It has been estimated at least 90% of the Christians today and perhaps 99% of all people have no idea what is being taught in liberal universities today under the disguise of biblical criticism, textual criticism, source criticism, or literary criticism. In this blog, I will be opposing a (failed) hypothesis that is being taught at the college level by some professors who call themselves specialists, scholars, and critics.
The Documentary Hypothesis was first presented in 1878, just twenty years after Darwin published his hypothesis on how one living species might have started a process of biological changes in a macroevolutionary process called natural selection. In this blog, I will be examining the Documentary Hypothesis, but I will most often refer to it as the Wellhausen Hypothesis. Liberal scholars who devote entire careers on biblical criticism like to call the complex Wellhausen Hypothesis by its more traditional name, the Documentary Hypothesis. At the heart of it all, the Wellhausen Hypothesis is much more than just a four source claim on the origins and development of the first five books of the Bible. It wrongly posits that many contradictions exist, and it literally rips apart the text in an attempt to conclude, “See? I found two authors.”
Wellhausen Followers Continue to Fool the World
In the fall of 2018, the problem of Wellhausen’s teaching and his followers came to my attention while working on my master’s degree. Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) was a German historian, linguist, and Bible critic who lost his faith in the Bible. He began to research certain people in the past who made incorrect assumptions and speculations on whether or not Moses was the author of the first five books of the Bible. These historical Bible critics who opposed Mosaic authorship include Abraham Ibn Ezra, Benedict Spinoza (a pantheist), and Jean Astruc just to name a few. Each one of those figures stumbled upon difficulties that they struggled with in the Pentateuch, and they did not find good answers to their satisfaction. Even if they did find a good answer that explains why a verse does not contradict another verse, for example, or why two divine names are sufficiently used, they rejected it. Today, Wellhausen followers continue to claim they have found a multitude of contradictions, and then they reject honest answers to their literary problems. Underneath the surface of opposing Mosaic authorship, Wellhausen followers bask in a sea of alleged contradictions and confusion by misreading Scripture. They present contradictions in what they call doublets, triplicates, conflicts, style issues, gaps, anachronisms, and repetitions. The most unusual act is when Wellhausen followers continue to perform an “Astruc Cutting” to certain passages – in an attempt to claim two different authors wrote it.
A French physician and professor named Jean Astruc (1684-1766) is often called the father of the Documentary Hypothesis because he presented his speculation that the Pentateuch has two sources, neither of which is Moses. In this blog, I am pointing to Astruc as the person responsible for so many of the Wellhausen followers today who continue to cut passages apart verse by verse. Astruc worked with two divine names in the text, YHWH and Elohim, claiming the two divine names give evidence of two authors. By cutting up the Pentateuch verse by verse and placing certain YHWH verses in one document and certain Elohim verses into another document, Astruc claimed he found two authors. Immediately, Astruc’s two source speculation faces a problem because there are a multitude of passages that use both YHWH (Yahweh/Jehova/LORD) and Elohim, and there are a multitude of verses that contain neither. Finally, in 1941, Umberto Cassuto gave an excellent response to Astruc’s two source speculation in his book, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch: Eight Lectures by Umberto Cassuto. In his book, Cassuto gave a clear reason why Moses used both divine names, YHWH and Elohim. YHWH is used mainly to refer to the personal deity of Israel. Elohim is used in a general sense for the creator over all people.
