Of all authors of the Pentateuch, P has been the most difficult to nail down. P, of course is the Priestly edition (addition?) and makes up a vast majority of the Torah. He covers the laws, the tabernacle, the mundane details of everyday sacrifices and how they must be carried out—and by whom.For many years, it was thought that P was penned by the prophet Ezekiel during Babylonian exile. There were many reasons for this theory but one of the biggest was that P never references the Temple. Yes, he does reference a tabernacle, but the tabernacle referenced in Exodus was, according to scholars, too big for the Israelites to have carried with them for forty years of wondering through the desert.
New research has revealed, though, that P was written during the time of King Hezekiah, the Priest’s great reformer. Whereas Josiah was the darling of D, Hezekiah was the darling of P for reasons we’ll discuss shortly.
What we see in P is that it was written in response to JE.
Around 740 b.c.e. the Assyrians began their attack on the northern kingdom. The curators of E would have gathered up their sacred writings and made their way south to Jerusalem to escape the upcoming massacre that was sure to follow. In Jerusalem, the sacred northern documents of E, and the southern documents of J would become combined during the years as the refugees made the Judea their new home.
By 701 b.c.e., Hezekiah made sweeping reforms of Israel that would greatly benefit the authors of P, probably at the behest of P, which is also about the time that P was written?
One of the most fascinating details of P is the Tabernacle itself. J and E did not regard centralized worship. P and D on the other hand, made it their mainstay. In D, it was centralized worship at the Temple that mattered. In P, it was the Tabernacle. In P, every major event happens in the presence of the Tabernacle. Every sacrifice, every offering happens in the Tabernacle.
Scholars have recently worked through the mind-numbing measurement of cubits, and have noticed that the Tabernacle fits very snugly inside of the Temple. This means that P used these measurements to craft “the Tabernacle,” a portable temple that was said to be a precursor to Solomon’s Temple.
P seems to be a “response” to JE. J and E were both Mushite priests, P was an Aaronid priest. E made Aaron the creator of the golden calf, P couldn’t allow that to go unchallenged. So P copied every story of JE, adding his own details and making Aaron the focus while subtly swiping at Moses. Because Moses was already the hero of JE, and at this point, Israel, P couldn’t directly attack Moses, but he could show Moses in a negative light.
An example would be In JE’s story in Exodus: the people are thirsty, and God tells Moses to strike the rock so that water comes out. P repeats this story in Numbers, but then adds:
And Yahweh said to Moses and to Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me, to make me holy in the children of Israel’s sight, therefore you shall not bring this community to the land that I have set for them.”
P makes an accusation against Moses. For what? Nobody really knows. But he creates a slight against God, then blames Moses, and asserts that Aaron also must pay for Moses’ mistake.
The goal of P seems to be three-fold: Number one, to respond to what he felt was a slight against his hero, Aaron; and two, to set himself and his order as the only way to God. In P, God will only accept sacrifices at the tabernacle (Temple). Only Aaron and his sons are allowed to present these sacrifices. And finally, number three, to denigrate Moses in the eyes of Israel.
He wasn’t stupid. Moses was much beloved by the people and he knew this. But he could undermine him, and ultimately the Shiloh priests, making the claim that the Mushite priests were not allowed to serve in the temple.
There’s a great irony to P though. He meant for his document to be a response to other documents. He meant for his documents to stand alone against those other documents. Yet somebody, and we think we know who, combined them… all of them… thus mitigating much of what he set out to do.