Source Criticism

aka "Higher" Criticism

Heya BibleDudes! We're like P's and Q's. Don't mind us.



Darlings, we're so glad you're here, as we're in the section of Source or "Higher" Criticism, in which we attempt to discover the original sources of the Bible. Source Criticism begins with the hypothesis that the biblical writings as we now have them are a combination of once distinct written documents that were only later brought together. So today source critics try to decipher as much as they can about these original documents or sources and the authors who wrote them.


I know all about biblical authors! Moses wrote the Hebrew Bible, Judas Maccabee wrote the Apocrypha, and Peter, Paul, and Mary wrote the New Testament, as well as some pretty decent songs back in the day. Bada bing bada boom!


I don't know much about the musical exploits of Peter, Paul and Mary, but you are right that many people believe I wrote the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. But let me point out that there is nothing in the Bible that says that I wrote every word from Genesis through Deuteronomy. This tradition developed sometime during Second Temple Judaism (ca 515 BCE-70 CE) based on a misunderstanding of the word "Torah." You see, there is a passage in Deut 31:9 that says that I "wrote this Torah." But the Hebrew word "Torah" means "law" or "instruction", and the term is used frequently to refer to specific laws in the Bible. For example, we can read the Torah/Law of the Nazirite in Num 6:13 and the Torah/Law of the Leper in Lev 14:57. So the author of Deuteronomy 31 only implied that I wrote the preceding laws and instructions found in Deuteronomy 12-28, a section known as the Deuteronomic Law Code.


Plus, the language used in Deuteronomy 12-28 and the historical and theological context suggests a date of composition after Moses' day. So the "Torah" that Moses wrote according to Deut 31:9 was only 16 chapters as opposed to five books, and using Source Criticism, we learn that these16 chapters of laws as they are now recorded were not completed until centuries after Moses.


Let me add that the tradition of me being the Torah's author became ingrained by the first century CE. Thus in the New Testament Jesus spoke of the "law of Moses" when referring to Lev 12:3 (John 7:23), and Jesus cited "the book of Moses" when he quoted Exod 3:6 (Mark 12:26). From then on, it was official Church doctrine that I wrote the whole thing. However, even during Jesus' day, scholars questioned how I could have written the whole thing.


Hey, like before I introduce Mr. Source Criticism Dude himself, Herr Julius Wellhausen, you can click on the scholars below to learn about their contributions to the awesome puzzle of just...

Who Wrote the Torah?

2 Esdras

Pope Clement


Rabbi Judah



Abelard & Heloise

Ibn Ezra

Thomas Hobbes


Richard Simon

Thomas Paine

Jean Astruc

Johann Eichorn

Karl Graf

[Julius Wellhausen]

Danke BibleDudes, I am known as Der Father of die Documentary Hypothesis, and when I learned through Methuselah that Jeff and Mike invited me here, and almost with knowing your reasons, I was prepared to accept your invitation. Let me tell you about my famous book, ja? I wrote Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels (Prolegomena to the History of Israel) in 1878 and this book synthesized the work of previous scholars and convincingly laid out the argument that the Torah consisted of several documents written centuries apart. Let's meet the authors of these documents, ja?


I'm named the Yahwistic source, but you can call me "J" for short. That's because when I write about conversations involving God, I use the divine name Yahweh. So why don't I go by "Y," the first letter of Yahweh? Well, this scholarship was done in Germany, where the name is written Jahwe, so hence the "J." I'm the only source of the Torah who isn't a priest, so there's a slight chance that I might have been a woman. My stories include, among many things, dreams, talking animals, and sex, and many scholars believe I lived in the southern kingdom of Judah sometime during the 9th-8th centuries BCE.


I wrote that in Exod 6:3 God revealed His divine name Yahweh to Moses. Before that, I only call God Elohim (Hebrew for god[s]), so people call me "E" for short. Many scholars think that I lived in the northern kingdom of Israel, and that I wrote sometime during the divided monarchy before the destruction of Israel 722 BCE. Based on the content of many of my stories, scholars believe that I was a priest who traced his lineage back to Moses, and that I was upset with the rulers of both Judah and Israel. In Judah only priests descended from Aaron could run the Temple, and in Israel, even though we anointed Jeroboam king, he appointed priests who paid him the most money.


