Introductory Thoughts on the Authorship of Genesis
In this paper we will present simple evidence from 20th century archeological findings that leads us to the conclusion that Moses wrote Genesis, as asserted by all the Fathers. But the Fathers did not explain how Moses wrote it, other than to assert that he was inspired by God. We can now see more clearly the special way in which God inspired Moses.
This is quite important because Genesis differs strikingly from the remaining books of the Pentateuch. Those final four books relate events in which Moses was the central figure, and he easily could have written them from his personal experience. But the events in the book of Genesis preceded his birth by very many years—by from several centuries to two millennia or more. If Moses wrote Genesis, then how did God convey to him the information which he relates to us in that book?
Consider the book of Revelation by comparison. We know that John the beloved was not personally involved in the events that he describes in Revelation. Rather, God showed them to him in a series of visions. We can see this because in the Book of Revelation John states that he was present with God and was being shown the things of which he wrote. “I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying,” and “The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand . . . says this,” and “the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things,’” and “he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me,” and “he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast.” In these and many more places in the text of Revelation it is clear that John was “made present” to the events of the book and was being shown those events through a series of supernatural visions, revelations, or locutions. But if the Lord inspired Moses in a similar way, by showing him the first things just as He showed John the last things, then there is no hint of that from within the text of Genesis. For this reason—from the way that the text is presented to us—it appears that Moses wrote Genesis, not from specific divine revelations that the Lord gave to him during his life, but from other sources that he had available to him in Egypt.
Then we might ask if those sources were written sources or oral sources. Just two centuries ago it was not believed that writing was widely known to the ancients. But today we know from archeology that writing was known and widely used for at least two millennia before the time of Moses. Also, archeology has shown that those subjects dealt with in Genesis—the creation and the deluge—were commonly put into writing by ancient peoples. This was almost certainly because they considered such topics to be of the utmost importance and to be foundational to their view of themselves. Ancient societies rested on such ideas.
Our culture is also deeply influenced by our understanding of how we came to be on earth.
Because the events of Genesis are of the same nature, dealing with the origin of man and the world, we should assume that the records from which Moses derived the biblical accounts were also written down and were not merely entrusted to oral transmission. Thus we can expect that Moses wrote Genesis using written records that he had available to him, and we will show this to be so. He carefully edited those records, which I will henceforth refer to as “The Genesis Documents.” He selected exactly what was needed and wanted by the Lord God, and followed His leading as he put together the book that we now have.
Preliminary Observations about the Structure of Genesis
From a cursory reading of Genesis, we see that the overall structure is delineated by the recurrence of the phrase “these are the generations of.” To extend our observations on this point, I want to give my preliminary outline of the book of Genesis using some of the occurrences of this phrase to demarcate the sections in my outline.
- The story of creation of the whole world. This section ends with:
“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 2:4).
- The story of Adam and Eve; their creation, temptation, fall, the judgments of God, their children Cain and Able, Cain’s family to the seventh generation, and the birth of the next two generations in the Godly line, Seth and Enosh. This ends with:
“This is the book of the generations of Adam” (Genesis 5:1).
- The genealogy from Adam to Noah, plus a short description of the tragic situation in human society at the time of Noah, just before the great deluge. This ends with: “These are the records of the generation of Noah” (Genesis 6:9).
- The building of the ark, the gathering of the animals, the deluge, God’s covenant with Noah after the flood, and the story of Canaan. This ends with: “These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (Genesis 10:1).
- The descendants of Japheth, Ham, and Shem that made up the languages and nations after the confusion of tongues at Babel, and the story of Babel itself. This ends with: “These are the generations of Shem” (Genesis 1:10).
- The genealogy from Shem to Terah and his sons Abram, Nahor, and Haran. This ends with: “These are the generations of Terah” (Genesis 11:27).
- The story of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Ishmael. This ends with:
“These are the generations of Isaac” (Genesis 25:19).
- The story of Isaac, Rebecca, and their sons Esau and Jacob—especially Jacob. This ends with: “These are the generations of Jacob” (Genesis 37:2).
- Stories about the descendants of Jacob, extending into Egypt. (ends the book)
This outline will be helpful as we study the writing methods of the ancient Middle East.
