Who Wrote Genesis? Genesis Overview
We continue with what is still an overview and we focus on one particular subject and answer a question: Who wrote Genesis? We need to remember that all doctrine is important to us even though all doctrine is not immediately applicable or relevant. It is always relevant at some point and in some way, all Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness. That includes, even as we will see, the genealogies in Genesis. The second reason this is important is that this will at the very least strengthen your confidence in the Scriptures, that the Scripture is what it claims to be, i.e. the Word of God, the revelation of God, God revealing Himself to man. So this should strengthen confidence in the historical reliability and veracity of Genesis. Then, you might never know when you might need to know this. You may be challenged by somebody in the future and you will fall back on this information. You never know when you might need this. Many will have children or grandchildren who are going to run into this in their classroom, and your knowledge will forearm them for that eventuality. This information should be transmitted in prep-school in the category of Christian evidences. We also need to have this on file just in case anybody needs the information.
The challenge to the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch is not simply something that is doctrine only in some sort of ivory tower university classroom somewhere, but it comes home in odd little ways to haunt people. Just about any movie you see which has to do with biblical themes is going to be advised by somebody who buys into this theory that we are talking about. This is constantly being brought up as a challenge to biblical truth. And the reason it is important is that if the Bible isn’t what it claims to be, if the Pentateuch isn’t what it claims to be as the writings of Moses, if we can’t trust that, then how can we be sure we can trust anything else that is covered in Genesis, especially when it comes to the first eleven chapters. So it is important to understand this issue.
To summarize, the prevailing view in modern liberal (those who do not believe that the Bible is the God-breathed revelation of Himself to man) scholarship is that the Bible is just a natural product of human ability and instead of being God’s revelation to man it is man’s record of his religious experiences. The Mosaic authorship is rejected because their presupposition is that God just doesn’t communicate like this to man. Instead of Mosaic authorship they believe that the Pentateuch is was actually written by a series of authors, multiple authors, and these authors are identified by basically four letters. It is called the JDEP view of the Pentateuch. So instead of Moses writing the Pentateuch there were at least four different authors and then some editor or redactor comes along several hundred years later and sort of blends all these things together.
The background on this. Up until the nineteenth century it was almost universally believed that Moses was the author of Genesis and the Pentateuch. The Jews and Christians both believed that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. But at that time many trends that had their source in the 17th century and the birth of the Enlightenment came together and culminated in a worldview that is known as naturalism. In naturalism you have the view that everything has a natural cause within the creation. God does not speak within the creation. God is outside the box and God never speaks in the box, and so everything happens and is caused by events in the box. The first person to challenge Mosaic authorship was a Jewish rationalist by the name of Spinoza. Following Spinoza there were several who put forth different views. One man came along at the beginning of the seventeen hundreds and said, You can identify the different backgrounds by looking at the fact that one author prefers to use the title of Elohim for God and another author prefers to use the name Yahweh. So they identify two different sources there. Then, by the end of the 18th century there was a German scholar by the name of Eichhorn who came along and distinguished two other sources. So you have the J source, which is the writer who prefers the name of Yahweh, and then you have the E source for the man who prefers the name Elohim. Then D would be the Deuteronomist, the person who puts together Deuteronomy and adds a few other things in some other books. And then you have a priest who comes along and adds more liturgical information and talks about sacrifices, and he adds that material later on.
The basic motivation here is to discredit the Bible. They make a basic assumption. The hidden assumption that they approach all the evidence with is a presupposition of anti-supernaturalism. They assume from the get go, without any evidence or data, that God can’t speak to man, that there is no such thing as a miracle, that there is no such thing as the supernatural. This is indicated by a quote by Miller Burrows who was one of the men who worked on the Dead Sea scrolls and was a professor at Yale university: “The excessive skepticism of many liberal theologians stems not from a careful evaluation of available data but from an enormous predisposition against the supernatural.” That is their agenda. They do not believe that God will, could, or can (if He exists) communicate to man. Therefore when they look at the data, no matter how wonderful or convincing the data is, they are not convinced because God by definition cannot, will not, and would not communicate with man. Second, their agenda is to discredit Mosaic authorship because if Moses did not write the Pentateuch and the Bible is not what it claims to be, then they have destroyed the veracity of the early chapters of Genesis. Therefore man is not what the Bible says he is. There is no such thing as God, no basis for the atonement. It is an attempt to destroy everything else in the Bible.
