Listening or seeing – which is more important?
Who compiled those early genealogies in Genesis?
It’s back to Bible times. We’ve looked at some teachings, but what about the rest of the five books of Moses?
But questions, always questions. How did Moses write the rest of those five books? The “Greek-minded” would look at the documentary hypothesis, or at least the spirit of it. They would look at multiple authors, writing at different times and different places with different emphases. As well as the Yahwist author already mentioned, they would drag in the Elohist, Deuteronomist and the Priestly source, all different writers, living in different places at different times. The “Hebraic-minded” would go along with Jesus’ words:
“For if you were believing Moses, then you would believe Me: for that one wrote about Me.” (John 5:46)
But the question remains: how did Moses write the rest of those five books?Was it all by Divine inspiration, in the sense of God dictating the words directly to him? Or did Moses have access to other sources?
Firstly we remind ourselves where we have got to. We now know that the Ten Commandments were by God’s finger on stone tablets. What about the rest of the laws, teachings and instructions that form the bulk of Deuteronomy as well as Leviticus, Numbers and Exodus? Well we can follow the clear instructions from these very books themselves:
“And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD and rose up early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Exodus 24:4)
“And the LORD said to Moses, “Write these words for yourself,for in accordance with these words I have cut a covenant with you and with Israel.” (Exodus 34:27)
So that accounts for much of the books of Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, but not necessarily the historical narratives in the Book of Genesis, from Creation to Joseph’s multicoloured dream coat.
Of course, God could have dictated the Genesis account to Moses too, but I would be more inclined to believe that the Genesis stories were very much a part of the oral histories of the Hebrews (with the aid of clay tablets), passed down from father to son, from generation after generation, starting with Adam. This has been called the “Tablet Theory”.
In the 1930s, P.J. Wiseman researched the many ancient clay tablets that had been dated to the periods when the first eleven chapters in Genesis are thought to have been assembled. He found that most of these tablets had a “sign off” after every entry, naming the writer or the owner of the tablet, the subject covered and sometimes a hint to help date the tablet. A lot of these clay tablets seemed to be dealing with family histories and Wiseman noticed how the writing style was very similar to the genealogical entries in Genesis.
These Biblical genealogies are characterised by such phrases as these are the generations of ... Many translators have assumed that, quite logically it seems, the description that follows is connected to the person named. This doesn’t always make perfect sense in the original Hebrew and many translators have fudged things about to make sense. Wiseman had a brainwave and connected the clay tablets with these Biblical records and realised that, if the structure is the same, then the phrase these are the generations of ... actually refers to the person named before the phrase!
A good example is in Genesis 37:2:
“These are the descendants of Jacob. Joseph, seventeen years old, was tending the flock with his brothers and he was a lad with the sons of Bilhah and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives. Joseph brought to their father very evil reports about them.”
It starts by saying that we are about to speak of Jacob, then it goes on to give an account of Joseph’s life, not Jacob’s life! But, instead, if Jacob’s life was discussed before this verse, then Wiseman’s theory makes sense. Which it does.
He scored a double whammy here as not only did this help in a tricky translation task, but it cemented these ancient Biblical genealogies into real history. Suddenly, the Bible records in those early Genesis chapters could actually be speaking of real people!
So we can imagine Moses having a collection of these clay tablets, each created by an eye-witness to the events described, perhaps even people such as Adam, Seth and Enosh themselves. These records would have been compiled by the patriarch Jacob and brought to Egypt, where they could have been lodged in a royal archive by his son, Joseph, who had risen to become a big-shot in that land. Then this would have been found by another big-shot centuries later, Moses himself. We now have ourselves a reasonable explanation of how much of those early Genesis chapters could have been compiled.
For the previous article in this series, click here.
For the next article in this series, click here.
To find out what is my favourite book of the Bible, click here.
You can reach Steve with any comments or questions at the Saltshakers Web Community website.