Number 2 on my list of 10 books to get you started learning Bible is “Who Wrote the Bible?” by Richard Elliott Friedman. By now it is an oldie but goodie (1987), but it’s still a fine way to get acquainted with the idea that the Pentateuch — a/k/a the Torah or the Five Books of Moses — was created from the four earlier sources that scholars call J, E, D, and P. More importantly, it will let you follow an extended treatment (beyond the short essays of the Jewish Study Bible) of how university scholars think about the Bible as a work of ancient writing.
J – The early source that uses the Tetragrammaton — that is, the four-letter-word that is God’s personal name, J – H – W – H (as a German would transliterate it).
E – The source that introduces this name only in Exod 3:1, previously using only the word elohim, “God.”
P – The Priestly source.
D – The Deuteronomic source.
Eldad: At my synagogue we count a minyan with 9 men and the Torah.
Medad: At mine we settle for 6 men and J, D, E, and P.
(hat tip to Merrill and Andrew)
Friedman’s book is easily available, readable, and affordable. It explains clearly why and how this theory was developed. His description of how the Flood story was constructed from earlier versions in J and P just nails why this theory is so powerful. (It’s too bad the book is called “Who Wrote the Bible?” when it is really mostly about who wrote the Pentateuch; but I’ll have more to say on this topic another time.)
There’s far more to academic biblical studies than this theory, but for those who can’t move on until they have rolled around in it a little bit, a short list for further reading:
• Umberto Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch – refutation of the JEDP idea from an Orthodox Jewish perspective
• Jeffrey Tigay, Empirical Models for Biblical Criticism – demonstrating that some ancient texts were indeed created in the way the JEDP theory postulates
• Richard Elliott Friedman, The Bible with Sources Revealed – Friedman’s own translation of the Pentateuch, with the different sources printed in different fonts