By the late 19th century there were two German theologians, K.H Graf and Julius Wellhausen, who came along and popularized this view. At that time they would say that the J author wrote about 850 BC, the E writer wrote about 750 BC, the D writer wrote about 621 BC, and then the priestly writer wrote about 570. But within 20 or 30 years, by the time you get into the 20th century, those dates are all out and they would say that everything was written after the Babylonian captivity, during the period known as the second temple period, after they returned and rebuilt the temple under Zrubbabel. So this becomes the foundation for what becomes known as 19th century Protestant liberalism. It is a rejection of Mosaic authorship and ultimately a rejection of any divine authorship. And it is an attempt to discredit everything in the Bible. We should be aware of the fact that many people who have written and critiqued their views always point out that across the board they rejected, denied and just ignored archaeological evidence to the contrary. And liberal scholarship has consistently ignored the reputations that have been made available and put in print by conservative scholars, and they have built a theory that is today nothing more than a working hypothesis. But it is the working hypothesis of every liberal theologian, even though the details on which this thing was originally built can no longer be validated. But they can’t throw the whole theory out because if they do the only option left is to believe the Bible! We will see tremendous parallels between this and the whole acceptance of evolution. There is the same manufactured evidence, the same circular reasoning. There is the same fact that back in the early 18th century there were certain positions developed based on certain conjectures, assumptions, certain evidence that they thought was there. That evidence fell apart because of archaeological discoveries in the early 20th century, but the conclusions continue to live.
A major Hebrew scholar of the previous generation critiqued this view in detail, and in his introduction to his book on the documentary hypothesis, he comments, “There was not a scholar by the 1920s who doubted that the Torah was compiled in the period of the second temple. . . . It is true that differences of opinion with regard to details were not lacking. One exegete declared that this source was earlier and another exegete that source was earlier. Some attributed a given section refers to one document and some to another document. Certain scholars divided a verse among the sources in one way, others in another. There were those who broke down the documents themselves into different strata and others who added new sources to those already mention, and so forth. Nevertheless, even though no two scholars held completely identical views, and though these divergences of opinion betrayed a certain inner weakness in the theory as a whole, yet in the basic principles of the hypothesis almost all the expositors were agreed.” Furthermore, Kenneth Kitchen who is one of the foremost British Egyptologists on the scene today, writes in his book on the ancient orient and the Old Testament: “Nowhere in the ancient orient is there anything which is definitely known to parallel the elaborate history of fragmentary composition and conflation of Hebrew literature as the documentary hypothesis would postulate. Conversely, on the other hand, any attempt to apply the criteria of the documentary theorists to ancient oriental compositions that have known history but exhibit the same literary phenomenon, results in manifest absurdity.” In other words, you can’t find any parallel to the modern theory in the ancient world, and you can’t make the modern theory work on anything that we have information on. It is just a theory that has been made up out of thin air.
So what did they set forth as proof? The first proof they set forth was that writing wasn’t known in Moses’ time. This argument soon fell out of use due to archaeological discoveries (However in the 1970s this was still being taught in a university classroom). There were discoveries in 1929 at a place called Ugarit, in north-west Canaan, that dated to the same period as Moses. It was a rich discovery of documents and literature demonstrating that in that area there was a tremendous amount of writing taking place. Remember that the exodus took place at approximately 1446 BC. One hundred years after that we have what is known as the Armarna correspondence, which is variously dated from about 1350 to about 1250 BC. It was letters that were written from people and some leaders in the Palestine area as they were writing back to the Egyptian Pharaoh and reporting on the circumstances and situation in Palestine. So there are many other evidences. Then in the mid-seventies there was a discovery at a place in Syria called Ebla. At Ebla they discovered a rich library in a palace and many of the names were similar to the names found in the Bible. And that dated from a period of about 2100 BC, some 600 years before Moses.
Second, they had an assumption that there were no known law codes that existed as early as the Mosaic law. Therefore this had to be a fabrication because nobody had such a details technical code that early. However, the code of Hammarabi of Babylon was discovered by archaeologists, and the date there was between 1700 and 2000 BC, a good 3-400 years before Moses. Furthermore, in Mesopotamia there was the discovery of what is known as the Lipit-Ishtar code, which dates to about 1800 BC, 400 years before Moses. In 1945 there was discovered near Iraq an extremely technical law code written in Akadian that dated to about 2200 BC, approximately 800 years prior to Moses.