Building onto Astruc’s teaching, Wellhausen came along and proposed two more authors, a priestly author and the mostly Deuteronomic author, introducing his four source speculation, the Documentary Hypothesis, which I will continue to refer to as the Wellhausen Hypothesis. To complicate the matter further, Wellhausen followers play the innocent joker card by claiming redactors (editors) could have changed any number of words at any place in the Pentateuch at any time up to about 400 BC. By leading students into a sea of confusion about origins, development, and editing, students of Wellhausen scholars might walk away confused instead of reading what is actually in the text, namely, that 1.) Moses wrote down the words of the Lord and 2.) No textual contradictions actually exist. Moses wrote down ceremonial laws, cultural laws, moral laws, and regulations for the festivals as he was instructed by the Lord. Wellhausen imagined four authors wrote an imaginary J-document (written by an alleged author who preferred using the term Jehova/YHWH/Yahweh), an imaginary E-document (written by an alleged author who preferred using the term Elohim), a P-document (written by an alleged priestly author/authors), and a D-document (written by an alleged Deuteronomy author). However, Wellhausen followers fail to give credit to Moses as the author of the Pentateuch who wrote it during his lifetime. In his book, Cassuto reduced the Wellhausen Hypothesis down to five main flimsy pillars that supposedly hold up the four source speculation.
1.) Divine Names
2.) Language and Style
4.) Duplications and Repetitions
5.) Composite Structure
Cassuto did a very good job in his book explaining why all five pillars fail. He presented a case where the Wellhausen Hypothesis has no real basis to hold it up.
Wellhausen Followers Today (Neo-Wellhausen)
The new Wellhausen follower’s method includes four main offenses that still need to be challenged by anyone who honors truth. By responding to the following four ways Wellhausen followers continue to uphold the failed Wellhausen hypothesis, we can be salt and light shining truth in dark places. Below are four ways Neo-Wellhausen followers continue to live in the dark. Just beyond that, you will find a list of four ways we can shine the light of truth in a kind and gentle way.
4 Ways Neo-Wellhausens Live In the Dark
- Neo-Wellhausens continue to look for contradictions. They continue to claim contradictions and errors in the Pentateuch. They continue to consider/assume a second author is at work in places where the Wellhausen follower struggles to understand a difficult passage.
- Neo-Wellhausens continue to work on cutting/dividing up the text. They continue to mentally apply the “Astruc Cutting” to short stories within a chapter.
- Neo-Wellhausens focus on each of the four sources having a history. They focus on the compilation also having a development after compilation. They continue to approach Scripture with far fetched speculations and presuppositions such as the story and certain phrases were changed by redactors (editors) who came along and changed words and terms.
- They continue to teach that the Pentateuch is incoherent without acknowledging a lack of understanding or a misunderstanding coming from the human being.
Here is how we can point Wellhausen followers to truth.
- Let us examine any alleged contradiction or duplicate or triplicate presentation and discover the real context. We cannot be too quick to conclude that there is a contradiction when in reality, the struggle always ends up with the reader’s lack of understanding. Take the time to pray for wisdom and revelation and consider asking other good theologians who may have already discovered good answers to seemingly difficult passages.
- Let us find out why we arrive at knowing the Pentateuch is one literary piece written by mainly Moses during Moses’s lifetime. Become familiar with an explanation of why two divine names are used; Cassuto’s book is a good place to start. Know why we arrive at understanding the Book of Moses is a historical document from about the 1440s BC, written during Moses’s lifetime. We need to give credit to Moses, but we also need to be able to tell Wellhausen followers why the five flimsy pillars of Wellhausen fail. Cassuto began paving a way for us to approach Wellhausen followers in a kind and gentle and truthful way. Instead of just claiming Moses wrote it, let us take time to understand Wellhausen problems and carefully address them.
- Let us present all the verses in the text that refer to the Book of Moses, the Law of Moses, and the Book of the Law of Moses; there are many. Chapter after chapter, book after book from Exodus to Deuteronomy, we read that the Lord told Moses to “write down the words of the Lord.” In addition, let us present other biblical and non biblical texts that also refer to the Book of Moses.
- Let us present the theme of redemption and read the literary piece in context as one coherent message of God calling his people, God redeeming his people, and God preparing his people to go into the promised land. In Genesis, we find a historical account of Adam to Joseph being kidnapped and sold in Egypt. In Exodus, God calls his people out of Egypt. In Leviticus, God gives moral, cultural, and ceremonial laws so that the Israelites can live good lives. God gives directions and regulations to celebrate festivals at certain times each year. Two years after leaving Egypt, the book of Numbers covers a span of 38 out of 40 years of wandering in the desert. God reminds the Israelites in the desert that there are consequences for rebelling against Him, complaining, and disbelieving Him. God taught them how to walk with Him, not against Him. In Deuteronomy, we read the final preparation before they entered the promised land. God prepared His people one last time before Joshua led them into the promised land when Moses was 120 years old.
