Just What Were the Biblical Sources? (The Bible and the Z Revolution)
1) The Elohist Bible. The hunch that this was the first of the Biblical documents to be written has been with RT for some time. Certainly the EB was a major work, comprising several scrolls and written by a master literary artist. RT is also pretty certain that the EB was divided differently than the Five Books; for instance, he thinks that in E, Exodus/Shemoth ended somewhere between the Passover and the Crossing of the Red Sea.
2) The Yahwist Bible. Written in response to the Elohist Bible by another gifted writer, the Yahwist Bible has been reconstructed in two beautiful versions, Harold Bloom and David Rosenberg’s The Book of J and Richard Friedman’s The Hidden Book in the Bible. The major difference between the E and J bibles is that the E author represents Israelite tradition from the point of view of the Northern Kingdom (Samaria); the Yahwist author, from the perspective of Judah.
These two works, both composed, as RT supposes, in the 9th century B.C., represent the oldest layer of the Biblical texts. But here is where things start to get tricky: neither the E or the J bibles have survived as independent works. They were combined into a single text, the JE Bible, at about the time of the destruction of Samaria (722 B.C.). Comparing the texts, moreover, makes it clear that the person who combined the two texts had a preference for J, since the J material is preserved in a continuous account, while the E material has major gaps, most noticeably, its opening is missing. So, in fact, the JE Bible is the source for the oldest materials in the Bible, while the J and E sources were both lost at some point.
3) The JE Bible. Composed at the end of the 8th century B.C.
Hold onto your hats, folks: there is more still to come. Specifically, one more bible was written, this one after the fall of Samaria and the appearance of the JE Bible.
4) The Priestly Bible. Apparently, the priests in the Jerusalem priesthood were not happy with JE’s point of view, so one of their number wrote a corrected version, the Priestly or P Bible. Friedman assigns the composition of the PB to the reign of Hezekiah (715-686 B.C.).
Hebrew writing had lost none of its vitality: the P source includes the Creation Chant at the opening of Genesis, the great credo of monotheism and surely one of the finest passages of literature ever composed. Here, at the turn of the 7th century B.C., and perhaps during the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem, the consciousness of a single creator god emerged.
5) The Deuteronomistic History. Last of the major sources to be written, the Deuteronomist History was composed during the reign of Josiah and at the beginning of the Babylonian Exile, and tells the story of the Israelites from Moses to the time of Josiah. But things are not quite as clean and cut as they might seem: the D Historian used older materials to compose his work, some of them very old. So the books originating from his hand, that is, Deuteronomy through 2 Kings, at least in some cases represent older traditions.
Finally, the four sources were combined; Ezra the Scribe (active in 1st half of the 5th century B.C.) has been named as the individual responsible for combining the materials to produce the Five Books as we have them.
A process this elaborate, taking place over centuries, is bound to produce rival theories and tough debate. From RT’s point of view, admittedly based in his work with Gilgamesh, the writing of the Biblical materials fills in the cultural gap left after the sack of Nineveh and the abandonment of cuneiform script as the principal writing system. A new culture was being born, and that takes time.
Photo: Jacob Wrestling the Angel; Sainte-Marie-Madeleine Basilica in Vézelay. WikiCmns; Public Domain.