J, or the Yahwistic source (in German, Jahwistic), is named for its assumption that the divine name, YHWH (often vocalized Yahweh), was known from the beginning of time (Genesis 4:26). E, or the Elohistic source, is so named because it insists that God was known as Elohim until the tetragrammaton was revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:15). P, the Priestly source, is distinguished for its interest in the priesthood and in ritual law. D, the Deuteronomic source, makes up most of the Book of Deuteronomy. See Victor Hurowitz, “P—Understanding the Priestly Source,” BR 12:03; Moshe Weinfeld, “Deuteronomy’s Theological Revolution,” BR 12:01.


Although divided into the Five Books of Moses, the Torah is truly a continuous narrative, recounting the development of Israel and its introduction to God’s laws. The unity of the text is expressed in its Greek name, the Pentateuch, which originally meant not five books but rather a single book divided into five parts.



On the Decalogue, see the articles collected in Ben-Zion Segal, ed., The Ten Commandments in History and Tradition (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1987).


See Moshe Greenberg, “nsh in Exodus 20:30 and the Purpose of the Sinaitic Theophany,” Journal of Biblical Literature 79 (1960), pp. 273–276.


See Choong-Leow Seow, “The Designation of the Ark in Priestly Theology,” Hebrew Annual Review 8 (1984), pp. 185–198, and Menahem Haran, Temples and Temple-Service in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978; reprint, Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1985), pp. 142, 255, 272–273.


Source criticism of the Torah in general, and the documentary hypothesis in particular, has been central to biblical studies for over a hundred years. The classical English introductions are Joseph E. Carpenter and George Harford, The Composition of the Hexateuch (London: Longmans, Green, 1902); Samuel R. Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, 9th ed. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark 1913), pp. 1–159; A.T. Chapman, An Introduction to the Pentateuch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1911). One of the first works to present a synopsis of the separate sources in English is William Edward Addis, The Documents of the Hexateuch (London: Nutt; New York: Putnam, 1893–1898). For recent introductions see Richard E. Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1987), and Antony F. Campbell and Mark A. O’Brien, Sources of the Pentateuch (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), esp. chap. 1, pp. 1–20; see also Joseph Blenkinsopp, The Pentateuch, Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 1992). One recent critic of the source theory is Roger N. Whybray, The Making of the Pentateuch (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987).


See Yohanan Muffs, “His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition: A Study in Prophetic Intercession,” Conservative Judaism 33:3 (1978–1980), pp. 25–37.


The Hebrew word is ’asilim, usually translated “nobles.” It is used in this sense only here, so the exact meaning is uncertain; some would connect it with the root ’sl, “to set apart,” the “elect” of Israel, those chosen to participate in this theophany.


The following section is based on Baruch J. Schwartz, “The Priestly Account of the Theophany and Lawgiving at Sinai,” in Texts, Temples and Traditions—A Tribute to Menahem Haran, ed. Michael V. Fox et al. (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1996), pp. 103–134.


See Menahem Haran, “The Shining of Moses’ Face—A Case Study in Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Iconography,” in In the Shelter of Elyon: Essays on Ancient Palestinian Life and Literature in Honor of G.W. Ahlström, ed. W. Boyd Barrick and John R. Spencer (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1984), pp. 159–173.


See Schwartz, “Priestly Account,” pp. 130–132.


Scholars have suggested numerous theories. My approach is close to that of Martin Noth as elucidated in “The ‘Priestly Writing’ and the Redaction of the Pentateuch,” which appeared in 1943. The English translation of this work appeared only in 1987 (in Martin Noth, The Chronicler’s History [Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987], pp. 107–147), so English-speaking scholars seem not to have consulted it, relying instead on Noth’s A History of Pentateuchal Traditions (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1972), pp. 8–19, 234–247.


Throughout P, the object presented to Moses is called the testimony, with no mention of the tablets (Exodus 16:34, 25:16, 21, 22, 26:33–34, 27:21, 30:6, 36, 40:20; Leviticus 16:13, 24:3; Numbers 17:19, 25), while E and D refer everywhere to tablets, never mentioning the testimony. Only in three places does the traditional text refer to the “two tablets of the testimony” (Exodus 31:18a, 32:15, 34:29), and all three occur at precisely the points where P has been merged with E. In my opinion, P originally contained a continuous passage that began as follows: “When he finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, he gave Moses the testimony.” In E’s narrative, immediately following Exodus 24:18b, E told of a similar event: “He then gave Moses two tablets, stone tablets which had been inscribed by the finger of God.” The redactor combined the two into one verse, Exodus 31:18. P originally continued immediately with “As Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the testimony in his hand”; the words “two tablets of the” have been added in this verse (Exodus 34:29) by the redactor. In E, however, after Moses learns of the calf (Exodus 32:7–14), the story originally continued: “Thereupon Moses turned and went down the mountain bearing the two tablets, tablets inscribed on both their surfaces.” Here (Exodus 32:15) the words “of the testimony” have been added by the redactor. Thus, in the three passages cited, the phrase “the two tablets of testimony” was created by the redactor, who identified P’s testimony with E’s tablets.


The classical work still available is Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel (in German) (Berlin: Reimer, 1878), English trans. by John Sutherland Black and Allan Menzies (Edinburgh: A & C Black, 1885; reprint, New York: Meridian, 1957). All subsequent scholarship uses Wellhausen as the starting point, accepting or rejecting various aspects of his construction; see Victor Hurowitz, “P—Understanding the Priestly Source,” BR 12:03; Moshe Weinfeld, “Deuteronomy’s Theological Revolution,” BR 12:01; and the works cited in note 4 and their bibliographies.


For this insight I am indebted to Professor Yohanan Muffs.