I'm the redactor of the J and E documents. Many scholars believe that it was shortly after the tragic destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE that I combined the texts J and E into one composite story.


I'm the easiest source to identify. They call me "P" for Priestly, because my material usually relates to the priesthood. For example, if you're reading about how to make a particular sacrifice, then chances are I'm the author. There is a huge debate in academia about the date in which I worked. Many scholars argue that I worked before the Babylonian exile of 586 BCE, while others argue that it was during or even after the exile. But most scholars agree that, no matter when I lived, I end in the book of Numbers. To explain where the last book of the Torah came from, I turn things over to D.


Hi there! Because the language and theological outlook of the book of Deuteronomy is different from the sources making up Genesis through Numbers, they call me "D" for Deuteronomic. Many scholars think that I was compiled over several centuries by priests living in the northern kingdom of Israel before the exile. I wasn't combined with these earlier works until later. In fact, most scholars think I was the first book in a history covering from the time of Moses to Israel's exile in Babylonia. To help explain this further, here's my close relative, Dtr.


Thank you for the introduction, cuz. In the 1940's a great German scholar named Martin Noth noticed that much of the material in the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings was compiled by someone sharing the same theological perspective and vocabulary as those responsible for the book of Deuteronomy. Therefore, Martin Noth called this person - that is, me - "the Deuteronomistic historian." Noth thought that I lived during the exile, since the last notice of the book of 2 Kings refers to the exile. However, a number of scholars now think I lived before the exile, and that the last notice in 2 Kings was added later. To help us sort this out, we've invited the great American biblical scholar, Frank Moore Cross.

[Frank Moore Cross]

That's right BibleDudes. I developed the idea that, in fact, there were two editions of the Deuteronomistic History. The first was composed during the reign of King Josiah (640-609 BCE) in order to back his religious reforms. Then following the destruction of Judah in 586 BCE, the same individual or another historian with a similar outlook went back and slightly edited the text to tell the story of what happened during the destruction and exile and the events shortly thereafter. So, because of me, many scholars now speak of Dtr 1 (before the exile) and Dtr 2 (after the exile).


Then last, but certainly not least, I came along. I'm the Redactor, or "R" for short. I'm the editor who put the whole Torah together, using the separate documents D, P, and the combined JE text. You can read more about me in the next section, which focuses on a critical method named after me.

Note: To find out more about this, we can recommend an awesome book on the subject. It's called Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard E. Friedman.


And Source Criticism is totally like useful for things other than the Torah. Scholars apply it to all of the books of the Bible. For the New Testament, Source Criticism often applies to the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and thankfully it is quite a bit easier than the Hebrew Bible. This is because whereas the Torah was combined into one document long ago, the Gospels always remained separate. Like check out this Bibliscious chart.

[NT Source Chart]


What is up BibleDudes? I'm the non-Markian shared material in Luke and Matthew.

Let me explain. Three of the four New Testament Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are very similar. Scholars refer to these as the Synoptic Gospels, from a Greek word meaning "to view together" (syn = together; optic = to view). Often times all three Gospels contain the very same story told in exactly the same way. Thus, scholars believe that one of the three gospels served as the source for the other two. For a variety of reasons, scholars believe that the source gospel was Mark, from which Luke and Matthew derived much of their information about Jesus. But sometimes Matthew and Luke share material that is not found in Mark. Because this shared material is most often sayings of Jesus, scholars have hypothesized that there existed a source of Jesus' teachings which Matthew and Luke both used. Scholars call this source "Q," from the German word Quelle, which means "source". However, sometimes Matthew and Luke have their own unique material, which scholars argue derived from sources available to Matthew and Luke individually. Scholars designate Matthew's unique source as "M" and Luke's as "L." The chart above summarizes the relationship between these various sources.

Thank you, Q man. And by the way, I loved you in Star Trek: Next Gen.

In the next section, as the R dude said earlier, we check out Redaction Criticism.