Modern source critics usually divide the primeval history in Genesis 1–11—from the Creation through the Tower of Babel— into two major strands or sources, designated J (for the Yahwist—Jehovah in its Germanic form) and P (for the Priestly source). According to the traditional formulation of the documentary hypothesis, J, itself a composite source, is the earlier. P later took J and edited and incorporated parts of it into the narrative, which gave P its final form. This chart shows how the material is traditionally divided between J and P. Note that there are two Creation stories, one by J and one by P. The Flood story is a composite a combination of the two strands.

The division of sources is not quite as neat as this outline may suggest; it is generally assumed, for example, that the Table of Nations (chapter 10), although designated P, has incorporated earlier material, perhaps from J. But this is by and large the way the narrative is divided, according to the documentary hypothesis.

Two distinct but overlapping story lines have been juxtaposed, with one exception—the Flood story, which is a conflation of the two sources. P’s seven-day Creation account (Genesis 1:1–2:4) is followed by J’s (Genesis 2:4–25), written from a quite different perspective. The Cain and Seth genealogies in 4:17–26 are paralleled by the descendants of Adam in Genesis 5:1–31 (with, however, some significant differences —five names are identical, with four variants).

Recent scholarship has found serious flaws in details of the documentary hypothesis. P can no longer be regarded as the editor of the final version of the biblical text. Moreover, both J and P seem to contain earlier and later material.