STRUCTURE OF GENESIS AND RELATED QUESTIONS
Who wrote Genesis? Why do there seem to be two accounts of creation in it? How long were the days of Genesis? Was there really no death before sin?
Genesis is one of the five books of the Pentateuch. Until recent times it was understood that the Pentateuch was compiled by Moses during his leadership of the Hebrew people in the Wilderness. In the 18th century rationalistic scholars began to dispute the Mosaic authorship of Genesis, claiming that writing had not even been invented in his time. Because different names for God are found in these books it was said that they were compiled centuries later from a variety of sources, each source using a different name for God. The different sources were cut-and-pasted together, as it were, with the creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2 being two different Hebrew myths.
Since then literally entire libraries, such as the 20,000 tablet library at Nuzi, have been found pre-dating Moses. People could write. No evidence for any of the presumed different sources (named J, E, D and P) has ever been found. Moreover the assumption that different terms for God requiresdifferent authors is suspect. By this rationalization a researcher searching the internet for my writings would conclude there are not one but four “Eric Blievernicht’s” out there, two of whom are Jewish! [Note 1]
In recent years a much better insight into the origin of Genesis has emerged. As ancient Near Eastern libraries have been unearthed and their contents deciphered many insights into biblical times have been gained. In particular, tablets from before the time of Moses in the area of Mesopotamia (where Abraham hailed from) were noted to frequently contain a colophon – a formula of sorts, at the close of the tablet. This is similar to modern customs of ending a letter with a formula like “Sincerely yours, (Name)”.
Often these tablets were family records or king-lists giving the ancestry of a person. The Hebrew term for generations is toledoth. These tablets would contain a colophon describing who had written the tablet or whose history it recorded. Scholars recognized that these colophons were similar in structure to toledoth phrases in Genesis:
- “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created.” (Genesis 2:4a)
- “This is the book of the generations of Adam.” (Genesis 5:1)
- “These are the generations of Noah.” (Genesis 6:9)
- “Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” (Genesis 10:1a)
- “These are the generations of Shem.” (Genesis 11:10a)
- “Now these are the generations of Terah.” (Genesis 11:27a)
- “And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son.” (Genesis 25:19a)
- ‘This is the account of Abraham’s son Ishmael.” (Genesis 25:12a, see below)
- “This is the account of Esau (that is, Edom).” (Genesis 36:1, see below)
- “These are the generations of Jacob.” (Genesis 37:2)
(Please note: the modern verse structure of Scripture is a medieval addition to the Bible based on understanding at that time. It is not in the original text. Earlier Christians thought some of these colophon phrases were introductions rather than conclusions to sections.)
The implication of these colophons in Genesis is that they separate Genesis into distinct source documents each dating from the period of the person named in them. These source documents were handed down from father to son until the time of Moses, when they were edited together to form the book of Genesis under divine inspiration. In almost every case the logical author for each document would be the person named in the colophon itself. The statements immediately following each colophon would be the beginning of the next tablet; for example, Genesis 2:4b reads “When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens…” beginning Adam’s story.
There are a few exceptions, but they are easily explained. Ishmael’s colophon comes before his brother Isaac. Why is that? Ishmael was not in the direct line of descent, he was Isaac’s brother. Apparently Isaac compiled a short summary of his brothers’ life, or obtained it from Ishmael, and included it as an appendix to his own family record. In this case the colophon was a header to this appendix of Isaac’s toledoth record, rather than creating confusion by putting it next to Isaac’s own colophon. Likewise, Jacob appears to have done the same thing with his brother Esau, incorporating his brothers’ story as an appendix to his own.
And what of the two creation accounts? Notice that the first toledoth is unique, giving no name. It is not a family history of a person, it was a record of “the heavens and of the earth.” And who would have been present to record this history, apart from God himself? Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a thus seems to be a Creation account from a cosmic perspective, given directly by God (for who else was present to describe Genesis 1:1?). It tells of the creation week and the creation of the universe, earth and living things on a grand scale. This account may have been given to Adam and handed down with the other family histories.
The second creation account, found in the remainder of Genesis 2, is quite different in perspective. According to toledoth theory it was authored by Adam. It gives the record of creation from his perspective, in a pedagogical rather than chronological order, focusing on those things of interest to humanity such as the Garden of Eden and the creation of Eve. Where there is a very clear sequential order in the creation week account in Genesis 1, the second account mentions things in a different order without any indication the order is a chronological one.
Q: How long were the days of creation?
A: There are several lines of evidence in Scripture that allow us to define the days of the creation week clearly. The claim that the days were long periods or ages cannot be reconciled with Scripture.
