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  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 previous tablet.

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 "colophons".

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 together.

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.

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Any questions?

Michael S. Sanders

Irvine California

Thursday, February 04, 1999

 



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