Genesis is included in the Torah, which is the first five books of the Bible. Joshua 8:31 says that Moses wrote the Torah:

And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he [Joshua] wrote on the stones a copy of the law [torah] of Moses, which he [Moses] had written. (ESV)

Moses is credited with writing Genesis but where did the information come from since he was born generations beyond 'Adam'?

  • Hello Phillip, and Welcome the Hermeneutics Stack Exchange. If you have not done so already, please be sure to take our site tour.. Unfortunately, this question doesn't seem to be a good fit for two reasons: 1) I have made a case that Genesis 1-3 alone comes from 11 different creation stories from dozens of sources and that question was closed as "too broad." Asking about the entire Pentateuch is even more broad. 2) It is also subject to quite a few different opinions making it also "primarialy opinion based" Dec 17 '16 at 16:41
  • Thank you James for your message. I have modified the question to cover only Genesis and will read your 'Genesis 1-3 alone' text which I also thank you for in advance.
    – Philip
    Dec 17 '16 at 16:50
  • Wow, such an enormous amount of knowledge about creation stories but how would you summarise this in response to my question please?
    – Philip
    Dec 17 '16 at 17:16
  • 1
    It seems that Genesis 1 is either loosely based on or is a corrective polemic to Babylonian creation stories. This is also True of Gen 4-12. Genesis 2-3 seems to be targeted at Egyptian creation stories. One other popular theory is the Documentary Hypothesis but I myself prefer a kind of Supplementary / Fragmentary hypothesis Dec 17 '16 at 22:45
  • This does not address your question, but it seems that Jewish scholars do not believe that the entire Pentateuch, or even Deuteronomy alone, was written on the stones mentioned in Joshua 8:31-32. A footnote in the Oxford Jewish Study Bible only notes that the topic of "exactly what was written on them ... is the subject of much debate and discussion in rabbinic and medieval Jewish commentary."
    – user15733
    Dec 20 '16 at 3:08

If indeed, Moses wrote the Book of Genesis, some of the information contained therein is scientifically or historically invalid, so whatever his source it could not have been inspiration from God, in spite of 2 Timothy 3:16. It is then hard to imagine any other reliable source that would have told him that God made the whole world in six days, or that God made the earth and grew grass and plants before he created the sun as a light to rule the day (Genesis 1). Of course, he might have used sources such as the Babylonian creation story, if this was brought from Ur by Abraham and passed down to his day. On the other hand, so much of the biblical story of Abraham is contrary to history (such as meeting the Philistine king a thousand years before the arrival of the Philistines) that many historians believe Abraham never really existed.

Analysis of the Book of Genesis shows that it had more than one author, none of whom could have been Moses, whom tradition places in the second millennium BCE. However, knowing that the book was written later and by multiple anonymous authors (now known as the Yahwist, the Elohist and the Priestly Source) is not by itself enough to know the source of the information.

The first creation story (Genesis 1:1-2:4a) is attributed to the Priestly Source, writing during or shortly after the Babylonian Exile. It parallels a Babylonian creation account sufficiently to suggest that the author was influenced by the Babylonians.

There is a second, much older creation story in Genesis 2:4b-25. This is attributed to the Yahwist, who wrote quite early in the first millennium BCE. The Yahwist was strongly identified with the southern Hebrew kingdom of Judah and he must have recorded oral traditions extant in Judah at that time.

The biblical Flood story is remarkably similar to a similar story in the much earlier Epic of Gilgamesh, so either Gilgamesh was the source for Genesis or both accounts are based on an even earlier, common tradition. Ian Wilson, in Before the Flood reports credible evidence that the Flood was a folk memory of the inundation of the fertile plain that became the Dead Sea.

We do not yet have a consensus on the original sources of much of the information about the Patriarchs, but Genesis continued to be expanded right up to the sixth century BCE and later. Bruce Feiler says in Abraham, pages26-27, probably less than one per cent of the hundreds of stories about Abraham actually appear in the Bible.

  • Why would Moses need inspiration from God when he actually sat and spoke with him?
    – Adam Heeg
    Dec 17 '16 at 23:34
  • @AdamHeeg: How would Moses have been able to address Babylonian creation stories hundreds of years before the Babylonian Exile and before the empire existed? Dec 18 '16 at 0:21
  • In terms of post-Excilic writings, I have noted before the crucial spiritual messages in the Creation account, namely, The Tree of Death (Knowledge) and Tree of Life appear to be not mentioned anywhere in the Bible apart from other post-Excilic writings, such as Proverbs, the later part of Isaiah & the New Testament. At least for me, the attainment of the Tree of Life as described in Revelation is the fulfillment of the Biblical message. This might indicate the Creation account is a later-day writing, i.e., not composed by Moses. Dec 18 '16 at 6:39
  • @JamesShewey Rejecting Genesis because of the Babylonian accounts is flawed reasoning. For example, a belief that the Genesis flood account is taken from the Babylonian one based on the age of written documents, ignores the reality of the actual event as part of the knowledge base of all peoples. The source of the earliest written account is either oral tradition or divine revelation. Thus the issue is not who wrote first or who copied who; it is which one is accurate. Dec 19 '16 at 20:27
  • Since all cultures can trace their ancestry back to the same base, either Adam and woman or Noah and family, means that all people would have a tradition of explaining the origins/creation. Again the issue is not who wrote first, but who has the divine revelation of what took place...obviously the events before man must come from the Creator or the deceiver or be products of the human imagination. Dec 19 '16 at 20:31

We do not know what the content, the "mishneh torat Moshe", referenced in Joshua 8:31 (MT Joshua 8:32) was. In particular, there is no evidence from the text itself that what Joshua wrote included what we now refer to as the five books of Moses. From the time of the pre-Christian Jewish tradition, the book of Deuteronomy was referred to as the "Mishneh Torah".

We do not know anything about the number of or identity of the author or authors of Genesis. The labored style of much of the text certainly feels like it was written by a committee. We do not know if Genesis is in fact a redaction of an earlier work, possibly written in an earlier dialect of Hebrew.

The assertion that Moses was the sole author of Genesis is an assertion of faith that has no support in the text itself, nor from outside sources, not the least because we have no knowledge of who Moses was and what he did apart from what the text of Exodus tells us.

So, because the OP question assumes an unprovable position of faith regarding the authorship, I consider it a question of opinion, not hermeneutics. I think that asking what the source of the material in Genesis 1-3 is, without making any assumption regarding authorship is a question of hermeneutics.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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