Who wrote Genesis?
The Book of Genesis, in common with all the other books of the canonical Scriptures, was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
The question is, however, exactly who were the “holy men” who were moved by the Holy Spirit to write the marvelous words of the Book of Genesis? There have been three main suggestions, or perhaps groups of suggestions, attempting to answer this question.
Most so-called liberal theologians and commentators, along with not a few conservatives, have followed the theory that a number of unknown writers and editors, during the period of Israel’s history from about the time of King Hezekiah to that of Ezra the Scribe, compiled and edited several old legends and traditions, verbally transmitted not only by their own Israeli ancestors but also by the Egyptians, Babylonians, and others, into the Book of Genesis. Presumably they then allowed the story to be circulated that these had come down from Moses, in order to invest them with the authority of their great Lawgiver. This is the “Documentary Hypothesis,” and has been applied not only to Genesis but also to the other books of the Pentateuch and to Joshua, and in a lesser degree to many of the other books of the Old Testament. It is also called the “J, E, D, P Hypothesis,” the letters standing for the supposed writers of the respective portions. The “Jehovist Document,” supposedly dated about 850 B.C., was marked by the use of the divine name Jehovah; the “Elohist Document,” about 750 B.C., was marked by use of the name Elohim; the “Deuteronomist Document,” was supposed to be a further editorial emendation of the first two, dated about 620 B.C., containing especially most of the Book of Deuteronomy; and, finally, the “Priestly Document,” represents supposed editorial revisions by a group of Jewish priests around 500 B.C.
Adherents of this odd idea have attempted to justify it on the basis of supposed peculiarities of language and style, references to customs and cultures, and other internal evidences which seemed to them to warrant this patchwork approach to the study of the book’s compilation. No doubt their real reason, however, was their basic commitment to the evolutionary concept of man’s development. The original “higher critics,” as such scholars were called (to distinguish them from the scholars known as “textual critics,” whose work it is to try to determine as accurately as possible, from all the old manuscripts, the original text of Scripture) were convinced that man had not evolved to the state of culture described in Genesis until much later than the time of Moses and that, in fact, Moses could not have written any part of Genesis or the rest of the Pentateuch, since writing was unknown in his day.
These higher critics maintained that some of Genesis, especially the material in the first eleven chapters, had been derived from myths of the ancient Babylonians. These evolutionary presuppositions were quite false, however; and most of them have been thoroughly repudiated by modern archaeological excavations. Today it is beyond question that writing was practiced widely, and in many forms, long before the time of Moses. This is acknowledged even by evolutionary anthropologists. One of the leaders in this field, Ralph Linton, says:
Writing appears almost simultaneously some 5000-6000 years ago in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Indus Valley.1-2
The time of Moses, of course, was only around thirty-five hundred years ago. Similarly, archaeologists now recognize that the cultural indications in Genesis, at least from the time of Abraham onward, are exactly what would be expected of eyewitness records from those times. Dr. Nelson Glueck, generally acknowledged as the leading Palestinian archaeologist of our times, has said, for example:
As a matter of fact, however, it may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or in exact detail historical statements in the Bible.1-3
In the context of this statement, Glueck was speaking particularly of archaeological discoveries having to do with the general time and place of Abraham, hundreds of years before Moses.
In similar fashion, linguistic studies by numerous first-rate Biblical scholars have repeatedly shown that there is no real substance to the claims of the higher critics that the language of Genesis was much later than the time of Moses.1-4
Undoubtedly, the underlying reason for this documentary hypothesis was the evolutionary prejudice of liberal scholars, who were unwilling to concede that monotheism and a high culture could have prevailed during Moses’ day.
The higher criticism has been simply an application of an awakened critical faculty to a particular kind of material, and was encouraged by the achievement of this faculty to form its bold conclusions. If the biologists, the geologists, the astronomers, the anthropologists had not been at work, I venture to think that the higher critics would have been either non-existent or a tiny minority in a world of fundamentalists.1-5
Although this book is not the place for a detailed discussion of evolution and its scientific fallacies, it can certainly be said that the scientific case for evolution has been thoroughly repudiated by creationist scientists in recent years. There is much good material now available supporting scientific creationism,1-6 and there is no more basis at all for the evolutionary argument for the higher critical theories.
Consequently, the documentary theory of the authorship of Genesis is not the view advocated in this commentary. While occasional reference may be made to it later, wherever appropriate by way of illustration, the concern herein is not with these details, either of textual criticism or of so-called higher criticism. The Book of Genesis is assumed, with good reason, to be authentic as to date and authorship, and to have been transmitted down through the centuries essentially intact in its original form.
Moses as the Author
Probably most conservative scholars in the past have accepted the view that Genesis was written by Moses. This has been the uniform tradition of both the Jewish scribes and the Christian fathers. Genesis is considered to be the first book of the Pentateuch (the others being Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), and all of them together taken as the Law (Hebrew, torah) of Moses. This general view was apparently accepted by Christ Himself: “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. . . These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me” (Luke 24:27, 44).
