Author and Date of Genesis

dura_europos_fresco_jews_cross_red_sea

All biblical traditions assert that Moses authored the Pentateuch, which includes Genesis.[1]

In keeping with Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) practices, Moses rarely named himself as the author, and he described himself in both the first and third persons.[2]

In Rom 10:5, the Apostle Paul noted, “Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness,” a quotation of Lev 18:5.

Since Moses was raised in the courts of the pharaoh (Exod 2:10; Acts 7:20–22), he had unique access to the ANE myths which he referenced and rebuffed in Gen 1–11.[3]

In addition, some elements of Biblical Hebrew are borrowed from second millennium BC Egyptian.[4] Only in the Pentateuch is the early Hebrew lack of distinction between “he” and “she” found, supporting the ancient date of writing and Mosaic authorship.[5]

Scholars have found other early Hebrew inscriptions at Sinai,[6] where Israel camped for at least a year (Exod 19:1–2; Num 9:1–2, 15–23).

Note that the accounts of treaties made between the patriarchs and government authorities in Gen 21:22–23, 27–33; Gen 26:28–31; and Gen 31:44–54 all follow the format used from 1800–1700 BC (Columns 1 and 2 below).[7]

Much of the Pentateuch itself adheres to the pattern of treaties written from 1400–1200 BC (Columns 4 and 5), with Exodus and Leviticus forming one pact and Deuteronomy another.[8]

Thus, the Documentary Hypothesis, a method devised in the modern era which attributes each book of the Pentateuch to four groups of authors living in the 11th–7th centuries BC (Column 6),[9] does not correspond to the biblical material.

Ancient Near Eastern Treaty Formats[10]

Mari and    Leilan    
Hebrew Patriarchal
Intermed. Hittite
     Middle      Hittite
Pentateuch*
 Sefire and Mesopotamia
Divine Witnesses
Divine Witnesses
Title
Title
Title
Title
Oath
Oath
Divine Witnesses
Historical Prologue
Historical Prologue
Divine Witnesses
Stipulations
Stipulations
Stipulations
Stipulations
Stipulations
Curses
Divine Witnesses
   
Ceremony
Ceremony
Oath
Curses
Curses
Stipulations
Curses
Curses
Curses
Blessings
Blessings
 
           
Early
Early
Mid
Late
Late
2nd Mill BC
2nd Mill BC
2nd Mill BC
2nd Mill BC
2nd Mill BC
 1st Mill BC
1800–1700
 
1600–1400
1400–1200
 
   900–650
* This includes Exodus/Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Joshua 24. Since there is no God but Yahweh, divine witnesses are omitted.

After the two parties ratified a treaty, each of them received a copy to place in the temple of their god (Cf. Exod 25:16, 21–22).[11]

This raises an interesting issue with how we typically think of the two tablets of the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:1–17). Based upon ANE practices, each tablet contained the full covenant. Moses placed both of them in the ark of the covenant (Deut 10:1–5).

Internal evidence suggests that Exod 20:2–17 was the first written biblical passage, which God himself wrote (Exod 31:18). Moses incorporated this treaty into the book of the covenant (Exod 20:22–23:33), which was written just prior to its ratification (Exod 24:4–11).

The next section of Exodus to be recorded describes the requirements for the building of the tabernacle and its furnishings and the fabrication of priestly vestments (Exod 25:1–31:18).

During the year that the Israelites remained in Sinai, Moses likely wrote the book of Genesis and the account of their emancipation from Egypt.

In fact, Exod 1:1–8 presupposes familiarity with Jacob and his sons. After generations of slavery, knowledge of their history as a nation was critical to Israel’s identity as God’s people.[12]

Thus, Genesis functions as a historical prologue to the covenant God made with the nation of Israel.[13] In essence, it says, “This is what I have done for you as a people, so you must obey the terms of my covenant with you.”

Its incorporation into the Pentateuch fits beautifully within the parameters of Hittite treaties dating from 1400–1200 BC between a suzerain king (an emperor) and the vassal kings under him.[14]

The records of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—whose treaties with surrounding rulers follow the conventions of 1800–1700 BC, rather than those from Moses’s era—would have been passed down to the firstborn son.

Shortly before Jacob died, he displaced Reuben from his exalted position and transferred the rights of the firstborn son to Joseph (Gen 49:1–4, 22–26). Joseph’s duties in Egypt indicate that he was well-educated enough to read and write (Gen 39:4; Gen 41:46–49).

It appears that Joseph added his personal history to these family records. This would explain the lengthy treatment of Joseph’s life, which accounts for one-third of Genesis (Gen 37, 38–50).

Moses seems to have had access to not only Joseph’s bones but also to these ancestral records (Exod 13:19).

 Image via Wikimedia Commons

 

 Go to Greek Translation of the Old Testament

 

[1]John Walton, Genesis (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 41.

[2] A good example of this is The Code of Hammurabi, circa 1780 BC, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/ancient/hamframe.asp.

[3]Bruce K. Waltke and Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 23.

[4]Duane Garrett, Rethinking Genesis: The Sources and Authorship of the First Book of the Pentateuch (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1991), 84.

[5]Gary A. Rendsburg, “Late Biblical Hebrew and the Date of ‘P’,” JANESCU 12 (1980): 65–80, 78, http://bildnercenter.rutgers.edu/docman/rendsburg/45-late-biblical-hebrew-and-the-date-of-p/file.

[6] Garrett, Rethinking Genesis: The Sources and Authorship of the First Book of the Pentateuch, 84.

[7]Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 323.

[8] Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, 284.

[9] Thomas L. Thompson, “Historiography: Israelite Historiography,” Anchor Bible Dictionary (ABD) 3:206–11, 208.

[10]Adapted from Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, 285, 288, and 324 and with permission from Gordon P. Hugenberger [“Introduction to the Pentateuch (Continued): Authorship of the Pentateuch” (lecture, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, MA, 2006).

[11]René Lopez, “Israelite Covenants in the Light of Ancient Near Eastern Covenants (Part 2 of 2),” Chafer Theological Seminary Journal 10 (4 January 2004): 72–106, 80, http://chafer.nextmeta.com/files/v10n1_5lopez_covenants2israelite_covenants.pdf.

[12]Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15 (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1998), xxii.

[13]Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 356.

[14]Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 288.