Creation Stories and the Early Documentary Hypothesis


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Genesis 1 and 2 contain two creation stories. The first one begins in 1:1 and ends in 2:4a, stating “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created” (NRSV). This story tells us the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest, which is now called the Sabbath. It is perhaps one of the most well-known stories in the Bible, but there is a not-so-well-known factor of the story; that is, it designates the name of God as Elohim but never as YHWH. Verse 1, “God(Elohim) created the heavens and the earth” may remind you of this fact. So early scholars of the documentary hypothesis labeled the source of the story as “Elohist source.” But these days, it is called “Priestly source” or just P, as the document’s characteristics match P characteristics. For example, it reveals the foundation of the Sabbath (laws), uses a clear and short sentence style, best suitable for providing information (such as laws), and employs a word, toledot, typical priestly source vocabulary.

The second story, unlike the first one, mentions the name YHWH from the very outset. Genesis 2:4b states, “In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens” (NRSV). In the verse, “the LORD” is YHWH in the Hebrew text. Not only that, but also the contents also imply that the source of the story is different from the first one. For example, the story does not assume the creation completed in the previous chapter. YHWH creates a man (Adam) first, not last, and establishes the garden of Eden later. YHWH puts the man in the garden and makes to grow every tree. So the plants are not created before Adam. The story does not show its interest in the order or details of the creation. What matters the most is the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Based on these differences and factors, Scholars of the early documentary hypothesis labeled “Yahwist source” as they named the first one relying on the name of the deity.

Scholars soon discovered the logical limitations of such labeling however. There was no chance that E author knew only Elohim, and never knew YHWH. E author could have used YHWH as needed. And we should not assume that Yahwist always used YHWH and never used Elohim alone. The designations of God cannot be a definitive foundation to identify or label sources.

In the early stage of the documentary hypothesis, the two creation stories led scholars to the two document hypothesis. And they gave the authors names such as Elohist and Yahwist, respectively. But its problems were clear. And as scholars started discussing other sources such as Deuteronomist and Priestly sources, the two document hypothesis vanished and the names were corrected. As mentioned, the first creation story is now identified as P because of its P characteristics (i.e. toleldot, sabbath, and the style). Scholars generally agree that Priestly source is concerned with the laws (i.e. the sabbath), genealogies (toledot), and providing information (about laws) efficiently. Though the name of the source of the second story is still called “Yahwist source,” it is widely accepted that the name of God cannot be used as a decisive factor to identify sources. 

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