It is perfectly true, in a general sense, that day (yom in Hebrew) can mean a long period of time in some circumstances – “in the days of King David,” “In my fathers’ day,” and so on. But to end our investigation of the meaning of day in Genesis with this observation is to short-circuit the hermeneutic (interpretive) process, biased by non-Scriptural considerations.
First, God apparently acted to head off confusion and false teaching on this point by giving a clear and simple definition of the days of creation in Genesis 1:5 – “And there was evening and there was morning, one day.” The terms evening and morning in Hebrew, as in English, have no range of meaning that would allow for this to be anything but an ordinary day. If the days were millions of years long, for example, what on earth does “morning” and “evening” mean in such a context? And why use such misleading terms if that was the case?
Second, when the term yom appears with an ordinal number it refers to ordinary days. That is, when we say “3 days” we mean three ordinary days. One never hears of phrases like “In the five days of King David…”. Thus, when we read “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth…” (Exodus 20:11, etc., inscribed by the Lord personally on the tablets of the Ten Commandments) we can be confident that it refers to ordinary days. (See also Kulikosvky for additional considerations.)
Q: So the days were 24 hour days?
A: It is over-specifying to claim they were exactly 24 hours like today. The Bible never defines them in terms of hours. Even today the length of a day is measurably changing, and during the Cataclysm the length of a day could have changed by as much as several hours due to changes in the distribution of the mass of the earth (much like a figure skater extending or withdrawing their limbs to control how fast they spin.)
Q: But how could there be days before the sun was created on Day 4?
A: This common objection ignores the biblical statements specifying that light and dark was already present (Genesis 1:3-4), prior to the defining of the first day. It is on the basis of this light and dark that the first days were accounted. Apparently there was a light source such that the earth as it turned received the light, with darkness on the opposite side. There are several theological and scientific speculations as to the source of this light. (Humphreys, Morris)
Q: Why is the order of creation given in Genesis 1 different from the order found in the fossil record?
A: The order of creation in Genesis 1 is a record of when various categories of plants and animals were created. The order found in the fossil record is a record of their death. Those are two completely separate things. The order is different because the fossil record is largely due to the events of the Cataclysm more than 1,600 years after creation. There was no death before the Fall (Genesis 1:29, Romans 5:12). The fossil record shows the order by which things were buried during the Cataclysm based on where they were living, their mobility, the sorting effects of hydrological activity and other factors. (The contradictions between the order found in the fossil record and in Genesis 1 is another proof against “Day-Age” ideas.)
Q: If there was no death before the Fall, then what about plants being eaten? Isn’t that death?
A: According to the Bible, no. Life is defined differently in the Bible than in chapter 1 of a biology textbook. Sound principles of literary interpretation require that you understand words as the author intended them, not as they are defined in another culture or setting.
The Bible never speaks of plants as being alive, nor does it ever speak of them dying. Instead, they wither. (See Job 8:12, numerous other verses) The Hebrew terms used for plants withering and animals dying are all distinct. (Strong) Life in the Bible is restricted to creatures with a spirit (nephesh in Hebrew). More specifically, life is determined in the Bible by the presence of breath and blood. Creatures that do not have blood are not considered alive in the Bible. (See Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 17:11, Deuteronomy 12:23, etc. Note also the use of the term “lifeblood.”) For example, in Genesis 7:21-23 we read:
All flesh that moved on the earth perished, birds and cattle and beasts and every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth, and all mankind; of all that was on the dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died. Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark.
Notably absent in this description of “every living thing” on land dying is any mention of plants.
Thus, the eating or other use of plant materials, or microscopic organisms without blood and circulatory systems, does not involve death. The claim that the Bible contains a contradiction because it speaks of vegetarian diets before the Curse brought death, is based on a false premise about the definition of life. (Stambaugh)
Sources & Further Study
Humphreys, D.R., Starlight and Time (El Cajon, CA: Master Books, 1994).
Kulikovsky, Alexander, “A Summary of Evidence for Literal 24-hr Creation Days in Genesis 1” http://www.geocities.com/Athens/5948/Gendays.htm
Morris, Henry, The Genesis Record (Grand Rapids: Baker Books: 1976).
Sewell, Curt, “The Tablet Theory of Genesis,” http://184.108.40.206/tablethy.html
Stambaugh, James, “‘Life’ According to the Bible, and the Scientific Evidence,” Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal 6(2):98-121. (See also “Death Before Sin?,” Impact #191, Institute for Creation Research http://www.icr.org/pubs/imp/imp-191.htm)
Strong, James, Strong’s Concordance (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990).
Note 1: This is because I use the terms God, Lord, G-d, and L-rd regularly, the latter two in public forums that include Jews, as a courtesy.