Documentary Hypothesis

The documentary hypothesis is the first major theory of biblical criticism to gain a significant following. Its most accepted permutation was formulated by Julius Wellhausen in his late 19th century work, Die Composition des Hexateuchs (The Composition of the Hexateuch). The documentary hypothesis posits that the Five Books of Moses reached their final form through the fusing together of four independent, but largely parallel documents by a series of editors or redactors.

These documents in order of their composition are:
1. J, or the Yahwistic document written in the Kingdom of Judah (the South) in the 10
th century B.C.E, forms the base of most of the narrative of Genesis and Exodus.

2. E, or the Elohistic document was written in the Kingdom of Israel (the North) in the 9
th century B.C.E Only fragments of this document made it into the Five Books of Moses, the most prominent feature of this document is the revelation of God in dreams and its central theological tenet is fear of God.

3. D, or the Deuteronomic document was written in the Kingdom of Judah sometime around the late 7
th century B.C.E and helped introduce major cultic reform including the centralization of worship in Jerusalem.

4. P, or the Priestly document was composed during the exile (late sixth century B.C.E) by priests from the house of Aaron. This document is largely concerned with cultic issues related to priests such as sacrifice and tithes. P's narrative account concentrates on genealogical lists, and stations.

Wellhausen's documentary hypothesis held sway in Bible academia for nearly one hundred years, at which point two competing hypotheses arose as a response to some of the basic flaws of his method. These are known as the supplementary hypothesis, most completely represented to date in the work
of John Van Seters, and the new fragmentary hypothesis.