Documentary Hypothesis - How Many Authors Does The Torah Have?

July 31, 2020 - 10 Av 5780

What is the Documentary Hypothesis?

The Documentary Hypothesis is a form of Biblical Criticism that according to some scholars dates back to the German Enlightenment. A version of Documentary Hypothesis (also known as the DH), attributed to the German scholar Julius Wellhausen, posits that the Torah as we know it today was written by four distinct Jewish authors living at different (perhaps overlapping) times and belonging to different social or religious groups within the Jewish body. This contrasts against the Orthodox Jewish view that Moses was the sole author of the entire Torah (including the description of his death), revealed by God and written down over the forty year sojourn in the desert.

According to Wikipedia, the Documentary Hypothesis, also known as the JEDP theory, is explained as follows:

The documentary hypothesis posited that the Pentateuch is a compilation of four originally independent documents: the Jahwist (J), Elohist (E), Deuteronomist (D), and Priestly (P) sources. The first of these, J, was dated to the Solomonic period (c. 950 BCE). E was dated somewhat later, in the 9th century BCE, and D was dated just before the reign of King Josiah, in the 7th or 8th century. Finally, P was generally dated to the time of Ezra in the 5th century BCE. The sources would have been joined together at various points in time by a series of editors or "redactors."

This hypothesis is based on a few approaches. The first is that the appearance of different Names of God in the Torah (Elokim and Hashem, which is spelled Yud-Hay-Vav-Hay) indicates different Jewish sects, cults, or institutions that knew God by different names. This is an assumption that overlooks the Jewish tradition’s stance that different Names of God are associated with different attributes, which also explains why two or more of God’s Names are sometimes used in the same sentence.

The second, as quoted above, places all four categories of text much later than the life of Moses (who may not have even existed according to this hypothesis).

An Experiment

Let us assume, for a moment, that four different authors did indeed write the Torah at different points in time, which was later compiled together by later redactors.

To that end I propose a little experiment designed to see if we can accurately and correctly identify unnatural breaks in the flow of a story. If so, we should be able to identify multiple categories of text that have been stitched together based on the methodology used by the Documentary Hypothesis, and more broadly, by Biblical Criticism.

The methods that you should use in this experiment are the same proposed by Biblical Criticism, which according to Wikipedia are “grammar, structure, development, and relationship of language to identify such characteristics as… literary structure, its genre, its context, meaning, authorship, and origins.” In other words, pay close to attention to shifts in style and inconsistent wording and terminology.

I have taken the text below from different short stories about hippos written by different authors. I will divulge how this experiment works. I have rearranged, edited, and combined the text of these stories into one longer story. In terms of the Documentary Hypothesis, I am the redactor, and the original authors are the different authors of the Torah. As the redactor I have smoothed out any unnatural transitions created by stitching the stories together. I have done this by editing, removing, and adding a few words where necessary to make the transitions appear more natural.

The Challenge

Your challenge requires you to do the following to the best of your ability:

  • Identify how many different authors (or different stories) the text below has been taken from.
  • Identify each place where the stories have been stitched together. The stories may transition in several different places.
  • Identify which words I have added to smooth out the transitions, and if you think I've removed any words.

In general, try to recreate the original stories as best as possible.

Please take this test and post your comments. Once this experiment has received a sufficient amount of attempts I will post the original stories for you to check your results.

The Story


A very long time ago in Africa, when all the animals lived together in the bush with the Creator, most animals lived on the land, and only a very few lived in the water.

Now the hot sun baked the earth every day, and all the animals suffered one way or another. But the animals had strong skins to protect them against the sun, either fur, feathers or scales.

During that time, the hippopotamus, whose name was Isantim, was one of the biggest kings on the land; he was second only to the elephant. The hippo had seven large fat wives, of whom he was very fond. Now and then he used to give a big feast to the animals, but a curious thing was that, although everyone knew the hippo, no one, except his seven wives, knew his name.

As his wives were well aware, every day the hippo suffered, as his skin dried and cracked, causing him a lot of pain and discomfort. One day when then hippo could not endure it anymore, one of his wives suggested that he go to the Creator and ask him permission to live in the river. The hippo agreed and asks: "Please, may I go live in the river?" The Creator’s response was: “Yes, but only if one of the animals at the feast can guess your name.” The sullen hippo agreed.

At one of the feasts, just as the animals were about to sit down, the hippo said: "You have come to feed at my table, but none of you know my name. If you cannot tell my name, you shall all of you go away without your dinner."

As they could not guess his name, they had to go away and leave all the good food and tombo [palm wine] behind them. But before they left, the tortoise stood up and asked the hippo what he would do if he told him his name at the next feast. So the hippo replied that he would be so ashamed of himself, that he and his whole family would leave the land, and for the future would dwell in the water.

Now it was the custom for the hippo and his seven wives to go down every morning and evening to the river to wash and have a drink. Of this custom the tortoise was aware. The hippo used to walk first, and the seven wives followed. One day when they had gone down to the river to bathe, the tortoise made a small hole in the middle of the path, and then waited. When the hippo and his wives returned, two of the wives were some distance behind, so the tortoise came out from where he had been hiding, and half buried himself in the hole he had dug, leaving the greater part of his shell exposed.

When the two hippo wives came along, the first one knocked her foot against the tortoise's shell, and immediately called out to her husband: "Oh! Isantim, my husband, I have hurt my foot."

At this the tortoise was very glad, and went joyfully home, as he had found out the hippo's name.

When the next feast was given by the hippo, he made the same condition about his name; so the tortoise got up and said, "You promise you will not kill me if I tell you your name?" and the hippo promised. The tortoise then shouted as loud as he was able: "Your name is Isantim," at which a cheer went up from all the animals, and then they sat down to their dinner.

When the feast was over, the hippo, with his seven wives, in accordance with his promise, went down to the river, and they have always lived in the water from that day till now; and although they come on shore to feed at night, you never find a hippo on the land in the daytime.

But the river animals were a bit selfish, and also worried. After thinking about it for a short time, they said to the hippo: “No, we cannot allow this! Look at you! You are so big and will eat all the fish in the river. There will be no more food for us."

The hippo said to the river animals: "You do not have to worry, as I do not eat fish. I will only eat the grass and river plants." The river animals were very skeptical and did not believe this.

So the hippo told them: "I promise: Every day I will open my mouth wide, so that you all can see there are no fish bones or scales in my mouth. And I will spread my dung with my tail, so that you can see there are no bones."

This convinced the river animals. So, from that day, the river animals allowed the hippo to live in the river, and the hippo would open his mouth always wide open, and spread his dung with his tail.

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