20th Century Archeological Discoveries in the Middle East
An officer in the British Air Force who was on assignment in the Middle East during WW II stumbled across the key discovery about which we are concerned. P. J. Wiseman was an enthusiastic amateur archeologist who had the privilege of being personally present when many of the archeological sites were being excavated. He was able to discuss the findings at the sites with the archeologists, and at that time he noticed certain recurring literary patterns on the tablets that bore a striking similarity to the structure of Genesis. He published a book on the subject in 1936 entitled New Discoveries in Babylonia about Genesis. In the midst of the war it was ignored.
His son Donald John Wiseman inherited his father’s passion for archeology, but he was not an amateur by any means. He was one of the greatest British Assyriologists of the 20th century. Donald Wiseman was a devout Christian who believed that the Bible was accurate, reliable, and very relevant to life today. In 1985 he enhanced and republished his father’s work under the title Ancient Records and the Structure of Genesis. This work has been largely unknown or ignored by scholars. I base this paper largely on his book.
An Overview of Ancient Middle Eastern Writings:
Ancient Mesopotamian civilizations go back to before 3,000 B.C. and exhibit two basic writing styles: pictographic and cuneiform.
The most ancient form of writing was pictograph, eventually superseded by cuneiform. “A conservative estimate is that the pictographic forms of writing which have been found may be dated from 3300 to 2800 BC; thereafter cuneiform writing came into use.”[i]
A pictogram is a written character that symbolizes an object without indicating how to pronounce it. Instead it conveys the meaning or idea of its intended object because it resembles the object. Pictographic writing uses pictograms to convey meaning. Thus it definitely is not an alphabetic form of writing.
Most of the inscriptions recovered in ancient Mesopotamia show a style of writing known as cuneiform or wedge-shaped writing. The Scribes used a reed stylus to form the various wedge shapes. They wrote on clay tablets which were made from the silt and mud of that area. Clay tablets could be dried and preserved for centuries, and they could also be re-wetted to make additions if necessary.
Cuneiform writing became very prevalent in the ancient civilizations of the Middle East and was commonly used in daily communications. Investigators have found letters concerning daily family matters written by a wife to her husband while he was traveling on business and from a son to his father while he was away. Also preserved on the tablets are legal or governmental records, religious writings, and many other kinds of writings. Large libraries of clay and stone tablets have been unearthed, and schools for teaching reading, writing, and mathematics have been found with the lessons for the pupils still intact, some from centuries before Abraham.
Fundamental Thesis on the Authorship of Genesis:
The book of Genesis was originally written on tablets in the ancient script of the time by the patriarchs who were intimately concerned with the events related, and whose names are clearly stated. Moreover, Moses, the compiler and editor of the book, as we now have it, plainly directs attention to the source of his information.[ii]
What is it about the style of writing on those ancient tablets that is so revealing?
A Few Details about the Style of Ancient Middle Eastern Writing:
The style of writing of Mesopotamian cultures is clearly revealed in the many thousands of clay or stone tablets that have been recovered from archeological sites. To explain more fully why we assert a connection between these ancient writings and Genesis, and to make clear how they contribute to our understanding of the book, we must look at a few details about the ancient Mesopotamian scribes and how they composed documents.
To appreciate what they did we must put ourselves in their position and consider the practical issue to be faced by a civilization that keeps its records on clay or stone tablets.
They faced problems that are in many ways similar to and in many ways divergent from what we have to deal with today, simply because their writing medium was clay tablets.
How and where did they [the ancients] sign and date their letters and other tablets? Seeing that clay tablets cannot be stitched, as can pieces of parchment or the pages of a book, what means were used to connect tablets together and preserve their proper sequence when more than one tablet was necessary to contain a piece of writing? These problems are rarely referred to in popular books on excavation and the student must turn to technical works, the contents of which are largely printed in cuneiform, in order to obtain an adequate answer to them.[iii]
The ancients had an area at the end of each tablet called the colophon where they kept important identifying information about the tablet and the document of which it was a part. Here is what the tablets and the colophon looked like.[iv]
The text above the clear band near the top is the colophon, the area of the tablet that contains the identifying data and the indexing data for the tablet.
One common practice of the ancient scribes was this: when a scribe wrote on a tablet, he impressed the owner’s seal on the clay in the document’s colophon.
Archeologists have noticed at least 10 different types of identifying information that might be in the colophon.
