Diagram of the 20th century documentary hypothesis.

According to the documentary hypothesis, the Elohist (or simply E) is one of four source documents underlying the Torah,[4] together with the Jahwist (or Yahwist), the Deuteronomist and the Priestly source. The Elohist is so named because of its pervasive use of the word Elohim to refer to the Israelite God.

The Elohist source is characterized by, among other things, an abstract view of God, using Horeb instead of Sinai for the mountain where Moses received the laws of Israel and the use of the phrase "fear of God".[5] It habitually locates ancestral stories in the north, especially Ephraim, and the documentary hypothesis holds that it must have been composed in that region, possibly in the second half of the 9th century BCE.[5]

Because of its highly fragmentary nature, most scholars now question the existence of the Elohist source as a coherent independent document.[6] Instead, the E material is viewed as consisting of various fragments of earlier narratives that are incorporated into the Jahwist document.[7]


Modern scholars agree that separate sources and multiple authors underlie the Pentateuch, but there is much disagreement on how these sources were used to write the first five books of the Bible.[8] This documentary hypothesis dominated much of the 20th century, but the 20th-century consensus surrounding this hypothesis has now been broken down. Those who uphold it now tend to do so in a highly modified form, giving a much larger role to the redactors (editors), who are now seen as adding much material of their own rather than as simply passive combiners of documents.[9] Among those who reject the documentary approach altogether, the most significant revisions have been to combine E with J as a single source, and to see the Priestly source as a series of editorial revisions to that text.[10]

The alternatives to the documentary approach can be broadly divided between "fragmentary" and "supplementary" theories. Fragmentary hypotheses, seen notably in the work of Rolf Rendtorff and Erhard Blum, see the Pentateuch as growing through the gradual accretion of material into larger and larger blocks before being joined together, first by a Deuteronomic writer,[a] and then by a Priestly writer (6th/5th century BCE), who also added his own material.[10]

The "supplementary" approach is exemplified in the work of John Van Seters, who places the composition of J (which he, unlike the "fragmentists", sees as a complete document) in the 6th century as an introduction to the Deuteronomistic history (the history of Israel that takes up the series of books from Joshua to Kings). The Priestly writers later added their supplements to this, and these expansions continued to the end of the 4th century BCE.[11][page needed]

Characteristics, date and scope

In the E source God's name is always presented as "Elohim" or "El" until the revelation of God's name to Moses, after which God is referred to as יהוה, often represented in English as "YHWH".

E is theorized to have been composed by collecting the various stories and traditions concerning biblical Israel and its associated tribes (Dan, Napthali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin), and the Levites, and weaving them into a single text. It has been argued that it reflects the views of northern refugees who came to Judah after the fall of Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) in 722 BCE.[12]

E has a particular fascination for traditions concerning the Kingdom of Israel and its heroes such as Joshua and Joseph. E favors Israel over the Kingdom of Judah (e.g., claiming that Shechem was purchased rather than massacred) and speaks negatively of Aaron (e.g., the story of the golden calf). In particular it records the importance of Ephraim, the tribe from which Jeroboam, the King of Israel, happened to derive.

Some independent source texts thought to have been embedded within the text include the Covenant Code, a legal text used in the Chapters 21–23 of the Book of Exodus.


  1. ^ "Deuteronomic" means related to the Book of Deuteronomy, which was composed in the late 7th century BCE.


  1. ^ a b Viviano 1999, p. 40.
  2. ^ a b Gmirkin 2006, p. 4.
  3. ^ Viviano 1999, p. 41.
  4. ^ McDermott, John J., Reading the Pentateuch: A Historical Introduction (Pauline Press, 2002) p. 21. Via Books.google.com.au. October 2002. ISBN 978-0-8091-4082-4. Retrieved 2010-10-03.
  5. ^ a b Kugler & Hartin 2009, p. 48.
  6. ^ Carr 2014, p. 436.
  7. ^ Gnuse 2000, pp. 201−202.
  8. ^ Van Seters 1998, pp. 13–14.
  9. ^ Van Seters 1998, p. 13.
  10. ^ a b Kugler & Hartin 2009, p. 49.
  11. ^ Kugler & Hartin 2009.
  12. ^ Jenks, Alan W. (1977). The Elohist and North Israelite Traditions. Atlanta, Georgia: Society of Biblical Literature. ISBN 978-0891300885.