The Origin of the Book of Genesis: A Thought
Will James worked his way through the west, ranch to ranch, which gave him background for some of his greatest cowboy stories. John Erickson, of Hank the Cowdog fame, worked ranches in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma which gives depth to the ranch that Hank runs security on in his 50+ books. Baxter Black spent years as a large animal vet in feedlots and ranches throughout the Rockies and rubbed elbows with farmers and ranchers who have lived the stories and poems he pens. These experts in cowboys and cowboy life lived what they wrote.
Sunday morning the Church where my wife attend when we’re in town, began a 66 week series through every book of the Bible. A few years back, for a youth group lesson, I bought a book called Manga Mutiny, a manga re-telling of Genesis to the middle of Exodus. It was the only way I could get some of our students excited about the book of Genesis. But I was challenged when I first opened up the book and it began in Exodus, with Moses around a campfire talking with his people. It was then that a flashback took over the book, with Moses narrating the events of Genesis.
Genesis was compiled and written by Moses. I hesitate to use the word “compiled” for fear that it may be misunderstood as an embrace of source criticism and confused with the documentary hypothesis. These theories of the origin of Genesis and the Torah, are radically mistaken. In studying the structure and purpose of Genesis, as well as its connection to Exodus and the rest of the Pentateuch, it would make sense that Moses would compile information and utilize sources in documenting the history of his people.
Genesis is divide into 10 sections, or toldoth’s, accounts of men and their lives. Men like Adam, Noah, Abraham and others, each have a toldoth that documents their activity and their progeny. In Genesis 5.1, the word translated “written account” [sepher] is always used of physically written accounts, which differentiates this account from the other toldoth’s in Genesis. This argument points to Moses composing Genesis with some kind of source material…but where would he find it?
There are three theories that dominate the location of composition debate surrounding Genesis. Theory 1 argues for an Egyptian origin. The use of Egyptian vocabulary throughout Genesis, argues that the author was definitely familiar with Egyptian society and culture. This theory also accounts for the sudden rise in nationalistic identity within Moses in Exodus 2.11. All the school of the palace could have involved a history lesson about Joseph and the shepherds, though doubtful becasue of the tension caused by the New King who didn’t know Joseph or his people (Ex. 1.8) This theory looks to minimize the burning bush conversation as the catalyst for Moses’ actions and relationship with the Lord (Ex. 3-4).
A second theory has been put forth by Dr. Thomas Sharp in his Creation Truth Foundation video, Evolution: The Greatest Deception of All. He argues for a composition of Moses after the Lord shows his backside. The last time he descended the mountain, he found the people partying around the Golden Calf (Ex. 32). He smashed the tablets containing the words of the Lord in disgust (Ex 32.19). Now at the Tent of Meeting, Moses is speaking to the Lord and asks to see His glory (Ex. 33.18). God says that “you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (Ex 33.23) He passed in front of Moses and Moses saw his backside [‘achor]. Sharp postulates that backside is a metaphorical term for past works. At this time, Moses instead of seeing the trailing end of God’s glory [kavod], he is seeing God’s past works. The problem with this interpretation lies in the understanding of ‘achor as a literal term. Moses saw something tangible from that cleft. ‘achor is never used in a metaphorical sense in its 41 uses in the Old Testament. It is used of literal retreats by armies, people being turned back from a place, and literal hindquarters. I am not suggesting that God had taken a bodily form, for that would mis-apply the anthropomorphism, however, Moses saw something there, not a flashback.
When was Genesis composed? I believe there is a case to be made for Moses’ first trip up the Mountain of Sinai in Exodus 19 for a couple reasons: 1) “keep my covenant” (19.5) is a reference back to the covenant that God made with Abraham in Genesis 12, 15. Exodus 2. 24 mentions this covenant and it is at the forefront of the setting of the book of Exodus, the journey out of Egypt. This is the most recent covenant, the one they are living under now, from 600 years prior. 2) “out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” (Ex. 19.5) Where did this thinking and this story originate…Genesis. The book of Genesis is very clear about the value that God placed on His people. The reason for their value originated in the story of Genesis. 3) “the whole earth is mine” (19.5) can only speak back to His creative process found in Genesis 1-2. 4) This is the first extended conversation that Moses has had with the Lord outside of his calling in Exodus 3-4. During that discussion God and Moses focused on the problem at hand, with no natural place to put a history lesson.
Taking these three reasons under consideration, as well as the other two theories faults, I believe that Exodus 19, provides the best context for Moses composition and understanding of Genesis at the word and commission of the Lord.