Maximally, a colophon might contain all of the following information:
- The catch-line
- The name of the series and number of the tablet
- The number of lines on the tablet
- The source of the copy
- The name of the owner of the tablet [The ownership line]
- The name of the scribe making the copy
- The reason for making the copy
- The curse or blessing
- The date
- Disposition of the copy
Minimally, the colophon might contain only one of the above categories.[v] [Bold added]
This style of writing was common throughout ancient cultures of the Middle East from at least as far back as 2,000 B.C. and it continued until a few centuries before Jesus. Thus, it was used throughout the patriarchal period and the entire time of the Old Testament. It is likely that these writing techniques gradually became obsolete after Alexander the Great conquered the Middle East and Greek culture and language became prominent.
I will list and explain three of the common elements of the colophon that relate to Genesis and to what we will be discussing: names, catch-lines, and dates.
- The name of the owner of the document: As the information in a document was being copied and recopied it was important to keep track of the person who originally wrote the document, the source of the information in it. This is similar to what we do today when we use endnotes and footnotes to properly credit our sources when we write a document and include a quote from another author as a part of what we are writing. This is just referencing our sources.
- The ancients could not stitch their tablets together to make books like we do, so it was necessary for them to have ways of keeping the tablets in proper sequence when the writing was too large to fit on one tablet. This they did by including catch-lines in the document. A catch-line was a phrase or sentence from one tablet that was repeated in the next tablet to connect the two.
- A date sometimes was present to indicate when the document had been written.
The name was the most common element in the colophon; that is, the name of the owner of the tablet; that is, the one who was responsible for the information in the tablet. If we look at the outline of Genesis that I gave, the recurring lines “these are the generations of,” followed by the name of one of the ancients (Adam, Noah, the sons of Noah, etc.) look very much like ownership lines; that is, these lines seem to be saying that the preceding section of the Book of Genesis was written by:
|First section (the creation account)||no name apended|
|Second section (Adam and his family)||Adam|
|Third section (Up until the flood)||Noah|
|Fourth section (preparations for flood and after it)||Shem, Ham Japheth|
This is confirmed when we look at the content of the sections that precede each name. In each case the information there is exactly what could easily have been known by the one whose name appears in the ownership line. The reason there is no name after the first section is that no one could have known about that information from their own experience. In other words, the names in the “generations of” lines seem to be signatures and seem to be saying that the person named is the person originally responsible for the material in the preceding area; that is, they originally wrote the preceding section.
Assertion: so it appears as if the book of Genesis was originally written on clay tablets (as we would expect of any document from the ancient Middle East) because its basic layout still reveals that ancient style of writing, and furthermore that the book consists of a series of accounts written by the men named in the “generation” lines.
Ownership Lines and the Structure of Genesis:
Another way to say this is that with this information before us we have the tools necessary to determine the fundamental source documents of Genesis because the traces of the colophons from those ancient tablets are still evident in the text of the book. The basic structure of Genesis is delineated by the repetitive phrase “these are the generations of.” This phrase occurs eleven times in the book. Here are the eleven usages of the phrase “these are the generations of” in the book of Genesis:
|2:4||These are the generations of the heavens and the earth|
|5:1||This is the book of the generations of Adam|
|6:9||These are the generations of Noah|
|10:1||These are the generations of the sons of Noah|
|11:10||These are the generations of Shem|
|11:27||These are the generations of Terah|
|25:12||These are the generations of Ishmael *|
|25:19||These are the generations of Isaac|
|36:1||These are the generations of Esau *|
|36:9||These are the generations of Esau *|
|37:2||These are the generations of Jacob|
Other than the three instances marked by an asterisk (*), these are the same delimiting phrases that I chose when I presented my original outline of the book of Genesis. The full meaning of these phrases, and the reason why the three marked with an (*) are unique, will be made clear as we explain the meaning and usage of the Hebrew word that is translated “generations” in these verses. That Hebrew word is “toledot.” Understanding the usage and meaning of this word will add confirming evidence for our assertion.
The Meaning of Toledot:
Throughout the Bible the most common usage for the word “toledot” is to introduce a genealogical list, a count, or other information about a person’s descendants. It is used this way in many places in the Bible. Here are some examples:
What follows this in the biblical text of Exodus is a list of the descendants of Levi.
Here “genealogical registration” is the Hebrew word “toledot.” And what follows is a numerical count of Reuben’s descendants.
And what follows here and in many places in Chronicles is a list of descendants for the person, going down through the generations.
