Genesis was written by a Genius


This is Part IV of my review of the Old Testament documentary hypothesis (a.k.a. the JEDP theory) and the book, Before Abraham Was: A Provocative Challenge to the Documentary Hypothesis, by Kikawada and Quinn. All page references point to it.

In Part III I introduced the idea that Genesis was connected by its form and content to other ancient religious epics. To bolster this requires a closer look at some of those creation/flood stories. The following discussion and corroborating data will demonstrate why it is reasonable to accept that Genesis was the product of one genius.

One Genius
Attributing single authorship to Genesis does not preclude that Moses had helpers. That is why I call him the one genius behind Genesis — responsible for its content and tending to it as his own. As the responsible author, he was also free to draw from other written facts and records. None of this precludes Moses from rearranging or updating his own work, rather like a modern author who designs, works and reworks a book. Moses could edit his own material, but not in a contrary way — as if to compete with himself and introduce antithesis that has no synthesis or resolution. When I say that Moses wrote Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, it includes all that it means for a person to be the controlling genius behind a complex book.

Moses wrote Genesis, and that is compatible with God being the author of Genesis. This is a theological formulation that I will not defend at this point, but it is a position which reads all of scripture as a single story with a controlling theme. I have written about this in the article, Who Wrote the Bible?. For now, I am concerned with the evidence for the single human standing behind the construction of Genesis. Without compelling evidence to force a different conclusion, it is right to say that Genesis’ single authorship comports with our knowledge of the ancient Near East.

Ancient Flood Stories
In chapter 2 of their book, Kikawada and Quinn introduced various ancient creation accounts. When the outline of one of them, Atrahasis, is placed alongside Genesis, parallels and connections become apparent.

At least two reasons can explain this:

1) Contours from Atrahasis were employed in order to show where Genesis differs. Moses would use other creation and flood stories in order to draw into sharp relief the points of divergence. This would be a polemical rationale for the similarities between Genesis and Atrahasis.

So the parallels observed between Atrahasis and Genesis 1-11 are no longer surprising. We find similar parallels between Athrahasis and other primeval histories. These similar parallels make us feel encouraged that perhaps Genesis 1-11, while drawn from a common stock of tales, was written as a dissent from the civilized pragmatism of the older Atrahasis tradition (51).

2) Genesis employs a recognizable format with respect to religious epics. Moses was writing according to an expected format for cosmological origins. Following this line of reasoning, we need not insist that Moses even read Atrahasis. Formally trained in Egypt, he would have been a capable and educated scholar in his own right. We could say that he had an instinctive feel for the typology of primeval histories, and he wrote accordingly.

Regardless of which of these two options seems most controlling, it will help to review Moses resume (his curriculum vitae).

Moses knew Northwest Semitic, Egyptian and Hebrew and the cultural of at least four ancient people groups — such a scholar today would be widely respected for such learnedness. As a trained member of the royal Egyptian household, none of the following topics would be alien to Moses: kingship, covenantal treaties, writing, Akkadian and international correspondence. Stephen the martyr said this of Moses, “Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,” Acts 7:21-22. His theological and cosmological learning would impress any Egyptologist trained at Harvard or the University of Chicago. Moses was exposed to various forms of writing and knew the differences between land transactions, covenant documents and religious epics. He had access to original source documents that archaeologists only dream of excavating. Moses did not visit museums; he went to the real temples and talked with the priests. His very teachers defined and lived the culture we study.

Parallels Near and Far
Genesis is connected to Mesopotamian stories. Not only are parallels found with Atrahasis, but with less obvious accounts, such as the Trojan War.

The sequence of events in Atrahasis is: Creation; three accounts of a rapid increase in population countered by a threat of extinction never fully realized; and finally, resolution of the problem of overpopulation by birth control….there is a doubling in the second threat: drought and intensified drought in Atrahasis; in Genesis, Cain’s murder and Lamech’s taunt; thunderbolts or flood in the Greek (47-8).

One last example may be sufficient for our purposes.

Zoroastrian Parallels
Zoroaster was an ancient prophet from the region of modern Iran. He was a central figure in the worship of Ahura Mazda. Ahura Mazda was considered to be the uncreated creator god, the beginning and the end, the creator of all things visible and invisible. The date of Zoraster’s birth is not established, but 1000 BC is one approximate. Zoroaster himself is known from the Avesta scriptures. The Vendidad (also called the Videvdat) is a subset of the Avesta. In the Vendidad, Yima is an Adam figure (at least the first person to have the revelation of the religion of Ahura Mazda); Zoroaster records his story as it is narrated by Ahura Mazda. Yima was to guard and keep the religion, but he rejected his duties. Instead of doing that, Yima made the earth expand. The earth itself grew under Yima by his ability to increase the population.

The basic structure seems to parallel both Genesis and Atrahasis, with one important variation.

A Introduction and Yima’s Kingship
B Overpopulation and Expansion of Earth, 1
C Overpopulation and Expansion of Earth, 2
D Overpopulation and Expansion of Earth, 3
E The Great Snow and the Flood from Its Melting

What is particularly interesting here is that the author seems to have adapted this five-part structure to how own purposes (much as a Hebrew author would have done). Not only does the author have the flood in the last position, but it is unclear whether this flood is something that happened in the past or is going to happen in an eschatological future (50).

Again, Genesis is connected. It fits within its ancient world. Why it fits is open to interpretation, but that it fits is the testimony of literary typology.

As in many things of this sort, the answer comes in the weighing of data and the preponderance of evidence. Is it possible that the documentary hypothesis has the true bead on how Genesis came to be? To answer the question, I ask a question: Is the weight of evidence that Genesis has a single author hurt or helped by the testimony of ancient sources, the manuscript evidence, the parallel stories from the ancient world, linguistics, cognate studies, and archaeological evidence? The weight of evidence is that a single mind stands behind Genesis.

The Meaning of Genesis
I have not attempted to make a case for an interpretation of the content of Genesis. I am not building a case for what one ought to believe about the history recorded by Genesis. I am narrowly concerned with the authorship. I am proposing that the writing of Genesis fits with its time.

Genesis was written. The documentary hypothesis has postulated an evolutionary theory for how it came to be. Such a theory is antiquated, at best, and devilish at worst. At the root of the theory is a presupposition that God cannot write a book. After all, if he did not write Genesis, then what did he write? If one accepts the documentary hypothesis, then one will never know if God recorded any history, or if he has anything at all to do with history. What kind of god is it that has created everything but has left no revelation of himself? It is the god of the documentary hypothesizers, and their religion is not the Christian religion.

These issue are not neutral; wrong answers affect all other questions about the worship of Jesus. If documentary hypothesizers claim otherwise, then on what authority? Will they appeal to the Bible? What god will hear their case? I do not write as a debater, for even if a scholar with five PhDs should hold to the documentary hypothesis, I will have but one message for him: Repent. This is not a mere scholarly debate, but it has everything to do with the glory of Christ.

In the next blog entry, I will explore the unity of Genesis as revealed in its genealogical records; this will include a survey of Chapter 3 from Before Abraham Was.

Steve Rives
Eastside Church of the Cross

This article was published under Genesis, JEDP Theory.

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