Introduction to the Documentary Hypothesis
On even a casual reading of the first five books of the Bible, one will notice that it often repeats itself.
Almost. The repetitions are not quite consistent or exact. When these doublets are separated, an amazing
pattern emerges. Evidently these first five books are an elaborate and skillful “cut and paste” job. Several
separate sources are identifiable, each with a distinctive style and vocabulary.
The Creation Myths
The most obvious difference in the sources is the name used for God. The name of God in
Genesis 1 is “Elohim”, which is translated into English as “God”. The name changes in Genesis 2:4.2, to
“Yahweh”, which is translated as “the LORD God”. Let us look more closely, for there are other important
differences than the just the name of God. There are also disagreements on certain other points from the
text of Genesis 1-2:3, especially the order of creation of the various forms of life. Moreover the nature of
God switches from a detached, cosmic God who creates by the power of the word, to an anthropomorphic
God who forms the man out of clay and breathes into his nostrils. It is as if two separate creation stories
are put back-to-back.
We don’t know exactly how much of each source is recoverable from the text as we now have it.
But when we separate the two stories, we see that they both are complete and independent enough to be
identified as separate sources belonging to different traditions. First, let us look at Genesis 1-2:3, the “P”
Figure 1: Cosmological Model of P Creation Myth
Creation Myth of P Source*
1 1:1 2
In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and
darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the wind of Elohim was moving over the face of the waters.
3 1:3 4
And Elohim said, "Let there be light "; and there was light. And Elohim saw that the light was good; and
Elohim separated the light from the darkness. Elohim called the light Day, and the darkness he called
Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
And Elohim said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the
waters from the waters." And Elohim made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the
firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. And Elohim called the
firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.
And Elohim said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let
the dry land appear." And it was so. Elohim called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered
together he called Seas. And Elohim saw that it was good. And Elohim said, "Let the earth put forth
vegetation , plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its
kind, upon the earth." And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to
their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And Elohim saw
that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.
And Elohim said, "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day
from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in
the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth." And it was so. And Elohim made the two great
lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also. And
Elohim set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over
the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And Elohim saw that it was good. And there was
evening and there was morning, a fourth day.
And Elohim said, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above
the earth across the firmament of the heavens." So Elohim created the great sea monsters and every living
creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird
according to its kind. And Elohim saw that it was good. And Elohim blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful
and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." And there was evening
and there was morning, a fifth day.
And Elohim said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and
creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds." And it was so. And Elohim made the
beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that
creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And Elohim saw that it was good. Then Elohim said, "Let
Gen 1-2:3 is from the "P" text, so-called because it emphasizes the role of priests as intermediaries
between God and humanity.
One distinguishing characteristic of the P source is the use of the divine name “Elohim”, usually
translated “God” in English.
There is a sexual component to this imagery consistent with creation myths in general.
Presumably, the language Elohim uses here is Hebrew.
Creation is depicted as bestowing order on chaos, by means of commands. Separation of opposites is a
recurrent means of ordering in creation myths, e.g. separating light from darkness, the waters above from
the waters below, and the dry land from the waters below.
The cosmological model here is that of a large heavenly vault with water above it and water below it.
The water above falls as rain, the water below rises from springs. See Figure 1.
Plants are created before the Sun. The source of daylight was evidently not recognized to be the Sun
by the writer.
The Sun, Moon, and stars are merely “lights” hung in the firmament that serve the function of keeping
us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and
over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps
upon the earth." So Elohim created man in his own image, in the image of Elohim he created him;
male and female he created them. And Elohim blessed them, and Elohim said to them, "Be fruitful and
multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of
the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." And Elohim said, "Behold, I have given
you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit;
you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to
everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for
food." And it was so. And Elohim saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And
there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day
Elohim finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which
he had done. So Elohim blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it Elohim rested from all his
work which he had done in creation.
The plural pronoun here is of peculiar interest. Technically, the word “Elohim” is a plural noun.
Perhaps there are vestiges of polytheism here, perhaps a pantheon such as in Psalm 82, or possibly a divine
consort. Later, Christian interpreters read it to mean the Trinity.
The creation of humanity (both male and female simultaneously) in the divine image is depicted as the
last act of creation. The implication is that all the previous creation was ultimately for this purpose, and
that humanity is the primary interest of Elohim in his creation.
The institution of the Sabbath is a major concern of the P source.
Creation Myth of J Source* 5
In the day that Yahweh made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth
and no herb of the field had yet sprung up -- for Yahweh had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there
was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground -
- then Yahweh formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life ;
and man became a living being.
And Yahweh planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had
formed. And out of the ground Yahweh made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for
food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The
name of the first is Pishon; it is the one which flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;
and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is
Gihon; it is the one which flows around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is Tigris,
which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
Yahweh took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And Yahweh
commanded the man, saying, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the
knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."