These examples are also similar to three of the instances where the key phrase “these are the generations of” is used in the book of Genesis (where toledot is translated as generations). In these passages the phrase is followed by a list of descendants:
|25:12||These are the generations of Ishmael|
|36:1||These are the generations of Esau|
|36:9||These are the generations of Esau|
The other eight usages of the word “toledot” in the phrase “these are the generations of” in Genesis do not conform to this pattern. There is no mention of the descendants of the person named, or else the genealogy is mixed with other narrative stories. In these passages the word has a slightly different usage and meaning. In these instances, we should understand the word “toledot” as conveying a somewhat different meaning, and we should see the phrase “these are the generations of” as being a signature line naming the person who wrote the immediately preceding account. Let us look at the second usage and the second meaning of toledot to clarify this.
The Hebrew scholar Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius (1796-1843) defines “toledot” as follows:
The Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon[vi], the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament[vii], Brown Driver’s Brigg’s Lexicon[viii], the Hebrew Wordbook of the Old Testament[ix] and other modern sources say it means “descendants, results, proceedings, generations, genealogies, that it indicates an account of men and their descendants, their successive generations, their families” or (metaphorically) “the begetting or account of heaven.” Thus toledot refers to not only a genealogical listing but to the results or proceedings of men and their families. It is used even today as the equivalent of our word “history.”
To this day the Rabbis who are immersed in biblical Hebrew use the word “toledot” as the equivalent of the ordinary word “history.” The Hebrew collections of Jewish traditions about the life of Jesus is called toledot Jesu and this the Jews always translate History of Jesus.[x]
So, the toledot of a person can be said to be the history of or about the person who is named, or the history written by him from his experience, especially the history of his origins and of the proceedings of his family. This appears to be the proper understanding of the word in the remaining eight passages. When used in this way the word comes at the end of the person’s history, not at the beginning as in the genealogical lists. When we see the word used in this way we must look at the text that precedes it to understand the passage to which it refers. The only biblical example of this usage outside of Genesis is:
No genealogical lists follow for Moses and Aaron. This is because in this case the reference points backward to the narrative that preceded it, which was written by Moses and Aaron, and which gives instructions for how the tribes of Israel should set up their camp. (see Numbers 2)
The remaining eight usages of “toledot” in Genesis (2:4, 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 11:10, 11:27, 25:12, 37:2) are examples of this type of pattern and usage, and so the preceding text of Genesis is, in each instance, a personal historical account written by the one whose name appears in the “generations” line. Therefore the book of Genesis to 37:2 is composed of a series of personal (family) accounts each ending with the words “these are the generations of . . .” followed by the name of the one whose historical account we have just read. This usage follows the ancient pattern of the ownership lines in the colophons of the clay tablets of Mesopotamia. Thus the authors of those accounts, after the first one which has no name, are: Adam, Noah, the sons of Noah, Shem, Terah, Isaac, and Jacob.
Catch-Lines and the Unity of the Book of Genesis:
There is another repeated pattern contained within the documents of Genesis that also indicates their ancient origin as clay tablets. The “catch-lines” that were commonly used to connect tablet to tablet in a series are still in evidence within the text of Genesis. The following phrases appear to be pairs of “catch-lines,” as identified by Wiseman:
|1:1||God created the heavens and the earth|
|2:4||Lord God made the heavens and the earth|
|2:4||When they were created|
|5:2||When they were created|
|6:10||Shem, Ham, and Japheth|
|10:1||Shem, Ham, and Japheth|
|10:32||After the flood|
|11:10||After the flood|
|11:26||Abram, Nahor, and Haran|
|11:27||Abram, Nahor, and Haran|
|36:1||Who is Edom|
|36:8||Who is Edom|
|36:9||Father of the Edomites (lit., Father Edom)|
|36:43||Father of the Edomites (lit., Father Edom)|
The very striking repetition of these phrases exactly where the tablets begin and end will best be appreciated by those scholars acquainted with the methods of the scribes in Babylonia, for those were the arrangements then in use to link the tablets together. I submit that the repetition of these words and phrases precisely in those verses attached to the colophon, “These are the origins of” cannot be mere coincidence. They have remained buried in the text of Genesis, their significance apparently unnoticed.[xi]
When taken together the phrases in Wiseman’s list of catch-lines establish the overall unity of the Genesis account from 1:1 through 37:2. They show that each author had the previous sections of Genesis before him and that he consciously connected his narrative to the section that preceded his. With this understanding of the connecting phrases as identified by Wiseman we can arrive at the following simple conclusions about the bulk of Genesis (1:1 through 37:2):
- Adam had in his possession the first unnamed account when he wrote his story. He consciously linked his history to it as a continuation of it. This is seen from the connecting “catch-lines” in 1:1 and 2:4, “God created the heavens and the earth,” and “Lord God made the heavens and the earth.”