Who Wrote the Pentateuch?
The first five books of the Bible are called the Pentateuch or the Torah which include Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, typically dated to either 1440 BC or the 1200s BC. For about three thousand years from about 1440 BC to the 1700s AD, the author of the Pentateuch was commonly and widely accepted as Moses. Even though the Pentateuch and the rest of the Bible refer to the Pentateuch as the Book of Moses, the Law of Moses, the Book of the Law of Moses, or the Book of the Law, Wellhausen followers reject a multitude of verses throughout the entire Bible. At the end of this blog, you will find a more comprehensive list of verses from the Bible that specifically refer to Moses as the author who wrote down the words of the Lord (Ex. 17:14, 24:4, 38:21, Nu. 33:2, Deut. 31:9, 24-26). Wellhausen followers blatantly reject Moses as the author. Wellhausen followers often point to the death of Moses (that is recorded at the end of Deuteronomy) and the verse that says, “Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3) as supporting evidence that Moses could not have been the author of the entire Pentateuch.
Even if a priest wrote Numbers 12:3 and Deuteronomy 34:5-12, it does not mean that Moses didn’t write the rest of the Pentateuch. Even if oral tradition and certain lists were carried down from Adam to Moses, it does not mean that Moses didn’t write Genesis. Even though some passages were written down by the direct command of Moses (Ex. 38:21), the main author who wrote most of the Pentateuch is Moses, a three thousand year traditional view which is also called Mosaic authorship.
Is There an Error In the Text or In the Reader’s Understanding?
In the publishing field today, there is usually one main author of a book who wrote and compiled an entire manuscript. From what we know of publishing today, it is very much possible for one book to have more than one author, and it is very much possible for one book to have more than one editor as well as a compiler who formats and for example, a compiler who organizes the chapters of an anthology. When studying the origin and development of the Pentateuch, however, we need to keep in mind what kind of writing method was used back then, acknowledging the situation was completely different, and give credit to where credit is due.
At first glance, the Wellhausen problem seems to be lacking the ability to give Moses any credit at all as the main writer and author of the Pentateuch. Upon further investigation, Wellhausen and his followers carry a much deeper problem: they claim narrative and literary contradictions exist in the text when there really is no contradiction. Every time we closely examine a problem that Wellhausen, his predecessors, and his followers have or have had with a specific passage, we will discover the problem is not in any way a contradiction in the text. In every case, the problem always ends up being with the critic who was not understanding or does not understand the text in context. Next, let me review the nature of a real contradiction.
What is the Law of Non Contradiction?
The Law of Non Contradiction can also be called the Law of Contradiction. Either way, it is generally accepted as the same law, but more commonly referred to as the Law of Non Contradiction. Basically, it states that something cannot both “be” and “not be” at the same time in the same sense. In logic, we explain it this way:
“A” does not equal “non-A”
For example, a zebra either has fins or it does not have fins. A zebra either has black and white stripes or it does not have black and white stripes. A zebra either has wings or it does not have wings. When applying the Law of Non Contradiction to literature, a contradiction could also be something like saying Bob named his zebra “Ribbon” or Bob did not name his zebra “Ribbon.” Either Bob did name his zebra Ribbon or he didn’t, but it can’t be both in the same sense at the same time. It could be that Ribbon was the name at one time, and then Bob began to call Ribbon another name later on at a different time. It could also be that Bob regularly called his zebra Ribbon, but the kids regularly called that same zebra “Flash.” In that case, that particular zebra has two names. In addition, Bob could call his zebra Ribby as a nickname. Furthermore, we know Ribbon came from a certain zebra who came from a certain zebra who came from a certain zebra. That family line of Ribbon’s genealogy could go four or five generations back to a certain zebra named Band. Thus, Ribbon could also be called a Bandite zebra from the tribe of Band. Going even further back, the Bandite tribe could be from a tribe further back called the zebralite tribe. Thus, Ribbon could be both a Bandite and a Zebralite. This example serves to address more than one alleged contradiction from Wellhausen followers. Let us now begin examining a few alleged contradictions from two different Wellhausen followers.
