Structure of the Book of Genesis

Image result for story of adam and eve


Damien F. Mackey


Really, since what was formerly known as the “Documentary Hypothesis” had its inception based upon an unrealistic premise: the  presumption that a single author would not be likely to use more than one name to designate God, it does not come as a surprise to discover that the modern end-product of such a line of reasoning is a totally artificial form of analysis; a butcher-like activity, ruthlessly cleaving across the natural structure of the scriptural texts – so chopping and hewing them into fragments that their original form and shape are no longer recognisable.


This article is all about the essential structure of the Book of Genesis – a structure that is so simple and straightforward, I believe (and as the reader will discover), that even a child would have no trouble understanding it in its basic form. The chief credit for having laid bare this structure in all its profound simplicity belongs to the British scholar, Percy John Wiseman (1888-1948), upon whose thesis the following article will be based.


Wiseman: New Discoveries in Babylonia about Genesis (Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1936); Clues to Creation in Genesis (Marshall, Morgan & Scott (1936); Die Entstehung der Genesis (Wuppertal, 1958); Ancient Records and the Structure of Genesis (Thomas Nelson, 1985). The Hebrew word toledôt (תוֹלְדוֹת), “generations”, is a feminine plural noun.





As the brilliant Australian philosopher Dr. Gavin Ardley pointed out (Aquinas and Kant, Longmans, Green & Co., 1950, p. 5), there are two ways of going about the process of analysing or dissecting something, depending upon one’s purpose. Ardley well illustrated his point by comparing the practices of the anatomist and the butcher. When an anatomist dissects an animal, he traces out the real structure of the animal; he lays bare the veins, the nerves, the muscles, the organs, and so on. “He reveals the actual structure which is there before him waiting to be made manifest” (p. 6). The butcher, on the other hand, is not concerned about the natural structure of the animal as he chops it up; he wants to cut up the carcass into joints suitable for domestic purposes. In his activities the butcher ruthlessly cleaves across the real structure laid bare so patiently by the anatomist. “The anatomist finds his structure, the butcher makes his”.

The same sort of analogy may be applied to, I would suggest, the different methods that have been employed to analyse the structure of the Book of Genesis. Here I shall contrast only the archaeologically-based approach, as used by P.J. Wiseman and others – which method, I believe, resembles that of the anatomist in Ardley’s example –


Wiseman’s findings have captured the imagination of, for instance, the renowned Old Testament scholar, Professor R.K. Harrison. See e.g. his Introduction to the Old Testament (Eerdmanns, 1969), on pp. 545-553 of which he summarizes Wiseman’s toledôt theory. Also, the linguist, Dr. Charles Taylor, who – on the basis of the same theory – wrote The Oldest Science Book in the World (Assembly Press, 1984). It is also worth mentioning here that P.J. Wiseman’s son, Donald J. Wiseman, who wrote the Foreword to Ancient Records, is considered to be one of the preeminent Assyriologists of our time.


with the Graf-Wellhausen approach – that to my mind approximates to the activities of the butcher.


Astruc’s Theory


Jean Astruc (d. 1766) was really he who invented the theory of separate documents, based on the Divine names used. The French physician had noticed that in the first 35 verses of Genesis (chapters 1-24a), the word Elohim (אֱלֹהִים), “God”, was used, and no other Divine name; while in chapters 2:4b to 3:24, the only designation given is Yahweh Elohim (יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים), “Lord God” – except where Satan uses the word God. Astruc claimed that the passages must have been written by different writers; for if Moses himself had written the whole of it, firsthand, then we should have to attribute to him this singular variation, in patches, of the Divine name.

This was really the beginning of the documentist dissection, into fragment upon fragment, of the Book of Genesis.

By the middle of the C19th, owing largely to the efforts of the German critics Karl Heinrich Graf (1815-1868/9) and Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918), liberal scholarship had, to its own satisfaction, isolated four main Pentateuchal sources: J,E,D,P. Thus it was alleged that a writer who used Elohim was the author of a so-called E document, and the writer who used Yahweh was the author of J (for Jehovah, the German version of Yahweh). But since some verses that were obviously written by the same person contained both names for God, an editor had to be introduced, then a “redactor”.

Then a Deuteronomist source was identified (which R.K. Harrison considered to be the only valid one amidst the JEDP ‘sources’). After a century of conjectures and further redactors, it was decided that a further document, P (Priestly) had been written nearly 1,000 years after Moses, and so on ….

In this way Genesis has been reduced to a series of confused fragments and authors, in order to account for the way in which the name of God is used in the book. The fourfold sigla, JEDP, of Graf-Wellhausen is now dogmatically retained (though in modified form) in academic institutions the world over. Nonetheless, the critical scholars have to admit that their literary expedients break, not only the logical, but also the grammatical sequence of the passages. As Wiseman commented (Clues, p. 143): “It is confusion confounded!”

Really, since what was formerly known as the “Documentary Hypothesis” had its inception based upon an unrealistic premise: the  presumption that a single author would not be likely to use more than one name to designate God, it does not come as a surprise to discover that the modern end-product of such a line of reasoning is a totally artificial form of analysis; a butcher-like activity, ruthlessly cleaving across the natural structure of the scriptural texts – so chopping and hewing them into fragments that their original form and shape are no longer recognisable.