- Likewise, the “catch-lines” in 2:4 and 5:2 show that Noah was consciously connecting his account to the previous writings, which he also possessed. This is shown because “when they were created” appears in both verses.
- In this way we can see that each of the persons named as authors were in possession of the previous accounts and made a clear statement in their writing to connect what they were writing to a previous account.
- Thus Genesis 1:1 through 37:2 was a cumulative work written by the succession of authors named in the signature lines. It was a carefully accumulated history that was passed on to successive generations throughout the ages. It was being consciously connected together by the successive authors. This basic insight is most important and arises from our understanding of the historical context within which the book arose. Knowing these basic facts about how the book of Genesis was written down is vital to determining its genre and to interpreting it correctly.
Thus, we have established the original source documents for the book of Genesis, and we have determined the basic unity of the composition through 37:2.
Formulating our Theory about How Genesis Came to be Written Down:
Archeology attests that when Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees, whatever family records he carried with him would have been in the form of clay tablets. Those tablets are what came into the possession of Moses centuries later, and those “Genesis Documents” are what he used to write the present book of Genesis. The book of Genesis can be divided into nine sections that were originally written by people whom we can now identify.
This includes some of Ishmael’s history. Ishmael conveyed his personal stories and family genealogy to Isaac when the two came together to bury Abraham. Isaac inserted it into his own historical account as part of his broader family history.
This includes some of Esau’s history as well, inserted after the story of when Jacob and Esau came together to bury Isaac. Jacob knew the early genealogy of Esau (36:1-8) from their early lives with Isaac and Rebekah. The next two genealogies (36:9-30) include the family of Esau when he dwelt in Edom and the family of Seir the Horite. Jacob received this information when he met with Esau as he reentered Canaan, and/or when the brothers came together to bury Isaac. The last section (36: 31–43) is a later insert by Moses from the time of the Exodus.
Additional supporting facts from the book of Genesis itself:
- In no case is an event recorded which the person or persons named as the owner or writer of that section could not have written by personal knowledge or could not have easily obtained from another person. The content of each narrative is just what would be expected if it were the personal family history of the named author.
- The history recorded in each section ceases in all instances before the death of the person named as the owner of the section. In most cases it continues until near the death of the owner of the section. So, the text of Genesis testifies to our assertion.
- As we read through Genesis, we can see that as we pass from one narrative to the next it is common for the story to backtrack in time, covering the same ground as the previous narrative but with different details. An example of this is the way that the sons of Noah repeat his description of the darkness of his time in history, from just before the deluge. Still another example is how Isaac tells of the early years of Jacob and Esau, then Jacob tells more about those times in his own narrative. But within each section, within each personal narrative, the story is always related in chronological sequence. No single account ever backtracks.
It cannot be mere coincidence that the events recorded in each section fit so well with the lifespan of the person named as its owner. Anyone writing even a century after the time of the named owners would never have written in such a way. Therefore, each section of Genesis bears the marks of having been written by the person named; i.e., by one who was personally acquainted with the events that are recorded. The simple observation that these sections of Genesis were written by the persons named in the “signature” lines lends an enormous weight of authority to the contents of the sections. Thus, the genre of Genesis is “historical narrative.”
Additional Observations about Certain Sections of Genesis
The account of the Creation, the tablet written by the Lord God, bears no marks of being from an ancient culture. Its style precedes any and all cultures, as Wiseman explains:
Here we get back also to the very inauguration of written history. For it may have been written before even the sun and moon had been given names. Let us note the simplicity with which the facts are presented. There is a type of repetition and simplicity rarely recurring in Scripture. “Let there be lights in the firmament . . . and God made two great lights, the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night.”