Responding To Wellhausen Problems
Below, I will closely examine a few problems from two Wellhausen followers. I will show why their literary problems are not contradictions.
- What is the name of Moses’s father-in-law?
In Exodus 2:16-20, the author says Reuel is the priest of Midian who had seven daughters. After Moses married one of Reuel’s daughters, Zipporah (2:21), the reader sees Moses’s father-in-law, the priest of Midian, is called Jethro (Exodus 3:1, 4:18, 18:1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12). Later, the author referred to Moses’s father-in-law’s name as Reuel (Numbers 10:29). The text presents two names for Zipporah’s father, Reuel and Jethro. Naturally, the conclusion is that Zipporah’s father had at least two names. The conclusion is not that the text has a contradiction. The question should be, “Can Zipporah’s father have two names?” We would have to honestly answer yes, it is possible to have two names. The text tells us that he had at least two names as they were recorded. Furthermore, is it possible to be named after a deceased relative? Yes. We know that a few generations before, one of Esau’s sons was named Reuel (Gen. 36:4, 10, 13, 17). Oddly enough, Wellhausen followers typically apply their own rules. Here, their strange rule must be “a person can only have one name,” which is not what happens in reality. Thus, the Reuel/Jethro issue is not a contradiction.
2. Was Adam created before the animals or after the animals?
In Genesis 1, an order of creation is presented in six days from the view of someone on earth, ending with the creation of Adam and Eve on the sixth day. Genesis 1 clearly says the animals were made before Adam. In Genesis 2, the chapter begins with a short summary of creation before living things were on earth. It moves into details such as when Adam named the animals (Genesis 2:19). Wellhausen followers claim that Genesis 2 contradicts Genesis 1 because Genesis 1 has Adam being created after the animals whereas they think Genesis 2 has Adam being created before the animals. However, Genesis 2:19 NEVER claims that the animals were made after Adam. Thus, Wellhausen followers read Genesis 2 incorrectly. There is no contradiction between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. Genesis 1 gives us the order of creation whereas Genesis 2 gives us details just after creation.
3. Who sold Joseph to Potiphar?
I was surprised to find out how a young Wellhausen scholar from Yale University made at least four mistakes when reading the very short story of Joseph being sold and taken to Egypt (Genesis 37:18-36). This Wellhausen scholar from Yale found what he called textual difficulties, but the problem remains with his lack of understanding, as we shall see below, not in the text.
The first mistake he made is only a slight misreading of verses 18 and 20. The text does not say that the brothers conspired to kill Joseph two different times. The text begins with a narrative where the brothers saw Joseph approaching. The brothers begin to conspire a plan to kill Joseph. The text moves next to providing a quote of the brothers speaking about the heinous plan to throw Joseph in a pit to die. Ultimately, they wanted to end Joseph’s talk of reigning over them.
Second, Reuben’s plan (verses 21-22) to save his brother is not identical to the brothers’ evil plan to kill him (verses 18-20). The two plans differ.
Third, Judah’s reason (verses 26-27) for not killing Joseph is different than Reuben’s reason (verse 22). Judah suggested they sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites so that they would not be responsible for whatever happened to him in Egypt whereas Reuben did not want to hurt Joseph in order to keep him alive, and Reuben preferred to restore him to his father Jacob. Later, when the brothers reunited in Egypt, Joseph affirmed that his brothers indeed sold him to the Ishmaelites (Gen. 40:15, 45:5).
