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. http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_pentateuch_wenham.html

Who was the probable author of Genesis?

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    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. Commented Feb 26, 2012 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'" Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 0:08
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    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. Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 13:43
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    @Dan, would attaching an obituary as the last chapter of Dt detract from Moses writing the rest of it?
    – Frank Luke
    Commented Feb 27, 2012 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? Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 21:17

5 Answers 5


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 interpretation of the tablets prior to WWII.

see "Ancient Records and the Structures of Genesis" by P.J. Wiseman for details.

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    – fdb
    Commented Apr 27, 2015 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.

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    @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
    Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 3:44
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    @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. Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 14:07
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    @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
    Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 15:59
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    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.
    – Cynthia
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 14:09
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    Yet, are there original copies of the septuagint? The masoret had been and still is compulsively copied by hand over hundreds of years. The septuagint as result of translation to Greek, has lost most of the Hebrew dynamics.
    – Cynthia
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 14:12

Modern scholars no longer expend much effort on whether Moses wrote the Book of Genesis, instead analysing the evidence for authors such as the Yahwist, the Elohist and the Priestly Source. We can go back to the nineteenth century, when commentators really began to investigate the possibility of Mosaic authorship and soon found evidence against it.

Samuel Davidson, D.D, in An Introduction to the Old Testament, Critical, Historical, and Theological, Containing a Discussion of the Most Important Questions Belonging to the Several Books (published 1862), identified several clear lines of evidence that Genesis can only have been written long after the time of Moses. Among these:

A. Words that obviously imply that when the writer lived, the Canaanites and Perizzites had been expelled from the land -

Genesis 12:6:And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.
Genesis 13:7: And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram's cattle and the herdmen of Lot's cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land..

B. Hebron is the name almost always used in Genesis, yet the city did not get that name until Caleb changed the name of the city from Kirjatharba to Hebron, meaning that this name is posterior to Moses:

Genesis 23:2: And Sarah died in Kirjatharba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.
Joshua 14:14-15: Hebron therefore became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite unto this day, because that he wholly followed the LORD God of Israel. And the name of Hebron before was Kirjatharba; which Arba was a great man among the Anakims. And the land had rest from war.

C. In Genesis 14:14, Abraham is said to have pursued the kings who carried away Lot his nephew, as far as Dan. But we learn from Joshua 19:47 and Judges 18:29, that the name of the place was Laish, until the Danites possessed it and called it Dan, "after the name of their father."

D. Davidson says that, because of Genesis 36:"31, the book could hardly have been written before there reigned any king over the land of Israel:

Genesis 36:31: And these are the kings that reigned in the land of Edom, before there reigned any king over the land of Israel.

E. Here Jacob is referring to the "land of the Hebrews" at a time when it was supposedly the land of the Canaanites, a mistake Moses could scarcely have made:

Genesis 40:15: For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon.

This is far from the totality of evidence that Moses did not write the Book of Genesis, but it is enough to be conclusive.


Moses has always been the true author of the Pentateuch, the evidence that Moses wrote the Pentateuch is overwhelming and it has always been this way. These ridiculous anti-biblical hypotheses regarding the authors such as the documentary hypotheses or markian priority came around the 19th century because that was when the false religion of naturalism was invented. The main problem with all of these authorship propaganda hypotheses is that they have absolutely nothing to do with reality and genuine scholarship but come from an asisine worldview which is grounded on darwinian pagan venetration, and this lead to the Bible being attacked by naturalists for the last two centuries with the most pathetic possible ways out of fear of their own depravity, but the truth is invitable and noone can hide from divine judgement. "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall never pass away". Here is a small description of some parts of the truth.

  • There is absolutely zero evidence for the documentary propaganda other than the imagination of heathens who are afraid of being accountable to God, not only there has never, ever been any of those seperate documents found but the whole Pentateuch was discovered as one combined single volume together in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The same thing is happening with the New Testament and the imaginary Q document that never existed.

