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Evangelicals agree that Moses wrote Genesis and that the first five Bible books are 'The Books of Moses.' But, where did Moses get the information for Genesis? He wasn't present for any of the events mentioned in it...

The article was first published on Dr. Livingston's website,

Evangelicals agree that Moses wrote Genesis and that the first five Bible books are 'The Books of Moses.' But, where did Moses get the information for Genesis? He wasn't present for any of the events mentioned in it.

We should notice first that neither Jesus nor the apostles, when quoting from Genesis, mention Moses' name in connection with it. However, they do call the first five books 'Moses' Law.' So, we may conclude that they believed it composed by Moses, but, perhaps, he used material written by others or received it some other way.

Evangelical Theory

Many evangelicals, believing in the inerrancy of Scripture, solve the problem by assuming that Moses received the entire book by direct revelation. Perhaps while on Mt. Sinai, along with the law, Moses received it by something like dictation. Or, while spending 40 years in Midian, God may have had it revealed to him over some period of time.

Another Theory

Other scholars try to solve the problem a more difficult way. Difficult, because there is no evidence for it. They say Moses did not write Genesis, or even any of the Pentateuch, for that matter. It was put together by 'pious' men during the time of Israel's kingdom and as late as the post-exile (post-Babylonian captivity). In order to gain credence, Moses' name was attached to it. Materials came from Babylonian and Canaanite myth legends and from Israel's own 'legends' and 'oral tradition.' From this viewpoint, little of it had been previously written as holy scripture, perhaps none. Thus, they would say it was a 'pious fraud' used by the ruling body in Israel as a sort of religious 'opiate'to pull the people together in the name of Moses. This theory is commonly known as the 'JEDP Theory.' Many sharp minds both in Europe and the U.S. have devoted their lives developing the system and have written whole libraries of books based on speculation about it.

We consider this solution to the problem as unacceptable and would not even mention it except that community colleges, colleges, universities and even many seminaries now teach it as if it had some basis in fact, which it does not. (It is a situation parallel to evolutionary theory which is believed by 'every capable scholar' but cannot be proven with scientific evidence.)

In contrast to the above, Meredith Kline ably says:

If Moses, in composing Genesis, was not dependent on Near Eastern literature that exhibits parallels to Genesis, neither did he ignore it. But it would seem that, where he deliberately develops the biblical account of an event so as to mirror features of the pagan version, it turns out to be for the polemical purpose of exposing and correcting the world's vain wisdom by the light of revealed theology. The elaboration of this is not possible here, but an illustrative case would be the treatment of the Babylonian epic account of creation, known (from its opening words) as Enuma Elish. Acquaintance with it is evidenced in the Genesis accounts of creation and of Babel-building, but in both passages the epic's world-view is repudiated, even ridiculed, and most effectively so at the points of obvious formal correspondence. (Kline 1970: 80).

New True Theory

There is a third way Moses may have received the material for Genesis. It might have come from Abraham, Jacob, Noah, and even Adam, as well as other men of God writing under the Spirit's inspiration. In other words, those who experienced the events wrote as eyewitnesses. How could the world receive more reliable documents, especially when II Peter 1:21 is taken into account? This could explain why Jesus and the apostles considered Genesis part of 'Moses' Law.' He compiled the writings of other men of God, but was not the original author.

Examining this third way in more detail, Meredith Kline says:

Beyond the prologue (1:1-2:3) Genesis is divided into ten sections, each introduced by a superscription embodying the formula 'elleh toledot,' 'these are the generations of...' The placing of the entire Genesis narrative in this genealogical framework is a clear sign that the author intended the account to be understood throughout as a real life history of individual men, begotten and begetting. This genealogical line is resumed in subsequent biblical historiography, the Genesis lists being recapitulated and carried forward until the lineage of Adam has been traced to Jesus, the second Adam. (See Luke 3:23-38 and Kline, ibid.).

Genesis Originally on Clay Tablets?

Harrison states the case:

In order to understand the significance of the Hebrew term 'toledot,' it will be necessary to examine the nature and format of cuneiform communications in the ancient world. Clay was the preferred material upon which the wedge-shaped symbols were impressed... The general style of a tablet furnished some indication as to its contents... and the material usually consisted of letters, contracts, invoices, business correspondence, genealogical tables, etc. It was normal practice... for single communications of this kind to commence with some sort of title, followed by the body of the text, and then a colophon, which would sometimes contain, among other things, a hint as to the identity of the scribe, or owner of the tablet and the date when the tablet was written... The title was normally taken from the opening words of the tablet... This practice... also occurs in the Hebrew Bible.... (p. 543-4.)
  • Tablet 1: Genesis 1:1 - 2:4. The origins of the cosmos
  • Tablet 2: Genesis 2:5 - 5:2. The origins of mankind
  • Tablet 3: Genesis 5:3 - 6:9a. The histories of Noah
  • Tablet 4: Genesis 6:9b - 10:1. The histories of the sons of Noah
  • Tablet 5: Genesis 10:2 - 11:10a. The histories of Shem
  • Tablet 6: Genesis 11:10b - 11:27a. The histories of Terah
  • Tablet 7: Genesis 11:27b - 25:12. The histories of Ishmael
  • Tablet 8: Genesis 25:13 - 25:19a. The histories of Isaac
  • Tablet 9: Genesis 25:19b - 36:1. The histories of Esau
  • Tablet 10: Genesis 36:2 - 36:9. The histories of Esau
  • Tablet 11: Genesis 36:10 - 37:2. The histories of Jacob

(Harrison 1969: 548. - Probably the best explanation of this theory.)

