The textual source called 'E' is the earliest of all literary sources in the Torah, the kernel from which all other narratives expanded upon. E was composed in the mid- to late eighth century BCE, toward the end of the heyday of the northern Ephraimite Kingdom, one of the two kingdoms that occupied Biblical Israel. The Kingdom of Ephraim was the larger and more urban of the two, and had its capital in Samaria, the city after which the Samaritans are named. To its south lay the smaller, but better-known Kingdom of Judah, whose capital city was Jerusalem. It seems likely that E was composed during this period because it marked the first literary flowering in ancient Israel. We know this based on the books of Amos and Hosea, composed at about that time, and from a wealth of inscriptions that we can confidently date to that period. The book of E, so called because it uses Elohim as its exclusive name for the deity of the Pentateuch, is composed of five story cycles focusing on five early Israelite heroes: Avraham, Yaakov, Yosef, Moshe, and Bilaam. The stories of Avraham and Bilaam are placed at the beginning and end of the Elohistic document, respectively, so that the two men can serve as models for how one should fear the remote and awesome God of the Elohistic source. The Yaakov, Yosef, and Moshe cycles, which comprise the bulk of the E narrative, chronicle Israel’s metamorphisis from a family into a people.


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