The Yahwistic and Elohistic Bibles!
By Dr. Jerry Wayne Bernard
Palestine's hard crust felt the spade of the Archaeologist and gave up its secrets. We are now told that these Hebrews beat their way into this territory populated with a civilized people dwelling in fortified cities. Caravans made their way into this land of wonder by the trek of the sun and crossed over these great empires which stretched along the Nile and the Euphrates. The marauding tribes swarmed out of the Arabian desert and found new homes in that fertile crescent. Archaeologist have told us that among these people were a people who called themselves Israel, long before Moses.
This great mixture of people were pregnant with charming traditions, legends and terrific stories of their history. Centuries in advance of Abraham such places that were later known as Bethel, Dan, Shiloh, Hebron and Beersheba had witnessed the smoke of sacrificial altars. These ancient spots became holy in the eyes of the newcomers who called themselves Hebrews. The Hebrew priests located in these centers and developed their influence from there. Their histories began with stories collected and created in these locations. These stories had lived for many generations from tongue to ear. For one thousand years the stories of the early Hebrew heroes and patriarchs were recited by the priests at their shrines or by wandering troubadours who chanted at local firesides. These are the beginnings of our Scripture. With the progress of the arts came the settling of these floating stories. They settled down in artful writings and became the source of the holy parchment.
During the greatest years of Hebrew history, David and Solomon collected the old folk songs, legends and fables which had been current among the people for many generations. The scribes were then driven by the flames of David's desire to preserve these accounts. They went all over the land to get these stories and write them down. The Jerusalem countrymen had plenty of material in songs, folk-poetry, traditions and tribal records. These Semitic pasts were beginning to pour out upon the ears of the scribes as these Yahwistic men went up and down the country gathering the various legends and scattered stories about Yahweh's dealings with their ancestors. They collected every scrap of information they were told about. They tried to leave nothing out of their report to King David.
Primitive beliefs, ritual practices and the relation of Yahweh to their patriarchs were found in the various local villages, shrines and city gates. In Shechem, they heard stories about Abraham's sojourn into a strange land. Beersheba supplied them with materials about Isaac, the Father's delight. Bethel and Shiloh gave them the legends of Jacob. Among the craggy hills of Judea the collected tales of pastoral life was told to them. Farmers sat down and told of their agricultural lore and daring accounts of the achievements of their ancestral heroes. The city dwellers gave them their collected proverbs, anecdotes and wise sayings. As these stories were collected, the scribes reshaped and rewrote, transforming simple tribal memories into legends with a deep underlying ethical significance. They took fragmentary and disjointed accounts of the distant past and welded them into narratives with a fair degree of coherence and so arranged the whole as to tell a connected story. Through these stories was seen the grand and glorious purposes of Yahweh.
These many stories and material from so many sources gave variant accounts or different versions of the same legend. The Jerusalem scribes were not troubled by incongruities. Their chief concern was to set down the glorious tales of their nation's past and religious spirit. They were producing the story of redemption. Little did these Yahwistic men think that they were laying the foundations of a mighty literature that some day would have universal significance. They had no idea that these stories would be understood as the world's Bible not too many years down the road. As we look at the unraveling of the Yahwistic writings we realize what superb historians and wonderful literary artists these old writers really were. They told the redemption story with great charm and nothing was aimless. Their stories were fresh and lifelike then as first told. They blended heaven and earth with the touch of the divine.
These scribes, historians and collectors of stories were much more. They glorified the establishment of David's monarchy. Their chief purpose was religious, for they were prophets, men of Yahweh. To them, there was only one God and He had gone out of His way to fight for their ancestors. He was their God and had created their country. All should trust in this Yahweh of their history.
Since no writing can escape the age in which it was born, the reader of the Bible will come across crude and sometimes half-savage ideas. For these Yahweh-prophet-men wrote about 800 years before the birth of Christ. And Archaeology teaches us that these early Hebrews were not monotheistic. In many digs of the Hebrew dwellings the famous archaeologist, William Dever tells us that there have been found many small idols of male and female gods. The Hebrew woman looked in private to her Eshtar Goddess. The other nations had their own gods who were looked upon as the peer of Yahweh, the Hebrew's public God. Chemosh was the god of Moab. Milcom was the god of Ammon. Chemosh was for Moab like Yahweh was exclusively for Israel. This was not pure monotheism. For real monotheism did not appear until hundreds of years after Moses, and even then it was not sharply defined, for the women still used their secret Goddess for luck and blessings.
It was in these collection of Jerusalem stories that full consciousness of monolatry was contained. To many, these stories were childish but brilliant. These Yahwistic writers showed their people that their God exhibits Himself not in occasional super naturalness but in the continuity of the actual experience of the Hebrew nation. For instance, the account of the Egyptian plagues was about an east wind bringing the locusts into Egypt and a west wind swept them into the Red Sea. These events were natural. The natural east wind blows all night and drives the Red Sea back and enables the Hebrews to cross. However, all these simple facts were changed into glorious miracles by the Northern Elohistic scribes.
