The first five books of the Old Testament, also called the Pentateuch, Tanakh or Torah were written by at least four different authors between 800 BCE and 600 BCE and were based on older sources now lost to us.
In addition a fifth author acted as the redactor and compiled the work of these authors into what is known today as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. This theory is called the Documentary Hypothesis or the Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis and it's the most widely accepted view within the Biblical scholarship community.
JEDP and R
The authors are generally referred to as JEDP.
- J stands for Jahwist, worshipped Yahweh and came from the southern kingdom of Judah.
- E stands for Elohist, worshipped El or Elohim and lived in the northern kingdom of Israel.
- D represents the Deuteronomist and wrote Deuteronomy and most of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. The same, unique literary style is used for all these books and all of them have the same political and religious agenda which was support the southern kingdom of Judah as well as centralised worship. Richard Friedman, who is the Ann and Jay Davis Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Georgia has identified either Jeremiah (or his scribe) as the Deuteronomist.
- The P was the Priestly author was primarily responsible for Leviticus and parts of Genesis. This author contributed sections on genealogies, worship and the priesthood.
Each author wrote from his own perspective and we find that J, E and P generally had similar stories interwoven by the redactor. Thus we often find duplicate or triplicate stories especially in Genesis. The evidence for these different authors is quite persuasive and ranges from internal references which relate to each one's culture, locality and political view to the unique linguistic styles used.
The R is for the redactor or editor who collected all these sources and edited them into these books as late as the 5th century BCE. Some scholars today believe that this redactor was Ezra the Aaronid priest. Ezra is described to have "set his heart on seeking out the Lord's Torah" in Ezra 7:10 and finally "finding" the Torah.
In the book of Nehemiah Israel was in desperate need for religious guidance and national unity following their Babylonian exile. In the 2nd century CE Jewish literature identified Ezra as the author of the Torah and even Jerome mentioned that there was no objection from within the Jewish community in regards to this claim in the 4th century CE. The redactor is also responsible for editing some the content in these books, adding and possibly removing texts where he saw fit.