By Levi Clancy for לוי on
According to the documentary hypothesis, the first five books of the Old Testament (collectively the Law books, aka Torah or Pentateuch) were written by four different sources that were later combined and consolidated.
These sources wrote about the same events, but from different perspectives and with disparate agendas. Their writings were eventually combined, but discrepancies between their styles allow their interwoven contributions to be separated.
There were four sources: Yahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomist and Priestly.
10th - 9th centuries BC, in Judah
Characterized by use of Yahweh to refer to God. Includes most of Genesis and portions of Exodus. Hypothesized as a collector or editor of older myths during the Solomonic era.
Circa 8th century BC, in Israel
Characterized by use of Elohim to refer to God. Includes portions of Genesis not considered the work of the Yahwist and part of Exodus.
Hypothesized as strands of a later work by a northern prophet from Israel covering basically the same material as the Yahwist.
Circa 7th century BC, in Judah
Characterized by a interpretation of Israel's "history" as evidence of divine judgment. Includes Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, I-II Samuel and I-II Kings.
Hypothesized as the product of a individual or school acting on behalf of Josianic reforms underway in the late 7th century.
After the 6th century BC, in exile
Characterized by priestly or legal language concerned with the law, religious purity and cultural separation. Includes parts of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers.
Hypothesized as the product of a priestly "school" concerned with preserving the memory of Israel and retaining a distinct culture in the midst of exile. The Priestly writings began in exile, and appear throughout the Pentateuch and especially Leviticus and Numbers. P rewrote Israelite history from a priestly perspective, and has much in common with Ezekiel who was also a priest. P cast a priestly hierarchy onto events and places, such as who could access the Holy of Holies. However, P did not believe that God had a fixed abode, but rather had a glory that was in and of itself, and graced the Jewish community with presence.
In addition to turning obliterated earthly places into metaphorical tales, P took esoteric priestly laws and brought them to the masses. Popularizing priestly law allowed exilic Jews to become closer to God without Jerusalem; obeying procedures could create a pure, sacred space within one's own life. Priests in the Temple, and the Temple itself, were unnecessary for safety. By obeying the commandments (mitzvoth), the Jews could abate confusion and anomie.