After Solomon's reign, a split-up completely dissevered the Hebrew Commonwealth. The Northern Kingdom won its independence and inspired by local pride, began to collect the chronicles and sagas that were current among their own people. They wanted their own set of the account. They set out to accomplish what the Yahwistic men had done many years before. These authors were companions of Amos, Hosea and Isaiah, the great reform leaders of the North Kingdom. Messages and stories began framing the new history and these authors used the name of Elohim, instead of Yahweh, to designate their Divine Being. The points of difference between the Yahwistic and Elohistic documents are very numerous in vocabulary and style; and for this reason scholars were able to unravel the two sources notwithstanding the closely knitted manner in which they had been interwoven.
For example, the Elohistic men prefer names different from those used by the Yahwistic writers.
Although it would be entirely too long to enumerate here, there is a vast mass of such characteristic differences which separate the two documents.
Since the Elohistic writings were created many years after the Yahwistic accounts, it is no wonder that the Elohistic men spoke of God in more elevated language. The Elohistic editors had a desire to improve the ideas and stories of the older Yahwistic testimony. To the Elohistic authors, the story of a God who walks and talks with men is a little to degrading for God of gods, Elohim. He appears to them in dreams or visions or through the ministry of angels. Elohistic writers would not let man look upon God. He is too majestic, holy and to high in the heavens. Prophets were the prominent heroes of the Northern Kingdom. For they were the voice for God. Elohistic writers have their God performing miracles and signs and marvelous experiences. Elohim expresses Himself in a divine way. The prophet is His medium. The plagues upon Egypt were by the miracle-working rod of Moses. Whereas the Yahwistic writers are careful to give natural causes for the wonders in Egypt--but not these Elohistic men. The master magician, Moses governed the winds and the waves. His wand changed into a serpent. In Mt. Horeb his rod caused a gushing fountain of flowing water from a rock. The purpose of these Elohistic writers was to prove that all happenings and events connected with their ancestral history were vehicles for religious truth.
The Elohistic men were sensitive and refined in their feelings. The crude stories were refined by them and they left their influence on the Bible. They carefully gathered up and edited a body of legislation (Exodus 20:22 to 23:19) which was known as the "Book of the Covenant." These Elohistic writers were knowledgeable of Hammurabi, King of Babylon (2123-2081 BC). By his order a code was prepared. French excavators at Susa in 1901-1902 found it carved on a great stone column of black diorite. It had many similarities in literary form and in the identical wording of parallel laws is sufficient to indicate that one influenced the other--or each in its own way drew upon that ancient body of Semitic law which antedates both. Look at the comparison.
Besides a group of eighty or ninety injunctions which the Book of the Covenant has preserved for us, we are further indebted to the Elohistic men for the first version of the Ten Commandments--that majestic Decalogue of elemental morality which has never ceased to interest mankind at large.
In the Elohistic version of the Ten Commandments we find many highly developed ideas of conduct and high-pitched conceptions of property rights which could not have been the social code of nomadic Bedouins moving about the desert with their half-starved cattle. When, for example, the commandments enjoin the observance of the Sabbath day and then go on to say that even the "stranger that is within thy gates" shall rest, it is clear that the very idea of "gates" implies a settled community --which, of course, was not the social condition of the Hebrews under Moses. Also, the use of the word "house" in the last of the Ten Commandments is a fingerprint of an era long after the people had given up living a roving life in tents. It would even seem that the whole idea of the Sabbath was impractical for bands of herdsmen mainly in charge of live stock; and for this very cogent reason many scholars date the Sabbath law hundreds of years after Moses.
Within an incredible short space of time, after Josiah had made the Deuteronomic Code the supreme law of the land, the kingdom of Judah was brutally besieged by the Babylonians under Nebuchadrezzar. In the year 586 BC, Jerusalem was captured and destroyed, the Temple of Solomon demolished, and the very best elements of the people mercilessly dragged off as slaves into exile. I have published a book, "The Source" which tells the story of the beginnings of the Jews under the splendid Ezekiel. In my book I show how Ezekiel's future Temple was to be the all in all: dignified by history, enriched by tradition, sanctified by Yahweh, glorified by sacrifices and idealized by holiness. In his visions he described the new building and its altar with the measurements of an architect's plan, giving full details of how everything should be done. He laid down the regulations for the Priests through whom the sanctity of the shrine was to be maintained. These instructions provided for a more elaborate priestly organization than had ever been known before the exile.
Go to your library and check out the book, "Introduction to the Old Testament" by Robert H. Pfeiffer (Harvard University) Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York
Order the book at: THE SOURCE.