Wellhausen himself had in fact acknowledged that the result of all of this dissecting was “an agglomeration of fragments” (as quoted by Wiseman, Clues, p. 144). Despite this, Wellhausen’s History of Israel (1878) “gave him a place in Biblical studies comparable, it was said, to that of Darwin in biology” (Clues, p. 145).


The Archaeological Approach


Because of the newness of the science of archaeology (only about 150 years old) we can say that, from a stratigraphical/historical point of view, the study of Scripture is still in its infancy. Pre-archaeological theories, such as those advanced by the C19th documentists, suffer from an almost total ignorance of the methods and styles of the ancient scribes, since these really became known only in the previous (20th) century, after the vast libraries of the ancient world had been excavated and their data slowly and painstakingly sifted by modern scholars. The modern awareness of ancient scribal methods would serve to show up with embarrassing starkness the numerous defects in the old “Documentary Hypothesis”.

P.J. Wiseman, on the other hand, was fortunate to have had the opportunity of participating in some of the most important archaeological digs that took place in Mesopotamia midway through the C20th; for example, that of Sir Leonard Woolley at the site of Ur, and of Professor S. Langdon at Kish. Wiseman had many discussions about ancient writing methods and related subjects with these and other scholars (most notably, Professor Cyril Gadd). In the light of all of this firsthand evidence and expertise that had become available to him, Wiseman found himself perfectly equipped to re-examine the structure and authorship of the Book of Genesis. He discovered that the book’s structure was really quite straightforward, and was completely explained by the facts of archaeology. In true anatomist fashion – according to Dr. Ardley’s analogy – Wiseman was able to lay bare the real structure of the Book of Genesis, and thereby scientifically to expose, by stark contrast, just what an unholy mess the JEDP dissectors were leaving behind them. In fact, nowhere do the clumsy techniques of the documentists show up so embarrassingly as when contrasted against the light of Wiseman’s patient uncovering of the essential structure of the Genesis texts. Wiseman had at least been prepared to concede on behalf of the early documentists, as an excuse for their radical fragmenting of the texts, that they had not been in a position to compare the literary form and structure of Genesis with other ancient methods of writing, that would have enabled them to have read Genesis in the light of the times and circumstances in which it was written. But, in the case of contemporary exegetes, he considered that: “… it cannot be regarded as other than serious that notwithstanding archaeological discoveries, many still read Genesis not as ancient, but as though it had been written in relatively modern times” (Clues, p. 143). The mistake had been made, he said, despite the very obvious fact that the Genesis narrative itself “is constructed in a most antique manner by use of a framework of repeated phrases” (ibid., p. 144).

These phrases, that form the skeleton of the structure of Genesis, are of two kinds, namely:


  1. COLOPHON phrases, and


  1. CATCH-LINE phrases,


the former being the more important.


In the following pages I shall try to bring home to the reader the full significance of these literary indicators, colophon and catch-line phrases, that reveal the Book of Genesis to be a most ancient document – much older than the documentists would have it. My explanation will lead naturally into a special consideration of the controversial and famous first chapter of Genesis. A grasp of the proper structure of the Book of Genesis will enable the reader to understand why, for example, biblical commentators have proposed the so-called “two accounts of Creation” theory (Genesis 1 and 2), and how this theory ought to be modified. Also I should be able to, following Wiseman, account quite simply for the perplexing problem of the variations of the Divine Names throughout Genesis; a variation that has led the documentists to fragment so much of the Scriptures into their J and E compartments.


Who borrowed from whom?


Did the authors of the scriptural books really borrow much of their written material, their stories, their poetry, their wisdom, from the pagan mythology and the literature of the Mesopotamians and Egyptians, for instance, or do the latter owe a debt to the Hebrews?

Since here I am interested only in the Book of Genesis; my question can be more specific:


Which are the more ancient, the accounts of Creation, the Fall, the Flood, Babel, etc.

in the Mesopotamian and/or Egyptian writings, or those recorded in Genesis?


This is a further question that I shall hope to be addressing in the course of this series.


Part One (a): Colophon Key

to the Structure of Genesis



It does not take the attentive reader long to discover that the toledôt phrase does not always belong to a genealogical list, for in some instances no genealogical list follows.




(i) The Colophon Phrase


Documents written in Mesopotamia were generally inscribed upon stone or clay tablets. As explained by Wiseman, it was customary for the ancient scribes to add a colophon note at the end of the account, giving particulars of title, date, and the name of the writer or owner, together with other details relating to the contents of a tablet, manuscript or book (Clues, p. 143). The colophon method is no longer used today – the information originally given in a colophon having been transferred in our day to the first or title page. But in ancient documents the colophon with its important literary information was added in a very distinctive manner. Thus the colophon ending to the mythological Babylonian creation story, Enuma Elish, reads:


First tablet of … after the tablet … Mushetiq-umi … A copy from Babylon; written like its original and collated. The tablet of Nabu-mushetiq-umi [5th] month Iyyar, 9th day, 27th year of Darius.


My primary purpose in this series will be to demonstrate that the MASTER KEY to the method of compilation that underlies the structure of the Book of Genesis is to be found in the use of the colophon. Now, scholars seem to agree at least that structurally the most significant and distinguishing phrase in the Book of Genesis is the phrase (אֵלֶּה תוֹלְדוֹת):




This formula is used eleven times throughout the Book of Genesis.

