The abbreviation for the Priestly source in the Pentateuch. Definitively identified in the nineteenth century, P is classically described as a creation of the exilic or postexilic period (sixth or fifth century BCE) that stresses Israelite ritual and religious observance. As such, its narratives, especially in the book of Genesis, are often etiological, providing explanations for the Sabbath (Gen. 2.2–3), circumcision (Gen. 17.9–14), and dietary laws (Gen. 9.4). This priestly tradition describes in detail the Passover ritual, the ordination ceremonies and vestments of the high priest, and the tabernacle and its furnishings. Much of this material is derived from older sources that have been shaped by the priestly writers; this is evident in the prominence given to Aaron in P, in contrast with the dominant role of Moses in J and E, and the legal materials in the books of Leviticus and Numbers. Priestly tradition unites its own contribution and the older material (including J and E) it incorporates by genealogies and by a series of covenants, those with Noah, Abraham, and finally all Israel on Mount Sinai. P's deity is more transcendent and less anthropomorphic than J's; his glory both reveals and conceals him.
Recently some scholars have proposed that the date of the primary work of the priestly writers was preexilic, perhaps even as early as the reign of Hezekiah (late eighth/early seventh centuries BCE).
The most significant contribution of priestly tradition is the Torah in its present shape: Genesis begins with the P account of creation, and Deuteronomy ends with the P account of the death of Moses.
Michael D. Coogan