

  10. You can read a nice clean version of the Sorenson article here as well.

  11. David Clark says:


    Thanks for the clarification. There are interesting similarities between E and Mormons. E is the odd man out of the DH sources and is the least monotheistic of the four. Of course one could say this about Mormons in contemporary religious life as well.

    It would be great if Mormons took OT scholarship more seriously, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. A lot of our distinct doctrines are rooted in a quirky 19th century interpretation of the OT, which in many cases modern scholarship does not support.

  12. I should probably go to bed now. I’ve been around the Bloggernacle tonight making comments I shouldn’t have. And here goes another one:
    Oh my heck! Must we lose all the interesting parts of our Mormon heritage? Kolob, Jesus was married, now we are going to start downplaying our literal relationship to Ephraim?? Oh, please. Resist, by all that is holy.

    John, interesting questions here. You’ll have to give most of us a little time to read up on E and do some thinking. I’d like to come back and comment some more later.

  13. Oh my heck! Must we lose all the interesting parts of our Mormon heritage?”

    That is the plan! Unfortunately.

  14. #8 (Stirling),

    I think the paragraph you quoted is a good summary of the state of the field. Pretty much everybody agrees that Moses didn’t author the Pentateuch and that Deuteronomy is in a class by itself. But beyond that, there is a bewildering range of hypotheses.

  15. I know that this is probably old news by now (just getting caught up), but I wanted to respond to Chris’ comments. He is right to assert that the state of source criticism today is a fractured one, with many asserting its demise, and others offering pointed corrections (such as Blum and Levin, as Chris notes). What Chris doesn’t add is that there is a significant corrective also refining the hypothesis along conventional lines (e.g. Baruch Schwartz, following on Menahem Haran, et al.; and see the recent book of Jeff Stackert, Rewriting the Torah:Literary Revision in Deuteronomy and the Holiness Legislation.). I’m encouraged by this work–scholars’ inability since Wellhausen-Graf to differentiate fully the sources from each other has resulted in a “bewildering range of hypotheses” which results in significant disenchantment with the whole franchise. I think we’ll start to see more from this front when we can get around the German stranglehold on publishing in this subfield of Biblical Studies.

    As I have tried to show, the evidence for a JE redaction, much less for the annihilation of an E source, is scant at best. It is unclear to me why the vociferous German faction has declared the end of JEDP as we know it with Blum’s enormous, extraordinarily complex and atomistic analysis of the situation. I agree with Chris that Friedman is not the best source critic, but he is right on when it comes to his justification for the hypothesis as traditionally articulated and his consistent drumbeat that any alternative theory needs to rest on solid evidence. And I don’t think there’s been a robust replacement. That said, when it comes to his source criticism, one shouldn’t rely too heavily on the details of The Bible With Sources Revealed, since he’s got some weird views of the redactor.

    Sorry if this is a bit overkill, but I just wanted to throw in my two bits.

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