WHO WROTE GENESIS?
In 1936 there appeared a fascinating book by Air Commodore P.J. Wiseman, an
amateur Biblical Scholar " New Discoveries in Babylonia about Genesis" which
caused quite a debate at the time.
It was a time of great archaeological discoveries in Mesopotamia where
literally thousands and thousands of clay tablets had been unearthed inscribed
in cuneiform, a method of writing which involved impressing a wedge shaped
stylus on wet clay in various forms comprising a series of syllables of nearly
600 different combinations.
What fascinated Wiseman was the way in which some of the baked clay tablets
were structured. In many, after the gist of the text, there appeared what has
been termed a "colophon" which could take various forms. Details of who wrote
that particular tablet, when it was written, for what purpose, whether it had
been copied from an earlier tablet, on the orders of which king and various
other additional snippets of information could be added at the end of each
writing. In addition, should the tablet be a part of a series, linking
information between that tablet and the others in the series were often added at
the beginning and end of a tablet. Thus the title of a series was usually taken
from the first word of the first tablet and then repeated at the end of each
subsequent tablet. An additional safeguard was sometimes employed whereby the
first few words of the second tablet were repeated as the last few words of a
This illustration shows exactly what is meant where the main text is enclosed
between the horizontal lines and a "colophon" is added at the end.
Wiseman pondered the issue of how Genesis came to be written, as much of the
material in the five books of Moses dealt with the history of the Patriarchs at
exactly the time these cuneiform tablets had been compiled. Was there any
evidence in the book itself that it had been compiled by Moses from earlier
tablets? The orthodox religious view was that the book of Genesis had been
inspired by God with Jews believing it was handed down to Moses in its totality
at Sinai. The academic view was that it was a very late concoction of mythical
tales with very little if no history involved whatsoever.
In searching through Genesis there did appear to be a strange structure that
appeared eleven times which included the words "These are the Generations
(Toledot) of". They had caused scholars quite a headache in that many if not all
the times they appeared, they were NOT followed by a list of generations.
Wiseman discovered that in fact, more often than not they referred to the
passage that had just ENDED. They did appear as if indeed they could have been
Previously scholars had suggested that these phrases referred to the eleven
most important personages in the history described by Genesis. But a close
analysis of this list, Adam, Noah, sons of Noah, Shem, Terah, Ishmael, Isaac,
Esau, and Jacob, shows that this could NOT be true. After all who could deny
that Abraham himself was the most important historical figure and yet the phrase
"These are the Generations of Abraham" does NOT appear.
Another theory was called for. Wiseman proposed that Moses himself compiled
Genesis as tradition had maintained, not from divine revelation but rather from
tablets compiled by earlier ancestors. Thus the people mentioned above had
compiled their own histories of their own times from their own knowledge and
inscribed them on tablets. Moses had just edited them by essentially adding them
To show how remarkable a theory it is, I have placed in the library a reading
of Genesis highlighting the colophons in such a way as hopefully not only to
make the theory clear but to show how it throws remarkable clarity on the
Genesis account. I urge you to read all of Genesis keeping the colophons in mind
as you do. I begin each history with the colophon in pink transferred from the
bottom of the relevant tablet which is highlighted in blue.
Michael S. Sanders
Thursday, February 04, 1999