Then Yahweh said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for
him." So out of the ground Yahweh formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought
them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that
was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field;
but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him.
So Yahweh caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and
closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which Yahweh had taken from the man he made into a woman
and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of Man." Therefore a man leaves his father and
his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both
naked, and were not ashamed.
The Flood Myths
At first sight, it may not be obvious that there are two flood myths. But after some careful reading, we see
two names for God, again Elohim and Yahweh. We also see some repetitions, but they are annoyingly
inconsistent. When we separate the two stories, not only do two complete and independent accounts
emerge, we also recognize the same voices we did in the creation stories.
Flood Myth of P Source 12
Now the earth was corrupt in Elohim's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And Elohim saw
the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. And Elohim
said to Noah, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through
them; behold, I will destroy them with the earth.
Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with
pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits,
and its height thirty cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and set the door of the
The J source is so named because it uses the divine name “Yahweh”. The German transliteration of this
name starts with a “J”, and it was German scholars that named the source. Another, less accurate, English
transliteration of this name is “Jehovah”.
Yahweh is depicted in more anthropomorphic terms than Elohim. Here he gets his hands dirty, and
breathes into the newly formed man’s nostrils. He also plants a garden in the next verse. Later he feels
compassion for the man’s loneliness. Later in J Yahweh even takes a stroll in the garden, and sews clothes
for Adam and Eve.
According to the J source, in contrast to the P source, man is created first as the purpose of creation,
and everything else, including woman, is created afterward to support him.
The irony of Man giving birth to Woman is blatant.
ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks.
For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath
of life from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with
you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you.
And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them
alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals
according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every sort shall
come in to you, to keep them alive. Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten , and store it up;
and it shall serve as food for you and for them."
Noah did this; he did all that Elohim commanded him. Of clean animals, and of animals that
are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female,
went into the ark with Noah, as Elohim had commanded Noah.
In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the
month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were
opened. On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah's wife and
the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark, they and every beast according to its kind, and all
the cattle according to their kinds, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth according to its kind,
and every bird according to its kind, every bird of every sort. They went into the ark with Noah, two and
two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. And they that entered, male and female of all flesh,
went in as Elohim had commanded him; and all flesh died that moved upon the earth, birds, cattle, beasts,
all swarming creatures that swarm upon the earth , and every man;
And the waters prevailed upon the earth a hundred and fifty days. But Elohim remembered
Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark. And Elohim made a wind blow over
the earth, and the waters subsided; the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed.
At the end of a hundred and fifty days the waters had abated; and in the seventh month, on the
seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest upon the mountains of Ar'arat. And the waters
continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the
mountains were seen. And (Noah) sent forth a raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were dried up
from the earth.
In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were
dried from off the earth; In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was
Then Elohim said to Noah, Go forth from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons' wives
with you. Bring forth with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh -- birds and animals and
every creeping thing that creeps on the earth -- that they may breed abundantly on the earth, and be fruitful
and multiply upon the earth." So Noah went forth, and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives with him.
And every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves upon the earth, went forth
by families out of the ark.
And Elohim blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the
earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of
the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are
delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants , I give
you everything. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. For your lifeblood I will surely
require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man; of every man's brother I will require the life
Note that none of this food would be meat. Everybody’s a vegetarian so far. Hence this food would
not be the six extra pairs of clean animals mentioned in J.
We can see P’s cosmology here. The waters below the firmament spring from the fountains of the
deep and the waters above the firmament fall from the windows of heaven. What P is describing is a
collapse of the firmament, a return of primordial chaos.
The way that the various forms of animal life are described is recognizably P, c.f. Gen 1:25 and 1:30.
P’s flood lasts a year and 10 days. J’s only lasts about two months.
C.f. Gen 1:29..
of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for Elohim made man in his
7 9:7 8
And you, be fruitful and multiply , bring forth abundantly on the earth and multiply in it." Then
Elohim said to Noah and to his sons with him, Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your
descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast
of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again
shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth."
And Elohim said, "This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every
living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign
of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the
clouds, I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh;
and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will
look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between Elohim and every living creature of all flesh
that is upon the earth." Elohim said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant which I have established
between me and all flesh that is upon the earth."
Flood Myth of J Source 2
When men began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of
God saw that the daughters of men were fair; and they took to wife such of them as they chose. Then
Yahweh said, "My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and
twenty years." The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God
came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men that were of
old, the men of renown.
Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the
thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And Yahweh was sorry that he had made man on the
earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So Yahweh said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the
face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made
But Noah found favor in the eyes of Yahweh. Then Yahweh said to Noah, "Go into the ark, you
and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation.
Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate; and a pair of the animals
that are not clean, the male and his mate; and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to
keep their kind alive upon the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain upon the earth
forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the
And Noah did all that Yahweh had commanded him. And Noah and his sons and his wife and
his sons' wives with him went into the ark, to escape the waters of the flood. ... and Yahweh shut him
And after seven days the waters of the flood came upon the earth. And rain fell upon the earth
forty days and forty nights. The flood continued forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and
bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly upon the
earth; and the ark floated on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily upon the earth
that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; the waters prevailed above the
Another of P’s stock phrases, c.f. Gen 9:1 and Gen 1:22.
Or sons of the gods. Early believers in Yahweh did not necessarily disbelieve in other deities. The
sons of the gods and the Nephilim in Genesis 6:4 evidently bred offspring half divine and half human.
Most ancient mythology contains such beings. This was evidently repugnant to J.
Characteristic J anthropomorphism. Seems to not be bothered by the philosophical notion of an
omnipotent being having regrets.
This is in direct contradiction to P, who has two only of clean or unclean.
J has rain as the source of the flood water. P has a collapse of the cosmic firmament.
Characteristic of J, Yahweh himself closes the door.
mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep.
22 7:22 23
Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every
living thing that was upon the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the air;
they were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark.
The rain from the heavens was restrained and the waters receded from the earth continually.
6 8:6 8
At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made, Then he sent forth a
dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground; but the dove found no place
to set her foot, and she returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So
he put forth his hand and took her and brought her into the ark with him. He waited another seven days,
and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark; and the dove came back to him in the evening, and lo, in
her mouth a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. Then he
waited another seven days, and sent forth the dove; and she did not return to him any more. And Noah
removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry.
Then Noah built an altar to Yahweh, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and
8:20 21 8:21
offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when Yahweh smelled the pleasing odor , Yahweh said in
his heart, "I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man's heart is evil
from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. While the earth
remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease."
The creation and flood stories are not the only passages in the first five books of the bible that exhibit this
source diversity. But they serve as very clear illustrations of the way that the separate sources can be
determined. There are many other examples of such doublets, even triplets, by which the various sources
of the first five books of the Bible can be discerned and characterized.
For example, there are two doublets where a biblical hero claims that his wife is his sister (Gen 12:10-20
and Gen 20:1-18 form a doublet with Abraham as the hero and an unnamed Pharaoh and the Philistine king
Abimalek, respectively, as the dupes. But also Gen 20:1-18 forms a doublet with a third passage, Gen
26:1-11 where it is agreed that Abimalek is the dupe but Isaac is portrayed as the hero.), there are two
passages where Moses obtains water from a rock by striking it (Exodus 17:2-7, from J, note the
anthropomorphic Yahweh standing on the rock, and Numbers 20:2-13, ascribed to P because of the
prominence of Aaron and the tabernacle), there are two passages citing the Ten Commandments (Exodus
20:1-17 which is from P, note the reason given for keeping the Sabbath and Deut 5, which gives a quite
different justification for the Sabbath. There is a third, quite different set of ten commandments less ethical
and more ethnic in nature, from J: Exodus 34:14-28), etc.
There are so many examples, in fact, that the style and viewpoint of each writer can be very well
characterized. There is so much evidence that there are only a handful of verses in the whole first five
books of the Bible whose source cannot be definitively identified as coming from one of five distinct
sources. Each of these five sources in turn incorporates literature from even earlier sources.
To determine where and when each of these five sources can be placed in history we must merge Biblical
textual and literary knowledge with Biblical historical and archaeological knowledge. That’s another
whole chapter of inquiry, which I intend to write and to combine in some way to this one.
Finally, there is a synergy in how these several sources were combined to make one. The juxtaposition of
the cosmic P Elohim with the anthropomorphic J Yahweh creates an image of God that is both transcendent
and imminent. In the P creation we have humanity created “in the image of God”, and yet in the J story of
Breath of life in the nostrils is characteristic language of J, c.f. Gen 2:7.
The J flood lasts about two months: 7 days before the rain, 40 days of rain, 14 days for the water to
recede. P’s flood lasts over a year.
Now we know why J has the extra pairs of clean animals. Presumably P didn’t include them since
there were no priests (nor Temple nor Tabernacle) to perform the sacrifice.
More J anthropomorphism.
Genesis 3, we have God denying humanity full divinity. Mark Twain observed, “If the Lord didn’t want
them to be rebellious, why did he create them in his image?” So we have humanity in a precarious position
between the creatures and the creator, having knowledge but not immortality. The skill of the redactor who
compiled this book is nothing short of ingenious. Though we may have lost the original sources, the Bible
we have had handed down to us is far greater than the imaginations of any of its individual writers.