The Yahwist (J)
The Elohist (E)
The Deuternonomist (D)
The Priestly Source (P)
JEDP is the acronym for the theory. Each of these letters represents a source of oral and written traditions about the history of Israel.
The Documentary Hypothesis was developed in the 19th century by several scholars. One of the first was Jean Astruc who speculated that Moses used existing written or oral sources to write the Pentateuch. Other scholars, such as Eichhorn and DeWette elaborated upon his ideas. However, K. Graf and Julius Wellhausen are recognized as the scholars who put the sources in the JEDP order; they also determined there was an editor, also called a Redactor, who carefully combined the four accounts together into one unified text. In his book, Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel, first published as the History of Israel in 1878, Wellhausen argued that the Pentateuch was written by numerous people over a long period of time. To substantiate his claims, he used earlier research to try to prove each document had its own vocabulary, literary style and point of view, among other criteria. He believed that the Bible is an important source for historians, but cannot be taken literally.
“The Deuternonomist (D)” represents the source from the Deuteronomistic history. It received its name because, according to 2 Kings 22-23, King Josiah instituted some religious reforms based on an unidentified “Torah scroll” discovered in the Jerusalem temple during renovations. Upon closer inspection, most likely the discovered scrolls was the book of Deuteronomy. The scholar W.M.L. DeWette has gone as far to state the document was written in the time of King Josiah and conveniently “found” in the Temple at the perfect time to validate Josiah’s reforms. Even the literary placement of Deuteronomy — between the Pentateuch and History books, a pivotal connection from the wilderness to the Promised Land — is of great import, as if Deuteronomy was edited specifically to be the introduction to the Deuteronomistic History. From this perspective, Deuteronomy is valued, not because it is the final book of the Pentateuch, but how it affects the books that follow it: Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings. These books portray Israel’s history from the point of view of the laws found in Deuteronomy. The people and the rulers were judged according to how they followed those laws...or not.
The contemporary idea of the documentary hypothesis has broadened to accept any understanding that the Torah is probably a composite of various sources. Many modern scholars accept some version of this theory. One of the contemporary scholars who embraces this theory is Richard Elliot Friedman, as can clearly be seen in his book Who Wrote the Bible? He states that editors updated the books of Moses to eliminate what may have appeared to be conflicts or historical errors. In the process he tries to identify the authors of each JEPD source. Scandanavian scholar Ivan Engnell believes the whole Torah was passed along by word of mouth until the post-exilic period, when it was finally written down by one person. Another scholar Gerald A. Larue writes, “Back of each of the four sources lie traditions that may have been both oral and written. Some may have been preserved in the songs, ballads, and folktales of different tribal groups, some in written form in sanctuaries. The so-called ‘documents’ should not be considered as mutually exclusive writings, completely independent of one another, but rather as a continual stream of...