Wiseman, commenting on the importance of this phrase, wrote (Ancient Records, p. 60): “… for so significant did the Septuagint translators regard it, that they gave the whole book the title ‘Genesis’,”, which is the Greek version of the Hebrew word for “generations”. Following Wiseman, though, I shall be preferring the Hebrew word for “generations”, toledôt.

The toledôt formula, “These are the generations of …”, is to be found in the following places throughout the Book of Genesis:


  • the history of the heavens and the earth (Genesis 2:4)
  • the book of the genealogy of Adam (Genesis 5:1)
  • the genealogy of Noah (Genesis 6:9)
  • the genealogy of the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham and Japheth (Genesis 10:1)
  • the genealogy of Shem (Genesis 11:10)
  • the genealogy of Terah (Genesis 11:27)
  • the genealogy of Ishmael (Genesis 25:12)
  • the genealogy of Isaac (Genesis 25:19)
  • the genealogy of Esau/Edom (Genesis 36:1)
  • the genealogy of Esau, father of the Edomites (Genesis 36:9)
  • the genealogy of Jacob (Genesis 37:2)In the past, scholars of all schools had recognized what was obvious, and had admitted the importance of the repetitious toledôt phrase. However, as we are going to find, there is a disturbing tendency amongst more recent exegetes practically to ignore the phrase, as though it did not even exist in the text. Moreover, it seems that virtually all have misunderstood both its use and its meaning. There is a simple reason for this, as Wiseman has explained. Many of these sections of Genesis that conclude with the toledôt, commence, “as is frequent in ancient documents, with a genealogy or a register asserting close family relationships” (loc. cit.). This has led commentators to associate the toledôt phrase, “These are the generations of …”, with the genealogical list where this follows. Hence they have assumed that this phrase is used as a preface or introduction.    discusses this mistake made by some modern scholars.It does not take the attentive reader long to discover that the toledôt phrase does not always belong to a genealogical list, for in some instances no genealogical list follows. Hence Wiseman was entirely correct when he stated that “the main history of the person named has been written before the toledôt phrase and most certainly it is not written after it” (Ancient Records, p. 61). To illustrate this fact, Wiseman pointed firstly to what he called the “classic example” of the second toledôt: “This is the book of the generations of Adam” (Genesis 5:1). After this toledôt we learn nothing more about Adam, “except his age at death”. Similarly, after, “These are the generations of Jacob” (Genesis 37:2), we read mainly about his son Joseph. So much for the first part of Dr. Driver’s statement that the toledôt is tied to a genealogical system. When we test the second part of his statement we find that it, too, does not square with the facts and is therefore quite erroneous. Driver had imagined that the toledôt phrase had served to introduce the next “prominent” person in the narrative. Who would doubt, however, that the most “prominent” individual in the Book of Genesis is ABRAHAM? He, more than all the other great Patriarchs, would be entitled to be named were Driver’s interpretation correct. “Yet”, as Wiseman had observed, “it is remarkable that while lesser persons such as Ishmael and Esau are mentioned, there is no such toledôt phrase as ‘These are the generations of Abraham’.” (Clues, p. 35). Toledôt, or Family HistoryThe Hebrew word toledôt was used to describe history, usually family history, in its origins. Wiseman had proposed, as an equivalent phrase in English for toledôt: “These are the historical origins of …”. It is evident, he wrote, that the use of the phrase in Genesis “is to point back to the origins of the family history”, and not forward to a later development through a line of descendants. Wiseman’s conclusion here is entirely consistent with what we find in the New Testament. The colophon phrase is used only once in the New Testament, where in Matthew 1:1 we read: “The book of the generations of Jesus Christ”, following which is a list of ancestors. In this context, Wiseman noted (Ancient Records, p. 63), it certainly meant quite the opposite to descendants, for it was used to indicate the tracing back of the genealogy to its origin. So, most commentators (against the usual practice) make the story of creation end with the toledôt.Since, as we are now coming to appreciate, the scribal method used in the Book of Genesis was the general literary method of early antiquity, then surely the genuineness of the Genesis records is attested by their adherence to the prevailing literary method of these remote times! Commentators generally, however, having assumed that the toledôt formula begins a section, and not realizing that it ends it, “have used this key to its compilation upside down” (Clues, p. 40). Consequently, the problem of  the composition of the book of Genesis has remained unsolved for them. For instance, we read in Skinner’s Genesis (1929): “The problem of the TOLEDOTH headings [sic] has been keenly discussed … and is still unsettled”.This is exactly the sort of hopeless tangle in which the exponents of the JEDP “dissection” inevitably end up. (Though some of them actually opt for the easy way out, by entirely ignoring the crucial toledôt phrase).Written on TabletsAnother important fact needs to be emphasized in connection with the use of the toledôt formula. The second time that it occurs, in Genesis (5:1), we read: “This is the book of the origins of Adam”. Here the Hebrew word sepher (סֵפֶר), translated as “book”, means “written narrative”, or apparently, as F. Delitzsch has translated it, “finished writing” (as quoted by Wiseman in Ancient Records, p. 67). The Septuagint actually goes so far as to render the first toledôt (Genesis 2:4) as: “This is the book of the origins of the heavens and the earth”. Regarding this fact, Wiseman has pointed out (loc. cit.): “We must realize that the ‘books’ of antiquity were tablets, and that the earliest records of Genesis claim to have been written down, and not as is often imagined passed onto Moses by word of mouth”.To put this into a modern perspective, the toledôt, or colophon, is really like a kind of signature from a contemporary of the events recorded. In the case of  Noah’s document, the toledôt would convert to something like: “This is Noah signing off”.    (b) the earliest records claim to have been written; Now, hopefully, we are really beginning to understand the nature of the sources used for the compilation of the first book of our Bible. Genesis, it appears, was not compiled from sources that long post-dated the Mosaïc era – as Graf/Wellhausen and their colleagues had imagined. These latter had commenced their analysis, “without a single piece of writing of the age of Genesis to assist them” (Clues, p. 77). They ended up by dissecting Genesis into a series of unknown writers and editors all of whom they alleged could be detected by their “style” or “editorial comments”.They were clearly wrong!