'Colophon' = 'Toledot': Key to Source Documents

Probably the principle use of the 'colophon' was in filing the document. When libraries of tablets are found, there are usually hundreds or thousands of them. And it is clear they were stored on shelves. Problem: How do you find the tablet you want? Answer: just treat them like we do books today. On the spine at the edge, or end, there was a summary of the tablet's contents-- a 'colophon' ('finishing line').

Now, if the ten or eleven sections of Genesis were originally separate documents, each would have had a 'colophon' at the end describing at least the owner and contents of the document. These 'colophons' in our Hebrew Bibles today would then consist of the phrase which speaks of the 'toledots'.

Thus, in connection with the Genesis 'toledot,' Harrison writes:

... the principal facts concerning the individual involved have been recorded before the incidence of the phrase in question, and that they are not recorded after its occurrence . . . This peculiarity has been a source of perplexity and embarrassment to the vast majority of Bible critics who assume it introduces new material -- and thus does not make sense....(Harrison 1969: 545.)

Abraham Had Written Scripture

Abraham had written laws of Jehovah which he kept: Genesis 26:5 says he kept, among other things, Jehovah's statutes ('chuqqim') and laws ('torah'). A 'chuqqim' is a written commandment, usually inscribed in stone (BDB, 1962: 350:d). The word 'chuqqim' comes from a root meaning to engrave, and hence denotes permanent and prescribed rules of conduct . . . (NBC 1930: 201.). These are not some other country's laws and statutes; they are Jehovah's own, and thus, we maintain, would be separate documents, themselves the Word of God. Raven says:

Abraham came from a country where the knowledge of writing and reading was common and from an important city mentioned in the code of Hammurabi . . . In that country traditions of the creation and the flood were preserved, which have much in common with those in Genesis. That is the very country also in which Genesis places the site of the Garden of Eden and where the confusion of tongues is said to have occurred. There, if anywhere, the remains of an original revelation concerning creation and an accurate story of the flood would be handed down. What could be more natural than that Abraham carried such records and genealogies with him from the banks of the Euphrates to the land of Canaan? 'Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac' (Genesis 25:5). Perhaps those priceless records were among his possessions. If so, they went down with Jacob into Egypt and formed the basis of Genesis 1-11 as written by Moses. (Raven 1910: 131-2.)

The main point Raven makes is that the Genesis sources were written down. The revelation of God was not committed to slipshod oral transmission for hundreds of years. The evidence that these were written documents is that whatever period or place they speak of fits into the culture and language of that place and time.

Or, another possibility is that the manuscripts were kept by the Kenites. When Moses was with the nomad-priest, Jethro, who loved Jehovah and served Him (Exodus 18:9-11), he may have received the records from which to compose Genesis. Jethro is called a 'priest' (Exodus 2:15, 3:1). He could be none other than a nomad-priest of Jehovah, even as Melchizedek apparently was also a priest of Jehovah (although not a nomad). (The Kenites lived in the Negev, see: Judges 1:16.) That the Bible authors used other sources, not depending entirely on direct revelations from God, is clear from the list below:

Some Other Old Testament Sources After Moses

  • Joshua 8:9. Described land 'in a book'
  • II Samuel 1-18. 'Book of Jasher' (also mentioned in Joshua 10:13)
  • I Kings 11:41. 'Book of the Acts of Solomon'
  • I Kings 14:19. 'Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel'
  • I Kings 14:29. 'Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah'
  • I Chronicles 27:74. 'Chronicles of King David'
  • II Chronicles 12-15. 'Book of Shemaiah the prophet, and of Iddo the Seer Concerning Genealogies'
  • II Chronicles 20:34. 'Book of Jehu, the son of Hanani - mentioned in the Book of the Kings of Israel'


Brown, F.; Driver, S. R.; Briggs, C. A.

1962 A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. (BDB). Oxford: Clarendon.

DeWitt, D.
1977 'The Generations of Genesis.' Bible and Spade (Spring Issue) pp.33-48.

Guthre, D., (Ed.)
1970 The New Bible Commentary.

Harrison, R .K.
1969 Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Morris, H.
1976 The Genesis Record. Grand Rapids: Baker.

Raven, J. H.
1910 Old Testament Introduction. New York: Revell.

Wiseman, P .J.
1977 Clues to Creation in Genesis. London: Marshall, Morgan, and Scott.


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