We know that long before the time of the Flood men worshipped the sun and the moon and had given them names. Had this first chapter of Genesis been written even as late as Abraham’s day, instead of the simple expression “greater light” we should have had the Babylonian word for the sun, samas. It is used in the legal tablet (containing the names of thirteen witnesses) in my personal possession. Moreover, samas was the name of the sun god worshipped by the Babylonians. In his laws, Hammurabi depicts himself in the attitude of receiving his laws from this samas. When Abraham left Ur, the moon god was the chief object of worship in that city. The great tower built in the center of the city (at least 250 years before the time of Abraham) was surmounted by a temple dedicated to this moon god. Names for the sun and moon have been among the oldest words known in any language, yet this document was written before names had been given to the “greater and lesser lights.”[xii]
Thus, we should see the Creation account as being written at the threshold of human history, from before there were civilizations and nations.
Speaking of the account of Adam, Wiseman makes the following insightful comments:
This tablet also bears the clearest marks of extreme antiquity and simplicity, which could never have come from a late hand. For instance, the test of obedience is the eating or refraining from eating the fruit of a tree. The tempter is referred to after the Fall as “a serpent in the dust,” a form never afterwards used in the Old Testament. Again, it is one that no late writer was likely to employ. Then there are expressions such as “sin crouching at the door” in connection with the story of the offering made by Cain. Also there is the remark of Lamech, “I have slain a young man to my wounding and a young man to my hurt,” pointing to contemporary archaic events of which no explanation is given. Again the record shows evidence of being a personal one, “I heard Thy voice in the garden and I was afraid . . . I hid myself.” I suggest that no late writer would have used such intimate phrases as “the Lord God walking in the Garden in the cool of the day.” The Jew had been taught a most reverential conception of God, as One infinitely eternal and supreme, the Maker of the heavens and the earth. Even unto Moses God did not appear except in majesty and awe. . . .
The one person who knew all the facts about the Fall is stated to be the source from which the account came. This second tablet takes the story up to the birth of the sons of Lamech. Soon after this Adam died; the concluding words of the tablet are, “This is the book of the origins of Adam.”[xiii]
The first account was written by God at the very end of His creative works, but this story was written by Adam. So, there is a paradigm shift in perspective. The shift is from the perspective of the Holy One, the Most-High, the Eternal Creator, to the perspective of the man whom He created at the first—from the divine to the human perspective. This change in perspective also accounts for the change in name from Elohim to Yahweh, as noted in the documentary Hypothesis as the reason for assuming a new author.
Dr. Wiseman’s archeological comments on the section by Noah’s three sons is insightful:
We are still in an ancient realm of thought. It commences in a Babylonian scene but ends outside that country. Although for the first time we have moved beyond the confines of the ancient Mesopotamian plain, the writer does not take us to Palestine but to Ararat. We also have the use of that exceptional word “gopher” wood in connection with the construction of the ark. This is most archaic, and the word is never used again. The tablets end with the statement: ‘”These are the origins (or family histories) of the sons of Noah.” They are almost wholly taken up with the account of the Flood. This story has received considerable attention from modern scholars who assert that it was borrowed from Babylonia. They have made much of “two accounts” or “three accounts” interwoven into the narrative. Jean Astruc, when he came to analyze this story, insisted that it contained three accounts. He instanced such passages as these in Genesis 7:
|18||And the waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth.|
|19||And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth.|
|20||Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail.|
|Also, 21||And all flesh died that moved upon the face of the earth.|
|22||All in whose nostrils was the breath of life and all that was in the dry land died.|
|23||And every living substance was destroyed.|
It is sufficient here to note two most significant facts. First, the conclusion of the tablet informs us that more than one person is connected with the writing of the narrative, for it is the history of the three sons of Noah. Next, that an examination of it reveals every indication that it was written by several eye-witnesses of the tragedy.[xiv]
It is worth noting that this phenomenon of “multiple authors” is only observed in this account, which was in fact written by three men.
Concluding Remarks and Summary of Findings
The original personal accounts from which Genesis was composed were written by: God; Adam; Noah; The sons of Noah; Shem; Terah; Isaac; Jacob; The sons of Jacob. Jacob carried the complete set of documents from the first eight authors into Egypt when the great famine was upon the world. The last personal accounts, which comprise the final fourteen chapters of Genesis, were written on papyrus by the sons of Jacob in Egypt. Two centuries later Moses saw and read the history of his Hebrew family. He believed what he read and became zealous for the downtrodden Israelites. In time God called him to lead the Israelites out from under the thumb of their overlords. He also inspired Moses to write the book that we know as Genesis, using the Genesis Documents from his Hebrew ancestors as sources.