  • Finally, Wiseman had been able to provide two remarkable confirmations of the accuracy of his toledôt thesis. These were that (Clues, p. 42):
  • The Supporting Facts
  • Genesis was in fact compiled from multiple sources that predated the time of Moses. And, while the book does indeed disclose many “styles” – as the documentists have correctly observed – it does not, as they have claimed, disclose a plurality of authors in its final form.
  • They committed the fallacy of subjecting Genesis to a type of contemporary literary analysis, just as if it were a piece of modern writing.
  • In this way the compiler of the Genesis documents (traditionally believed to have been Moses) clearly indicated the source of the information available to him, and named the persons who originally possessed the tablets from which he gained his knowledge. “These”, Wiseman insisted, “are not arbitrarily invented divisions. They are stated by the author to be the framework of the book” (Ibid., p. 69).
  • (c) it normally refers to the writer of the history or the owner of the tablets containing it.
  • (a) it is the concluding sentence, not the beginning, of each section and therefore points back to a narrative already recorded;
  • To summarize so far, we find that we have learned three important things about the toledôt colophon phrase:
  • Nature of the Colophon
  • This does not mean, of course, that Abraham could not have had his own separate history, or could not perhaps have written part of his sons’ records. Again, whilst his sons may have owned the tablets, Abraham may have written them.
  • As previously mentioned, nowhere is there a phrase: “These are the generations of Abraham”, yet that great Patriarch’s story has been written in full; for we are told that Abraham’s own sons, Isaac and Ishmael, either  wrote or owned the series of tablets containing their father’s story.
  • Moreover, a careful examination of the name of the person stated at the end of the various phrases, “These are the generations of …”, makes it clear that the toledôt phrase refers to the owner or writer of the tablet, rather than to the history of the person named. Thus for instance: “These are the generations of Noah” does not necessarily mean: “This is the history about Noah”, but rather the history written or possessed by Noah.
  • Again, Eugene Maly, the commentator on “Genesis” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary (1968) – with only the bankrupt JEDP theory to guide him – has fallen into the double trap of thinking that (2:21): The “Toledoth [story] usually refers to a genealogical account [sic]”, and that it serves as an introduction: “In P [sic] it marks the important stages in salvation history …. It is placed here [i.e. in Genesis 2:4] to preserve the majestic beginning [sic]”.
  • “Had they seen that all sections of Genesis are concluded by the use of this ‘Toledoth’ formula”, Wiseman wrote, “they would have recognized the key to the composition of the book”.
  • This is precisely the meaning of the Greek word, genesios (γένεσεως), translated as “generation”. The first use of the toledôt phrase is in Genesis 2:4: “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth”. Amazingly, in this one instance only, the majority of scholars have found themselves logically forced to accept the natural placement of the toledôt formula: “… for they have seen that it obviously points back to the narrative of the creation contained in the previous chapter, and that it cannot refer to the narrative which follows, for this section contains no reference to the creation of the heavens”. The phrase is appropriate only as a concluding sentence.
  • Commentators have been puzzled by these presumed peculiarities. But the whole thing ceases to be puzzling as soon as one realizes that the toledôt phrase is not an introduction, or the preface to the history of a person, as is so often imagined. “Rather”, as Wiseman had discerned, “it is to be read as a colophon ending, for only as such does it make proper sense”.
  • Again, the record following the phrase, “These are the generations of Isaac” (Genesis 25:19), clearly is not a history of Isaac, but of Jacob and Esau.
  • R.K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (pp. 543-553),
  • But Dr. Driver’s assertion is plainly contrary to the facts, as anyone will realize simply by reading through the narrative of the Book of Genesis.
  • This phrase … properly belongs to a genealogical system; it implies that the person to whose name it is prefixed is of sufficient importance to mark a break in the genealogical series, and that he and his descendants will form the subject of the section which follows, until another name is reached prominent enough to form the commencement of a new section.
  • For instance, S.R. Driver (as quoted here by Wiseman) wrote in his Genesis:
  1. “In no instance is an event recorded which the person or persons named could not have written from his (their) own intimate knowledge, or have obtained absolutely reliable information”.


  1. “It is most significant that the history recorded in the sections outlined above ceases in all instances before the death of the person named, yet in most cases it is continued almost up to the date of death, or to the date on which it is stated that the tablets were written”.