Their next assumption was that various names for God indicated different authors. In some passages Elohim is used exclusively. In other passages Yahweh is used exclusively. So they supposed that this must indicate different authors. Examples: Elohim, the generic appellation for God, is used exclusively in Genesis 1:1-2:3. There is no other name for God in that section, so they would say Genesis one is the writing of the E document, and then starting in 2:4 is the phrase, “This is the history of … in the day that the LORD God [Yahweh Elohim] made the earth and the heavens.” So that is the first mention of the name Yahweh, and they would say that starting in 2:4 there is the introduction of Yahweh, so this and chapter three were part of the J document. This would be their contention. There is just a slight problem here. There are a lot of technical evidences that could be cited. The facts don’t fit the theory because in chapter three verses 1, 3, 5 is the term “Elohim,” Yahweh is not mentioned there. So obviously that doesn’t fit the hypothesis. Then in chapter four the name Yahweh occurs several more times until the end of the chapter, when all of a sudden Elohim alone is introduced again. So that doesn’t fit the scenario. When we come to the flood story in chapters 6-8 the name Yahweh is used sometimes and then there is a switch to Elohim, so it goes back and forth. That doesn’t fit the theory that they have. Then, in Genesis 15 Yahweh occurs when God is giving His covenant to Abraham. Yahweh, remember, is the covenant name for God in the Old Testament for Israel; it is the name always associated with the covenant. So Yahweh is in Genesis 15 and that would fit the theory. However, in Genesis 17 where God introduces circumcision as the sign of the covenant the name that we find there is not Yahweh but Elohim. Clearly there are changes in the text. Why does the author go back and forth between Yahweh and Elohim? These are not accidental or haphazard, but they are there by design and because of the purpose of the author. They relate to the different roles. Furthermore, the Jews knew that there was only one God. In I Kings 18:39 we have the phrase, “The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.” The term “LORD” is Yahweh—Yahweh, He is Elohim.
They knew Elohim as a generic term but LORD is the name of God, the specific, technical name of the God who is associated personally with Israel and who has entered into a personal covenant relationship with Israel. Elohim is the name that the Gentiles use for God but Yahweh is a term that is specifically associated with God’s relationship to Israel. So when we go back and do an analysis of the use of the terms in Genesis we realize that throughout the Pentateuch Elohim was used when the lessons and material focused on God as the transcendent God, when the emphasis is on God as a more abstract distant God, when the focus is on God as creator of all life, the ruler of all the universe, and the source of life, and when His actions are related to all of mankind. Then Yahweh is used when the lessons and the materials focus on God as the personal, holy, righteous God, when the focus is on the God of Israel who interacts personally in human history, when His specific attributes are in view, when the text is emphasizing the majesty and glory of God, and when the emphasis is on God as a personal God who enters into concrete relationships with man. Genesis 1:1 portrays the transcendent God who created Jew and Gentile alike, but in Genesis chapter two we have the more intimate God who is in the process of creating man and woman in His image and likeness and setting forth the ethical demands of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It is the God who is intimately involved with people.
Furthermore, an analysis of the names of God in the Scriptures reveal that in the prophets, minor and major, and in the legal literature—Deuteronomy, Leviticus—and much of the poetry except for what is called wisdom literature, Yahweh is used exclusively for God. Elohim is not used alone in those passages, it is always used in conjunction with Yahweh or it is not used at all. Yet in the wisdom literature, like Job and Proverbs, Elohim alone is predominant. There is little mention of Yahweh. Why is that? If we look at all the ancient near eastern literature—Babylonian, Egyptian, Akadian, Persian—this was typical. Whenever they were writing about their particular god they used the technical name of the god, but when they wrote their wisdom literature, which were universal principles of life, they would always use the generic name for their god. This was the standard way of writing throughout the ancient world. Furthermore, this type of distinction continues throughout all Talmudic literature and Rabbinic literature. In that literature, which specifically focuses on God and His relationship to Israel, they never used the name Elohim, it is always the name Yahweh. So this usage plays out that Elohim is used when the focus is on God and His roles related to all of mankind and Yahweh when the emphasis is on His attributes, His righteous standards, and His specific relationship to Israel. No other ancient near eastern text is ever thought to be compiled in this sort [documentary hypothesis] of patchwork quilt manner. It is ridiculous to even think about applying this to the Mesopotamian creation documents. In fact there, three different deities are mentioned that have double names, just as God has a double name of Elohim and Yahweh, so this is standard operating procedure in ancient near eastern literature with a single author. There is no evidence that the different names for God in the Bible indicate different authors or different sources, but they are used to bring to bear by one author different emphases about the person and character of God.