Assuming that Moses was responsible for the Book of Genesis as it has come down to us, there still remains the question as to the method by which he received and transmitted it. There are three possibilities: (a) he received it all by direct revelation from God, either in the form of audible words dictated by God and transcribed by him, or else by visions given him of the great events of the past, which he then put down in his own words, as guided subconsciously by the Holy Spirit; (b) he received it all by oral traditions, passed down over the centuries from father to son, which he then collected and wrote down, again as guided by the Holy Spirit; (c) he took actual written records of the past, collected them, and brought them together into a final form, again as guided by the Holy Spirit.
Evidently any of these methods would be consistent with both the doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration and that of Mosaic authorship. However, neither of the first two methods has a parallel anywhere in the canon of Scripture. “Visions and revelations of the Lord” normally have to do with prophetic revelations of the future (as in Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation, etc.). The direct dictation method of inspiration was used mainly for promulgation of specific laws and ordinances (as in the Ten Commandments, the Book of Leviticus, etc.). The Book of Genesis, however, is entirely in the form of narrative records of historical events. Biblical parallels to Genesis are found in such books as Kings, Chronicles, Acts, and so forth. In all of these, the writer either collected previous documents and edited them (e.g., 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles), or else recorded the events which he had either seen himself or had ascertained from others who were witnesses (e.g., Luke, Acts).
It also is significant that, although the Book of Genesis is quoted from or alluded to at least two hundred times in the New Testament, as we have already noted, in none of these references is it ever stated that Moses was the actual author. This is especially significant in view of the fact that Moses is mentioned by name at least eighty times in the New Testament, approximately twenty-five of which refer to specific passages attributed to Moses in the other books of the Pentateuch.
While this evidence is not conclusive, it does favor the explanation that, while Moses actually wrote the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, he served mainly as compiler and editor of the material in the Book of Genesis. This in no way minimizes the work of the Holy Spirit, who infallibly guided him in this process of compilation and editing, just as He later did the unknown compiler of the Book of Kings and Chronicles. It would still be appropriate to include Genesis as one of the books of Moses, since he is the human writer responsible for its present form. In fact, this explanation gives further testimony to the authenticity of the events recorded in Genesis since we can now recognize them all as firsthand testimony.
Compilation of Patriarchal Records
It is suggested in this commentary, therefore, that Moses compiled and edited earlier written records that had been handed down from father to son via the line of the patriarchs listed in Genesis. That is Adam, Noah, Shem, Terah, and others each wrote down an individual account of events which had occurred in his own lifetime, or concerning which he in some way had direct knowledge. These records were kept, possibly on tablets of stone, in such a way that they would be preserved until they finally came into Moses’ possession. He then selected those that were relevant to his own purpose (as guided by the Holy Spirit), added his own explanatory editorial comments and transitional sections, and finally compiled them into the form now known as the Book of Genesis.
It is probable that these original documents can still be recognized by the key phrase: “These are the generations of . . .” The word “generation” is a translation of the Hebrew toledoth, and it means essentially “origins,” or, by extension, “records of the origins.” There are eleven of these divisions marked off in Genesis:
(1) “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth” (Genesis 2:4).
(2) “This is the book of the generations of Adam (Genesis 5:1).
(3) “These are the generations of Noah” (Genesis 6:9).
(4) “Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (Genesis 10:1).
(5) “These are the generations of Shem” (Genesis 11:10).
(6) “Now these are the generations of Terah” (Genesis 11:27).
(7) “Now these are the generations of Ishmael” (Genesis 25:12).
(8) “And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son” (Genesis 25:19).
(9) “Now these are the generations of Esau, who is Edom” (Genesis 36:1).
(10) “And these are the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in Mount Seir” (Genesis 36:9).
(11) “These are the generations of Jacob” (Genesis 37:2).
Assuming that these toledoth divisions represent the original documents from which Genesis was collected, there is still the question whether the specific names are to be understood as subscripts or as superscripts, or some of each. Are they headings applied to the material following, or closing signatures of that which precedes?
The weight of evidence suggests that the respective names attached to the toledoth represent subscripts or closing signatures. The events recorded in each division all took place before, not after, the death of the individuals so named, and so could in each case have been accessible to them. The main difficulty with this view is that most of the portions that would be assigned to Ishmael and to Esau under this formula hardly seem appropriate for them to have written. However, this problem can be avoided by assuming that “the generations of Ishmael” constituted a small subdivision within the broader record maintained by Isaac, and finally transmitted by him. Similarly, the “generations of Esau” may have been appropriated by Jacob in his own larger account later transmitted under the heading “the generations of Jacob.”