To give a couple of examples: TABLET 4, written or owned by Noah’s sons, contains the account of the Flood and of the death of Noah. How long Ham and Japheth lived after Noah’s death we are unaware, but we know from Scripture that Shem long survived Noah. Hence there is nothing in this section that could not have been written by the sons of Noah.

TABLET 5, was written or owned by Shem, who wrote of the birth and the formation into clans of the fifth generation after him. We know that he survived the last generation recorded in this tablet, namely the sons of Joktan (Gen. 10:29).

It could not be a mere coincidence that each of these sections, or series of tablets, should contain only that which the person named at the end of them could have written from personal knowledge. For, as Wiseman had correctly suggested (Ancient Records, p. 79): “Anyone writing even a century after these Patriarchs could and would never have written thus”. Hence, we can see that the key-formula: “These are the origins of …”, that is acknowledged by reliable scholars as constituting the very framework upon which the records of Genesis are constructed, is consistently used by the compiler of the book. A rule to which Bible exegetes often adhere is that ‘the first use of a word or phrase fixes its future meaning’. We have seen that the obvious and admitted meaning of the first toledôt (Genesis 2:4) is appropriate for the remaining instances of its use. With this key in hand, we are delivered from having to grope like blind creatures in a dark labyrinth of conflicting guesses; for we find, in the scriptural text itself, clearly indicated sources.




Part One (b): Catch-Lines



It “is remarkable confirmation of the purity with which the text has been transmitted to us, that we find [these literary aids] still embedded in this ancient document”,

which we know as the Book of Genesis.



(ii) The Catch-Lines


Apart from the presence of the toledôt colophon phrases throughout Genesis, there is further compelling evidence that these ancient records were originally written on tablets, and in accordance with ancient methods. In ancient Babylonia the size of the tablet used depended upon, as Wiseman has explained (Ancient Records, p. 79), how great a quantity of writing was to be inscribed upon it. If this were a smallish quantity, for instance, it would be written on one tablet of a size that would contain it satisfactorily. But when the quantity to be inscribed was of such a length that it became necessary to use more than one tablet, it was customary:


  1. “to assign each series of tablets a ‘title’,”;
  2. “to use ‘catch-lines’, so as to ensure that the tablets were read in their proper order”.


In addition, as has already been explained, the colophon with which many tablets concluded, frequently included – among other things – the name of the scribe who wrote the tablet, and the date when it was written.

Now there are clear indications throughout Genesis of the use of some of these methods. Though naturally, of course, since these literary aids relate to the tablets as they came into the possession of the final compiler, it is unlikely that we should find them all in the document as completed by that compiler, which we call “Genesis”. But one of the sure proofs that the Book of Genesis was compiled at an early date is indicated by the presence of these literary aids.

To quote Wiseman on this subject (loc. cit.): It “is remarkable confirmation of the purity with which the text has been transmitted to us, that we find [these literary aids] still embedded in this ancient document”, which we know as the Book of Genesis.

Evidence of these catch-lines serving as literary aids may be observed in the following significant repetition of words and phrases connected with the beginning or ending of each of the series of tablets, now incorporated in the Book of Genesis:


1:1 “God created the heavens and the earth”

2:4 “Lord God made the heavens and the earth”


2:4 “When they were created”

5:2 “When they were created”


6:10 “Shem, Ham and Japheth”

10:1 “Shem, Ham and Japheth”


10:32 “After the Flood”

11:10 “After the Flood”


11:26 “Abram, Nahor and Haran”

11:27 “Abram, Nahor and Haran”


25:12 “Abraham’s son”

25:19 “Abraham’s son”


36:1 “Who is Edom”

36:8 “Who is Edom”


36:9 “Father of the Edomites”

36:43 “Father of the Edomites”


According to P.J. Wiseman (ibid., pp. 80, 81): “… the very striking repetition of these phrases exactly where the tablets begin and end, will best be appreciated by those scholars acquainted with the methods of the scribes in Babylonia”, for this arrangement was the one then in use to link the tablets together. The repetition of these catch-phrases, precisely in those verses attached to the colophon, he continued, “cannot possibly be a mere coincidence. They have remained buried in the text of Genesis, their significance apparently unnoticed”.



Part One (c): Title and Date



After a tablet had been written and the name impressed upon it, it was customary in Babylonia to insert the date on which it was written. In the earliest times this was done in a very simple fashion, for it was not until later that tablets were dated with the year of the reigning king. It was the custom for the ancient scribes to date their tablets in the following way:

“Year in which canal Hammurabi was dug”. 




(iii) Titles and Dating of Tablets


On cuneiform tablets the TITLE was taken from the commencing words of the record. Similarly, the Hebrews called the first five books of the Bible by the title taken from their opening words. Thus they called Genesis, “Bereshith”, the Hebrew word (בְּרֵאשִׁית) for “in the beginning”. Wiseman explained exactly how this practice was carried out in the ancient Near East.

When two or more tablets formed a series they were identified together because the first few words of the first tablet were repeated in the colophon (or title-page) of the subsequent tablets, “somewhat similar to the way in which the name of the chapter is repeated at the head of each page of a modern book” (Ancient Records, p. 81). Where pages of the book were not bound together, as they are now, the advantage would be obvious; for, Wiseman explained, “… by the repetition of such words as those listed above, the whole of the Genesis tablets were connected together”.