Another argument is used that there are different styles and different vocabularies in different places, which indicate different authors. One argument given is a fairly technical Hebrew argument based upon the use of two different words. You have the phrase “so and so begat somebody else.” There are two different ways this word “begat” is written in Hebrew. The first is using a hiphil stem where is uses a word that is transliterated holid. It comes from the Hebrew word yalad. In the qal stem it looks different again. In some of the genealogies you have holid and others you have yalad. So in the documentary hypothesis the liberal comes along and says, See, this shows different sources. But it is really a circular argument. For example, in Genesis 4:1-16 there is the name LORD of Yahweh used in the account of Cain versus Abel. Then starting in versus 17 down to the end of the chapter there is a genealogy. In it the writer uses the term yalad, so the documentary hypothesist says, See, you find yalad here in Genesis four so that means that this must be a J word. So wherever you find yalad, that is a J document. So wherever we find yalad, that is a J document, so if it is a J document it has Yalad in it and if it has yalad in it, it must be a J document! The premise has not been established at all. Furthermore, the verb yalad in the qal stem occurs a number of times with synonymous meaning of holid, the causative meaning from the hiphil stem in passage such as Deuteronomy 32:18; Hosea 5:7; Psalm 2:7; Proverbs 17:21. So there is an interchangeability between these two words that does not necessitate different authorship.
Then a further argument that they try to use is that of two different phrases. For example, “to make a covenant” and to “cut a covenant” in the Hebrew. The liberal comes along and says these are different, but one means to give security to a contractual agreement and the other is used when a covenant or contract is fulfilled, established, brought to completion.
The liberals make an assumption that the J document is going to look at God in a certain way and in the J documents God always reveals Himself in an appearing form. So when you find God appearing, that is going to be a J document. If God appears in a dream or a vision, then that is the Elohim document, an E document. And if God just speaks alone without appearing to man or using a dream or a vision, then that is a P document. These are hard and fast assumptions that these scholars make. But the theory never fits reality. Genesis 15:1, “After these things the word of the LORD [Yahweh] came unto Abram in a vision.” But wait a minute! Only the Elohim document has God appearing in a vision! So it doesn’t fit. Genesis 26:24, “And the LORD appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham's sake.” Here Yahweh appears at night, but it is Elohim who is supposed to appear at night! So now we have another verse that doesn’t fit the theory. In this case the critics just take the verse out and say it shouldn’t be in the Bible at all! Then in Genesis 28:13, “And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac.” Here is the Lord appearing. It is Yahweh who is supposed to appear, but this is Elohim, “the God of Isaac.” But the liberal comes along and says obvious this has been conflated, and there are really two statements, so they take out their scalpel and cut the verse in two and completely rewrite the verse so that it fits their theory.
Then there is another problem. That is the claim that there are two different accounts of creation: Genesis 1 being one account, but there are contradictions with Genesis chapter two. Firstly, it is a pretty standard approach for all ancient near eastern literature to describe an event in general summary terms and then come back and give the specifics and deal with one element of it in a more detailed fashion. So it fits the pattern of ancient near eastern literature.