Thus we know that Moses wrote Genesis and we can see clearly how he did it.
Mr. Gladieux’s excellent article gives a thorough explanation of how Moses could have—and almost certainly did—organize historical material handed down to him from his ancestors to redact the book of Genesis. He argues that the style of Genesis is not that of apocalyptic or mystical literature, like the Book of Revelation, in which the author describes mystical revelations. For this reason, he argues that Moses did not have a mystical knowledge of the events he describes, but rather an historical knowledge.
In view of the consensus of the Church Fathers that Moses was “the prophet of the past” who was actually shown the works of creation, the question arises whether the tradition of the Fathers could be true—without taking anything away from Mr. Gladieux’s thesis. For example, St. Ambrose, Father and Doctor of the Church, and teacher of St Augustine, taught that:
Moses spoke to God the Most High, not in a vision nor in dreams, but mouth to mouth (Numbers 12:6-8). Plainly and clearly, not by figures nor by riddles, there was bestowed on him the gift of the Divine presence. And so Moses opened his mouth and uttered what the Lord spoke within him, according to the promise He made to him when He directed him to go to King Pharaoh: “Go therefore and I will open thy mouth and instruct thee what thou shouldest speak” (Ex. 4:12). For, if he had already accepted from God what he should say concerning the liberation of the people, how much more should you accept what He should say concerning heaven? Therefore, “not in the persuasive words of wisdom,” not in philosophical fallacies, “but in demonstration of the Spirit and power” (1 Cor. 2:4), he has ventured to say as if he were a witness of the Divine work: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.”
Can we reconcile the teaching of St. Ambrose that Moses was “a witness of the Divine work” of creation with Mr. Gladieux’s thesis that Moses received the history of the world and of Adam and his descendants on clay tablets handed down to him from the patriarchs?
Indeed, we can!
Since the first toledot regarding the creation of heaven and earth could not have been witnessed by any of the Patriarchs, the patristic consensus supports the view that Moses was shown the works of the six days of creation but received his knowledge of the history of his ancestors from the clay tablets that were handed down to him. Support for this thesis can be found in the Mystical City of God of Venerable Maria of Agreda (1602–1665), a work praised by more Popes and great saints than almost any other approved private revelation in the history of the Church. According to Venerable Maria, the Blessed Virgin Mary was shown the works of creation. Speaking of the sixth day of the Hexameron, Venerable Maria was told:
Having seen God in this vision She [the Blessed Virgin Mary] was immediately shown the works on the sixth day of the creation of the world. She witnessed, as if She Herself had been present, how at the command of the Lord the earth brought forth the living beings according to their kinds as Moses says (Gen 1, 24).
If the Blessed Virgin could be shown the works of the Hexameron “as if She Herself had been present,” why should we doubt that Moses (and, before him, Adam) could also have been made a “witness of the Divine work” of creation, as taught by St. Ambrose and other Fathers of the Church? This would explain why the first toledot describes the divine work that took place before the creation of Adam, while the subsequent toledots were written by the subsequent patriarchs from Adam down to the time of Moses.
Feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel
April 26, 2020
[i] P. J. Wiseman, Ancient Records and the Structure of Genesis: A Case for Literary Unity, ed. D. J. Wiseman (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1985), p. 48.
[ii] Ibid., pp. 19-20.
[iii] Ibid., pp. 54-55.
[iv] Dr. Clifford Wilson, Visual Highlights of the Bible (Boronia, Australia: Pacific Christian Ministries, 1993), p. 13.
[v] Erle Leichty, The Colophon, in Studies Presented to A. Leo Oppenheim. eds. Robert D. Biggs and John A. Brinkman (Chicago: Oriental Institute, 1964), pp. 147–148.
[vi] James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Elmira, Ont: Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1995).
[vii] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), pp. 378–379.
[viii] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), p. 410.
[ix] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, trans. M. E. J. Richardson (New York: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), pp. 1699–1700.
[x] P. J. Wiseman, Ancient Records and the Structure of Genesis, p. 62.
[xi] Ibid., pp. 54-55.
[xii] Ibid., pp. 88-89.
[xiii] Ibid., pp. 90-91.
[xiv] Ibid., pp. 92–93.