Discuss the problem of the date, setting, and purpose of P. What are the implications for the larger history of ancient Israelite religion of the various solutions to this problem?


According to the mid-20th century consensus, the final edition of P dated to the 6th century in the exile. It is concerned with matters of cult, genealogy, and covenant. P added the first and final chapters of the Pentateuch. According to the standard understanding, centralization in worship is lacking in JE, argued for in D, and assumed in P. P, however, has long been recognized as having incorporated earlier elements, most prominently the Holiness Code (H), which comprises Leviticus 17-26. P is the easiest source to identify throughout the Pentateuch, since it has distinctive terminology and consistent themes. This being said, as one might expect almost none of these points is not without significant debate. The character of P, as a continuous source or a redaction, its relative and absolute date, and its relationship to H are all contentious issues.

Order and Position of PEdit

P, as a separate sources goes back to K. D. Ilgen who was the first to distinguish these P from E (for him P=Elohim 1 [subsequently E1] E =Elohim 2 [subsequently E¬2]). The law was considered the basis of the Pentateuch and was initially thought to be the earliest source. It remained so until Karl Heinrich Graf argued that it actually was the last stage in the development of Israelite religion. Wellhausen followed Graf and enshrined this order into the classical rendering of the Documentary Hypothesis. Some have criticized Wellhausen for his anti-catholic/anti-Semitic bias against ritual, since his evolutionary assumptions held that the pure natural religion of early Israel (J) eventually shackled and suppressed through the form and ritual of the priestly class (P). This claim against Wellhausen’s presuppositions, though justified, is not entirely the basis for the ordering of the sources. Wellhausen’s Prolegomena itself outlines a number of items where JE, D, and P seem to indicate that they are building off one another (place of worship, sacrifice, the sacred feast, priests and Levites, and the endowment of clergy).

This has been challenged by a group of Jewish scholars (A. Hurvitz, J. Milgrom, and M. Weinfeld) following Y. Kaufmann who date P prior to D. Hurvitz, a pioneer in developing a methodology for dating Hebrew linguistically, contends that P is earlier than D based on linguistic grounds. Weinfeld argues that Wellhausen’s neglect or ignorance of Near Eastern parallels along with his evolutionary view prevent him from seeing that what is ascribed as evidence of lateness for P is already extant in surrounding Near Eastern cultures, especially Hittite. Milgrom makes his case for the early date of P, by building on Hurvitz’s linguistic criteria, but mostly relying on the cultic texts of P to show that H is after P, D modifies H’s law, and that Ezekiel was in full possession of H. Blenksinsopp has offered a rejoinder to much of the Kaufmann school mostly focusing on the narrative sections of the P.

P and HEdit

Milgrom, who focuses heavily on the cultic section of P and H, outlines the theology of the two sources. P restricts holiness to the priests and the sanctuary, and it is ritual and moral infractions that pollute the sanctuary. This can be undone through priestly expiation. H on the other hand has a more liberal view of holiness. Holiness is less static that in P, since both the priests and the people gain and loose holiness according to their obedience. Holiness is also not restricted to the sanctuary but to the entire land. Additionally, H is concerned with breaches of covenant like unapproved sexual relationships and violation of the Sabbath which cannot be expiated through priestly sacrifices.

Traditional consensus has held that P included an earlier legal corpus (H) into its writings. The laws of H are concerned with holiness, the repetition of which gave the corpus the name “Holiness Code.” The consensus about the priority of H has been called into question by Israel Knohl, who argues that H (or his “Holiness School” HS) is a reaction to P (or his “Priestly Torah” PT). Knohl understands H to be a “priestly-popular” movement that incorporated some of the 8th century prophetic critique of the cult by emphasizing moral obligation. Knohl also sees HS at work outside of Lev 17-26. Knohl, follows Kaufmann in placing P prior to D, and sees the HS continuing its work into the exile and post-exilic period. Others have since adopted Knohl’s reordering of H and P, but ported it to the traditional view of P succeeding D (see Kugler).

P, H, and EzekielEdit

Important in the discussion of P and H are their relationship to Ezekiel. Ezekiel seems to draw upon something similar to what is in H in his temple vision (40-48), and its language elsewhere is reminiscent in the vocabulary of P. One might hope that such a rare connection between the Pentateuch and another biblical book might offer some sort of triangulation for determining date and provenience, but this seems to present more questions than answers. Traditionally, as Wellhausen argued, Ezekiel is often thought of middle point between D and P. Ezekiel condemns the Levites who resisted centralization and exalts the Zadokites of Jerusalem, thus Ezekiel reacts to the failures of D’s centralization and looks toward the distinction between priest and Levite in P. It is not entirely clear if this portion of Ezekiel is from the prophet or belongs to a later hand, some like Gese and Zimmerli advocate for multiple strata (Zadokite-stratum and nasiʾ-stratum). However, as later discussion has shown, this is more than one possible solution. Is Ezekiel aware of H, or is he merely drawing on a common tradition from which H was drawn? Is he drawing on H because P is yet to come, or is he drawing on H in opposition to P? Or is it the other way, and P or H is drawing upon Ezekiel? Or is it dialogical as the traditions of both developed?

Continuous Source or Redactional LayerEdit

Additionally, there is dispute over P’s relation to the other sources in the Pentateuch. Was it a complete source or merely a redaction? Wellhausen argued that Q (=P) was characterized by four covenants (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses) that became the “scarlet thread on which the pearls of JE are hung.” Noth continued to argue that P formed the backbone of the Pentateuch and that JE were edited into it. Whereas Cross argued the opposite, based in part by the near lack of narrative, that P was merely a redactor that used JE as the basis for the Pentateuch. Cross argued that the clear differentiation of eras (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses) was redaction of pre-existing stories. Rendtorff’s student Erhard Blum, who rejects the traditional documentary hypothesis, argues that KP (his P) added the primeval history along with traditional P materials as the second stage of editing on an existing KD (a deuteronomistic composition that had fused patriarchs and the exodus). Rendtorff and Blums basic premise that the main themes of the Pentateuch coalesced separately before they were united by KD flies in the face of the documentary assumptions of the tradition hypothesis.


The placement of P within the development of Israelite religion was pivotal to Wellhausen’s historical reconstruction of Israelite history and this reconstruction has remained an enduring influence in the field today. Though most accept that P is reflect of exilic or post-exilic concerns and developments, more are willing to accept that much of the ritual prescriptions of P and its sacrificial systems are indeed reflective of ancient practice not chronological lateness. Most of the scholars who focus on the exilic or post-exilic concerns of P focus upon the narrative sections of P, while those who argue for its pre-exilic context focus on the ritual and legal sections.


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