The Tribes of Israel
J, E, P, and D
It important to start with that the Bible admits its own corruption by the scribes who wrote down and copied the different chapters of the Old Testament. First Moses warns the people of Israel that the Covenant, heaven and earth would be against them because they are very stubborn, Deuteronomy 31:24-29. He predicted that the Jews, who refused to obey him while he was with them, would become evil and corrupt. Then in the Revised Standard Version,
Jeremiah 8:8, God asked Jeremiah to tell the people of Judah:
"How can you say, 'We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us'? But, behold, the false pen of the scribes has made it into a lie.”
The Holy Bible, Easy to Read Version makes it even clearer:
“You keep saying, ‘We have the Lord’s teachings! So we are wise. But that is not true. Why? Because the scribes have lied with their pens.”
This is an obvious statement from Prophet Jeremiah that the scribes corrupted the Bible. They claim that the Bible says that they are wise, but they are liars.
The term Bible is derived through Latin from the Greek biblia, or “books,” the diminutive form of byblos, the word for “papyrus” or “paper,” which was exported from the ancient Phoenician port city of Biblos. The Bible consists of the Old Testament of the Jewish scripture, and the New Testament of the Christian books. The remainder of this chapter will focus on the Old Testament.
The order and the number of books differ between the Jewish Bible and the Protestant and Roman Catholic versions of the Bible. The Jewish Bible is the Hebrew Scriptures. It consists of 39 books originally written in Hebrew, except for a few sections in Aramaic. The Bible of Judaism consists of three distinct parts:
1. The Torah, or Law, also called the books of Moses.
2. The Nebiim, (plural for Nebi, “Prophet”) or Prophets, divided into the earlier and latter Prophets.
3. The Ketubim, (plural for Ketub, “book”) or Writings, including Psalms, wisdom books, and other diverse literature.
The Christian Old Testament organizes the books according to their type of literature:
1. The Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, corresponding to the Torah.
2. The historical books.
3. The poetical or wisdom books.
4. The books of the Prophets.
The Protestant and Roman Catholic versions of the Old Testament place the books in the same sequence, but the Protestant version includes only those books found in the Bible of Judaism. Christians and Jews have been reading the Bible for over two thousand years. In the present time Christians go to Sunday classes after a full week of work to attain spiritual doses. They hear good lessons about the importance of moral values and the message of Jesus or Isaiah to be righteous and to love thy neighbor and all the uplifting speeches according to the Bible. After all, the Bible is the heart of Christianity and Judaism. Biblical scholars are preaching and studying it in churches, synagogues, and seminaries. People read it, study it, appreciate it, write about it, scrutinize it, and argue about it. And no one knows who actually wrote it. No one knows when or where it was written.
However, the layman accepts the hypothesis that the first five books of the Bible were written by Moses, half of the Psalms by David, the Gospel of Mark by Mark, and the Revelation by John and so on. After all in Exodus, 17:14, God told Moses “Write this for a memorial in a book.” John in his Gospel, 5: 46-47, makes Jesus say the following ”For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote for me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words.” Paul, in his letter to the Romans, 10:5, referring to Leviticus, affirms “Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law.” John wrote in the Revelation, 1:9, “.
For the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” So, everything was fine, and everyone believes that the whole Bible is the authentic Word of God.
In the third century AD the Christian scholar Origen responded to objections to the authenticity of the Torah by suggesting that contradictions are only apparent contradictions. They can be explained after very complex interpretation that the Bible did not include. For example Moses described his own death and where he was buried because God had told Moses this would happen. He also knew that Israel cried for him for thirty days, Deuteronomy 34:8. Investigators accepted, for eleven centuries, this argument that Moses wrote the first five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These books are known as the Pentateuch (from Greek, meaning “five scrolls”). Then Isaac ibn Yashush, a Jewish physician of a Muslim ruler in Spain in the eleventh century, discovered that the list of the Edomite kings that appeared in Genesis 36 mentioned kings who lived long after Moses. Ibn Yashush proposed that another one wrote this part after Moses. The response to his theory was that he was called “Isaac the blunderer” by Abraham ibn Ezra, who was a twelfth century Spanish rabbi. He recommended that the book of Ibn Yashush to be burned. Ironically, it was Ibn Ezra that discovered that it was impossible for Moses to write the first five books of the Bible. These books referred to Moses in the third person, described places that he had never seen, and used language that reflected another time and place than those of Moses. He concluded that “And if you understand, then you will recognize the truth.” Then he wrote “And he who understands will keep silent.”