  • The documentary propaganda falsely assumes that the Israelites waited until many centuries after the foundation of their nation before committing any of their history or laws to written form, even though their neighbours kept written records of their own history and religion from before the time of Moses and the Hebrew alphabet predates Moses by centuries. This is happening because of the anti-biblical naturalistic nonsense.

  • The author is obviously an eyewitness of the Exodus from Egypt, familiar with the geography,5 flora and fauna of the region;6 he uses several Egyptian words,7 and refers to customs that go back to the second millennium BC.8

  • The Pentateuch claims in many places that Moses was the writer, e.g. Exodus 17:14; 24:4–7; 34:27; Numbers 33:2; Deuteronomy 31:9, 22, 24.

  • Many times in the rest of the Old Testament, Moses is said to have been the writer, e.g. Joshua 1:7–8; 8:32–34; Judges 3:4; 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6; 21:8; 2 Chronicles 25:4; Ezra 6:18; Nehemiah 8:1; 13:1; Daniel 9:11–13.

  • In the New Testament, Jesus frequently spoke of Moses’ writings or the Law of Moses, e.g. Matthew 8:4; 19:7–8; Mark 7:10; 12:26; Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:46–47; 7:19. Jesus said that those who ‘hear not [i.e. reject] Moses’ would not be persuaded ‘though one rose from the dead’ (Luke 16:31). Thus we see that those churches and seminaries which reject the historicity of Moses’ writings often also reject the literal bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Other New Testament speakers/writers said the same thing by affirming the authorship of Moses, e.g. John 1:17; Acts 6:14; 13:39; 15:5; 1 Corinthians 9:9; 2 Corinthians 3:15; Hebrews 10:28.

The reality is that all of the actual evidence has always been in the side of the truth of the Bible and its actual authors rather than propaganda nonsense that came thousands of years later. Sadly no matter how much someone tries to hide from divine judgement it is inevitable. In the end, noone can escape from the truth.

  • The tone of this answer lacks a bit of love and empathy with the questioner.
    – blerontin
    Commented May 27, 2021 at 10:06

The documentary hypothesis affirms that several writers contributed to Genesis, which was finally compiled into the current biblical book sometime after the Babylonian exile.

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The theory identifies four main sources:

  • "J," the Yahwist source
  • "E," the Elohist source (later combined with J to form the "JE" text)
  • "P" the Priestly, source
  • "D," or Deuteronomist, text

The specific identity of each author remains unknown. However, scholars often associate "J" with the southern Kingdom of Judah around the ninth century B.C.E., and "E" with a more northern context slightly later. Both of these sources were informed by various oral traditions known to their authors. "P" and "D" were written several centuries later and a redactor, "R" compiled the book into what we have today in the fifth century BCE. link to source

The Book of J

An intriguing suggestion for the author of the "J" strand of Genesis was offered by the literary critic Harold Bloom in his "Book of J." He suggests the author was a woman living in the time of Solomon's son Rehoboam and residing in his court. He admits that the existence of such a writer is a "fiction" of his own creation but makes an argument that she fits with his analysis as a literary critic. He thinks of her as one of the greatest writers in history, on a par with Shakespeare.

Much of Bloom's theory is based on his literary analysis of the content of J. His book also contains a unique translation of "J" designed to capture its poetic sense more than its literal meaning. Bloom makes a convincing case that J is particularly concerned with women, for it is in this strand of Genesis that we are told the most of the details of the lives of Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah and Zipporah. Even J' greatest male hero, Jacob, is a notorious mamma's boy.

Personally I do not agree with Bloom's vision of J's author, but reading his book did take me much deeper than I had previously gone in considering the implications of the documentary hypothesis. Rosenberg's translation of the J verses in isolation from the rest of Genesis was especially enlightening. I concluded that J may not have been a woman, but "he" probably had a Jewish mother who conveyed to him the key traditions about the matriarchs of Genesis, for which we can be very grateful.

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