The abbreviation for the Yahwist “source” in the Pentateuch, derived from the German spelling (Jahwe) of the divine name Yahweh (see Names of God). Beginning in the eighteenth century, scholars noticed that two different names were used for the deity in the book of Genesis, and using this as a criterion, identified separate sources or traditions or documents. As this analysis matured, the J tradition was traced in the rest of the Pentateuch (and by some in the books of Joshua and Judges and beyond), and was dated to the ninth (or perhaps the tenth) century BCE, though presumably using earlier sources. It is thought to have originated in Jerusalem. Its characteristics include the frequent use of anthropomorphism in depictions of Yahweh (e.g., Gen. 2.7, 8, 21; 3.8, 21; 7.17b; 8.21); the theme of divine promise of land, descendants, and blessing and its fulfillment; and a focus in the ancestral narratives in Genesis on the territory later controlled by Judah. Subsequent scholars postulated the existence of multiple editions and revisions of J. More recently, several scholars have questioned much of the above analysis, particularly J's date, which has been set by some after the exile.
Michael D. Coogan