In addition to the title, Wiseman pointed out that some of these tablets showed evidence of DATING (Ibid., p. 82). After a tablet had been written and the name impressed upon it, it was customary in Babylonia to insert the date on which it was written. In the earliest times this was done in a very simple fashion, for it was not until later that tablets were dated with the year of the reigning king. It was the custom for the ancient scribes to date their tablets in the following way:


“Year in which canal Hammurabi was dug”.


As an early example in which the method of dating the Genesis tablets can be seen, Wiseman pointed to the end of the second tablet series, Genesis 5:1, where we read: “This is the book of the origins of Adam in the day God created man”.

Later tablets were dated by indicating the dwelling-place of the writer at the time that the colophon was written, and these dates were immediately connected with the ending phrase, “These are the generations of …”. Instances of this are:


25:11: “And Isaac dwelt by Beer-lahai-roi”


36:8: “And Esau dwelt in Mount Seir”


37:1: “And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father sojourned …”.


Clearly both the purity of the text, and the care with which it has been handed down to us, are manifested by the fact that such ancient literary aids and cuneiform usages as these are still discernible in the Genesis narrative. Their presence also signifies, according to Wiseman, that in the earliest times these records were written on clay tablets, and that these tablets, forming a series from Genesis 1:1 to 37:1, were joined together in the same manner as we have them today.


Joseph’s History


The long last section of our Book of Genesis, that is, Genesis 37:2 to 50:26, does not conclude with a colophon.

Why not?

Because this last section of Genesis is mainly a history of Joseph in Egypt. At least the family history centres around him. This record begins with the words, “and Joseph being seventeen years old”, and ends with, “and he [Joseph] was put in a coffin in Egypt”. In this section we have passed from a more easterly influence, to Egypt, where in all probability the account of the Patriarch’s history would be written on papyrus.

Since the Egyptians did not use the colophon ending, the lack of one at the end of the Joseph narrative is perfectly harmonious, I believe, with the toledôt theory.



Part Two: Titles for God



When the compiler of the Genesis texts came into possession of these tablets, he would have found on some of them the cuneiform equivalent of “God”. In others, he would find the cuneiform equivalent of ‘El Shaddai’, “God Almighty” … the name by which Exodus 6:3 plainly stated that He appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.



As we have read earlier in this series, one of the chief imputations made against Genesis by the documentists is that different names for God are used in various parts of the book. Each different writer, they allege, had only one name for God, and so they endeavour – from this rather tenuous assumption – to account for the use of different names. They assert that each section of verse in which a particular Divine name is mentioned indicates that it was written by the writer who uses that name exclusively or predominantly. Numerous contradictory explanations of the variations in the use of the Divine name have been given both by critics and by defenders, to account for the fact that in Exodus 6:3 we are told that God was not known to the Patriarchs by the name of יְהוָה




(that is, ‘Yahweh’ or, in German, ‘Jehovah’) – while, on the other hand, Genesis frequently represents Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as using that name.

But P.J. Wiseman was convinced that these contradictory explanations and evasions “have been due to a fundamental mistake made by both sides in assuming that no part of Genesis had been written until the time of Moses” (Ancient Records, p. 81). This crucial assumption, he stated, “has resulted in the desperate literary tangle of the documentists, and the difficulties of the defenders of Mosaic authorship”. The critics find themselves in the hopeless position of having to concede that the numerous editors who (so they think) had a hand in the compilation of Genesis, must have had before them the explicit statement of Exodus 6:3:


‘And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name YAHWEH was I not known to them’.


In the face of such a theory, Wiseman asked: “Are we supposed to assume that the final editor was unaware that he was contradicting himself?” The critical “explanations” only increase their difficulties! All these evasions are made because neither side in this great and prolonged debate has realized that the Book of Genesis is a record written by the persons whose names are stated in it, in the colophons.


The Problem for the Compiler


There cannot be the slightest doubt, so Wiseman thought, that the tablets that Abraham would have taken with him from his original home in “Ur of the Chaldees” would have been written in the cuneiform script prevalent at the time. When the compiler of the Genesis texts came into possession of these tablets, he would have found on some of them the cuneiform equivalent of “God”. In others, though, he would find the cuneiform equivalent of ‘El Shaddai’ (אֵל שַׁדָּי), “God Almighty”, the Divine name by which Exodus 6:3 plainly stated that He appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Now, in regard to the word, ‘Shaddai’, Wiseman wanted to draw attention to certain facts “to which sufficient attention has not been given” (ibid., p. 129): “… in the first place, the full composite title ‘El Shaddai’, as stated in Exodus 6:3, is not used elsewhere than in Genesis, and these uses are on important occasions”.

These special occasions were:


  1. The announcement of a son for Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 17:1).
  2. Isaac speaking to Jacob at the occasion of his escape to Mesopotamia from before the countenance of Esau (Genesis 28:3).
  3. Jacob’s blessing and new name “Israel” (Genesis 35:11).
  4. Jacob’s blessing over Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:3).


Continuing on, Wiseman notes “… the next impressive fact is that the word ‘Shaddai’ alone is used 42 times, and in almost every instance by persons writing or living outside Palestine, and in contact with Babylonian cuneiform modes of expression”.

When, at a date later than the revelation of Exodus 6:3, the compiler – who we take to have been, substantially (though not entirely), Moses:


Tracing the Hand of Moses in Genesis


Tracing the Hand of Moses in Genesis. Part Two.


