Genesis 15 and JEDP

As part of our continuing work on the JEDP theory, we will be taking a look at specific passages said to offer evidence in favor of it. One common example involves the supposed "doublet" (the same story told twice) of Abra(ha)m's covenant with God in Genesis 15 and 17.

At first glance this seems to be a clear victory for the JEDP camp. Throughout the G15 pericope, "Yahweh" is used. This passage is usually assigned to J and E redacted together. In G17, only "Elohim" is used. This passage is assigned to P. Both are (so it is said) accounts of God's covenant with Abra(ha)m.

A closer look at these stories, however, and a view that keeps in mind the highly probable oral background of these stories (which is to say, not necessarily that they began as oral compositions, though they might have; but rather, that they were intended mainly to be read aloud), refutes the notion of a JEDP separation.

We therefore conclude that these two passages offer no support for the JEDP thesis. At the same time, we assert that there is no reason to deny that Moses was responsible for assembling these stories: Which is to say, as is the case with much of what is in Genesis, he certainly had sources at his disposal which he used, for he was obviously not writing from personal experience!

A final sidebar concerning a critical divisional hinge-point deserves notice from within the text of G15 itself. It concerns verses 15:5 and 9-12:

He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be..." He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

Critics allege an redactional foul-up as proof of multiple authors: Verse 5 indicates it is night time, and then suddenly the sun is setting in verse 12. Of course if a redactor was this "stupid" then there is no reason why an original author could not be also; but in fact this is a mountain made of a molehill.

One can easily see the events of verses 1-4 taking place during a sleepless night of Abram contemplating his childlessness; verse 5 might well take place early in the morning while stars are still visible, and verses 7-11 can be seen as a summary of events of the day time following.

An ingenious, but probably unnecessary, solution is proposed by Noegel in The World of Genesis: Persons, Places, Perspectives - Sheffield Academic Press, 1998 - in which he analyzes the use of the phrase 'im tukat ["if you are able"] and finds that it is used in places where the deed implied is thought impossible, and actually serves as a taunting test of faith or ability; it is then followed upon by a surprising turn or twist. (cf. Gen. 13:16, 1 Sam. 17:8-9, Job 33:5, 2 Kings 18:23-4//Is. 36:8) The twist here, Noegel argues, is that Abram cannot count the stars precisely because it is day time. The solution is interesting, but I think it is hardly necessary.



  1. Why.MP - Whybray, R. N. The Making of the Pentateuch: A Methodological Study. Sheffield Academic Press, 1987.