In the fifteenth century other scholars came to the same conclusions as those of Ibn Yashush. In the sixteenth century, van Maes, a Flemish Catholic scholar, suggested that later writers expanded the original text of Moses. They achieved that by making the text more current and more understandable. Later the Catholic Church classified this book as a Prohibited Book. In the seventeenth century, Isaac de la Peyrere, a French Calvinist, published a book that categorically said that Moses was not the author of the Pentateuch. He referred to the first verse of Deuteronomy, when “Moses spake to all Israel on this side of Jordan.” But Moses himself never recorded that he had been in Israel in his life. The book was also banned and burned. He was arrested and was ordered to recant his views to the Pope himself, which he did. Later, other Christian scholars investigated the Bible, and found more contradictions such as “There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses,” Deuteronomy 34:10. This statement does not sound like the words of the humblest man on earth as Moses described himself. The Catholic Church took the same stand as with other scholars. Books were burned and scholars were arrested.
The Tribes of Israel
Joseph, the son of Jacob, brought his parents and brothers to Egypt. The sons of Jacob formed twelve tribes in Egypt. According to biblical tradition these tribes varied considerably in size and population. Moses counted all the people of Israel in Numbers 1:1-15. These tribes are divided into two groups:
1. The first group, included the tribes of Reuben, Simon, Levi, and Judah, settled in the south. Later, they formed the Kingdom of Judah.2. The second group, included Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Asher, Gad, Nephtali, and the descendants of Joseph: Ephraim and Manasseh, settled in the north. Later, they formed the Kingdom of Israel.
After the first generation of the Israelites died, many of the people of Israel worshipped the idol Gods of the Canaanite Baal and Asherah. For the following few centuries, judges governed the people. When the judges became corrupted, Israel asked for a king to lead them. The first king was Saul who committed mistakes and sins. God was sorry that he made Saul king. Then God chose David, from the tribe of Judah, to be the new king. He ruled over all of Israel and wrote many of the songs (or Psalms). He committed adultery with Bathsheba, and later he married her. When David was old, he appointed Solomon, his son from Bathsheba as the king of Israel. When Solomon was old, his wives pushed him to worship their idol gods. In the Quran, David and Solomon are recognized as two righteous kings and Prophets. Their sins in Bible do not exist in the Quran.
After Solomon’s death, his son king Rehoboam did not have the skills to keep the country united. The tribal feud expanded, and the unified Israel did not last long. Israel was divided into two kingdoms: the northern tribes called themselves Israel, and the southern tribes called themselves Judah. The people of Israel chose a man named Jeroboam as their king (reigned 786-746 BC). In the northern kingdom of Israel, several dynasties came and went. The kings of Israel had several capital cities at various times, the last of which was Samara. There were many wars between Israel and Judah.
The choice of priests by Jeroboam for his new kingdom was crucial to the authorship of the Old Testament. In order to strengthen his hold on the people, he changed the way they worship God. He built two temples for worshipping golden calves, one at Dan and the other at Bethel. Jeroboam appointed new priests, including individuals who were not Levites, to the function of the altar of the golden calf. The priests from the Levi family had no place in Jeroboam’s new religious structure. They condemned the golden calves, which were the symbol of a pagan religion. Since the tribe of Levi had no territory of its own, as the other tribes had, the Levites had only two choices: they could move to Judah and try to find a place in the priestly hierarchy there, or they could stay in Israel and perform various religious services outside Dan and Bethel. The pious priests of Levi turned into poor and homeless people.