– was putting the Book of Genesis into the form of it with which we are now so familiar, with all of his Patriarchal records before him, he would have found the cuneiform equivalent of the Divine name ‘El Shaddai’ on many of them. At this stage, according to Wiseman (who had accepted the traditional identification of the compiler of Genesis as Moses), he would have found himself confronted with the following, peculiar problem (ibid., p. 132): “Now that God had revealed to him the new name ‘I Am Who I Am’, which word for God should he use in transcribing these ancient tablets?”.

Every translator of the Bible has been confronted with this same problem.

The title “God” may be repeated, but how is the description or name to be transcribed where necessary, unless the new revealed name of God is used?

To use any other name, Wiseman noted, “would be to create a misunderstanding in the minds of those for whom Genesis was being prepared”. What name, then, was the compiler to write? God had since revealed Himself by the name of ‘I Am Who I Am’, and that name had been announced to the children of Israel in Egypt and was revered by them.

Wiseman provided the following answer to the difficulty with which the compiler would have been, at this point, confronted (ibid., p. 133):


Now that the ancient records of their [the children of Israel’s] race, preserved in purity and handed down by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were being edited and possibly translated by Moses, what name should he use? He saw that the ancient title “El Shaddai”, God Almighty …, had been corrupted by its use in connection with scores of other “gods”, each of whom were called “god almighty” by their devotees? The most natural course was to use the name Jehovah [Yahweh]. Thus, then, is the presence of the word Jehovah in Genesis quite naturally explained. It is not by assuming a complicated jumble of tangled documents written by unknown writers as the modern scholars do, or by an evasion of the literal meaning of Exodus 6:3, but by the inspiration from God which led Moses in most instances to translate “El Shaddai” by the word Jehovah – his distinguishing name, that separated him from the heathen gods around.


This was, at least, Wiseman’s take on this vexed matter.


As one discovers from reading P.J. Wiseman, tremendous instruction can be gained from studying the pattern of the Divine names used according to the context of each successive toledôt history.




Part Three:

First Chapter of Genesis




One has only to compare the Genesis account of Creation with the Babylonian one,

for instance, to realize how intrinsically different they are.



Really, the whole documentary approach to biblical interpretation is due to mythologizing tendencies that – employing all possible and impossible kinds of combinations – seek to work into the Genesis stories (and even into the narratives of the Patriarchs) features and elements drawn from the Babylonian or Egyptian myths that are absolutely remote from, and completely alien to, the Hebrew spirit.

One has only to compare the Genesis account of Creation with the Babylonian one, for instance, to realize how intrinsically different they are:


Bible Babylonian Creation Tablets
1. Light 1. Birth of the gods, their rebellion and threatened destruction.
2. Atmosphere, water 2. Tiamat prepares for battle.
3. Land, vegetation 3. The gods are summoned and wail bitterly at their threatened destruction.
4. Sun and Moon (regulating the lights) 4. Marduk promoted to rank of ‘god’: he receives his weapons for fight. These are described at length; he defeats Tiamat, splits her in half like a fish and thus makes heaven and earth.
5. Fish and birds 5. Astronomical poem
6. Land animals 6. Kingu who made Tiamat to rebel is bound and, as a punishment, his arteries are severed and man created from his blood. The 600 gods are grouped; Marduk builds Babylon where all the gods assemble.


A comparison of the two accounts makes it immediately apparent, as Wiseman has correctly noted, that the Bible owes nothing whatever to the Babylonian tablets, despite the efforts of commentators to try to convince us that whoever wrote this portion of Genesis had actually borrowed his concepts from these corrupted Mesopotamian myths. If we rely solely on the text of Genesis, without being biased by the Babylonian mythology, we find no trace of any contest with a living monster in the sense of the Babylonian myth of the fight of the gods.



The Primeval Deep


Almost all the modern biblical critics take it for granted that tehom (תְהוֹם), the Hebrew word translated as “deep”, or “waters” – as used in the Creation and Flood stories (Genesis 1:2 & 7:17) – is identical with the Akkadian word, tiamat; the name of the dragon of darkness that Marduk slew in bitter conflict, before the creation of the world. E. Maly, for instance, writing on the subject in The Jerome Biblical Commentary (1968), makes this very identification (2:16).

A notable dissenter from this view, however, was the brilliant linguist, professor A.S. Yahuda. He, commenting upon this almost universal identification of the biblical with the Akkadian word, wrote (The Language of the Pentateuch in its Relation to Egyptian, Oxford, 1933, p. 127):


The positiveness with which this assumption is put forward, and the stubbornness with which it is maintained, are based on no intrinsic or philologically well-founded facts; since besides the similarity of sound of [tehom] and tiamat, no other proofs for such an identification can be put forward.


Yahuda further noted (in footnote 3):


The argument that [‘tehom’] must be identical with tiamat because like the latter it is feminine, is untenable, for the simple reason that in our  particular passage the gender of [‘tehom’] is not apparent, and further  because, there are examples of its being used in the masculine as a poetical expression for sea.


The fact that the documentists have so stubbornly persisted with a view that has so little in its favour, is due, I believe, to the stranglehold that those mythologizing tendencies (to which I have already referred) have over them.