There a re a couple of other little things the liberals point out, so look at Genesis 2:4, “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.” They would say, Look, this is in the day when God made everything but He didn’t make man until the sixth day in chapter one, so how do you make this fit? The phrase here is the Hebrew word b’yom, “in day”, literally. If it was replacing a definite article it would be pointed differently, it would be ba yom. But it is not replacing a definite article, which means that yom is considered to be indefinite—not “in the day” but “in a day.” Whenever you have yom with a number or an article affixed to it, it refers to a 24-hour day. That is one of the reasons the six days in chapter one are 24-hour days. But furthermore, when you have this phrase it is a Hebrew idiom, “at that time.” It is used that way in places like Numbers 3:1; Psalm 18:1; 2 Samuel 22:1. So it reads, “In the time that the LORD God made the heavens and the earth.” It is not talking about the specific day. Then in verse 5, “And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew.” But didn’t God create the plants on the third day, not on the sixth day? they would argue. It is interesting, if you look at the Hebrew words there that are used for the plants there is a repetition of those ideas at the end of Genesis chapter three—3:17, 18, “ … cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee.” It isn’t saying in 2:5 that there were no plants and no vegetation on the earth, but two specific kinds of vegetation were not yet present on the earth and were not present until after the fall. The reason they are not present is because the fall changes things. Man’s food is graciously supplied by God through the fruit of all the tree in the garden. He doesn’t have to till the soil to produce vegetable and herbs for food, but he does after the fall. So that is not a contradiction.
Another the liberals come up with is in Genesis 37. In some sections those to whom Joseph was sold into slavery were Ishmaelites, and in other sections they were called Midianites. But the Midianites and Ishmaelites are the same people; so it doesn’t indicate different authors, it just indicates different terminology is used.
Kenneth Kitchen concludes here, that “there is no incompatible duplication here at all. Failure to recognize the complimentary nature of the subject distinction between a skeleton outline of all creation, like Genesis one on the one hand, and the concentration and detail on man and his immediate environment on the other, borders on obscurantism, they are just purposely ignoring the facts.”
Another line of evidence they come up with is really based on the assumption of evolution: that monotheism had not really evolved yet, by 1450 BC. Their assumption is that all cultures move from simple to the complex, so they assume that polytheism is more simple, monotheism is much more abstract and technical, so as man got further and further away from the stone age background his religious ideas evolved until he finally came up with this masterful idea of monotheism. However, once again that doesn’t fit the evidence. There is no straight-line development in culture. A work that is usually ignored by scholars, written by a Jesuit scholar in the 20s, named Wilhelm Schmit, (A 6-vol. work in the French), an anthropologist who investigated every culture, every known religious belief system back to an original monotheism. It is an incredible documentation that all known world religions, no matter how obscure, all began with a single God. This is exactly what the Scriptures teach. However, liberals have an agenda to reject God.
The biblical evidence is clear that Moses wrote the Pentateuch: Exodus 17:14, “And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua.” There is internal evidence to support this. The writer of the Pentateuch has an intimate knowledge of the customs of that day, and these customs would not have been known 500 years later. He knew Egypt; he knew the desert; he knew the language. He is intimate with the geographical locations he describes. This would not have been so 500 or 1000 years later. Furthermore, he wrote in a second millennium contract form called the Suzerain-vassal treaty form, that was not know 500 years later. The Pentateuch claims Mosaic authorship in passages like Exodus 17:14; 24:4—“Moses wrote all the words of the law”; 24:27—“The Lord said to Moses, Write these words”; Numbers 33:1, “Moses wrote down”; Deuteronomy 31:9, “So Moses wrote this law.” So the Pentateuch claims Mosaic authorship. Other Old Testament books taught Mosaic authorship: Joshua 1:7, “ … according to all the law which Moses, my servant, commanded you”; 2 Kings 14:6, “the book of the law of Moses”; Daniel 9:11, 13; Malachi 4:4. Not only does the Old Testament teach that Moses wrote the Pentateuch but Christ taught it in Mark 12:26; John 5:46, 47. Furthermore, the Jews in their tradition believed this. The Samaritan Pentateuch holds to Mosaic authorship, as does the Palestinian Talmud, Philo in his work on the life of Moses, Josephus held to Mosaic authorship.
The bottom line is, you must take every verse and claim of Scripture as absolute truth whether you fully understand it or not. If you pick and choose, then you make yourself the authority and in effect you are judging God. This is the position the liberals have placed themselves in, that they claim to be God and they claim to know what is true and what is not true without any aid from outside divine source. It is clear that the Bible is exactly what it is, and it is the Word of God about the origin of the universe and the creation of mankind. So we can be confident when we come to read the Pentateuch and the early chapters of Genesis that this is giving us absolute objective truth.