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Not to be confused with Yahwism.

The Jahwist, or Yahwist, often abbreviated J, is one of the hypothesized sources of the Pentateuch (Torah), together with the Deuteronomist, the Elohist and the Priestly source. It's probably the oldest of the four.[1] It gets its name from its characteristic use of the term Yahweh (German Jahwe, Hebrew YHWH) for God in the book of Genesis.[2]

During most of the 20th century the dominant belief among scholars was that the Torah had been composed by intertwining four originally separate and complete documents, of which the Jahwist was one—this was called the documentary hypothesis. In the last quarter of the 20th century the consensus over the documentary hypothesis unravelled, and although it still has supporters there are now many alternatives. These alternatives can be broadly divided between "fragmentary" and "supplementary" models (hypotheses). Fragmentary hypotheses, seen notably in the work of Rolf Rendtorff and Erhard Blum, see the Pentateuch as growing through the gradual accretion of material into larger and larger blocks before being joined together, first by a Deuteronomic writer ("Deuteronomic" means related to the Book of Deuteronomy, which was composed in the late 7th century BCE), and then by a Priestly writer (6th/5th century BCE), who also added his own material.[3] The "supplementary" approach is exemplified in the work of John Van Seters, who sees J (which he, unlike the "fragmentists", sees as a complete document) being composed in the 6th century BCE as an introduction to the Deuteronomistic history, the history of Israel that takes up the series of books from Joshua to Kings. The Priestly writers later added supplements to this (hence the term "supplementary") in a process that continued down to the end of the 4th century BCE.[4]


Modern scholars agree that separate sources underlie the Pentateuch, but there is much disagreement on how these sources were used by the authors to write the first five books of the bible.[5] The explanation called the documentary hypothesis dominated much of the 20th century, but the consensus surrounding this hypothesis has now broken down. Its contemporary upholders tend to do so in a strongly modified form, giving a much larger role to the redactors (editors), who are now seen as adding much material of their own rather than as simply passive combiners of documents.[6] Among those rejecting the documentary approach altogether, the most significant revisions have been to combine E with J as a single source, and to see the Priestly source as a series of editorial revisions to the Jahwist.[3]


In J, YHWH is an anthropomorphic figure, forming man from the dust with his own hands, fond of Edenic walks in the "cool of the evening," making clothes for Eve and Adam with animal pelts, enjoying the food Abram offers Him, speaking face-to-face with humans (as in the theophany on Mt. Sinai, Ex. 24:10–11). YHWH can sometimes be bargained with, as in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, where Abram haggles with him over the fate of the cities. Similarly, during the exodus, YHWH, incensed by the Israelites' lack of faith, threatens to destroy them all and raise Moses' descendants instead, but "relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened" when dissuaded by Moses (Exodus 32:14).[7]

J has a particular fascination for traditions concerning Judah, including its relationship with its neighbour Edom. J also supports Judah against Israel, for example suggesting that Israel acquired Shechem (its capital city) by massacring the inhabitants. J supports the priests descended from Aaron, who were established in Jerusalem, the capital of Judah.[7]

J's YHWH is a warrior, as Exodus 15:3 declares. YHWH is not a benign God in heaven; he can be dangerous, as when he attempts to kill his newly chosen prophet Moses at the inn (see Zipporah at the inn), or arbitrary, preventing Moses from entering Canaan without giving reasons, or mischievous when he confuses mankind's language at Babel.[7]

Michael D. Coogan suggests three recurring themes in the Jahwist tradition: the relationship between humans and soil, separation between humans and God, and progressive human corruption:

Relationship between humans and soil[edit]

J is unique in emphasizing a close relationship between humans and soil. This motif is first found in Genesis 2:4b–3:24 when "the first human is called adam because he is taken from the soil."[8] Ground/Earth/Soil is adamah in Hebrew, so man is a derivative of the soil. Initially, man lives in harmony with the soil. After human's disobedience in the garden, however, the relationship is marred. In Genesis 3:17 the soil is cursed and man will toil in order to eat from it.[8] Humans may return to the state of harmony at death as described in Genesis 3:19. The motif is furthered in the story of Cain and Abel. After the murder, Cain is cursed from the ground Genesis 4:11. The bond between man and the soil is, seemingly, restored with Noah. He is described as a man of the soil and is described as the one who will bring relief from the toil of agriculture Genesis 5:29. Noah's drunkenness also alludes to the link between humans and the soil or plant/food the soil produces and corruption. In the end J repeatedly shows a connection between human corruption and the soil.[8]

The separation between the divine and human[edit]

One of the recurring themes of J in Genesis is the boundary between the divine and human realms. In Genesis 3:22, by eating the forbidden fruit, man and woman become like gods and are banished from the Garden of Eden, preventing them from retaining their immortality and full divinity. This theme is also seen in Genesis 6:1–4 in the sexual union of the sons of God with human women: Yahweh declares this a violation of the separation and limits the life span of their offspring.[8] Lastly, we see this theme in Genesis 11:1–9 in the story of the Tower of Babel in which Yahweh confuses mankind's language to prevent them from understanding each other and approaching divinity.[8]

