The P Source
The Tetrateuch contains a great deal of material that does not belong either to J or to E in terms of its literary style, subject matter, or theological interest. This material is usually designated “P” because of its high degree of interest in matters relating to priesthood, worship, liturgy, sacrifice, ordination, etc. This third major source includes a very large amount of legislation on these subjects, but also a considerable amount of narrative.
P was composed sometime not long after the destruction of Jerusalem and the first temple in 587 B.C.E. Drawing upon ancient traditions, the priestly writer(s) sought to provide a theological response to the tragedy of the end of the Kingdom and exile of the people to Babylon. P's emphasis on the tabernacle, a movable tent-sanctuary used in the wilderness (Exod. 25–31, 35–40 ), reminded the people that God had once been present with them in worship outside the land and without the Jerusalem temple. By highlighting circumcision and sabbath, both of which could be observed without regard for geographic location, P pointed the way toward the emergence of Jewish identity apart from a nation-state. Thus P's work was foundational for the development of diaspora Judaism.