How do you tell the different versions in the Old Testament?

The Question of the week:  What is the key difference in the way the Yahwist writers describe God and the way the other authors describe God?

Last week we said the first written versions of the Bible (and we are talking about the first five books, or the Torah) were produced during the time of Solomon, somewhere around 1,000 BCE. This version was called the Yahwist version. It described a personal relationship between the Jewish nation and the God they spelled as YHWH. But that was not the end of the versions of the Torah.

Why was a second version produced? The multiple tribes of Israel ruled by David and Solomon were a pretty volatile group. And after King Solomon died, the tribes in the north rebelled and separated from Jerusalem and the south. They also decided to write a new version of the evolution of the Jewish nation. This version is called the Elohist document, which came from an earlier Canaanite name for God. In general, it describes God (Elohim) as more of a universal amorphous spirit compared to the anthropomorphic YHWH.

How did they get mixed together? By about 850 BCE we have two versions of the Torah. Ultimately, the northern tribes were defeated by Assyria. But at least one writer from the north escaped with their Elohim document to the south. Ultimately the Chief Editor of 3BT — 5th Century BCE edition merged the two versions together into one. Many of the stories from the two versions were similar. But some of the glaring differences make for interesting dinner discussion.

What are some of the differences?Two different creation stories — Genesis 1 versus Genesis 2.Different versions of the Ten (or so) Commandments.Angels versus no angels.Different mountains on which Moses received the Commandments.One of the most interesting scholarly theories involves the Abraham/Isaac sacrifice story.The Yahwist version does not have it at all. The Elohist version has the sacrifice story, but mentions nothing about Isaac afterward (implying the sacrifice actually happened). Oops. Evidently, according these Biblical scholars, when the two versions were brought together, that same 5th Century BCE Chief Editor wrote in the section about the last minute intervention.

Fun Fact: Jerusalem in the time of King David had a population of approximately 1,000.  

That’s it for this week. We’ll likely cover some New Testament stuff next week.

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