The existence of the kingdom of Israel in the north lasted for about two hundred years. During the time of Isaiah, the Assyrian empire, presently north of Iraq, destroyed Israel in 722 BC and deported the ten tribes of Israel into many places in the empire. Many Israelites fled from Israel south to Judah to escape the approaching Assyrian army. The Assyrians replaced the people of Israel with the Samaritans who came with their pagan religion. The Assyrians invaded Judah in 701 BC, and many cities were conquered. But they could not defeat Judah and they returned back. In 586 BC the Babylonians finally conquered Judah and its people led away into exile.
The two Jewish kingdoms existed side by side for two hundred years. They had common language and history, but they had many tribal hostilities and feuds. The priests of the Levi tribe became extremely bitter and frustrated from the tribes of the north who revived pagan religions. With this picture of the early years of the biblical world, the writers of the Old Testament can be identified.
J, E, P, and D
During the eighteenth century three independent investigators discovered that the Old Testament has two or three versions of the same story. They are: the German minister H. B. Witter in 1711, the French Physician Jean Astruc in 1753, and the German professor J. H. Eichhorn in 1780. Some of these versions have different details to the extent that careful studying of the Bible should raise serious challenges to the issue of the divine inspiration. It was Eichhorn who discovered that the two versions of many of the Biblical stories were written by J and E who referred to the deity as Yahweh and Elohim respectively. This step paved the way to further criticism of the Pentateuch. Even in the English translation of the Bible, it is easy to observe that biblical stories often appear with variations of details in two different places in the Bible. In one version, the deity was referred to as “God”. In the second version God was referred to as “Lord God.”
1. There are two stories of the creation of the world.
2. There are two stories of the flood.
3. There are two stories of the covenant between God and Abraham.
4. There are two stories of the naming of Abraham’s son Isaac.
5. There are two stories of Abraham’s claiming to a foreign king that his wife Sarah was his sister.
6. There are two stories of Jacob making a journey to Mesopotamia.
7. There are two stories of a revelation to Jacob at Bethel.
8. There are two stories of God’s changing Jacob’s name to Israel.
9. There are two stories of Jacob’s giving birthright.
The assumption that the two earliest biblical writers, J and E, developed the whole Pentateuch lasted only eighteen years. Biblical researchers used the same technique of separating the Pentateuch into J and E to perform further separation of E. They discovered that there was a third source that appeared interested in the priests. This source was called P for the priestly interest. P had a dignified and distinguished belief of God. For example P did not believe that anyone could actually see God. When Moses beseeched God to see Him, God responded: “You cannot see my face, for no man can see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). However, P believed that humans could have spiritual experiences as a sign to His existence, which is not to be confused with God Himself. While J and E consider any Levite could be a priest, P recognized only the descendants of Aaron as priests over those of Moses. J and E were hostile to P.
The criterion of having three writers of the whole Pentateuch did not apply to the fifth book, Deuteronomy. Again there were major differences in the interest and style of the three writers and that of the Deuteronomy. The differences were obvious even in the translation. There are different expressions and favorite sentences. Biblical stories were different from those of the first four books. Deuteronomy appeared to be an independent fourth source, called D. There are blatant contradictions of details between D and the others. For example, D has different Ten Commandments! D was hostile to P since both fought for the priestly advantages.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Julius Wellhausen established the new critical model of discerning the four sources (JEPD) of the Pentateuch. Up to the present time, this theory goes by his name. It constitutes a solid foundation that any further work should be developed upon it. This study draws the ultimate conclusion of suggesting a new position instead of the prevailing one of divine revelation to Moses. This criticism downgraded the historical authenticity of the Biblical traditions. This critical analysis has extended beyond the five books of Moses and has touched every book in the Old and New Testament. There is hardly a biblical scholar in the world actively working on the problem that would claim that the Pentateuch was written only by Moses - or by one single person. No serious biblical researcher can ignore it, and no other explanation of the evidences has opposed it.
[Next] [Table of Contents ]