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. According to the basic four-source hypothesis first proposed by Julius Wellhausen, the J Source is the oldest strand of the Pentateuch, dating back to the 9th or 10th century B.C.E.; this dating has more recently fallen out of favor. It originally received its name from its characteristic use of the term Yahweh (German Jahwe, Hebrew יהוה) for God.
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. 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. 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. However, none of these have garnered the same support in the academic community as the Documentary Hypothesis, variations of which still receive the broadest acceptance.
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. The explanation called the documentary hypothesis dominated much of the 20th century, but the consensus surrounding this hypothesis has now broken down. Its critics suggest that contemporary upholders tend to give a much larger role to the redactors, who are now seen as adding much material of their own rather than as simply passive combiners of documents.
The vanilla Documentary Hypothesis has come under criticism from within its own constituents as well. The most notable revision in recent decades has been to suggest that the individual E and J documents are irrecoverable altogether, major parts of them having been scrapped by the first JE redactor; or that the E document was never independent at all, but rather is a part of the J document.
In J, Yahweh is an anthropomorphic figure both physically (Gen. 3:8, Gen. 11:5, Ex. 17:7) and mentally (such as when Abraham bargains with Yahweh for the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, or when, during the exodus, Yahweh, 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).
J has a particular fascination for traditions concerning Judah, including its relationship with its rival and neighbor, Edom; its focus on Judahite cities such as Jerusalem; and its support of the legitimacy of the Davidic monarchy. J is also critical of the other tribes of Israel, for example, by suggesting that the Northern Kingdom's capital of Shechem was captured via a massacre of the original inhabitants (Gen. 34).
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:
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 [Adamah in Hebrew]." Initially, man lives in harmony with the soil. After man sins by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, however, the relationship is marred. In Genesis 3:17 the soil is cursed and man will toil in order to eat from it. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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. 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. A number of current theories place J even later, in the exilic and/or post-exilic period (6th–5th centuries BCE).
The following is a record of the stories in the Bible that are generally accepted to have been written by J by the wider academic community:
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 (tightly intertwined with a parallel account from P), Noah's descendants and the Tower of Babel. 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.
Scholars argue regarding how much of Exodus is attributable to J and how much to E, as beginning in Exodus 3 the E source also refers to God as Yahweh. J provides much of the material of Exodus 1-5 but is closely intertwined with E. Thus, it is difficult to determine what portion of Exodus 1-15 is J and what is E; however, it is easy to see the parallel P strand, which also gives an account of Israel's bondage and the Exodus miracles of its own.
After Leaving Egypt, J gives its own account of releasing water from a rock and God raining Manna upon the Israelites. Thereafter, there is almost no J material in Exodus, except J's account of the Ten Commandments, also known as the Ritual Decalogue. J is generally not focused on law.
The vast majority of scholars attribute almost the entirety of Leviticus to P.
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 Yahweh, who condemns them to wander in the wilderness for the next forty years. J resumes at chapter 16, the story of the rebellion of Dathan and Abiram, which was spliced together with the account of Korah's rebellion from P by the Redactor. It is generally also believed that J provides large portions of chapters 21 to 24, covering the story of the bronze serpent, Balaam and his talking ass (although Friedman attributes this to E), and finally ending with the first verses of the Heresy of Baal Peor.
The majority of Deuteronomy was composed during the era of Josiah's reforms by the Deuteronomist, or D, writer. However, when Deuteronomy was incorporated into the completed Pentateuch by the Redactor, the events of Moses's death were moved from the end of Numbers to Deuteronomy. Thus, one of the accounts of Moses's death in Deuteronomy is attributable to J, although scholars debate which verses this includes.
According to some scholars, notably Richard Elliott Friedman in his book, The Hidden Book in the Bible, the J text continues on after the Torah with portions of Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, and 1 Kings. Although this is a fringe theory that is not widely accepted, Friedman posits that the J source continues into the Early Prophets on the grounds of converging evidence, including:Similarity of content (such as the ascendancy of the fourth son in both the Jacob and David narratives)
Mythological references that are not made in any other Biblical works (Sheol, Giants)
Narrative continuity (where one book leaves off, the next picks up; for example, the J source in the Bible ends in Shittim, where the book of Joshua resumes)
Unique language (in the Index, Friedman lists a number of pages worth of unique terminology)
Linguistic evidence that all of the strands that he pieces together are from the same era