Progressive human corruption[edit]

A third theme in the Jahwist is the increase of human corruption. God creates a world that is "very good", one in which all creatures are vegetarian and violence is unknown, but Eve's disobedience is followed by Cain's murder of his brother Abel, until Yahweh sees that the whole Earth is filled with corruption and resolves to destroy it with the Flood. Corruption does not cease after the Flood, but God accepts that his creation is flawed.[8]


Julius Wellhausen, the 19th century German scholar responsible for the classical form of the documentary hypothesis, did not attempt to date J more precisely than the monarchical period of Israel's history.[9] In 1938 Gerhard von Rad placed J at the court of Solomon, c. 950 BCE, and argued that his purpose in writing was to provide a theological justification for the unified state created by Solomon's father, David.[10] This was generally accepted until a crucial 1976 study by H.H. Schmid, Der sogenannte Jahwist ("The So-called Yahwist"), argued that J knew the prophetic books of the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, while the prophets did not know the traditions of the Torah, meaning J could not be earlier than the 7th century.[11] A number of current theories place J even later, in the exilic and/or post-exilic period (6th–5th centuries BCE).[12]

Other scholars, however, continue to argue against this view. Citing linguistic evidence from the development of biblical Hebrew and J's seemingly being aware of neither "the fall of the kingdom of Israel nor of the dispersion of the northern tribes", Richard Elliot Friedman and others argue that J was composed before the exile, and even prior to the Assyrian defeat of Israel in 722 B.C.E."[13]



The Jahwist begins with the creation story at Genesis 2:4 (the creation story at Genesis 1 is from P); this is followed by the Garden of Eden story, Cain and Abel, Cain's descendants (but Adam's descendants are from P), a Flood story (P has his own flood story and the two are tightly intertwined), Noah's descendants and the Tower of Babel.[14] These chapters make up the so-called Primeval History, the story of mankind prior to Abraham, and J and P provide roughly equal amounts of material. The Jahwist provides the bulk of the remainder of Genesis, the material concerning Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.[15]


J provides much, but not all, of chapters 1–18, which concern Israel's bondage in Egypt, the youth of Moses, and the Exodus itself. P makes some additions to the stories of the plagues of Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea, plus providing the story of the first Passover, the manna in the wilderness, and Sabbath observance. J provides all of chapters 19–24, concerning the appearance of God to Moses at Sinai and the giving of the Covenant Code. P provides chapters 25–31, the elaborate blueprints for the traveling tent-sanctuary, Exodus then switches back to J for the Golden Calf story, and P concludes with the account of the construction of the sanctuary.[16]


The vast majority of commentators attribute the entirety of Leviticus to P.[17]


J begins with chapters 10–14, the departure from Sinai, the story of the spies who are afraid of the giants in Canaan, and the refusal of the Israelites to enter the Promised Land—which then brings on the wrath of God, who condemns them to wander in the wilderness for the next forty years. J skips over chapter 15 and resumes at chapter 16, the story of the rebellion of Dathan and Abiram, which is combined, very badly, with a twin version from P. J provides chapters 21 to 24, covering the story of the bronze serpent, Balaam and his talking ass, and rebellion in Moab, finishing, after skipping some chapters provided by P, with the provision of land to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Mannasseh.[18]

After the Torah[edit]

The J text continues on after the Torah with portions of Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, and 1 Kings.[19][20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Murphy 2003, p. 97.
  2. ^ Gilbert 2009, p. 31.
  3. ^ a b Kugler & Hartin 2009, p. 49.
  4. ^ Kugler & Hartin 2009, p. 49-50.
  5. ^ Van Seters 1998, p. 13-14.
  6. ^ Van Seters 1998, p. 13.
  7. ^ a b c Friedman 1987.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Coogan 2009, p. 47.
  9. ^ Gooder 2000, p. 12.
  10. ^ Romer 2006, p. 10-16.
  11. ^ Campbell & O'Brien 1993, p. 10.
  12. ^ Baden 2009, p. 305-313.
  13. ^ Friedman, Richard Elliot. The Hidden Book in the Bible, appendix 2. HarperOne, 1998.
  14. ^ Kugler & Hartin 2009, p. 55.
  15. ^ Kugler & Hartin 2009, p. 65.
  16. ^ Kugler & Hartin 2009, p. 76.
  17. ^ Kugler & Hartin 2009, p. 85.
  18. ^ Kugler & Hartin 2009, p. 97.
  19. ^ Friedman, Richard Elliott; translated, ; Friedman, introduced by Richard Elliott (1999). The hidden book in the Bible (1st HarperCollins paperback ed.). [San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco. ISBN 0060630043.  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  20. ^ Mansfield, Clarimond (1992). The book of Yahweh (the Yahwist Bible) : fragments from the primitive document in seven early books of the Old Testament, by an unknown genius of the ninth century, B.C. Boston:Cornhill Publishing Company. 


  • Coogan, Michael D (2009). A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament. Oxford University Press. 
  • Dozeman, Thomas B; Schmid, Konrad (2006). A Farewell to the Yahwist?. SBL. 

External links[edit]