Fourth, this young Wellhausen follower examined an alleged error at great length, an error that he called an “Ishmaelite/Medianite problem.” He claimed it is an irresolvable difference that occurs. He is confused where the text says the brothers sell Joseph to both the Midianites and Ishmaelites who sold Joseph to Potiphar (verse 25-36). As the text reads, the Midianites lifted Joseph out of the pit and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. The main problem here is that the Wellhausen scholar wanted more details about the transaction than what the text actually gives. He isn’t satisfied with the information given in the story. He speculated as to what else may have happened. He speculated several different scenarios while rejecting what the text actually presents as sufficient for the purpose of the context.
Another Wellhausen Follower Perfoms the “Astruc Cutting”
The most unusual act of all is when this young Wellhausen scholar from Yale performed an “Astruc cutting.” By an “Astruc cutting” I mean that the Wellhausen scholar took the passage of Genesis 37:18-36 and cut, verse by verse, one short Scriptural passage literally into two separate stories; a “Reuben story” and a “Judah story.” He assigned the Judah story to the J-document author and the Reuben story to the E-document author. He then went on to argue over whether the Judah story was the original or the Reuben story was the original. Like all other Wellhausen followers, he speculated on whether an editor possibly changed a few words here and there. He concluded that the Judah story must be the original, that the Reuben story must be the supplement. Like all other Wellhausen followers, he claimed that the E source conflicts with the J source. However, in reality, no such conflict exists.
Evidence That Moses Is the Main Author of the Pentateuch
In Exodus, we learn that the LORD instructed Moses to “write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua…” (Exodus 17:14). We also learn that Moses wrote down the Book of the Covenant and read it to the assembly just after God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and a multitude of other laws (Ex. 20-23). Moses gave instructions to the Israelites for when they enter the promised land (without Moses). After they entered the promise land, the king of Israel must write for himself on a scroll a copy of “this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests” (Deut. 17:18). At the end of Moses’s life when he was one hundred and twenty years old, a conditional promise of prosperity from the Lord was given to the Israelites if they turn to the Lord with all their heart and soul, keeping the commands and decrees that are “written in this Book of the Law” (Deut. 30:9-10, 31:11). Moses instructed the Levitical priests to read the Book of the Law to Israel at the end of every seven years during the Festival of Tabernacles (Deut. 31:9-13). Just before he died, Moses commanded the Levites to keep the Book of the Law by the side of the ark of the covenant in the holy of holies (Deut. 31:26).
Many other books in the Bible affirm that Moses is the author of the Book of the Law; also called the Law of Moses or the Book of Moses or the Book of the Law of Moses (Josh. 1:7-8, 8:31, 1 Ki. 2:3, 2 Ki. 14:6, Ezra 6:18, Neh. 13:1, Dan. 9:11-13, Mal. 4:4, Luke 2:22, John 1:17, 1 Cor. 9:9, and Gal. 3:10). Jesus referred to the Law of Moses, the Book of Moses, teachers of the law, and experts of the law numerous times (Matt. 5:17, Mark 12:26, Luke 24:44, John 7:19, 23), saying that Moses even wrote about Jesus (John 5:46). The Quran also happens to affirm Moses as the author of the Torah. Other church Fathers throughout the centuries have affirmed Moses as the author of the Pentateuch. In 1265-1274 AD, Thomas Aquinas affirmed multiple times that Moses wrote Genesis and that Moses wrote Genesis chapter 1 in particular.
In closing, we are long overdue in responding to the Wellhausen problem. Let us respond with truth and love. We are long overdue to encourage students to take a stand for truth in the college classroom by giving good reasons, in a kind and gentle way, why the Wellhausen Hypothesis fails.
Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica: Part I Prima Pars From the Complete American Edition. New York: Benziger Brothers, 2012. Kindle.
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1983.
Geisler, Norman L. The Big Book of Christian Apologetics: An A to Z Guide. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015.
Hill, Andrew E., and Walton, John H. A Survey of the Old Testament. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.
MacRae, Allan A. DEDP Lectures on the Higher Criticism of the Pentateuch. Hatfield, PA: Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, 1994.
Wellhausen, Julius. Prolegomena to the History of Israel.