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JAHVIST (usually symbolized as J):

The name given in modern Bible criticism to the supposed author of those portions of the Pentateuch (or of the Hexateuch) in which the name Yhwh is used for God in preference to the name "Elohim," which latter is employed by the Elohistic writers. Since the analysis of the Pentateuch as based on this distinction has changed somewhat in method and results within the last century and a half, the limits assigned to the Jahvist have also varied in some degree. It is not possible to present the history of the analytic movement in this article, which must be confined to a statement of present critical opinion. First may be indicated the sections ascribed to the Jahvist; secondly, the general tenor and character of his work; and, thirdly, the history of its production, and the most probable period of its composition.


It should be premised that J has been combined with a kindred document, the work of the earlier Elohistic writer (E), and that both of them are plainly distinguishable from the later Elohistic or Priestly document (P). It is very often not easy todistinguish the contributions of J from those of E; but critics now agree with virtual unanimity in their assignment of the most important passages at issue to one or to the other.

Contributions of J to the Hexateuch.

From the Jahvist there is in Genesis the account of the creation of the world of men, of the probation and fall of "the man" and his "helpmeet," and of the career of the earliest men generally (ii. 4-iv.). He gives a part of the complex story of the Flood, and the sole account of the settlement of Babylonia (x. 8-12) and of the dispersion of the race (xi. 1-9). The stories of Abraham's relations with Lot and of the cities of the plain (xviii., xix.) are also from J, as are the narratives of the quest of a wife for Isaac (xxiv.), most that is told of the earlier life of Jacob and Esau (xxv., xxvii.), Judah's family history (xxxviii.), and a large part of the story of Joseph, especially where Judah is prominent. The same writer contributed the blessing of Jacob (xlix.). In Exodus is found less of J than of E (or of P); but he tells much of the preparations for the migration from Egypt and of the flight itself. In Numbers it is mostly impossible to separate J and E. They together have given x. 29-xii., xx.-xxv. 6, and most of xxxii. In Joshua J and E form practically one document, comprising most of the first half of the book.

II. J's Distinctive Teaching.

J is classed with E as belonging to the prophetic school, as distinguished from P, or the Priestly writer. The main distinction between J and E is that while both of them in their narratives aim to set forth God's providential guidance and His manifestation of Himself, J illustrates his theme by indicating the ideas and principles of revelation, and E by exhibiting its forms and modes. J is an adept at conveying religious truth in his matchless stories, even when these are legendary. Nowhere else earlier than the Later Prophets can be found such profound views of the nature and progress of sin among men, or of God's plan of redeeming the world from sin, or of His choice of Israel and Israel's representative men to be the instruments of such redemption.

The Style of J.

Admiration of the Jahvist is heightened when one studies the literary forms in which he conveys these great and far-reaching ideas. In a certain sense it is immaterial in what guise truth is presented if only it come out strong and clear; hence one must always maintain that the stories of the Pentateuch as literature are of secondary importance as compared with their prophetic teachings. Still, of all narrators he is the most skilful in selection of details, the most vivid, graphic, and picturesque, and withal the most simple, realistic, and sympathetic. As one reads one sees Isaac tremble, one hears Esau's cry, and Judah's appeal to Joseph. To make God real to the reader J shrinks not from the most extreme anthropomorphism; and much of the world's faith in Yhwh to-day is due to the fact that the Jahvist has told how He used to come down to men and talk and walk in the midst of them.


There seems to be good reason for believing that the work of the Jahvist is composite; not merely that he worked over materials from different sources into his book, but that he incorporated directly considerable portions of a separate composition. Gen. xxxviii. and xxxix., for example, both belong to him, but they are not continuous, and they apparently occupy different levels of moral development (J1 and J2). The question thus arising, though important for the history of the growth of prophetic ideas, becomes of secondary importance in view of the fact that the work in general is on a very high plane and as a whole must be the product of a single mind and of a definite epoch.

Time and Occasion of Writing.

But there is no approach to unanimity on the part of critics as to the time of composition. The place of its production is usually held to be the kingdom of Judah. Yet such eminent critics as Reuss, Kuenen, and Schrader maintain that it proceeded from the Northern Kingdom, on the ground that a Judahite would not have made so much of the northern shrines of Shechem, Beth-el, and Peniel (Gen. xii. 6, etc.). But one remembers that the prophets of Judah, as devoted Israelites, held fast to all the great common Hebrew traditions. Moreover, one must without doubt hold to a Judahite origin, in view of the association of Abraham and Jacob with Hebron, and the special prominence given to Judah, the head of the tribe that gave its name to the kingdom.

The standpoint, however, is not that of Judah alone, but that of Judah as representing all Israel. This obvious fact suggests as a date a time after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom. It was there, undoubtedly, that E was composed, probably about 770 B.C.; and it is natural to suppose that J was written as its counterpart, and as an expression of the view that Yhwh ruled all things from the beginning, and that the faith and worship cherished in Jerusalem were also those of the Fathers. The date is therefore perhaps about 720 B.C. Soon thereafter J and E were combined into a single work.

For a brief summary of the results of the analysis see Jew. Encyc. iii. 174 et seq., s.v. Bible Exegesis.

  • Since the study of the Jahvist can not be pursued independently of that of the other sources of the Hexateuch, it must suffice here to give a general reference to recent critical commentaries, especially those upon Genesis, above all that of Dillmann;
  • to critical treatises, such as the epoch-making works of Kuenen and Wellhausen;
  • and for the history of the analysis and the limits of J the following: Westphal, Les Sources du Pentateuque, 1888-92;
  • Holzinger, Einleitung in den Hexateuch, 1893;
  • Briggs, Higher Criticism of the Hexateuch, 1893. The introductions of Driver and Cornill distribute the several sources in convenient tabular form.
E. G. H. J. F. McC.
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