In an interview, the late Dr. Clifford Wilson implied that archaeology has shown that the Pentateuch could not have been compiled the way that the JEDP theory suggests:

Professor G. Ernest Wright, Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies at Harvard University, gave a lecture at that same dig. He made the point that (because of the researches associated with the Hittites and the findings of Professor George Mendenhall concerning what are called the Suzerainty Covenant Treaties between the Hittite kings and their vassals) it had become clear that the records of Moses, when dealing with covenants, must be dated back to the middle of the second millennium BC. That’s about 1500 BC. Also, that those writings should be recognized as a unity. In other words, they go back to one man. That one man could only be Moses.

The discovery of Hittite treaty form greatly aids our understanding of the Torah, but how does it disprove the hypothesis that those documents were assembled at a late date from four (or more) original authors?


The Hittite treaties changed shape over time. Archeology has uncovered several examples of sometimes radical differences from one century to the next. The 10 Commandments are shaped like a Suzerainty Covenant, so is the book of Deuteronomy. When these forms are laid out next to the 10 Commandments or Dt, they both conform to the treaties from 1,200-1,500 BC.

This find challenges the documentary hypothesis because the odds of randomly putting the correct form together several centuries later (when other forms are in use) is low. It could be argued that a sage would have an example of an older form. But to think that the sage would say, "Hey, in 2,800 years, archeologists are going to know about these older forms, so to make this look like Moses wrote it, I'd better use that instead of the current one. What year are we conspiring to say Moses lived in again?" has low probability. Likewise, editing together works from multiple authors would be difficult to do while keeping the shape.

Order of sections in Hittite Treaties, mid-second millenium BC

The treaties varied over time and a newly uncovered treaty can be quickly dated based on the order (and presence) of certain sections.

Section                Exod          Dt          Josh 24
Intro of speaker       20:1          1:1-5       1-2a
Historical Prologue    20:2          1:6-3:29    2b-13
Stipulations           20:3-17       cc 4-26     14-15, 23
Renewal                25:16         27:2-3      25-26a
Witnesses              none.         cc 31-32    22, 26b-27
Curses                               ch 28       19-20
Oath of Allegiance     24:3                      16-18, 21, 24 

More information can be found here and at Bible.org.

In 800 BC, when the documents were supposed to be written according to the documentary hypothesis, the sections had been rearranged. Section 2 is missing (and the whole of Hebrew concept of nation relies on the historical prologue), and often blessings and curses are gone. Most importantly, there is no evidence from any Hittite or related culture that the older form was known after the fall of the United Monarchy (Mendenhall, "Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition" in Biblical Archeologist 17:3 (May 1954):50-76.) Let's be careful because an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but it is something to think about. No less than W. F. Albright points out that the structure of all the treaties known from six neighboring civilizations in the 8th century and later are all quite different.

  • I have a chart with the different forms at home. I'll add them in later. – Frank Luke Apr 30 '12 at 21:45
  • The chart will be lovely! One other possibility is that a scribe could have copied the form of the oldest available document, which could by coincidence be from the right era. – Jon Ericson Apr 30 '12 at 22:15

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