Authorship and Reliability of Genesis

Authorship and Reliability of Genesis

Author: Curt Sewell
Subject: Creation Overviews
Date: 11/2/1999


Motivation, for most creationists, is their conviction that the Bible came by “inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” and thus it must be reliable history, even in its opening chapters. But liberal scholars often say that since it was written by humans, many centuries after the events described, it’s filled with human foibles; the Godly truths must be filtered out from the literary stories. They criticize Creationism, saying that it fails the test of scientific knowledge. During the early 1800’s, James Hutton, Charles Lyell, and Charles Darwin led this fight on the scientific front, while G.W.F. Hegel, K.H. Graf, and Julius Wellhausen developed the J.E.D.P. Documentary Hypothesis on the religious front. This said that the early parts of the Old Testament couldn’t have been written during the times they described. They based this on the belief that writing had not evolved until about 1000 B.C., and that the early books of the Bible were written by various unknown teachers, beginning about 800 B.C., after having been passed down orally for over a thousand years. These books are said to have been compiled or redacted from several stories, or documents, each of which could be distinguished by the name used for God. This teaching led many people to lose confidence in the Bible’s authenticity.

Did Hegel, Graf, Wellhausen, etc. have any good basis for their JEDP theory? No, there has never been any trace of the “documents” they refer to (Jehovist, Elohist, Deuteronomic, and Priestly), and even in their day there had been some good archaeological finds that contradicted the very basis of their theory — that early writing was unknown. More recently, scholars and archaeologists have uncovered excellent proofs of the truth of the Bible’s historicity.


During his tour of duty in Mesopotamia, where much of the earliest Bible activity took place, Air Commodore P.J. Wiseman became interested in the archaeology of that area, and especially in the many ancient clay tablets that had been dated to long before the time of Abraham. He recognized that they held the key to the original writings of the early Bible, and especially the book of Genesis. He published his book in 1936. More recently his son, Professor of Assyriology D.J. Wiseman, updated and revised his father’s book. P.J. Wiseman, Ancient Records and the Structure of Genesis, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1985)

He found that most of the old clay tablets had “colophon phrases” at the end; these named the writer or owner of the tablet; they had words to identify the subject, and often some sort of dating phrase. If multiple tablets were involved, there were also “catch-lines” to connect a tablet to its next in sequence. Many of these old records related to family histories and origins, which were evidently highly important to those ancient peoples. Wiseman noticed the similarity of many of these to the sections of the book of Genesis.

Many scholars have noticed that Genesis is divided into sections, separated by phrases that the KJV translated

                        TABLET DIVISIONS


Tablet Starting & Ending           Owner or Verse                                    Verse                                          Writer


1 Gen 1:1 thru Gen 2:4a          God Himself (?)

2 ” 2:4b thru ” 5:1a                   Adam

3 ” 5:1b thru ” 6:9a                  Noah

4 ” 6:9b thru ” 10:1a                Shem, Ham, Japheth

5 ” 10:1b thru ” 11:10a            Shem

6 ” 11:10b thru ” 11:27a          Terah

7 ” 11:27b thru ” 25:19a          Isaac

8 ” 25:12 thru ” 25:18              Ishmael, thru Isaac

9 ” 25:19b thru ” 37:2a            Jacob

10 ” 36:1 thru ” 36:43             Esau, thru Jacob

11 ” 37:2b thru Exodus 1:6     Jacob’s 12 sons

“These are the generations of …” The Hebrew word used for “generation” is toledoth, which means “history, especially family history … the story of their origin,” Wiseman, op.cit., page 62. Most scholars have recognized that these “toledoth phrases” must be important, but they have been misled by assuming incorrectly that these are the introduction to the text that follows. (Several modern translations have even garbled these phrases.) This has led to serious questions, because in several cases they don’t seem to fit. For example, Genesis 37:2 begins, “These are the generations of Jacob. …” But from that spot on, the text describes Joseph and his brothers, and almost nothing about Jacob, who was the central character in the previous section.

However, Wiseman saw that the colophons in the ancient tablets always were at the end, not the beginning. He applied this idea to the toledoth phrases in Genesis, and found that in every case it suddenly made good sense. The text just preceding the phrase “These are the generations of …” contained information about events that the man named in that phrase would have known. That person would be the logical one to write that part. In other words, each toledoth phrase contains the name of the man who probably wrote the text preceding that phrase. Or, in still other words, the book of Genesis consists of a set of tablets, each of which was written by an actual eye-witness to the events described. These tablets were finally compiled by Moses. The divisions are shown at right.


As an example of how the Tablet Theory can assist our understanding, consider the common accusation that a conflict exists between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, in terms of the sequence of creative actions. This criticism is not valid, since Chapter 2 does not attempt to say “This happened and then that happened.” This apparent conflict is partly because of peculiarities in words; it only shows up in some languages. The English language has definite past, present, and future tenses for its verbs, but Hebrew (the language of Genesis) does not. In the Hebrew, the relative timing must be taken from the context, not the actual words themselves.

In Genesis 1:24-31, the timing is definitely stated; these events took place on the sixth day, and in the order stated (animals, then man and woman). This chapter is written from the Creator’s viewpoint (on His tablet), and outlines the fundamentals of the exact things He did.

But in Chapter 2, there are no timing statements. This chapter is written from a different viewpoint (probably by Adam himself), and describes events from his viewpoint. He first told of the huge task that he had been given by God (naming the animals) and how he did that. These verses show that Adam was a very intelligent person and a knowledgeable biologist, not the ignorant “cave-man” that some people imagine.

The Hebrew words in Genesis 2:19 could have been translated, “And out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast …” It seems to this writer that Adam simply put verses 19 and 20 (naming the animals) at this spot for his own convenience, not for indicating sequential action, so that he could then move on to the more pressing matter of the establishment of the human home, family, and population growth. He went on to describe the creation of his wife (which had happened previously), and then moved smoothly into their activities together.

SUMMARY   #9; (NOTE: This Creation Bit is an abbreviated summary of an article by this same author.3

The Tablet Theory is reasonable, it doesn’t violate any known fact, it offers a more satisfactory explanation of all the facts, it’s in good accord with other Scripture, and it adds the authenticity of being composed of eye-witness accounts. I believe that it’s true. We would do well to just believe the simple teaching of the Bible, as God inspired it. To do otherwise is an insult to its Author, our Creator God.

  1. Curt Sewell, Documents, Tablets, and the Historicity of Genesis, in Bible and Spade Vol.7 No.1, pp 23-26. )
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