Source Criticism of the Torah

How the revelation of the names of God provides a glimpse into the literary sources of the Torah.

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The Elohistic source, designated E, is so named because of its use of the divine name Elohim and its interest in the northern tribes, of which Ephraim was the most important. It probably was written between 900 and 800 B.C.E., presenting material parallel and supplementary to that found in J.

The Priestly source, designated P, uses the divine name El Shaddai (until Exodus 6) and contains a great many ritual texts. Scholars greatly disagree concerning the date when this source was written. Some place it as early as J and E, but others posit a date as late as the Babylonian exile (6th century B.C.E.)

The Deuteronomic source, designated D, is considered to have been written later [than J and E] (8th to 6th century B.C.E.). It reviews certain stories and presents legislation that sometimes differ from the first four books. It is important to note that contradictions exist not only within narrative material but also within the laws of the Torah. For instance, Exodus 21:2-11 states that a male slave should be released after six years of servitude. This law, however, does not apply to female slaves (v. 7). In Deut. 15:12, the same requirement of release is extended to both male and female slaves.

Most scholars believe that the Torah was compiled and edited by Priestly redactors in Babylonia between 600 and 400 B.C.E.

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Benjamin Scolnic

Benjamin Edidin Scolnic is the rabbi of Temple Beth Sholom in Hamden, Conn. He holds a Ph.D. in Bible from the Jewish Theological Seminary and is the editor-in-chief of Conservative Judaism magazine.?