If this explanation is correct, then the Book of Genesis can be divided into nine main subdivisions as follows:
(1) “The generations of the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1-2:4)
This section, describing the initial Creation and the work of the six days, has no human name attached to it, for the obvious reason that no man was present at the time to record what happened. It must either have been written directly by God Himself and then given to Adam, or else given by revelation to Adam, who then recorded it.
(2) “The book of the generations of Adam” (Genesis 2:4b-5:1)
This section, written by Adam, describes the Garden of Eden, the temptation and fall, and the experiences of Cain and Abel. Adam was obviously the logical one to record this particular history. The use of the word “book” makes it clear that these primeval records were actually written down, and not simply handed down by word of mouth. It also is significant in light of the beginning phrase of the New Testament: “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ” (Matthew 1:1).
(3) “The generations of Noah” (Genesis 5:1b-6:9)
The patriarch Noah, sometime before the actual coming of the Flood, compiled the records of the antediluvian patriarchs before him. According to the genealogies listed in Genesis 5, Noah’s father, Lamech, had lived contemporaneously with every one of these patriarchs, including Adam. Noah himself had known all of them except Adam, Seth, and Enoch. Noah then also recorded his own observations of the rapid degeneracy of men in his day and God’s determination to destroy them, mentioning, however, that he himself had found grace in God’s eyes.
(4) “The generations of the sons of Noah”(Genesis 6:9b-10:1)
Shem, Ham, and Japheth evidently took the responsibility of recording the preparations for the Flood, and then describing the Flood itself. They also recorded the immediate postdiluvian events, including Noah’s prophecy concerning themselves, and then later his death.
(5) “The generations of Shem” (Genesis 10:1b-11:10)
After Noah’s death, and after the dispersion at Babel, it seems that the three sons of Noah became separated, and Shem took the responsibility of keeping the records. Accordingly, he wrote about the confusion of languages at Babel and the resultant scattering of the families. He also recorded the names of the descendants of Noah down to about the time of the scattering, in the so-called Table of Nations in Genesis 10. Presumably he more or less lost track of the descendants of Ham and Japheth after this, even though he himself lived five hundred years after the Flood.
(6) “The generations of Terah” (Genesis 11:10b-11:27)
This is a very brief document, containing only the genealogies in the Semitic line, from Shem down to Terah and his three sons. It is important, however, in that it gives us the only possible basis for a chronology from the Flood to Abraham.
(7) “The generations of Isaac” (Genesis 11:27b-25:19)
In contrast, this is quite a long document, giving all the details of the life of Abraham, from the time of his call by God to the time of his death, and also including events in Isaac’s life until his father died. Isaac apparently also appended to his own record the “generations of Ishmael” (Genesis 25:12), the record of his half-brother’s sons, which he must have obtained from him at the time Ishmael returned home to help Isaac bury his father (Genesis 25:9). Isaac also included mention of the death of Ishmael, about forty-eight years after Abraham’s burial.
(8) “The generations of Jacob” (Genesis 25:19b-37:2)
Jacob’s record, like Isaac’s, is much longer than most of the others in Genesis, giving the later events in the life of his father Isaac and then including all his own history through the time of his twenty-year sojourn with Laban and his return to Canaan, with the record of the death of both his wife Rachel and his father Isaac. As Isaac had appended Ishmael’s record of descendants to his own, so Jacob also included two documents from his brother Esau (Genesis 36) after his brother had joined with him in burying his father (Genesis 35:29). It is also possible that some of this material, in particular the eight generations of Edomite kings listed in Genesis 36:31-39, may have been inserted later as an editorial addition by Moses.
(9) “The generations of the Sons of Jacob” (Genesis 37:2b-Exodus 1:1)
Although the regular formula is not used in this case, the wording in Exodus 1:1 is very similar to the others: “Now these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt . . .” The events in the life of Joseph and his brethren, as recorded in these latter chapters of Genesis, could have originally been known only to them. Whether they wrote them down, as their fathers had done, or transmitted them orally, somehow their stories must finally have come into the possession of Moses, as is indicated by the smooth transition from the last verses of Genesis to the first verses of Exodus. The formula would be exactly repeated, in fact, if the word “names” in Exodus 1:1 were replaced by the word “generation.” It would then read: “Now these are the generations of the children of Israel . . .”
Thus it is probable that the Book of Genesis was written originally by actual eyewitnesses of the events reported therein. Probably the original narratives were recorded on tables of stone or clay, in common with the practice of early times, and then handed down from father to son, finally coming into the possession of Moses. Moses perhaps selected the appropriate sections for compilation, inserted his own editorial additions and comments, and provided smooth transitions from one document to the next, with the final result being the Book of Genesis as we have received it.
Although this theory of the authorship of Genesis cannot be rigidly proved, it does seem to fit all available facts better than any other theory. It is consistent with the doctrine of Biblical inspiration and authority, as well as with the accurate historicity of its records. Furthermore, this approach provides vivid insight into the accounts, and a more vibrant awareness of their freshness and relevance, than any other.
The Genesis Record
By Henry Morris