The word ‘tehom’, according to Yahuda (ibid., p. 128), means nothing else but the primeval water, that ocean which filled the chaos; a fact that becomes quite apparent from the complete biblical phrase itself, translated into English as “on the face of the waters [that is, ‘tehom’]”. This unmistakably indicates the real nature of ‘tehom’ as water. From its biblical context, Yahuda concluded that ‘tehom’ ought to be identified philologically, not with ‘tiamat’, but with another Akkadian word, ‘tamtu’; a word that, he said, often occurs – not only in Creation myths, but also in many other kinds of myths – most distinctly in the sense of primal ocean, exactly like ‘tehom’, and not as the personification of any divinity like tiamat.




Part Four:

Account of the Flood




The documentists have given considerable attention to the Flood narrative, thinking that the Hebrews would have borrowed it from the Babylonian mythology …. Although they have been quite correct in identifying multiple accounts of the Flood story; they have completely missed the mark when it has come down to identifying the actual authors of it.


Regarding the story of the great Flood, one might perhaps be inclined to ask us: If the toledôt theory is correct, then how would one account for the fact that commentators of the Graf-Wellhausen persuasion have been able to identify two – or in the case of Astruc, three – accounts of the Flood story interwoven into the text of Genesis chapter 7?

Well, thanks to Wiseman’s findings, I believe that one ought no longer have any difficulty at all in answering this sort of query; for it is quite naturally accounted for by the toledôt theory.


Chapter 7 of Genesis is, as we have learned, part of Tablet (series) 4, written, or owned, by Noah’s three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, and signed by them.

It is an eyewitness account:


Genesis Flood Narrative An Eyewitness Account


The ancient trio’s story is taken up almost entirely with the account of the Flood of which they were the only eyewitnesses.

Jean Astruc, who claimed to have discerned “three accounts” of the Flood story, instanced in support of his claim such repetitious passages as (Genesis Chapter 7):


18: “And the waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth”.

19: “And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth”.

20: “Fifteen cubits upwards did the waters prevail”.




21: “And all flesh died that moved upon the face of the earth”.

22: “All in whose nostrils was the breath of life and all that was in the dryland died”.

23: “And every living substance was destroyed”.


In regard to Astruc’s theory, then, it is sufficient here to note, with Wiseman, “two significant facts” (Ancient Records, p. 93):


Firstly, the conclusion of the tablet informs us that more than one person was connected with the writings of the narrative, “for it is the history of the three sons of Noah”.


Secondly, an examination of the story reveals every indication that it was written by several eyewitnesses of the tragedy.


The documentists have given considerable attention to the Flood narrative, thinking that the Hebrews would have borrowed it from the Babylonian mythology (we have already accounted for one of the main philological reasons why they have been under this impression). Although they have been quite correct in identifying multiple accounts of the Flood story; they have completely missed the mark when it has come down to identifying the actual authors of it.



Part Five:

Two Accounts of Creation?




The documentist view is that the first chapter of Genesis was put into writing by an unknown author, or school of writers, in about the C8th BC – many hundreds of years after Moses.




Ignorance of the nature of the sources from which the Book of Genesis was compiled has led modern scholars into saying things like:


  1. The second chapter of Genesis is more ancient than the first,
  2. The order of Genesis is wrong,
  3. There are two accounts of creation, each written centuries after Moses.


The documentist view is that the first chapter of Genesis was put into writing by an unknown author, or school of writers, in about the C8th BC – many hundreds of years after Moses. I believe, however, that the arguments presented in this series would completely lay to rest any such claims.

But, asked P.J. Wiseman, does the narrative of the first chapter of Genesis itself give any clue as to the time when it was written? To which question he answered that, in addition to the ancient literary method of the colophon dating, there are “some pieces of evidence which seem to assist us in ascertaining the chronological place of Genesis chapter 1 in the Old Testament” (Clues to Creation in Genesis, p. 170). And he went on to list these as follows:


  1. No anachronisms: “… it contains no reference whatever to any event subsequent to the creation of man and woman, and of what God said to them”. (Genesis 1:26: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness …”. By contrast, the Babylonian version of creation, for instance, contains reference to events of a relatively late date, such as the building of Babylon.


  1. Universality: All the references in this chapter “are universal in their application and unlimited in their scope”. We find no mention of “any particular tribe or nation or country, or of any merely local ideas or customs. Everything relates to the earth as a whole and to mankind without reference to race”.
  2. Simplicity: The Sun and Moon, for instance, are referred to simply as the “greater and lesser lights” (Genesis 1:16). It is well known that astronomy is one of the most ancient branches of knowledge. In earliest times the Babylonians had already given names to the Sun and Moon.
  3. Brevity: Compared with the lengthy Babylonian series of six tablets of creation, the Bible uses only one fortieth the number of words.


Tablet (series) 2


As Wiseman has astutely assessed it, the universality of the references in Genesis chapter 1 cannot be found in the second toledôt series (Genesis 2:4b to 5:1). In this second series there are historical notes: rivers are named, as are countries, minerals are being developed.


This, we believe to be Adam’s own recorded history.

It is not a repetitious second account of chapter 1, and even more ancient, as scholars would have us believe. The writer gives more detail about the creation of the first man; the Garden is planted; geographical locations for Eden are given; the animals are named, and so on.


Tablet (series) 2 appears to be utterly different from chapter 1 in style and content, and would seem to be a much later production.






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