Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I've been operating under the assumption that Moses was the author the book of Genesis (or at least the recorder of a bunch of oral traditions).

This document suggests a different view.

Who was the probable author of Genesis?

share|improve this question
In "author" do you mean the person who came up with the story or wrote it down? Either way, I'm not sure how anyone could be certain. – The Freemason Feb 26 '12 at 18:10
It may not have been Moses, but rather a different man of the same name ;). Seriously, the tradition of authorship is in the work, and even if we found out the scribes name, it would still be "historically ascribed to 'Moses'" – Affable Geek Feb 27 '12 at 0:08
I suppose Moses wrote "his" last book which described his death? Agreed that Moses has been attributed as the author. However, if Moses wrote it, it was more likely to be in Egyptian hieroglyphs than Hebrew. – The Freemason Feb 27 '12 at 13:43
@Dan, would attaching an obituary as the last chapter of Dt detract from Moses writing the rest of it? – Frank Luke Feb 27 '12 at 14:42
@FrankLuke why would you stop at saying that only the last chapter was added? Do you have some empirical information? You have to be careful when you say that something was edited / added, where would it stop? – The Freemason Feb 27 '12 at 21:17
up vote 3 down vote accepted

P.J. Wiseman posits the theory that the 'toledoth' indicates authors who were eyewitnesses to the events mentioned in Genesis. This is based on the pattern of writing found on ancient Babylonian tablets predating Abraham where the word translated 'generations of' is used to indicate the ownership or authorship of the clay tablet.

He suggests that the pattern in Genesis indicates that Moses transcribed the text from tablets retaining these signature lines.

The tablets would have been passed down Father to son to Jacob, then to Joseph, who placed them in the library of Pharaoh where Moses had access to them. Whether it was Moses of one of Pharaoh's scribes who moved the text from tablets to papyrus is immaterial.

R.K. Harrison spoke favorably of the theory, and the Southern Baptist publishing house has used it from time to time.

The theory suggests that God himself wrote Gen 1, and some suggest the indication that Esau wrote Jacob's history, and Jacob wrote Esau's, is a problem, but then we marvel that their foibles are retained in the record.

Other popular views were well entrenched by the time of the discovery of the tablets prior to WWII.

share|improve this answer
WHAT TABLETS WERE "DISCOVERED"? – fdb Apr 27 '15 at 13:47

Scholars have been raising doubts about Moses' authorship since the mid-1600s, when Thomas Hobbes noted that certain passages in the five books of the Torah seemed to indicate they had been added by a later writer.

  • Genesis 12:6, "At that time the Canaanites were in the land." And they still were in Moses' time.
  • Deuteronomy 34, the account of Moses' death, including the phrase in verse 6, "no one knows his burial place to this day."
  • Numbers 12:3, stating, "Moses was very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth," which would not have been true if he had written it himself.

About 100 years later Jean Astruc identified pairs of stories, or "doublets", indicating two streams of oral tradition that he believed were combined by Moses in writing the Torah. In these doublets, one story refers to God as "Elohim", and the other uses the divine name "YHWH".

  • Creation: Genesis 1:1 - 2:3 ("six days", Elohim); Genesis 2:4-25 ("Garden of Eden", YHWH)
  • God's covenant with Abraham: Genesis 15:1-21 (YWHW); Genesis 17:1-27 (Elohim, though it refers to YWHW in verse 1)
  • Abraham calls his wife his sister: Genesis 12:10-20 (YHWH); Genesis 20:1-18 (Elohim, though it uses YHWH in verse 18)

Other scholars followed Astruc's lead and identified other doublets.

  • God renames Jacob to Israel: Genesis 32:22-32 (after wrestling God at Peniel); Genesis 35:9-15 (at Bethel)
  • Moses' father in law: Exodus 2:17-22 (Zipporah's father is Reuel); Exodus 18:1-6 (Zipporah's father is Jethro)
  • Covenant of the Ten Commandments: Exodus 34 (on Mount Sinai); Deuteronomy 5 (on Mount Horeb) — Deuteronomy 5 is written as a reminder of the covenant from Exodus 34

By the early 1800s the majority of scholars argued that these two independent sources were combined much later than Moses' day, and that two additional sources could be identified within the Torah.

The four sources were labeled J, E, P, and D:

  • J: these always used YHWH to refer to God (most of the scholars were German, and German J = English Y)
  • E: these almost always used Elohim (or a related form, e.g. El Shaddai or El Elyon) to refer to God
  • P: these passages referred to matters relating to Priests
  • D: the book of Deuteronomy did not fit any of these, and was considered to have its own distinct source

Additionally, archaeological findings have not shown any evidence of a written Hebrew alphabet prior to the time of the earliest kings of Israel. If the Torah can be traced back to Moses in any way, it is likely to be only as an oral tradition.

share|improve this answer
The concept of doublets greatly increases my interest in the JEPD hypothesis. It certainly hasn't received a fair shake from me since I've never read any analysis as clear as this. An emphatic +1. – Jon Ericson Feb 27 '12 at 6:55
@JonEricson: The "concept of doublets" is so obvious in the text, it requires willful blindness to ignore. The "documentary hypothesis" is a certain fact, and it must be the starting point of reasoned conversation. – Ron Maimon Apr 11 '12 at 3:44
@RonMaimon: I never noticed the doublets--not their significance, anyway--until someone pointed out the pattern to me. Accusing others of willful blindness is not likely to help the conversation. – Bruce Alderman Apr 11 '12 at 14:07
@BruceAlderman: I agree you need someone to tell you, and then you notice, but once you notice, if you reject it, this is is a lie to yourself and to others. I read Gen/Exo, and the E,J doublets, along with the textual divisions, are absolutely manifest to the eyes. I can't condone people who read this text and don't say so. It's like half is in caps and the other half small. – Ron Maimon Apr 11 '12 at 15:59
Yes. In fact, almost of the entire Psalm 23 is mistranslated in English. The fact is, you are using the septuagint as basis of translation and the masoret as paper weight. The excuse is, septuagint was translated earlier than the earliest discovered manuscripts of masoret or dead sea scrolls. – Blessed Geek Apr 22 '15 at 14:09

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.