Notes for The Bible as Literature


Purpose of Narrators: is not to present a straightforward historical account

                                    Rather the narrators are confessing faith in God; thus they select

                                    and retell stories of the way God, Creator of heaven and earth,

chooses to involved in the lives of the Hebrew people


Literary Versions:


J -- Jahwist or Yahwist: The name scholars give the anonymous writer or compiler who produced the J document, the oldest stratum in the Pentateuch (c. 950-850 BCE); the writer regularly uses Yahweh as the name of God; in German Jahweh.  J begins in Genesis 2: 4b with the Garden of Eden and appears intermittently through Numbers -- possibly beyond that.  The style of J is vivid, concrete with an anthropomorphic view of God.(For example: God walking through the Garden of Eden, eating with Abraham at Mamre, or personally wrestling with Jacob) It includes an old Hebrew version of the Flood, the story of Abraham and Sarah and their descendants, the Israelite tribes' journey into Egypt and the Exodus from Egypt, the Mosaic Covenant (using the name Mount Sinai for the place where Moses got the 10 Commandments), and Israel's settlement in Canaan.  J is thought to have been a resident Judea, the southern kingdom, and maybe was a member of the royal court circle.  Speculations about J suggests that the Yahwist narrative was produced after the great changes occurring when Israel united under a centralized government in Jerusalem and specifically affirms the Davidic line, connecting with Yahweh's vow to make Abraham's progeny a great nation.  Some critics think J could have been a woman; J is the first to compose a continuous narrative of Israel's origins.  The J compilation incorporates ancient oral traditions about human prehistory and tales of the ancestral fathers and mothers.


E -- Elohist: The name given to the writer or compiler who produced the E document, second oldest tradition (850-800BCE); this writer uses "Elohim" or the plural form of divine powers for God.  The style is more abstract, less picturesque than J's. God is also portrayed less anthropomorphically than in J.  E uses the term "Horeb" for the mountain of the covenant.  It begins with the story of  Abraham and doesn't review the early human history; it was probably composed in the northern kingdom, Ephraim.  Other differences from J, when speaking of the inhabitants of Palestine, E calls them Amorites (J had used Canaanites).  J speaks of Moses' father-in-law as Ruel or Hobab, E calls him Jethro, priest of Midian.  E is responsible for the burning bush passage (Exod. 3:15) signaling that this is the first time the people knew the name of God. E employs angels as go-betweens, making God more remote or transcendent.  In the dream Jacob has at Bethel, E brings in the ladder, the celestial stairway.  E uses sites in the northern kingdom, featuring the northern tribes, especially Ephraim.


JE--a combination of the traditions, the E material was probably added to J after 721 BCE when the northern kingdom, Israel, fell to the Assyrians.  Maybe Israelites fleeing brought stories with them to Judah, and these were eventually incorporated into the J version. The resulting version has repetitions like the two versions of Sarah, Abraham's wife being captured by a foreign ruler, and the story of Abimelech and Rebecca (Isaac's wife) in Gen. 12: 10-20; 20:1-18; 26:6-11.


D -- Deuteronomist: (650-621, revised after 587 BCE) This reflects the literary style and attitudes of Josiah's reform (621 BCE); it insists that there should be only one sanctuary.  This tradition is best reflected in Deuteronomy, but later the D compiler edits the histories of Joshua through 2 Kings.  Chapters 12-28 of Deuteronomy is probably the "Book of the Law" that Josiah recovered during the repairs on the Jerusalem temple and helped to validate the religious reform Josiah promoted.  The message of Deuteronomy was that obedience to God brought success in battle and economic abundance; disobedience brought disaster.  Writings after Deuteronomy are affected by this same message that their nation's welfare was conditional upon the people's loyalty to God.


P -- Priestly: (550-400) This compiler emphasizes priestly concerns, legalistic and cultic aspects of religion.  It tends to be a more dry, precise rationalistic style including such text as genealogies, lists, and censuses.  This tradition derived from the priestly desire to preserve the Mosaic traditions during and after the Babylonian exile (following 587 BCE). Priestly writers wanted to collect, preserve and edit Israel's religious traditions at a time when this covenanted people's existence was threatened.  The compilation of priestly heritage, including hundreds of laws and regulations governing worship was seen as a way to ensure Israel's unique religious purpose.  Although largely concerned with ritual, purity laws, genealogies, and the details of cult sacrifices, P also includes significant additions to the JE narrative. P interwove the Flood story with J's version created an expanded and contradictory one.  P's creation story includes the first Sabbath, a crucial priestly institution. P gives exhaustive details about the Ark of the Covenant.  P changes the crossing of the great sea to emphasize Yahweh's parting of the waters and introduces Aaron as Moses' spokesman, giving Aaron a significant role in the establishment of the priestly line.