The Meribah Story and JEDP
Ex. 17:2-7 -- The people quarreled with Moses, and said, "Give us water to drink." Moses said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?" But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?" So Moses cried out to the LORD, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me." The LORD said to Moses, "Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink." Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"
Num. 20:2-13 Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and against Aaron. The people quarreled with Moses and said, "Would that we had died when our kindred died before the LORD! Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? Why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to bring us to this wretched place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates; and there is no water to drink." Then Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting; they fell on their faces, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water. Thus you shall bring water out of the rock for them; thus you shall provide drink for the congregation and their livestock. So Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he had commanded him. Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, "Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?" Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them." These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the LORD, and by which he showed his holiness.

As an example of a doublet supposedly evidencing the JEDP theory, this seems at first glance like a tough nut to crack -- or not. Friedman, a recent popular purveyor of JEDP, regards it as a "most impressive example" [Frei.WWB, 198] of the outworking of the theory, although the most common division criteria -- that of divine names -- is not in evidence here.

(Both passages are attributed by Friedman to writers who used "Elohim" originally, but now use "Yahweh" -- the Exodus passage to E, and the Numbers passage to P.)

The upshot of the division, according to Friedman, evidences two strands, one which liked Moses (E), and another which didn't (P). Now we are not in the least interested in Friedman's or anyone else's psychological reconstructions of parties in ancient Israel who were ideological enemies and yet had absolutely no objection to some later redactor splicing their stories together in an infinite variety of ways; it is clear enough that such theorizing is strictly wishes fathering thoughts.

The question is, is there any internal, non-hypothetical, hard-data reason to see a JEDP division in these two stories?

A simple reading of the stories rings out a definitive no -- and what criteria Friedman uses to suggest the division are revealed rather simply as arbitrary. Let's break this up:



  1. Frei.WWB - Friedman, Richard E. Who Wrote the Bible? Summit Books.
  2. Why.MP - Whybray, R. N. The Making of the Pentateuch: A Methodological Study. Sheffield Academic Press, 1987.