The New International Encyclopædia/Elohist and Yahwist
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Elohist and Yahwist
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EL'OHIST AND YAHWIST, or Jehovist. Terms adopted by certain modern biblical scholars to denote the authors of two literary works which they believe to have been used as historical sources in the composition of the Pentateuch as we have it, and to have been embodied in it. The terms are purely conventional names assigned because the one source is supposed to be characterized by the use of Elohim (q.v.) as the designation of the national deity of the Hebrews; the other by the use of Yahweh (see Elohim, Yahweh), which is the specific, and as it were personal, designation of the national deity. Commonly both the works and their authors are referred to as E (= Elohist) and J (= Jehovist). According to the views of such critics, the work of the Yahwist is, in all probability, the older. In its original form it represented an attempt to give a history of the Hebrew theocracy down to the permanent occupation of the West Jordan district by the Hebrew tribes. It began with the traditions regarding the beginning of the world, related the current stories of early mankind, etc., the narratives of the patriarchs, the oppression in Egypt, and the Exodus, the revelation at Mount Sinai, the wanderings in the wilderness, the death of Moses, who is succeeded by Joshua, and under the latter the work of conquest is actively taken in hand. While, however, presenting an outline of his people's history, the purpose of the original compiler of the legends, traditions, and historical recollections was to make his work serve as an illustration of Yahweh's relationship to His chosen people, and of His providential guidance as seen in this history. As a religious history, therefore, it begins with creation to show that at the beginning of things Yahweh was already in existence and that it was He who made all things. This Yahwistic compilation has, however, passed through several hands. Even as traced in the Pentateuch by means of literary criticism, it no longer appears in its original form (though we can still determine to a certain extent what that form was), but represents the result of rearrangement and adjustment by several hands, so that it has become customary among scholars to refer the Yahwistic history not to a single writer, but to a school of Yahwistic writers. In its original form the Yahwistic document was a product of the northern kingdom, but in its revision it has passed through the hands of writers whose point of view was that of the southern kingdom. These distinctions manifest themselves in certain details of the stories of the patriarchs, and in the greater or lesser prominence accorded to the old sanctuaries of the north and south respectively.
It is not possible to assign any definite date to the compilation of the Yahwistic history. The earliest date assigned is the age of Solomon (c.950 B.C.) for the oldest sections of the work, though it is safer to bring it down to the ninth century, for its general tone indicates that the struggle between the Yahweh and Baal cults, which reached its climax in the days of Ahab, is past. The relations to the surrounding nations are of a friendly character and the outlook hopeful, which points to a time prior to the menaces of the Assyrian period. The Yahwistic history is marked by the easy flow of the narrative. The stories and traditions are related in a vivid manner and in a style that is full of charm. The piety of the writers is also an impressive feature. Their confidence in Yahweh is unbounded, and corresponding to this confidence is the feeling of gratitude and devotion to Yahweh for all the mercies shown to His people.
The second historical compilation which consistently uses ‘Elohim’ as the designation of the deity is of a different character. It also is a product of the northern kingdom of about the middle of the eighth century B.C., but is considered to have been revised by a Judæan editor. Like the Yahwistic history, the Elohistic compilation views the past from a religious point of view, but the point is more clearly defined. The general tone indicates a large amount of self-consciousness, and, in keeping with the avoidance of the personal name of the national deity, we find the relations between Elohim and his worshipers less direct. Elohim does not converse directly with men, but by means of a heavenly or divine voice. The Elohist, moreover, aims to remove some of the features in the old stories which appeared objectionable to a more advanced view of divine government. There is also an element of sadness in the work which is lacking in the Yahwistic history. The text is full of sombre recollections which do not augur well for the future. While the outlook is still hopeful, it is the profound faith of the writer which prompts his optimism; but there is an undercurrent of gloom and there are traces of the depression which begins to settle upon Jewish history as the roar of the advancing Assyrian power is heard in the distance. The first distinct traces of this history are met with in the narrative about Abraham, so that it is not certain whether the Elohist began his work with the creation of the world, but it also extends through the period of the conquest of Canaan.
About the middle of the seventh century the Yahwistic and Elohistic histories were combined by a ‘Yahwistic’ editor into a single work whose purpose it was to preserve the variant versions of the old narratives which had assumed by this time a decidedly sacred character. His plan consists in giving a story according to that source which is the most complete, interspersing it or adding to it details derived from the other. It is this combined source, designated conventionally as JE, which the post-exilic compiler (c.400 B.C.) who combined JE with the various legal codes (see Hexateuch) into the present Pentateuch had before him.
Consult the Introductions to the Old Testament by Driver, Strack, Bleek-Wellhausen, Coruill; and, especially, Kautsch, History of Old Testament Literature, translated by Taylor (London, 1898).